Knowledge Is Being Performed team10/11/20 09:202.7K🔥

Marina Israilova is a researcher, critic and curator. Her research focus lies on theatre and performance, as well as on self-organised collectives in the cultural sphere. She is a member of the editorial and curatorial teams at the “K.R.A.P.I.V.A” online journal and the “Assembly” project. She also teaches at the New Theatre Laboratory of Saint Petersburg School of New Cinema.

For the “Political Dimensions of Cultural Praxis and Knowledge Production” series Marina wrote an essay, in which she studies (and experiences) the performance “What Is Actually Going On?” by Anya Kravchenko, Valya Lutsenko and Marina Shamova as an epistemological model and thinks about multiplicities that are discovered when knowledge is performed.

Read more about the project —

Текст на русском можно найти по ссылке —

Performance «What Is Actually Going On?» Studio SDVIG, December 28th, 2019. Photo by Stas Pavlenko
Performance «What Is Actually Going On?» Studio SDVIG, December 28th, 2019. Photo by Stas Pavlenko

Part 1

I would like to link the concepts of “knowledge,” “politics” and “performativity / performance” by problematising the dichotomy of the internal and the external. These concepts can be considered both on a micro- and on a macro scale: intra-subjective and celestial, intra-corporeal and terrestrial, individualistic and social. How are knowledge and politics carried out by means of the performative on both sides of the boundary between the internal and the external? How do they shift and problematise this boundary? The body, the visible boundary of which is its skin, the body, that is related through the gaze to the concept of the subject, to the bearer of subjectivity — in my thinking, the body is the field of these boundaries’ revision. The body is always a problem for the juncture of the internal and the external, something about which Daria Yuriychuk has written a lot [1]. In the spheres of politics and knowledge, carried out through an institutionalised exhaustion of many bodies, how can we, in widening our gaze, recognise the work of the political and the knowledgeable [2] within one body?

Within these reflections subjectivity is an alarming, unremovable little speck on the lens of contemporary philosophical thinking, a critical and important obstacle, which I am referring to by the third meaning of my “cinematography of cognition.” [3]

I am writing this text in the midst of a months-long reflection on a dance performance by Anya Kravchenko, Valia Lutsenko and Marina Shamova titled “What Is Actually Going On?” [4]. I like this process of reflection and its slowness. Since the performance’s first screening in the summer of 2019, I have followed several interviews and conversations with the artists, reviewed the work two more times and have tried to process it in text and speech which later materialised in an article and a conference report. I can now say that this artwork alone is a sufficient (and at the same time necessary) way to discuss performativity, politics, knowledge and subjectivity.

As per the authors’ description, “What Is Actually Going On?” is a question that does not require an answer. The same question describes the performance, in which three dancers agree to spend time with each other, with objects and philosophical texts. They read, dance, speak, sing and act with great care and strange virtuosity, motivated by no other reason than the issues which arise among and between the characters. “Here philosophy does not explain dance, and dance does not embody philosophy. Strangeness is aesthetically and programmatically supported. Here, through awareness and engagement, the traces left by the unconsciousness are caught. The helplessness of the general in view of its parts is practiced. Here, objects interact with the spectral precision of everyone who feels and thinks.”

When I write, I attempt to recall the intonations of the interview, the spoken words, my bodily and affective reactions, the feeling of a rumble from the density of meanings thickening during the performance, the rhythm of the redirection and interruption of my attention, of trust, curiosity, skepticism and attraction.

Performance «What Is Actually Going On?» Studio SDVIG, February 14th, 2019. Photo by Stas Pavlenko
Performance «What Is Actually Going On?» Studio SDVIG, February 14th, 2019. Photo by Stas Pavlenko

Part 2

In terms of methodology, the value of the performance “What Is Actually Going On?” lies in overcoming the artificial division of different types of knowledge: philosophical (theoretical, academic), corporeal (sensory, movement, embodied, affective), pragmatic and utopian. This division is artificial, but legitimised within the institutional division of knowledge-producing structures. In the interview, Anya, Marina and Valya talk about their positions as dance artists simultaneously engaged with philosophical knowledge as marginal, peripheral, uncomfortable or strange.

Recognising each other as being part of this division (a different story of reading traces, guessing, recognition and attraction) and seeking ways to overcome it, lead initially to the idea of a reading group. Which then almost immediately transformed into the idea of a performance where reading philosophical texts and dancing coexist.

The work is constructed as a laboratory format: external conditions that shape the space of experience are created collectively — time frames, principles of interaction with each other and with objects, sounds, texts, processes, and everything else that happens within these given conditions is formed anew and differently every time. There are no rehearsals in the usual sense of the word: the performance, whether publicly shown or not, is performed in its entirety, video recorded and afterwards, explored and discussed.

These practices of reception and discussion are in themselves both a continuation of the work — a second stage of the laboratory process — and a special practice that has its own conditions of flow and transformation. Thus, within this process there is a place for making proposals — for new methods of interaction, new conditions or changes of the working structure.

Focusing on already existing processes (a recent show for example) and collectively isolating details within those happenings become the impulse (although not always) for a change of the course of work; they become its new condition. As Marina describes it: “we offer a way to be with something, to be within tasks — for each other. This is probably a good format, because we don“t know each other and we don”t know how to work together… This insight, with which at some point we all agree, is introduced as a proposal or a change. We didn’t realise anything else today, however, we realised precisely this.”

This part of the work, while hidden from the viewer, nevertheless leaves its traces: the contours of this array of accumulated attention, of a joint effort engenders a relationship between them which is mysterious and attractive, never fully accessible to the mind nor to the eye. Sometimes, this can be a painful experience confronting the boundaries of one“s own possibilities of understanding. The inevitability of the recipients’ attention to cover everything that is happening, even when fully concentrated, is a separate and important part of the work”s dramaturgy.

The thoughts of others are unknowable. Being at the epicentre of the processes of thought, cognition, movement and attention, distributed amongst the constant changes of trajectories between Marina, Anya and Valya, through readings, sounds, space, objects, inside and outside of dancing and perceiving bodies, I recognise these limits to understanding with gratitude. Leaving aside attempts to understand appropriately, I get the opportunity to co-think in return: as Anya will call it in an interview — “not to possess this thinking, but to relate to it responsibly.”

Performance «What Is Actually Going On?» Studio SDVIG, June 29th, 2019. Photo by Stas Pavlenko
Performance «What Is Actually Going On?» Studio SDVIG, June 29th, 2019. Photo by Stas Pavlenko

Part 3

Equally as important and more intriguing to me personally is the “becoming” of the ethics of relationships within the work. The relationship between Anya, Marina and Valya, between them and the text (read together or by others), objects and space. When listening to the recordings of the interview, I find myself in need to stop and listen carefully to phrasings, ways of speaking, lengths of pauses — groping for exact meanings. Often, the pause helps me in understanding the fact that there cannot be an exact meaning, nor is it necessary. Here are some of these phrasings:

Anya (reading Graham Harman’s The Quadruple Object):

this book is… a place where different thinking … currents… could meet

this also allows me, reading into it more and more, to resort to it when it seems the most, perhaps… appropriate

how our joint thinking can unfold. how not to possess this thinking, but to relate to it responsibly, to continue to be responsible for it

it“s just a part, but it”s not in order to

do something without falling into this experience that “this is mine”, “it belongs to me” or “it completely represents me”

we do not make any promises to ourselves, but act upon request

Marina (reading The Logic of Sense by Gilles Deleuze):

how can I at the same time notice what is happening now and — also not part with the proceeding it time

thinking praxis

literally: how to transfer this space to another place

switching — many possible options than thinking

I always never understand anything

and this question is not a question (what’s going on?) — it is… the body

it (‘The Logic of Sense’) is close to me, it’s like… a relative (laughs)

this book is just there and everything is like that you cannot choose more, I can no longer choose to read it or not, this is already part of the work, how would I choose? who am I to choose

the image of very small objects that constantly appear and do not have time to be named and maybe it is not necessary…

Valya is a medium for the Khôra, which I perceive

curiosity about what they are doing and what I am doing in relation to them and we are always not doing something that…

Valya (reading the essay Khôra by Jacques Derrida):

how philosophical texts are embodied

flickering of transition into material, but not manifested in a thing. already material but not yet grasped

I like the way that Marina presents Deleuze to me more

I don’t like Harman, but I like how Anya fiddles with him

as Marina said: you don’t recognize anything, but you become something

Khôra is not infinity, it relates to what it gives place

I look with my body or eyes and see densities or rarefaction that I need either to occupy or…

calls of the place

subject ethics

when I say the words of Khôra many times I will certainly hear whole / hole / whore — as “whole”, “hole” and as “whore”

we devour these texts, behave very animalically. that is… one needs to smell and chew… and tear

What is expressed through this bodily-spatial-temporal form of the performance, is, in interviews, articulated through words and expressed through intonations and structures of speech. I don’t think that performance and the act of speaking about it are related in a complementary way; maybe the metaphor of a second date is best suited to clarify their connection? Is this related to my resentment for analysing or explaining what was said in the interview? To my wish to conceal some of the discussed topics? To my wish to conceal them and to indicate their presence at the same time; that is to say: we share a secret (between us).

Performance «What Is Actually Going On?» Studio SDVIG, December 28th, 2019. Photo by Stas Pavlenko
Performance «What Is Actually Going On?» Studio SDVIG, December 28th, 2019. Photo by Stas Pavlenko

Part 4

“What Is Actually Going On?” is also an exercise in scalability: knowledge, politics and subjectivity can be traced here from the micro to the macro scale and vice versa. The problem of the separation of the rational and bodily sphere, the institutionalisation of certain forms of knowledge and the ghosts of the disciplinarity of epistemological settings coexist with the attentiveness to intra-bodily processes, affects, memory, patterns of movement and kinetic sensitivity. “The heart of this work and its value, for me, lies precisely in the physiology of thinking and in the constant diving into the unconscious and dancing from there. The externalisation of the nervous system, physiological processes, and then… reactive return… to thought, speech, listening,” as Valya explains in an interview.

The relationship between the participants of the performance and the space and objects in it can also be perceived at any level of abstraction. Each text that takes part in the performance is philosophy itself, philosophising itself as well as a materially embodied concrete object (book).

When given sufficient attention, a long story unfolds behind every dancer’s movement, spoken word and written text — a story of development, school, the others’ movements and movement patterns, quests, personal history, rejection, agreement, sense, institutional schemes and ways to get around them: reinventing, re-learning.

As a spectator, I feel like a shaken kaleidoscope aligned with a telescope. I see (feel) how patterns are collected from the co-thinking [5] of Vali and Derrida, Ani and Harman, Marina and Deleuze, how their bodies think. I am immersed into the space in which nothing of that what can happen is predetermined. Subjectivity, which is densely felt, stratifies into layers and breaks up into fragments, among which the recognisable parts are not mine, but alien [6], and have already been there, now, ready to join, in- or disintegrate .

I am still surprised by my discovery: knowledge that seemed to me to be fixed, defined, evaluated and incorporated, sanctified and sanctioned can, in fact, only be performed and is only performed together. Only among different multitudes: inside the body, between bodies, between groups of bodies. This could probably be one of the responses to “What Is Actually Going On?” Knowledge is being performed.

Performance «What Is Actually Going On?» Studio SDVIG, February 14th, 2019. Photo by Stas Pavlenko
Performance «What Is Actually Going On?» Studio SDVIG, February 14th, 2019. Photo by Stas Pavlenko

Part 5

Among other things, this text is arranged as an assembly of my own subjectivity. Who am I? I am the sentimental voice of confession. Shyness, shame and pleasure from the shame: could it be that all my intonations, my cherished obsessions of falling in love with other peoples’ texts, with other peoples’ ways of thinking, lead me into the processes of cognition, writing, understanding, imparting meaning, eroticism and intimacy, sensuality and attraction inherent in thinking, but were formerly repressed by an devotion to rationality and objectivity?

Could every footnote in an article be an encrypted message, a love letter? When thinking is engulfed in the pulsation of the erotic, when I let your, and your, and your thoughts enter me — joints of theories and the overflows of logic — what happens to the inner and the outer? Is knowledge in general, and knowledge at every moment of time, then inside or outside myself? And what difference does it make if both bring pleasure?

How are the feelings of oneself arranged, what does it mean to practice oneself, what scheme of subjectivity [7] can be presented (externalised)? The subject as a setting, as a recorder of intersections, a net of intonations, a wind rose diagram, an assemblage point, a constellation of the other. In such a configuration, any other also loses their clear outlines and boundaries. They blur and disperse in space.

Could this blurring and dispersal be what happens in the performance? Xenoeroticism [8] of different types of knowledge, ways of thinking, co-existence with objects, mergers, voyeurisms and expressionisms of the thinking processes of all those involved — including the spectators?

Part 6

Why is the inner intonation of all my texts the intonation of one who is hopelessly in love? Can epistemology be eroticised? Or is it plain erotic? Being performative, knowledge discovers in itself multiplicities that are held together by tensions, rapprochements, attractions, guesswork, tracking, intuitions and forebodings. Thinking processes can be easily described by means of a Lover’s Discourse, incorporated into speech or imbued with it. At least such a project could become my fantasm.


[1] Yuriychuk D. Reassembling our boundaries: how taboos, photography and biomedical knowledge create human bodies (Пересборка наших границ: как табу, фотография и биомедицинское знание создают людские тела)// Knife.

Yuriychuk D. How to dance politically? (Как танцевать политически?) // Art Magazine. 2019, No. 108.

[2] Cf. Anastasia Dmitrievskaya’s important metaphor of the knowledge monster: Dmitrievskaya A. Lecture-performance: staged knowledge (Лекция-перформанс: инсценированное знание) // Theatre. 2017, №29.

[3] Nadezhda Ishkinyaeva films the “imaginary cinema,” recording her experience of working with artists at a psychoneurological internat. Ishkinyaeva N. I am not against (Я не против) // K.R.A.P.I.V.A.

[4] From the description of the project on the website of the Studio SDVIG. —

[5] See the notion “co-thinker” in the poetic texts of Galina Rymbu, included in the Book of Decline (Книга упадка).

[6] See: Joji Stolet: Alien + Alien: Communication Experience of the Year 3000 (чужой+чужой: опыт коммуникации 3000-го года) // Cyberfemzin 02.

[7] Schemas as one of the forms of knowledge production are used in the texts by the tuner of confusions Lika Kareva. See: L. Kareva, Schemes of Self-Organization // —

[8] A concept introduced into my vocabulary through one of the hashtags in the Vkontakte public “опорная)функция.”


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