Should human lives be useful and if so to what end(s)? This question has underpinned Kappenberg’s work for over a decade and led to a series of live interventions and screen-based explorations. The enquiry began with Flush, or the possibility of moving towards and impossible goal (2002/4/5) and was refined and devloped through subsequent work such as Extreme Ironing (2007/8) and Trophies (2010/11), as well as [not] performing artist (2011) and Swan Canal (2011).
Under the construct of the Use of Uselessness, Kappenberg investigates the role of transient performed actions and durational interventions within a capitalist framework that is geared towards the production of productivity and the accumulation of wealth. The work proposes a use of uselessness through a deliberate performance of minor or ‘useless’ acts that make space for alternative modes of experience and alternative economic thinking. Interventions invite a review of received notions such as waste, loss, excess and redundancy.
Searching for a means to bridge the gap between the performance of work outside of the academic context and the theoretical discourse and re-presentation of such work within academy this intervention takes the form of a speech that is delivered from memory and performed in costume. The work is both performance and reflective discourse and has been performed in numerous contexts, i.e. Symposium Monica Ross, University of Brighton, UK, (8 March 2014), Flows, Performance Space London UK (March 2014), Ludus Festival, Leeds University, UK (April 2014), Performing Process: Sharing Practice, Centre for Dance Research (C-DaRE), Coventry University, UK (June 2014), Labouring with no matter, Circus Street Market, University of Brighton, UK (July 2014), Neoliberalism and Everyday Life, Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics and Ethics, University of Brighton, UK (September 2014), Body and Space, Middlesex University London, UK (September 2014), Dancing Economies: Currency, Value and Labour, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham (February 2015), SOS Performance Art Faction, Unit 7 Enclave, 50 Resolution Way, London (2/05/2015), Biennale Vogelfrei 2015, Symposium im Darmstadtium, Darmstadt Germany (11/07/2015), Voila Mixed Tape, Cockpit Theatre, London (13/11/2015), The Network of Research, College of Arts and Humanities Annual Research Festival, University of Brighton (11/07/2016), IDOCDE ImPulsTanz, Vienna (29/07/2016), Symposium Performing/ Writing, Wellington New Zealand (13-15/ 03/ 2017).
Echoing the British tradition of free speech from Speaker’s Corner the speaker, an orator in the guise of a garden gnome, balances on an upside down bucket to address her audience. The speech is an artist’s response to, and explicit engagement with, the fact that much of today’s doing is contaminated by an ubiquitous credo of productivity and outcome, be that within the academy, within the institution of art or elsewhere. Part of the legacy of Modernity, this context makes moving into doing potentially problematic, and dance in particular has been critiqued for colluding with modernity’s privileging of mobility (Lepecki, 2005). Balancing on a minute platform the speech proposes a different way of thinking about doing and performing that is not driven by productivity, but by the possibility embedded in the use of uselessness.
The speech draws on L’Utilité de L’Inutile (2013), a publication by Nuccio Ordine which traces the history of the debates on use and uselessness through a selection of quotes from the realms of philosophy and literature. In 1963 Heidegger wrote: “That which is most useful, is the useless. But to experience the useless is today for man the most difficult thing.” In his publication Ordine added that uselessness is that which renders us more human. The gnomic orator reviews this history and, drawing on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stakes a claim for the Human Right to Uselessness.
This provocation addresses the use and value of time and the need to demonstrate usefulness, productivity and purpose on a daily basis, issues that affect everyone from the teenager to the labourer and the chief executive. The garden gnome serves as an alternative figure to the reductive casting of individuals as labourer/ producer/ consumer. The garden gnomes we know today first appeared in the 1870s in Germany and originally portrayed the figure of the hard-working miner with pickaxe and wheelbarrow. The speaker takes the guise of the garden gnome in reference to the modern figurine which is just a useless ornament. To reinforce her expertise and authority, she presents herself as the general Assembly of Garden Gnomes. Balancing on an upside down bucket she celebrates her ornamental self and calls for universal uselessness as in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of the Human Right to Uselessness:
“All Human beings are born useless and equal in Uselessness. They are endowed with Unreason and shall not act toward one another for any reason whatsoever.”