Signification functions through contamination and in the context of the neoliberal economy or semiocapitalism, contagions produce mess. A mess is exhausting, since there is an excess of signified matter, and abundant asignified matter coagulates together. What is missing in the mess is accuracy. Contamination as a term was used by Freud (1921) and Gustave Le Bon (1895) to describe the affective nature of the crowd and mass-subjectivity. Contamination is easy to detect, but not so easy to explain, and it is affective by nature. Contamination corrupts; it transforms but does not destroy attributes of subjectivity. It is not colonization, repression or suppression. Contamination takes place transversally among the group as a desire. In contrast to the nineteenth century discourse of le Bon, neoliberal contagions are not ‘hypnotic’, affecting the hysterical or neurasthenic subjectivities, but more like an unclear form of noise or a hyperabundancy of signals – an effluvium of affects, too subtle to be perceived by touch or sight.

In neoliberal capitalism affective relationships are produced between subjectivities, devices and machines. An asignified refrain is contaminative as such, because it functions by producing a collective enunciation and desire for nostalgia, utopia, hatred, nationalist identity and so on. Affective contamination is signified as pragmatic, sensible and efficient. On the asignified level, these refrains produce mess and exhaustion. The result of this double acting contamination is confusion and an inability to approach potentiality, leading to production of repetitive mimicry and negative homeostasis. In the mess of heterogeneous contagions, minor refrains of potential are difficult to approach. Mess is a liminal state, where potential is perceived as a threat or as simply impossible. The undisclosed continuity of the liminal is the existential territory produced by neoliberal capitalism. In a way such a mess is ‘pseudo-liminality’, since the mess has no exteriority – a place where this liminal passage would lead into. Therefore, this pseudo-liminal continuum of neoliberal capitalism is the context for artistic practice, where it is often difficult to recognize the nature of each contagion. It is in the mess, where practice and research must probe into the potential of the new.

Artistic practice and practice as research do not function solely on the signifying realm, but are also in contact with the asignified matter of potentiality. Therefore, such a method of probing the mess of heterogeneous contagions will have evident problems of signification. Probing as a method is a blind war-machine or black hole, which may function as disempowering, inhibited and destructive or in turn induce creativity, emerging potentiality or act as a catalyst. (Watson 2009, 94-96) O’Sullivan writes about the probe-heads as embarking from faciality towards becomings [14], as one alternative organization of the heterogeneous mess of capitalism. (O’Sullivan 2006, 312)

Schizoanalytic performance practice presented by “Plastic Fantastique”, “Ueinzz” theatre group and myself is not a way of producing truth, but a form of sensibility towards the minor refrains, which linger in the mess of dominant contagions. This practice produces ‘expressive support’ and collective enunciations, which nevertheless remain asignified affects. It expresses the contingencies between fluxes, rules and virtual potentialities.

In the general episteme of post-industrialism each particular context is contaminated with heterogeneous but localized contagions. These contagions can be found in different locales and contexts. However, in each singular location, these relationships between contagions – dominant and minor refrains – have utmost significance. Mess has a relationship between the materiality of the contagions, since a mess is not gas where these relationships would be imperceptible. [15] Instead of rational Fordist-Keynesian organization, sponge subjectivity finds itself amidst a mess of heterogeneous orders. Mess confuses and exhausts the sponge, while signal and noise are not significantly differentiated. (Terranova 2004) There is a lack of direct command and, instead, a mere maintenance of delocalized subjectivities. “Cerebral organization and socio-political organization are collided in the individuation process of subjectivity, in the daily experience of life, in the potential or annihilation aspect of subjectivity.” (Malabou 2008, 49)

In the mess, subjectivity performs only to adjust the delocalized performance in the ever-changing conditions. Yet, it is not the survival of the fittest, per se, but a mode of self-regulation. Therefore, in the mess, there is a strong need to build rhizomatic structures, since each link may collapse or corrupt in any instant. However no archaic community of wolves huddled around the fire is possible. (Deleuze and Guattari 2004, 33-34) Sponges do not stand side by side, but are rather confusedly in a mess; dislocated like the depressed or the ill.

Contagions of neoliberal capitalism are explicitly producing maladies. Performance management, as proposed by Jon McKenzie, may well function in corporations and institutions, but not as a rule in a neoliberal mess of life. (McKenzie 2001, 61) For McKenzie the shift from Taylorist management of labour, starting in the 1980s, into ‘Performance management’ is a paradigm shift. (McKenzie 2001, 6) Taylorism was based on the rational and scientific organization of labour, which had a downside of massive, centralized production lines and a lack of flexibility, insufficient to meet the changed social discourse, emerging in the 1980s. For McKenzie: "Performance Management, in contrast, attunes itself to economic processes that are increasingly service-based, globally oriented, and electronically wired.” (McKenzie 2001, 6) He argues that the shift is from rational management to performance. Following Foucault’s analysis of biopolitics (2008) and Deleuze’s Postscript on the societies of control (1990), McKenzie continues to distinguish disciplinary power from the performative, in that "it is not repressive desire; it is instead ‘excessive’.” (McKenzie 2001, 19) Disciplinary power organizes by regulations and obstructions, while the performative produces through excess amounts of contagious elements.

The indirect product of neoliberal capitalism is a kind of subjectivity, which is compatible with this mess. It is that subjectivity whose attributes are precariousness, cynicism, opportunism, and distractedness: the supple and employable – yet often capricious subjectivity described by Malabou. (Malabou 2008, 68) Possessing this subjectivity, a sponge is able to maintain its form and perform in the conditions required by the neoliberal apparatus. [16]

In the effluvium of neoliberal mess, where all aspects of plasticity are producing a coagulation of affects, it is hard to distinguish a meaningful signal from the abundance of noise. The strategic objective would be distraction and distress – and not management of performance. Neo-liberal cognitive capitalism does not function through clear signs, as a mess is a productive force. The performance of sponge is located in these perturbed conditions, where adjustments and elaborations of conditions and the functioning of the apparatus are not executed as disciplinary, but as controlling modifications. Needless to say, there is no executing power controlling these modifications. The contamination is a self-organizing system. It is a heterogeneous apparatus of discursive and nondiscursive elements, with the aim – following Foucault’s description of the function of apparatus – of producing subjectivity compatible with itself. Mess has no representation, but subjectivities, machines and potentialities must distinguish the fluxes of matter and meaning from one another by affective sense. Neoliberal capitalism does not know where the right direction is, preferring to squirm around. Following McKenzie’s argument of the performative power as excess, control in the mess is executed by the expansion of the mess. Mess is unlimited, apeiron – a devouring and productive space.

Next section: The intensity of performance by sponge subjectivity

Previous section: Witnessing performance

[14] “Beyond the face lies an altogether different inhumanity: no longer that of the primitive head, but of "probe-heads"; here, cutting edges of deterritorialization become operative and lines of deterritorialization positive and absolute, forming strange new becomings, new polyvocalities. Become clandestine, make rhizome everywhere, for the wonder of a nonhuman life to be created.” (Deleuze and Guattari 2004, 190-191)

[15] However, these minute differences effect significantly the proliferation of social based practices in the art field.

[16] Dispositif; device or apparatus is ”a strategic nature, which means assuming that it is a matter of a certain manipulation of relations of forces, either developing them in a particular direction, blocking them, stabilising them, utilising them, etc.” and more ”that what I call and apparatus is a much more general case of the episteme; or rather, that the episteme is a specifically discursive apparatus, whereas the apparatus in its general form is both discursive and non-discursive, its elements being much more heterogeneous” (Foucault 1980, 196-197).