Williams, K., and Poolman, C., 2010 “This Fish is Reversing: touretteshero and Foucault’s concept of articulation.” Gobsmacked: Getting Speechless In Performance, Queen Mary’s University
Extract from Sounds and (Non)sense / Contemporary Theatre Review / Volume 22, Issue 1, 2012 (Helena Walsh & Johanna Linsley)
Does speech have to make sense? In addressing the topic of speechlessness, it may be that the opposite of speech is not silence, but rather meaningless noise. Larger questions must then be asked about how sense is made. The artist duo chris+keir explored the institutional mechanics of sense and nonsense with a presentation on their performance project This Fish Is Reversing. The pair has been working with an online database created by Touretteshero, an artist with Tourette’s Syndrome. The database holds written transcripts of her verbal tics, which have been made available as an open-source, creative resource. chris+keir have responded to this resource by making illustrative performances re-enacting a number of Touretteshero’s tics: ‘I’m a Lebanese balloon animal’, ‘Disable the crisp’ or ‘Telescopic penis’, for example. Their presentation emphasised Touretteshero’s use of technology as a way of shifting her involuntary verbal tics into the category of articulations. The pair’s intervention re-resets the category by making the phrases once again nonsensical, though a qualitatively different type of nonsense, based on whimsical performance conventions rather than the neurological impulses that characterise Tourette’s Syndrome.
Chris+keir’s presentation was framed as an investigation of Foucauldian concepts of articulation (elaborated in, for example, Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things and The Archaeology of Knowledge). They emphasised how the sense of statements relies on a context of organised and understood conventions. The series of conditions which allow sense to emerge are always productive of and produced by power relations, and thus never neutral. For Foucault, power needs to be understood as ‘force relations’ produced through processes of ‘ceaseless struggles and confrontations’. These relations are mutually self-supporting, and take effect under strategies ‘whose general design or institutional crystallization is embodied in the state apparatus, in the formulation of the law, in the various social hegemonies’. Power, then, is neither centralised nor static, though it is often expressed through recognisable channels. There is a danger that this understanding of power as dispersed and ever present might lead to political apathy or exhaustion if the ground of power constantly crumbles only to re-emerge elsewhere and stronger. In their collaboration with Tourretshero, chris+keir paid close and canny attention to the relation between context, power, conventions and sense. However, they also showed how manipulation and play within and among these conventions is possible. The project, then, develops an idea of a multiplicity of nonsenses and senses connected through speech and performance and produced through a complex interplay of intention and organisation.