A Space Without A Use (2017)
Devised by Claudia Kappenberg . Performed by Andrew Downs and Claudia Kappenberg
Part of Performance Arcade, Wellington, New Zealand
16-19 March 2017
This project was conceived for the Performance Arcade, Wellington New Zealand and asked whether we can imagine a space which serves for nothing and relates to nothing. The intervention proposed such a space, a room without use or necessity, in one of the shipping containers of the Arcade. The container was a yellow, 20ft container with light grey interior walls of corrugated metal. The title of the piece, A Space without A Use, stretched over the inside wall in large, white vinyl letters. At the entrance and exit of the container a big bucket with water and stacks of small beakers suggested some kind of activity. Two garden gnomes guarded the space and welcomed the visitors: “Welcome to A Space without A Use,” they’d say, and ask “Would you like to enter the Space without a Use?” Those who confirmed were given a beaker filled to the brim with water, with the direction: “Without spilling a drop you may enter the Space without a Use.” The precarious load slowed down their rhythms and suspended habits, whilst provoking a myriad of responses.
The work draws on George Perec’s writing in Species of Spaces and other Pieces (2008), in which he considers the possibility of a space without a use. Uselessness, traditionally associated with failure and waste, here constitutes an alternative to the ubiquitous modern credo of productivity and purpose. Uselessness is claimed as that which renders us more human.
Slowing down their movements or halting their progression all together, the visitors would find themselves contemplating the precarious load and surface of the water or look around inside the container. Although physically concentrating on balancing the beakers, the absence of other necessities freed up the imagination of the participants. Some stood in silence, some giggled and laughed, some burst into stories and song. Some were concerned with being good or doing right, wile others discovered they could be silly and playful and proceed to throw the water all over the walls. In A Space without a Use, no one could fail. If a visitor enquired whether they were the performer in the piece the guardians would suggest that they could also be themselves.
One of the visitors was so absorbed in the movement that time seemed to stand still. On leaving the container he shared with us this story: Once upon a time when India had a King, a group of Iranians wanted to immigrate, but the King was concerned that the country was already full. So the King had a glass filled to the brim with milk and sent it to the Iranians, to let them know that there was no more room. Upon receiving the glass, the Iranians added a sugar cube and sent it back to the King. The King, surprised to get the glass back, took a sip and realised that it was sweet, and welcomed the Iranians into the country.
Perhaps there is no such thing as a space without a use, and some visitors commented that everything is useful, while others posited that everything is useless. Above all, uselessness is not posited as equal to pointlessness, and the aim of the project is to generate a reflection on what we deem useful or useless, and to what ends. In 1831/1832, the Italian poet, essayist and philosopher Giacomo Leopardi and his friend Antonio Ranieri proposed to publish a weekly journal that was designed to be useless. This was intended as an act of resistance against a century entirely dedicated to utility. In a preamble they wrote: “We recognise openly that our journal will have no use. In a century in which all books, all printed papers, all business cards are useful, we consider it reasonable to finally publish a journal that professes to be useless. Man wants to distinguish himself – When everything is useful we can only advance the useless in order to provoke thought.” In the 21st century we are arguable in much the same position, where only that which is productively useful is given value, and that includes human lives. In that context A Space without a Use constitutes a way to provoke thought.