ABAX is a project by Alexandra Baybutt and Stephanie Felber
My work involves choreography, performance, dramaturgy, movement education and research. I am currently completing my PhD at Middlesex University, concerned with socialist traces in contemporary dance festival curation in the former Yugoslav space. As a choreographer and performer, I work collaboratively with different art forms and sites, and my work with Tor Collective, with inability_crew, with David Somlo amongst others, has been presented in Italy, Portugal, London and Germany. I hold a BA in Contemporary Dance Theatre, Laban (2005), and an MA in Performance and Culture, Goldsmiths, (2007). My artistic work and development has been supported by Greenwich Dance, British Council, ERASMUS+, and Lisa Ullmann Travelling Scholarship Fund.
In my choreographies and photo-video works, I am dealing with the interface between visual and performing arts. My choreographic works have been presented in Best German Dance Solo euro-scene Leipzig, Feedback Festival Athens, Španski Borci Cultural Centre, (JSKD) Javni sklad RS za kulturne dejavnosti and Festival plesne ustvarjalnosti mladih ŽIVA Ljubljana, Slovenia, Quartier am Hafen und Zentrum für Zeitgenössischen Tanz Cologne, Shawbrook Ireland, Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig, Dock11 Berlin, Mediteranski Plesni Center Svetvincenat, 19th INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL FAKI Zagreb, Pasinger Fabrik, HochX, schwere reiter und Schaustelle-Pinakothek der Moderne Munich.
a pas de deux with ‘the greatest work of art that is possible in the whole cosmos’2
Using the catalyst of Guy Debord and Alice Becker-Ho’s book and game “The Game of War” (1965), we – Alexandra Baybutt and Stephanie Felber – propose a period of collaborative research. We ask: what does this source and resource make matter now? How might we meet its propositions from our own interests, and indeed our prejudices? We wish to research kinaesthetic, performative and theoretical potentialities informed by the game’s instructions themselves: the Tactical, Operational and Strategic levels. In order to develop choreographic scores, we approach “The Game of War” as a source that contains within it methods of forming spaces for action.
The game and book were specifically designed as a result of a creative process between the authors. Similarly, our research requires each other in interrogating decision-making, and the ways in which the game and book can compose us. Together we aim to explore translations of “The Game of War” that loop back to it, to zoom in and out of its questions, practices and procedures.
Tactical Level: refers to the exploration of games/scores undertaken without any reflection inside the game (beyond its rules and goals). For example, games such as “Chess / Schach”, “Prison Bal / Völkerballl” or “Red Rover / Kettenbrechen”.
Wandering, Debord’s tendency of the Situationist International, is important to us amidst the structures and rules: how to drift through this resource, even hijacking it? Not being always obedient to its coordinates but using the lines between the squares themselves as temporary autonomous zones? Drifting is to allow potential change, to be unencumbered by the aims of the game that would foreclose on new adventures.
Operational Level: games/scores operate with reflection and allow for drift away from the scores themselves.
Why should strategies matter, and be made to matter through this 1965 experiment, when that decade is long gone and post-’68 thinking itself called into further question with the challenges of the new millennium?
Long-term goals and thinking are easily squashed through anxiety and concepts of ‘crisis’; strategy speaks to their reappraisal. Debord’s opening observation from the Society of the Spectacle reappears: ‘all that was once directly lived has become mere representation’. Maybe our strategies need to be curious about that which does not negate human flesh and human temporalities, those that would drag us from outer-space travel and cellular density to question again presence and its particular vibration.
Strategic Level: refers to an optimum outcome, or a teleological end of a game/score, that informs the strategies of how to arrive at such a denouement.
To consider strategies is informed by a somewhat idiosyncratic approach to the topic of war games, and from Debord’s own admission that the game was prevented from being 100% accurate by three aspects: climate conditions and the cycles of day and night; the influence of troop morale; and uncertainty about the exact positions and movements of the enemy.
The climate conditions, and cycles of day and night: this speaks to the inevitable futility of the daily cycle of human life that, in spite of many technological advancements, still needs to eat, sleep, defecate and have shelter. This speaks to climate changes and conditions affecting land and sea, the erosion of an island in Japan, or the east coast of the UK, the melting of the ice caps, the silting land appearing on an edge elsewhere. Territory is as fluid as the concept of the nation state is in the face of global capitalism and a 21st century situation where cyber warfare cuts through invisible borders. Yet territory also speaks of mountain ranges and passes that open up and close off, of warfare held-off as winter comes, and of lungs inhaling yesterday’s air.
The influence of troop morale: this speaks to whether humans feel like communicating or not. To chattiness and reclusiveness. To the necessity to raise the voice together in song-chanting at the side of the match or giving rousing speeches.
Uncertainty about the exact positions and movements of the enemy: this speaks to the wish for certainty amidst fluidity, and thus control. It speaks to unseen positions and movements that can never be known, the cyber but also the interior of the body. Of digestive tracts and infection, of the unsung battles of the body, the teargas for the cells. Violence and a socio-cultural order are mutually constitutive; violence is in the eye of the beholder.
From these myriad associations that reconstitute themselves and “The Game of War”, inflected with both Dada absurdity and 21st century trepidation, we would develop texts and scores to be further moved, sung, and spoken, with the treatment of the Tactical, Operational and Strategic levels.
Using the residency to inquire on the above topics and questions, we wish to reflect also upon our collaborative creative processes and shape some methods for our moving and thinking in the future. The methods of forming spaces built from “The Game of War”, and other games, would pour in and out of different sized containers. We would attempt to elaborate further from the knowledge they contain when rescaled, teasing out of the practices themselves to arrive at our anticipated outcomes. The outcomes generated together are anticipated to be tools (written, kinaesthetic, choreographic) that would underpin our interest in both creative longevity and surprising ourselves.
1 ‘Abax’ or ‘sand table’ uses sand for modelling or educational purposes. The original version of a sand table, the abax, was used by early Greek students. In the modern era, one common use for a sand table is to make terrain models for military planning and wargaming. It is also a common feature of children’s play-schools.
2 ‘One of the most controversial comments made after 9/11 came from the avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, who told a journalist in Hamburg that the attack was ‘the greatest work of art that is possible in the whole cosmos’. His comments caused uproar in Germany, where the association of art with political violence obviously raises troubling historical spectres. Whether or not Stockhausen was right to equate terrorism with art – and it would be disingenuous to deny the conceptual violence of his analogy, which he himself quickly recognized and sought to dampen – his comments point to an uncomfortable truth: for more than a century now, artists and terrorists have shared a common intention to produce reactions of shock in the spectator – in other words, to produce a spectacle.’ (Saul Anton, 2011) https://frieze.com/article/out-sight