For the SAR conference in Zürich this year, we proposed expanding the Long Table format with objects and actions. Given our past experiences in this conference, we also convened to create a structure that would both introduce our project and propose ways into the format through actions.
Annette began by introducing the project, followed by Hanna proposing the rules of the interaction, specifically that we wished for a constructive, critical arrangement, with action as well as discussion, but that was respectful of each other in the spirit of the Long Table ‘dinner party’ format. Next, Pilvi brought several different kinds of objects, with different kinds of materialities, to the table with her statement:
The format, as Split Britches describes it, already allows for written or drawn commentary. We had printed our questions to turn them into objects, too, and these got spread around the table:
After Annette read her proposal and set up her video projection at one end of the table, Tero described his action in which he read a text placed in a shredder that would be turned on either after one minute or after Hanna had thrown three sixes on a D6. In our tests, the one minute had always passed before Hanna managed to throw a six three times, but the performance of course proved to be different. The shredded paper became an object-pile on the table, malleable, incoherent, fragmented text.
This mess later provoked one of our guest artists to ask who will clean the space, alluding to how low-income and precarious work is often performed by immigrant labour and is gendered – here, as Tero pointed out, the artist cleans the mess they make. A conversation that could have been about politics of precarity in the art world did not emerge, perhaps because as members of SAR attending an international conference we were all too privileged to notice this.
The second time a conversation emerged was after Hanna told a story around the Russian doll Pilvi then exposed as someone else’s property she had not yet returned. This conversation connected to earlier discussions on voice and giving voice in performance, but once again, the long table format somehow kept the discussion to such a level of politeness the contents remained rather shallow nods towards identity politics. Perhaps no conversation of this kind amongst a random selection of participants can arise without specificity of focus that would, in advance, limit the scope or topic to a degree of clarity necessary for any in-depth argument. In this instance, the allusions to earlier conversations certainly did not help us achieve coherence.
In the third moment of conversation, which already turned towards the metatextual level of the arrangement, Annette pointed to how citations had functioned in a previous instance of a long table she had attended. This, like the above questions about privilege and focus, turned the discussion also to how, by bringing in objects and other materialities than conversation (spoken or written), we had made the performance more of a performance. There was, in effect, relatively little said during the one hour of discussion, whereas objects moved a lot, provoking drawing, tracing, illustration, and movement. Some of the participants even turned the chairs around the long table into moveable objects, marked with post-it stickers, shifted and piled in what momentarily became almost a competitive re-arrangement of the space within the circle of chairs for the audience.
Nobody sang, but a musician working with improvisation made a sound-art piece from the black balloon and microphone. At one point, the moderator immoderately threw the kiwi birds that sang in our Plymouth SAR performance at the window in what was probably the most violent act and the sole instance of someone actively disobeying the rules read at the beginning.
In the Q/A led by the moderator, perhaps the most interesting discussion was what made the performance a performance. The focus was on the issues of sharing practices across interdisciplinary and methodological gaps that the call for papers for this conference also raised. Afterwards, as we were cleaning the space, one of our invited artists apologised for not having joined in, because they found the objects alien to their practice. They suggested we should have filmed the performance, because that was what they saw it as being, and analysed what we might not have seen by participating. However, as this performance was also a rehearsal for something already planned for the summer, perhaps it pointed to what needs be fixed and the gaps that have to be minded in participatory acts, especially if we do wish to bring uncomfortable differences to the table.