Formulations of Assembly

How can strangers act together when we live in worlds in which so many forms of solidarity are diminishing? In Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly Judith Butler writes that assembly “can be an embodied form of calling into question the inchoate and powerful dimensions of reigning notions of the political”. The act of assembling in a square, theatre, or park can manifest the understanding that a situation is shared, but this shared situation has limitations, especially, in a world where shootings and surveillance destabilise the power in demonstrating one’s voice with others or alone. This project is in direct dialogue with Butler’s text, Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly.

Formulations of Assembly is a response to a fear: in any event our lives are subject to precarity and violence. Through movement and speech acts, we demonstrate vulnerability in a world where being subject to violence and/or witnessing violence is an everyday reality. Participants are guided through a series of exercises, or non-repressive actions to sustain bodily awareness. They are invited to move and speak together to experience the limitations of being in solidarity as a way to embody impossibilities. These explorations serve as a point of departure for discovering movements that exist between two states being, such as being together and separate. In a safe and inclusive space, strangers can express collective fears and hopes through movement and dialogue, in order to generate new forms of alliance and possibilities for assembly.

The event is a workshop, a hybrid form of community engagement, inspiring nonviolent realities that enact new ways of being culturally, socially and politically conscious. Interweaving methodologies as social practice in art contexts, it seeks to move away from performing choreography associated with iconic events that are also replicated during political demonstrations. Through practice-based research and performance making methodologies the parameters of Formulations of Assembly use intimacy, proximity, and polemics against delimitation of the body. The aesthetics of human interaction and collaboration not on spectatorship, but on participation is explored through integrating elements of autoethnography, urbanism, movement analysis, somatic practice, and performative writing. Collaboration is a process to better understand the subjective perspective of others. It is participatory and discursive. It is convivial and sensual. Inclusivity enacts the desire for a “we” that is multi-centered, embodied and performative. The notion of “we, the people”, changes each and every time we collaborate. During this exchange knowledge is produced in the space between people. The result is a situation where performative utterances and bodily actions collapse distance that is often experienced in relational, conceptual and performance art.

On November 24th, 2018 Formulations of Assembly, concluded with a performative party facilitated by Zoya Sardashti, Margherita Landi, and Silvio Palladino at Mare Culturale Urbano.

We invited strangers into the theatre to taste a handcrafted drink and guess its contents. Then they were asked to share it with a stranger. Participants were invited to choose their favorite article of the constitution and read it with a microphone. Documentation from previous workshops were exhibited. Participants were given an opportunity to write and draw their notion of how assembly should be visualized on signs. Excerpts of Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly were read out loud as funk, jazz and hip-hop played in the background. We encouraged everyone to dance even if they felt shy. At the end someone sang a love song.

Photography and video by Silvio Palladino, illustrations by Ladan Tofighi, and music by DJ Shirman.