Exercise 30: PROFORMA Log. The Structure of Art

Director: Txomin Badiola

Venue: Proforma Studio

Is there such thing as a metalanguage — a language capable of speaking about another language? What does a linguistic model analyse when it is appropriated by the artistic process? How should we artists speak amongst ourselves? Does current discourse leave any opening for a poetic notation; i.e., one that is artistic and therefore non-discursive?

The exercise is about creating a log, a navigation diary, where each participant relates each of the 30 exercises. A daily poetic annotation resulting from the distillation of the experience gleaned from each exercise, on the basis of a set signifying remains drawn from somewhere else, the outcome of a mutilation process. The ultimate aim is to generate a recording of an entirety of the exercises, on a par with the Proforma Module but attained not by consensus but as a result of each participant’s absolutely subjective and poetic view.

On the first day of Proforma, each participant shall be given a pack of 30 pages taken from Jack Burham’s book The Structure of Art, one of the key essays on the application of linguistics to art. All images will have been erased from these pages, as well as any reference to works, artists, dates, movements or theories, leaving only chunks of sentences and an array of gaps and sections. In this way, each page becomes a sort of poetic form to be filled in by each participant following each exercise. At the end —36 days later— after completing all the exercises, these materials, be they virtual or physical, shall take on the physical form of fifteen books with one common index and different content.

Exercise 29: Steiner, a challenge

Director: Jon Mikel Euba

Venue: Proforma Studio

I began transcribing passages of Steiner’s book The Foundations of Human Experience as the basis for my approach to this exercise. When I became aware of the time left in the run-up to Primer Proforma, I realised my first technical errors: the act of transcribing focuses too much on the substance (the content); there is no pleasure to be found in the process; and my own impatience had not been factored into the equation. The first effect of this awareness was to abridge the process: it seemed more practical to photocopy everything in the book that I had previously underlined. Once I began photocopying the selected pages in Steiner’s book, and in view of the considerable volume it was taking on, I realised that even so I would not have time to do everything I intended to in working up to this exercise. It was then that I recalled an anecdote of Cage’s about how he came up with his Composition for prepared piano in 1938.

It is generally believed that the importance of that piece must lie in the fact that it transgressed the uses of an instrument with a long-established tradition. I.e., on the basis of the outcome, as if it were the product of a strategy designed to achieve an end. This is a common perspective, but it is mistaken and, what is worse, castrating.

The fact is that Cage was invited to write a piece of music for a choreography. He got to work on the music with the instrument he had at hand at that moment: a piano. Two days before the opening, he met with the choreographer to see the piece. He was horrified to see the piece undeniably demanded percussion. He returned home, troubled by the difficulty of getting hold of the percussion he felt he needed in only two days. His thinking was: “It’s not my fault, I’ve been working on my music and the choreographer has been working on her choreography, what’s the problem?” The answer was: “the piano”. He went into the kitchen, found a few jars and other objects and placed them under the piano strings, played his piece and, on hearing the sound, knew he was on the right track. From then on, he gradually selected the objects he would use and decided on how he would fix them. The rest is history.

Thinking right, as Cage did on that occasion, is very challenging, but the effects in terms of transmitting experiences in a way that verges on the banal is always empowering for the listener, since it’s not about being clever, but about thinking right.

With the pages out of Steiner’s book photocopied for this exercise, I have to work out how much time I have left, pin-point each phase in the process where I may be facing a problem and solve it. This exercise can be seen as a countdown.

“Style is the result of an obligation carried out in a specific timeframe”

Exercise 28: PROFORMA Corridor

Director: Sergio Prego

Venue: Gallery 1

This exercise’s working materials are the inflatable pneumatic tubes previously installed in the PROFORMA Corridor, which arose for a desire to create an active environment between the museum’s (temporary) inhabitants and its architecture-as-sign. It is an attempt to substitute the aspect of “place” for one of “transit”, and in this sense its ambition is to empty the architecture’s signs of their “content” in order to replace them with the “sense” inherent to the signs acquired through the movement and dynamics that define architecture-in-use, as its most lively expression. More than an installation, we would be dealing here with an “insertion”, something that must retain an independent identity, despite its awareness of the relationship it establishes with its environment. The two poles of this proposal are, on the one hand, the need to generate a gesture on a scale that is significant vis-à-vis the architecture, and on the other, to establish a free-standing order and organisation to manage space in an independent manner. The solution to this equation is not to be found within the proposal itself, but rather in the device’s aesthetic process, which implies an internal structure on a primary level and the experience of transforming and being transformed by the device on a secondary level.

The exercise consists in involving all participants at once in reorganising the tubes, both by transforming their sizes and by including new segments. A number of variations will be applied in order to alter our perception both of the original architecture and of the tubes as objects.

The exercise sways between the radical approach of considering all contextual factors that affect our perception of art as a totality, and on the other hand a moral commitment to artistic creation that reaches beyond the specific limitations of a given location and the need for the object’s autonomy as a locus of freedom for thought.

Exercise 27: Notes for a Direction (Model for a Storage System)

Director: Jon Mikel Euba

Venue: Proforma Studio and Gallery 3.2

In a recent TV interview, an old man who had survived the Spanish Civil War displayed a photograph showing a full body portrait of five young men looking into the camera, in an attempt to immortalise the moment. What makes the image unique is the fact that the men are standing at a distance of 5 ft. from each other. The interviewee explained that they had all been sentenced to death and had therefore decided to take their picture at a distance that would allow them, in the event of being killed, to cut the photo up and send it to each man’s family. The wish to find a measure that would provide sufficient room for manoeuvre to accommodate whatever may happen has a lot to do with the wish to create a structure flexible enough to cope with any catastrophe.

The performance Re:horse has been executed six times, thus becoming a system for the production of images. At least 18 people have been invited to record it, producing a massive stock of images, which in turn generates the need for an instrument capable of organising such a huge flow of material.

Over the period 2002 to 2005 I found a number of accounts where different people described their impressions regarding a performance by John Cage by the title of “Vexations”. The piece is a marathon 26-hour concert where a dozen pianists play an 80-second tune by Eric Satie 840 times over. The combination of all these witnesses’ accounts left me with an image of what the event must have been like, since some of the accounts were by people who had played an active role in the project, whilst others were by people who attended as members of the audience. This impression was further enriched by an article in the New York Times that, in addition to text, used images of the elements involved: a picture of Satie’s sheet music, a picture of one of the musicians studying the score, a picture of one of the musicians during the change-over, a picture of the theatre owner and a picture of the audience.

This pattern allowed me to use a template to take apart the elements included in the images of Re:horse and reassemble them in a structure into which I added an extra element (the horse involved in the performance). This 8-image structure began to provide a template for directing the performance recordings.

In the course of exercise 1, between 6 and 10 people took a photographic record of the performance Re:horse following the document Notes for a Direction as a template. The material generated in this way shall be compiled, analysed and selected by the people who have made the recordings, leaving us with a maximum of 10 images per person. Once materially arranged, these images shall provide the various representations of the performance at León.

This exercise implies an editing task applied to physical elements. At León I will test a preliminary model for the physical storage of all these records, in the form of a rudimentary database that may evolve and develop over time.

Exercise 26: Freeside

Director: Sergio Prego

Venue: Gallery 1

This exercise invites participants to plunge into a narrative trail through a movement over space that takes place beyond their immediate space and time boundaries. It is structured around a video recording of movements on different elevations through the

PROFORMA Corridor inflatable pneumatic tubes. A number of characters walk in parallel lines flowing in the same direction through the upper and lower tubes, whilst also recording each other. A recording system will be applied in order to ensure that cameras moving along parallel corridors adhere to similar speeds and angles. The recording shall test a “travelling” system whereby the inflatable tube itself provides a course for the camera.

The camera operator moves in time to a sound signal that sets the pace at which he or she must pass a set of markings along the course. The recording shall be repeated, attempting to adhere to the same angle and course as the equivalent camera, shooting in the same direction as the previous filming that provides the example. This second camera shall record what it encounters in its course: the ceiling, the floor, the wall or the tube, from the opposite position. These rules will be applied during the recording without the option to review the outcome. Possible variables in terms of speed or ways of crossing the space will be debated, thus anticipating later effort geared towards inducing a mental state of spatial visualisation.

The images will be superimposed through transparencies in the postproduction stage, in such a way that the cameras are synchronised and the spaces overlap. The exercise questions our spatial conventions based on solid structures.

The editing experience in this second part of the exercise and its outcome in video format intent to ratify our perception of space not as a place within physical limits, but as a physical attribute.

Exercise 25: Stations (Six Years Older than my Father)

Director: Txomin Badiola

Venue: Gallery 2.1

MAQUINAL (12 Stations) is a series of twelve print-outs on metal, placed in a 22-meter row. Each print-out is made up of a combination of assorted images. Here, through the Laocoön Machine, one shall travel through the flux of signs, where different subjective intensities shall be produced. MAQUINAL (12 Stations) is a vehicle for introspection through external, slippery structures. The exercise’s, twelve elements shall be configured as if they were twelve stations in a journey carried out by a group of players who are inextricably interdependent.

The exercise juxtaposes this quest with the following question: the challenge of outliving your father when you are very young; outliving your father’s final age, the age he was when he stopped living. What does that mean? Is it a triumph over your father? Do you begin to take precedence over him? Do you feel guilty for being older than he ever was? Can you face him on equal terms?

Here we propose a ritual that involves groups of people. Relating to images or recited texts, they function as an organism with both independent and co-dependent tasks. We shall attempt, through a ritualised collective action and the recording of it, to experiment an articulated slipping between a mythical structure and a private experience. The volunteers shall split up into the following: one group that forms a scrum, acting as a chorus vocalising a number of texts that correspond to each of the stations; one volunteer who displays the images to the camera while reciting biographical information —devoid of feeling, purely documentary— on one person in different stages of her life; and three volunteers in two audiovisual recording teams, who shall capture two images of the same action. The broad group composed of the audience, the emcee and one of the recording teams shall move along in parallel, following movement-scores that run through the twelve stations.

Exercise 24: Sunspark 35 Utah / PROFORMA Module

Director: Sergio Prego

Venue: Proforma Module / Proforma Studio

The inflatable pneumatic structure PROFORMA Module was inspired by an image included in a project to build a pneumatic roof for a shopping centre. The roof was a large closed membrane, designed to provide access to its interior, in such a way that it could be cleaned without the building’s users witnessing the operation. This interior with two symmetric curved surfaces as floor and ceiling was a by-product of the design, though the architect himself considered it the most interesting aspect of the entire project.

This exercise suggests experiencing the insides of the PROFORMA Module structure. Building the pneumatic structure requires a production effort on such a huge scale that it leaves no room for gradual developments, but instead demands a single event capable of generating the entire gesture. In this sense, it links up with projects carried out with inflatables in the 1960s, which were interesting precisely because they were half way between a major risk and a shambles. Furthermore, the fact that a gesture of this kind is carried out in an institutional context implies the danger of cancelling its experimental potential – a danger we shall try to avoid.

Sunspark 35 Utah is an inflatable project I developed that is not currently at the museum. It was originally intended as an instant inflatable form generated from a single flat sheet of plastic. It was soldered with no incisions into the surface, and once inflated it became an organic form that, in its irregularity, expressed the scarcity of means employed in its production. In the course of our work on the piece, we encountered a number of variables that seemed to deserve further development in order to explore their effects. If we fold the edges of a square or rectangle before inflating it, the shape of each fold results in different curved lengthwise creases. This process demanded working on a small scale in order to explore a range of variables. The relationship between these variables would ultimately highlight the process’ inherently experimental nature.

The current exercise will draw on the documentation on both the spatial experience explored in the PROFORMA Module and on the development of Sunspark 35 Utah. The aim is to draw conclusions regarding the varying techniques applied in two unrelated pieces.

The context for this investigation could be provided by Joan Jonas’ video Song Delay. What is compelling about the action in this video is that it appears so minute vis-à-vis the immensity of its setting, as if what she is doing could barely pierce a tiny hole for sound to permeate the solid surface of reality. In another version of this action we see Jonas on a river barge that could well be a pleasure boat. However, the viewer sees a tear on the surface of a scene that is otherwise entirely conventional. This happens on a scale that is insignificant as compared to the surrounding reality, but paradoxically that is what makes it relevant.

Exercise 23: Grand Dog / Quiltro Proforma

Director: Jon Mikel Euba

Venue: Gallery 3.1

Animals abide by flight or attack distances, intimate or social distances, etc., defined by a specific type of behaviour connected to a given use of space. These atavistic questions are partially modulated through training or education. This is something both humans and animals share – when they come together, two different languages come into play.

The purpose of this exercise is to create a structure – on the basis of a range of actions – capable of integrating and interconnecting two three-dimensional elements (table and ramp), one or more dogs sitting on the table, and one or more people sitting opposite the dogs in a space defined by a number of geometric modules. The idea is to carry out an action that includes these elements plus all the participants in Proforma.

This action seeks to capture a way of directing a peculiar set of actors – in this case dogs. To this end, recording activities shall be carried out by two teams, each with a specific role to play. One team will focus on the relationship between sitting dogs and people; the other on the animals’ owners/trainers and the directions they give in order to carry out the actions.

The exercise is divided into two parts: the first is an audition and the second is a shooting. In the first, dogs shall be auditioned in a number of sets designed with the idea of activating various objects: table, ramp, black modules, etc. In the second stage, a specific shooting plan will be drawn up in view of the dogs selected.

When tackling any creative project, my attitude is that of the lurking shooter: I find a spot, a point of view, and I take my time for events to unfold. Another approach to hunting is to flush out the prey with the aid of hounds, cover as much ground as possible and multiply one’s chances of a catch.

Unlike some of the other exercises suggested, which had previously been developed and even tested, and therefore represent a culmination of earlier proposals, this exercise is a starting point. The intention is to cast nets in every possible direction to see where we can snare the hare. Quiltro Proforma is a baiting.

Exercise 22:MáquinaL (Bondage)

Director: Txomin Badiola

Venue: Proforma Studio

Special Invited: Itziar Bilbao Urrutia. The Madame Tytania Experience

Laocoön’s countenance, as Lessing explained, renounces the expression of physical pain -a theme that, according to his theory, is adequate for poetry but not for the visual arts- transforming it into an ambiguous gesture where pain and pleasure, awareness of self and abandonment, mysticism and sexuality, Eros and Thanatos, life and death, blend into a kind of moral stance. Not in vain, Laocoön’s face, after being unearthed in the 16th century, became the model for all ecstasy, from the crucified to the mystical trance of the saints.

Certain practices such as SM are vindicated by queer theory, which raises them out of the realm of perversion or deviation to consider them an exercise in subversion of normative sexualities. Some of these practices imply a play on representation that is not too far removed from Catholic iconography and in particular from the Counter-Reformation mysticism that was modelled to a great extent on Laocoön.

The purpose of this exercise is to generate a collective action involving its participants on the level of the body and the mind. It seeks to reconstruct the Laocoön group (a father with his two sons connected by bonds of life and death) using rope bondage -a form of stagecraft derived from the practices of SM. This stagecraft is useful to us because it adheres to a strict pattern, in such a way that, in slipping and sliding between both worlds, we can generate a new field of reference, which is currently unpredictable but constitutes the exercise’s ultimate aim. The action will also be recorded, generating a volume of material that will allow us to inquire into these new fields of reference independently from the original premises.

The action shall be carried out by The Madame Tytania Experience, a guest artist who specialises in rope bondage. During the session, she will tie up three bodies, adhering to the protocols of her activity and applying its specific techniques. She will execute the bondage in such a way that the bodies will be partially immobilised, defining a pose that replicates each of the three figures in the Laocoön group sculpture. In manipulating the bodies, she will be assisted by three teams. The teams shall transfer each of the bodies onto a plinth. Once they are placed next to each other in their correct pose, the artist will bind the three bodies together, in such away that the living group sculpture is self-supporting. It shall then be left to its own devices until the whole self-implodes.

_____Itziar Bilbao Urrutia. The Madame Tytania Experience

Exercise 21: Ikurriña Corridor

Director: Sergio Prego

Venue: –

This exercise suggests a collective experience where each individual is subordinated to a formation that, in turn, remains subordinated to a structure/sign.

The exercise requires the installation of an uninterrupted translucent plastic tube 2m in diameter, configured in a double cross formation similar to the ikurriña flag. The inside of the tube is passable and shall be laid out with elbow joints at the corners, establishing parallel corridors in such a way that participants can see the people who are walking ahead of and behind them. There shall be one or more nodes where participants will enter into a bond of proximity with people located at different points along the course. The exercise intents to generate a dysfunction between the sign’s form and the action going on within it.

Once installed, all participants shall file into the tube, all walking in the same direction and keeping a regular distance between each other. Photo and video cameras shall change hands, documenting the action from different points along the line. Each individual represents the action and is represented whilst carrying it out, on equivalent terms. The aim is to instil a sense of engagement in a collective experience through this connection between all the members of the group.

Each person in the line is equivalent to the person ahead of her and behind her, in terms both of space and time. The exercise aspires to establish a symbolic analogy between this temporary sense of identity and a connection in terms of biographic or artistic genealogy.