The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the working session “Occupy as Form” on February 10, 2012. Participants have been invited to post some brief thoughts on the topic in advance of the event. This guest posting is by Catherine Ming T’ien Duffly, lecturer in Theater, Dance & Performance Studies at UC Berkeley.
For those of us engaged in community-based art practice (via scholarship and/or via practice), what does the occupy movement have to offer our understanding of the term “community?” Miranda Joseph’s theorizing of community has asked us to think carefully about our tendency to hold up “community” as always and only a liberatory category. Other scholars have joined Joseph in questioning the use of “community” as an organizing concept for certain modes of socially engaged theater, performance, and art practice. For example, art historian Miwon Kwon cautions against the essentializing tendencies of community-based art, in which “community” is reduced to “commonality,” in turn closing down political and aesthetic potential (One Place After Another, 2004). At the same time, scholars and artists continue to locate the political potential of theater and performance in its ability to bring people together in temporary community. Jill Dolan’s Utopia in Performance (2005) argues that “live performance provides a place where people come together, embodied and passionate, to share experiences of meaning making and imagination that can describe or capture fleeting intimations of a better world” (2). How can the occupy movement help think through this tension? It seems that there is something about the nature of the movement that provides some helpful ways of thinking through a mode of being in community with others that holds on to that very contradiction. That is, the interdependency that the movement stages might help think through ways in which artists might, as Grant Kester puts it, “define [themselves] through solidarity with others while at the same time recognizing the contingent nature of this identification” (Conversation Pieces, 2004, 163).