[-empyre-] mythic violence / reintegration

Aristita I Albacan A.Albacan at hull.ac.uk
Sat Nov 29 02:39:44 EST 2014

I'll start by responding, with a bit of delay, to the request to elaborate
on the TO practice. As I mentioned in my first post, it has its limits,
but also holds multiple possibilities. Since 1997 I've seen it working via
projects that were either led or closely supervised by me. In Romania,
Germany and the UK. In a diverse range of settings, addressing communities
that were either already solidly constituted, or temporary. I've also had
the chance to participate in exchanges where TO practitioners from
Palestine, Nepal, Ghana, South Africa, Afghanistan, as well as various
European countries were sharing not only stories about their experiences,
but bits of practice (ie. workshops strategies or exercises adapted to the
needs of their communities). I've come to the conclusion that TO practice-
whether is Forum Theatre, Image Theatre, or, occasionally, Invisible
Theatre- works best at grass-roots level. It IS theatre for social change.
It manages to empower the communities to think and act differently, even
if they do so through small steps, especially at the beginning. It also
empowers the facilitators, enriches their approach substantially. From the
outside, a) it is a technique that bears similarities with other
improvisational techniques (differences are subtle and related to how well
the specific dramaturgical path is adapted to the needs of the community)
and 2) performances "suffer" from a raw,unfinished, perhaps even
amateurish aesthetics, which works usually as a turn-off for theatre
specialists. From the inside, it can lead to life change. It does not work
as a palliative, nor it documents issues and problems, it leads to
empowerment and encourages people to have an effective dialogue. In this
sense it is performance for social action and has a strong political
component. Upon his return to Brazil, Boal developed a new TO form- the
Legislative Theatre- which aimed to create a direct dialogue between the
legislative and the street. I do not know how well that worked, I have
only read about it and seen the official video of the Centre for TO in Rio
de Janeiro. It could be said, from a theoretical point of view, that
Legislative Theatre was most ambitious in undertaking overt political

Of course, TO practice still has some issues, one of them being evolving
its aesthetics in line with the times we live in. The other being that,
due to the precarity induced in the arts by the neo-liberal climate almost
everywhere, training periods for practitioners are shortened and some end
up going into communities with a knowledge of the techniques and key
dramaturgical steps, but with limited understanding of the ethos of work
in relation to communities. I am talking here about empathy and the
understanding that, in fact, in a TO process, there is an exchange-
facilitators/artists come with the knowledge of their tools, the community
comes with an in-depth knowledge of their issues. And sometimes, it takes
a while until these can be communicated effectively, most oftenly via
theatrical imagery, words come later. One last observation: I was amazed
to see, hear or read about the reluctance communities in established and
(apparently) solid democracies have towards the notion of the "oppressed".
Of course, the "oppressor" is more diffused here. But, as Boal puts it,
the enemy does not have to always be one and visible in order to act, it
can act quite effectively through "cops-in-the-head," as oppression can be

Bottom line:  I'm not saying TO is an ideal practice, but rather still an
effective tool at grass roots level.Even in situations of terror (i.e
Palestine). And perhaps more importantly, in line with the new type or
performances  that occurred in the public sphere in the past years
(Occupy, flash mobs, etc,  that looking at the notion of spectator turned
into a spect-actor, not necessarily as as in Forum theatre, but in the
sense of shares similarities- collective/ communal creativity enhanced, a
sense of empowerment an activation is of help in understanding potential
ways forward.

That being said, I would also like to add that I agree with Alan's
statement about "the deterioration of life and erosion of civil
liberties," perhaps not only in the US, but in many countries of Europe
(not only Balkans)- in the end far to quickly police teargases people
these days, when the effects upon health are already known- or, as Ricardo
puts it, with the ³accelerated and unprecedented decomposition of the
political, legal and constitutional conditions needed to guarantee a
minimum measure of civil and human rights² a process that happens more
slowly maybe, yet everywhere, and I see people tend to feel either
terrorised or depressed, in taking a closer look at the state of the
world. The political elites are not what they used to be, civil societies
are more and more fragmented and disoriented, etc. It is clear serious
rethinking, not only at the arts level, is necessary, but perhaps most
importantly at social and political level. Yet, as I have mentioned in my
first email, I believe arts have the ability to influence this re-thinking
process. The many examples and practices discussed  in this month
demonstrate it. Rethink modernity  and post-modernity and most importantly
attempt to seize the newly emerging collective practices and understand
their ethos, their way of working. The world is maybe re-becoming tribal
and with it, barbaric tendencies resurface, but it maybe also could
develop in a communal sense that may bring good things with it. And
Performance is/can be a powerful tool in this respect. I think.

One last note: I personally differentiate between the spectacle- that
mesmerises, subjugates and conquers (temporarily), and performance- that
stimulates/articulates/alters perception and holds the possibility to lead
to action. 

Warm regards,

On 27/11/2014 19:49, "Johannes Birringer"
<Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk> wrote:

>----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>One one level, what interested me reflecting back on "The Market from
>Here" was the approach, by artist/ethnographers from the south (Latin
>to set up a market in the courtyard of an anthropology department in the
>US, and propose a scene of trading in 'ready-mades.'  The curator was
>Cuban, and
>Cuba at the time was under the "bloqueo", the US embargo against Fidel
>Castro's Cuba which forbid all trade. When I worked in Cuba in the early
>and mid-90s,
>the country was going through a severe era or economic precarity (after
>the dissolution of the Soviet Union) and that era was called período
>especial (special period).
>Shifting the conversation/framing of reality,  the "market from here",
>then, also commented on the complexities of negation, or transgression
>(no US citizen was allowed to travel to Cuba and "deal" with Cuba, Cubans
>were not allowed to
>"leave" their island unless when approved by the government) of a taboo;
>and when I listened to the performances by the Latin artists, and looked
>at the artifacts and sensual objects and magical
>polyphony in the market, I glimpsed some of the meaning of what Bataille
>called the accursed share, the sacred in the meaning of the "accursed",
>the pure as well as the impure.  I began to wonder at what is meant by
>secrecy at the core of power. And what is the "make believe" - the
>theatre - that religion or shamanism require?
>Some of you have spoken here of the deep wound, and only yesterday Ana
>shifted attention to the "forbidden" sex or eros. The necessity of the
>wound in the holiness. Yes, surely, de Sade and Bataille
>and Artaud can not be assimilated easily, their visions too close to
>death, corpses, bodies without organs, eroticism and laughter., and the
>sacred dimensions of violence.
>Have we talked about the sacred (sceret) dimensions of taboo?
>(and is not the door keeper in Kafka's parable "Vor dem Gesetz" a kind of
>shaman, and more terrible ones, he says, are behind him, further inside
>the forests......)
>+  +  +
>On the other level, social-communal-political, I asked myself, since I
>also teach and meet Muslim and middle eastern students on a regular
>basis, what would societies and communities now do when in Europe, for
>an increasing number of young men become radicalized, travel to Syria to
>fight for Islamist movement or ISIS, then perhaps become disillusioned or
>wounded or tired, and return home.  The other day, en route to Dresden, I
>came across a report in The Guardian which mentions that western
>countries, fearful of the threat returning Jihadists could pose, crack
>down on returning fighters. In France, tough new anti-terror legislation
>allows authorities to seize passports and ID cards from would-be
>jihadists ³likely to jeopardise public security on their return². Britain
>has arrested at least 60 returnees; government talk has been of long jail
>terms, or trying to ban more from coming back at all. At least 30
>returning jihadists are facing trial in Germany, which is mulling far
>stricter exit controls, while, in Antwerp, 46 people were recently
>accused of belonging to a Belgian group that allegedly recruited and sent
>fighters to Syria; the group¹s leader could face up to 15 years in
>prison. etc.
>The report then recounts the strikingly different approach chosen in
>Aarhus, Denmark:  <The so-called Aarhus model, says Preben Bertelsen, a
>psychologist, is about ³inclusion. Look: these are young people
>struggling with pretty much the same issues as any others ­ getting a
>grip on their lives, making sense of things, finding a meaningful place
>in society. We have to say: provided you have done nothing criminal, we
>will help you to find a way back.²>
>"In his office on the fifth floor of East Jutland police headquarters in
>Aarhus, superintendent Allan Aarslev, who is in charge of the police end
>of the programme, waves away any suggestion that the city¹s approach
>represents the easy option. ³What¹s easy,² he says, ³is to pass tough new
>laws. Harder is to go through a real process with individuals: a panel of
>experts, counselling, healthcare, assistance getting back into education,
>with employment, maybe accommodation. With returning to everyday life and
>society. We don¹t do this out of political conviction; we do it because
>we think it works.²
>"Combined with a newly opened, intensive and sometimes difficult dialogue
>between city officials and leaders at the Grimhojvej mosque, it does
>indeed seem to work: from late 2012 until the end of last year, 31 men
>aged between 18 and 25 left Aarhus, a city of 325,000 people, bound for
>Syria. This year, to the best of anyone¹s knowledge, there has been just
>one. It may have launched only at the start of this year, but Aarhus¹s
>'exit programme' builds on a longstanding, integrated and very Danish
>approach to crime prevention that has operated for more than 30
>Here is the full article:  "How do you deradicalise returning Isis
>This approach relies on collaborative communication across
>religious/secular communities, social services, educational agencies,
>psychologiists and counselors,  the city, the police, legal services.
>It fills us with hope.
>Johannes Birringer
>empyre forum
>empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au

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