Identity, Place and Mediation
A few quick thoughts:
On Mediation and Live Experience
As mediated experience (mobile phones, internet, chat, Second Life) becomes normalized – how do we, as artists, address the unmediated experience? I didn’t get to see the Living Theater’s new piece but it got me thinking about the thrilling immediacy and intimacy of non-4th-wall performative engagement. Jerome Bel’s The Show Must Go On was most stunning in the moments when the audience became a part of the piece. As much as multimedia and hybrid performance/theater is an expression of our times, it will be interesting to see how we can re-value and re-interpret the unmediated live experience. And by this I am not referring to the ever-popular “staged television” of mainstream, repertory, regional theater.
On Identity and Multiculturalism
If you get a chance, please read my massive essay on culture, identity and the arts. It is already a little dated since it was written before the election, but I think it is relevant. The idea I’m wrestling with is the intersection of Third Wave Identity Politics contemporary art, personal agency, Diaspora models as applied to a globally networked society.
I remember not too long ago, maybe three or four years ago, meeting countless non-Americans in arts culture and business who found American Identity Politics and multiculturalism to be laughably parochial and hopelessly naive. Now they are discovering that the the battles we fought in America over civil rights, multiculturalism and identity are becoming the most important discussions on the global stage. If it wasn’t for where we’d been, we would be unable to have the sophisticated, contemporary discussions we are beginning to have now.
My theory is that America has been through two major waves of identity politics thus far:
The First Wave was the introduction of the idea of the “oppressed minority”, which was a major turning point and was manifested in mass Civil Rights movements. (I’m currently developing a project that examines that idea in the context of Gay History).
The Second Wave was the “Personal is Political” wave of Identity Politics in which minorities asserted their cultural identity as a primary identifier in opposition to the majority and demanding a place at the table. That covers the 80’s and 90’s.
Now we are at the Third Wave where a number of factors have converged to create a major shift in perspective. First – demography indicates that non-whites will be the majority soon. Second, the traditional lines of identity are being blurred by people of mixed ethnicity, by proximity of different cultures and that individuals feel empowered to construct their identity according to their own priorities. Third, people experience identity as fluid. Fourth – the technology of the information age and the cultural displacement resulting form a global economy has placed more people of various identities in unexpected contexts than ever before.
So the big question before all of us is, how do we negotiate identity in this new world?
(Relevant Sidenote: YJ Lee’s The Shipment just premiered at the Wexner to great reviews. I got to see a work-in-progress showing of it a few weeks ago at my theater, IRT, where YJ has been working on the show as an artist-in-residence and can say that it is very, very good. It comes to The Kitchen in January).
With mediation of experience comes a re-negotiation of Place. I am on the street in NYC but I am on the phone with London and I am texting China. I am on the internet – I am everywhere at once. My relationship to physical place is different than before, my identity is less predicated on place than before. Admittedly this is only true for the technologically enabled world, but one imagines that over time these advances will spread. Additionally, people from disadvantaged nations will continue to migrate to advantaged nations seeking a better life. They will bring their cultures with them. They will exist in Diaspora.
How can we learn from prior Diaspora narratives to ameliorate the inevitable culture clashes, alleviate the financial and psychological stressors of those living away from their homelands and facilitate assimilation?
The Role of Art
Art is the Pure Research of Culture. Insofar as these problems must be addressed logistically by social workers, economists and politicians, the artists and scholars need to work through these things in a different way, by engaging with these issues and ideas in their work and by collaborating with artists and scholars from other cultures to develop sophisticated, contemporary investigations. It is an exciting time.
[it is in moments like these that I wish I had an editor or some kind of access to MSM]