Hospitality goes beyond invitation. With invitation we expect a guest to arrive without surprise. Hospitality requires absolute surprise. We are unprepared or prepared to be unprepared, for the unexpected arrival of any Other. Hospitality is the receiving or welcoming which has no power, protocol or law. It is an opening without the horizon of expectation where peace can be found beyond the confines of conflict.
– Marko Zlomislic
Interdisciplinary work, so much discussed these days, is not about confronting already constituted disciplines (none of which, in fact, is willing to let itself go). To do something interdisciplinary it’s not enough to choose a ‘subject’ (a theme) and gather around it two or three sciences. Interdisciplinarity consists in creating a new object that belongs to no one.
– Roland Barthes
Begun in 2007, HOSPITALITÉ / HOSPITALITY is an ongoing project by PME-ART created collaboratively between Caroline Dubois, Claudia Fancello and Jacob Wren. It is a series of performances, workshops, interventions, events and conferences that take place in venues as varied as bars, theatres, art galleries, parks, record stores, international festivals and restaurants. While the precise nature of each edition can vary, all HOSPITALITÉ / HOSPITALITY activities focus on questions surrounding how friends and strangers alike can interact in a manner that is at the same time useful, critical, hospitable and surprising.
We are using the word hospitality in an old world sense: a stranger arrives at your door, and if you decide to let them in, in what way do you welcome them into your home? The hospitality you choose to show might determine whether they come to think of you as a friend, remain a stranger or become a future antagonist. We can think of the people who come to see a performance or work of art as strangers in an analogous sense. But also people on the street, who sit next to you on the train, anyone. Some of these people might hold views you don’t understand, or that you find repellant. Might hospitality be a way to begin to open a dialog? Without some way to open a dialog with people we don’t know, or don’t agree with, how can anything begin change?
Raised on a steady diet of television, recorded music and the internet, people today might sometimes feel more comfortable mesmerized by recordings, or interacting through the interface of a computer screen, than they do dealing directly with real human beings. HOSPITALITÉ / HOSPITALITY will not shy away from this discomfort (a discomfort often present at any live performance), rather it will honestly address it in order to deepen our understanding of what it might mean to share space with a group of people one doesn’t necessarily know, of how we can participate within a “community of strangers”.
HOSPITALITÉ / HOSPITALITY is an ongoing project we plan to explore over many years. Some of the editions will be smaller projects while others will be considerably more elaborate, and yet all of the different editions will relate to, and greatly inform, one another. Material from one edition will fluidly leak into another, and in general the project should be treated as a whole, though, of course, each edition can also be experienced as a satisfying autonomous work. The first five editions are as follows:
THE TITLE IS CONSTANTLY CHANGING
Performance, between 15 and 30 minutes
Studio 303, Centre Clark & Cagibi (Montreal), Rhubarb! Festival (Toronto), all 2008
HOSPITALITY 1: The Title Is Constantly Changing is a performance created for a dance context. It will focus on the act of playing live music as a choreographic activity that has the potential to make the spectator feel both comfortable and unnerved. (Music will also feature in many of the other Hospitality events.)
In HOSPITALITY 1 we will play music and at the same time search for what other activities, what other ways of welcoming and addressing the spectator, we are able to perform simultaneously. The rules of the exercise are as follows:
1) Try to make it sound like music, preferably like a pop song.
2) Put yourself in as awkward relationship to your instrument and to the other performers as possible.
3) Maintain a constant relationship with the audience.
We are not exactly professional musicians but we all have some musical ability and will attack our own compositions in a manner that is both endearing and precise. The line-up will consist of drums, guitar, melodica, xylophone, singing (and who knows what else).
We have chosen playing music as the first Hospitality installment because, in light of the theme, we feel it is an honest and convivial way in which to begin our work together.
GRADUALLY THIS OVERVIEW
Installation/performance, during gallery hours
Articule (Montreal), 2010
You have an appointment. You don’t understand precisely what the appointment is but the person who randomly phoned you was extremely charming, their ideas in and around hospitality seemed intriguing, and you have a bit of free time so, what the hell, you decide to take a chance and attend. The appointment is at an artist-run centre so you suspect it will have something to do with art.
When you arrive at the gallery you are handed a pad of post-it notes and told you will be asked a series of six questions. You should answer these questions spontaneously. Your entire answer must fit on a single post-it. Your answers will be anonymous. The questions are:
- How do you enjoy being difficult?
- How do you know when you are part of a community?
- What is one rule you love to break?
- Where is the vulnerability in power?
- How do you alter the system?
- What song most shaped your personality?
As you write down each of your answers, the post-it note is taken from you and placed on the wall. The entire gallery is covered in rows and rows of post-it’s, each one containing a single answer.
Soon you to are taken to the wall, to a specific section of the post-it note array, and you watch as post-it notes are rapidly removed from the rows and placed in smaller groupings, each grouping representing a ‘category’. For example: answers that suggest ‘community is based on common ideals’ are placed in one group, answers that suggest ‘community is based more on personal friendship’ are placed in another, and answers suggesting that community is ‘mainly just an alienating experience’ are placed in a third. You watch as your own answers are placed into different groups and listen to the explanations. If you disagree with a category your answer is being placed within you can certainly say so, discuss these decisions and how they are being made.
And yet as soon as one series of categories are established they are just as quickly undone, the post-it notes placed back in their original rows as the process begins again, as a completely different set of categories are tentatively set out. For example: answers that suggest ‘power comes from the self’, answers that suggest ‘power comes from working together with other people’ and answers that suggest ‘power is something we are subject to, that comes from above’.
As this process of categorization and re-categorization is enacted, together the spectator and performers can think about how such processes are in many ways arbitrary, at the same time seeing whether or not they can also shed new light on the original questions, whether or not we can make interesting observations about the community of people who have agreed to partake in this experiment. Of course, as you watch, this process also makes you further consider your own approach to this very particular game.
This is just one of the ways people might experience PME-ART’s gallery-based project HOSPITALITY 2. We will also take the post-it notes out onto the streets, into cafes and restaurants, to parties, learning everything we can about the community of people willing to answer our questions. During the span of the exhibition there will be events and discussions that question and re-invent the project from different angles, culminating in a performance on the final evening in which we arrange and re-arrange the post-it notes in every possible combination, constantly explaining and re-imagining as we go.
HOSPITALITY 2: Gradually This Overview uses the simplest possible materials (post-it notes, pens) in order to examine certain intersections between community, audience, data and real life. But at the core of Gradually This Overview is a distinct paradox. On the one hand its questioning produces the widest possible range of responses, showing individuals in all of their personal eccentricity and diversity. On the other hand it attempts to categorize these answers into meaningful patterns, patterns that the extreme diversity of the answers constantly reject and defy. If we were simply to ask people ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions it would be very easy to turn their answers into data. We are definitely not choosing the easy route. Instead, we are much more interested in the paradox of seeing what happens when we allow the full diversity of human response to crash into our attempt to arrive at a meaningful overview of some kind of community.
INDIVIDUALISM WAS A MISTAKE
Performance, 90 minutes
Harbourfront Centre (Toronto), Usine C (Montreal), 2008, Perfect Performance Festival (Stockholm), Inkonst (Malmö), BRUT (Vienna), FFT (Düsseldorf), 2009
HOSPITALITY 3: Individualism Was A Mistake represents an energizing new wave in the life of PME-ART. The remarkable openness of the structure – with every show uncannily different yet also loosely the same – allows for a performative freedom we have never before approached. Each and every time we perform HOSPITALITY 3 this freedom is further developed, engaged with and refined, challenging us with its natural disequilibrium.
In a broader sense, HOSPITALITY 3 asks if our culture’s over-emphasis on individualism prevents us from more effectively working together for political change. In positively demonstrating how the three performers collaborate (spontaneously, in real time) – each struggling with their own individualism but at times experiencing moments of pure synchronicity – the performance allows the spectator to reflect: where in their daily lives might they discover similar experiences of working together, and what might the political efficacy of such collaborative efforts eventually be?
Video excerpt: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0yUVSiYJhg
THE DJ WHO GAVE TOO MUCH INFORMATION
Performance, between 20 minutes and 8 hours
It never ceases to amaze us how important and resonant songs can be in our personal and social lives. In one sense, the three-minute pop song is the perfect embodiment of capitalism, a three-minute commercial for itself that weaves deeply into the fabric of ones life and memories with startling intensity. Often connected with childhood and adolescence, it is difficult to imagine the modern world without the pop songs that form its continuous soundtrack.
The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information (Hospitality 5) will explore the way popular music – and the stories that surround it – fully infiltrates our personal lives, affecting our ongoing understanding of love, work and how we think society should operate. It starts from a deep love of music, and takes us towards how the songs we love create our subjectivity, changing the way we understand the world in which we live.
Music feels like the purest art form and yet it is also the most loaded: with social and cultural baggage, with personal memories and aspirations, with imagery from album covers, publicity photographs and videos. In some sense its very purity, the way it slips past our defenses and heads straight for the emotional core, makes it a magnet for every kind of experience and reflection.
On stage is a pile of records and a record player. For each record we have one story at the ready. One after another, we put on the records and tell our stories about them, each story growing out of the last and into the next. These stories have come from hearsay, internet research, books, magazines, friends and from our personal lives. The stories each loosely fall into one of three categories:
1) Anecdotes and historical facts about a band or musician.
2) Personal stories (from us, from friends or told to us informally by audience members) about how music has affected our life and thinking.
3) Tangential stories that launch out from the music or album cover in completely unexpected directions.
Each time we perform The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information we will play the records in a different order, adding and taking away records from the pile, creating a loose, improvised, but still surprisingly effective, dramaturgy in real time.
Video excerpt: http://youtu.be/6m476iXUkCM
HOSPITALITÉ / HOSPITALITY is an ongoing endeavor that can continue to grow and morph within different settings. Clearly we are searching for forms that are not fixed, that are flexible enough to absorb new information and discoveries. It is our conviction that the work most effectively happens over time, through an extensive collaborative process, moving towards a vibrant, ever-changing form of performance and inter-relation that both mirrors and critiques the fast-paced, ever-changing world in which we live.
Clearly hospitality is an important theme for PME-ART. For us it is a way to open up both to the spectator and to the world (hospitality in the sense of welcoming complete strangers into your home), to build a thematic bridge between difficult artistic works and an audience that may or may not be ready for them. We believe strongly both in the necessity of politically and aesthetically challenging artistic propositions, and in the importance for such propositions to be heard. For us, hospitality is a concept that suggests starting up a dialogue, even though there is no way to know where such an opening might lead.