For Training Purposes
On the 17th of February 2021, the artist duo CMMC performed a twenty-four-hour performance: For Training Purposes. Els Roelandt, editor at KIOSK, conducted this interview one week prior to the event.
ER: On Ash Wednesday I may call you on the number 033444233, it says on the invitation— For Training Purposes. Who will I get on the phone, and what can I practice with your help?
CMMC: The title of the performance, For Training Purposes, refers to the telephone voice that you get on service numbers which often says: "This call might be recorded for training purposes". For this work we contacted the Belgian telecom company Telenet and it took us a long time to get our purpose through. Finally we let the woman at the other end of the line choose a telephone number for us and she chose 033444233. Via this line, people can ‘see’ the performance.
ER: Do I understand correctly that you have prepared a one-on-one performance? Can you tell us a bit about what the caller can expect? I have the feeling that coincidence will be important. Is that so?
CMMC: It's like Scream.
(deep voice) “Hello Sidney.”
She is home alone, she is blonde, and she is eating popcorn.
It's like a film within a film.
ER: I see! The visual aspect is always very important in your performances—they are aesthetic experiences. For Training Purposes already has a beautiful campaign image. How do you further fill in the aesthetic experience with this work?
CMMC: In For Training Purposes we are interested in the absence of the physical experience of a performance. The translation that otherwise happens physically is now solely communicated through voice and the imagination. Where we used to move in long, precise synchrony and recite text at a distance, now there is a more conceptual immediacy, a sentence that dictates an action. In this new work, we pass ear canal, eardrum, hammer, anvil, stirrup, middle ear, balance organ, Eustachian tube, cochlea, and auditory nerve to get inside the listener's head, literally. We like to think of all the components, even if they seem abstract.
"Then she got into the lift, for the good reason that the door stood open; and was shot smoothly upwards. The very fabric of life now, she thought as she rose, is magic. In the eighteenth century, we know how everything was done; but here I rise through the air, I listen to voices in America; I see men flying—but how it's done, I can't even begin to wonder. So my belief in magic returns." —Virginia Woolf, Orlando
ER: In your description of what will happen in the ear of the caller during your performance, a beautiful contrast emerges between a bodily experience (the hearing) and a technologically mediated experience (the telephone) that ultimately refers to the creation of performance art. After all, in the 1960s, performance art emerged partly as a reaction to an increasingly technical and technology-mediated society. Performance art harks back to unique and intangible bodily experience. Both Guy Debord (La société du spectacle, 1967) and Yvonne Rainer (The Mind is a Muscle, 1968) refer to the body as the first and most important actor. In 1969 conceptual artist Walter De Maria conceived the work Art by Telephone. He installed a telephone in the museum and left a card with it: "If this telephone rings, you may answer it. Walter De Maria is on the line and would like to talk to you". The work is a perfect example of conceptual art: it's not the object that counts but what happens in your head, what you imagine. You go a step further because, unlike Walter De Maria, you will talk to the caller—right?
CMMC: Mm-hmm, nice references! We do indeed perform one-on-one, for every caller. Somewhere between the banal and the intimate, we are looking for how to make something with little means that nevertheless resonates a lot. A strange angular movement, a wrong expression—CMMC is attentive to these tiny disruptions. At some point in the past few days we read a text about "the technology of language", that sounds about right. Listening is one of the most neurologically demanding things we can ask of our brain. And the emotional understanding of the information heard is differently depending on how you turn your head left or right.
ER: That's interesting. Does the notion of distortion also appear in your other work? Ana Mendieta, for example, was very radical in using the technique of distortion. How far do you take it?
CMMC: The interest is in altered states of being, the blurring and precision of language, knowledge as construction, and context-specific work. The distortion is rather friction, wax and electricity.
Between our backgrounds of classical medicine and reason for the one, and anthroposophy and feeling for the other—is where our work is situated: on top of it and in between.
In the performance The Marriage of Will & Would, 2016, we married the terms will and would, each embodying one of the verbs, a dancer from PARTS School for contemporary dance came to tell us how crazy it is to look at an untrained dancing body, how a certain control always just slips away. The so-called untrained body looks for other solutions, other reserves, and we enter into a mental-physical haze, much from the work stems from there.
ER: Something completely different: in her text Performance Art vs. Dance: Professionalism, De-Skilling, and Linguistic Virtuosity, Claire Bishop writes about how certain skills are left behind in performance and others are acquired. She speaks of de-skilling and re-skilling. I think that this also applies to your performance. You are not professional telephonists, you don't have that skill, but you do sharpen very different skills: the stamina to sustain an activity for twenty-four hours, useful consultation skills like the consultation with Telenet phone operators about the provision of a telephone line for only twenty-four hours or the allocation of a telephone number and finally, making yourselves vulnerable in direct confrontation with onlookers (the callers) for twenty-four hours.
CMMC: There is often an element of endurance in our work—a cheap performance trick—that is always counted as a skill, but also contributes to the reading: a performance in which a performer is massaged for six hours (Pharmakon, 2019), or a ten-year-old performing four minutes of karate in a small art space (t'ing wen wu-self, 2019). In both cases, the duration of the piece partly determines the intensity of the experience. We also like to work with altered states of being that only that specific action triggers, and which we cannot foresee. These states are sparked in different ways in each performance. By endless repetition of three short ritual movement phrases that we deliberately copied superficially (Friends Call Me Gass, 2016), or by crying for an hour at an art fair as part of a twelve-hour performance, which only lasted so long because that was the opening time of the fair—we were present for every visitor like any other work. We design moments of which we don't know how they will pan out, so that the work is created during the performance itself. For example, with Pharmakon, performed at Museum M, we didn't know how a massage of six hours a day for four days in a row would affect our bodies. We were advised against it medically. And at the same time, massage has been labelled by many as something that may be beneficial but does not necessarily have that big an influence, medically speaking.
As for skills, that is indeed an important point for us: we are looking for a field of tension between a lot and a little, between active and passive "work" (is the person being massaged working?). Questions about what it means to make work or to take up space and demand someone's attention are recurring topics of conversation between the two of us.
ER: Will you do this performance over the phone again later, or is it a one off?
CMMC: No, For Training Purposes is a response to the invitation to do something in COVID times, online or otherwise. We rarely repeat performances, because we like to think from a specific context and play with expectations, anticipation, and with the tension of not yet knowing where this grid of action will take us, and what it will do to the work.
ER: Later this year you will go on residency at Air Berlin Alexanderplatz. What will you be working on there?
CMMC: We are leaving on June 1 for four months. The working title for the residency sums it up: Beyond Dichotomy: A Practice of Togetherness and Objective Movement. In Berlin, we want to look at our subjectivity within and as a duo, and to study the movement theory of George Gurdjieff (1866–1949). Gurdjieff sought for objective movement—movement free of emotion, the most flow-less, counterintuitive movements and postures possible.
ER: Finally, briefly back to For Training Purposes: what happens to the material you collect during the performance? Is it kept? Can anyone consult it afterwards?
CMMC: A selection of our archive of For Training Purposes will be made public on KIOSK’s website. Part of For Training Purposes was the interest in precisely this aspect of being able to archive the performance while making it.
CMMC received 106 calls which were recorded for training and archival purposes. You can discover a selection of them below.