Letters to the (hard)Workers
by April Durham

Dear James,

I mentioned in my last note that I felt like a writing machine, streaming out endless versions of the same report to the academy. Perhaps I should have said that I felt more like Liquid Paper, correcting and redacting the tedious and redundant writing mistakes of report generators, less invested than I in the potential beauty of the words they deploy to convey regulatory compliance. Regardless, my machinic rendering and rectification affect sorrow as they deplete me, the human operator, the one whose automatic gesture has not yet reached the point of excess.

A writing machine can be productive if it writes. It stacks lines of words one on top of the other in never-ending flat and striated heaps: thoughts, desires, feelings, sensations all compile to make a thing, to say a thing, to produce a thing. When it goes off the rails, the writing machine becomes nonsensical, producing only faulty material that will be discarded on the rubbish heap designed to hold the “margin of error.” When that marginalized nonsense and the actions that produce it reach a point of excess (so perfectly imagined by Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times when he can’t stop turning his wrench, even when his activities result in loss of productivity on the assembly line or border on criminal assault as he attempts to turn the buttons on the backside of a woman’s skirt, while she wears it), then they both (the labor and the product of that labor) burst from the limits of normal productivity and take on a life of their own, playtime as agential performer.​

You recall that book we read together where Gerald Raunig1 talks about how the wild and uncontrollable work of thousands of redundant, excessive, useless machines, operating beyond the limits of capital’s need for them to produce, can make some new form of aliveness emerge. Raunig refers to Tati’s short film about the postman whose excessive sorting capability reaches beyond what is needed for mail delivery and his machine companion (namely his bicycle) comes to life, runs amok in the countryside, and leads the postman to a bar where the man is able to dance, deliver the mail, have a drink, dance some more all at once before he joins again with the enlivened bicycle. That long reminder is intended to help me pose a question to you about the way that a writing machine like myself becomes excessive and begins to produce beyond what is right and justly required by the employer.

1 Raunig, Gerald. A Thousand Machines. New York: Semiotext(e), 2010.

I was thinking of my decade and a half of running hither and yon, to the point of extreme exhaustion, organizing these creative collaborations that were supposed to posit some sort of egalitarian utopia – if I’m honest – but that resulted instead (most of the time) in alienation and loss of connection. We have talked a lot about this and you are indeed, perhaps justifiably, skeptical about the efficacy of working in this manner, especially as it is often so depressing with regard to the long-term, inter-relational outcomes. But I don’t want to just throw the bathwater out just yet, even if the baby has expired. We are in a severe drought afterall.

If my efforts to coordinate a self-managed artists’ collective have failed in terms of sustainability (that is the thing becoming an institution in its own right and contributing in any way to my sustenance or to the manufacture of objects that could be distributed in an art market of any kind with the resulting prizes and mentions in catalogs and inclusions in all kinds of hip art conversations) and have instead burst like boils, from which we all retreated, then one really must wonder what one has been doing all this time and if “feel-good” results are really, actually not the best or only ends in themselves. What unexpected transformations come about as these ragged, aching spots are exposed to the air and the music plays and you try to dance, of course at the same time you are tap, tap, tapping away at your writing-machine keyboard?

True the wound appears only to bring about rent flesh and oozing liquid, but I must ask the following: What does this residue of love in the time of anguish produce, if anything? What state of mind or demand on the body does it generate? Where do we go from here, darling, where do we go from here? And then I feel compelled, beyond my own agential capacity, to continue to declare that the labor of playing with these artists for these many years has the effect of forcing me to account for how the excessive, difficult, failed labor of desire and love has changed me as a subject, my idea of what art can do as a critical observer and maker, and to wonder if wondering, touching, listening, dancing, decorating, smelling, tasting, costuming, installing, staring are really, simply enough.

Yours always with warmth and affection,
Dear Oprah,
I have heard you speak with your colleagues about the value of vulnerability. I respect your capacity to draw on your caché and generate something positive for your viewers, many of whom must be women who have imposed limitations on what they can be because they are women. I do wonder about how vulnerability is defined in your discourse. Is it really just a matter of being honest? Anyway, keep up the good work.
Dear Pam,
I think often of all those years working hard at playing, where playfulness was a tool we used to tackle serious issues when we made art. It wasn’t “playing at” or even “playing with” ideas and languages and methods and styles, although there was plenty of the latter in our projects, but it was engaging in the play of crafting a worldview that made sense relative to our strange and awkward experiences of the world, ones that never seemed to find a home in the houses of anyone we could know., especially together That view collectively critiqued and imagined liquid, porous, and trans conditions, where the Left Hand of Darkness governs embodiment and desire, trying to go beyond the categorical and “commonsense” definitions of those states of being. What, we asked, could a collaboration produce if collectivity did not conflate individual being-making and cooperative aesthetic practices?

“Collaboration is hard,” you once said in a forum organized around a show where we presented a collaborative work along with other artists and writers and cartographers and dancers and programmers invited to do the same. Everyone chuckled uneasily at your observation because we had all borne witness to the tensions and eruptions, even the failures, of the cooperative to cohere around the artwork while we were installing. In fact, even with all of our tensions and disagreements, the three of us appeared in perfect harmony compared to some of the others who were shrieking and gnashing their teeth as they tried to sort out the details of each gesture, together. Hard and work are combined and then glorified in the neo-liberal ideology that informs definitions of successful labor in recent decades, a practice that invisibly lauds the pain of difficult effort without necessarily acknowledging the real affects (depleted human and natural resources, traumatized psychological states, habitual prioritization of opportunistic, abusive choices that foster getting ahead) of that pain. If we bring pain to the forefront, wonder at its usefulness, and then “play” with its possibilities, do we serve the larger goal of rendering ourselves fluid, permeable, sponge-like and of finding the creative power that Nietzsche and later Deleuze declared to be the source of our release from the oppresive systematics of capital?

In 1994, an artists’ collective formed, calling itself Bernadette Corporation (BC). Largely a tongue-in-cheek reference to the type of personhood that would later become legalized in Citizens United (2010) and, which corporations now assume as they “labor” to organize society and politics in service to their financial goals, the group did not seek to merely hide individuality and its attendant responsibilities behind a wall of incorporation. Rather, they looked to challenge the notion of the subject produced by corporate influences and to reinsert the chaotic mess that arises when those challenges occur, back in the culture they confronted.

Fiercely against the politics and economics of globalization but also reflexive of the their own collusion in the methods by which capital harnesses creativity to its own ends, BC began by organizing parties in New York City as a way of disrupting the emerging and ubiquitous production of “cool” as a signpost for individual productivity in the fields of fashion and art. Angela McRobbie discusses the rise of cool culture as an effect of economic shifts instigated by gentrification, where DIY fashion designers of late 1990s London, who could previously eek out a meager living making their wares three days a week at their kitchen tables and then selling them the other four days in little stalls or underground markets in the city, had been pushed toward a fully commoditized culture of “cool” ( McRobbie 2016). This underground industry was fueled, in McRobbie’s account, in large part by the Labour Party notion that education might solve the entrenched unemployment of working class youth during and following the Thatcher years. 

As the innovations afforded by the freedoms of DIY creativity took hold in McRobbie's account of the fashion industry, parallel to the waves of gentrification in formerly inexpensive neighborhoods in London, the artists she considers had to develop another form of caché to distinguish themselves from the rest of the labor force and to garner higher salaries than they earned selling hats and vests in the Camden Market. McRobbie argues that this ushered in a Hipster aesthetic that involved valorizing the work of hanging about in the right coffee shops, bars, and nightclubs, being seen at the right parties wearing the right clothes, and working (in however lowly a position) for the coolest fashion houses and shops. While critical of the way that capitalism leveraged creativity with this Hipster trend, McRobbie also sees it as a “line of flight” that engendered transformation as the “desires and yearnings [of the creative worker] [could not] be captured or contained wholly by the institutions of and organizations of labour.”2 Cool then becomes a commodity, ephemeral and subjective but marketable nonetheless, that signifies inclusion or its inverse in the optimal flows of currency and success. And if cool appears differently at different moments (Heroine Chic in the 1990s or contemporary Urban Dandism), attested to by certain haircuts and particular jeans, then those particular shifts just keep all the many and varied tentacles of consumerism writhing with life. BC's intent was to harness the movement of those squirming arms and see if they could fling themselves (and perhaps us if we held hands super tightly and didn't let our palms get too sweaty) clear of the beast. It seems a difficult battle to resist the capture and containment of creativity, especially when the boss says “I want our work to be fun!,” but Bernadette Corporation takes an approach to fun that is all about destruction.

2McRobbie, Angela. Be Creative: Making a Living in the New Culture Industries. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2016, 58.

I should clarify that destruction for BC is not just wholesale mayhem, although walls and buildings and banks and systems do fall as a result of the labor of activists and others in BC’s artwork. They embrace the Body without Organs, but they recognize, as do you, that they like their organs and don't really want to lose them all together. In fact divestiture of all the signifying affects of pallices and eggs and faces and fingers might just be an effort to escape something (our psychology) that we really need to confront head-on. Take, for example, Reena Spaulings, the novel from 2005, for which BC orchestrated contributions from over 100 writers (some professional and others not) to develop the tale of Reena, her extremely hip rise to fame and her subsequent destruction of one of the self-proclaimed coolest cities in the world. If it is not already excessive to have dozens of writers contributing to a single novel, the chopped, awkward, driven style of the narrative renders an over-the-top level of narrative and character chaos. Ultimately, BC produces in the novel a manifesto of subjectivity loosed from the moorings of capitalist productivity, freed to roam the globalized world, running from pillar to post as a force of destructive play.

The early Hollywood method for screenplay production followed the Fordist factory model, employing of a “stable” of writers assigned particular pieces of the project, which would then be coordinated and unified by the official, named screenwriter for the film. Using this method, BC marshaled more than 125 writers from their associates and friends, and assigned short sections to each with basic, minimal direction. The group had a general idea of how the novel should progress, but as work came in from disparate authors, they found they had to adjust their plans to accommodate the submissions. Writers took liberty with their assignments and drifted down paths not on the original story plan3. Some writers were not native English speakers and the grammar took its own lines of flight with archaic or awkward structures disrupting but not eradicating the continuity of the prose. In BC’s deployment of Fordism, improper functioning of factory-model writing became a playful detour from expectations for form and style that paralleled the evolution of the titular character.

3Bernadette Corporation, email correspondence with the author. 2011.

Reena Spaulings is described early on as disjointed and multi-vocal as the writing style. She is a low-wage, laboring subject, employed as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, but physically and subjectively she takes on the form of wallpaper configured like a painting of “Trampled Grass”4 in her scratchy uniform “designed by Armani before he was famous” (4). These descriptions, occuring very early in the novel (paragraphs 3 and 4), anchor us firmly in the realm of off-kilter cool relative to ridiculous gestures that signify opulence but are misplaced on the body of the generic and largely unobserved or stepped-over/upon museum guard. As a result, the expectation for coherence with normative and thus desirable signifiers of cool is foiled at the same time these tropes are presented.

4 Bernadette Corporation. Reena Spaulings. New York and Los Angeles: Semiotext(e). 2004. 3.

There is nothing in the first few pages of description to codify Reena, to make her body categorically clear. “She is young and ugly and beautiful” (4), the novel declares at the start of the third paragraph, the object of anyone’s and no one’s desire. She is further described as “a sponge, a vacuum,” a body and a subject ready to endlessly take in and expand with the act of absorbing the gaze of the “scouting eye,” if it happens to fall upon her. Clearly it has, or the novel would not be named for her, but this text and its multiple authors are not merely about scouting Reena’s body and presenting it to us, the readers, for consumption. They launch her, as the literary human cannonball, in order to instigate a narrative force of change within the space of the first line of the first paragraph. The presentation deserves a repetitive analysis, as follows.

“Reena is standing, but not sitting” (3) opens the novel and offers something extraordinary in its banality. “Her hands are behind her, but not in front of her” is next, as if these positions might be contradictory, as if the strangeness of standing and not sitting is astonishing and difficult to imagine. Connected as it is to images of the injured Grail King from medieval legend who can neither stand, nor sit, nor lie down, the description of Reena standing with her hands behind her as does every other museum guard, is made magical with the counter phrases that follow the conjunction in the sentences but that do not actually contradict. Still the magic in these phrases depends upon something entirely dull. Reena is standing, probably with her feet apart and her legs in a V. Her hands behind her make her sound as lumpen, graceless, and inelegant as possible. Then the objecting conjunction “but” transforms the awkward into the bewildering, giving the reader an uneasy sense that what does follow will grow the dimensions of off-kilterness and confound easy assignment of meaning or envisioning. As the writing machines particular to this project play with the notion of what is possible in terms of holding one’s body steady without contradiction at the same time that they maintain the appearance of contradiction, they set the stage for understanding subjectivity formation as a game of uncertainty, the logics of which evade capture even when capital so clearly and easily seems to affect that capture, if the writers and the readers are willing to loiter provocatively at the intersection of the comprehensible and the impenetrable, wondering at what it produces.

To compound things, the normally invisible museum guard does some seeing of her own in this introductory paragraph. Reena keeps her eyes on the 17th and 19th century paintings that flank her as she regards the viewers who stand before those paintings, naked and triumphant the both. She notices these famous paintings of a Dutch merchant distributing alms and Napoleon’s army victorious that are part of the Metropolitan Museum's permanent collection, and upon which she divides her attention, showing us that she is aware of her own framing in a colonizing discourse that depicts success and generosity through the acts of powerful men, even while she has presumably failed to harness the affordances of those power structures with her own life choices, about which we know little at this point in the novel but can assume based on her job, her appearance, and how much money she can spend on her personal care. She does not partake in the triumphs of the rich and the mighty, as a low-wage worker likely living precariously and untidily at the edge of everything (unable to afford blond highlights or a facial [4]). Still, she is empowered to both gaze at the fur-clad Dutch merchant and the hat-waving French general at the same time she watches those who have paid to enter the institution and consume its holdings with their own eyes. Her gazing position is much more complicated than that of the perspectival viewer or the consuming observer; she practices a simultaneous peripheral glance/surveillance scope, not unlike a networked, machinic panopticon, but without the power position that network would normally afford. In this way, Reena’s embodiment is emphasized as one who sees before and at the same time she is being seen herself. The position she holds as simultaneous viewer and viewed at the outset of the novel confuses our own placement as reader and meaning—maker, to play with the notion that we can capture, produce, render, consume, know, experience, and name.

The following longer quote gives a sense of the impossibility of affecting ownership on the material body that is Reena Spaulings, both as character and as force of nature.

Reena’s eyes are brown? Blue? Something like that. Why describe her as beautiful? She’s not. She’s pre-aesthetic. Meaning there is no man or woman on earth who could say with complacency what it is that makes him or her go back a few steps to see her, or simply what makes him or her see her. What we need is a picture. A poet might have said her nose denoted two conflicting things: independence and sensuality. And that her eyebrows bespoke female gallantry. But again, how does he or she come up with these conclusions from looking at her? Something in her face said “…ocean…radar.” And something in her face and body together said “Trampled Grass.” When you actually drive to the prairie. But I don’t want to make her out to be more or less or other than human, or even human (3).

How is it that Reena can be human and less than or other than or even human? What sort of material play is at work here when that description arises from the intuitive expression of a participant in a collaborative art project, and even more urgently, what does that material play produce? I ask if we can think subjectivity in terms that are so liquid, so amorphous? Or are we fated to collapse these kinds of descriptions, ones that bespeak “female gallantry” (whatever that might signify) and ocean radar, where looking and being looked at are simultaneous and a-productive?

Ever yours,

Dear Madame Secretary,

It's too bad about the recent national and very public failure, but I find that your inability to attain the employment you sought offers a window on to what actual, pending destruction will engender. While I do not look forward to the particular aryan type of chaos the new administration seems to promise, I appreciate that your grace and perseverence give us all an all-too-human example of how failure might function as a portal to reflection, study, consideration, grace, re-making, wandering off the well-known path (I would recommend a bit more of that in your situation, but who am I to tell you anything, really). I also appreciate your uncanny ability to carry on in the face of all the phallic pendulates with whom you seem to be so often paired. Your actions are heroic in true, Homeric style.

Thank you for your gracious encouragement on the morning of November 9th when we were all so bewildered and distraught, and while many of us continue to be flummoxed at the ethical penury of our fellow occupants of the land of the brave, I hope to carry on with some degree of grace myself. I do find this very hard work and not particularly pleasurable at the time the task is being performed. As my companion in the rabbit hole tells me as we fall, "we don't have to find a silver lining in all of this, you know."

Forever in your debt for the reminder to seek my true measure,

April Durham, PhD

Young Feminist-at-Large


Dear Chris,
I wanted to thank you for introducing me to the core members of Bernadette Corporation. I wonder if you contributed something to Reena Spaulings. I could see that happening, but maybe the collective writing experience, the erasure of subjectivity, isn’t really your bailiwick. In Reena Spaulings, the group-author constructs a being in the character of Reena that is at once legible and impossible, woman and not, human and herb, impersonal and yet familiar as perhaps we too cannot afford a facial or do not care about being blonde. The way that Reena is both the worker and the surveillance monitor, the one who watches and the one who reflects back what is seen, is similar to the way the voice of the protagonist in your novels becomes simultaneously that of Kathy Acker, Sylvere Lottringer, Nan Golden, an alien, and an anorexic. Even though yo u aren’t really concerned with unmooring subjectivity like BC, you still play with the push-pull between what a person can be and what she produces over layered points of time in a way that is similar to BC's exercise in constructing a porous subject. The shift of verb tense that seemed erroneous to me when I was editing one of your novels, now seems like a way that makes the past part of the present and spreads the two perpetually over what the future can be, a Bergsonian understanding of time as imprecisely non-linear.

I notice that I am obsessed with consistency, perhaps from too many years laboring as a machine at the tedium of manuscript editing, but there is something about the inconsistent that makes texts take on a life of their own. Whether the imprecise involves switches in verb tense or abrupt changes in point of view (a kind of literary equivalent of jumping the line in film), something generates out of the faulty play of language.

For example, an imprecise shift from third to first person on the second page of BC’s novel sets us up for an uncertain form of address, where as readers, we’re not sure if we are still the objective, unseen observer or if the narrator in the paragraph intends his remarks for us specifically and where we are uncertain if Reena, some other guard, or just some chatty Ned in the locker room speaks, describing Reena and then telling about himself.

“She [Reena] somehow is required to put her hair out of the face. Because she works in public. And there are rules in a public. But her hair likes to slip” (4) offers us a picture of a perhaps slovenly person with hair that appears to have a rule-breaking agency of its own and whose slippages mirror the material slips away from consistency in the writing style of the novel. This engenders a type of play that allows carelessness to become aesthetic practice, not so much concerned with beauty but with addressing the potentials of material things like hair and words to slip the moorings of conventional, prescribed, and rule-based governance. The staccato, grammatically imprecise sentences about Reena’s coiffure hesitate to impose the rules that govern hair in the museum context, yet they foreground the rules broken by their own structure while notating Reena’s own inconsistencies. How can we play with language? this passage seems to ask. Would it be in the same way that we would twist a strand of hair or push the limits of regulations applicable to style and appearance? Are we able to set aside our insistence on unswerving conformity to accepted grammatical edicts, or do we judge Reena and her lanky strands and miss an opportunity to expand?

The choice is removed to a certain extent, when the narrator turns and addresses us directly in the following sentence, the literary version of breaking the fourth wall in theatre or film. “I was an art handler for ten years,” (4) this narrator says, situating his story in a past that is always present in the museum where exhibitions change with periodic regularity and the rules for “handling” artworks defined by conservation values become the frame from which he or she speaks. No longer is this speaker detached and distant. He penetrates our reserve and pulls us into his tale that evolves as grammar and logic breaksdown.

I rode around in a truck and we picked up paintings and took them around town. There was a guy named Eugene who worked on the trucks and who desired all the other truckers. He would talk filthy to you but very respectfully, which is very pleasant while you’re working. Well now he works as the met as a security guard and I stood up there one day while he was on duty (4).

Moving from detached, omniscient first-person narrator to a subjective third-person point of view we shift from observing Reena as object to entering her interior, sensate experience where she is desired, along with all the other truckers, by Eugene or alternately, where she does the desiring, chasing truckers and paintings around town disguised as Eugene. Rather than feeling like the faulty completion of a writing assignment, this textual shift changes the general flow of narration in a way that slips along with the subject(s) it is engaging. Thinking in this manner, flexibly, erratically, faultily, allows the sponge-like character of the novel, the author(s), and the reader to emerge with the fragmented but self-reflective world-view important to the book.

The Eugene of the quoted passage, who ultimately and easily could be Reena, is doubled in the tale of the narrator/art handler whose bizarre drive about the city with paintings in his truck is dislocated from any known form of labor and appears more as the play involved in cruising or just drifting aimlessly about. He does not speak of delivering or packing or installing these artworks, only of driving them around after he picks them up, as if the works of art are random partners picked up in bars for anonymous flings. Would the art police, the ones who dog you at the museum telling you not to touch, object to this willynilly treatment of paintings? Back at the museum, we have to ask when any of us has seen someone standing up with a museum guards who are at work? Wouldn’t they be fired? Wouldn’t something happen to the artwork? The image of guards standing about with their friends or colleagues disrupts expectations for normal, productive labor. No longer do we have compliant guards working to keep museum visitors from molesting the artworks. Now they are people hanging out, chit chatting, having a smoke, failing to take work (both their own labor and the "work" of art) seriously. This type of refusal to work, without pickets or strikes, transforms sociability (a form of relaxed, non-competitive play) into radical, determining action that influences the potential outcomes, all of which are unpredictable in this context.

The mash-up of writing styles and trajectories, combined with the responsive orchestrating of the editors, involves a lingering working style that drifts over the literary body of the character, Reena Spaulings, as it constructs the textual subject of the novel Reena Spaulings. Slow play of this sort loiters over the materiality of bodies and texts in a way that refrains from corralling or marshalling the usefulness of that matter’s capacity, and does not insist on separation between material and textual bodies or narrative forms and poetic styles. Play that creates spongey boundaries around subjectivity gives rise to a working actor whose subjectivity and labor slip the moorings of productivity, and as a result the containment of characterization, individuality, or subject-hood more generally. In the face of such productivity, or perhaps it is time to say “a-productivity,” the chaotic commingling of vulnerability, lingering play, and defiance of rules governing basic hygiene or the handling of art, explodes the expectations for what those things can mean as work.

Bernadette Corporations’s slow approach to the development of subjectivity and working styles (both in their artwork and in their collaborative practice) finds a correspondence in the “weak theory” discussed by feminist economic geographers Julie Graham and Katherine Gibson (J.K. Gibson-Graham) in A Postcapitalist Politics (2006). They outline a methodology where a “positive affect” results from a lingering style of inquiry that does not insist on judgment or conclusion about the object of consideration.5 Weak theory is a practice that avoids “embracing [the] reductiveness and confident finality associated with the practice of theorizing,” where assumptions about what is known are set aside and instead a “beginner’s mind” is cultivated that “reduces [theory’s] reach, localizing its purview, [so that it] cannot encompass the present and shut down the future" (7-8). For Gibson-Graham, the slow approach means allowing the unexpected to emerge, however frightening, uncertain, and destabilizing its affect. Stultified pre-conclusions that keep systems and subjects from the erratic movements that occur when normative limits erode are eased and made porous to the surprising eventualities of emergence. This is exacerbated by the tense and uncertain play of collaboration in BC’s projects.

5Gibson-Graham, J.K.. A Postcapitalist Poltics. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2006. 4.

Another of BC’s projects, Get Rid of Yourself (2001), is a video work in which BC collaborated with the post-Situationist group, Le Parti Imaginaire, to create a work that would make visible their shared experience of the violent G8 summit protests of Summer 2001. 

In the video, BC’s working style of chaotic stability becomes evident in a strangely playful sequence at the beginning of the piece that takes the iconic image of the Twin Towers in New York burning, and reconfigures it as a hazy kaleidoscope. This framing devices sets up the tension between the a-productive labor evident in footage of the artists sitting around on the terrace of their rented beach house and the activists throwing Molotov cocktails in the streets of Genoa. These clips are interwoven in a way that forms an auto-deconstructive reflection of the concerns of the protestors, the questions the artists pose about resistance generally and their own practice specifically, and larger questions about datafied bodies and ideologies distributed by news outlets, social media, and word of mouth. For example to emphasize the impossibility of “reproducing” activist rhetoric as a legible script, Chloë Sevigny “reads” a screenplay of the ideological text previously recited in French by a Black Bloc protestor. Sevigny is contained by the narratively empty bourgeois, suburban kitchen and she cannot seem to recite the text to her liking. As a viewer, after hearing the impassioned recitation of the protestor, one feels nonplussed, even impatient with Sevigny’s rendering of the rhetoric. If the professionals can't get the passion right, what hope have we for making such rhetorics legible, even with all of our networks in play, even when the links are endless.

The boredom and frustration that both the Black Bloc and Sevigny's presentations evoke for the performers and for the viewer is the catalyst for the larger questions about the efficacy of bold action as a form of resistance. In this case, BC and Le Parti Imaginaire linger along with Sevigny, a masked madman who recites Marx while sitting in a grubby little pond, and the ruined landscape that burns in the wake of violent protest. This lingering produces self-critical dialog that styles the project as impossible and inconclusive. Here though, lack of conclusion, failure to cohere are not true failures, as defined by the word that opposes success, as BC does say at the beginning of the film “we want to live with the chaos.”

The structure of Get Rid of Yourself is a messy articulation of layered experience. Extreme close-ups of the flesh of the collaborators dallying on the veranda of their beach rental jarringly cut to wide-angle shots of activists launching Molotov cocktails and other projectiles at the police. The lingering eye of the camera, an extension of the slow eye of the viewer, focuses on an expanse of neck or a wet hand resting temporarily on the back of a bench, before pulling back to reveal the chaotic street full of impossible, violent, and perhaps significant, perhaps ill-advised, certainly notorious action.

If sitting by the sea, engaging in “ low level leisure 6 fails to be productive in the way the activist skirmishes fabricate upheaval, it is because the leisure must be “seen” (through the camera) and experienced (in memory) as uselessness that breathes in a different rhythm from the normative tempo of value, exchange, and ultimately productivity. This is the rhythmic time of “a-productivity,” where working escapes the fulfillment of promises while it contributes to the accomplishment the dislocation and resituation of value. It fails to be non-productive but it also refuses normative value systems. Loitering, slow leisure, lingering about all forge a situation where the regime of “this against that” cannot exist because there are always thirdspaces that intervene in the entrenched binaries, and generate elastic time-spaces that never really begin or end and are not exactly negative, not exactly without, struggling to be something more than a double negative but not wanting to coalesce too strongly into the thing that can re-enter the value exchange of the market.

6Simpson, Bennett. "Techniques of Today." ArtForum. September 2004.

Thank you, dear Chris, for always being such an enchanting interlocutor. You seem to balance the whole play/work thing in an interesting way, finding delight in the most tiresome events. I hope to do this myself eventually, although I don't hold my breath.

With great affection,


Dear Beyoncé,

I love your new album and am so glad you worked with Khalil on the videos. You appear as Baba Yaga, Cebele, Mama Day, and Judith lopping off the head of Holofernes all in one. I was filled with wonder as you and your dancers swayed on the subway, in full warrior goddess face paint to the rhythms of old fashioned, remade, updated, and reimagined rhythms that require a slow gaze and include me in their distribution of black, woman, goddess, dancing, sexy, authoritative power, even though my own lineage is complicated and unclear, unarticulated, porous, and disconnected from anything categorical.

Thank you for your iconic presence and I wish you luck in what you do even though I would prefer if we kept our creative practices separate. I fear to be overwhelmed by your glory.

All the best,
Modern Times. Dir. Charlie Chaplin. 1936.
L'École des facteurs. Dir. Jacques Tati. 1948.
The Hunt in the South: A Venture Unsolicited. installation view. Multipoint: Pam Strugar and April Durham. 2014. Groundspace projects, Los Angeles, California. Video documentation by Susan Joseph.
Post Feminism and Beyond. Angela McRobbie, 2011.
Get Rid of Yourself. Bernadette Corporation. 2001.

April L. Durham, PhD

April Durham is a media scholar and visual artist. She holds a PhD in comparative literature from the University of California, Riverside and an MFA in fine art from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. Her fiction and poetry has been published in the journals Midway and Wicked Alice and she has exhibited widely in the US and Europe. Recent scholarly articles on Natalie Bookchin, collaboration, Anna Halprin and trans-subjectivity have appeared in Art Journal and ​Camera Obscura