Who knows what happened in the kitchens, showers and desks of the people who participated in Nobody's from their respective quarantines, more or less rigid, connecting occasionally to the Hang Out Room. Or doing, each in the figurative darkness of their own Dark Room, all the same thing, some in their living room, some in the bathroom, some on the sofa or on a rug. Sometimes in the literal darkness of their beds, or their balconies at night. What exactly happened at Nobody's Indiscipline is hard to say.
Even if nobody arrived in Milan, Nobody's Indiscipline 2020 was a gathering, and not so much for the possibility of connecting to a virtual room. It was a gathering made of mainly asynchronous spaces and times and about twenty people who, for a week, found themselves a little more aware of the existence of others, and the possibility that others were a little more aware of theirs.
Conceived and created by Alice Daneluzzo with the participants of Nobody's Indiscipline 2020
If what happened is difficult to say, the form this took was clearer: Nobody's Indiscipline was an invitation to make shamelessly improper use of the quarantine. Intuition is indebted to Sara Ahmed, to her analysis of the meanings that emerged and flooded with "use" and the political implications of our way of using spaces and objects, which led her to articulate the notion of queer use. In the full text of the lecture of the same name, there is much about the possible meanings of queer use and the paths that it paves for that increasingly necessary work of change and reinvention of artistic and cultural institutions. In these lines, I borrow the concept to put it into play at a micro level: that of the people who have given body to Nobody's Indiscipline this year, creating an interference in the usual ways of grouping together, of shaping, but also of using quarantine.
The meaning of queer use as improper use develops within the semantic field itself of use, which includes: using for a purpose; devoting energy to a goal; taking advantage or exploiting; getting used to it. Ahmed defines use as "a relationship and activity that often indicates the function of what is used". Use, Ahmed writes, indicates "for what" a certain object is. Usage also indicates whom a certain space is for. Queer use is therefore to use something for a function other than the intended function, or to use a space intended for something else or others. Queer use as improper use is described by Ahmed with several examples, some loaded with joy, such as birds nesting in the mailbox interrupting their normal use, and other loaded with apprehension, such as the boy using the toy intended “for a girl" (Sara Ahmed points out that the very existence of this category is worrying), who is remarked not so much about his behavior with the toy, but rather about the way “the boy is boy”. Queer use is also revealing to ourselves by using what was not intended for us. Queer use is a light gesture that goes deep, it is a different use that exposes the norms inherent in habitual use and, by breaking them, shows for whom or what a certain activity, a certain object, a certain space is for and whom or what they are not for, thus highlighting the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion inherent in our habitual use of spaces, objects, words.
Sara Ahmed investigates use as a strategy of preservation and disuse as a possible opposite strategy: habitual use ensures that a specific way of doing is handed down and spreads, letting it fall into disuse makes other paths more difficult or expensive to take. Following the traces of this idea up to modern biology, Ahmed arrives at the reflections of the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck, who lived at the end of the 18th century, who, investigating the origins of animal forms, concluded that it is precisely the "law of use and disuse" that gives shape to life. According to Lamarck, the efforts made by giraffes for natural or environmental causes could never have resulted in the change of the shape of their neck, if they had not been usual. If Lamarck was thinking of giraffes' necks, Sara Ahmed is thinking of the conventions that become institutions, our repeated use that gives shape to things and the norms behind these forms.
If "norms become forms and forms drag behind norms", what are the possible queer implications in the relationship between habitual use and form? Biology can also be queer and Ahmed finds inspiration in Stephen Gould's studies on the so-called "flamingos' smile". These animals feed upside down and their beak is the result of a slow adaptive strategy to the waters in which they feed: for this reason it presents its constituent parts upside down. According to Gould, this, like other singular inventions of the animal kingdom, is due to the observable delay between the behavioural change of the animals and the change in the shape of their bodies. This delay offers Ahmed another meaning of "queer use", which concerns this kind of reversal: temporal discordances that manifest themselves as discordances between form and function.
In the discordance between past editions and present conditions, Nobody's Indiscipline arrived at this 2020 edition just like a scattered group of flamingos in a hypersaline lake. The form developed over the years, made up of many bodies and their co-presence in the same space as a function of the exchange of practices, clashed with its relentless inadequacy in the months of quarantine and physical distancing. There was also a reversal in the case of Nobody's, an adaptation animated by a radical unadaptability to the given conditions. Sara Ahmed recounts how one different use can in turn open the way to even different uses of a form mindful of another environment, a type of queer use, created the conditions for a further queer use: a collective exercise in the misuse of quarantine.
Participating in Nobody's Indiscipline was like observing the quarantine closely and reading the narrative that was given to this condition in terms of more or less correct and productive uses. You found yourself part of a tacit agreement, made at another time and in many places at once, to make queer use of it. To use time and space in ways that had nothing to do with the obligation to be productive or not to be productive; with the pressure to exploit the suspension of time, or to enjoy it, or to suffer from it. Making improper use of quarantine and stopping to see the possibilities it would open up.
What possibilities, between rooms and balconies, remains difficult to say. What I was able to see, from the room where I work, was a letting go to the desire and pleasure of what – in the time gap between the change in behavior and the change in the shape of a body – was necessarily dysfunctional.
In her dictionary of gatherings, published in the volume A Live Gathering: Performance and Politics in Contemporary Europe, choreographer Stina Nyberg writes: "All gatherings are dysfunctional. There is no assembly of people, small or large, variegated or homogeneous, ambitious or idle, that is fully functional. Each gathering will limp, stutter, turn out to be narcoleptic, show a wide range of stress symptoms or suffer from chronic anorexia. Therefore, rather than assuming that a group is functional and then only becoming dysfunctional later, it is advisable to assume that each group is structurally dysfunctional. Moreover, every dysfunctional gathering is made up of dysfunctional characters. Therefore, each gathering, in order to take place, must create space for difference. It may be useful to accept that the others are always idiots, but that they may have their own reasons. Maybe they are sensitive to physical contact? Or are they among those who are slow to read? Maybe they are ashamed of their inability, exhausted by poor relationships, consumed by sadness and disease, need to work differently? This doesn't have to be a problem. It is only a need and although it is not your need, you can satisfy it with the same care that others will give you. If we can avoid the norms of functionality, being dysfunctional might stop being a stigma and go back to being a simple fact of life, perhaps even a constitutive factor of it."
Nobody's Indiscipline this year could only take place in the quarantines of its participants, and that assembly could be nothing but dysfunctional. This necessary condition, the impossibility of aspiring to function collectively, allowed us to make inappropriate use of our time and quarantine, turning it to the pleasure of dysfunctionality: an element rarely enjoyable, because we always try to manage it, to reduce it, to organize it.
While I wonder if flamingos enjoy eating upside down, with their beaks backwards, I think about what could have really happened during this improper use of the quarantine. Whatever it is, traces of it remain - "Queer use is the work we have to do to queer use", in the words of Sara Ahmed - and some pink feathers.