If I Can’t Dance is dedicated to exploring the evolution and typology of performance and performativity in contemporary art. Our continuous fascination with performance or the ‘live moment’ is perhaps best put into words by Professor Peggy Phelan:
“Live art performance remains an interesting art form because it contains the possibility of both the actor and the spectator becoming transformed during the event’s unfolding. (…) Of course a lot of performance does not approach this potential at all, and of course many spectators and many actors are incapable of being open to this anyway. But this potential, this seductive promise of possibility of mutual transformation is extraordinarily important because this is the point where the aesthetic joins the ethical.”
The use of the notion of performativity in critical theory is derived from the British philosopher J. L. Austin. In his book How To Do Things With Words (1962) Austin described how performative utterances differ from descriptive utterances in their accomplishment of an action that generates effects, or, when saying something is doingsomething. A simple example would be the speech act of “I do” in a wedding ceremony. Austin’s understanding of performativity has been expanded and reworked in fields of literary criticism, feminism, queer theory, psychoanalysis and ethics. For writers such as Judith Butler and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, performativity is more precisely related to identity politics and the constitution of subjectivity.
If I Can’t Dance is interested in the affinities and tensions between performativity and performance in the visual arts. In contemporary artistic practice, a work may be performative, but not a performance, and vice versa. However, the closely related terms meet in a mutual aspiration for potentiality, actualization and transformation, and may be manifested through explorations of theatricality, speech and the body.
Finally, we can see that performance today permeates our lives on all levels. As Sven Lütticken writes in ‘Acting in the Age of Performance’: “We live in a culture of performance, and this ‘performance’ is as ambiguous as Rosenberg’s “acting”, standing both for one’s quasi-dramatic self-performance and for one’s economic achievement — and increasingly, the former is essential to the latter. If the act of old was, in theory, its own norm, contemporary performance constantly tries to meet external targets. To act is to move beyond one’s previous identity and position, whereas to perform is to ‘get with the programme,’ to be in the event, to readjust and recalibrate. To act is to step beyond the now; to perform is to extend the now, to prolong the present. But this need not be a static opposition. What is a failed performance if not an act, whether intentional or not?”
If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution produces art works and thematic programmes. Departing from a spirit of open questioning and long term enquiry with artists, If I Can’t Dance is dedicated to exploring the evolution and typology of performance and performativity in contemporary art.