Fashion and paradigms are not the same; so much is true even on the outer limits of scholarly debates. The notion of performativity shows just that; a term now so often mentioned, elaborated, experimented with and both hailed and degraded – not yet capable and not even certain of becoming a paradigm. Obviously drawn from theatre and performance studies, performativity is ‘in vogue’ in both social theory, science and technology studies as well as in political theory and arts. To take the latter two as examplars; recent connections of politics and aesthetics have primarily focused on the question of being-by-doing, i.e. many accounts have tried to conceptualize political acts in the way an actor performs its actorship. To be sure, every emphasis on the performativity of politics is – apart from in many instances forming an examination of the aesthetic character of politics itself (speech, parliament, involvement etc.) – also always considered as a intrinsically more active and engaging form of politics. That is; it tries to conceptualize a ‘more-than-representative’ democracy by emphasizing the techniques, practices, sites, temporalities in which political actors are created in-the-act. In doing so, it lays bare the danger of the fact that ‘representation’ turns into ‘replacing’ which would indicate that the political system as such functions as a, as Hegel would say, ‘negative’ of its public, the demos; it is always what, where and when the public is not. According to the performative point of view, moreover, represenative democracy’s ‘public’ only consists once in every four year when ‘it’ hops on its bike, starts the engine of its care to drive to the ballotbox to take up a red pen and ‘perform democracy’. Besides, performativity also makes clear that all the deliberative, direct, associational etc. etc. alternatives for and additions to represenative democracy, in the end, remain politically empty handed. They are all ‘stand-ins’ for an essentially representative form. Performativity, in claiming that politics as such only exists in the political act, the public only in the public act etc. (this is, indeed, reminiscent of Nietzsche’s famous dictum ‘there is no doer behind or above the deed’) states that the, above mentioned, techniques and practices of politics are not derivative of what politics is ‘really about’, but are in and for themselves already political (both in its conception, materialization and effects).
The installations ‘Microphones’ and ‘Red Carpet’ by Amalia Pica (currently on view in De Inkijk) are meant as an aesthetic exploration of the performative dimensions of civic participation. As the artist makes clear; ‘the installation encourages viewers to rethink the symbolic language of politics, communication and publicness’. Albeit interesting, it seems to me that such an exploration undeniably situates itself among the traditional, present and worn out idea of politics as something that is convined to ‘mere speech’. In other words; the installations don’t escape Habermas’ idea of rational deliberation.