March 26, 2008

Laura Calderon de la Barca and the Anthology of Optimism


Dear Laura Calderon de la Barca,

I am posting this because I have now twice tried to email you and have yet to hear back.

If you are out there please contact us. We are very curious.

Hope you are not offended by anything I have written below.

Optimistically yours,


And here is the post:

On January 16, 2008 I sent the following email to Pieter de Buyser, my collaborator on the Anthology of Optimism:


Dear Pieter,

Today, when I was going through my blog to send someone the link about the Anthology of Optimism project:

I scrolled down to the bottom and read the following comment by Laura Calderon de la Barca:


Hi, Jacob!

I enojoyed very much sharing your exploration of what opens up inside of what Critical Optimism may be. I googled up the term as part of a websearch I am carrying out for a research project called "Cross-cultural 'Larrikins' in a Neo-Liberal World: Ideology and Myth in postmodern Australia, Mexico and Brazil". I first heard it the day I submitted my PhD thesis, which I wrote in the form of psychotherapeutic session for my country, Mexico, and which contains many elements that match with your reflections and ideas, although applied in different ways. My supervisor, Prof. Bob Hodge from the Univertisy of Western Sydney, suggested I join his wife, Dr. Gabriela Coronado, himself and someone else to start a group of "Critical Optimism Studies". I was delighted with the idea, and when I joined the Larrikin project as a full-time research assistant, one of my duties was to look up material for furthering this inquiry. In what you wrote there are many points of convergence with our project: the clarity about the damaging effects of Neoliberalism, the need to find other alternatives that are neither naive nor disempowering, the need to bring in reflexivity to the equation, and how identities get in the way of this, to name a few.

I am curious about the stories you might have to share on this, and if we can establish a space of sharing that may synergically propel this approach further. My e-mail is, and I would love to hear from you.

All the best,
Laura Calderon de la Barca


For some reason I think that this is really fantastic. It's almost like something out of a Borges story. Pieter and I think that we've invented the term "critical optimism" and then suddenly there’s a "Critical Optimism Studies" group and what's more it's in Australia. It's like we made it up but of course we couldn't have made it up because actually it already existed. And of course the name Laura Calderon de la Barca does sound just a little bit like that of a fictional character. (I realize this reading is more than a little solipsistic, I think really I'm just being fanciful) And then I very much wonder where it will lead.

And yes, then there is another point: the "Critical Optimism Studies" group is a real thing. There are so many things in the world that would give us a greater sense of belonging if only we knew where to find them.

Optimistically yours,


March 11, 2008

PME-ART New Mandate


Through performances, installation, public process and theoretical and practical research, interdisciplinary group PME-ART confronts its contemporary practice via local, national and international artistic collaborations. Combining creation, exploration, critical reflection, dissemination and casual yet significant interactions with various publics, the work is an ongoing process of questioning the world, of finding the courage to say things about the current predicament that are direct and complex, of interrogating the performance situation.

Performing as ourselves, we create actions, conditions and speech executed with a singular intimacy and familiarity. This intimacy reduces the separation between performer and spectator, opening up a space for thinking, tension, reflection and confusion. Within this space we present meticulously prepared material in a manner that is open and loose, sliding the situation towards the unexpected, towards a sense of connection with whatever the audience brings.

Full of paradoxes and contradictions, the work is often destabilizing. Such destabilization is not only about art, but also echoes the social and personal discomfort so often encountered in daily life. We believe acknowledging uncomfortable realities, instead of pretending they are not there, is of fundamental importance for the development of critical approaches that are generous and unpredictable.

We are deeply engaged with the ethical and political challenges that arise when working collaboratively, searching for a delicate balance between the essential freedom of the performers (to create the thinking, physicality and substance of the work) and the rigour necessary to structure and gradually refine the material over the course of the process.

Drawing considerably upon literature, music, dance, visual art, critical theory, philosophy and cinema, such influences are never entirely direct, always infiltrating our practice from personal, unexpected angles.

While the style of the work may seem fragmented, and is in many ways a reflection of the fragmented times in which we live, simultaneously the work generates a deeply human experience with a foundation in basic yet ephemeral realities: people working together, dealing with the audience, simply trying to figure things out.


March 4, 2008

This isn’t the work we had meant to do


This isn’t the work we had meant to do
but it’s work nonetheless. Muscle. Struggle.
you land in the place and just start digging
vaguely remembering other, previous plans
or you dig to forget. Or to turn the head
of past regrets, so they once again face some
present sense of semi-fulfillment

This isn’t the work we had meant to do
but it has its pleasures and its surprises
its drawbacks and its pains
other roads might have been just as hard
or harder
and what does any of that matter now
this is the road you’re on
you can of course turn back
back towards indecision
towards that lost in aimless thought
and constant undecided self-recrimination
or you can forge ahead
and between these two options
as you continue to forcefully dig
there is no real choice
this isn’t what we had meant to do


March 2, 2008

As far as one’s thoughts about our present predicaments...


As far as one’s thoughts about our present predicaments or about the future, I have no difficulty understanding from whence the pessimism and cynicism springs. However, what’s critical for me is that regardless of one’s thoughts, one’s actions must be those of an optimist. Otherwise one is only further assuring that the status quo remains unchanged.

- John Gianvito