critical magic, in my mind, fundamentally challenges the idea that magic can be about a poof – wave the wand and change everything. Critical magic is about critical engagement, critical theory, active listening, participation, active presence, and deicing to work towards change. And yet. There is also perhaps, what I can see now, there is perhaps also room for a “poof” – if we can call it that. There is room for an exacting moment of revelation. In this conception, the poof moment could be the moment when the imagination takes on a new ordering and accepts a new paradigm as an act of performance — performance here is a moment of “reframing” ones truth. This is as opposed to creating or enacting a new empirical truth. The world cannot change in one second, but our minds can change. The world can change slowly over time, with hard work and commitment and coming together through activism and action. Part of this change requires the changing of minds, and even though the changing of minds can also take a long time, it seems that on the other hand, a mind does switch, there is a moment when one decides that in fact the floor is not green, that rather it is brown. There are ahhah moments, there are moments when we decide to use a new pronoun for someone, when we decide to give someone a new name, when we acknowledge a death or a birth. And this moment is specific, one might say, a poof moment, a singular moment. There in that sense we can radically imagine a new way of categorizing that was before not seen. Ithink about what elizabeth povinelli says about life versus non life, all she had to write was simply the idea, the new vision, and the paradigm was open. Not because the paradigm is or is not, but rather that it exists at all as “one way of seeing” and if we can allow ourselves to see in that/those other ways, this is a radical vision. Radically visioning. The performance act is a chance to live inside a radical vision, to perform a radical state of mind and of speech act. It is a chance to practice a new way of seeing. Within that “other way of seeing” perhaps we can also envision what that other way of seeing will give birth to over time.
Although this was not a full hour ritual phase of the probability praxis series, it didn’t seem to matter at all to the magic we created together. We packed so much energy and heart into that sweaty room and shook the room at Success Bar in Tbilisi! Thanks to Nia Gvatua for these shots and bringing us into her exquisite world.
Het-Bos, Antwerp, Belgium, STRANGELOVE Festival // 2 June 2017
Interlocuters: Manon la Décadence and Lu
After the performance at Het Bos in Antwerp, for the Strangelove festival, an audience member learned that I was from Australia I was asked “were you influenced by Aboriginal people?”. My immediate answer was “well, yes” as I thought of the indigenous teachers who influenced me as a much younger student, in particular Wayne Atkinson and Gary Foley, two activist/academics.
I still feel a strong debt to them both, for their generosity, in leading the student body, who were largely drawn from settler society, through the ways that colonisation decimated and continues to undermine the lives and social, cultural and economic structures that indigenous people in Australia rely on. Also, and of key importance to me as an artist, they gave us a glimpse of the richness of indigenous culture, both in the forms that existed before and at the moment of European invasion and that which evolves today, to a large degree shaped by survival.
Then I realised that the person was asking me whether the performance itself, in particular the dancing, was shaped by indigenous influences, which I found very flattering. I told them simply, “no”, because I didn’t have the language in my state of exhaustion to explain the near-impossible nature of the task: that a half-Jewish, middle class, “white”, male-bodied-cum-trans child of settler society could develop the deep engagement with the human beings, philosophies, cosmologies, histories, experiences, politics, not to mention the techniques and physical self-understandings that comprise the forms of dance people recognise as “Aboriginal”.
I never made the sacrifices that this would entail, I never built the deep connections either, rather, I left the country as quickly as I could. In any case, it might be that those who embody these cultural forms would still not be interested in sharing the knowledge of their dance with me – why would they, when my ancestors (whether they be ancestors of blood, or simply those who created the legal forms in which my privilege as a settler is contained, which my refugee grandfather acquired upon arriving in 1941 from his own genocidal apocalypse) took everything they wanted anyway in order to create the legal fiction of Australia?
Which brings me back to the question of magic. Our performance is a ritual. It is a practice of magic. Magic is deceptively invisible in this second decade of the 21st century. Yes, religious belief palpitates here and there, in the power of evangelicals in the United States, in forms of political Islam, in the New Age movements and so on. However a lot of people do not experience magic because they only associate magic with certain kinds of visibility – a satanic ritual, for instance, a bubbling cauldron, or wine turned to blood on an altar – and they are blind to the working of the miraculous in all the social forms around them. Propaganda, I consider, is a form of magic. Likewise, people are bewitched by the repetition of words, phrases and symbols that constitute advertising. So if people do not practice forms of magic which intend the kind of changes they want to enact in the world, then they leave themselves vulnerable to the forms of magic of the economically and politically powerful. I even wonder, sometimes, if those embedded in the magic of the powerful, those who produce it – say an advertising executive, or a developer working on the latest manipulative app at Google – whether they themselves are intending the magic, or if the magic is working on them and they are slaves to it.
“There is a customary ritual that takes place…. The flag is raised, the glasses are filled, cheers are raised for the King… it seems, if you just look at it clinically, it seems like this process of magic. It’s like, “well now that’s ours, we possess this country in law.” It seems strange to me now but it must have seemed even stranger to indigenous people….”
So how would one free oneself from a magic as powerful as that, a magic which created a nation-state, with volumes of law, a population of almost 24 million, a vast economic infrastructure, educational systems and not to mention the power to say who may live on the continent and who may not and in what way they make their lives?
Live performance remains one of the few secular ritualistic forms available to the relatively powerless. To be clear, I am not saying that I am powerless. I have economic means which others do not. I have a passport which allows for relatively free travel. And yet I am not News Corp. I am not Wall GmbH. I am not the High Court of Australia. I am not the NSA. Whether one is aware of it or not there is a magic in live performance. It might be the lead singer in lights, gyrating, reverberating, with all the eyes of the audience upon them. It is possible to inject into this context a conscious decision about the kinds of changes one might want for oneself or for the society in which one lives, and use this hour or so where a room fills with people with a common purpose, to be outside of themselves for a moment, outside of their everyday lives, to magnify the power of one’s own intention and desire. The individual and collective mind learns from this committed experience that this intention has value, that this intention should live in the world. We ask our audiences to think of that thing which is most important to them in the here and now – it might be “I live in a world without gender.” “I have no white privilege.” “My community is learning to live without violence.” And we move together. With music enveloping us, we synchronise certain acts, such as lying side by side on the ground, or taking a word in one’s mouth, at the same time as we also encourage radical autonomy for all those present, to move as they want to, or not at all; to touch, or to be touched or to not be touched, for consent is a precondition for the kind of magic we want to practice.
In Antwerp, I felt that the magic was present in the moment where my co-performers needed only to draw one or two people to lie on the ground with them, and the whole room followed – all the bodies in the room opening to the ground like a collective lotus flower. I felt it again, a little later, when we asked people at the height of the ritual “What do you want? What do you want? What do you want?” And people screamed out the changes that were of visceral importance to them, in words, and sometimes in extra-linguistic sounds. I felt, yes, we as artists and as audience, are as one, changing ourselves by changing in this moment how it is possible to be with others, in an ecstatic, joyful way, that preserves difference while finding unity. From this bodily-auditory-sensual joy with others, the power of magic works itself.
Of course, the magical space we establish by drawing a circle is banished at the end of the performance (we do this through manic laughter), and we find that the world is not entirely altered. Australia, that vast settler nightmare, still persists, no truly post-colonial form has yet arisen to replace it. But I am altered, and I feel that the people who join us are also.
If I focus for one hour on the intention “indigenous people are autonomous” and scream it aloud at the height of the ritual, then this commitment carries on into the actions I take, we take, in the world beyond and after that magical space, in the small and large decisions we make that relate to these fundamental questions – in what ways does my behaviour betray racism and how can I alter these behaviours? How can I support Aboriginal people and help restore to them what was taken? What comes after Australia?
Or in the European context if I scream “freedom of movement now”, I will find the compulsion to bear witness, to stand up to the juridical violence against those who move across borders without the right magical symbols on their identity papers.
This was one of my favorite moments of the ritual at STRANGELOVE. So many people joined us in laying down and taking a moment just to make contact with the ground and to listen to the sounds. For me personally this is also a moment i love, when I let my full back come into contact with the concrete and imagine myself is part of the architecture, as part of foundation, of stone, of earth.
There were other moments in this night as well where the audience was really inside the group experience, for example when we put on our blindfolds and danced together. I felt myself touching so many different bodies, indistinguishable but different. Sensing various energies both distinct and yet combined into one. This was a moment of imagining our collective body!
And again, in the end, when suddenly there was a collective heaving from the group on the stage, helping Adrienne to carry the log and strike it into the … barrier ? the border? into what does she strike? It is powerful to see what develops spontaneously amongst us as a group.
On the level of constructive criticism of our performance, I felt that we could have been more concise in the moment when we spoke to the group. I will suggest to Adrienne that we rethink through what are the main points we want to make sure to address and also how to connect this to “clean and unclean” since we do not go directly into “binaries”. i also would like to continue to improve our harmonies so that we can do them without thinking ! And personally for the Octomantic Ritual I still feel that I need to work in gathering the collective energy behind dancing together, or building a consistent choreography.
one month ago, at strangelove festival in antwerp, me and lu were invited to join hyenaz at their performance, as a so-called interlocuter. i had looked up the word and what i read felt familiar instantly, BUT i also knew that i would play/be this part during a very physical performance, so it didn’t make me any less nervous.
fortunately, to ease my nerves, it all started with paint. silver paint. i can’t believe what a big difference it makes for me, from being naked to covering my skin in just this tiny layer of color. this might be the mask that i need to be able to be truthful. pimp that battleground. anxiousness gone. well, almost.
i gained even more trust realizing i was with people who inspired me in so many different ways before, and holding hands with them and lu backstage was one of those moments you want to remember, because it reflects so much meaning and motivation; i don’t care why i am here exactly but it’s fine, it feels important and pleasurable and maybe even right.
walking from backstage to the venue, into the club, inviting others to join the ritual, looking at them, realizing i might be as intimidating as others have been for me in the past, but overcoming that gap with a smile and a talk, knowing i would need them as well as they would need me to deal with the awkwardness of being in a room with strangers looking at a stage listening to loud noises not knowing what would come next..it felt familiar, i love it.
when i try to hold space at my parties and events, i feel the same. i am not the one in the centre of attention, i am facilitating and i hope i can make anything happen and maybe even join in if i feel like it. i want my presence to say to others: you are welcome, i got your back, be my guest, go play!
during the ritual i noticed i shared my admiration for kate and adrienne with many around me and i saw them naturally pulling the people into their ritual bubble. it felt like most were comfortable, and some were even up for going beyond comfort. this is, i think, what holding space is about.
i held space, and at the same time i was somebody they/others held space for.
i am so grateful for this exercise/experience and I will take it with me everywhere i go. thank you kate, adrienne and lu ❤
Backstage photos by Jakob Ra. Thank you. With Interlocuters Hana Frisonsova and Tereza Silon
Underdogs Ballroom, Prague, Czech, hosted by MENU and HANA FRISONSOVA
20 May 2017
Frisonsova and Tereza Silon
I want to thank firstly
those who helped make this show possible.
There was Hana
Frisonsova, of course, who has been with us for a long time, a
support and shining star, creating as well a weaving of our union, of
our partnership and reflecting it back to us in her designs. On
Friday we put on the clothing, we envelop ourselves inside the
clothing that she created from our disem/bodies. Our eyes, our legs,
our hands … our faces covered. It is a strange and beautiful
experience to see our love reflected back to us. At night we wear the
eyes, our own eyes, photographed, mirrored, reflected. I wonder at
what it “means” or what it says. For now I wear them with pride;
they are at least beautiful objects symbolizing third eyes,
possibilities for opening. For the show it only made sense that Hana
would dance with us and add her energy to the project.
We were also able to
invite one of my dearest friends and muses, Tereza Silon, whose
artistic practice I have long admired. She would be a natural choice
as a mover who both knows well her own body, how to live in her skin,
and also how to reach outside her body and connect with others. Not
only did she contribute as an interlocutor, but further, she provided
excellent textual translations into Czech for the visuals. These I
feel are so important, so that the ritual is as inclusive as possible
and so that it is not assumed that English predominates.
And last but not least I
want to thank Zdeněk Konečný, who organizes the MENU parties and
mixtapes, who put together a great lineup and found a wonderful venue
for this night.
The ritual was so full
this night, a feeling so strong of involvement from everyone, from
going deep in. At one point I realized that all 50 of the blindfolds
were being used, and that everyone had accepted this idea and were
going in with us. I had the feeling that the full show was slowly
taking shape, gaining maturity, gaining strength. That we were
beginning to believe that this could happen, that we could come into
a space that we do not know and face those “we do not know,” that
we could ask people who come for a concert to trust us as
facilitators on a different kind of journey.
There was a moment my
body came into contact with a very large white masculine presenting
body. And I realized that this was, is, for me, a kind of “other”,
a body that as growing up read as female, I have sometimes feared. I
have feared “his” presumed sexism, his presumed entitlement, his
presumed sexuality, his presumed entitlement to that sexuality over
mine. I realized in this moment that in our contact I was helping to
overcome some of my presumptions, some of my fears, or rather, that I
(already) had, through many years of practicing, become more powerful
and confident in my own body. And this allowed me to make contact
with him and to question a boundary. I felt that he responded to
this, by relaxing, by approaching just as tenderly and by shedding
some of his resistance. And this felt, these moments feel, very good.
I had a few people tell
me they were changed forever, that this was one of the most
influential moments of their lives. I was speechless at this, but
very very happy to think that I could be part of a transformation.
And certainly that the transformation is also in me each time I
In May, I performed in Prague for my friends and inspiring artists/musicians HYENAZ and afterwards disappeared for a research of our upcoming workshop into the mountains with Mad Kate (Kathryn Fischer), a half of the duo. I still owe time to reflecting on this sonic chaosmagic-inspired critical space we danced in and transformed through. In a shadow of learning about the Finsbury Park Mosque attack, an area I lived in in London and relate closely to and have friends around (including Muslims friends who used to attend the mosque regularly), I feel like it is crucial to continue reflect not only on what type of art we’re making but whom does it include and how it is made, on how we occupy spaces and how we bring discussions around belonging, borders and critical transformation of collective potencies. I am so grateful Kate and Adrienne have taken me with them onto their project in Prague.
I have been thinking a lot of ethical processes and how it adds to a holistic value of the final ‘product’. Of course we find ourselves compromising every day, but maybe we should question how much compromise is REALLY necessary to make it happen t all – from where and how I perform to the question with whom and for who. I am sure there are many other questions to ask. It started permeating my way of looking at (not only) art and made me realize beauty in itself has never really been ‘enough-enough’ for me. Art is a magick and it is a tool of a communication and initiation/transmission for me. I desire to be able to make the most heartfelt and articulate transmissions I am in my potential capable of developing. The same way I massage bodies in one of my dayjobs and transmit a vibration (whatever that means) of acknowledgment of each person’s individual path and their idea of wholeness, I want to ‘massage’ our collective bod-y/ies – massage a bit and invigorate them somewhat too.