Apr 16, 2010

Hosting Twists and Other Little Revolutions

I was recently sent an article by Jan Verwoert entitled "Gathering People Like Thoughts: On Hosting as an Unorthodox Form of Authorship Dedicated to the Practice of Anton Vidokle." I don't know much about the practices or either Jan or Anton and I can't seem to find the proper citations for this essay (therefore, I don't know when it was written or where it comes from.) Still, I find the ideas in this nine page article about social practice some of the most compelling I've read and I hope to create a legible pastiche of this wonderfully provocative essay.

Verwoert starts with these questions:

"What is the relationship between hosting and authorship? Is a host an author? Is hosting a form of authorizing something? Authorizing what? A social process? With what authority? That of an author? Gathering people like one would gather thoughts? Perhaps. But if a host should be a little like an author, would an author then not also be a little like a host? Gathering thoughts like a host would summon guests? Maybe. If this, however, should be so, what does it mean for our understanding of hosting and authorship as forms of cultural production?"

He goes onto defining terms as they relate to authorship and authorization:

"To authorize also means to inhabit the space you open up through your voice, your discourse, to spend time in this space, furnish it and turn it into a place for living (which is what followthrough means: to learn and live with the profane reality of your works and words, once they are born, and stand by them.)"

He follows this discussion with an important point about resonance: the author must set something in motion or, as Verwoert says, "lay down a rhythm" and that rhythm must resonate with others who join in, making the thing that is authored audible. Although this audible voice is the result of collective joining, it is still somehow authored by the one who lent the space and the initial momentum by which it is reverberated.

"Hosting in this sense is the act of lending a body, a mind, a soul to this consciousness for it to actualize itself under specific material conditions of space, time, and money. This particular consciousness couldn't exist otherwise."

Although these conditions are particular to a time, place, and intention, the collective experience is only invoked when the spirit is right. Likewise, the spirit is authentic and vibrant only when the conditions are conducive to its collective flourishing.

"... The magic of hosting would lie in mastering the forms, formats, and formalities that enable one to summon people, spirits, ideas, and images." And behind this mastery is a tradition that is grounded in ceremony, ritual, rite. Yet for many contemporary hosts, the desire to break with this tradition results in defiant acts of unorthodoxy.

"... What modernism placed at stake is the dream and demand of autonomy: the hope and claim that the power of a cultural practice to truly make a difference was inseparable from the freedom to determine its own conditions."

Verwoert has a fascinating take on this paradox of unorthodoxy and talks about the twofold challenge of unorthodox hosts: that of creating a proper occasion that is a pretext for gathering as well as that of hosting unorthodox spirits in an unorthodox manner. In other words, the unorthodox host must not totally rebel against tradition in order to gather a collective force. He or she (or they) must have faith in the potential inherent in gathering extraordinary people who are asked to work together in uncommon ways. It seems to me that Verwoert is talking about the tension between the collective will to self-organize -- the shared desire for autonomy from a dominant paradigm -- and also the necessary spark of motivation. While unorthodox hosts can provide the context for this rebel spark to alight (how exciting to consider!), its flame is dependent on the bated breath of an expectant and desirous constituency.

In the right context, the collective desire (alongside a healthy dose of anger and/or alienation) motivates a manipulation of the status quo, or as Verwoert calls it: the twist. This twisting of laws, of expectations, of social norms, is carried out with a spirit of unorthodoxy and in the pursuit of autonomy. "It is in and through the performance of this twist that the authority of this kind of authorship is founded. It resides in this twist, in the joy, pain, anger and laughter emanating from this twist: in the spirit of your twisting."

It should be noted that the performance of this twist is a collective effort, therefore the authority of the twist is disseminated. The authority takes hold when those involved in creating the twist begin to think and act differently, when they begin to experience thinking and acting differently together.

"The authority of the twist lies in its credence. This credence can only be generated and investigated by an association of people who, together, validate a shared experience as credible." This credence is born out of the moment of authentically shared experience.

There is no substitute for lived experience and therefore no two twists are alike. Have you found yourself in a moment -- a discussion, a brainstorm, a demonstration, a party -- in which the collective suddenly (and confidently) became a force? Was there a moment of terror, glee, recognition, heart-pounding inspiration, in which you imagined that things might henceforth be different? Did you lose yourself in sorting out the details of who said what and who arranged certain elements, but were instead overwhelmed by the sheer power of your shared difference?

"It's the momentum of this moment. It's the momentum of different spirits authorizing the experience they have produced together, through realizing that it has had an effect on -- and in this sense acquires a certain authority/credence in relation to -- the way they experience themselves and the mode in which they are together, differently, from now on."

As cultural producers, self-proclaimed radicals, and simply inquisitive people, I think we all share some desire to see great change. What keeps you from being an author of change, the host of an unorthodox twist? What keeps you from joining in the momentum of a spontaneous moment in which everything could shift, even just a little bit? I believe that Verwoert is telling us that creating change and asserting autonomy is a craft, an art form, one which requires astute awareness of context and subjectivity. To create change, we must learn to decipher authenticity and allow that genuine spiritedness to be the signature on our work. We must release ourselves from heroism yet be willing to set things in motion. It's an intoxicating idea, one that I hope I can understand better through lively and regular practice.