Toward a republic of the post-human multitude
In Framed Movements, curated by Hannah Mathews for the Australian Centre of Contemporary Art, Melbourne, in late 2014, Alicia Frankovich presented an assemblage of related works, including performance, video and sculptural components, which came together in ACCA's main exhibition gallery.
The first component of the event you came to was the twenty-minute video, Defending Plural Experiences: MOCAP Creation, a solo dance piece composed from a montage of YouTube videos. This had been shared with a Melbourne-based dancer, who performed the piece in a motion capture studio at Deakin University. In the video, shown on loop at ACCA, the resulting post-racial, post-human avatars danced on screen amidst human performers and the butterflies of the Melbourne Zoo, to a soundtrack of chopped-up samples from eclectic musical sources: a multitude of bodies performing a plurality of movements, drawn from and occupying a variegated common place.
The human performers were represented in the physical space of ACCA by their backpacks, handbags and satchels, which were casually heaped on the floor. After the conclusion of the performance, the performers’ bags remained in the gallery, purchased by the artist. This situated installation, entitled In Exchange for Marx’s Coat, referred to Karl Marx's family custom of pawning their winter coats. Here, commodity fetishism - the result of an exploitative cultural exchange – is readily recognisable at the intersection of art and the everyday.
The large-scale performance at the centre of Frankovich’s contribution to the show takes its title from a passage in Paolo Virno’s A Grammar of the Multitude: "[I]t is not a question of 'seizing power,' of constructing a new State or a new monopoly of political decision making; rather, it has to do with defending plural experiences, forms of non-representative democracy, of non-governmental usages and customs ... [T]he contemporary multitude is fundamentally based upon the presumption of a One which is more, not less, universal than the State: public intellect, language, ʼcommon placesʼ“.1
Virno describes the collapse of the “special places“ of state-centred cultures into the “common place“ of post-Fordist social production. When all labour is reducible to the mastery of language, production takes place in and through a public “life of the mind“. Moribund is any claim to being (a member of) a “people“ based on the existence of a state, a discipline, a set of customs. Instead there are but members of a “multitude“, strangers together in the universal, generic common place.
About 25 performers participated in Defending Plural Experiences at ACCA. The core group were recruited from an extensive list of community organisations, including: “LGBT community“, “amateur performers“, “pregnant women“, “migrants’, “general individuals“, “bush doofers“. In action, the choreographed multitude was a lithe and beautiful body, moving andante with comfortable agility, casually inhabiting its various street styles, investing its routine with joy. During each 45-minute iteration of the performance, the core group performed a sequence of moves composited from online sources – soccer drills, giving birth, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and so on – each individual or cluster of performers interpreting the moves with recognisable variation.
A small company of professional dancers comingled with the core group, loyal sometimes to the common sequence, breaking occasionally into their own cluster: discipline traversing the common place. A phlegmatic urban bicycle courier strolled around with his hands in his pockets, mainly observing, occasionally getting drawn into the fray. Periodically and somewhat menacingly, members of the Performing Older Women’s Circus strode through on giant mechanical stilts, observing impassively. Whether guiding elders or cyborg overseers, their surveillance did not impede the continuing dance.
Defending Plural Experiences challenged the viewer to interrogate the performers’ actions, drawing the viewer, beyond aesthetics, into questions of ethics. In this work, Frankovich explored ways of acting within and thinking about gender and capitalist (re)production – themes to which she has frequently returned over the years – with allusions to Rosi Braidotti’s notion of becoming post-human: “[A] process of redefining one’s sense of attachment and connection to a shared world, a territorial space ... a moveable assemblage within a common life-space that the subject never masters nor possesses but merely inhabits, crosses always in a community, a pack, a group or a cluster.“2 In short, it is from so many overlapping, intermingling queer families that post-human subjects emerge, and to which they are able to return.
Defending Plural Experiences has emerged from Frankovich's evolving, decade-long practice of sculpture, choreography and situated performances. Several previous works have employed compositional sampling, such as Bisons (from 2010), a kind of two-person rugby union scrum. Recent works have been based around more complex gestural regimes, such as Sisyphus Now (2014), which looked at contemporary office and art scene cultures through an assemblage of original choreography and movements sampled from team-building exercises. Artefacts from the pop-cultural commons have been present in Frankovich’s work since at least Volution (2011), in which the artist was joined by a number of men performing a frenetic Charlie Chaplin fight scene in the streets of Berlin’s Turkish enclave, playfully subverting gender, race and class-bound codes of movement and public space.
Also visible in Defending Plural Experiences is that strand of Frankovich’s work that has involved the recontextualisation and juxtaposition of situations drawn from the lives of participating performers. This work has developed most noticeably through The Opportune Spectator (2012) into the larger-scale Free Time (2013). The former work featured the entrance of a group of sweaty, panting joggers into a cramped gallery space at the conclusion of a run through the streets of Melbourne. The larger spaces in which Free Time was performed (at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Palais de Tokyo, Paris) allowed for a massed situation involving dozens of performers enacting a wide variety of actions from their lived experiences of work and recreation.
For Frankovich, her formal training in sculpture at AUT, Auckland, “wrestles“ with her background in competitive gymnastics, giving rise to an ever-present and intense physicality. In her performances and situations, the de-territorialisation of public spaces, objects and bodies is realised through a disciplined attention to spatial relations and physical intensities. The sculptural works Choreography I (2011) and Not Yet Titled (2013) explore the contingency of beginnings and ends of actions and spaces: the former is pure motion suspended, with no beginning or end; the latter is frozen and grounded, yet suggestive of infinite entries and exits, openings and closings, flexions and extensions. Such explorations have also informed relations between performers and viewers in public performances like Sisyphus Now (2014) – which occupied a thoroughfare in a Swiss train station – and the entries, lingerings and exits of performers among the viewers in The Opportune Spectator (2012) and Free Time (2013).
For Braidotti, the key notion for a post-human ethics is the “transcendence of negativity“. At the present moment it seems that much of the art world is wracked with despair – witness, for example, this year’s politically charged Venice Biennale. By contrast, Frankovich powerfully and energetically engages with communities and subjects, spaces and objects, proposing an ethics for movements of the multitude into post-human futures.
1 Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2003,
p. 43. 2 Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman, Hoboken: Wiley, 2013, p. 166.
Alicia Frankovich is currently based in Berlin. She will be exhibiting sculptures and creating a new performance work for the Gebert Stiftung für Kultur, Rapperswil, Switzerland, 18 September – 8 November 2015. | www.kurator.ch
Tom Rigby studies critical social psychology with a focus on gendered discourses of domestic labour at Victoria University, Melbourne.