Expanding Concert (Lisbon, 2019-2023)

Regina de Morais

Does anyone feel that this situation is oppressive?

Which situation?

Here. Right now.

Expanding Concert #2, 22 October 2020

 

“Having an identity is an act of resistance”

Anonymous Palestinian national

 

This text by Regina de Morais documents the second edition of the Expanding Concert 2019 – 2023. Conceived by Mattin for Galerias Municipais, the 2020 edition featured Mattin performing with Margarida Garcia at Pavilhão Branco.

The third iteration will feature Mattin and Margarida Garcia performing with DJ Marfox on September 19, 2021, at Galeria Avenida da Índia. The response in text form will come by Pierre Bal-Blanc. For further details and reservations please write to bilheteira@galeriasmunicipais.pt

Almost one year ago, Mattin and Margarida Garcia (re)opened a space for reflection: how can art (in this case, an on-going concert) answer global and local issues without using the common irony that entered art discourse, since, at least, Warhol’s cans? How can art, of any form, escape formal uses preached by the culture industry, while avoiding the elitist role of a “surrogate satisfaction for the thirst for irreality and emptiness without which the possessor class cannot enjoy the taste of power and dominion” [1]? How can art defeat oppression inside and outside itself?

The second live performance of Expanding Concert happened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of moving freely, everyone had to keep their distance. Instead of faces showing reactions, surgical masks hid facial expressions. After months of lockdown, a live performance can have opposing effects: the hunger for interaction, to join in a communal event, or the desire to retire and try to neutralize our own physical presence. The Expanding Concert #2 certainly played on and questioned these two effects, that not only exist within an art performance context, but outgrow it and become a key part in our life performances.

 

Written in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, USA, 2021

 

The tradition of past and deceased generations is our own nightmare. It lives in our memory as the golden days we never had, the ghost world we would like to inhabit, and many keep on trying to bring it back into the present, and future, as the afterlife of something we never lived, but only heard of. The historical fiction left by the disappearance of past generations becomes the seed to an imagined future.

We live in memory of something. Childhood, youth, cherubisms. An absolute longing for concepts that grow in significance as we age: health, reproduction, survival, safety, the promised land. What is this promised land? Life on Earth in perfect communion with nature? The abandonment of Earth in search of a martian settlement? A symbiosis of human and artificially intelligent bodies? A free market in which the power to buy is never-ending? The possibility of eternal happiness? And who is allowed into the promised land? Citizen or migrant, subaltern or imperialist, parvenu or pariah, weak or strong, islamic or islamophobe, jew or anti-semite, racialized or racist, authentic or superfluous humanity [2]?

These dichotomies of being are as imaginary as a promised land. Our present is bursting with multi-temporal and multi-layered contradictions, making it hard to project a solution and easy to desire a resurrection of the past [3]. The contemporary feelings of deprivation and dispossession bring to the fore a yearning for an order that can be translated into different, indeterminate and vague returns: the return to fascism, to authority, the authentic, the native or traditional way of life [4]. This total dispossession of individuals has as an answer a spirit of anti-someone irrationalism, a contemporary form of the irrationalism, nationalism and supremacies consumed during the Third Reich. Contemporary Western societies developed under the auspices of the One Dimensional Man (working in the tertiary sector of industry and making more than half of the working class), who had to create for himself fictive passions, nations, devotions and loyalties [5].

One of the fictions created by and for the One Dimensional Man is the conceptualization of history moving in an Aristotelian three-act structure, following a narrative (i.e. fiction) that culminates in an answer to a dramatic question, the end of conflict, and re-establishes the lost order. “Going back to normal” has been, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, one of the sentences that best describes a collective preference for a past already romanticized.

However, it’s not hard to realize that the idea of “past stability” is another fabrication. We just need to think of how colonialism and slavery are the roots of most occidental societies (and of the instability and perpetual violence against people(s) once enslaved) to notice that, unless we are able to radically change our Western hegemonical structures, the way we have been making and telling History is solely based on an occidental and white lexis and praxis, rendering us unable to think of a future outside of this bigoted genealogy. And even so, we have to be extremely careful and realize that probably any demand for the occidental society to see History with its own eyes and the eyes of others can also be the starting point for more forms of racism. It can turn out to be the affirmation of a superiority of the West, that dominated for centuries through its technical and scientific (belic) advancements, and yet, and this is the subjacent premise, is still capable of occupying the place of the other for the other. This is one of the many questions the academia, intellectuals, thinkers, and so on, will have to deal with if there’s any chance of liberating History in the future.

When answering the question “Fascism: Are we there yet?”, Chad Williams, professor of African and African American Studies at Brandeis University, replied: “From an African American perspective, we have even been there before.” [6] As stated by Williams, different elements of fascism already existed within American society, such as “the sense of racial and cultural purity, restricting of democratic rights, crushing of political dissent, paramilitary as well as state sanctioned violence(…).” Many of these elements can be transplanted to the current order(s) of the day, such as the resurgence of “Law and Order”, white militias, criminalization of peaceful protests, and, most of all, the adoption of surveillance and punishment missions of the police and prison system by certain types of social welfare agencies, like education, social housing or income support [7].

This is the two-faced democratic liberalism of modernity, having as its banner the fight against fascism and authoritarian regimes, yet simultaneously being the terra firma where an exclusionary will to power regularly reemerges, “manifesting itself in those zones of internal exclusion within liberal democratic societies (plantations, reservations, ghettos, and prisons); and those sites where liberalism’s expansionist impulse and universalizing force has been able to evade its own ‘‘constitutional restraints’’ (the frontier, the colony, the state of emergency, the occupation, and the counterinsurgency).” [8]

While in the US immigrants and minorities continued to be the target of civil and governmental attacks during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, in Portugal, long-lasting hatreds continued (and increased) to be launched on the Romani people, the African diaspora, the Brazilian diaspora.

According to Franco Fortini, “the phrase ‘everybody is somebody’s Jew’ becomes a literal truth” [9] in the democratic liberalism of today, which is bursting with ideological passions, turning everyone into a possible target of ethnocentric hate. The spread of the novel coronavirus also brought with it a reinvigoration of dormant and new chauvinisms: be it the genocide of the elderly in Sweden because “the economy can’t stop”, the Asian hate that grew exponentially in Western societies or proposals for a siege on the Portuguese Romani communities.

Precisely two months after George Floyd’s murder, Bruno Candé, a Portuguese black actor, was murdered by a colonial war veteran in the suburbs of Lisbon. “Go back to your land, n_____”, “your whole family is in the senzala (slave quarters) and you should be there too” and words about the rape of his mother and black women were some of the few things Candé heard in the days before being killed(10). Right before COVID-19 was considered a pandemic, a far-right portuguese deputy (the only member of the far-right CHEGA party) called for a black deputy (Joacine Katar Moreira) to be “sent back to where she came from”.

Yet again, the afterlife of colonialism continues in the same anti-black manifestations as before. We cannot deny the ritual intrinsic to the murder of a black body, which “allows for this collective release and vouchesafes the stability of civil society” [11], maintaining the stability for the white civil society, where the black doesn’t belong. [12] Otherwise stated, these anti-black manifestations show how racial violence is not predicated on exploitation or alienation, as a marxist perspective would assume, but on social death and whiteness as value. The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated these values, making it even more difficult, if not impossible, for those socially dead to find a way out: think of the Palestitians in Gaza, the asylum seekers in Europe or the collateral damage of neocolonialist attempts to control or influence territories.

Against this background, it is no longer the productive forces, and mainly technology, that are the driving forces of history, but something else that has at its core those who don’t have access to civil society, its language and cannot create counter hegemonic movements. It is not those who are exploited and alienated, as we so openly mention in the West, but the ones that never existed without being socially dead. [13] In other terms, the ones whose identity and recognition as human beings is denied (they represent something akin to anti-humanity) and never had a timeline of a golden age to look at as the pillar of that so-called identity.

However, the socially dead are precisely the ones that can escape “that malady that goes under the name of identity.” [14] Resistance to this malady can be the starting point to a metaphysics that doesn’t belong to the milieu of identity and ideologies of Western supremacism. This new metaphysics abolishes the oppressiveness of identity (that is normative, comparative and, in order to function, requires banishment and discipline) and doesn’t run on a “continual return of the past in the shape of national identities, ethnic identities, sexual identities, and so on” [15]. It runs against “imperial and colonial [neo]liberal monohumanist premises” [16] and seeks to undo the systems through which knowledge and knowing are constituted. It doesn’t participate in the existing system of knowledge that since its inception left people(s) outside of humanity, but breaks the connection from this very system and engages in epistemic disobedience and resistance [17].

 

[1] Fortini, Franco. “The Writers’ Mandate and the End of Anti-Fascism” Screen, volume 15, issue 1 (1974): 33-72

[2] Mbembe, Achille. Critique of Black Reason. Duke University Press, 2017

[3] Rabinbach, Anson. “Unclaimed Heritage: Ernst Bloch’s Heritage of Our Times and the Theory of Fascism.” New German Critique, no. 11 (1977): 5-21.

[4] Teixeira Pinto, Ana., Bojarska, Katarzyna. “Whose West and Whose Universal? Ana Teixeira Pinto in conversation with Katarzyna Bojarska” View. Theories and Practice of Visual Culture, 29, (2021): 5-12

[5] Fortini, Franco. The Dogs of the Sinai. Seagull Books. 2013

[6] #ClassACT Forum (Bundles, A’Lelia., Kristol, William., Strossen, Nadine., Williams, Chad.) “Fascism: Are We There Yet?”, October 27, 2020, video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4ggYjR94Tc

[7] Petitjean, Clément. “Prisons and Class Warfare: Interview With Ruth Wilson Gilmore” historical materialism (2018)

[8] Singh, Nikhil. “The Afterlife of Fascism” South Atlantic Quarterly (2006): 10-24

[9] Fortini, Franco. The Dogs of the Sinai. Seagull Books. 2013

[10] Vidal, Marta. “The murder of Bruno Candé has put racism – and colonial amnesia – under the spotlight in Portugal” Equal Times, September 11, 2020

[11] Marriott, David. Bonding Over Phobia. Columbia University Press (1998)

[12] Ibid.

[13] Wilderson, Frank B. “The Prison Slave as Hegemony’s (Silent) Scandal.” Social Justice 30, no. 2 (92) (2003): 18-27.

[14] Berardi, Franco. Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide. Verso Books (2015)

[15] Ibid.

[16] Winter, Sylvia. On Being Human As Praxis. Duke University Press (2015)

[17] Ibid.

 

Appendix

Note: After the performance, Allan Puce wrote a poem describing what happened at Galerias Municipais de Lisboa on 22 October, 2020. The masked man in the poem is Mattin. The woman is simultaneously Margarida Garcia and Ana Teixeira Pinto.

 

10-22-2020

 

Projection of a before

a picture expanding backwards

 

Shadowed shape of a woman

playing bass and a man’s masked

face. Black mask. Difficult times,

repeated question

do you believe in _____

does anybody have an idea

concept of _____?

 

equivocal and ambiguous space

 

(arched shape of a woman

playing bass

a continuous line   in her line   fingers)

 

some parallels,

projection of a before

times of people looking for directions

to get through.

 

No more birds outside.

 

Doubles

shadow of a masked man

in the projected image of an unmasked man.

Do you think these sounds

are connected or reflect

in some ways ________?

 

Expanding forms

in infinite disintegration

colors, textures, reaction, lead:

moving shadow of the woman

echoing words (forms)

to kill, kidnap, common,

potential violence, potential death,

plan to kill.

Do you have any thoughts

about the _______ ?

 

Nostalgia.

Already about the past

projection of a before.

 

Tension

in the woman’s hand

apparently exhausted

 

childlike, a second man

plays the chair

a potential for

sameness,

Do you

reply?

 

Bodies get up

and start moving chairs

as

politics,

art form,

collectivity,

force, feather, flight,

menace, meaning,

manifestation or

will:

STOP-stop it-stop.

 

The woman’s heels

leaving. What was it,

what happened, is not,

is. The collective body

seeks a continuous line    her line    fingers

from the woman.

 

Projection of a before

oppressive before

here, right now.

Related Jornal

Date
Title
Author
14.01.2021
About the first performance of Mattin’s Expanding Concert (2019–2023)
Bárbara Silva