"Life in Bytom" -performance at the CSW Kronika, Bytom. November 2012.

Photo: Marcin Wysocki


“Playing prepared CDs according to the score was like advancing in a maze where ambush was everywhere and that made the performance situation all the more interesting.” – Yasunao Tone

What can a performance do? It can distinguish two aspects of rigidity and plasticity to recognize the impermanence of rigid forms and identify the ‘type’ of subjectivity, as criticized by Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy [10]. What performance art or artistic practice may do is to enhance awareness of the uncertainty of a system – the uncertainty of the articulations of ‘types’ and subjectivities. Plasticity articulates the modes of folding, forming and explosive attributes of our sponge subjectivities. What performance articulates subjectivity as a sponge? In turn, what is the role of a participant or witness of an event as a sponge? If our relations are bound with the permeable structure of a sponge, then what makes an event or performance coherent and signified, in other words, embedded with meaning?

For noise-music pioneer and Fluxus artist Yasunao Tone the approach to his milieu was not that of an idiot, but an amateur. He started dismantling and reconfiguring CD-players and CDs immediately, right after their arrival on the consumer market in 1984. (Kelly 2009, 234-238) Tone’s production can be seen as not only an avant-garde anomaly or oddity, but also attention to and utilization of the third aspect of plasticity. In the context of neurology and politics, which are the main topics of Malabou, destructive plasticity is related to trauma produced by illness or accident. Artistic practice such as Tone’s is based on error and accident, and the ability to repeat a process. Accident is not the meaning of a process, though, but more an ‘icon’ or index of the potentiality produced by attention, in other words by a transindividuation process. In the case of Tone this process included a CD-player, CD, adhesive tape and Tone himself. Listening to the album Music for 2 CD Players (1985) reproduces the rupture that Tone himself encountered when tampering with a CD.

It is a milieu, which defines in what way this event may be decoded or understood. Milieu constitutes distinctions and forms. More and more, human beings live in a technological milieu, one of asignified code. A milieu is a system of relations, and where the attention is becoming more and more disparate, it turns into a ‘dissociated milieu’. (Stiegler 2012, 13) Code or passing information is modified, in other words contaminated. Events do not follow an expected path, and therefore sponge subjectivity must adjust. This leads eventually to exhaustion, depression and an increasing need for stratified, fixed structures in the milieu. New forms, which require attention, develop “in conformity with the code's requirements; and the form can develop only through intermediary milieus that regulate the speeds and rates of its substances.” (Deleuze & Guattari, 2004, pp.51-52)

So, what happens to a sponge, and how will it perform in a dissociated milieu? Sponge subjectivity may turn into a Semtex-Sponge, which explodes. Beyond this point, the river of life does not follow the predetermined path, but one of another subject and another identity - if indeed any identity at all follows. The sponge subjectivity is related to the vulnerable construction of the cerebral, as Antonio Damasio writes: "The entire biological edifice, from cells, tissues, and organs to systems and images, is held alive by the constant execution of construction plans, always on the brink of partial or complete collapse." (Damasio 1999, 144-145) However, the sponge aims to maintain the coherence of identity as long as possible, at the price of lost attention and inability to perform. Like a damaged CD, it keeps on going, skipping and glitching, but unlike a vinyl record or magnetic tape, CD or computer file, it never wears out, but at some undefined point simply stops. In the meantime, there is meaning, as long as the received signals can find reference in past memories; as long as the positive aspects of plasticity are there. However, when there is a scission, rupture or cut – or several of them in sequence – the milieu stops making sense for the sponge, which ceases to perform. This is the destructive side of plasticity, which – as Malabou articulates in her book The New Wounded (2012) – produces irreversible changes in subjectivity and even full transformation into a neutral, cool and flat entity. Not only physical trauma, but exhaustion produces irreversible changes in subjectivity. “The transformation of identity emerges from a sudden, isolated event, unrelated to other events that constitute an individual life story.” (Malabou 2012a, 52).

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[10] “With the idea that the nature and the finality of myth, or of the dream, is to incarnate itself in a figure, or in a type. Myth and type are indissociable. For the type is the realization of the singular identity conveyed by the dream. It is both the model of identity and its present, effective, formed reality.” (Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy 1990, 306)

[11] See, Amelia Jones on war neuroses, Irrational Modernism: A Neurasthenic History of New York Dada, 2004, 52-53.