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Resisting The Evil of Small Things

Stages of Resistance

Roberto Varea Headshot
This piece is part of a blog salon, 
curated by Caridad Svich, called "Stages of Resistance." The series welcomes reflections on themes related to making work for live performance in political and aesthetic resistance to forms and systems that oppress human rights and censor or severely limit freedom of expression. We are in increasingly hostile, volatile times around the world, and this salon hopes to serve as a space for considered, thoughtful, polemical articulations of practice and theory on the subject of resistance, the multiple meanings of political art, and the ways in which progressive, wholistic cultural change may be instigated through artworks. Stay tuned for more!

A few weeks ago a group of volunteers from a church in Canada were turned back at the US border. They were coming in solidarity, to help a northeastern community still in recovery from hurricane Sandy. Still, they were denied entrance because they could not prove to the border agents that “they were not going to take American jobs.” No Canadian “bad hombres” to worry about here, and yet, the newfound exceptionalism of America Great as embodied by a small peon with a uniform in a remote corner of the chessboard, was just as impenetrable as the thickest border wall. The obvious self-inflicted harm added instant bad karma to the now routine procedure.

Reading about this triggered my “gray cells,” as Yevgeny Yevtushenko called the residue of Stalinism in those who survived it, and reminded me of something that is still in my bloodstream: totalitarianism is a fast spreading decease. It trickles down from the authoritarian halls of government (or the corporate structures that it serves,) repeats itself ad infinitum like a bad tweet, and takes on a life of its own, replicating the abusive relationship wherever there is someone with any measure of power over anyone else.

The current administration is the most brutal expression of the inability of the elites to generate anything of collective value out of an imagination laid barren by a history of privilege. A system needs such extreme means to hang on when it feels threatened by real people’s needs, desires, and power. As always, these means are mainly fear, force, and falsehood.

Critically, we must resist this authoritarian model as it often remains unchallenged in our own creative environments. Auctor, the word at the root of both “authorship” and “authority,” means something generative, a source, an inspiration for growth. How easily it can become the very opposite of that, is but evidence of the corrupting effect of the power that comes with it.

What kind of auctor is our creative work going to reflect?

In the age of “alternative facts” we are called to create work that not only speaks truth to power but even more so, to develop processes that reject authoritarian principles when we make them.

The great (and most humble) Colombian maestro Enrique Buenaventura put it thusly when explaining the spirit behind the collective creation process to me as a young director (I paraphrase from memory): “… it is not just about a way to make work of value. A single director with a vision can come up with the same results on his own, and likely, much faster. The question for us is, does the creative process we engage in reflect, augment even, the kind of citizenship, the kind of values that belong in the world that we want to live in?” The iPhone is sold to us as the pinnacle of technological imagination. When we frown at those standing in line for days to get the latest model without pausing to think about their part in perpetuating the exploitative conditions of those who make them, do we pause to think about how we make our own creative products…?  Ultimately, like the Apple customer, our audience may not care or want to know. But, do we?

For the individuals that engage in any creative process, the results will be transformative, as they themselves transform gesture, words, fabric and two by fours into an experience of live performance. But into what will they transform? Obedient foot soldiers at the service of someone else’s words or vision? Insecure replicants of authoritarianism, invested in climbing the “industry” ladder to better access more creative agency and power for themselves? Or, expansive individuals, fully engaged with meaningful questions, working together to define and cross boundaries, and on a path of discovery of mutual creativity and humanity? It is not enough to think different.  We must also resist doing the same, or worse, to bring our ideas to life.

Not just in the US but all over the world, those in power are having a very hard time imagining themselves (and their wealth) as part of an increasingly diverse and changing world. Patriotism like “Make America Great Again” founded on archaic religious principles and patriarchal memes, ask us to look back at the foundations of disaster for solutions to the problems these very structures have created. If we are going to be able to stand up to these powerful regressive forces, we need to look back at the catastrophe generated by our civilization like Benjamin’s Angels of History. Resist the winds of an apocalyptic future, and embrace a radical imagination built on ethical relationships designed to facilitate participation, bridge otherness, and appreciate difference as the main re/source to make the world richer, more courageous, and less destructive.

Perhaps the border agent who stopped the Canadian Samaritans knew in his little fascist heart that Making America Great Again requires a great commitment to severing the meaningful ties that bind us and give purpose to our lives. I believe there is no resistance (a process) possible unless we consciously weave meaningful relationships and question our own creative practices as potentially deadly to the radical imagination. This will not happen unless creative tools are accessible to all, not just to a privileged few who get to frolic in the “garden of the real” like the young and carefree Freder in Lang’s Metropolis.  

Our democratic, inclusive, and egalitarian futures depend on democratic (public) egalitarian and inclusive access to the spaces and the time needed to imagine and create them.  No sustainable future for all will ever come out of the imagination of a few.

We don’t need as much courage to stand up to a trigger-happy cop as we need to look for the places where the serpent has laid its eggs in our own soul, and let the pain come out because “the need to let suffering speak is a condition of all truth” (Adorno).

Our collective futures depend greatly on our capacity to engage our imagination and desire to resist the evil of small things.