Academic journal article Themes in Theatre

Naming as a Playing Practice and Political Strategy

Academic journal article Themes in Theatre

Naming as a Playing Practice and Political Strategy

Article excerpt

This chapter explores playing as an effective strategy to redefine and criticise dominant social discourses. It focuses on the phenomenon of naming as a playing practice and political strategy: more specifically, on how naming procedures co-create social structures and how linguistic play constitutes culture. It sheds light upon the concept of playing culture from the perspective of performativity. I am interested in the ways in which performative processes of naming give rise to the tacit knowledge determining a certain culture, as well as how such processes change the perception of the public and influence the reshaping of social structures. These questions will be discussed in relation to three Slovenia-based artists who, in the summer of 2007, changed their names to Janez Jansa. Janez Jansa was the Slovenian Prime Minister at the time as well as the leader of the centre-right Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS). By appropriating his name, the artists enacted a unique performative gesture at the crossroads of art and politics, a gesture which has become a theatrical event for everyone who has hitherto encountered and used the new name of the three artists. The discussion will reveal how the resulting public participation in the symbolic power of the Prime Minister led to an undermining of his authority and a destabilising of the dominant social discourses. In this chapter playing culture will be discussed in light of its subversive potential. According to Willmar Sauter, this potential is one of the possible points of departure in the exploration of playing culture (2006: 27).

A Cut into the Regime of Perception

The theatre director Emil Hrvatin, the new media artist Davide Grassi and the visual artist Ziga Kariz officially changed their names to Janez Jansa in 2007. This was at a time when the political actions of the Prime Minister of the same name agitated the Slovenian public, causing a leftist and rightist polarisation that triggered a wave of dissent especially amongst those with liberal views. The artists changed all their personal identity documents such as passports and medical cards into their new names. Janez Jansa, Janez Jansa and Janez Jansa also joined the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS). In a witty and literal manner they realised the slogan used by Janez Jansa to encourage adherence to his party: 'The more of us there are, the faster we'll reach our goal!' By adopting the political leader's name, their performative gesture turned into a media spectacle of national dimension.1 Through the use of the name of Janez Jansa in unexpected performative acts the artists challenged the very makeup of Slovenian society. Although these three artists did not declare their gesture as an artistic act, the professional arts community understood it as an artistic project that tested the power of art in everyday life.2 Based on the initials of Janez Jansa, Janez Jansa and Janez Jansa, I will refer to it with the name tagged by Amelia Jones: 'the JJJ project'.3

A most intriguing example of a theatrical event, the JJJ project eludes the latter's spatial and temporal determination. It subverts the roles of the performers and the audience as well as our understanding of the artistic event as such.4 A theatrical event usually takes place in a single location and in a precisely defined time. The JJJ project, however, started in 2007, the moment the three artists acquired the politician's name and will continue as long as they bear it. The players are not only the artists, but anyone who uses their names. At the same time, the role of audience is also acquired by the three artists as they observe others who use their names. Thus the question of who are the performers and the audience remains open. The borders between playing and not playing, intentional and unintentional playing, productive and unproductive playing are blurred as ordinary daily activity becomes extraordinary and the fictitious is infused in the real. …

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