Claire Bishop and our literal speed

In passage through the town of Princeton, in the renovated basement of its once charming East Pyne building – house of the Language Departments – now a glossy, tech-driven space, I saw the collective show from Our Literal Speed.  As I waited, and well-dressed graduate students trickled in organized by departmental tribe, and songs from the Size Queens played through the chatter, Zachary Cahill taped revolutionary posters, banners, painted cloth to the walls of the auditorium.  He continued to do so throughout the performance chain, which continued with Claire Bishop’s delegated performance – one of her conference papers read by a performer whose abundant chest emerged in near entirety from her small suit and was thrust upon the faces of unsuspecting (?) audience members enrolled in performing alongside her in the reading.  Theaster Gates, “an artist and cultural planner” (see May 2, 12 and, took the podium next and performed a series of dialogues chronicling the painful duality between artist, gallery, collector and museum interspersing the delivery of the text with lengthy screams and repeated poundings of the conference table.  Finally, The Jackson Pollock Bar performed Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen 2011 – the dialogues aiming to “Reimagine the Academy” between anthropologist Michael Taussig and the president of the for-profit University of Phoenix, Laura Palmer Noone.  The two actors lip-synched over the recorded repartee.

Seeing Our Literal Speed in Princeton, under the umbrella of the new PhD Interdisciplinary Program in Humanities, would not have been a happening of the 2000-2010.  This may be simply a trend in the rampant development in Performance Studies academics and affiliates, rather than a re-profiling of Princeton.  In fact, when Claire Bishop’s stand-in busty academic asked her upon completion of the show whether she may get fired for the slightly obscene stunt, it seemed the Princeton organizers minded about as much as it took to cater a few post-event drinks and repaint the spots on the auditorium walls where Cahill’s posters peeled the paint.

As I later saw the group happily celebrating their performance in the town’s best restaurant, Gates’ screams and torments of having to sell art, socialize with pesky, uninformed collectors, or negotiate with galleries quickly muted.

What was the intended impact of the piece and what was the real impact of the piece?  When considering the former under the fairly certain assumption that the audience will comprise fashionable graduate students, few if any young faculty, and invitees of the performers descended upon suburbia from New York, the performance strikes at nothing.  The real impact, at least for me, was carried solely by the last piece where the disembodied recitation of the lawyerly Laura Palmer Boone (whose real speech is certainly worth considering in the context of American academia, see and the obsolete Taussig eerily, albeit temporarily, de-romanticized certain memories I carry from my Top Tier education – worth asking the question, worthier if packing a more direct punch.

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