Rainer Fuchs / The Visitor as Performer / ISBN 3-85160-035-5
Manfred Grübl’s performances take place outside the actual event programme. They are not announced and utilise the social bustle at an opening for silent and unspectacular intervention. Work starts for Grübl’s protagonists when the curators and organisers think they have finally done everything and can give the field over to the public. They turn up as the other visitors are arriving, distribute themselves individually around the space and take up a pre-directed formation, their poses and direction of gaze oriented towards one another. Like a frozen ballet in the midst of the crowd, they create an imaginary geometric and hermetic field within the space. If the exhibition space is filled with people, the complete structure of the performance is not necessarily perceptible in the turmoil. Only as the space gradually empties during and towards the end of the opening does the field of performers become clearly apparent to the more tenacious of the visitors. Grübl’s black clad performers are at once a part of the visiting public as well as its interpreters. As their appearance does not belong to the official programme, they act out the role of a public, albeit an instructed public, behaving in an appropriately arty way. It is exactly their studied inconspicuousness, their tranquillity and stillness amid what is usually hectic activity, which makes them appear conspicuous. And irritation as potential for insight arises not where the others see themselves as confirmed and reflected but where the staged inactivity and motionlessness of the one counterchecks the pains to act and the need for status of the other and calls it into question. Grübl’s work provides a metaphorical mirror for the opening then, inverting it into a performance of itself. Transforming an opening taking place in the forefield and context of art into a covert performance for which the exhibition, that is to say the actual art event, is in turn only an initiating framework, represents the inversion of values and conventions into their opposites. Opposing and reciprocal relationships fundamentally characterise Grübl’s work: their conspicuousness increases with the gradual disappearance of the visitors and the work becomes more compact and complete with the passage of time. What at first might appear as a scenario of scattered and lost individuals in the middle of a homogenous crowd, eventually reveals itself to be a clearly structured and stabile grouping in contrast to the fluctuating number of visitors. That time is flying past is made evident in the static and stabile structure created and held by the performers. Through their silence alone they make the clamorous scenery of sound appear to be a series of communication acts, each overlapping and smothering the other. Nevertheless, they do not represent the loss of speech and icy quiet but their silence in contrast appears to be an eloquent silence above the prattling activity of the others. The artist contrives system description and interpretation through the choreographically calculated undermining of behavioural conventions, whereby the self-empowerment to participate in the exhibition activity is one of the most serious deviations and break with taboos in the art industry. The art industry justifies its evaluation of quality standards and thematic control primarily through mechanisms of delimitation and exclusion though, as well as through mainly unspoken but constantly scrutinized purity regulations. Elitism and a stringent concept of inclusion or rather exclusion of protagonists and their positions is typical for all segments of the art industry, the discursive and involved as much as the traditionalist and conservative. Not waiting until one is let or invited in but through the evasion of these initiation rites actually calling them into question and putting them up for discussion is to venture an essentially forbidden and unwelcome advance and – outside formal competition - to reflect the competitive system of the art and exhibition industry. Grübl’s reflexive art utilises the institutions without any prior arrangement with them or without being invited by them to do so. In this he meets with a basic prerequisite for art critical of institutions, a prerequisite which has mostly been ignored by its so-called representatives since the 1980s, namely to differentiate between complicity and intervention. Indeed it was the consistent disregard of the conditions for participation in the art industry which made the universally valid inconsistencies of compromises and contradictions within the art industry apparent. A deliberately artless gesture is not used as criticism of an aural and elevated art, but rather nothing short of a reversal of this already conventional strategy of subversion is applied: namely the permeation of the banal with art, that is to say marking of the extra-artistic framing occurrence of the opening with a definitely artistically structured action and the effected transformation of the opening into an artistic event. Subversion is not achieved by attacking artistic norms through anti-art here but on breaking the art industry’s rules of behaviour through art. The role devised by Grübl for the actors as performing visitors and their relationship to the rest of the public can be put on a line of tradition whose paradigmatic expression is in the ‘untitled events’ put on at Black Mountain College under John Cage’s direction in the early 1950s. In contrast to contemporary theatrical tradition, Cage’s actors did not use their bodies to simulate the bodies and play out actions of fictitious characters but instead to set real people and concrete actions in real space, resulting in a change in the audience’s role. One had to follow several different actions performed concurrently in different parts of the space so that one could also perceive the other spectators continually and thus became not just a observer of the performance but also of the other members of the audience. To see the other spectators as actors in one’s own observation logically means also to recognise oneself as an actor for the other spectators. This, as well as the fact of finding oneself in a space with the performers, intensified the personal experience of the spectator as an actual member of the cast. 1) Grübl updates and radicalises the historic position in that he installs his actors quasi incognito, leaving any conviction in public to be part of a piece completely open. He forms his actors like a draught score spanning space within whose framework the public moves and – whether consciously or unconsciously – plays out its own piece or just plays itself. Grübl’s choreography offers an intelligible stage without a focal point on which the actual performance is acted out by the visitors. Whilst in the theatre actors move or speak in front of a usually still, seated audience, here it is the reverse: the audience acts and communicates ‘in front of’ or between dumb actors. The principle of reciprocity therefore peaks in the complimentary interplay of visitor as actor and actor as visitor. Grübl’s silent and frozen dancers act equally out of distance and connexion, they permit unhindered movement between them and yet brace a spatial field nobody can escape. Space is not defined as an insular fact as a result but rather as transparent potential, that is to say as a precisely located and balanced phenomena which is nevertheless based on penetrability and exchange. This construction of persons spanning the space can therefore also be understood as an allusion to the exhibition space or rather to the art business as a sealed space which is nevertheless interwoven variously to the real social exterior space. Whoever believes he is leaving social reality when visiting an exhibition then, is simply stepping into a further field of this reality, one which is, moreover, its reflection space. He moves inside levels of reality and experience which are linked one another, even if these links appear to be loose or even invisible at first sight. Grübl’s art deals first and foremost with such comprehensive interconnections. The visitors as the actual mediators between the everyday and art world, between social exterior space and the inner world of the art business become leitmotivs for disturbing relationships. And Grübl’s actors create a kind of spatial ‘threshold’ pushed into the space itself, which is continuously crossed by these visitors, whether they notice it or not, as if to demonstrate the unavoidable ideological dovetailing of spaces and fields with different connotations as an inescapable, omnipresent and permanent occurrence. That exhibition openings, no matter how unique thy may be, are basically nothing other than a repetition of the same when seen under the aspect of the ritualistic, also appears to find confirmation in the fact that the same performance is given at different exhibition venues far apart form one another. Rituals notoriously do not limit themselves to religious spheres nor to communication with celestial powers but mark out the regulatory mechanisms of the secular world, too. “Alles was ‘blind’ akzeptiert und ‘traditionalisiert’ wird, kann als heilig betrachtet werden” (Everything which is ‘blindly’ accepted and ‘tradionalised’ can be viewed as holy). 2) The exhibition opening, with its conventionalised and standardised activities in which forms of social communication and distinction represent and perpetuate themselves, numbers among the secular rituals. And like other rituals it creates an opportunity simply to simulate intentions and feelings, that is to say to simultaneously behave sympathetically and detachedly. „Das Ritual ist nicht ‚freier Ausdruck von Gefühlen’, sondern eine disziplinierte Wiederholung der ‚richtigen Einstellung’” (The ritual is not the ‘free expression of feelings’ but instead a disciplined repetition of the ‘right attitude’). 3) „Positiv ermöglicht sie (die Distanzierung, Anm.d. Verf.) die kulturelle Entwicklung des Symbolischen. In einem negativen Sinn aber trägt Distanzierung zu Heuchelei und Untergrabung transparenter Wahrhaftigkeit bei.“ (Positively it [detachment] allows for the cultural development of the symbolic. In a negative sense, however, detachment contributes to hypocrisy and the undermining of transparent truth). 4) The ritual therefore possesses an ambivalent potential: it manages, as a community-building activity, to integrate the individual in marked stages of life and as relief provides the condition for a successful public and social life, but also carries within itself the danger of the petrifaction and constriction of this life. In parity with evolutionary processes, rituals served and serve to naturalize history and immunize power. The detachment, formalisation and repetition of gestures and behavioural patterns inherent in the ritual of an exhibition opening finds a sort of metaphorical pendant in Grübl’s choreographic formation, and a perception trap. The motifs of detachment, the module-like repetition, are represented in a summarily closed circular and petrified movement through the paradoxical figure of the motionless, silent dance and the concurrently multiplied actor in space. The ritual as a repetitive action frozen in convention, is caught as a silent exercise already prescribed and is visualised in Grübl’s real-symbolic coordination system. To treat the snares of a ritual inside a ritual and to do this in the form of a ritualistic gesture, namely that of performing a suspended dance, appears to be like implanting a consciousness promoting mirror into a game which has almost totally lost sight of itself.
1) For the “untitled events” by John Cage see: Erika Fischer-Lichte: Grenzgänge und Tauschhandel – Auf dem Wege zu einer performativen Kultur, in: Performanz - Zwischen Sprachphilosophie und Kulturwissenschaften (Pub.: Uwe Wirth), Frankfurt am Main 2002, pp. 277- 300
2) Stanley J. Tambiah: Eine performative Theorie des Rituals, in: Performanz, see quot. 1), pp. 210-242, p. 216
3) ibid., p. 221
4) ibid., p. 220