interview between MOBILE MNSTRY initiator ELLE and artistic researcher Elke Van Campenhout
i am free to give
what anyway isn’t mine
the energy i suck from the earth
and breathe back into the other,
i am free to embody the powers of this city
oscillating with ideas
that enter my bloodstream and exit my body
amplified, ordered, and displaced,
i am free to vibrate with the desire of the other
that lets me discover my soul, my knowledge and my being
i am free to let go of fear of losing
what anyway wasn’t mine:
the identities i share with so many others
the security blankets of opinion, belief and good taste.
i am free not to be bound
by my dependence on respect, affirmation and flattery
i am free to be what i anyway always was:
a wave, a thought, a vessel or a tree.
Elke (a.pass researcher):
Elle, with the new project ‘Mobile MNSTRY’ you again tackle some of the issues you have been dealing with in your extended project Bureau d’Espoir already for some years: the recuperation and embrace of practices and terms that have been categorized, marginalized and recuperated by capital strategies.
For example: you worked on the mobilization of the concept of ‘anorexia’ in the Hunger and Anorexic practices as tools for rethinking our relation to the consumption of food, and our own place in the ‘food chain’ of capitalism. You worked in ‘Battery’ on the embrace of circumstances that are considered detrimental to the ‘healthy’ development of the individual: 21 days of imprisonment, hunger and lack of private space as a spiritual-aesthetic machine for the production of hope and change.
Now you propose the Mobile Monastery: a practice that is based on rethinking the monastic rule, the disciplining and deep experience of the everyday, introducing ‘poverty’ and social service (karma yoga) into the practice. Your proposals all seem to verge on the extreme, uncomfortable, and frankly, possibly moralistic. How do you plan to make this collective practice seem inviting to collaborators.
Although it is often perceived as such, my practice is not one of asceticism. It is rather a practice of finding pleasure, or even liberation, in reducing the overall demand for entertainment and ‘keeping busy’ that order our daily realities. If I introduce the ‘poverty’ demand to the temporary monks in the MNSTRY, this is not so much an act of moralistic self-deprivation, as it is an invitation for an active and vitalizing rethinking of our relationship and dependence on money: on subsidies, a steady income, a minimum requirement of comforts and ‘good circumstances’ to work and produce in.
A lot of our thinking as artists and citizens is based on a conscious or unconscious fear to fall out of the grid of organized society, to become invisible to the powers that matter. What the Mobile MNSTRY proposes is to do exactly that. To live without everything we think we need to be able to ‘live’, work, enjoy life, stay connected. By giving up on these things, we are able to install other connections to the city, the environment, our practice and other people. By taking away the markers of our social position (identity card, money, private space), we enter into another reality. A reality marked by a collective discipline, a shared purpose, an outward orientation. Together we rethink what it means to be alive: what kind of practices can keep us not only alive, but also charged, and aware of each other and the outside world.
The Mobile MNSTRY (which you can read as Monastery, but also as Ministry, or Monster-y), is an exercise in pragmatic ritualism: it opens up a space and time to reorganize our attachments and preconceptions to capital values. To make space for other ways to mobilize time, space and artistic practice, away from the confinement of the studio, the artistic workspace. To test our knowledges on another playground of society: to see what it is we can do with what we think we believe in.
You could say that you try to rethink the economies of desire that rule our everyday lives. Making use of very diverse practices borrowed from spiritual body work, inventive object design, philosophical reconceptualization and artistic practice experience. But at the same time this ‘economic liberation’ is presented as quite a disciplining practice: proposing collective day rhythms, the denial of private space, limited resources to work with. In that sense, your practices might also seem old-fashioned, frugal, and out of tune with the individual freedom of the artist/collaborator/citizen to fill in their lives in a flexible, creative and singular way.
Your collective practice environments seem to stand in stark contrast to the contemporary ideology of flexibility, choice, individual creativity. In the arts field, in particular, any sense of pre-set rules or limitations to the practice are often labeled as ‘power games’ or even as ‘fascist’, a word that seems to fit any kind of disciplined practice these days.
Yes, but this term has also been hollowed out by its frequent, uncritical use. Funnily enough, it lost its meaning exactly through the banalization of the term in so-called critical discursive environments that, by seeing fascism everywhere, actually disempowered the term completely. If fascism is everywhere, then actually it becomes life itself. If fascism is but a strategic stab in an intellectual debate to disarm the opposition, there is no serious consideration for the all-too-real context in which fascism took form as a societal transformational power. Such a ‘metaphorization’ of the term, which makes is applicable to all circumstances in which a play of hierarchical oppositions of power are at stake, is nearsighted, and cynical.
Let’s say that by ‘fascism’ I mean a specific coming together of Beauty, Order and the practice of what I would call the Physical Sublime, that is often created by suffering, or disciplined bodies. Or maybe rather, the dual mechanical and massively reproduced political aesthetic organization that bases itself on Beauty and Order, and produces the violence of exclusion and exhaustion in its wake. Off course this term can not be interpreted separate from its historical contexts, and the often violent mass effects it produced. But whole generations of leftist critical thinkers have grown up in the shadow of the stormy historical heritage of the 20th Century, and their historical awareness of the traps of combined ideology, idealism and organization have made them hyper-sensitive to the telltale signs of power abuse or disbalance, but also of the uncritical embrace of Beauty as a bourgeois pacifier of unrest, revolt or social struggle.
In the wake of the 20th century, modernisms, fascist and communist critical strategies, a lot of aesthetic strategies have become suspect. Loaded with historical weight: be it romantic escapism, political incorrectness, social exclusion, uncritical acceptance of the bourgeois order, the crash and recuperation of the ideals of the 1960’s, and what more. What has been constructed however, out of the rubble of broken ideals, is a discourse police that has made a significant part of the aesthetic vocabulary off-limits, and brandished as naïve at best, hypocritical or ‘f…t’ in the worst cases.
My question is now if maybe it is not a time to dive back into that long-forgotten dictionary of terms and see if it is not high time to rescue some of them, reactivate their power, and make them speak out another reality, another world view, than the ones they have been associated with. It is my impression that we have gone through an every-expanding exclusion of possible terms to think our realities, a progressive retreat into the trenches of a politically correct aesthetic-political discourse that is now keeping us hostage to ideas that are no longer capable of creating worlds that we actually would wholeheartedly consider to live in. What critical discourse, or at least, the particular critical discourse I’m addressing now has come to establish (which, to be clear, was not always the case) is a state of feeling constantly under siege, beleaguered and in mortal danger of recuperation of any of our bright ideas by the corporations that be.
Instead of this kind of Repressive Criticality, or the Discourse Police, I would like to see a new wave of criticism come to be that is mainly creative: a creativity produced through a clarity of practiced conceptualization and experienced practice, that would create realities in its wake. A criticality that would not be afraid of being labeled as naïve, old-fashioned or uncritical. Since, frankly, the Discourse Police has produced a toxic reactionary environment for practicing art and politics, that is blind for the potential of other ways of doing, speaking and creating the worlds we live in.
It is time to reconceptualize our concepts. Not by fleeing from them in horror, but by accepting them in all their confusing associations, radical unsuitedness, and therefore irritating potential. Beauty for me is about Order, but about Orgasm. Beauty appears at the confluence of the experience of the interior and exterior, the experience of the self expanding into that what seems separate to it. Unlike the fearful trepidation in front of the Sublime, this beauty is nothing if not powerful, energizing, and emancipatory. To know you are connected, you are part of the whole, dissolves the fear of exclusion. Orgasmic Beauty, in that sense, is a tool to overcome alienation THROUGH alienation, a kind of homeopathic medicine. It is overcoming the doctrine of individuality that has captured and narrowed our desires to the handkerchief-size of a self-realization wellness project. I think we can do more with the energy of our desires than this empty craving for self-fulfillment.
I was just reading this rather interesting paragraph about sexuality, which might clarify what I mean with this orgasmic quality:
‘Sex, for its part, likes nothing so much as mixtures. Mixtures of skins, salivas, humors, organs, words to the point of delirium, images, as well; sex makes do with anything, can put everything to use. (…) Sex is not the body. It is even the forgetting of the body. It is what makes us, in jouissance, feel desire, or sadness, excitement, fear, longing – everything about the body that is not ‘the body’, that is, flesh. When the body becomes world, landscape, moor, sand, language, collage, collapse, memory, the entire body is convoked as other than flesh. Other indeed, for it is a matter of otherness, for philosophy as well as for sex. Their history is the same, like two sides of a single coin stamped with the seal of that recognition.’
Just like Criticality, indeed can be rethought as Creative Clarity, a courageous step into the unknown potential of concepts that are constantly redefined and tested through practice. And this goes for all terms that have been derided, labeled as unfashionable, and banned out of our life practices. …
There is a big confusion in my practices indeed, especially around notions of self-organization, freedom and discipline. Off course this is due to the superposition of two different practice ‘myths’: the one of artistic research and creation, and the one of transformational ‘spiritual’ body practices which i started to use as ammunition, as weapons in my struggle to overcome the inertia that was keeping a lot of artists hostage in regard to the workings of contemporary capitalism: they felt their tools, their creativity, their imaginative powers had been largely recuperated by marketing, advertising, and the overall economy of affects that produces desires through the production of ever-more empty containers for the construction of ever-more ‘individualized’ selves. The artist-individual therefore has become wary of his/her ‘individual’ power, since individuality in itself has become suspect as a commercial construction of Capital. And rightfully so.
What I try to do in my practices is to liberate, to unveil, to come to a nude understanding again of what is the non-produced power of the self. And this can, paradoxically, only be done through the stripping away of the presumed ‘personal’, or ‘hyper-individual’ layers of comportment, habits, and convictions. Temporarily! To make other potentials visible. And as such, to rephrase freedom not as a freedom from, but a freedom FOR. FOR a collective project, for a shared dream, for a collectively supported change.
BUT, and this is very important to understand: this change is not a collective ideology as the ones that supported the communes and collective of the 1960’s and 1970’s. We do NOT have to agree on the world-supporting myths of political affiliation, religious normativization or economic regularization. At least not in Bureau d’Espoir. We only temporarily agree on a scored practice of time and action. And on linking this practice to an outside world. In this sense the Mobile MNSTRY is not built on stable grounds of conviction. While starting out with a proposed score, throughout the project, this score is bit-by-bit transformed by the collaborators, based on their individual myths and dreams, which we then begin to share through our bodies, and ending up with a monastic score that is probably far detached from the original proposal.
Do you consider Bureau d’Espoir to be an activist cell? Do you see yourselves as producing instruments, weapons to fight affect capitalization. Are you a Warrior of Desire?
Why do you ask me things you already know the answer to? Why do you need me as an excuse to say what you can not accept yourself saying? Why is Elle so much alluring, sexy and attractive as figure of flight for you? Why do you distrust your own desire so much you can not allow it to carry your name?
Last night I spoke my name and there was no one there. The sound echoed in the long corridors but I could feel the house was uninhabited.
Don’t get mystical on me. Don’t pose fake questions. Don’t play the ignorant. Practice what you know.
to the gathering of all people that can toast to the liberty that appears out of nowhere.
to the liberation that doesn’t need anything
that doesn’t need to be acquired
but that just appears in the middle of a conversation
a cup of coffee.
to the enchantment of getting lost in the situation and finding
there is no place like this place.
to the flight of folly that connects you to my projections
to the me i can only be through you
to the you that is here without expectations
to the we that will never be formed
to the air that keeps us from being glued together
as one big blob sharing everyone’s smells, headaches and anxieties
to the air that allows me to keep my distance
to the floor that supports my position
to the gravity that keeps me down to earth
to the sky that still hasn’t fallen on my head
and keeps on not doing so day after day
to the microbes that keep on digesting my food
to the hairs on my arms that allow me to feel the wind moving on my skin
to the hairs everywhere on my body for reminding me i’m an animal
a rabbit, a deer or a worm. well, maybe not a worm.
to your unhappiness that reminds me of my own good luck
to your ravings that tell me i should slow down
to your madness that tells me i haven’t seen nothing yet
to the streets that keep cars from crashing into houses, or people, or trees
to houses that keep people from crushing into each other
to walls for protecting our privacy
to carpets for muffling our sounds
to tables for keeping things from falling on the ground and messing other things up
and creating chaos
to clothes for giving me something to imagine
to no clothes for giving me something to imagine
to touch for allowing me to live in my imagination … … …
24 HOURS LATER
The Mobile MNSTRY is part of a bigger social-artistic neighborhood project, called Re-Commerce, in the commune of Forest. In what way do you consider the MNSTRY to fulfill a social engagement?
The Mobile MNSTRY (Monastery, Ministery, Monster-y) is a collective location project, organised in and around the previous Abbeye of Forest. The MNSTRY will install a temporary (monastic) community that lives and works within a limited area, following a shared time score and accepting the rule of poverty for the duration of the workshop.
During this time all activities of the MNSTRY will be organised within the public contexts of Forest, and developed as an open invitation to the neighbourhood and passers-by. During the workshop the time score of the MNSTRY will bit by bit start to change: the original ‘monastic’ score will be taken over by the members of the community, who will start to decide on what there is to be done, what we will spend our shared time on, and what is it that is needed today, here, and for whom.
The workshop is part of the larger project Cité d’Espoir (part of the REcommerce social-artistic initiative, organised by Bains Connective) which develops a constant practice for about six weeks (starting half October) with intense public moments during the weekends. The Mobile MNSTRY starts out with one member and through a call on the internet, the development of the workshop but also through local advertising the community starts to grow.
The ‘cité’ of the Abbaye will be renamed ‘Cité d’Espoir’ and will house the artists and their guests, supporting their ‘monastic’ practices. Cité d’Espoir will develop into a social meeting place, with a silent space to hang out, daily soup dinners, a library and regular ritual and other activities. The temporary monks start to develop their practices on the basis of poverty, social service and artistic transformation. Neighbours and interested people can pass by to have a personal ritual made for them, but we also want to involve groups and youngsters to develop group public rituals with us, based on their needs and visions. For example, we develop mourning rituals for pets or family members, light rituals for those who can not stand the cold anymore, love rituals for the lonely, political change rituals for the disengaged, etcetera.
We also give short-term ritual training workshops: how to develop your own rituals, how to gather material for your rituals, based on the Psychomagic methodology of Jodorowsky, or the artistic methodologies of the temporary monks. The silent café in the Cité d’Espoir offers free tea and something, and would become the starting point for all projects. The monks would sleep on the premises and be available most of the time for a talk or a ritual ‘guidance’. On Sundays there is also a kind of ‘service’, which is not religious but only aims at developing an alternative ‘common’ event for the neighbourhood in the margins of the market.