PART AESTHETIC MANIFESTO, part play script, and all provocation, Social Acupuncture demands and rewards your critical attention. In his latest book, Darren O'Donnell takes aim at the timidity and irrelevance of theatre (endless restagings of Shakespeare are dealt a particularly harsh blow) and the naÃ¯vetÃ© of âeoefunâe and âeoefeel goodâe artistic gestures toward utopia.
He knows what heâe(TM)s talking about: Oâe(TM)Donnell is one of the foremost practitionersâe"and, with this book, one of the most erudite and entertaining criticsâe"of a particularly Canadian brand of participatory, socially engaged art. As a result, Social Acupuncture reads alternately like a stand-up comedy routine and an academic essay on aesthetic theory that, like much of the work he criticizes, is unlikely to reach beyond established audiences. Which is unfortunate, because whether or not you agree with his ideas about art as politics, you still have to contend with them.âe"Peter McCamus
FROM Social Acupuncture:
Fluorescent light, walking in circles and talking to cab drivers
The world is a collapsing shit factory. War is total and peopleare being murdered and tortured in our name every day. Realpolitical engagement is boring and labour intensive, and itinvolves too much fluorescent light. Activism is hard work,but, honestly, its impenetrably Byzantine internecine weirdnessis particularly preposterous in a sector thatâe(TM)s trying tobuild a movement.
I would laugh if I werenâe(TM)t so busy contemplating suicide.I enjoy my privilege; I think everyone should have some. Ieven enjoy a good demonstration now and again, but notbecause I have much hope that any good will come of it âe" if themillions gathered on February 15, 2003, to protest theimpending invasion of Iraq canâe(TM)t make a difference, what can?I enjoy demos because theyâe(TM)re nice social opportunities. Iprefer chatting to chanting, and I hate being cold. Iâe(TM)m a wimp.And I donâe(TM)t like walking in circles. On the other hand, I likefighting with cops, occupying abandoned buildings andthrowing cobblestones at Queenâe(TM)s Park. But weâe(TM)re at the wrongmoment in history for all that; too many of us are too busyfighting each other and nothing much is going to happen untilwe get that sorted out. Besides, while the symbolism of a nightin jail does offer a bit of a thrill, it doesnâe(TM)t represent anythingresembling resistance.
So whatâe(TM)s an angry, stupid, white idiot pervert assholejerkoff supposed to do? I keep trying this voting thing but thatseems to be going nowhere. I could write some articles, but Icanâe(TM)t shake the feeling that everybody already knows, that criticalmass has been achieved âe" weâe(TM)re all just hung up, distractedby petty details, while all around the shit is hitting the fan. Ican squabble about the minutiae of peak-oil theory orpronounce righteously that Empire is here, there, everywhere; I can hope for some kind of spiralling escalation of insurrectionsthat will spill out of the Parisian suburbs or explode inresponse to the indignation and horror of New Orleans. I canagree that police forces on every continent are preparing forurban warfare against their own populations. I can talk aboutall the weird tales circulating about 9/11 or watch with a sickcertainty whatâe(TM)s unfolding with respect to Iran; I can agree thatwhite supremacy still explains so much of it all. I can leavetown and try to find a place where more progressive things arehappening, but theyâe(TM)re not my struggles, I donâe(TM)t speak thelanguage and, besides, Iâe(TM)m lazy. I know Iâe(TM)m complicit; I try to recycle, shop correctly, hire equitably and strike up friendlyconversations with cab drivers, but it all seems like a stupid,offensive joke Iâe(TM)m either perpetrating or the butt of, and Iâe(TM)mtoo confused or too stupid to tell the difference. Iâe(TM)m well-read,I have my finger on the pulse of this and that; I know big wordsand I sort of know how to use them, if not how to spell them.I want to be engaged in world events. But, essentially, Iâe(TM)m atwerp, a powerless pipsqueak, strong enough to push arounda few of my dazed and less-informed comrades, and while thatdoes provide a bit of a thrill, itâe(TM)s hardly a long-term strategy.Shit, itâe(TM)s not even a short-term strategy; itâe(TM)s just enough of anarcissism of small differences to prevent me from capitulatingto my real desire to kick back, put up my feet and gofor dinner at McDonaldâe(TM)s âe" say whatever you like, the friesare good.
Creativity, Alzheimerâe(TM)s and my next P-R-O-J-E-C-T
Thereâe(TM)s been a lot of buzz about creativity and how itâe(TM)s goingto make everything okay, so why does all this chit-chat makesme so fucking nervous? When unabashed and unfetteredcreativity seemed like an idea emanating from our end ofthings, something we did in the interstices of the city, I hadthis crazy belief that, like weeds cracking through theconcrete, these efforts would begin to erode those circuits ofcapital that were keeping us subjugated, isolated, atomized,bored and sad. But just like Big Bucks figured out how torecoup the liberatory individualism of the sixties, all of thisculture-jamming seems to have been scooped and recouped,brought back into the profit-driven fold, like an Alzheimerâe(TM)spatient gently guided by the elbow back into the safety of thelocked ward. Now we surf from cultural event to culturalevent, this modest purring economic engine providing plentyof beer sales, the line of cabs outside our favourite boutiquehotel testimony to the power of culture to grease the wheels ofcommerce.
I feel tricked. Of course, itâe(TM)s easy for stupid people to feeltricked âe" thatâe(TM)s how we avoid feeling stupid. How did I end upspending so much time believing that culture had some revolutionarypotential? What was I thinking?
Was that me who dressed like a businessman and wentdown to the financial district to dance in the streets, convincedthat it had the power to affect the withered souls there? Was Iso arrogant? Did I join a Situationist International readinggroup and walk aimlessly through the city scanning my bodyfor how capitalist planning guides my desires? Did I hang fakemoney on trees on Bay Street to make some point about somethingor other, organize 7 a.m. parties on the subway to jar thesquares out of their stupor and provide them with a glimpseof a truly liberated soul? Did I really believe the People wouldprefer my self-conscious manic glee to the quiet, meditativeclickity-clack of the subway? Did I spray random chunks ofconcrete with colour, claiming to heal the soul of the beleagueredcity? Did I really construct plastic structures atopexhaust grates to critique the homelessness generated by neoliberalreforms? Did I really organize talking parties forstrangers and play Spin the Bottle with a room full of adults?
Did I call it activism? That was me, I swear, or someonewho looked an awful lot like me. What was I thinking? Howdid my head get so fat?
My next project is seven forty-five-foot-high white lettersspelling the word P-R-O-J-E-C-T that Iâe(TM)m going to weigh withgold and sink to the bottom of Lake Ontario. For the projectafter that, Iâe(TM)m going to swallow a string of golden anal beadsembossed with the letters P-R-O-J-E-C-T and then ride theZipper until I puke them up. After that Iâe(TM)ll hire seven children,adorn each with a gold pendant of a single letter âe" P-R-O-J-E-C-T âe" and get them to walk with me everywhere as they chantthe word over and over. And then Iâe(TM)m getting colon cancer anddying. At least, thatâe(TM)s what Iâe(TM)ve said on my grant applications.But you know the creative process: a streetcar could hit meeven as I write this.âe"Darren Oâe(TM)Donnell
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