An invitation, by Virginie Bobin (translated by Kate Davis)
In 2011-2012, one of Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers’ guest resident was Agency, a generic name for a Brussels-based agency founded in 1992 by Kobe Matthys. As the Coordinator for projects at the Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers, the task of keeper fell to me, by which I mean being the mediator for the things presented by Agency at Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers. In that capacity, I was asked to introduce the Agency’s process, including the public event Assemblée (Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers), which will take place from 21 to 27 May 2012 in the form of a mini-festival and a list of things on display.
Agency is gradually building up a list of things that “vacillate between nature and culture”. These things are connected to the controversies around intellectual property and copyright. These things collected by Agency (1809 to date) “resist the binary division between culture and nature, expressions and ideas, creations and facts, subjects and objects, human and non-human, original and boring, individual and collective, etc.” on which the idea of intellectual property is based. By provoking a “vacillation between body and spirit” these things pose a question that at first seems surprising “How can the body be included within artistic practices?” In response to the setting proposed by Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers, Agency will present a collection of things linked to movement, dance, choreography and also circus and sports.
During the mini-festival that will be held on 22, 24, 26 and 27 May 2012, a selection of things will be used during an assembly: reactivating a fragment of a dance, a circus act or a burlesque strip tease or even a Viet Vo Dao sequence, controversial subjects, brought out by different people working in the fields covered by the thing in question, and which the visitors are invited to participate in. The things dealt with at Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers include Thing 001650 (Gypsy), Thing 001695 (Best of Bercy), Thing 000770 (Zwischen Zirkuskuppel und Manege) and Thing 000955 (choreography by Martha Graham). At the same time, some 30 other things found during their research will be available to view in the form of an archive, and I will be there to help you view them.
Intellectual property is designed to protect the mind, not the body. As concerns intellectual property, dance for example has for many years resisted copyright based on a written form. Recognition of the author of a dance is most often based on the need to fix or set the dance, a prerequisite for its protection. Dance found itself in conflict with other artistic practices, whether writing or music, when in the beginning of the 20th century the author of the story of a ballet and the composer were given copyright, but not the choreographer; or even photography and video or cinema, which poses the question of the relationship between movement, its recording and its reproduction. What is being protected in dance? A work in its entirety or a fragment? A movement or its translation in dance notation¹? How do these questions impose a model for conceiving of the author in dance? How did the inclusion of choreography in intellectual property rights in the 1970s affect choreography practices?
“If a work is “intangible property” and, even more so, if it is analyzed as the production of a person, the logical result is that this work is an incarnation of the person and again logically, this work must be protected in the same way as the person who gave birth to it. In other words, the work as an incarnation of the identity of the subject is then in some way the subject himself” writes the philosopher and legal expert Bernard Edelman². Yet in its most common approach, copyright introduces a hierarchical relationship between the subject (the artist) and the object (the work) as an inanimate product, moulded by the artist’s subjectivity. Although the law takes into account the notions of intangible works³ or works “in-progress”, for example, the legal framework produces a sometimes coercive, or at the least unilateral, relationship between the author and the work: passive object, property of. The appropriation of the work by its author is supported by the law which defines its characteristics and its “paternity”.
The things collected by Agency introduce a vacillation into these relationships between subject>object, mind>body. The term itself of thing aims to break out of this duality by resisting the deontological classifications used in intellectual property. In the assemblies, the aim is not to play out or judge yet again the controversies which the law has already decided upon, but to lay out the problems by revisiting these things, extending them. Problems as a starting point for speculation, fabulation, composing other arrangements that offer an alternative to the still predominant distinction between “nature” (the body) and “culture” (the mind) in the discourse and the practice of dance, sport and movement in a broader sense.
While copyright has become the standard for any artistic practice, what is being attempted here is a construction of other protocols based on the singularity of practices and an observation of the way in which a change in the “ecology of practices” ⁴ can change the practices themselves. In the assemblies, what is proposed is the performance in words of the things that have been set out as indeterminate; through this Agency comes closer to a Western palaver⁵ than to Western law, and thereby avoids reconsidering the definition of the problems raised and instead imagines new tools, in a “vacillation between the body and the mind”. You are invited to take part in this vacillation, and I will be delighted to welcome you to Assemblée (Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers).
Text published in Le Journal des Laboratoires, May-August 2012
¹ On this subject, see Laure Benabou and Séverine Dusolier’s article “On Copyright for movements, interpretation of copyright”, next page.
² Quotation from La propriété littéraire et artistique, B. Edelman, col. «Que sais-je?», 1989, ch.2, §3 (Literary and Artistic Property), quotation translated for this article.
³ For a look at recent evolutions in copyright, read Judith Ickowicz “Law Facing up to the Dematerialisation of the Work of Art: a Juridical analysis of Contemporary Art” in Exhausting Immaterial Labour in Performance, joint issue of Le Journal des Laboratoires and TkH Journal for Performing Arts Theory (no. 17), October 2010, p. 57-59. www.leslaboratoires.org/sites/leslaboratoires.org/files/epuiser_le_travail_immateriel_dans_la_performance_0.pdf
⁴ See “Introductory notes on an ecology of practices”, in Cultural Studies Review, vol. 11, n° 1, 2005 p. 183-196
⁵ African custom for debating based on the use of proverbs and fables, often used to handle disputes, considering them as problems rather than crimes.