MR Festival 2008: Transversality Lab: An Austrian/NYC Exchange


by Jenn Joy
MR Festival Spring 2008: Somewhere Out There

The Transversality Lab will take place on Monday, June 2nd, during the Movement Research Spring Festival 2008: Somewhere Out There. It is a collaboration between ACFNY, Tanzquartier Wien, the Austrian Ministry for Education, the Arts, and Culture, and Movement Research. Artists and theorists from Austria and NYC converge in an open format of performance, presentation, and discourse. Featuring from Austria: Company Two in One, Julius Deutschbauer, Matsune & Subal, united sorry (Frans Poelstra and Robert Steijn), and theorist Gerald Raunig. Featuring from NYC: MGM, Regina Rocke, lower lights collective, Eagle Ager, and theorist Jenn Joy. Austrian cultural theorist Gerald Raunig devised the structure for this lab on the basis of his concept of transversality. Jenn Joy writes some thoughts to begin a dialog between the participants:

The following thoughts flow from two evenings of conversation with the artists, curators, theorists from Movement Research and the Austrian Cultural Forum involved with the Transversal Lab surrounding the concept of transversality - as curatorial construct, as theoretical term, as activist position - to name just a few possibilities...

The transversal lab has already begun the work of the transversal. The NYC-based curators invited me; they selected four Austrian companies, who then selected four NYC-based companies. Already, geometrically speaking we have created a transversal plane: "a line intersecting two or more lines or a system of lines." Another definition now out of use is that of "deviation or digression" this seems to offer further possibilities in the studio or on the page.

A provisional explanation of transversality begins with the term as conceptualized by Gerald Raunig (the other theorist involved in the project) in Art and Revolution: Transversal Activism in the Long Twentieth Century. Rauning's conception of transversality is a dense genealogical network reaching back to the writings of Richard Wagner and Anatoly Lunacharsky who write about the "zigzag line of the relationships between revolution and art" (2007:9). Here the question arises: Does art follow revolution or will revolution follow art?

The genealogy continues through the student uprisings in Paris, May 1968, where Raunig locates another site for re-thinking transversality as a particular kind of struggle and possible mode of response. Turning to the writings of Gilles Deleuze, Féliz Guattari, and Michel Foucault, Raunig describes a notion of transversality as a structure of movement against the flows of capitalism, one that resisted the imperatives of the market and nationalist bureaucracy. The work of the transversal continues in the theoretical writings of Hardt and Negri (see Empire) and also in the specific work of contemporary artists and activist groups like Noborder network (www.noborder.org) as taking up the model of transversal praxis to resist multinational forces.

Particularly resonant for the upcoming lab at Judson church, Raunig proposes a kind of interdisciplinarity not simply as a break from academic categories or genre crossing, but again as a linkage of these systems of lines. He writes: "This AND is not be understood as haphazardly stringing together random elements to cover up contradictions, as a political propaganda display of social fields, but rather as a multitude of temporary alliances, as a productive concatenation of what never fits together smoothly, what is constantly in friction and impelled by this friction or caused to evaporate again" (2008).

The above doesn't do justice to Raunig's complicated and provocative analysis, but it hopefully can initiate questions for further discussion: Given that many of the groups are working collectively (yet in diverse ways) how does this mode of working challenge notions of role of the artist? Or the function of the artist in culture? How does the term activism move against the work of making dance or thinking about dance? How to think about the difference between activism and politics? What might be genealogical connections for our own work(s)?

One final image keeps returning as I try to make sense of this term: transversality. April 4th at the Kitchen, Heather Kravas and Antonija Livingstone perform 32 fouettés on top of plastic covered mattresses dressed in life jackets. Their exquisitely beautiful surreal mediation on the difficultly of jumping, of dancing, of technique seems to offer another way into thinking about how movement and politics might meet and perhaps mutually interrogate one another? The program notes for another situation for dancing propose the following question: "How to co-create changing, repeatable performance events in community, as both rigorous artistic research and as our modest but vital act of political engagement"?

-Jenn Joy (5.5.08)

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Austria, Jenn Joy, MR Festival Spring 2008

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