Subjection, Emancipation and Joint Actions

Lior Avizoor & Ran Brown

Subjection, Emancipation and Joint Actions


The link between pedagogy and performance dates from antiquity. Noam Gal1 suggests it is related to the tradition of the rhetorician, the public speaker, later evolving through a series of key figures such as Vico, Brecht and Beuys and a politics of breaking boundaries. This link deepened with the rise of performance as a new artistic medium, and by the end of the 20th century many suggested to define performance as a post-modern pedagogy in theory and in practice – a pedagogic performance dismantling dominant cultural assumptions by educating audiences for political/critical agency, while re-defining the relationship between art and knowledge (ibid.). Are we going too fast? Let’s take a few steps back to clarify some hypotheses; for example, what is the relation between art and knowledge to begin with?

We will begin our discussion with the first cultural bias that western education tends to naturalize, and place the origin of the discussion of the relation between art and knowledge in ancient Greece, “the cradle of western civilization.” Plato had a critical attitude towards poetry (and art in general): poets, he argued, believed they were wise and knew what they were “talking about”, but in reality had no understanding of the subjects of their poems. His main reservation was that they base their work on inspiration, instead of knowledge. The “false” nature of poetry is a result of its subject-matter – but also of its form, the artistic representation whose implications, so Plato believed, penetrate the soul, gradually altering it – an act harming both its creators and addressees (Rinon, 2003).2 Interestingly, Plato does not reject artistic representation altogether. He is only opposed to it when made by artists; philosophers, on the other hand, are capable in his eyes of artistic representation. In other words, the problem is not art itself, but the voice it expresses: the philosopher’s yes, but not the artist’s.

Aristotle, Plato’s protégé, had different thoughts on the matter. He, too, was concerned with artistic representation, or mimesis. For Aristotle, mimesis is by no means an amusement, a game or time off from life's more serious occupations. The opposite is true: mimesis is one of those serious occupations. It is the foundation of learning, and learning is what links philosophers to the rest of mankind: we all yearn for it and enjoy it, because it fulfills our common desire for knowledge. In this context, Aristotle presents another concept that is highly relevant to our discussion: Techne (τέχνη). The term Techne refers to the various human capacities to make and create things, be it a product for practical needs, or pure knowledge. Not only that Aristotle did not reject poetry, he argued in its favor: to him, the essential components of poetry, mimesis and Techne, are firmly linked to the philosophical activity, as expressions of man’s intellect, continuously striving to broaden its scope of knowledge. According to Aristotle, the mental activity that occurs in reaction to art is an essential part of our learning process, and art has an enormous educational power: not only does it help us know more, it also makes us better.

Let us swiftly skip two millennia and turn to Kant, who argues (in section 59 of the Critique of Judgment) that aesthetical education can have a moral effect. According to Zvi Tauber (2011),3 “Such an effect should not be the result of using artistic representation […] as a tool for injecting moral content into the souls of listeners and viewers, as in ideological art; the condition for aesthetic experience, the suspension of interests […], should be first created in the world of appearances, so that its practice in the aesthetic experience, that is, in a virtual reality, by the power of imagination, will gently prepare the mind to suspend its interests in the real world, which, according to Kant, is a necessary condition for moral judgment and legislation.” (p. 359) 4 In other words, attending a performance is really a “rehearsal” for the real thing: as the audience, we practice what we should be doing outside the theatre, that is, exercising free thought when we observe the performance, or the world.

Another hop (toes flexed!) will take us to the twentieth century, straight into the arms of Ernst Bloch, who hold a view similar to Kant’s: he sees Brecht’s didactic plays as a thought experiment on stage. “That is, with no actual negative consequences (…) and with an educational moral which presents these negative consequences dramatically. Other possible alternatives are also presented this way, experimentally, while their potential consequences are expressed on stage” (in Tauber, 2011.) In his article about Brecht’s Der Jasager (The Yes Sayer; 1931), Tauber ponders “What did Brecht really wish to teach, in this educational play, beyond the trivial rule (…) according to which one should or even must rethink in every new situation” (ibid.) Tauber insists that this play, as a didactic, educational text, is rather problematic, and on the grounds of his interpretation of Kant and of Bloch’s arguments, he claims that “What is being said in the play, the text itself, has no autonomous value; the way it is presented – the How – determines a great deal of its value” (p. 360).Tauber separates the content of the text from its performance, still referring to a written play as opposed to its actualization on stage, but already touching the pedagogic potential (not didactic or ideological) of its performance. The play’s artistic (and educational) value comes from being “a display of complex situations”, ones that carry different meanings for “yes” and “no”. The unique “How” of performance holds the hidden critical-pedagogic potential that concerns us here.5

On the verge of a new millennium, Charles Garoian published his book Performing Pedagogy: Toward an Art of Politics,6 in which he argued that performance art has a liminal quality, which he sees as a “transgressive pedagogy”; The liminal space of performance art is where artists “challenge and resist cultural domination,” a place where they “construct and participate in public life”, (p. 40.) Garoian marks the 1960s as a breaking point in which modernist ideals collapsed and opportunities for absorbing new subject-matters emerged. He describes forms of performance that unlike traditional theatre, are interdisciplinary and multicultural, do not provide information to viewers through closed conventional narratives, and encourage audience engagement through a transformative process of doubt and re-evaluation, in which the viewer becomes a participant. Garoian claims that performance creates a pedagogic space: “a contingent space wherein ideas and their means of representation are continuously reconsidered.” (p. 67)

In 2004, in a lecture at the International Summer Academy of the Arts in Frankfurt, Jacques Ranciére addressed these new forms of performance. Ranciére, like Garoian, referred to the uniqueness of this aesthetics which demands active participation from its spectators, requiring them to reconstruct various theatrical elements, in a similar way to the demands of post-modern critical pedagogy. Following this lecture, Ranciére published his essay “The Emancipated Spectator” (2007),7 in which he links pedagogic theory to discussion of attending visual arts, cinema and theatre. This comparison of pedagogical theory and performance follows Garoian’s thinking, however unlike Garoian, who believed the spectators must become participants in order to activate the pedagogic dimension of the performance, Ranciére exempts the viewers from this participation, which he claims to be unnecessary. Ranciére proposes to emancipate the viewers from the dichotomy between active from passive: in his view, the contemporary work of art, fundamentally multidisciplinary, “speaks” a unique idiom, and the viewers must translate it in order that it becomes understandable to them, so they are necessarily active. in this respect, performance art has an inherent pedagogic aspect, which can be liberating; Ranciére also points to the potential of expanding this interpretive activity beyond the performance, to the actual world, which also requires active observation, “translation” and interpretation by active, emancipated subjects.

Before we rush to conclude this discussion with a liberating and uplifting “happy end”, we must make an important restriction. In this short essay we sought to focus on the pedagogic aspect inherent to every performance – an action that produces tension; it operates between Aristotle’s notion of the artistic activity as means to broaden one’s knowledge, to Plato’s undermining of the regulation of discourse, the fight for the right of speech. In other words, it is the tension between “emancipating art” and “ideological art”, the same tension we find in education in general, with no artistic context. Ambivalence and suspicion are mandatory when art and knowledge meet; one must make sure pedagogy isn’t didactic, and that an educational situation isn’t manipulative and ideological. In other words, we must recognize the fine line between oppression and emancipation, in both art and education. Performance art can provide insight into the ways knowledge is generated through the collective endeavors of artists and performers, performers themselves, or performers and their audience, precisely because it exists in liminal spaces and constant tension. This view of performance art was widely elaborated in recent years in the discussion of Practice as Research (PaR), leading to the establishment of academic departments with practical research.8 In Israel this discussion is still in its early stages. However, such a discussion is necessary at a time and place where subjection and emancipation are not mere theoretical concepts, but a day-to-day reality.

The articles in this issue revolve around three axes: pedagogy as a performative practice; performance as a pedagogic practice; and artistic performances with a distinct pedagogic form. In “Present Personal”, Yonatan Levy presents his artistic-pedagogic work in relation to these three axes. Levy begins his discussion by examining what he believes to be an organic link between theatre and education through the concept of performance (performance as pedagogy), presenting an analogy between spectator and student, which is to repeat throughout this issue. He continues by expounding his thoughts on various shows he performed with his students in the Shaked Anthroposophist High School (pedagogy as performance, or as he puts it in this article: "education as art"). In the last part of his article, he discusses projects which explicitly address the relationship between education and performance, including his “class plays”: A Clarifying Talk (2012), Ghetto Riot (2013) and others.

Daphna Ben-Shaul continues the discussion of these three axes. To her, pedagogy is not only the pedagogic act itself, but also the meta-method shaping bodies of knowledge. Accordingly, she describes ”pedagogic performance” as a complex structure activating a delimiting, disciplining power, where the pedagogic interaction is also an ethos of liberation. In other words, Ben Shaul sees pedagogy as an antonym: an opposition between valid positions which are simultaneously present or exist on the same continuum. In “Who Said What”, Ben-Shaul discusses the various modes in which performance is pedagogic and pedagogy is performance, using various examples to illustrate the phenomenon of “class-like performances” which contemplate their own pedagogic action. Ben-Shaul uses them to clarify how artistic performance plays with the interaction placing student and teacher, actor/actress and viewer on both sides of a threshold; how it activates patterns of distantness and closeness, reduction and expansion, and how it is built on the presentation of the ontological friction between the school of performance and the school of life, resulting at times in fusion and synthesis.

In “Cross-Genre”, Yair Lifshitz steps up to the borderline between pedagogy and performance, to present what he calls “performative knowledge”: a knowledge, held by the practitioners in a certain field, which challenges the distinction between practical and theoretical knowledge, involving, in its modes of implementation, many practices and fields in both individual and social life. In his article, Lifshitz wishes to examine to what degree this performative knowledge is acknowledged in Israel’s wider education system: in high schools, in tertiary education and in academic institutes.
This time, the “Flies on the Wall” eavesdrop to the team of the "Nomadic School"– an experimental collaborative platform for investigating the various interactions between performance and education – as they discuss engagement and collaborative learning in the HOMO NOVUS festival in Riga. Guy Gutman, Silvia Bottiroli, Paride Piccinini, Livia Andrea Piazza and Tami Leibovits start their discussion with the idea that schools, like festivals, resemble ships – modes of transit, of movement, a potential for a journey – made by many for the sake of many. The five of them discuss these two platforms, challenging common notions through the examination of three terms: duration (is education necessarily a long process, as opposed to the short-lived festival or performance?), process (is a work of art necessarily predetermined and complete, as opposed to learning, the process of gradually acquiring knowledge?), and hierarchy (can one escape the dichotomy of performer/audience or teacher/student)?

In “Artist’s Say”, Noam Alon rearticulates public talks given by Italian director Romeo Castellucci during the Israel Festival in the summer of 2015, thus constructing a new lexicon shedding light on Castellucci’s approach to the creation of meaning and to knowledge transfer. Castellucci says he wishes to avoid clear messages, which to him are necessarily didactic statements. He does not wish to assume the role of missioner, the teacher who knows, possessing understanding and knowledge – he is not searching for “truth”, but for doubts and interruptions to clear reality. In this respect, Castellucci is opposed to the perception of theatre, or art in general, as a pedagogic tool. Nonetheless, he acknowledges the pedagogic aspects of theater, the educative potential of the creative process (together with the actors), and even perceives it as the greatest source of richness in theatre. In that way, he echoes the Rancièrian perception of performance as pedagogic, which diverges from the knowing/ignorant dichotomy, presenting a perception of the artist as student.

This current issue also includes two “One on One” conversations. Lior Avizoor converses with French choreographer Xavier Le Roy, also a participant in the Israel Festival in Jerusalem, regarding his work “Self Unfinished” (1988). Le Roy explains this work was an attempt to undermine common body images and examine human perception. How do we see? How do we perceive the visible? Le Roy advocates the perception seeing creative processes as research, resulting in a work of art presented to the audience as if it were a thesis. He defines his work processes as learning processes, following specific questions he wishes to answer through changing methodologies and ad-hoc aesthetics.

In the second “One on One”, Guy Gutman talks to French philosopher, writer and playwright Hélène Cixous about her collaboration with Le Théâtre du Soleil and director Ariane Mnouchkine. Cixous’s relationship with theatre followed from her activism in French prisons in the 1970s. As a teacher, researcher and thinker, who also composed several plays, she testifies to theatre’s power as an educative social tool, which can be used to transform reality. To Cixous, the interactions between writing and reading, and performance and attendance, are analogous to the learning process. But in live performance, the effectiveness of movement between the two is faster than in literature, and so it is precisely in theatre that the impossible – that which cannot be achieved nowhere else – can be achieved.

In “Visual Correspondence” you will find a work by Rinat Kotler, “Tai Chi for Baboons” (2012) – a 10-minute-long video work addressing crucial questions regarding teaching norms in the local education system, creating a temporary poetic space for 15 students and one teacher.

Enjoy your reading!

1 גל נעם, כל מורה הוא אמן: פדגוגיה רדיקלית אצל יוזף בויס, פרוטוקולאז' (2013): 315-332.

2 רינון יואב, "על הפואטיקה הפילוסופית של אריסטו", בתוך פואטיקה מאת אריסטו, ירושלים: הוצאת ספרים ע"ש י"ל מאגנס, האוניברסיטה העברית, תשס"ג.

3 טאובר צבי, "שתי הרצאות על המחזה האומר–כן והאומר לא מאת ברכט", החינוך וסביבו 33 (2011): 357-371.

4 In the wake of Kant, the poet Friedrich Schiller criticizes didactic art in his book Letters upon the Aesthetic Education of Man (1795), in which he maintains that there is a fundamental contradiction between art and the didactic.

5 A complex discourse on the relationship between art and education has been taking place for some years within the field of visual arts. The preoccupation with the complicated relationship between education and art was a hot topic during the early 2000s, which amongst other things, led to new curatorial approaches that emphasized intellectually discursive dimensions, being a direct progression in the development of “ex-studio” practices from the 90’s that integrated artistic practice and real life (Bishop 2007). As a part of “the educational revolution of the arts”, works of art, exhibitions, open houses and many articles sought to theoretically and practically redefine the unique role of learning within the field of art. A distinct expression of this approach is Irit Rogoff’s definition of a museum as a radical pedagogic site.

6 Garoian, C. R., Performing pedagogy: Toward an art of politics, SUNY Press, 1999.

7 Rancière Jacques, "The emancipated spectator", Artforum International 45.7 (2007): 270-281.

8 See: Nelson Robin (ed.), Practice as research in the arts: Principles, protocols, pedagogies, resistances, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.