a state of dance
founded by michael klien and davide terlingo
edited by jeffrey gormly (editor [at] choreograph [dot] net)

LEAD ARTICLE: Social Choreography: Steve Valk and the Situationists

by Alan N. Shapiro


We have to change the world. That’s what we think. Change society. Change life. Do it for freedom. Get us out of this prison. We know one thing: this change is possible. All that remains is to figure out how to do it. (1)

With these words written in 1957, Guy Debord founded the Situationist International, a radical group of creators searching for new forms of action in art and politics. The practice of social choreography recently initiated by Steve Valk carries the promise of changer le monde once again to the threshold of the crossing from dream to reality. Two events organized by Valk lead to an appraisal of what has been achieved and what remains to be done in conceptualizing an effective contemporary project of concrete utopia. In Smallclub: Goldcoast (2001), Valk worked with artist-activists from Frankfurt’s TAT Theater to organize “wanderings” of groups of individuals for several hours through the Bockenheim section of the city. The idea for these walking adventures was adapted from the Situationist notion of le derive or collectively “drifting” through urban spaces.

In the conference-event-happening Framemakers: Choreography as an Aesthetics of Change, Valk collaborated with Jeffrey Gormly, Michael Klien and the Limerick-based Daghdha Dance Company to pay tribute to – yet also radicalize – William Forsythe’s “postmodern” choreography of the plasticity of the body. What the predominant “body movement paradigm” in our society relegates to the status of autistic or nonfunctional behavior attains a space of legitimacy on the stage in the incredible suppleness that Forsythe’s special inspirational remaking of the dancer’s body allows her to express. But the ambition of social choreography is to extend this paradigm shift from the dancer’s body to a new radical flexibility of the social body. Valk and his associates brought together dancers, cultural theorists and new media artists to discuss and enact the potentialities of choreography as a socially active force.

But the presence at the conference of technology entrepreneur James Stevens hinted metaphorically at the decisive step that Steve Valk’s amazingly original enterprise must still take if it is truly going to change the world, and it must take nothing less than that as its goal. To achieve real change, social choreography must intervene in the heart of capitalist society, not remain in the separate sphere of culture, which has long been designed as the safe place for authorized challenge, creativity, and pseudo-revolt. The technology corporation is today “where the action is” in the dynamics of the present, and social choreography can be brought under the umbrella of a radical technology corporation that will “change all the rules” in every aspect of its operations.

Report: Louis Althusser, Eléments d’autocritique (1974).
Update May 2010: Alan N. Shapiro, Autocritique, self-criticism.
I have lived these last few years under an illusion. (BTW, what is the difference between an illusion and a delusion? Certainly Freud did not get this right.) I had a conversation with Jean Baudrillard in July 2004 about the subject of changer le monde. This impossible exchange with a great thinker led me to the idea of making a new interpretation of Marxism and Buddhism as the everyday life practice of utopia within a technology company. I wrote up this idea in the essay “Play Don’t Work in a Pragmatic-Utopian High-Tech Enterprise” This was a very successful essay, and I have received a lot of positive feedback about it, especially regarding the vision of the future of work that it articulates (the future of an illusion).
However, the dream of the radical anarcho-Marxist technology-media-ecology-design company – with its principles of friendship, individual freedom, play, creativity, and diversity of activities – is only an idea! It is not a reality. To actually try to do something like that in practice would amount to madness. La folie. Don Quixote tilting at windmills. Since (almost) everyone else who is operating in business is doing so in accordance with business-as-usual capitalist principles, he who would attempt to “change all the rules” – and do everything differently in a utopian way would be immediately confronted with a whole series of impossible-to-solve problems. One wants to reinvent everything, yet at the same time integrate all of this new stuff with the productivity and viability of a functioning business. One would be entering a black hole of the absurdly unattainable. Only a madman or “the idiot of the family” would try it. Of course, Jean-Paul Sartre concerned himself at great length with such family idiots (Gustave Flaubert), and Michel Foucault reflected profoundly on the meaning of madness and its binary exclusion for the narrow rationalism of modern European society. Sartre and Foucault, BTW, are at the very heart of our science, of the human sciences of the West. And as the Dalai Lama says: develop the heart. AAR (at any rate), Social Choreography should be left alone to stand on its own two feet. It should be de-coupled from any imperatives put on it to throw in with the New Technology Company that does not exist. La société technologique utopique n’a pas eu lieu. We have to change the world. That’s what we think. Change society. Change life. Do it for freedom. Get us out of this prison. We know one thing: this change is possible. All that remains is to figure out how to do it.
On the other hand, the software architecture, design and code of the New Computer Science:link is very real – based as it is on mathematics that nobody else has – and investors are coming closer. So what the fuck are you gonna do, Alan? What would Captain Kirk do? What would Casey Stengel do? What would Steve McQueen in The Cincinnati Kid do? Live to fight another day.

The Wandering Spectacle
If I wager on red or black in roulette, pair or impair, manque or passe, I have a nearly even chance of victory or defeat, of gaining an amount equal to my stake, or of sacrificing the money that I have set down, leaving aside the house advantage that the 37th number, the zero, affords to the gaming establishment. The only nonpositive number on the wheel of chance is neither red nor black, neither pair nor impair, manque nor passe. When this lowest degree comes up, my squandered chips are positioned by an employee onto a narrow line between further acquisition and forfeiture, and the issue is deferred. But the two essential outcomes, being up or down, getting ahead or falling back, kicking ass or getting kicked, winning a bundle or crapping out, steamrolling or biting the dust, would clearly seem to be two separate and distinct modalities, entirely unrelated stations of existence into one of which I discretely cross over following the croupier’s throw and my subsequent instantaneous visual recognition of which compartment the ball has come to rest in. See here for more in depth discussions of this.

I have placed my bet on red, the dishlike device is spinning, my palms are sweating, my pulse is racing, the small metallic orb goes ’round and ’round, is deflected, and collides into several ridges. If the silver ball tumbles down into the slot of a red number, I will taste the rush of triumph and of easy street, otherwise the bitterness of destruction and of hard knocks. The tiny sphere bounces back up from the first pocket with which it flirts and lands disadvantageously. A small piece of my hide is ripped away from me. The two results, winning and losing, and the differing circumstances which they respectively bring about, are seemingly divided and dissociated one from another. But this is only an appearance. There is a certain system, a level of shared reality, to which both winning and losing belong. It is a dimension which illuminates what they have in common and which precedes either of them and makes them both possible. It is a system of participation, call it obsessional neurosis or addiction, call it the game or seductive play, to which I assent. I consent to having my mood, my emotional or psychological state, suddenly affected by an arbitrary change in fortune or in exterior events. There are other intimate couplings analogous to the pairing between gain and loss: pleasure and pain, love and hate, sado and maso, yin and yang. A gambler who begins to comprehend the intricate intermingling between winning and losing might strive to achieve sovereign indifference towards the value of money, to espy the secret flow of the game itself – and if one were to think in this way about the game of life, one might become enlightened – or risk being swallowed up by the consequences of his fluctuations and losses.

Like winning and losing, the two key ideas of the Situationists, an avant-garde artistic and radical leftist political movement which thrived in Paris, London, and northern California in the mid-20th century, are like a perpetual Möbius strip which appears at all points to have two sides but really has one. The two crucial Situationist ideas – wandering and the spectacle – have often been regarded as contradictory and at odds with each other. Wandering or le derive, which literally means “the drift,” is connected with the early Parisian Situationists of the 1950s, who were influenced by Dada, Surrealism, and Lettrism, with the collage art of the Dutch painter Asger Jorn, and with the utopian theories of city planners Constant Nieuwenhuys and the Algerian Abdelhafid Khatib(2). The dérive, a group technique of transient passage through varied ambiences, evokes activity, creativity, and cultural optimism; new encounters and the exploration of territory; and psycho-geographical defamiliarization. It conjures up free association and the rediscovery of fascination; the construction of stimulating “situations;” and an adventurous playing with architecture and urban space.

The notion of “the society of the spectacle” was first elaborated in Guy Debord’s 1967 text La Société du spectacle, and it attained prominence during the French student uprisings and workers’ factory and office occupations of May 1968(3). The spectacle denotes a certain critique of consumerism, the mass media, simulations, and “commodity fetishism”(4).

It implies a degree of resignation and cultural pessimism faced with the widespread domination of images over reality, and in the wake of prevailing contemporary social phenomena such as television, advertising, cybernetics, and organized leisure time. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation, wrote Debord. The generalized reduction of the citizen to spectator status and the alienation of the worker from the product of his labor are developments which the Situationist International saw as common to the advanced capitalist countries of the West and the state socialism of the East. The spectacle is the dominion of the mode of mere survival, of economics as separating category, ruling over life itself and the festival of culture. It is the sun which never sets over the empire of modern passivity(5). But in the active critique and transformation of everyday life, as in the system of red and black in roulette, the concepts of wandering (or the dérive) and the spectacle are revealed as being deeply inter-connected and non-separated from each other.

Report: SCHMALCLUB Goldküste 25.05.2001.
Drifting and rambling along the Gold Coast of Bockenheim, Frankfurt. Pflasterstrand. Sous le pavé, la plage. The search for the beach under the cobblestones. Locomotion without a goal. The hunters of marvels. A sixth-story dentist’s office overlooking city rooftops. Traffic signs of vehicular circulation superimposed onto a park’s greenery. Claustrophobic towers. Touring map distributed in a travel agency with its entry point at the site of the travel office itself. A ride on a yellow Post Office bicycle, on a movable garage ladder, or through the Palmengarten on a mini-train. Dance studio. Quickie stay in an inviting hotel room. Wait tables or wash up in a restaurant’s kitchen. Meet an astrologer or other assorted celebrity. Get a touch-up at a hair salon or a passport photo. Stop in at the Institute for the Scientific Study of Dreams. Carrying handy companionship / wandering spectacle of constant cell phone communications directly in one’s vocal folds and ear. Arrive or be received at the stationary destination of Telekom’s seamless cylindricality, looking outwards or homewards with views towards everywhere, as in an inverted panopticon…

Our habitual relationships to physical space and our reasons for movement and action within the urban environment are largely determined by the functional and utilitarian patterns of work, daily errands and commissions, and leisure activities. In the dérive or meandering, one instead lets oneself be spontaneously seduced by the attractions of the terrain, and essays to make an interpretive stand-up reading of the city. Wandering must be wrested back from its consumerist meaning (as in the German word wandern) of hiking or walking on foot. On the Gold Coast, you rove and experiment, study your surroundings, you follow your instincts, and delve concretely into where you are and exactly how you are living. To dérive is to notice the way in which certain areas, streets, or buildings resonate with states of mind, inclinations, and desires(6).

As you accelerate your wandering, you start to proactively turn upside down the designated purpose of given locations and to make more conscious and free use of ambiences. You begin to discern the psycho-geographical contours, currents, fixed points, and vortexes which influence, encourage, or discourage entries, exits, and flows into and out of specific prescribed zones of the city(7).

The permanent circulation of automobile traffic, semiotic messages, commodities commerce, and shopping everywhere is the ceaseless organization of universal isolation, the unremitting production of lonely crowds, and the antinomy of encounter. Spectacles compensate for the participation that is no longer possible. For Guy Debord, the spectacle is the incessant auto-justifying and self-legitimating speech of the established society. The spectacle is the dominant order’s uninterrupted discourse about itself, its laudatory monologue(8). As designer lifestyles get manufactured as palettes of niche products, the spectacle also becomes a system of separation from one’s own life, an integrated complex of specialization and fragmentation into widely separated instances of social existence. But the spectacle is instantiated, brought into renewed being at each moment by its actors. We partake in the spectacle, and we can change it. There is nothing outside of the spectacle and that is good. Digital technologies, online interactive networks, and “reality TV” have not in themselves dismantled or altered the spectacle. Technophoric claims along such lines tend to miss the point. It is not about taking the side of wandering or of the spectacle. They are not in opposition. They have always been, and will always be, intertwined elements in a continuum, like winning and losing. We are always in process in the wandering spectacle, and the urgent question is precisely how do we choose to live our relationship to that, as consumers or as creators. As the physicist-philosopher Hans-Peter Dürr says, we must change our conception of what human beings are from Homo economicus (Economic human) to an idea of a Creative human.

Report: Framemakers: Choreography as an Aesthetics of Change
(Written in the style of R.D. Laing and David Cooper’s book-length commentary on Jean-Paul Sartre’s Saint Genet and Critique of Dialectical Reason):

The milestone first Framemakers conference of May-June 2005 – organized by Michael Klien, Jeffrey Gormly and Steve Valk of Daghdha Dance Company, Limerick, Ireland – is documented in the book Framemakers: Choreography as an Aesthetics of Change (2008).

Framemakers is an ongoing enquiry into a world understood in terms of relations, order, and ecologies. Daghdha Dance Company hosts a new kind of thinking space, one that invites citizens to enquire into the deeper structures and dynamics that bind our worlds, in which we have our being, together. Framemakers expands a metaphor, a new understanding of choreography as a creative act setting humans, actions, ideas, and thoughts in relation to one another, to create or reveal order, and channel energies. Framemakers is a new perceptual space where pattern emerges, a new thought in an ecology of minds , a growing body of knowledge about a multi/inter/infra-disciplinary pattern language.(9)

Pattern languages began in the late 1970s in the field of architecture with Christopher Alexander. They have since then spread to fields like Object-Oriented software design, progressive pedagogy, and user interface interaction.

Framemakers is a symposium, a series of social choreographies, a theatre congress, a thinktank, a new kind of performative speaking, a raw thinking circle, a social dreaming matrix, a collection of interviews, and now a book of recommendations. (10)

Framemakers became a succession of seminal-iconic events enacting (mettre en scène) what I call The Illusion beyond Art: events which took place in Limerick and Dublin between 2005 and 2008.

The Illusion beyond Art: Society has designated a certain activity as the officially sanctioned pursuit of creativity and social critique, and this is called Art. This role assignment implies, as a consequence, that the rest of Society is exempt from the enterprise of creativity and questioning. Museums, cultural centres, and theatres are the appointed locations where Art takes place. They host this separate sphere. But Society should not have any separate spheres. Neither politics nor economics nor engineering nor death nor madness should be a separate sphere. To call oneself an Artist is to automatically engage in a kind of posturing. I am creative. You are not. I am critical. You are not. But the great creators of the past wrote or painted or composed because they had to. They did it out of existential and biographical necessity (see Sartre on Mallarmé, Genet, and Flaubert; see Derrida on Artaud, Bataille, and Jabès). They did not call themselves Artists, because a great creation is a Singularity. This Singularity has nothing to do with any other creation. It is not comparable or exchangeable with other creations in any system or nexus of equivalence. Only art historians and curators have the idea of Art as category. What is most interesting about an Artwork is the Illusion that is at its heart, an Illusion that paradoxically makes us see the real more distinctly and vividly. This Illusion is not some fanciful fiction oppposed to reality (Baudrillard), but is a necessary Illusion inherent in the world itself, an Illusion embedded in reality. It is an embodiment and not a representation. The Illusion beyond Art is a choreography of the dreamed-of radical flexibility of the social body, beyond the sleepwalking society of discipline-control-self-surveillance, belonging to the collective cultural unconscious.

Peter Harries-Jones, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at York University in Toronto, with whom I had the privilege of breaking bread several times in Limerick, writes of Gregory Bateson’s Spirited Culture of Refusal Perhaps our leading Bateson scholar, Harries-Jones is the author of the awesome book-length study A Recursive Vision: Ecological Understanding and Gregory Bateson(11). For Harries-Jones, Bateson was the originator of an “unnamed” new 21st century science that is related to cybernetics and is grounded in an ecological epistemology or recursive epistemology. As Harries-Jones explains in his contribution to the Framemakers book

Bateson used the term ‘epistemology’ to characterize this exercise of human imagination about how the relationship of people to their environment entered into the dynamics of environmental change. Yet it was not until the convention on global climate change in 1997 (the Kyoto Accord), 17 years after his death, that this epistemology became acceptable.(12)

James Lovelock is another proponent of cybernetic epistemology who became more celebrated than Bateson with his series of books on our planet Gaia as a living organism of unfathomable complexity (for example, his 2006 book The Revenge of Gaia) (13). Interdisciplinarity is at the heart of the new 21st century science that it is our task to develop, and Harries-Jones importantly explains that it is the embodied metaphor of choreography that is the driving spirit of the scientific paradigm shift largely inspired by Bateson:

Bateson was a choreographer of ideas. He recognized that whatever the merits of his case for reform of science, it would have to be supported by art, poetry, parables and stories if it were to appeal to human imagination. I have often wondered, especially since meeting with Framemakers, how a choreography of Bateson’s ideas, drawn from his own life, could itself be presented as a sort of parable to be staged or danced. For example, as a young anthropologist in Bali, Bateson investigated how the people on Bali danced their ideas. After his Bali research, he [just like the founders of Gestalt Therapy Frederick Perls, Laura Perls, Ralph F. Hefferline, and Paul Goodman] maintained an interest in ‘proprioception’ or the way in which bodily movement forms and alters sensibility, and ideas about sensibility. (14)

In his essay Medical Perception and the Blind Spot Georg Ivanovas, a medical doctor specializing in homeopathy and balneology, and a psychotherapist specializing in Gestalt and systemic psychotherapy, writes brilliantly about the implications of quantum physics for holistic mind-body medicine.

In physics there exists a clear concept in how the process of observing influences the outcome. For medicine a comparable theory of perception has never been formulated. There still prevails a kind of naïve naturalism maintaining that health, disease and therapeutic interventions can be judged objectively. (15)

Ivanovas argues that there is always an unobserved blind spot in any medical or psychotherapeutic perception. The allegedly objective scientific approach or paradigm applied to an observed process relies on explanatory principles which are never actually defined within a closed-circuit linguistic system of self-legitimating and self-contained redundancy. The labelling of phenomena by the knowledge system of naming relies on reconciled signifiers that are not, in turn, signifieds of yet more signifiers, and so on ad infinitum. The invoked pseudo-principles are the system’s closure points, the limits to the free play of discourse. Whereas homeopathic, traditional Chinese, and quantum medicine emphasize networks in and of the body and the singularity/individuality of the patient’s circumstances, within mainstream Western medicine where diagnosis and therapy are mainly based on statistics, individuality is rather regarded as a nuisance (16).

This lack of interest in the individual impressed me already at university. When we were first presented a psychotic patient hearing voices, we wanted to know more about these voices, what they said, what they meant in the context of the patient, and so on. But all discussion was interrupted. It was sufficient for the diagnosis and the therapy that he heard voices. Everything else was mysticism. This is how poor observers are educated. (17)

Another possible mistake of contemporary Western medicine is that a disease or infection is rarely left to take its own course to the end. Everything is treated in an interventionist way with drugs, cortisone (a steroid hormone), or antibiotics. Antibiotics, for example, only suppress an infection; they don’t cure it. According to the World Health Organization, 46% of the world’s population is chronically ill (as of 2005), and this will increase to 60% by the year 2020 (18). As in Baudrillard’s famous description of the precession of simulation and simulacra, our medical science provides a partial map that precedes a nearly unknown territory.

R.I.C.E. – Agentur für soziale Choreographie
Steve Valk’s organization, currently most active in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, is called R.I.C.E., which stands for, alternatively, Radical Ideas for the Creative Enterprise, Research Institute for Cybernetic Epistemology, Real Institute of Civic Engagement, Recovery of Intuitive Creative Experience, or Reality-Informed Catalytic Events. In his published conversation with Michael Klien in the Framemakers book entitled Social Dreaming, Social Choreography Valk refers explicitly to the ideas of Guy Debord and Joseph Beuys:

One can go back to the Situationists, who wanted to abolish the notion of art as a separate sphere, a specialized activity. They saw the social realm as a realm of creativity, a utopian topography which habours vital and socially transformative possibilities. Beuys is another figure of historical importance. In the 22 years that I have lived and worked in the arts in Germany, Beuys has rarely ever been mentioned, even though so much of the work that I was involved in, in places like Ballett Frankfurt, was conceptually close and begging for comparison. We transformed a traditional state theatre structure into a new kind of creative civic interface whose flexible interior design was done entirely in matted felt, Beuys’ favorite material. Thousands of people came in, performed, participated. No one mentioned Beuys or his ideas(19).

New perception shapes new worlds. R.I.C.E. is an agency for Social Choreography. It engages with the dramaturgy of everyday life. R.I.C.E. explores the mutually transformative effects which the world as we perceive it, and the activities through which we shape it, have on each other. Which thought patterns leave their mark on our consciousness? How does that inscription find expression in our actions? What form do we thereby give to the world around us? To explore these questions, R.I.C.E. does projects in Frankfurt, Germany; Limerick, Ireland; and Helsinki, Finland. The heart of the agency is Steve Valk, chief dramaturg of the Daghdha Dance Company, and Berit Mohr, theatre studies academician. Grouped around them is a network of partners from all areas of society. Working closely with R.I.C.E. is the ID_Frankfurt / Independent Dance collective, kindling feeling and movement to rouse the social body back to life.

The social body as a dancing body
R.I.C.E. has its roots in Frankfurt am Main. The first ideas leading to today’s work were formulated between 1999 and 2004 at the TAT Theatre, through the cooperative work with William Forsythe and the Ballett Frankfurt. With the choreographer Michael Klien and the Daghdha Dance Company in Ireland, Steve Valk further developed these approaches. R.I.C.E. was created in 2006. The goal: the possibilities of exploring choreography as an aesthetics of change. In order to do that, R.I.C.E. draws together participants from public and private life, brings commercial and cultural organizations side by side and into a network, and deconstructively synthesizes differing knowledge and differing experiences issuing from the most varied sectors of society.

To give absolute authority to the present
R.I.C.E. thinks, dreams and choreographs novel social settings and situations. R.I.C.E.’s ambition is to reach deeper layers of the collective consciousness (a term originated by the French founder of modern sociology Émile Durkheim) and individual consciousness. The agency wants to generate increasing awareness about the shared contexts in which we as individuals and as a society move – and that we design together.

Badiou: We are in a new phase of emancipatory politics.
DIE ZEIT: What is that?
Badiou: The revolutionary movements of the 19th and 20th centuries are over and are not coming back. The Proletariat. The Party. Strategies and tactics. This whole edifice has collapsed, and we must reconstruct emancipation from scratch. We are in the same situation as the early Marx: CAPITAL is in command. The problems of society are escalating. But no tendency towards catastrophe is in sight. One must seek out. Far away from the State.
DIE ZEIT, German weekly cultural newspaper, December 1, 2009, Interview with the Philosopher Alain Badiou

That’s why we will have to gamble on the invention of new models that create a societal surplus value, that seek out the connections and cooperations among areas of society which are still demarcated from each other. We will bet on new models which generate hybrid forms, and which will emanate from disparate thinking and living worlds.
Adrienne Goehler, Liquefactions: Roads and Detours from the Welfare State to the Culture Society (20)

The problem with our Western societies today is the immense gap between creativity and ordinary daily life. We have high culture, universities, and churches. But these institutions operate without real interconnectivity to routine everyday existence. They are the officially designated sites where intelligence, drama, beauty, awareness, and spiritual flexibility are allowed to happen, and are alleged to be happening. To experience Art, one goes to the gallery, museum or theatre. To acquire Knowledge, one goes to the lecture hall or enters the bookstore where one places one’s trust in publishers’ judgments of what constitutes critical thinking, wisdom or science. The “ghettoized” condition of Art and Academia is a symptom of the fundamental separation between ideas and reality that defines our impoverished collective quality of life.

While professionals of culture, politics and the media congratulate themselves for their “valuable contributions,” the masses (les masses, les multitudes) of people go about the business of their daily lives without any really useful information or dialogue to help them. They are processed – like lab mice on a treadmill – through the neuro-disciplinary society of work, consumerism, simulated-fake-pseudo-communication, real-time advertising images around the clock, clunky logistics, and inconvenient transport. They spend ever longer hours at the office, the factory, or the school. They are in transit for hours in a commuter train. They wait anxiously in the queue in the state employment agency or to be cared for by a doctor in a hospital. They eat in a fast food restaurant. They inspect endless aisles of commodities at the supermarket or the chain drug store. They spend money compulsively at the shopping mall or the sports betting parlor.

In these mundane quotidian situations, people are essentially bored, restless, passive, frustrated, and alienated. They live in fear of deteriorating economic circumstances. They try to find meaning and purpose, but are stifled. They may be on the edge of violence or self-destruction. They must deal with the boss, with difficult co-workers, with self-important teachers, with rivals and bullies. Intelligence, creativity and the exploration of new ways of seeing must be jacked out of their segregated cultural spaces and brought to bear on these real life scenarios.

The heart and soul of the Situationist International was its idea of the critique and transformation of everyday life. It is time to renew that historical project.

Social Choreography changes the relationship between Artist, Art, Audience, Participant, Experience, Artefact, and Society. One is tempted to say: Social Choreography changes everything. But what exactly does that mean?

We cannot change the world. But we can talk about changing the world. And we shall do so with every means available to us. With every language available to us. By hook or by crook.

Science fiction is never about the future, predictions of the future, or the ‘accuracy’ of those predictions. Science fiction is about the present, the reality of the present that dominant ways of thinking prevent us from seeing.

I close my eyes and recall my conversation with Jean Baudrillard in July 2004. I cannot hold back these tears for his illness and death. But surely he would want me to hold them back and to keep fighting.

From the potential future of changer le monde, Jean, we are separated by the chasm of chaos. No one predicted the fall of the Soviet Union or the World Trade Center.

Of changer le monde, je m’en fiche (I don’t give a flying fuck). But talking about changing the world: that I can do, I want to do, and I will do.

Flow my tears, the policeman said.

And pouring down my cheeks they came, in buckets, not to be lost in the rain.

1 Guy Debord, Rapport sur la construction des situations… suivi de Les Situationnistes et les nouvelles formes d’action dans la politique ou l’art (originally published in 1957) (Éditions mille et une nuits, 2006).
2 Simon Sadler, The Situationist City (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1998).
3 Guy Debord, La Société du spectacle (Paris: Éditions Buchet-Chastel, 1967).
4 See Sadie Plant, The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist International in a Postmodern Age (London: Routledge, 1992). See also Anselm Jappe, Guy Debord (translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith, with a Foreword by T.J. Clark and a New Afterword by the Author) (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993).
5 Debord, La Société du spectacle.
6 Guy Debord, “La théorie du dérive” in Internationale situationniste #2, December 1958.
7 Guy-Ernest Debord, “Exercice de la psychogéographie,” Potlatch, no.2 (Paris, June 1954).
8 Debord, La Société du spectacle.
9 Jeffrey Gormly, ed., Framemakers: Choreography As an Aesthetics of Change (Limerick, Ireland: Daghdha Dance Company, 2008); pp.8-9.
10 Ibid; p.9.
11 Peter Harries-Jones, A Recursive Vision: Ecological Understanding and Gregory Bateson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995).
12 Gormly, ed., Framemakers: Choreography As an Aesthetics of Change; pp.29-30.
13 James Lovelock, The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth is Fighting Back and How We Can Still Save Humanity (London: Allen Lane, 2006).
14 Gormly, ed., Framemakers: Choreography As an Aesthetics of Change; pp.32-33; Frederick Perls, Ralph F. Hefferline, and Paul Goodman, Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality (London: Souvenir Press, 1951).
15 Gormly, ed., Framemakers: Choreography As an Aesthetics of Change; p.129.
16 Ibid.; p.135.
17 Ibid.
18 WHO – “Chronisch Kranke: Neue Betreuungskonzepte gesucht,“
19 Gormly, ed., Framemakers: Choreography As an Aesthetics of Change; p.148.
20 Adrienne Goehler, Verflüssigungen: Wege und Umwege vom Sozialstaat zur Kulturgesellschaft (Frankfurt am Main: Campus, 2006).

published 18 December 12



Dear Alan,

congratulations! Strange how Il Grande Architecta performs sometimes in interesting ways: I knew very well 3 founding members of The Situationists International: Asger Jorn, Constant Nieuvenhuijs and Jacqueline de Jong. Constant was a very good friend of mine from the very first days I came to Holland and opened a Gallery. He also founded the group COBRA together with Jorn (in 1950) and was actually a “spiritus movens” of the movement. A great Dutch painter who, unfortunately, died several years ago (I was at his funeral). I did several shows with him and even published a portfolio of his Plaisir et tristesse de l’amour. As COBRA disolved in 1953, Constant, who was living in Paris at the time, together with Jorn and one italian bon-vivant-painter Pinot Galizio, founded the Situationist International. As a result of that intellectual gathering he published one book entitled Opstand Van De Homo Ludens, dealing futuristically with the idea of the need for a “new human society”, and, together with one architect, he “illustrated” the book and his ideas with a group of works (sculptures, sketches and paintings) entitled The New Babylon, which he, after his death, donated to the Haagse Gemente Museum, where one can see it. It’s very impressive indeed. There is a German translation of the Homo Ludens book titled Spielen oder Toten – Der Aufstand des Homo Ludens (it’s a bad translation). I have both books and if you are interested I can lend to you at least the German translation (Homo Ludens is in Dutch so I doubt that you can read it).

Funny thing is (Constant told me) that originally all of these ideas came from his observations of a group of Gypsies living close by the birth place of Pinot Galizio in northern Italy, where Constant lived several years after Paris. Basically, it all has to do with Freedom, and “freedom” is a tough cookie as we very well know. Here I again have to pull out “my Buddha” who wisely pointed out a simple fact: there is no free society without freed individual !

Best regards,

by Ivo Podunajec at 27 July, 09:17 AM


Thank you for this piece – very strong.

Lately I have been considering the influence of frames on art (how it is made, seen, understood) and the institutions (with buildings or otherwise) that serve as our frames. I am thrilled by your mention of contemporary art as the “officially sanctioned pursuit of creative and social critique,” as if it exists parenthetically. This has the effect of pacifying art and critique. Capitalist ideology is to blame for this partition (however useful it may be for its own protection) and thus it is even stronger in the US than it is in Europe.

I am struck by social choreography’s methods, linked to its interrogation of the aesthetics of change, that help create new frames that can invoke new ideas, new language, and new behavior. Or if not new, then simply better, or different, somehow changed — to challenge our shared reality and bring us closer to the “illusion beyond art.”

I hope that social choreography continues this important work, and even progresses into realms as yet undreamed. I also hope social choreographic practices continue the push to recognize the frames within which they are being understood, and to challenge those frames in ways that are both direct and generative.

With support and admiration from New York…

by Tal Beery at 15 January, 02:15 AM


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