Plastique Fantastique is a fiction involving human and inhuman avatars created by David Burrows and Simon O’Sullivan.
On entering the space, the visitor sees a banner on the back wall, drawings and diagrams, four monitors and a sand/glitter drawing in a vitrine. The monitors are playing looped films.
A discussion between Lawrence Bradby, Ellie Morgan and Plastique Fantastique on 29/9/08.
Lawrence Bradby and Ellie Morgan: In the spring you performed an Accelerator Ritual in London. Can you tell us a bit more about Deceleration and its relationship to the performance in London.
DB & SO: We are interested in slowing down. Stillness. Unplugging from the constant impulse to connectivity. Deceleration also implies a hesitation and a gap – between stimulus and response – through which, we would affirm, one can access a pure ontological past; put simply, a certain virtuality that is co-present with the actual world that surrounds us but is habitually effaced. The acceleration ritual concerned itself with the obverse: speeding up, inserting oneself into the schizo-flows of capital as a technology of ‘escape’. Each ritual has its own operating protocols and terrain of operation.
LB & EM: Some of those ideas – stillness, pause for reflection, protecting oneself from fluid hyper-modernity – are also encountered in self-help de-stress manuals, or in books on lifestyle downsizing. It’s partly the mystical element that puts your work into a different context: the reference to multiple temporalities existing alongside our own time. What role does belief play in the current exhibition at OUTPOST? Does the audience need to believe in the existence of a pure ontological past for the protocols to take effect?
DB & SO: The audience does not need to believe in the existence of a pure ontological past or even know what that might mean for the protocols to work. Affirmation and play is more important than belief. We think of PF as a fiction that we write through making exhibitions and performances. In fact one way of approaching the exhibition is to think of it as science fiction in the form of art and performance. The audience does not have to believe in the fiction, just engage with it, perhaps even by performing the work. In relation to performance, an example we often think of is falling asleep when you do not feel tired. You may believe that you will not fall asleep but if you lie down and go through the motions, chances are you will fall asleep. So performance, and what can be performed through PF exhibitions and events, is more important than what things might mean.
There are two aspects to our practice. Firstly we are interested in immanence, accessed through processes that affirm chance and nonsense and through the making of exhibitions and performances that ‘open up’ the body and the senses. Secondly we are interested in the re-presentation of this as a myth or fiction, afterall perhaps it is only myth or fiction that has the potential to counter those dominant technologies of subjectivisation encountered in everyday life – and the atomising and alienating habits they install.
LB & EM: You say that the audience doesn’t need to believe, but they do need to find the fiction of PF persuasive, they need to be hooked in some way in order to engage or to perform. The set up of this show seems to offer two ways in: High Church and Low Church. At the closing performance, we imagine that the PF performers will supply a sort of priestly conviction that can mediate the audience’s entry into the PF myth. For the audience encountering the looped films and sand drawing during the earlier phase of the exhibition, on the other hand, their entry will be solitary, like a Quaker waiting for God to speak out of the silence, or a monk meditating. Is that what you mean by immanence?
DB & SO: Immanence might be understood as the very terrain of life, the place ‘on’ which we live and move. Immanence is life, in the sense of a singular life that runs underneath, and parallel to, any given subjectivity. We see the deceleration ritual as less a ‘High Church’ ordered by priests and more a certain kind of set up, the building of a platform that will allow for a different kind of experience – in this case a ‘de-programming’ – and the production of CLEARS. If the idea of a church is tied to transcendence (priests ‘interpreting’ for the One), the platform we have constructed for OUTPOST is a technology for accessing immanence. In this respect PF might be understood as more prophetic than priestly; through the exhibitions and performances we hope a different kind of thing might be conjured. This is the work’s future-orientation.
So, a ritual and set-up for transformation, but also art. PF operates between these two milieus, which is to say, life, or presentation, but also re-presentation. We would suggest that interesting art has a certain knowingness about it, a self-reflexivity. It knows it is art. Another way of saying this is that PF more or less self-consciously operates on a variety of registers, both signifying and asignifying. It inserts itself into various discursive regimes: performance art, queer aesthetics, psychoanalysis, paganism, so-called ‘cults’ and so forth, but also it has – we hope – an affective charge. Whether it bores, irritates, confuses or inspires, it has a bodily impact. Finally, there is the nature of collaboration itself. PF is between us, a fiction that allows certain things to happen, certain things to be performed that might perhaps be impossible for each on his own. PF is also more than the two of us: there are other individuals that become involved in the performances and also the multiplicity of avatars that populate the practice.
LB & EM: Your work seems to seek out contradiction. The immanence which this exhibition sets out to access is both a universal terrain, yet is also hard to reach. The personal and idiosyncratic myth of PF claims to be a way to access something which is in fact universal. Another contradiction is the co-existence of conviction and detachment. The PF rituals draw on religious practice without, apparently, being ironic. We were wondering about the role of humour in the performances, and also the potential, as in any performance, for embarrassment.
DB & SO: Both humour and embarrassment or rather shame are things we have realised are important to us. The importance of humour is probably an obvious aspect of art. The importance of shame was more of a surprise to us. We are not interested in irony. It is a critical and distancing form of humour but also a safe haven, a way of having the last laugh on the world, and a judgement of a kind. Affirming nonsense or the absurd is a way of going beyond judgement. In one sense, affirmation always involves or is followed by a disaffirmation or detachment of a kind, a detachment from certain values and certain ways of seeing the world. Mostly, nonsense is either dismissed – a urinal on a plinth was once deemed offensive or stupid – or it is affirmed. In the case of the urinal named Fountain, an absurd joke was affirmed as new way of ‘producing’ art and as an element of an infra-thin life. In relation to embarrassment, this is often where the humour emerges. Often we feel ashamed or embarrassed when exhibiting or performing – we are not natural performers –and we are aware that we are in a professional context and being judged by others. We feel like abject donkeys. Through humour, laughing through this shame or laughing yourself into oblivion, through sticking to the letter of the performance and seeing it through, we attempt to go beyond judgement. Judgement is a terrible vice. It produces the paranoia that infects the air at many openings we go to. Being ashamed and passing through it is something we have talked about a lot. The other thing we talk about a lot is that there is not, and never has been, anything to understand.
After the Deceleration ritual.