rethinking why performance matters through the matter of performance
3. Potentials of Performance

30 May 2012

Talking with Strangers: What is Violence?


   This project starts from my interest in the manner in which meaning is constructed through material or immaterial objects of performance: how, through these objects, ideas and values are constructed and circulated, questioning or reproducing existing ideas and values. Objects do things – they function performatively. Performance therefore offers the potential and the space for the questioning of existing ideas and values. The function of a performance work and the assumptions upon which it is built can be more evidently revealed when the work is constructed as a system (Kershaw, 2007).

   This project aspires to function as a system that reveals its own construction, but also its relation to larger apparatuses: to the immediate and extended apparatuses of its production, distribution and reception and to a political system that is currently devouring societies. It is therefore important that this dialogue takes place not only amongst academics, artists and researchers in the field of performance, but that it is displaced from its London arts base and that it enables the intrusion of people from different fields and countries. It is also important to say that this work is about the questions that have not been resolved but can only be resolved when the system starts functioning. It is also about the ideas that are generated through its encounter with others and the ideas and values carried by the objects produced. And it is about the assumptions, inclusions and exclusions that it is unavoidably built on. The rules of this system are the project.

This is what it is:
There is a question; participants respond to this question in the form of different objects: text, image (drawing, photo, video), sound, or another object agreed upon. Then there will be an installation consisting of these responses.

This is the question:
‘What is violence?’ Participants can interpret and respond to this question as they feel / think.

This is the medium through which the question is communicated:
The question is sent to different people via email. (Pigeons would be exhausted with all the back and forth).

This is to whom it is communicated:
The title of the project is Talking with Strangers. A definition of the term ‘stranger’ is therefore called for. For the purposes of this project, I define a ‘stranger’ against two criteria: one vocational and the other locational. A ‘stranger’ for this project would be either someone who is in the same field as the sender, but who resides outside the sender’s country of residence, or a person outside the sender’s field, in which case the country of residence does not matter. I make the assumption that were I – or another participant – to send an email to a complete stranger, there would be most likely no response or possibly a response that did not follow the rules. For this reason, the first person of every chain that I will send the question to will be someone that I trust to bring the email chain to life. They will still need to be either an artist outside my country of residence (UK) or a person outside the performance field inside the UK.

This is the language of communication:
There is an important exclusion here, important because it is hugely problematic: language. The participants need to be users of the English language. Although I considered the possibility of translation, I also considered the problems inherent in translation. I am therefore aware of the consequent exclusions the decision to only use the English language necessitates.

This is how it works:
I will start four chains at the same time: for each chain I will send the question ‘What is violence?’ via email to either an artist outside the UK or to a person outside the performance field inside the UK. That person will then need to do the same (send the question ‘What is violence?’ via email to either a person within their field but outside their country or to a person outside their field). Each participant needs to respond to me with his or her object within a week and also email the original question to another person, always copying me in the emails.

Each email chain ends when it dies – when people stop contributing responses – or by the tba deadline of this project. If a chain does not stay viable long enough, I will initiate a new chain. The chain email communication becomes visible to this website’s audience and therefore to all participants – with or without the contributors’ name depending on their wishes – once a chain ends in either of the above-mentioned ways. It is important that audience and participants understand that the project’s emphasis is on the process of an idea circulating and not on the product of the responses.

This is the set of rules / the terms of engagement to be agreed upon by all parties involved:
- Unless requested by the participant, their name will accompany his or her object contribution.
- The rules are the project. It is therefore important that they are adhered to. If a participant breaks a rule (i.e. there is no reply within the one-week time frame), I maintain the right to re-authorise the terms of engagement: I will communicate with the participants to adapt, restart or end a chain. Since I cannot foresee all the possible ways in which the rules might be broken, decisions will be made as problems occur. If there is a need for me to break / amend a rule, I will make this and the reasons for it explicitly known (I am not to break the rule of a requested anonymity).

This is the set of responsibilities and obligations on my part:
- I will maintain the anonymity of those participants that wish that.
- I will present the participants’ objects to the best of my ability considering time, spatial and economic restrictions (for example, if many participants email me photos, I might need to print them in a lower quality photo paper, or if an object sent by post is prohibitively large for the presentation space, it might not be possible to exhibit it. Lastly, if the number of responses exceeds my expectations, I may need to select fewer responses to present at the exhibition, or discuss with the participant an alternative medium of presentation).

This is how it will eventually happen:
The responses will be gathered and choreographed into an installation exhibited at the ‘Potentials of Performance’, the third and final Performance Matters public event.

This is what will happen after the installation:
- A few of the participants will be invited to the Performance Matters event to take part in a discussion about the project, its implications and its function as a gesture.
- I would like to continue to present this work beyond the Performance Matters event. I also aspire to create a live performance out of the material and immaterial objects of this project. I will request the consent of participants for the inclusion of their responses in the continuation and/or transformation of this project.

We – you, the participants, the audience and I – have now entered a contract.

There is no small print. If there is, let me know and I will make it BIG.

If there are amendments, I will let you know. Without you this contract is invalid.



(Any amendments will be posted on this website as well as at




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