Karaoke Propaganda

The Social Sensibility R&D Departments of Bernard Controls' factory plants in Beijing and Paris/Gonesse have been invited to co-curate, together with Mike Watson, a section of Politics of Dissonance, a performative/sound art/spoken word and VJ official collateral event of Manifesta12, in Palermo, in a space in Vicolo del pallone, in the Kalsa area of the city. 

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-This text is the original one that was proposed through the collective curatorial platform for ‘Politics of dissonance”, initiated by Mike Watson and then accepted and selected by the Manifesta Official Curatorial Team-

This project -Karaoke Propaganda- is an extension of the practice to collect people’s voices through interviews, conversations, wall writing, digital exchanges and written documents along the 8 years of activity of the Social Sensibility R&D Department in the Bernard Controls factories in Beijing and of the 4 years in Paris/Gonesse. Working with people from different countries, different cultures and socio-political background, we used art as a tool and a language to allow people to investigate differently something they wanted to and to establish a different dialogue with themselves and with the others within and without their working environment. We wanted to give them a voice and an enhanced sense of dignity that comes with it and we knew that this would not be something simply ‘easy’, ‘good’ or ‘meaningful’. We witnessed that giving voices to people in a real situation, means bringing up the contradictions, the differences, the invisible and visible barriers and the limits that affect and shape human relationships in the complexity of today’s working and private life.

Hierarchy and power, peer pressure, contextual and cultural references and identity can often be the most complex and difficult territories where a socially engaged project operates. What we understood is that by shaping an undefined creative space-situation to everyone who is interested to experience an encounter, we create the potentiality for a shift in how this person will be perceived by the others after he/she has chosen art language to say something in public. We cannot and we don’t want to control what that shift can be and what it could change in the relationship between the individual who expresses him/herself creatively and the communities he/she is part of : working community, family, friends, etc.

Sometimes after this first creative individual shift, the quality of relationships a person has with the rest of the world also shifts. This result into the loss of a previous balance and generates a new dynamic adjustment in order to build another equilibrium. It is not a process without consequences and it does not happen in a way that can be planned but, because of this uncertainty, it is interesting as it fosters social imagination without relying on strict methodologies, dogmatic educational or therapeutic tools and doctrines.To accept the potential of an encounter that is not necessary and not mandatory means to create the potentiality of the unexpected and the transformative to appear. If these words might suggest a severe sense of engagement and claim some sort of mission, this is not intended to be carried on within the rigid spectrum of an ideology or through the cold detachment of a professional expertise. It is, instead, intended as a commitment to the time we spend with other people to exchange and understand them and to try and inquiry about what still create a sense of meaning and how can we spot it and pursue it within the spectrum of a shared experience of knowledge exchange. What does it mean to have voice today? Who gives a voice to whom? Where can people use their voice without being previously briefed about what to say or manipulated into saying what somebody else wants them to say? How can a voice be perceived among the cacophony of the mediatic entertainment or heard from behind the impenetrable curtain of a severe censorship? And again, who should we be speaking to ? With which words?

In which languages? To say what?

Along the years we have collected sentences that people dropped during conversations about art, work, life, politics, private life in very informal contexts and situations, from a pause to a lunch break, to a private interview, an artistic presentation or a work meeting. These sentences have remained with us: they became hand written words on the stairway of a museum, tags on the wall of another one, sound art recordings broadcasted through improvised cardboard-made speakers in a third one.

To re-invent them through a karaoke project for a sound festival such as Politics of dissonance is just a further organic sequel to continue re-imagining how to propose this precious content. Karaoke is one of the most popular forms of mainstream entertainment in which both people from the East and from the West indulge regularly, often just to shut their brains off and/or share some superficial empathy in a perhaps silly but still warm and safe way. Mainstream medias are also co-opting its ubiquitous quality recently and turn it into a new trendy entertainment option. But if we look at the device itself and at its context, what if karaoke could be a place where one could ---caught by a glimpse of witty madness--- also chose to ‘not follow’ the lyrics, to not sing the lines and the chorus and instead say something he/she wants to say, or quoting a poem, reading a passage of literature, singing a serenade or an ancient song, recite a political slogan, remember someone who is not there anymore, say a prayer,tell a story, send a message, cast a spell, or an enchantment or a course.. ?

In today’s polarized world we witness a chaotic scenario in which western democracy is slowly eroded and emptied of its emancipatory and egalitarian core, while the model of the technocratic authoritarian state (well represented by China, Russia and others) is teasing crowds and politicians with its promise of efficiency and optimization and its seductive arguments about the capacity to face large scale issues such as fear, insecurity and instability.

Censorship functions very well in both models: either information is totally filtered and controlled, either people are flooded in a continuous stream of information where it is impossible to seize what is relevant and meaningful. In both cases the kingdom of the ‘spectacle’ theorized by Guy Debord and the realm of ‘simulation’ described by Jean Baudrillard are reaching new highs within the virtual dimension of the digital era. Expressions such as post-symbolic, post-truth and surveillance-age attempt to describe and resume a pivotal time in which we are confronting the unknown and the unprecedent and dealing with the transformations implemented by the new interconnected dynamics of power, technology data and economy.

We are living between an ‘old’ that is dying and a new that struggles to be born and in this twilight, as Antonio Gramsci said, “a variety of monsters grow”

As individuals, we don’t know how to take on these monsters and we don’t have a common strategy to engage with them.

Art as little power to have an impact on such elusive and disruptive forces, yet what art can still be for us, is a sort of raft to hold on while navigating through the stormy waters of this time and give us the chance, no matter what the future will bring, to still be able to imagine something else until the very end. As a band of travelers who met by chance, we still don’t really know why we are together if not the fact that we are still curious about ourselves and about the others and we defend the idea of a world where there is still room for the many and not just for the few. Our karaoke in Palermo, under the umbrella of Manifesta, reminds a bit Pirandello’s unfinished myth “The Giants of the mountain” . We have come from far away, as outsiders, hosted by other outsiders in a charming but haunted villa, to stage a play which is both private and public, individual and collective: a shared storytelling.

Luckily the content of our contribution has not been commissioned.

We can hear the noise of the boots of the giants walking down the mountain and we will perform for them and against them at the same time, and we will perform for everyone else too: all those who have not yet been invited and are around are warmly welcomed. Like the occupants of Pirandello’s ‘Villa degli Scalognati’, we haven’t given up the idea that if we can cook some weird magic perhaps something can happen: so we will put together live and recorded séances with Chinese traditional poems and old revolutionary songs, enchantments from Togo’s legends, storytelling from Mali, Creole spells, Italian and French poetry, computer language, literature, pop songs, lullabies, spoken word and whatever else comes at hand. We will welcome and encourage spontaneous participation among those in the public who feel like joining our karaoke propaganda.

You are welcome to follow our activities which will start at 10:30am with a poster distribution around the city, continue in the afternoon with a Chinese-park inspired water calligraphy action in the streets and will become our karaoke propaganda starting at 6:30pm until 02:00am.

The conceived music scores are 4 different ones, composed by artist/musician FENNI, with interacts of 20 minutes between each other and live improvised parts.

The performers will intervene both on the scores and in the interacts according to aschedule which cannot be fully confirmed as it will respond to the very moment.

Thank You for your kind understanding.

Alessandro Rolandi

Social Sensibility R&D Department at Bernard Controls Beijing and Paris/Gonesse

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