More Passive Than Every Passivity takes its title from Emmanuel Levinas’ discussion of radical passivity in ‘Otherwise than Being’. Levinas’ text describes how proximity invites a sense of vulnerability that is necessary for one to feel a responsibility to the other, or, more broadly, that the mere presence of the other makes demands on the individual that have an ethical dimension. Art in General’s Artist in Residence, Božena Končić Badurina has been exploring this concept through a series of actions and performances that she orchestrated over the course of her two-month residency in New York. This exhibition presents video documentation of five pieces: Elevator, Gathering, Waiting Room, Pause and Fever. Together, these works collectively examine the notion of passivity and self-consciousness.
As with most of Končić Badurina’s work these performances shift the traditional relationship between spectator and subject, interrogating the powers structures of human encounters. Each of these works takes a situation common to urban social experience – the waiting room, the elevator, the subway or sidewalk, the lunch break – and slightly shifts the social rules to put emphasis on a sense of presentness and an awareness of others that is usually avoided in public. In each situation the actions of her pedestrian-like performers, as well as those of her visitors, are restricted so that non-verbal forms of communication such as breathing, staring, meditation, and confrontation between performers and visitors become the focal point of the work. In Gathering, eye-contact and speaking are forbidden for all participants for the duration of the performance; in Elevator merely the movement and speaking of performers are restricted; while in Fever the performers are restricted; while in Fever the performers mimic the naturally insular behaviors of many pedestrians and subway riders.
Each of these situations enhance both the performers’ and participants’ perceptions of one another, making us aware of both the presence of those around us and our reactions to them. The basic rules of each situation are outlined in instructions for the participants or the performers. Yet the artist allows the resulting social encounters to unfold naturally, like an experiment. In this sense the works are unstaged; open to the possibility of unscripted events in the same way that participants are encouraged to remain open and passive themselves. This unrestrictive format paradoxically strips the audience of any sense of remaining at a safe distance. These situations have the power to remove the subjectivity that we grant ourselves as we pass through public spaces, forcing us to directly confront how we affect our social environment. As part of the artist’s choreography the viewer is clearly implicated in the network of interactions, and thus ethically responsible for the consequences of these interactions. The consequences may not be severe, but they are often unsettling, making us aware of our sheltering devices, devices that belie our fear of vulnerability and our avoidance of inevitable passivity.