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Panic Buttons: Crisis, Performance, Rights

Presented in connection with Performing Rights: the 12th Annual Conference of Performance Studies international (PSi),15-18 June, Queen Mary University of London, UK.

With the invaluable support of: Valentine Willie Fine Art The Actor’s Studio Bangsar The Substation Contents Welcome and introduction Message from Adrian Heathfield, President, PSi Useful information Panel Statements About Panic Buttons About Performance Studies international Public Forum flyer Schedule 2 3 4 5 10 11 Back

A very warm welcome to Panic Buttons! Two years ago, a conference was held in Singapore entitled Perform: State: Interrogate:. The 10th annual conference of a loose professional grouping of scholars and artists called Performance Studies international, it gathered 250 participants from over twenty countries to debate the relationship between the three terms of the title, with a particular focus on creative and research practices in the Asian region. The conference ended with a panel session by Krishen Jit, Ray Langenbach, Marian Pastor Roces and Chen Kuan-Hsing, who collectively challenged participants to make good on the potential of the conference for building meaningful connections between artistic and intellectual work in the region. Panic Buttons is one response to that challenge. On 15-18 June, the 12th PSi conference will take place at Queen Mary University of London, with the theme ‘Performing Rights’. Our aim here is to address related themes within a regional context. There are a number of London connections. One participant, Nick Ridout, has been heavily involved in the organization of PSi#12, and will be initiating an interactive wiki/blog, to communicate developing themes and ideas to the London end of things. On 17 th June, in London, Paul, Weng, Kathy and Chumpon will present a panel that extends the regional concerns of the KL event into the international arena. In addition, all participants at the closed door sessions are extended free membership to the Performance Studies international organization – for more information, see the message from Adrian Heathfield on the next page, and the ‘About PSi’ information, later on in this document. In seeking to identify an aspect of the theme ‘Performing Rights’ that we felt was of particular importance to cultural workers in this part of the world, we chose ‘crisis’. At the heart of the workshop is the manner in which social crisis resembles the fabricated crises of certain art works and performances that interface with, and intervene into prevailing social conditions; or inversely, how certain critical relations of art production/consumption resemble social crisis. As such, we are posing the following general queries: • What practical steps can be taken by artists and writers within the region to prepare for the crises that periodically erupt when artworks or their interpretations come into tension with vested social, political or religious interests in a specific place, often at a specific time? • What conceptual frameworks can lend consistency to the project, and provide a resource for approaching new issues as they arise? • What aspects of artistic practice and engagement specifically can inform such strategies? In the ether, where conversations go to die, this event has already taken place several times over. There was the one that took place next week, and involved a broadband link-up with the ‘Performing Rights’ conference in London; there was the one in Yogyakarta; the one that was really well-funded, and planned long in advance; the one with the Burmese performance artists; the one that never happened, because we were already over-committed and didn’t have time; and the one where all the absent friends who are not here, were. Oh yes, we’ve talked a great event, talked ourselves hoarse – and it’s only just beginning. Thanks for coming. We look forward to hearing you talk this one into existence. Ray Langenbach Lee Weng Choy Paul Rae Sharaad Kuttan


Message from Adrian Heathfield, President, PSi.
Dear Friends I’d like to welcome you as PSi members to Panic Buttons, an event closely associated with the upcoming PSi #12 conference Performing Rights. As I am sure you know Panic Buttons emerges from the energies and concerns of the excellent PSi #10 event in Singapore, a conference that focused attention on the relationship between performance and the state, challenging the precepts and extending the discourse of Performance Studies as an international field. As an organisation that is constantly questioning what it means to be an international, PSi is keen to support regional initiatives alongside its roving annual event, particularly symposia such as this that cover vital issues for the future of performance. PSi would like to thank Ray Langenbach, Lee Weng Choy, Sharaad Kuttan and Paul Rae for the work in facilitating this important forum. As the organisation has travelled the globe in recent years, it has deepened its commitment to difficult dialogues between practitioners and theorists, and to debates across cultural and discursive divides. PSi has long been concerned with the social capacities of performance, its relation to institutions of power and its role as an agent of cultural and political change. This year in London these interests will take us into a direct engagement with questions of human rights. I cannot think of a more timely subject in a world beset by violent relations between states and peoples, conflicts of rights, government-sponsored categories of exception from humane behaviour, the heightened policing of borders, the creeping erosion of civil liberties, systemic surveillance and the generation of cultures of fear. Performing Rights will bring together theoretical investigations and practical explorations of how performance in the everyday, in art and in activism, intervenes in these situations. Panic Buttons will extend this conversation in considering the place and capacities of performance in conditions of crisis and censorship, and how this relates to the global context of politics and rights. The organisers of both PSi events are laying down an important challenge to our community of creative thinkers, makers and activists: not just to hear, feel and recognise the international sites where performance acts and rights are in question, but to examine with care the political, critical and philosophical terms by which we interpret and bring together those two notions: ‘human’ and ‘rights’. PSi itself is in a period of considerable change as a result of the continuing growth of performance studies as an international field and the expansion of our membership and organisational work. Aside from this regional initiative we are examining how we can diversify our events in terms of location and participants. This year we have supported the attendance of three speakers at the London conference through the Dwight Conquergood Award, the scheme we established in honour of our former Vice-President, a founding figure in the field. We have also initiated and sustained a series of open working groups on particular research areas. In the last year we have concentrated on upgrading our internet presence and information services: redesigning our website, launching new web-based editorial initiatives that seek to define key debates, paradigms and questions for the field, and producing a new email digest that gives a more or less weekly summary of significant international activities. Back in the ‘real’ world an exciting programme of events is being planned for the next few years, however in order to sustain the level of activity that we have come to expect, the organisation itself needs to become more robust. These changes are going to require your input and your support over the coming years. I very much hope that you will contribute your voice to our plans for growth and change. Adrian Heathfield President, PSi


Useful Information
Contact Details Ray Langenbach: Sharaad Kuttan: Addresses Valentine Willie Fine Art 1st Floor, 17 Jalan Telawi 3, Bangsar Baru, 59100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Actor’s Studio Bangsar Level 3, Bangsar Shopping Centre, 285, Jalan Maarof, Food Refeshments are provided, but meals are not. There are many eating opportunities in the Bangsar area – for recommendations, ask Sharaad. Documentation Please note that we shall be videoing this event for documentation purposes. Blog Additionally, participants are invited to document the event on the PSi#12 blog. We aim to have a computer terminal in the gallery where people can engage in a real-time narrative - and interpretation – of what is being discussed. PSi Membership Information The Board of Performance Studies international has taken a decision to waive the membership fee for all ‘Panic Buttons’ participants. Unless you specify otherwise, the information provided by you on the Registration Form will be sent to the PSi administrator for this purpose. For any queries on this, please speak to Paul. …??? Please address all other queries to Sharaad or Ray. (+6) 012 6909604 (+6) 016 6961543


Panel Statements
Workshop Structure We believe that the separation of Theory and Action is a false dichotomy. We believe the very process of thinking through Crisis is an essential part of the Response to it. As a starting point, we’re offering a framework for the workshops. While each crisis or case study has its specificity, one also sees patterns emerging. Without a framework, the discussions run the risk of being unfocused and unproductive. At the same time, we acknowledge that presenting a framework also runs the risk of imposing too much structure on our discussions. We’ve framed Crisis and its Response in four processes: 1. Rupture 2. Reaction 3. Rites & Reflexion 4. Resolution/Renewal Our hypotheses function less as properly theorised propositions than as provocations to stimulate thinking. We ask that all participants keep in mind that our purpose is not to engender academic debate. Rather, our aim is to empower the practice of thinking through Crisis – both as individuals and as a network. Our hope is that the workshops themselves begin to constitute a collective Response to the Crises that happen across the region.


1. Rupture Chair: Speakers: Ray Langenbach Amir Muhammad Arahmiani Fahmi Fadzil Goenawan Mohamad

In anthropologist Victor Turner’s model of “social drama”, crisis emerges from a breach in the social fabric. 'Crisis', a term with the same root Indo-European root as 'critic', is produced by the response of those who are critical of the breach, often because they have ”strong interest in maintaining the status quo ante”. The social drama then proceeds through the stage of redress (which always contains some form of reflexivity or reflection). This can include aesthetic rituals, such as art or theatre, or the rites of the legal apparatus and the courts. Redress leads then to either a resolution or the recognition of an irreparable schism. For our purposes in these Panic Buttons Workshops, we have turned Turner’s model inside out, as if it were a fractal, so that his second term, crisis, is expanded to contain the entire 'social drama' with our four components: (1) Rupture; (2) Reaction; (3) Rites & Reflexion; (4) Resolution/Renewal. We imagine these terms in ever new combinations and recombinations, where every term carries the entire cluster within itself, and incessantly mutates into the other three poles of the cluster in no particular order. A rupture or breach, is a “grave transgression of the code of manners [leading] to an act of violence” as Turner puts it. It can be a transgression “against” the prevailing codes of law, or the codes of social status, or in the field of politics, against the status quo of power relations. A breach can be in the codes of morality, the family, or even against the prevailing concept of “self”, as in suicide, for example, or against language itself, as in the performative inversions of indoctrination or the interpellations of hate-speak. In this first workshop of the roundtable we will look at a few specific instances of rupture: examples of art and censorship in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand – initiated by state and civil society groups – out of which we will build our discussion in the following sessions.


2. Reaction Chair: Speakers: Paul Rae Laksmi Pamuntjak Charlene Rajendran Nick Ridout Kathy Rowland

Crises produce a range of responses, and this session aims both to discuss the most common and identify those most appropriate for our own ends. Reaction lies at the root of two adjectives whose distinctions enable us better to understand this range. Reactionary describes a defensive response that seeks a return to the status quo as swiftly and completely as possible. At the same time, it could be argued that this position requires such challenges as a means of affirming its own pre-eminence; in other words, that certain kinds of crisis are integral to maintaining the status quo. The second adjective, reactive, is less value-laden, and draws attention to the fact that, in the aftermath of a crisis, the actions of most individuals are characterized by a struggle to come to terms with events that are outside their personal control or understanding. Given the diverse range of professional, personal, political, emotional and material investments that the various actors – be they individuals or institutions – now bring to bear, the period of reaction becomes characterized by a struggle over meaning, with no guarantee that agreement will be found: this is what necessitates the next process – Rites. The session will draw on specific examples and experiences to consider the following kinds of reactions: – Conservative denial or subversive re-description through irony, satire, the carnivalesque – Hysteria (individual or mass) – Organisation, mobilisation publicising and networking – Mediation and negotiation – Compromise, collusion – Pre-emptive reaction (taken in anticipation of a crisis, which may not then come)


3. Rites & Reflexions Chair: Speakers: Lee Weng Choy Goenawan Mohamad Keiko Sei Nur Effendy Ibrahim Sumit Mandal Yap Sau Bin

In addition to the processes of Rupture and Reaction, are the more deliberate interventions that can be called Rites & Reflexions. By Rites, we refer to actions and mechanisms that are ritualised and institutionalised. Rites maintain or sustain a status quo or enable controlled change (for example through new legal precedents). Rites need not be intentionally conservative. Rites also refer, for instance, to the university as an institution of liberal values. If, for instance, a crisis of censorship occurs, then various members of the university perform the expected rites of denouncing censorship. But one can analyse such interventions as predictable, and as maintaining the status quo: around the world, the university’s ability to lead social change today has become frustratingly limited – a reminder that the highly educated class fragments of society want free expression, but that this desire remains irrelevant to society at large. Our provocation is that the responsibility of the intellectual is to attempt to perform something that goes beyond Rites; the term Reflexion signifies the possibilities of intellectual activism – the task and agency of the critical imagination. Our provocation is to suggest that the function of critical thinking is to put local symptoms into universal crisis. Critical thinking at once analyses the symptom, and is itself part of the symptom. It is symptomatic of the contradictions of late capitalist societies, which produces critique but also domesticates critique. Criticism’s failures are symptomatic of the lack of the counterpublic sphere. However, the problem of criticism today is not a problem of symptom, but of performance. Criticism has delivered on the symptom – it can reflect and represent the complexities of art, culture and society, and its own complications within that nexus. But what are the possibilities of its performance – of its ability to call forth a public?


4. Resolution/Renewal (open discussion) Chair: Sharaad Kuttan

The next, and perhaps final movement of the process we have embarked on can be described as “programmatic”. That is to distill from our new, informed interpretations of crisis, the building blocks and principles for the creation of a systematic, coherent, sustainable response. If there is no generic crisis, perhaps there can be no generic response. Instead the generation of new vocabularies via the process of theoretical and conceptual clarification becomes our starting point. These news ways of thinking might help us renew old strategies and methodologies – networking (local, national and regional); lobbying the state (informing policy making), engaging civil society (especially sectors hostile to “liberal” agendas); building institutional capacity among artists and cultural practitioners; building alliances across sectors (for example, workers, women’s rights, cultural rights advocates). And also to establish, where they do not exist altogether, new strategies especially at the regional level (for example, building a regional sense of an arts and cultural community through an annual regional arts forum). These renewed vocabularies, themselves a sign of the social change we desire, must of course be embedded in social relations, the cultural fabric and the political calculus of our various contexts to be of significance and to be efficacious. Without this embeddedness, this process serves only ourselves. And perhaps most importantly, we need to explore the possibilities of disseminating these seeds/viruses of renewal in the spirit of the artistry that we so passionately defend.


About Panic Buttons
From an earlier position document initially circulated to potential participants. In mid-June 2006, the 12th annual Performance Studies international (PSi) conference will take place at Queen Mary University of London, with the theme “Performing Rights”. The 10th PSi conference took place in June 2004 in Singapore – the first time it had been held in the Asian region. Given the peripatetic and predominantly Euro-American siting of the annual PSi conference, the conveners and co-ordinators of the Singapore event have embarked on the KL Workshops and Public Forum as a means of building on the regional momentum and goodwill that was generated in 2004, and of enhancing the international character of the PSi organization, and of the emerging discipline of Performance Studies more generally. The aim of this event is to gather Asia-Pacific-based artists, writers, researchers and civil society activists with an investment in the theme of “Performing Rights”, and to initiate an ongoing project that is of both practical and conceptual significance. The starting-point for the roundtable will be specific events that took place in 2005, and that crystalize a range of issues arising from the point at which creative practice precipitates or is subject to crisis. It was our intention that the workshops consider the lessons of specific events in the kind of detail that is all too often overlooked or lacking at the time when they happen. Among these are the threatened attack by Islamic hardliners on the Utan Kayu cultural community in Jakarta in September 2005, and the recent arrest of four performance artists in Burma/Myanmar. More generally, this proposed roundtable will explore those aspects of crisis in contemporary Southeast Asian art practice that reveal the often invisible flows and counterflows of cultural and ideological production and consumption, and the forming and dissolving of transnational information networks. “Crisis networks” take the form of metonymic confluences signifying the struggle for survival of communities that are under stress, and are competing for local, regional or/and global attention. At the heart of the workshops is the manner in which social crisis resembles the fabricated crises of certain art works and performances that interface with, and intervene into prevailing social conditions; or inversely, how certain critical relations of art production/consumption resemble social crisis. As such, we are posing the following general queries: • What practical steps can be taken by artists and writers within the region to prepare for the crises that periodically erupt when artworks or their interpretations come into tension with vested social, political or religious interests in a specific place, often at a specific time? • What conceptual frameworks can lend consistency to the project, and provide a resource for approaching new issues as they arise? • What aspects of artistic practice and engagement specifically can inform such strategies? During the process of organising this event it is our intention additionally to keep one eye critically fixed on the performativity of research itself (and this research project in particular), and the presence of “performance” discourse in the field of activist behaviours.


About Performance Studies international (PSi)
Organisation website: 2006 conference website:

PSi is a professional association founded in 1997 to promote communication and exchange among scholars and practitioners working in the field of performance. We seek to create opportunities for dialogue among artists, thinkers, activists and academics. The organisation has staged numerous international conference and festival gatherings that have moved between the discourse and practice of performance. PSi conferences have been held in the United States, Wales, and Germany. PSi #9 was held in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2003. PSi #10 took place in Singapore in 2004. PSi #11 took place in Providence, Rhode Island, USA in March 2005. PSi is actively committed to creating a membership base of artists and scholars throughout the world. We recognize that while performance studies as a field encourages conversations across disciplinary boundaries, professionals in various parts of the world often need greater opportunities to exchange research and information about performance with others who share their interests and expertise. PSi is a network of exchange for scholars and practitioners working in diverse locations, both disciplinary and geographic. We act as a crucible for new ideas and forms in performance discourse and practice, often testing the relation between the two. As a professional organization, PSi is committed to encouraging the development of both emerging and established artists and scholars. Members of PSi are automatically registered on the PSi E-list, which contains edited digest announcements regarding creative and research initiatives in the international performance studies field. To share relevant information with the PSi community simply send material to this list by pressing reply. Members may also opt into an additional PSiExtra email discussion list. As a benefit of membership of PSi, members can receive a 20% discount on annual subscription to journals that make a valuable contribution to cultural and critical discourse on performance: Asian Theatre Journal, Contemporary Theatre Review. Dance Theatre Journal. Esse: Arts & Opinions. Frakcija, Maska, Performing Arts Journal, The Drama Review, Theatre Research International, Total Theatre Magazine


9 June: Workshop, Day 1 10.00: Welcome and introduction by Ray, Weng Choy, Paul and Sharaad 11.00: Session 1: Rupture 12.30: Lunch 1.30: 2.30: 5.00: 5.30: 6.30: Session 1 continued Session 2: Reaction Tea break Wrap-up Finish

10 June: Workshop, Day 2 10.00: Session 3: Rites & Reflexion 12.30: Lunch 1.30: 4.00: 4.30: 6.30: Session 4: Resolution/Renewal Tea break Wrap-up Entertainment: book launch by Laksmi Pamuntjak at Silverfish Books

11 June: Public Forum: Panic Buttons: Culture and Crisis in Malaysia and the Region 11.00: Forum speakers only meet to prepare 1.00: 2.00: 5.00: 5.30: Lunch Public Forum begins Public Forum ends Final wrap-up session