Brad Butler & Karen Mirza Create New Languages for Political Resistance in "Direct Speech Acts"

Brad Butler and Karen Mirza, Direct Speech Acts, Act 00157
Brad Butler and Karen Mirza, still from Direct Speech Acts, Act 00157
Brad Butler (2012 Film/Video) and collaborator Karen Mirza premiere the Creative Capital-supported project, Direct Speech Actsin the exhibition The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, April 18 – July 14.
Direct Speech Acts is a film series made in collaboration with non-actors, dancers, theorists and activists performing urgent forms of fearless speech in attempts to create new languages for resistance. These videos are part of Butler and Mirza’s ongoing project The Museum of Non Participation, a fictional museum that serves as the conceptual platform for questioning and challenging current conditions of political involvement and opposition. Through film, sound, text and performed actions, the London-based artists ask: How does one participate in or withdraw from political realities individually and collectively? How can passive forms of resistance or “non participation” be represented and verbalized, and how can art facilitate or intervene in this process? 

Video: Direct Speech Acts, Act 00157: Artist Nabil Ahmed speaking on labour issues and the language movement from Bangladesh.

In an interview with Walker magazine, Butler and Mirza elaborated on their interest in the concept of “non participation”:
“It is a condition embodied in the need to participate and the simultaneous desire to withdraw, including the question of how withdrawal can be made visible—how ‘non participation’ can be active and critical. We feel this is much more complicated than just apathy. Rather than a binary negation, non participation is a threshold—a kind of political plastic that expands and contracts, that is both unstableand malleable. This impasse is experienced by many as a condition of privilege, but it is deeply embodied in places like Palestine, Cairo, Karachi, Amman and Belgrade—where people experience post-independence struggles, where the political economy of oil is key, and where former centers of empire are fiercely defended by the United States and the UK.”

Video: Hold Your Ground, from Direct Speech Acts series

One striking video work in the Direct Speech Acts series, entitled Hold Your Ground, was inspired by the events of the Arab Spring and triggered by the artists’ discovery in Cairo of an instructional pamphlet for pro-democracy demonstrators called “How to Protest Intelligently.” Hold Your Ground dissects the “semantics” of the crowd through the abstract gestures and speech in one woman’s performative act of resistance, interspersed with video footage of live protests. Conceived for a site at London’s Canary Wharf, this work calls forth the struggle to turn fugitive sounds into speech, addressing an audience predominantly in transit.
Butler and Mirza’s exhibition The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal is on view at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis from April 18 – July 14, 2013.

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