Burn After Writing

Burn After Writing

I write this text as a solo study for an imagined group piece that has the same title as an imagined exhibition. I also write this text as a piece for someone else, a performer, namely my friend and colleague Josefine Larson Olin. When she accepted to take on this position in my piece of writing, she also altered my modality of writing. Although I am still the author in terms of initiative, I cannot write without her. And although we will both take the consequences for how we structure our work, I am responsible for the outcome. One likely consequence of this is that people will perceive Josefine’s occurrence in the text as a vehicle for my thoughts and desires. Both of us can try to disturb this order in different ways, but it will still be my signature under the piece of writing, and her name in it.

The reason why I put us in this tricky relation is that I had a text commissioned by the master students of choreography at the Stockholm University of Dance and Circus. They asked me to write something about their festival Ok Show Kids Return (May 22-29 2011) that took place in four different locations around Stockholm. Six out of the seven performances in this festival were made precisely with the demand that they should function as solo studies for imagined group pieces that had the same title as imagined exhibitions.

With me and Josefine joining in, seven pieces out of eight now fill this criteria. The festival also goes on for a considerably longer period than originally planned – i.e., until this text can no longer be read. This modification of the format of the festival is our way of responding to the strive for prolongation that often comes with the wish to have someone write about or document live events. Instead of trying to capture, break down or by other means make these live events accessible after their disappearance, we wanted to address the very question of the ephemeral and the continuous in different kinds of performance. As our title Burn After Writing indicates, we are primarily thinking of the performance of writing and about in what ways the activity of writing could take on a value beyond the text that it generates. Of course, text and writing are then also to be understood as an analogy to choreography and dance, i.e. what value can the performance of dance have beyond the choreography that frames it?

Even though the seven other performances in the festival clearly influenced this piece – not least in its festival-infesting format – there are also other influences that made the theme of ephemeral writing particularly interesting to me. One is an unfortunate tendency to lose my diaries and never find them again. Another is my many experiments with creating text material through actively altering the rules that frame the writing – experiments that in their turn can be traced to a long tradition of scores for writing, most commonly exemplified by dadaist and surrealist poetry practices such as cut-up techniques and cadavre exquis.

Texts such as A Room of One’s Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf or Queer Phenomenology (2006) by Sara Ahmed also play a part. From two different points in time, Woolf and Ahmed address how writers and thinkers challenge or confirm the limits for recognition by writing through and about material conditions that are not so easily altered. As both Woolf and Ahmed point out, the recognition of a text as a text is not only about the criteria of selection set up by different social or cultural institutions. The questions of readability start already before the process of writing has taken place, and questions of this character can of course also be put by, through and to choreography. Where are the social and spacial stages for the performances of writing and dancing? Where are the material resources? Where is the subject legitimized for an authorship within those fields?

Those who, for some reason, have sufficient resources to become recognized as authors can of course stretch the scope for recognition through insisting on leaving traces of material conditions that might not fit into all legitimate categories. They can also try to undo some of the readability of their authorship by willfully introducing an element of disturbance. The latter is one of the functions I imagine that Josefine could have in this text. This by no means implies that Josefine could stop me from making this text readable – I am too much of an author for that. On the other hand, not even the author in me can stop her presence in the text from embodying the idea that writers are also practitioners inscribed in a complex sociality, and that writing is an activity that always happens outside the text.

To embody the idea of the complex sociality of writing is of course also a function that the presence of Josefine fills in this piece. And yet, this is not a process diary where me and Josefine give an exact account of how we worked together with the text. Instead, I have covered all traces of my specific ways of working with Josefine, so that the circumstances of production of this piece are present mostly through their absence. The honesty of this solution is that it mirrors the power relation that we engage in as writer and performer, as well as openly admits to the fact that we are still prioritizing perfect form and clear authorship over the process of writing, even if we indicate a possibility of something else.

To speculate in what futures an ephemeral writing could have, i.e., what is to become of the imaginary group piece and the imaginary exhibition called Burn After Writing, is one such indication. To propose any exact protocol for the future is of course risky, since it must rely on the experiences of text and writing that I and Josefine already have and thus repeat the thoughts that we can already think. But even from this figuration of hierarchical power exchange and half-hidden contextual bodies that is ours, we will propose.

In this solo piece, I use Josefine’s unclear bond to the authorship of the text as a way of underlining that the idea of putting writing persons on display or making writing a part of a performative set-up is definitely not what I am after. How it looks when one writes says very little of what it does. Rather than imagining writing as a spectacular practice, I imagine it as a relational practice, whether or not the text that results from it is read by anyone else than the writer. Even to write something that is unpublishable – unsharable, unreadable, fragile in its to and from – is to simultaneously rewrite one’s position in the social. This not only because writing culturally represents a specific act of withdrawal (and this might be a point where the analogy between writing and dancing falls apart), but even more because the writing as such structures the experience of inner and outer worlds. Writing a memory note is not only about being able to look at it later. Writing a letter is not only about who receives it. The writing is a process of inventing binding notions between fragments, choosing experiences and framing realities.

Thinking writing like this gives an opportunity to imagine how it could have priority over text, for example in a group piece and exhibition named Burn After Writing. As this title suggests, immediate destruction is a possibly useful tool if one wants to isolate the practice of writing from the traces it leaves. The destruction of text is in this sense not necessarily a memory loss or a threat to shared intelligence (as in the culturally charged image of burning books), but rather a way of getting to know something about writing that the preservation of the text would not have allowed the writer to know. The written is thus in its destruction replaced by an affirmative loss, a loss that gives back meaning to an act of writing that is all to often co-opted by the text, just like dance is frequently co-opted by choreography.

Towards the end of this solo piece, Josefine and I keep insisting on the possibilities of writing and destroying the written as two nodes of desire that can overlap and constitute each other in ways that disturb the privileges of text. In this insistence, we simultaneously criticize and reestablish our positions as writer and performer. All this said, it is too late to burn this text.

By Tova Gerge with Josefine Larson Olin

The other pieces in the festival Ok Show Kids Return were:

40 minuter by Nadja Hjorton, Chrisander Brun, Cicilia Östholm, Per Sundberg, Emelie Wahlman, Erika Thalinsson Ranhagen, Anna Strand Andersen and Elvira Roos.

Burn Your Fun by Kim Hiorthøy with Ilse Ghekiere.

We Made a Piece from Thin Air by Stina Nyberg with An Kaler.

So What by Zoë Poluch & Valentina Desideri.

One on One by Juli Reinartz in collaboration with Liz Waterhouse with Linnea Martinsson.

Gear and Tactics, You Know What It Is What It Is When We Do What We Do, To Rely with Confident Expectancy, The Precious Moments Are All Lost in The Tide, Sidestep Translation, Again and Again and Again and Again, Metaphor Motion by Rebecka Stillman in collaboration with Ulrika Berg.

The Authentic Ludvig by Uri Turkenich with Ludvig Daae.

More dance and more fire: