The Library of Performing Rights expresses a radical politics in both space and method. The physical space of the Study Room within which an unprecedented archive of performance and live art has bodied forth different collective assemblages, different kinds of expression of the performance of rights (the right to rights, the right to expression, the right to solidarity, the right to art…the Right to Performance?)

In terms of method, as a concept or approach to research and practice, rather than a distinct collection, the Library of Performing Rights is nothing less than an affective experimentation in practices of archiving live art, and an organisational ethics of becoming collective. “It is available as a place of action, a place of knowledge exchange, a repository of experience, and a context that others can use to support and advance their own work both at LADA and elsewhere.” This method, in other words, repeats with innumerable differences the practice of ‘performance’ and the practice of ‘human rights.’

Is there a Right to Performance? As much as there is a certain performance of rights in everyday life, in law, and in society, all rights must be performed to be actual. But a right to Performance would find another vector in the body’s capacity to affect politics and to sense the political. This Right to Performance would constitute a kind of parallel project of the LofPR: a right to mark, through the intuited, stylised or spontaneous or habituated actions of the bod, a certain right to resist. Is the Right to Performance a timeless right? A universal human right? Certainly, this in some sense ‘new’ Right to Performance and the older Right to Movement enshrined in Article 21 of the UDHR would need a rigorous and critical synthesis in order for a new articulation or assemblage between rights, art, and the habituated body to substantively emerge. The resources of the study room are the proper conditions for such a critical synthesis.

But can we even believe in Rights anymore today, after Trump, after Wilders (Netherlands), After Modi (India), Netanyahu (Israel), and the rest of today’s Populist Thieves of the Commons. These masculinised politics proceed through different kinds of performance; one of the most important is the performance of a Rule of Sympathy through the pornography of pain that contemporary universal human rights discourse authorises and authenticates; that these acts of authenticating pain are precursors for violent imperialist interventions the world over is also something we now know all too painfully.

Is there something (un)Timely in the Library of Performing Rights? Something that is necessary just now, just in this way, in this expression of an urgent Yes! And an insistent, No! …but something that runs counter to our time, against it, and in solidarity with, for the benefit of a time to come? A vector of an indiscernible becoming In the performance of any right whatsoever, and in the right to performance first and foremost? Rather, what Aram’s moving piece “The Work of a Mother” shows is that the will to the Universal, which is what Rights discourse is always based in, is at best a heuristic, a stepping stone, toward another practice. This Other practice would work at the intersections of solidarities as her ethical and aesthetic practice suggests.

The Library of Performing Rights then would perhaps be another way into the construction of a new discourse and embodied affect of human rights today, a practice situated in relations of struggle. If contemporary performance studies after Foucault and Agamben, Moten and Harney, Butler, Spivak, Spillers, Puar, Davis, Povinelli, Halberstam, and Clough, has shifted the notion of human rights from mere social constructs to how they are lived in the psyches, ecologies, assemblages, and bodies (these are not ‘separate’ things) of those who find themselves misfits, neuro-diverse, ‘minoritized’, post-de-humanized detritus, subaltern hackers, fugitive and unreclaimed, this other discourse and affect would refuse the romantic humanism in this image of resistance, and so then diagram the ethical system of complicity relating capital and the nation-state to the performance of any right whatsoever, and specifically to the performance of Human Rights today.

This explicit marking of systems of complicity, turning the tools of domination into the conditions of a repurposed emancipation, seems to my mind missing from a lot of contemporary identity work in the arts. This is an important place to begin a conversation. I have done fieldwork in a place called Chor Bazaar, where Dalit men expose their unprotected hands to harsh chemicals in the process of “stressing” jeans down to a murderous chic–all to be exported to the Global north. Thus, part of the system of complicity (as is noted in Aram’s Work of a Mother), running through the practices of the garment industry in California, Chicago and Mumbai links race, gender, and labour exploitation to an international supply chain of disposable clothing the world over.

So how does the The Official Unofficial Voting Station that Aram Han Sifuentes has created relate to what I have been constructing in terms of the Right to Performance, and the Performance of Rights?

The installation is itself a performance of a Right desired and denied–the right to vote and/or the right to (self)representation. In its performative repetition of the tragedy of contemporary Fortress Europe/Trumpeted (un)democracy, the Official Unofficial Voting Station stages in a kind of farcical and critical way the paradoxical and agonistic relation of organisations of resistance (e.g. LADA, independent arts practices, radical activist assemblages) to institutions that would grant access to or deny a Right to Performance. As I suggested above, for me what remains ethically crucial in performance practices that take rights as method and target is that the relations of complicity be explicitly marked; the correlation, even syllogism among rights, performance, and the individualised property-owning citizen of the capitalist nation-state. Thus, when we appeal to the language of rights especially in radical contexts such as LADA, the paradox of the ground, or guarantor of rights becomes legible: is it the commons or the bourgeois nation-state that grounds a radical assertion of rights, eg the Right to the City, to the World or even to Performance? In heterogeneous live art practices, such as the Official Unofficial Voting Station, the role of the white capitalist state becomes (re)markable in ecologies of both universal rights and singular performances.

The recent refugee “crisis” affecting nation-states across Europe has a history rooted in Imperialism + UN Human Rights + Racism + Islamophobia + neoliberalism. Rights discourse, in this regard, is part of the problem, but not necessarily part of its solution. In resonance, Nevins shifts the contemporary conversations on rights and justice by arguing for a “Right to the World” (2017) which would expand rights both as entitlements and sites of struggle: “the right to the world is particularly concerned with freedom of mobility across global space and with a just, sustainable share of the planet’s resources for all” (2017: 1351). While acknowledging that many heroic acts of solidarity and mercy have been performed across Europe daily by white Europeans, Nevins also insists that “the thousands of migrant deaths on Europe’s periphery in recent years—among other manifestations of violence—suggest that there is a crisis of a different nature that is paramount: not what Europe is experiencing, but, among other things, what the migrants have had to endure in trying to reach and pass through the continent. As reports, news articles and media images have made clear, the upsurge in irregular migration both manifests and has resulted in great amounts of human suffering among those fleeing their homelands…the dominant response on the part of the European Union, national elites, and the West and prosperous countries broadly, has defaulted to the bounded, exclusionary logic of nation-states via a strengthening of the boundary and immigration policing apparatus….Regardless, migrants continue to move and to challenge the putative right of nation-states to regulate their boundaries and the human content (in terms of non-citizens or “foreigners”) of the territories they claim. And in a world of growing inequality, persistent violence (of multiple sorts), and increasing ecological instability, there is little doubt that migration by those living on the global margins of stability and wellbeing will continue to attempt to move, climate and environmental refugees being one example” (Joseph Nevins, (2017) The Right to the World, Antipode Vol. 49 No. 5 2017 ISSN 0066-4812, pp. 1349–1367, 1350)

For Nevins, and many others, there is something fundamentally wrong if one embraces human rights. “After all, given high levels of physical, direct violence, environmental depri- vation, and profound socio-economic insecurity that plague many countries (violence, deprivation and instability in which the world’s most powerful nation- states are often implicated), the realization of human rights often requires the ability to go to spaces where the necessary resources are located. These sorts of inequal- ities and restrictions likely compelled Hannah Arendt to speak of the “right to have rights”. If having human rights is part of being human, denying people freedom of movement and residence—and thus the effective ability to access a host of other rights—is to essentially deny their humanity…” Similar arguments have been made from the perspective of postcolonial struggles and queer homonormativity. This right to have rights is reflected in the multiplicity of causes presented to Aram when she would ask her parents why they emigrated from Korea to the United States:

Their ambivalent answers, tinged with both sadness and hope, suggest to me the many ways in which human rights have become a set of predominantly nation-centric practices and discourses that work to “discipline human bodies in ways that contain them within national territories” (Nevins, 2017: 1353-1354).

Aram’s work links specific struggles through a practice of transnational, intersectional, and artistic solidarity. Her work explicitly politicises by relating sites that would otherwise remain mere monads, economic anamolies for a post liberal capitalism that can write these subaltern and postcolonial sites of struggle off as fodder for corporate social responsibility initiatives and neoliberalism’s externalities. Her work speaks to those who have not yet arrived, to those who are outside, those who may need or would like the right to move to “the city of Universal Rights”. In other words, her work allows us to understand the politics of mobility between place through a notion of place as processual, heterogeneous, and unbounded in that a place acts upon, and is acted upon by, other places (Levins, 2017: 1356).

In,

The Official Unofficial Voting Station: Voting for All Who Legally Can’t

Aram notes that there are “91 million people in the United States and its territories who cannot legally vote. This includes: youth under 18, non-citizens, incarcerated, ex-felons, residents of US territories, and people without state IDs. This means that 1 in every 3 people cannot legally vote. 1 in 10 people 18 years old and over cannot legally vote.” This is important from the perspective of the Right to Performance that I argued for above: even prior to the right to vote, political expression is itself and must itself be performed.

As Aram’s Official Unofficial Voting Stations make clear, this performance of the right to vote is especially ironic from the perspective of the undocumented, the discontented and the disenfranchised. No easy Universalism here: “Each station is different. They range from taking ballots into prisons to museum installations to performative events.”

In a Mother’s Work, Aram writes movingly, “My mother and I both sew as a profession but our worlds are vastly different. I constantly question our differences: What is the difference from an artist who sews to reference immigrant labor versus an immigrant laborer who sews as work? I think a lot about our differences in relation to time, economy, access, agency, and the value of our work and labor…Grace Kwungwon Hong in her book The Ruptures of American Capital: Women of Color Feminism and The Culture of Immigrant Labor, breaks down the episteme of domestic space and women’s work as privileged white spaces that are exclusionary spaces, particularly for immigrant women of color. She starts the conversation with the question of who has access to privatized domesticity and who are these possessive individuals? How can we broadly apply concepts of this fantasized domesticity when women of color historically do not have access to private property and have been dispossessed? Or when women like my mother, are absent from the home because she is working twelve plus hour days, and when she is home, she’s sewing other people’s clothing? How does the notion of women’s work apply to my mother when domestic space is built upon it being a private space outside of the surveillance of capitalism, when work for capital and industry enters, contaminates, and infects the home? When the entire family that lives in this supposedly private space has to also participate in sewing other people’s clothing to make money?” In “A Mother’s Work” Aram touches upon what I take to be one of the central projects of both feminism and Marxism: the critique and practical overthrow of contemporary regimes of social reproduction in vastly different but directly or indirectly linked contexts; she shows that the twined circuits of capitalist logistics and ideologies of white supremacy necessitated that women of color literally and creatively develop ‘hacking ecologies’ of social reproduction that were by and large outside of capitalist social relations. There is a lot to say about this, and many many feminist and postcolonial scholars have unpacked the politics and the experimented with the method of this praxis of a postcapitalist social reproduction. I will instead leave you with an ambivalent but insistent image:

“We’d sit in the living room after dinner and watch TV as my mom would work on her alterations. Spending time with my mother meant sitting and sewing with her, so we would all contribute by ripping seams, ripping out bad zippers, sewing on buttons, and mending rips and holes of other people’s clothes. This is where I learned to sew. And it is here, from the beginning, where sewing became political for me and linked to my identity. And I will always see sewing from this place, inside this living room, sewing with my family to make a living as immigrants in this country.”

What Right is being Performed even in its denial? What performance would actualise this right?

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