This week we’ve explored the themes and theory of two major works from Berlin-based performance duo LABOUR.
For Farahnaz Hatam and Colin Hacklander, creative expression and philosophical investigation are inseparable from one another. At the heart of their performance practice as LABOUR lies the ambition: “to create a space within the music that we can create the possibility to reach into another place and perhaps ask the question: what is the nature of being?”.
In their works ‘next time, die consciously (بیگانگی)’ and ‘nine-sum sorcery’, Hatam and Hacklander probe at the nature of the self, exploring the forces under which the self is constructed before interrogating this process of construction, challenging the concept of autonomy by presenting existence as the product of physical, emotional and spiritual forces of which we have little control over.
In ‘next time, die consciously (بیگانگی)’ the constructible nature of the self is highlighted through processes of ecstatic transformation and synthetic assemblage. In ‘nine-sum sorcery’ this idea is taken further, as the esoteric art collective Mi†ra invoke the dark power of an inanimate substance given sentience. In both, the nature of being is interrogated through the investigative methodology of their work, in which their performance practice is aligned with what philosopher Christopher J. Arthurs defines as “the ontologically fundamental productive activity in and through which one becomes what one is.”
LABOUR Presents: next time, die consciously (بیگانگی) – Part One
In ‘next time, die consciously (بیگانگی)’, an ontological investigation is conducted via a diverse set of methods, including microsound synthesis, rhythmic cycles, percussion, reverberation and esoteric imagery. For the 2018 edition of Berlin Atonal, LABOUR filled every level of Berlin’s monolithic Kraftwerk space with a battalion of drummers, as well as ingenious lighting design from former Fact resident MFO and Fredrik Olofsson, who distributed self-made, wirelessly controlled LED stands throughout the audience, all the while conducting the multi-sensory experience through feverish percussive performance and mind-altering electronic composition.
Conceived of as in part “an ode to the space itself”, ‘next time, die consciously (بیگانگی)’ sees Hatam and Hacklander taking full advantage of every inch of Kraftwerk, probing the depths of the former power station with “specific sonic instances of reverberation” to fully translate the scale of the building into sound. It is this sense of scale that is magnified by the floor-to-ceiling projections, featuring imagery from Evelyn Bencicova, assisted by Jakub Gavalier and Jakub Kubica, depicting contrasting images of life, death, organic material, synthetic assemblages and aesthetic artifice.
LABOUR Presents: next time, die consciously (بیگانگی) – Part Two
The visual artist and photographer Evelyn Bencicova presents a continually shifting collage of contrasting images depicting life, death, organic material and artificial forms, arranged in synthetic assemblages that are in constant states of transformation.
By superimposing these contrasting images on top of each other, Bencicova is able to create recognisable forms in flux, constructing, deconstructing and reconstructing bodies using a diverse photographic palette, ranging from microscopic images of insects and x-rays of human skeletons to esoteric imagery of serpents, idols and totems. In this way she gestures towards fundamentally human states of creation and formation, underpinning them with a mutant eroticism in which physical body parts, animals and synthetic prostheses are interchangeable with one another.
LABOUR Presents: nine-sum sorcery – Part One
For their second major performance piece, LABOUR enlisted the talents of renowned Kurdish vocalist Hani Mojtahedy, as well as artists Evelyn Bencicova, Enes Güc and Zeynep Schilling to form Mi†ra, a collective that derives it’s name from a word common to the Indo-Iranian languages meaning ‘covenant’. The name also alludes to Mithra, an angelic deity from the Zoroastrian religion said to be the all-seeing protector of truth.
The group came together in response to the Iranian philosopher Reza Negarestani’s 2008 book Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials, a pioneering work of theoretical-fiction in which he writes about oil as a sentient being, referring to it as a “pipeline crawler”, “Tellurian Lube” and “hydrocarbon corpse juice”. Told over three chapters, ‘The Wheel’, ‘Cyclone’ and ‘Xerodrome’, ‘nine-sum sorcery’ is presented as a lament, following the oil’s journey as it is drawn from the earth via pipeline into the dust and heat of the desert.
LABOUR Presents: nine-sum sorcery – Part Two
The visual component to LABOUR’s second major performance piece, Mi†ra presents ‘nine-sum sorcery’, is divided into three chapters that closely follow Cyclonopedia. The book centers on the fictional archaeologist and professor of ancient mathematics Hamid Parsani, whose disappearance under mysterious circumstances leads to the discovery of his research, chaotic notes obsessed with the idea that oil can be understood as a kind of esoteric lubricant for horrific events in the Middle East.
It is from Parsani’s fictitious research that Mi†ra draws the titles for each chapter of ‘nine-sum sorcery’, ‘The Wheel’ (“machines are digging”), ‘Cyclone’ (“ancient without tradition”) and ‘Xerodome’ (“deities breath dust and sear worlds”). Artists Evelyn Bencicova and Enes Güc contribute imagery and animation in response to these phases, which in Cyclonopedia follow the oil’s journey as it is drawn from the earth via pipeline into the dust and heat of the desert. This is preceded by Zeynep Schilling‘s occult calligraphy, or “snake-writing”, that spells out the title of the performance.
Watch next: LABOUR Presents – nine-sum sorcery – Part Two