Margaret Morse on Sat, 27 Oct 2012 19:45:14 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> open letter to art critics

Dear Flick,

I agree with you and Geert that publicly engaged art is important and that
it gets little critical attention.  What struck me about the theater review
from Vancouver--
-- is that it provided a valuable description of the remarkable performance
as well as the reviewer's despair about the eventual prospects for success
of this emerging form of theater in actually providing actionable ideas for
social change.  The Vancouver play offers the audience the delicious
opportunity to see some audience members actually intervene in the
performance and take the unfolding narrative in another direction again and
again.  Furthermore, we have a life/art connection of the actors and the
audience who have experienced difficult and demoralizing life events and
lived.  What failed for the critic was the reception by the audience,
particularly in the focus discussion afterwards.  

However, the stakes here are far more fundamental. Why not think about this
as a matter of practice and cultivation?  Why should a public be good at
this when they have so few opportunities to develop their critical
capacities? For me, this genre takes off from Bertolt Brecht's ideas and
pushes them further along.   Brecht's performance practices aim at
activating critical faculties that lead to action in the world--the
audience should be able to see unfolding dramatic events in the life course
as far from inevitable.  That entails a number of performance practices
typical of a Brecht play:-for instance, the actors don't embody or identify
with their roles; the narrative is constantly being interrupted with
moments for reflection; dramatic events are put within a larger
socio-political context and discourse.  We critics of publicly engaged art
also need more practice in writing on such performances.  We also need to
create a space and an audience with which we can engage and hone our
abilities.   I regret having had to put down my pencil for several years
after co-convening a very successful conference on The Art of Collaboration
held at UC Santa Cruz in 2008.  Word did not get out about the conference
contributions, to my regret.

All the best,

On Oct 26, 2012, at 7:44 AM, Flick Harrison wrote:

> When I read a sentence like this:
> "Much harder, much more ambitious, and therefore much more difficult to
> evaluate, is art that intends to change the very way we see, act and make
> sense of our world -- including what we understand to be politics itself."
> I see my life story unfolding in a single problem.
> This kind of subtle, provocative or ontologically-challenging work means,
> for one thing, an audience limited to those interested in both art and
> politics simultaneously.

Margaret Morse
Emerita Professor of Film/Digital Media
University of California Santa Cruz

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