CARPA4, The Non-human and the Inhuman in Performing Arts — Bodies, Organisms and Objects in Conflict Opening words Esa Kirkkopelto

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Esa Kirkkopelto

Dear Audience,

Let’s start with a familiar-looking news flash…

“More than 4,200 refugees rescued in Mediterranean” (30.5.2015)

This is how we, Europeans, Westerners, encounter the refugee problem, or “illegal immigration” as it is officially called. “They” are coming “here” in masses. We cannot prevent them from arriving, but we do not know either what to do with all these helpless people, these still living bodies, who have given away all they got in order to enter the EU territory. The claim each one of them presents to us and to our societies is huge: give us a life, give us a future, give us a society to live in. We are coming from a place where no one can live, where there is no future, no society. We are coming from inhuman conditions. You, who are like me, please, make room in your place for our life.

For a moment, let’s try to bracket all that the news have told about this on-going crisis and its causes and concentrate on this still image. Could we re-imagine what is actually happening here? Each of these very different-looking vessels has a different mission. They encounter in the middle of the sea and a certain type of negotiation starts between them. What is at stake in this quite uneven-looking exchange? Is this a caricature, an allegory, of the clash between the continents in the post-colonial world? Can we distinguish between reality and appearance here, between cause and sign? I think we cannot, and that is what makes this situation interesting to us. Two different boats, two worlds, two populations are enclosed in the same situation, and they affect each other freely without any given exterior rule, criterion or control. The power exercised turns immediately against its beholder and no one’s position is guaranteed. Who is actually approaching whom? In which direction is the whole situation developing? On which side is our common future? The inhuman and the human enter into an open dialogue in the situation, where “post-humanism” and the “post-colonial” merge entirely.

The examples like this one clearly show that we need new ways for discussing our global problems, new modes of thinking, talking and acting that do not respect the given or inherited cultural, political and ideological frameworks or power structures. Since the idea of the human is thoroughly contaminated by these structures, we may feel the need to remove our reflection beyond the human sphere altogether, and start to think in non-human terms, in terms of materiality, animality, bodies, things, objects, affects, non-human agencies, machines, assemblages or hyper-objects. That is what we have recently done in the name of “new materialism”, “animal studies”, “affect-theory”, “speculative realism” or “object-oriented-ontology”, to name a few. At this moment, nothing seems to prevent us from doing like this; nothing resists the expansion of this kind of thinking in the Academic world. It may be a thing we should be glad for but it also raises a certain worry.

It is barely a coincidence, that the expansion of post-humanistic thought has coincided with the expansion of the neo-liberal market economy, as well as the rise of new religious fundamentalism. In many cases the post-humanistic thinking has been motivated by an attempt to create new basis for political and social critique. What makes the critique here problematic however, is that the humanistic subject that the post-humanists are criticizing cannot be identified without reminder with the neo-liberal or fundamentalist subject. On the contrary, as it seems to me, neo-liberalism is also post-humanism, fundamentalism is also post-humanism. If we attach ourselves to the mere idea of overcoming the human, then all these movements subscribe the same agenda. They are all deconstructing and dismantling the bourgeois and colonial subjectivity, the European subjectivity, if you like, which the encounters like the one shown here put in danger. Therefore, the actual debate the post-humanists are running, if there is one, does not take place between them and the anthropocentric ideologies, but between different kinds of post-humanisms, of which religious fundamentalism and neo-liberalism are but two identifiable and, who knows, mutually supporting versions. This debate is so uneven that its existence is hard to see. There is no doubt that the neo-liberalists, like the fundamentalists are contesting the traditional European values. What confronts these economical and religious powers is much harder to see: it has neither name nor identity. And that is maybe our problem in this colloquium. How to re-engage the struggle against the inhuman, i.e. the political problem, on a non-human basis?

What can performance do in relation to such a hard-core problem? Maybe we can align ourselves with those who want to remind the European leaders and citizens to take imminent political and ethical responsibility of the current humanitarian crisis. Like recently these activists of Amnesty International in Brighton:

“Brighton body bags protest against ‘shameful’ migrant crisis” (23.4.2014)


If you were asked to participate in this kind of performance, who would refuse? It is important to struggle against inhumanity. But it is as obvious that these are just first aid measures and it is as important to start to think how to perform differently. Performing arts have always dealt with human bodies, gestures, actions and expressions, which reach out towards the universe of material or immaterial forces, animate or inanimate things, bodies, objects and their constellations, trying to control them, tame them, take hold of them or please them. How can performing arts turn into a medium of research, through which we could reconsider our contemporary post-humanistic co-existence and create new models for it? A pedagogical question: how to re-humanize the results of post-humanistic thought without returning to anthropocentrism? This is, I think, what artistic research is needed for and this is why we are gathered here for these three days.

I wish you an inspiring and enjoyable colloquium!


Carpa4 Proceedings

The Non-human and the Inhuman in Performing Arts — Bodies, Organisms and Objects in Conflict