Someone That Happens
The SHITE [shē-’te] . . . principal actor
The WAKI [wah-kē] . . . secondary actor
The JIUTAI [zhu-tay] . . . chorus
The HAYASHI [ha-ya-shē] . . . instrumentalists
Nō theatre1 begins and ends in the mirror room. Hidden from the audience by a five-colour curtain, the musicians tune their instruments and gauge a cadence, and the SHITE sits before a full-length mirror.
Hayashi – The mirror is an instrument; it is reliable because it has the properties of dematerialization and of aspect: the becoming species, spectacle, specific, of materiality, but also the offering-up of what can be said about the properties of things. Aspect is an alchemy of essences and existences. The shite dons his mask and, in perfect simultaneity, the creaturely presence in the mirror dons a mask. An other-face moves to the fore. This face is an other self. There is a living struggle between actor and mask that is the becoming-character of the role—this is what forms in the mirror, and she will be the last player to cross the bridge onto the stage.
Before SHITE appears on the stage, WAKI will address the audience and describe the conditions for the appearance of SHITE. WAKI’s first responsibilities include introducing himself, describing where he is from and where he has been travelling, and opening up the story so SHITE may enter in character.
Waki – We are currently considering our relation to artistic practice as a reworking of what continues to threaten artistic practice in general: the lingering of a traditional conception of aesthetics that presupposes the artist as prior and separate from artwork, audience, curator, polis, economy, world, language, and authorship. It is our experience that artistic praxis has more to do with negotiating the boundary between a system of signification and what it claims to signify insofar as it touches upon, struggles with, or bears witness to our living desires and their material realities. This text is an experiment across a series of paradigms familiar to forms of theatre such as the tragic and comic mask (or persona), the mirror and its image, the unmediated living being and the face, in which an economy of representation is played out to open up the possibility of a figure that does not willingly fit the tragicomic models of subjectivity. We are interested in the f-l-e-e-t-i-n-g distinctions we can generate between capturing subjectivity and producing a sense of self.
Artists address the world, a world, or a number of worlds in the radical split they experience in the presentation of their work. The moment of presentation represents a critical tension between artist and world in which both are at stake for better or worse. We suffer this split, with one foot in the realm of the political, the social world that we are addressing, and one foot hovering in something that is not yet a world, not yet articulated, and therefore not yet political. Like in the mirror room behind the curtain, in which the face of an other self presents itself, the life of the artist bridges and, in turn, is formed by its traversal of this separation, back and forth, forth and back, back and forth. The unrepresentable is an event within presentation. In the lingering proximity of this unrepresentable presence, presentation becomes representation. This perpetual exchange between presence and image is what we mean by an economy of representation—it is a movement that describes theatrical space and time in which we sense that we are sensing.
The most awful effect of trying to locate artistic responsibility is that it forces artists to stand on one side of the divide as incomplete persons, separated from their artwork and their own livelihoods. Such a mode of living could appropriately be called tragic. The “artist” identified, and thereby isolated, as a social or civic functionary faces only the responsibilities of an appointed office and the theatrical possibility of this dramatic persona. It is in a tragic mode that so-called reality and theatricality can be effectively blurred. This constitutes the artist as a character subjected to a drama written by, perhaps quite rightly, God knows whom! and not the one who creates artworks that in turn create the artist’s living sense of the world. The comedic persona, alternatively, is not properly a form of subjectivity; it is a manner or attitude that permits a simultaneity of subject and object, artist and artwork (critic and criticism), artwork and world. Artists are not managers of the economy of representation, but important members of its household who keep the exchange from settling. What is a critical relation to daily living, to culture? Is it a matter of creating an infinitely cool distance? Or will it also accommodate us when we fall madly into obsession, in spiralling turns? Why should criticality mean that one must find a way to isolate oneself from this pulsating rhythm of the art of living and the living of art? Who has the guts to offer the entirety of his or her own image, without reserve, to reflection?
SHITE emerges, carrying a fan and wearing the mask of a young woman.
Jiutai – “The fact...is that there is no essence, no historical or spiritual vocation, no biological destiny that humans must enact or realize. This is the only reason why something like an ethics can exist...[otherwise] no ethical experience would be possible—there would only be tasks to be done.”2
Hayashi – The shite is the last player to cross the bridge onto the stage. The arrival of this spirit—the actor + mask + performance—marks the event of Nō, of someone that happens.3 This theatre plays out a process of subjectivity, the production of subjects, with the living being (the actor) coinciding with a persona (the mask) to create an image on a field of representation (the mirror, or stage). The stage, like the mirror, holds the image as aspect; the image found in these forms is subject to the perspective of its witness. The preparations of the mirror room are transcribed into the theatre, with the audience facing the paradigmatic struggle of someone against the destiny of the plot. The audience’s role of recognizing this process of subjection is part of the movement of mask-subject-actor to actor-subject-mask, back and forth. It is in this sense that “each person, not the audience as a group, has an intense, private encounter with the performer.” This is also the reason Nō plays are not performed in long runs—for, like the tea ceremony, “any ceremony can be encountered only once in one’s lifetime.”4
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About the Author
Hadley+Maxwell have been working together since 1997. They have performed, published, and exhibited their work internationally in solo exhibitions at the Contemporary Art Gallery (Vancouver), Künstlerhaus Bethanien (Berlin), Kunstverein Göttingen, and SMART Project Space (Amsterdam), among others, and in group exhibitions at the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa), the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, La Kunsthalle Mulhouse, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art (Rotterdam), Manif d’art 5 de Québec (Quebec City), and the 4th Marrakech Biennale. They studied media philosophy at the European Graduate School in Switzerland (2004), teach at the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam, and live in Berlin.