15 principles of Black Market International
By Michael LaChance
The performances of BMI are exercises in derision and concentration, sacralisation and effacement. The performers try to take life seriously yet demonstrating that is worth very little, that it is held by a gesture, that is played in a moment. It is hard to describe that gesture, to say what it should look like, yet we recognize it as soon as we see it. We are familiar with metaphysics more that we want to admit and that is why we can recognize the fundamental moments of existence without even knowing what it's about - in an epoch where the acceptance of performance as an artistic practice is not yet in the dictionaries. That is the work of BMI: create fundamental moments. And it is our job to find out why and how.
In this article, we will tell you about the solo BMI performances through 15 basic principles.
The 1st principle of BMI is the privilege of encounter. The art of encounter becomes a politic of comunitas. The members don't have a common theme; they work in open cooperation, even if it's not often that they are produced collectively. The title Black Market (1985) is not a group but ideas at work. Each performance must set up a singular space-time complex, exhuming the structure of encounter, which is genealogically the origin of what we call "space". The body is sublimes in space. There is also an experience of human relation that has been deposited in what seems today like an empty frame: the abstract notion of time-space. A BMI performance seeks an encounter so that we may reappropriate space and draw the invisible links that make it up.
Lee Wen makes visual contact with the public, and then does a ritual in which he takes small stones and bounces them on his head. Then he eats a handful of red peppers, leaving the audience in awe. We are attracted to him and the tears in his eyes make the silence more enveloping... Wen shows his capacity of being detached from himself, yet maintaining self-control. He seems to be saying: all our identities are false.
The 2nd principle is the diversity of initial impulses. Each member can bring his own impulse. A BMI event can host guests that will bring their own impulse, but the initial autonomy must hold its course; the performer is a vehicle for experimentation. Elvira S. wants to get on a bus without paying, negotiating the fare with a small duck, asking the driver to be her accomplice. It is the idea of the singularity of gratuity ("only this time"). The impulse is accentuated by the resistance that is provoked, and by the possibilities of eventual negotiations.
The 3rd principle is the parallelism of performances. We can imagine many actors on the same stage, each one reciting his own play. The happening-condition reminds us of the human condition, each one being absorbed by his own existence, each one unraveling the thread of his own existence. There is nothing in common between Alastair M. nailing fish on the wall and Roi V. writing a spiral of words on the ground. One thing is sure and it is that we must not link the interventions because it would reduce them to “episodes”.
The performances enable us to see forms of life that would otherwise go unnoticed - they are “language games” (Wittgenstein)
The 4th principle of BMI is that it is only an artistic idea, a creative hypothesis that could not be founded on certainties that must be verified in upcoming projects that need links that are not based on our cultural backgrounds. We must then choose links (structural, affective…) beyond our cultural limits. Another way of saying that out familiar world is made of a tight web of conventional links, and all things are connected to each other in the consolidation of the evidence of the world (I didn’t understand this part!!! I skip it!)
With this 4th principle, BMI is conceived as a federative idea (European inspired): a mutual political and economic union that respects the cultural specificity of each member. Within this union, the cultural differences are marked but they do not risk to be menaced by concerted actions. The political dimension must be assumed: the performer must reflect on the type of relationship he wants to have with his public. Each action questions the responsibilities of the artist and of the public which, in a given situation, has a drawing force and manifests an adhesion to the event in all its ethical and political implications.
In Helge M.’s relationship with his public, a unstated contract is passed: “All the clothing I wear are the result of an exchange (in a past festival in the Philippines) I must exchange them all with you today!” When it came to the last item, feminine underwear, and the public had to decide collectively about this symbolic process of nudity of the artist, whether or not to permit the complete success of the exchange protocol. The systematic character of the unraveling of the action and the quality of the interpersonal relationship in which the exchange is done contributes to the degree of response of the public. So Meyer’s mechanism is a link in an international transmission chain: the group from Le Lieu became solidary with the Philippines group. And more, each piece of clothing having a history, each spectator discovers how much his clothing is related to his own cultural universe. All this pushed an audacious spectator to come and give up his underwear in front of everybody in exchange for a black lace string that Helge M. had succeeded in putting on. Thanks to this last audacious act, all the process was ratified, and the public confirmed its ability to conclude the “procedural” contract and overcome idiosyncratic prudery. The spectators are not only people who are asked to be there, they participate in an action and become performers. Helge M. can go to his next festival with a bunch of Québécois clothing. Let’s hope he will find someone who will accept to take them.
The 5th BMI principle is that the artist must adjust his presence in the way he feels the space, and in the way he creates a duration in time through his actions. This is an existential statement that deals with the quality of the presence and the specificity of the staging of the present. Ideally, the event that assembles performer and public should have no content or reason other than this “typical presence” that characterizes the artist, signaling an ontic event really taking place.
Roi Vaara, elegant in his evening suit, starts his performance putting an alarm clock on the floor. Then he writes a series of words on the floor in a spiral. Once it is done, he swirls around and falls. He lights a cigarette and gets up, goes along the spiral in the other direction cancelling the words and replacing them by others. This performance magisterially illustrates the construction of space (the spiral) and time (the double movement centripede and centrifuge, systole and diastole), a space-time constructed hic and nunc. This vertiginal spiral of our time makes Roi V. loose his equilibrium. SO he has the good idea of changing the terms: fate (choice) etc…..
The 6th BMI principle is that the whole process must not end in a synthesis (a demonstration, a moral…), the event’s indetermination must be maintained. A direct consequence of this indetermination is that hope remains in circuit because the virtuality of the presence is not completely actualized. BMI is an event without terms, produced within events that leave us waiting for something to follow, waking up the sense of community in the hope of a future world: recognizing in ourselves a thirst for the absolute (vodka hahaha), : recognizing in ourselves the hidden hope for a better world… Performance must give the most tangible manifestation of hope, must make hope gush like and energy flowing out of immateriality.
Boris N., almost nude, rolls on the gravel holding a stone to his breast. Rolling stone gathers no moss? He underlines his nakedness in a poetical action that is close to the definition that Cage gave to poetry: a “celebration of the fact that we own nothing”. It is like acts of meditation and telluric incantation, when the stone becomes the nexus of a mental concentration, a meditative exercise that transforms the gravel of any parking lot into something as precious as the Ryoanji Zen garden in Kyoto. A car with the headlights on follows him… How can the spectator abandon himself before the “unraveling” of this performance? He can evaluate the distance covered, the speed of the movement and thus the time. He can forget himself in this temporality by projecting himself in the performer’s body (when one thinks that it must be more painful in the elbows than in the shoulders), by projecting himself into the enigmatic gravel that gives a theological aura to the event. The viewer moves along to follow the action, he is attracted by the stone that accumulates presence, when Nieslony shows that the effective daily being-alive of man, despite all the mediation of our “spectacularized” society, can be re-centered in a harder core.
The 7th BMI principle is that time is not dissociable from the elementary presence of the artist with the public, when both negotiate each other’s presence.
Since Fluxus, MACINAS was looking for “monostructural qualities…of a natural simple event”. It’s a rule of unity. This is why it is important to set a specific duration: the time of the basic event, from which we take conscience of others, element in which we get closer to each other but also in which we practice exclusion. The presence is overthrown by the passage of time because the situation is precarious and the participants are mortal. In the flux of time, objects and living people are all temporal actors, inert objects can become useful actors, and in fact they can become performers of equal value as the live ones. Cage had already discovered that all objects can “become Duchamp”. All stones, as long as they are willing to roll along with us on the gravel, would be Nieslony.
With Norbert K., the flux of pedestrians walking on the sidewalk across the street from Le Lieu and that we can see through the window to his left and to his right, give the rhythm of time. The street life becomes a discreet actor in the performance. The performer throws flowers – symbol of the corruptible character of all things in time, he blows a white balloon – using breath as a component of the duration of the operation. Covered in a black veil, he passes a red thread from left to right, identifying himself with the three Parcae. There is no duration to this piece; the piece is nothing but this duration that unwinds in different ways.
The 8th principle of BMI is the exploration of ethnic and cultural dimensions that are lost in the usual tracking we do by using the most current ethno cultural markings. These aspects do not appear on the map on which we would like to frame the diversity of our times. A better knowledge of cultural territories enables us to trace the borders and to play with overlapping of cultures, hybridization and crossbreeding. We find a widening of the intermedia project that Dick Higgins is keen on, towards “interstitial” productions, intercultural poetics.
Alastair M.’s performances deals with objects whose connotation is specific to certain regions: in Northern Ireland, an individual with a nylon stocking on his head that nails mackerels to the wall, doesn’t give the same impression as in, let’s say Italy. M. proposes an installation: on the wall (three small plastic ducks, three mackerels) and all the material on the floor, need an interpretation, just like the door through which he finally disappears.
The 9th BMI principle is that performance is an investigation of forms of attention, from the reflective or meditative attention to a purely instinctive attention. This instinct enables us to recognize instantly “what must be”, what corresponds to the right unwinding of the event, to the natural traveling of time. But we are not familiar with the logic of the event, we cannot narrate its course – it stems from an inner knowledge that is like the analogon of the structural unity of the world. Or it stems from the world that knows itself through us.
The 10th BMI principle is that all must occur in life. Here, we find Robert Filiou’s exhortation: “Art is where you live”. Art must be founded in life and merge with life so that in return life can take hold on art: esthetics must open the road of ethics. So the art of performance knows no limits, so life surfaces in its reinvented project, offering through its decisive actions, the impression of truth. Nieslony tries to create daily koan on life’s synopsis (Daily Life Plots Koan)
The 11th BMI principle stipulates that it is in the heart of total solitude that we can find the greatest concentration that we can reach the utmost and accomplished being-entity. We think of Lee Wen’s solitude holding on to his stool to absorb the shock of his peppers, Nieslony’s solitude in which he realizes that the stone is his ally.
The 12th BMI principle aims at maintaining performance in an ontological paradox: the ambivalence of being and non-being, of visible and invisible – trying to give form to a third element, that of a differed existence, of a constantly imminent emergence. A lot of our experiences and perceptions are not stored because they don’t seem to contribute positively to our dichotomous and positivistic perception of the world. However we must find these experiences again, recognize them as sketches of another world, or of a multiplicity of worlds: as dreams dreaming themselves. Performance enables us to seize these experiences and perceptions, and to organize them according to what Daniel Charles calls “insular or compartmental structurations, rather than informative o sequential”.
The 13th BMI principle is performativity. Performance, as seen by BMI, is not the search for a greater technical or utilitarian efficacy; it is neither the development of a narrative knowledge that may challenge the great tales of modernity, as in Lyotard’s proposed alternative. It is the performativity of a direct transmission, where saying is doing and doing is saying. In direct performativity – as in “direct provocation” – the discourse and the action merge: a thought or a word surfaces from the action, and it is a thought or a word that must become action. When accomplished, the word no longer has to be said, it becomes a virtuality of silence.
Another aspect of performativity: when the literal and the figurative combine, the performative encounter will be positive and through manipulation, symbols will be either desecrated or sacralized. It is like this when Jacques V.P. makes believe he is regimenting his public, buries his flag, distributes fetishist objects, all with the help of a translator called Nathalie, in an action interspersed with the reading of chapters of Tao te King. And in the finale, a well-known Gilbert Bécaud song about a pretty guide in Moscow is played. As if we could hear this song only through the present situation we are living.
The 14th BMI principle is that we must stay away from common language; we must practice a game of non-communicative provocations that create in the end a deficit of interpretation, a hearing hindrance, and a spiritual embarrassment. Pro-vocation: provocare, “call (vocare) out”, place the voice outside, towards the outside. It is rather an ante-vocation, a call from inside. Auto-exhortation. The BMI performance, which has only a few vocal effects from the verbal sphere, suggest the passage from a verbal communication to a communication from self to self, self-oriented through vital energy. This concerns first of all the performer, who is carrying out a scenic activity disjointed from the reactions and participation of the public. Moments of energy that concern only him: Boris N. did not only carry a heavy stone, he made a crowd disappear, allowing it to become something else. On the gravel, under the highway, Nieslony is holding onto a piece of absoluteness. In fact, he is an admirer of Martin Buber, who said: “The words of he who wants to speak with human beings without speaking with God will not be accomplished; but the words of he who wants to speak with God without speaking with man will be lost”.
The 15th BMI principle is that all is possible. The simple fact of reminding this during a performance means inciting shock. It is putting on us the weight of the immensity of reality. Then, the room seems small, the action seems trifling, and our knowledge seems useless. The only thing we must know is that the real form of a work of art is its approaching the other, and its true color, its attraction, its impact etc., all this has no place except in the people.
When Roi V., sweating and panting, comes back from his vertigo, he tries to light a cigarette, but his lighter doesn’t work. Someone from the public comes up with another lighter, but Vaara crossly throws it out. We don’t leave a chance to possibilities because we determine from moment to moment what it should be!