How to recognize this kind of activity that is ‘at the cusp’ (Massumi 2013, 3)? What does it look like? How to visualize or imagine bare activity that may or may not turn into a singular event?
Google’s image search presents activity as something akin to games, playing and running. In our collective image repertoire, as represented and filtered by Google’s algorithms, activity appears as if synonymous with doing without any immediately understandable meaning or goal that is achieved through planning and some implementation of the plan, such as running on a treadmill. And this view on activity does not even have the prefix ‘bare’.
When leafing through my own image files, I cannot help thinking that for me bare activity reveals itself, for example, in the image of the Unscharfer Langläufer, a cross-country skier on the Berlin Tempelhof after only a few millimetres of snow had fallen. His skiing is at the cusp of turning into enjoyable sport, but it will most likely remain in the state of just-beginning-to-stir. Imagining what bare activity could look like in my own life, I think of me walking in a circle on an empty beach knowing that the figure I leave behind will soon be washed away by the waves.
Or when taken to the realm of art and theory, I see something like asemic writing, meaning writing that is wordless and has no specific semantic content. In other words, it is writing in which the process of writing overcomes or challenges any idea of a perceivable meaning. The asemic text may turn into a singular new event and leave creatively behind the background activity, but in most cases, I believe, it remains a raw and nude activity, that is bare activity in the everyday sense of the word.
Bare activity in art could also represent itself in the drawings on the chalkboard in the Berlin apartment I rent. These chalkboard drawings may occur as art and make the next tenant experience something singular, but it is more likely that the next guest will wipe the board clean. Still the tenants leave their bare marks on the board.
Equally, when thinking of bare activity and art as a process, I might think of the workshop on collaborative art in Tallinn in the summer 2014. In the workshop we, the participators, held together a large piece of paper. We set a ball saturated in ink on the paper and started to move the paper, letting the ball do its work and write its stories.
In the workshop, as you can see, we, the participators, were exited and laughing, but hardly anyone else, meaning the Others or the outsiders, could get anything out of our bare activity. For us, the workshop was a fun, and even inspiring, game, but others were left outside.
In the workshop, I learned something of the ways in which bodily co-operation works, as we needed to adjust our movements to the movements of the others in order not to break the paper. Equally, I realized how difficult or futile it was to make any plans or set any goals for the collaboration because in most cases, the group did not pay much attention if someone had a specific suggestion, or alternatively the participators were too restless to execute any ideas or plans for more than a fleeting moment.
Something similar happened when I organised a small event on collaborative writing in my Helsinki-based, second-hand bookstore, Antikvariaatti Sofia. Visitors were supposed to pick up a text fragment from any of the books in the shop and retype it into a Word-file that was projected on a canvas. While someone was writing, others could watch as the collaboratively written text collage was produced in situ. We, or at least I, had fun while doing and watching it, but I doubt if anything else came out of the event. I, or we, never published the text anywhere, until now here on Ruukku.
Such mode of operation that rests on experimenting and testing, rather than mutual planning, dialogue and dialectic revising, might of course be more typical for short-term collaborations than for long-term co-operations. Thus, it is not an essential character of collaboration per se, but it is useful to remember that in most cases of contemporary community art, relational art and artistic collaborations of more than two people, the collaborators do not share a long history or have a long-term commitment of collaboration with each other. Moreover, the workshop form itself can be seen as a popular mode of temporary, short-term collaboration.
When the process of collaboration takes place in situ in a workshop or an event, long-term communal transformations or bonds can hardly be anticipated or even hoped for. What, in turn, can be expected are private inspirations or epiphanies among individual collaborators. In this sense, Massumi (2013, 2) is right when writing that ‘process as becoming is not just creative activity, it turns out. It is self-creation. More than that, the self-creation is “enjoyed”’. I enjoyed the workshop in Tallinn, as well as the event in the bookshop, and walking on the beach marks one of the happiest moments in my life, my honeymoon, when everything I needed or wanted was there, and I did not look back nor dread the future.