Body at rest
Performed essay; peer-reviewed publication.
CAA conference - NY, USA

Body at rest is an essay that investigates the value of hyper-productivity and uninterrupted production in late capitalism. The essay was developed over the length of two years with significant changes in its different versions. These iterations experiment with different ways to disseminate artistic research without reducing the aesthetic to textual performance (for instance, through the video-essay or the performative-presentation), and to reflect the different contexts of presentation.

photo: Kerstin Hamilton

A first version of the essay was presented at the CAA conference (2017) in the panel "Bad Bodies: Inscriptions of Fatigue, Instability and Resistance.” The focus of the essay was sleep as a category of ambiguous representation. Through artistic examples using the representation of sleep and similar forms of rehearsed interruption, Body at Rest sought to question the subjective and social consequences of the ideology of hyper-productivity, the uninterrupted production of late capitalism, and the new reality of immaterial work as a new subjective-political composition of the working class (to use Maurizio Lazarato's expression). Body at Rest investigated the mobilisation of the iconography of sleep by different artists as a depicting and performative strategy to question spectatorship in art, the anxiety to produce, capitalistic exhaustion, and the industrialization of thinking.

Body at Rest took a particular interest in the use artist Mladen Stilinovic made of sleep as a performative interruption of the expectations of spectatorship inherent to the system of exhibiting and consuming art. Stilinovic was critical to the progressive automation of art and life, in which he saw a poetic and political impoverishment, the rarefication of the complexity and diversity of imagination and thought. To him, which I agree, this rarefaction supports the construction of collective indifference and compromises autonomy in face of the regularity of culture.
Stilinovic and other artists considered sleep as a possibility to perform an act of resistance to the establishment of distances and the fragmentation that the temporality of current capitalism produces. By looking into the book A Man Asleep by George Perec, the second half of the essay Body at Rest reflects upon the possibility of exhaustion and withdrawal as a practice of resistance and solidarity.

Another important aspect of Body at Rest takes place at the level of its dissemination. In the description of the panel "Bad Bodies: Inscriptions of Fatigue, Instability and Resistance,” Lauren O’Neal poses the question of “what happens when the body or text that writes or communicates the body, fails in its duties to be clear, communicative, and convincing?". This question, transported to the economy of academic production and circulation, not only describes the anxiety to produce deliverables, it also describes the normalisation of certain forms of intelligibility. The conference is an academic device for reporting and disseminating research. Intelligibility is a key factor for its productive success. For me it was a matter of conceptual and methodological consistency that the presentation of Body at Rest t, in its investigation and critique of the compulsion to produce stemming from pressure to perform would embed a “resistance to performance” in its presentation format.

The version Body at Rest resulted in a performative essay integrating physical performance and video. Following Stilinovic, my aim was to expose the dynamics of spectatorship and the expectations brought by the conference format by unpacking the predetermined assumption of a presenter’s role. The essay was recorded into a narration in the video that provided visual examples mentioned in the essay (and others), in which sleep appears as a theme of an artistic action or representation. I began the presentation by lip-syncing the recorded narration to a mic. When the narration starts describing the thematic of tiredness and sleep as possibilities in tension with the ideology of performance and consumption, I started to close my eyes, slowing dropping the mic and resting my upper body on the conference table, as if falling asleep. This created some restlessness in the room (I could feel it, I could listen to it), but the video quickly claimed its role as the focus of attention and the source of information. The situation could also be perceived metaphorically, and the video as the dream of a sleepy withdrawing presenter. The dynamic on/off of attention and of activity was also extended to the viewer. As the video progresses, cues propose the audience to close or open their eyes, playing with the role of the spectators and the expectations about attention.

Body at rest from Andre Alves on Vimeo.
narration: Miguel Garcia-Yeste

I expected this restlessness from the audience, but also to feel it in me. The conference is a competitive space where one is supposed to make the research shine at its best, often with implicit assumptions about networking, career progression and future employment opportunities. This opportunity is often seen as a spotlight for the presenter. Body at Rest is not only attempting to embody the essay’s content as a shape for the dissemination format. It is an attempt to occupy the conference with an attempt to exposes the different economies that underlie academia. I think that the restlessness in the room is caused less by the sense that the order of things is being misplaced. It reveals, I argue, the internalized conventions of the conference presentation format. For artistic research that takes place in the academic setting, it is crucial to find ways to be disseminated without reducing the aesthetic to textual performance.
The conference is a space of research, and research is a way of working. As other ways of working, the context of research does not escape the capitalistic interest in time, in attention, nor is it exempt of neoliberal harassment, the paradoxical weakening of intimacies and the emphasis on networking, the self-responsibility for productive metrics…

These concerns were developed in another version of the essay for the editorial “Work”, published by the Parse platform in 2018. This version of the essay Body at Rest articulates more clearly the psyche as arena of late capitalism’s interest. In this version, the essay establishes more clearly a relationship between the shift from material to immaterial and communicational production and contemporary ‘chronopathy’.
In Body at Rest I argue that to unlearn performative structures, requires not only reengineering of the relationship with time, but also involves the unlearning of modes of separateness that these structures instigate.