To Obey or to Disobey
an essay by Chantal Pontbriand

As world events rage over the planet, civil life seems to be becoming more and more problematic and unresolvable. The global problems the world is facing politically and economically have lead to more violence, more repression, more rules and regulations, more security devices, more, more…Nevertheless, more freedom and more equality seem a long way ahead.

This project, Small Acts of Disobedience, investigates the possibilities left when the margins for freedom seem to be thinning. The invention of attitudes, dispositions, and the resources of micro-politics open up avenues that can unblock a situation. Artistic interventions or productions will not change the world in any direct fashion. They will however encourage shifts, starting with shifts in the imagination.

As Tim Etchells seems to imply, the world is tired and bored. This is one of its main problems. What space is there left when most humans go home tired wasted after a day’s work, or a day out-of-work? So, for this project, he is distributing posters declaring this and that day CANCELLED DUE TO TOTAL LACK OF INTEREST, or CANCELLED DUE TO TOTAL LACK OF ENERGY, and CANCELLED DUE TO TOTAL LACK OF ENTHUSIASM. The invitation is one of absence of choice, and to stop whatever one has planned. Of course, one can still decide to do something else, which would cancel out the lack of interest, energy or enthusiasm. If contemporary life leaves us often at a lost with personal or collective situations, the inclination is one of abandonment, of laisser-faire, or of contestation of what is over-burdening us. The last is paradoxical as it counters an over-exposition to violence and conflict by a temptation to approve of the coercive decisions of those governing us.

Another way of looking at this question, which can be seen as that of disempowerment, is the collective Mizra and Butler’s way. Their contribution to SAD is a Hold Your Ground, a short video showing in a collaged manner a young woman (in red) performing certain gestures related to those of demonstrators, as minute sounds echoing those lost in the roar of the demonstrations, are heard. Interspersed are images of street fighting between police and civilians. The work breaks down the perception of demonstrations as they are usually seen on television in a daily fashion across the planet. To the overpowering magma of human bodies moving and high-volume sounds resounding, Mizra and Butler oppose the logic of micro-gestures and micro-sounds, investigation reality with a magnifying-glass perspective, and in a looped-manner (the video is shown as a loop). Here, the repetition of the same/not-the-same counteracts the hegemony of the television image, and message.

The third project is Untitled, Anonymous and Un-going (as its title says). As this project relates to the free newspapers given out in the London Underground, and parasites their contents by insertions of art-related material, it says something about the use/non-use of indisciplinary acts in the public realm. It deals with media and its over-powering potential to influence. It calls for a diversification of perspectives on the daily news, but it also calls attention to what “calls” for attention, and how information is formatted and relayed. It suggests interactivity as a mode of intervention, and shifting ground.

Performativity stands at the heart of these projects. “How to do Things with Words”, the title of a seminal book by the pragmatist philosopher John L. Austin, could be transcribed to the current situation as “How to Do Things with Acts”. Small acts, those that generate micro-poltics, and eventually turn chaos into another world.