Performing the Trojan Horse: Laurie Anderson’s strategies of resistance and the “postmedia era”


Laurie Anderson’s uses of technology in performance art suggest a possibility of smart subversions in a culture based on technology and mediatic systems. Anderson negotiates with such a cultural configuration and questions the notions of body, language and mediation, through her electronic tales, to resist to the “words of order” of the present and to product passwords towards its resingularization.

How to Cite

Gonçalves, F.D.N., 2002. Performing the Trojan Horse: Laurie Anderson’s strategies of resistance and the “postmedia era”. Body, Space & Technology, 2(2). DOI:


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“Resist to the present!” This is the last shot repeated mechanically in Richard Foreman’s last piece, Maria del Bosco. [1] Presenting human consciousness through “sex and racing cars” metaphors, Foreman basically discusses human obsession for competition and probably goes further: he takes “competition” as a socially accepted and stimulated practice internalized by individuals as fashionably desirable. From this context, I would like to highlight two aspects which seem to me to be directly connected to Laurie Anderson’s work and which also will guide my arguments all over this text: the first is the idea of a consciousness and of a subjectivity [2] that is “socially produced” and the second is the need of resisting to certain kinds of modelization of the subjectivity, as metaphorically stressed by Foreman at the end of his piece.

As the intention of this article is less to describe Anderson’s work than to emphazise the subversions of her explorations of Art and Technology, I would like to suggest that Anderson’s work is an example of contemporary strategies of resistance to dominant patterns of the “present”.

Through her eletronic body, Laurie Anderson activates “absence” and “presence”, “avant-garde” and “pop culture” as tools in order to step off definitions, to be in and out of the art world and the mainstream, as well. In so doing, Anderson tries to escape from control systems and to create singularities as often as possible. She does not refuse the “present” in order to resist it. Rather, she questions the naturalized premises of the present by producing a perennial break and rearrengement of its codes.

Like Anderson’s, many means of resistance have been created to respond to “power”. They may vary in format or in strategy, but they always have a strong disposition for changes in commom, a disposition which keeps pushing the emergence of new forms of resistance in the present.

In these terms, analyzing the task of political art, Hal Foster observes two modes of “opposition” to “power”, considering the period from late 19th century: the transgression, adopted by early 20th century European artist avant-garde and also by 1960’s art activists, and the resistance, the deconstructive perspective developed from 1980’s, mostly influenced by french poststructuralism.

Foster sees “transgression” as belonging to typical modernist traditions of rupture (dadaists, futurists and surrealists) and characterizes it as a “passive parody” or “puritanical refusal” (Foster, 1985: 150) because transgression would have posited a limit for the cultural experience - the present as “morrased” in a sort of endgame.

Operating differently, “resistance” is claimed as a distinct form of opposition in a new social order of heterogeneous elements and as “an immanent struggle from within or behind them” (Foster, 1985: 149). This is to say: a movement which does not deny the cultural strata, as trangression supposedly did, but which works through it and against it. From this comes Philip Auslander’s proposition of the resistance strategies of postmodern performance, a resistance produced “from within”, through the appropriation and recodification of cultural signs.

Auslander argues that the resistance “from within” implies taking cultural production under an industrialized economy into account “in order to make such production viable and significant” (Auslander, 1992: 29). By this procedure, resistance may be given the same tools of such environment to go against it. But, differently of trangression, which uses the immediate physical presence of the artist to protest, Auslander also affirms that, in this context, a resistant political/aesthetical practice is always “representational”, but yet in a particular sense. In order to clarify this idea, Auslander uses Anderson’s work as an example of a product of a kind of representation “that imitates the structure of hegemony from within it, while seeking simultaneoulsy to open space for criticism of it” (Auslander, 1992: 25).

Herman Rapaport uses the term “miming” for better describing this kind of representation and sees, for instance, Anderson’s “male” voice as an example of a way Anderson found to ironically address her critique towards male domination and authority. In this sense, Anderson’s manipulation of mediation through media and technology to critique television [3] and its banalization of information and of life can also be considered as “miming”. According to Rapaport, in performing the hegemony, Anderson is also miming it, and, in so, she is releasing or activating resonances...which undermine that hegemony’s efficacy as a stable equilibrium... In miming power, Anderson is subtly revealing “its dissonances jand discrepancies, but without necessarily enacting a critical stance of her own, a stance which would be recovered merely as another ideological or theoretical formation intended to dominate a field of relationships (Rapaport in Auslander, 1992: 25).

This is why this kind of resistance produced by Anderson can be considered “from within”, because it attends “an exit and a deconstruction without changing terrain, by repeating what is implicit in the founding concepts and the original problematic, by using against the edifice the instruments or stones available in the house” (Auslander, 1992: 25).

But this conception of resistance has not emerged by chance, at least in performance art. It seems to have come out from a combination of different elements which affected performance itself, such as the “exhaustion” of the 1960’s spirit of transgression, the influence of french poststructuralism in the artistic scene, the “tiredness” of the 1970’s conceptual agenda, the expansion of mass culture and the raising use of media and technology by artists. These combined elements seem to have strengthened the claim for a different perspective for performance, especially in the late 1970’s and the 1980’s.

As a result, we observe a decisive shift in performance art history, which consisted in changes in its own essence. For Josette Féral, “the shift is that in the mid-1980’s, performance art will be no longer a function, but a genre, which can, as such, perform several functions” (Féral, 1992: 148). For Féral, performance art lose its clear defined function, that of contesting the values traditionally attached to art and of rejecting the artistic work as commodity, that means, it loses its spirit of transgression. Consequently, this shift seems to have affected two important premises of performance: first, “whereas the earlier generation was concerned with the body’s raw, physical presence, the later generation is often more concerned with the word than the body” (Auslander, 1992: 57). Secondly, this new generation of artists rejects theoretically and practically the premises of political artists of 1960’s, which “basically claimed for an immediate presence of the performer as a means for political action. Rather, these artists seek to escape identification as the “charismatic Other” and the power relations implied by that identification”. (Auslander, 1992: 43).

Auslander observes that these artists – claimed to belong to postmodern performance” - “have embraced the commodified world of mass entertainment”, as they take part into “a culture in which the economy of mass communication has a decisive impact on artistic production. This is a culture in which the distinction between “high” or even “vanguard” art and “mass culture” is no longer at all clear, for either the producers’ or the consumers’ point of view”. Thus, if under postmodernism, performance art becomes a genre which Auslander claims to be “already being between vanguard and mass culture”, it seems crucial to think about the implications of this shift for the concepts of body, presence and resistance (Auslander, 1992: 65).

To respond to this issue, Auslander basically suggests two things: first, that both “body” and “presence” must now be understood as already “mediatized” or, at least, as already contaminated by mediation. In this sense, it is important to emphasize that Auslander does not suggest that there is no more difference between “live” and “mediated” performance [4] . Rather, he claims that by this “mediatic interface” the body acquires new possibilities of negotiation with the configurations of postmodern culture, in relation to which different strategies of resistance can be conceived. Secondly, that even “embracing” commodification, performance art does not necessarily loses its political concerns: it is the very concept of the “political” which changes. From such a perspective, one might deduce that the body does not disappear through mediation, it just starts to find ways to deal with it, as it becomes “mediately present” (Auslander, 1992: 65).

In a sense, Auslander’s approach resonates in Johannes Birringer’s vision of the “postmodern body in performance”. Birringer will pay close attention to “the encroaching impact of image and reproductive media technologies on the visual structure of recent performance art that has begun to reconstruct the images of the body” (Birringer,1991: 223). For Birringer, the question is not what is left of performance art and the body but, instead, how the body and the subject can negotiate their places within formal structures of postmodern performance.

Birringer points out that the role of the body in performance art has changed and that this change has emerged with the increasingly globalizing technology of the electronic media and the promotional industries’ commodification of all spheres of culture [5] . As a form of cultural production, the textlessness of performance art generally shifts critical attention toward the visual or toward the relationship between body, space, sound, light and objects, which opens the possibility of experiments with new technologies. At this point, Birringer affirms that; the initial, reductive focus on the physical body-in-performance was gradually superceded both by a more critically reflexive formalist exploration and a more commercially oriented, popular embrace of the multiple, artistically challenging crossovers between the visual media and the new possibilities of technological intervention (Birringer, 1991: 221).

It is exactly this challenge which brings us back to Laurie Anderson’s work.


For almost 30 years, performance artist Laurie Anderson has been building to herself an uncanny artistic trajectory. Starting from conceptual art in the 1970’s, raising as a respected “avant-garde” artist in downtown scene of New York, till “crossing over” pop culture in the 1980’s, Anderson seems to have forged a multiple or a cumulative self-identity.

Establishing visual imagery as an important part of her performances, Anderson has become famous for her “gadgetry” and thus, known as a multimedia performer. Slides projections, holograms, computer design and also sound resources create animating visual formations which sometimes are themselves symbolic narratives and sometimes simply iconographic features which help to produce a fancy ambience to her stories. Anderson’s creations are, fundamentally, means of thinking the possible relations between culture and mediation, as well as of making experiments with language through mass communication and technology. In this case, these experimentations lead the use of such elements beyond commodification - even if they occur under a commodified context –, because the images are appropriated and become another thing but simple representations.

Juxtapositing, cuting across artistic genres, desemboding herself through mediation: Anderson’s resistance strategies are based on dislocation mechanisms, which deterritorialize and create fractures in power discourses and practices. Mainly, we can identify three of such mechanisms: storytelling (the performance of self-identity production, the desimbodiement of artist’s authority in performance, creation of a multiple body to which converge different voices - cultural, political, genre, economical); technology (the amplification of self figure and speech, dislocation of presence through mediation) and the hybrid body (the cut across genres, the “switching on and off” tact, the mediatic disguise). These three mechanisms are actually very intricated and inseparable, but let us try to present them briefly in order to have an overview of her performative strategies.

According to Samuel McBride, rather than a “person”, Laurie Anderson is an “ambient identity... an accumulation”, a “persona”, which is “the focal point” of the diverses activities (music, art, texts and so on) recognized as “Anderson’s work” (McBride, 1997: 2). McBride suggests that Anderson is “a group project centering around what appears to be an individual ..., a polyvalent figure, multi-faceted, multi-gendered (though female), multi-disciplinary (though an artist)”. And yet, “continually under construction” (McBride, 1997: 2).

McBride’s portrait of Anderson matches Birringer’s, which suggests that Anderson’s identity is forever displaced and delayed: “like the vocal “delays” and electronic distortions of her voice, her own body and gender identity are set afloat in the multitrack audiovisual “choreography” to which she (ironically) refers as the “Language of the Future” in Part I of United States” (Birringer, 1991: 222). What we see on stage is a kind of “always displaced figure” – Anderson’s persona – in which resides the force and the singularity of her performative strategies.

This outlook at Anderson’s work provide an interesting shift of perspective, which allows us to escape from the “artist” authority to switch to the notion of art and the artist as a “collective enunciation”, as part of the subjectivity production process. I am trying to suggest that with this shift, it is possible to enter into the very creative dimension of art, the work of art being here already considered itself as a “desiring machine”, as Deleuze and Guattari put it (in Caiafa, 2000: 73). According to Janice Caiafa, the art or “the aesthetic machines” might open fissures in pattern subjectivities through their creative work with the forms of expression. As certain “semiotic segments become autonomous and start to produce ‘new fileds of reference’, they may create ruptures in a dominant meaning domain and then, a singularization process may get started” (Caiafa, 2000: 64).

Following this idea of “aesthetic machine”, I would also like to suggest that Anderson’s work is a kind of communication tact and also a resistance strategy which may produces “fissures in pattern subjectivities”. Laurie Anderson will be seen here as a “collective voice”. She articulates different discourses and different practices within her work, which, at the same time, embodies and spread out all of these forces, as a potent vortex. Anderson affirms the “presence” and produce “new fields of reference” exactly through the dislocations of her identity in performance and of her manipulation of mediation. And the mechanism she mainly uses for it is storytelling.

Anderson uses her stories for activating certain elements she seeks to point out or to discuss. What Anderson does while telling her autobiographical tales is not autobiography, but the performance of a persona which is actually in charge of the show without being, however, “immediately present”. Anderson’s childhood, for instance, is a “collection of memories which serve to undermine the notion of an authentic self.... As such, the narratives do not provide an unified picture of Anderson: they are autobiographical, but not autobiography” (McBride, 1997: 26). This also happens to her trips and everyday life experiences: they are all sources of the discourses she will embody and reprocess in order to create her stories. All Anderson’s tales work like this. The autobiographical component is just a means of “identity production”, of self-construction (a persona) rather than self-revelation. For example: telling how she used to behave as a child among her relatives can be used to talk about freedom, creativity and to explain some of the aspects of herself as an artist:

When I would ride my bike up and down the streets of Glen Ellyn (Illinois), I’d stop once in a while and pick a scab or pick my nose, then I’d get back my bike and ride around, I was always very aware that there was an imposter who lived in my family’s house and looked exactly like me and would do civilized things like go to school and learn things and be good family member and so on, but I myself was free to ride around and to see the real stuff .… [As an artist] I have to be the person on the bike to create and then I have to be the person responsible for ordering the equipment and organising the schedule, all that stuff (Anderson in Howell, 1992:80).

While listening to Anderson’s autobiographical stories, one must have in mind that storytelling is always a possibility of pointing out certain issues starting from elements she gathers from her life experiences and which are to be spread out into other constallations of meaning. Therefore, as Anderson is “less interested in establishing fact than in achieving an effect”, as McBrides affirms, one can even not take for granted that will know Anderson’s life through her autobiographical tales, since she uses it to produce different versions of the stories she tells or even assumes that, as she learned “from home”, “not all narratives are equally exciting and that the factuality of the story does not assure audience interest” (McBride, 1997: 27).

As the “subject” is considered here as a discoursive construction, a “complex assemblage of powers, itself embedded within power networks (Paul Patton in McBride, 1997: 4), McBride affirms that Anderson’s persona is forged under the recombination of several elements from cultural context as technology, performance art, everyday life, mass culture and so on. By this, I am trying to suggest that the construction of Anderson’s persona is an example of an identity production which actually belongs to a “collective enunciation” rather than an individual perspective. Constructing a persona is the way by which Anderson, as an artist, neutralizes her own presence and identity and desingage herself of the contraints of the artist authority. This is what enables her to privilege her stories and her art and to produce some strangeness into dominant values. Paradoxically, the more her identity becomes “delayed” and her presence is “desimbodied”, the more they seem to be multiplied and amplified, due to the potent effect of the reverberation that such dislocation may produce in our perceptions and in our “reference fields”.

It is so that Anderson, for example, claims to be seen not as an “avant-garde artist”, but as a “storyteller” or rather, as a “bullshitting salesman” (Anderson in Howell, 1992: 94). Appearently, she does not want us to learn anything or to do anything from her tales, which are just “another way of looking at things”, as she claims. Allright, but if one pays closer attention to this statement, one will see that Anderson can be anything but ingenous. “Looking at things in a different way” is precisely the distance one might have to denaturalize perceptions, to change conceptions, points of view, life styles.

Even if she tries to clarify that she does not want necessarily to tell us “anything”, she is, however, already doing it, as McKenzie puts it: “Anderson’s stories function as allegories in a Benjamin or Kafkan sense: they emit signifying bits guided not by a transcendent signified or a referential reality but by immanent social forces that affect everybody and No Body” (McKenzie, 1996: 42). He goes on: “Anderson channel a gamey spirit through performance art, video, film, television and interactive CD-ROM …. Her stories function as multimedia language games that not only document past injustices, but also read the emerging rules of electronic societies” (1996: 37). It is important to observe that this language game constitutes the very essence of Anderson’s work and that it activates and it is activated at the same time by the second dislocation mechanism: technology.

In fact, Anderson’s uses of technology is a way of rereading a culture based on mediation. But the interesting is that Anderson has an ambiguos relationship to technology. Through technology, she mimes the process of mediation itself, as Auslander observes, “through her manipulation of communication technologies, she addresses many issues, including gender representations, and the social implications of our mediatized environment” (Auslander, 1992: 111). Incorporating media and technology in her performances, Anderson plays the language game of deconstructing the dominant discourses based on the media and technology through which she tries to investigate the development of contemporary narratives “from within it”. That is to say, she uses “against the edifice the instruments or stones available in the house”.

It is in this sense Anderson is claimed to “perform resistance“. At this point, again, I emphasize that Anderson’s strategies are absolutely not naive. Instead, they are quite political, in a broad sense. If, by miming mediation, she pursues questioning dominant values, is by technology that she refuses the authority of her own presence, being then able to channel and to amplify her critique and to produce singularities through the manipulation of representations of yet mediated alterity. As Craig Owens also suggests: “while the media literally magnify her presence, they also strip it from her” (Craig Owens in Auslander, 1996: 111).

Actually, if electronic devices amplify her presence, they also function as “lays of mediation”, through which the spectator must perceive her: she is never immediatly present. This effect is described by Rapaport as a “minimizing of the performer as content and a maximizing of the performer as contact or relay” (Rapaport in Auslander, 1996: 111). This description helps to understand what I meant by saying that Anderson seeks to “disembody the artistic’s authority in performance”, that is, to disable her “artistic self” as the “charismatic Other”. Anderson neutralizes her own identity and her own presence to become a potent flow, a medium. That why is important to understand that what Anderson refuses is not her presence itself, but the authority of this presence, the heaviness of authorship [6] . This is what is going on when we consider the effect of the voice distortions she produces by audio filters, as Auslander observes:

There are no better representation of this social effect and its relation to mediatization than Anderson’s use of electronics to distort her own voice into those of her characters; her “male” voice is but one example. These voices are no longer her own, yet they do not belong to an identifiable Other; they belong to no one; Anderson’s voice becomes vertiginous even for herself .... Anderson herself, as a “moderator”, has no “real” voice, assumes no priviledged position in series (Auslander, 1992: 80).

But, eletronics are not only used for distorting her voice, but also for disfiguring her own image, deepening radically her dislocations. One very famous and hylarious example of this is the performance Anderson did “on television” besides a clone [7] of herself, a “transfigured double” with a big head, a small body and a moustache. In this performance, Anderson created a clone to share with her some of her responsabilities, as she was having no more time to do her “real job”. Anderson actually intended to “use” the clone to replace her in situations which she felt “herself” supposedly not very confortable with, such as dealing to the press and doing photograph sessions. However, since Anderson goes out to do “her job” and leaves the clone alone, it starts to occupy her spaces and to become independent from her and to require visibility. By performing with a clone, Anderson plays with the notion of representation and its effects in a “mediatized” culture and, at the same time, she questions what representation can become when put together with “real life”.

This is just one example of how her physical presence is desembodied through technology and how her “artistic self” is disabled by the construction of a persona, which is, per se, a converging point of different voices, no body’s voices, of different social forces. Due to this disablement, her stories can operate as a “language game” through which Anderson also locates herself in “in-between positions” and let herself “switch on-again and off-again” from different situations. This game produces what McKenzie calls “Anderson’s adaptors and resistors”, which tries to prevent her of being frozen in regid categories or in limited fields of practices and, over all, prevent her of being caught by power systems:

Crucial to Anderson’s electric body, with its plug face, its power resistors and its puppetry, have been its adaptors, the mechanisms through which this body goes against the flow while going with it .... Through this plugging and unplugging, Anderson incessantly adapts her resistors to the conflicting rules of such different games of performance (McKenzie, 1996: 48)

Here is now activated what I am calling the third dislocation mechanism: the hybrid body. Going “avant-garde”, stepping into “pop” and then quickly gliding towards “avant-garde” again and so on, makes Anderson’s work be considered a clear example of postmodern performance art. As it was already said, postmodern performance is “between vanguard and mass culture” and so, an in-between genre, a hybrid art form. It is in this sense I suggest that Anderson creates a “mutant resistance”. This is the way Anderson performs the Trojan Horse: as a “gift” to pop culture, Anderson strikes commodification with her conceptualist, critical agenda. As a “gift” to “avant-garde”, she demolishes paradoxical settled “high art” self-protection and conservativeness.

The Trojan Horse trap consists precisely in the articulation Anderson does with a mix of elements from mediation, avant-garde and pop culture in order to displace herself from “established evidences”. Anderson achieves this displacement by disguising herself through the adoption of the very “evidences” she tries to fight off. Using mediation as environment and the media as object, Anderson’s work creates a necessary “distance” which enables her to mislead the established configurations of postmodern culture. So, instead of refusing it, Anderson prefers to create “passwords under the words of order [8] . This is the tact of trap: engaging this environment to assault their structures in order to get desimbarassed of them. But while performing the Trojan Horse, Anderson is also articulating other elements.

For McKenzie, Anderson’s singularity resides in two procedures: the first is the use of intermedia, supplementing “live” performance with film, video, tape, synthesizers, and computers “to enhance the building and playback of her idiosyncratic archive”. The second is the connection of performance art (that McKenzie calls “cultural performance”) to other kinds of “performances”, those of high-performance computer systems (“technological performance”) and those of corporations, the “bureaucratic” or “organizational” performance, which links Anderson to Warner Bros. Records and HarperCollins and symbolizes the language game of “big money”, of cost-effectiveness profitability (McKenzie, 1997: 47).

The crucial point here is McKenzie’s argument that Anderson “cuts across these three terrains of performance”. In so doing, Anderson constructs a “hybrid body”, through which she recombines the elements of these different kinds of performance and produces resistance by recoding mediation. This perspective opens new possibilities to think about “resistance”. It is so that if we think about the eletronic space, for instance, resistance “is less about taking and maintaining a physical or logical position outside of power and more about playing multiple languages games in order to learn a variety of moves, to point out the different rules of governing them, and to invent new ones when necessary” (McKenzie, 1996: 38).

But, if this “mutant strategy” functions on a “mined field”, which contains many risks, as McKenzie also reminds - those of appropriation, reterritorialization, and cries that Anderson has “sold out” – these risks “define not so much the limits of her cultural performance, but its postmodern condition” (McKenzie, 1996: 48). However, these risks must not be disregarded, as they anyway effectivelly affect and fight back resistance. Actually, they allow us to raise questions to the model of resistance “from within” and its implications to the concept of the political and to activism in contemporary culture.

On the one hand, the “postmodern condition” seems to be able to let emerge, after all, new forms of resistance. Even in the context of the overwhelming power of commodification and of the production of commodified subjectivities, there are some gaps or fractures which must be seized or produced. Laurie Anderson’s performance as an artist is claimed to be an example of these possibilities. It is possible to consider certain postmodern strategies of resistance, such as Anderson’s, as smart and valid forms of facing contemporay configurations of power and of responding to it.

On the other hand, we must also recognize that resisting “from within” offers the risk for the forms of interventions of being accepted and reprocessed, and as a result, to make them lose their force. Especially in the case of Anderson, who produces a “hybrid body” which transits quickly from vanguard to mainstream and vice versa, trying perhaps to become neither the first, nor the latter.

Even if Anderson tries to make resonate alterity in dominant constructs of discourses and practices, by exposing them through deconstruction, to be “sold out” to mainstream was just one of the darts addressed to her by “avant-garde”, since she had supposedly “crossedover” pop culture. Certainly, as a smart strategist, Anderson had to learn, for instance, how to deal to Warner Bros and how to turn into art the tension produced in “bureaucratic performance”: she had to become able to reprocess the material which comes from this tension in order to neutralize it and to (ironically) make it, in return, become art.

But this is precisely the problem: even if it might be considered a smart tact, “resistance from within” seems sometimes to be reactive, responsive to power. Thus, the point I would like to consider is whether it is possible to “face” power not only by “reacting” to it, but also by “affirming the difference”, as Deleuze states. Perhaps, the hybrid body, as a product of a “resistance from within”, might be considered, after all, as a really important strategy of the resistance, but not as the only one. Thus, one might also consider the possibility of new conceptions of “resistance”, in order to escape the “reactive” perspective, which risks to leading to retorrialization, counter-appropriation or simply, to exhaustion.

The mutations in subjectivity and the “Postmedia era”
As Foucault observes, contemporary power regime (of advanced, postproduction capitalism) focuses no longer on exclusion of alterity [9] . On the contrary, it innoculates and incorporates the “other” to reduce it to the “same”. In other words, difference is neutralized and used “productively”. As Foster affirms: “in a social order which seems to know no outside (and which must contrive its own transgressions to redefine its limits), difference is often fabricated in the interests of social control as well as of commodity innovation” (Foster, 1985: 167).

As power redefines its own borders, its fluid borders, by incorporating difference and not by excluding it, “miming hegemony” might paradoxically reproduce power and reinforce it, instead of “fighting against it”. Actually, this is an interesting point. Now, even the “against” component of resistance can be neutralized and used to expand power limits, because this system actively absorbs, reprocesses and outputs “resistance” already as a domesticated “difference”. In a context of conversion of cultural signs into mass-product objects - related to a “system of commodities” - fashion, life styles and art works represent the “difference” one can consume, as Foster claims (1985: 167). Or, also, as Suely Rolnik suggests, they represent the “prêt-à-porter” identities one can consume (Rolnik, 1997: 37).

The idea of differences or identities which can be “consumed” is directly linked to the process of subjectivity production and particularly to the process of the production of “commodified subjectivities”. One should remember that if difference or identities become “consummable” there must be a “consumer” or a disposal for such “consumption” and this “disposal” is precisely produced by what Guattari calls “systems of modelization of existance”. This means, the process through which different spheres of culture (media, everyday life, the arts, the family, education) produce meanings for existence and shape life styles, perceptions of reality and forms of sensitiveness. For Guattari, the production of speech, images, sensitiveness and of desire, is not tied to the individual. Rather, such production is “subjacent to a multiplicity of social agents, to mutations of values” (Guattari, 1999: 32).

This aspect of difference/identity consumption is important because it helps us to ask two questions regarding “resistance”: how it would be possible today to face power and its adaptative bios? and how it would be possible to subjectivity to invest desire differently in order to reinforce the disposition to go on working for transformations in our societies?

Certainly, this is a long philosophical discussion, which this article has no intention or conditions to accomplish. But it is important to address and readdress these issues to expand our possibilities and our dispositions for changes. At this point, it will important to remember that the human experience is inscribed in History and that History, in the foucaultian sense is not a simple sucession of chronological facts, but a way of perceiving how certain mentalities and social practices are constructed according to certain (conjunctural) regimes of power and knowledge.

According to Foucault, we are suggested to consider the moment we live in now as a passage and as a historical formation which should not be “naturalized”. In order to stress this, I will remember again Foucault, when he talks about “an enormous curiosity, a need, a desire to know” which also characterizes our times. A “curiosity” which can explore, for instance, the potencialities of media, technologies, art, the postmodern body in performance towards a transformation of mentalities and towards a rearrangement of power and knowledge forces. For Foucault, we are not running out of perspectives: “on the contrary, I believe that there is a plethora. What we are suffering from is not a void, but inadequate means for thinking about everything that is happening” (Foucault, 1988: 327).

Foucault’s position is crucial, for instance, to prevent us to naturalize “Empire” and the “biopolitical power” described by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. After all, what Guattari calls a “capitalistic subjectivity production” is all biopolitical power is about. This capitalistic subjectivity, according to Guattari, has being favoring a great impoverishment of what he calls “singular qualities”, which provides differentiated arrangements in the process of production of meaning, because they function at the level of desire and constitute a locus for contesting dominant modelizations.

It is in this sense that Caiafa addresses her argument concerning the “aethetic machine”. The aesthetic machine, the creative dimension of art, is capable to open space for “subjective experimentations” and for the reinforcement of “singular qualities” (Caiafa, 2000: 66) in subjectivity. This is precisely what Guattari calls “singularization of subjetivity”, a process which might frustrate and, at the same time, subvert the mechanisms of modelization, reappropriating subjectivity itself and affirming new values and modes of existance, or, in other words, affirming “mutations in subjectivity”.

Such process is, however, not abstract or utopian, as one might think. There are many experiences which are being put into action everyday and not only in the art world, but also, for example, in the universities or even in the cyberspace which are presently having concrete effects in “real world” [10] .

One might also consider the uses of technology, media and art as forms of producing meaning for the existance, because of its capacity to create new forms of perception and of social intervention and also to provide interferences in other social practices. As art operates with a creative dimension and with a duration-based narrativity, it produces interesting experiments with media and technology, but not at the level of transmissibility, but at the level of codes rearrengement and of otherness production.

Even if nowadays some contemporary artistic practices are immersed in the space-time of commodification, many artists expand the possibilities of art and try to garantee the needed time for creation by singular uses of media. Laurie Anderson is actually one example among many, but perhaps a privileged one. As Anderson hybridizes genres, media and herself as an artist, she tries to say the inspeakable in the present. The result is neither music nor audiovisual, but an art of intervention, of potencialization of the acts of speech and of images and sounds, emerged from the elements of the everyday life and of contemporary culture, which she invites us to question.

The singular uses Anderson makes out of media and technology provide us with tips to reach what Guattari calls “the passage from a consensual mediatic era to a post-mediatic dissentive era” (Guattari, 1993: 188). The consensus here is to be understood as a “stupid unanimity”, an unanimity of homogeneity, which is being required to change into heterogenity. Yet, the “postmedia” is not to be considered as the end or the displacement of media systems, but a different investment on this system, functioning under other regimes than those of capitalistic subjectivity.

Again, such mutation is not to be taken as utopia. It is concrete and around us. It is produced in different domains of the social through actions which deterritorialize traditional positions. Here it will be interesting to take Deleuze’s differentiation between the “actual” and the “virtual”. Such actions seek to activate the “virtualizations” of the real, that means, the possibilities of the real “become other”. According to Deleuze, the “virtual” is not a non-existing reality, rather, it is an existing part of the real that is to be “actualized” (1998: 175), that is, activated. In this sense, the “actual” can be considered as a present formation of discourses and practices which produces what we tend to assume as the “real”, but that, in fact, is just one of the possible configurations of reality. This is why I stress the possibility of “resisting to the present”, understood as an “actual”, a social and cultural formation which is historically constructed and which might always be questioned in its premises.

To illustrate this argument I will recall one of Anderson’s stories, called “Langue d’amour” (United States, 1984: 178), where she retells the Adam-and-Eve story. In this story, Eve falls in love with the snake, which tells her “things about the world” and changes her ideas of the world. Because she felt in love with the snake, she did not want to leave the island they lived in. Anyway, they (Adam and Eve) did it, but they could never stay anywhere very long, because the woman was restless and hothead, the woman was in love. After telling this story, Anderson says:

“this is not a story my people tell. It’s something I know myself. And when I do my job I am thinking about these things. Because when I do my job, that’s what I think about.”

“The language of love” might be seen as an effort of insistance or as a disposition for making things “become other”, for change them. This was my goal while discussing Anderson’s work as a strategy of “resistance”. But I also tried to emphasize the possibility of producing a resistance which is desirably not only reactive, but reather, affirmative. Even if Anderson fits in postmodern model of resistance - the resistance “from within” - there is always something which goes on escaping from definitions in her art.

Anderson lucidly insists to not be categorized in any art frame and only requires to be seen as an “artist”. Such insistance seems to be a struggle for the possibility of being multiple, a cry for heterogeneity and a try to build up what Deleuze and Parnet call “lines of escape”. But as Deleuze and Parnet explain, “escape” here does not mean at all simply running away from challenges, but instead, to act out in other ways and “to make something escape, to make a system overflow” (Deleuze and Parnet, 1998: 49). Perhaps now, “resistance” should find out a position alligned to the idea of resingularization that the “postmedia” implies and not only go with the flow, but rather go over it.

Because if one do not insist in making things escape or overflow in our society, it will be just like riding trojan horses and then it will always remain a story which our people do not tell.


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Fernando Gonçalves is currently a visiting scholar at Performance Studies at New York University, assistant professor at Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and recipient of brazilian government CNPQ research scholarship for developing a doctoral dissertation on Laurie Anderson’s uses of technology and the artist’s critiques on contemporary culture.

[1] New York, winter/spring 2002.

[2] The notion of “subjectivity production” comes from Félix Guattari and is not related to an individual, but to a “collective enunciation” (1999:31). From this perspective, subjectivity is produced far from ample domains (such as cultural, economical, political, sexual, familiar, mediatic, interpersonal) and in their fluctuating intersection, which allowed Guattari to affirm that subjectivity “circulates in the social ensembles”. Hence, the different uses of language, space, body and technology are present, like the ways of constructing and performing the self, of articulating words and things, of communicating, of making art, according to specific regulations, which can always be changed.

[3] The critique concerning the aspects of mass communication can recurrently be seen throughout Anderson’s work, but especially in songs like “Strange Angels” (“Strange Angels” album released in 1989 by Warner Bros) or in the series of performances of “Collected Videos” (released in 1991 also by Warner) and as well as in major productions as the “United States”, premiered at Brooklyn Museum of Art in its entire 8 hours version in 1983.

[4] Auslander argues that the notion of “live” can also be relativized in this context, because in postmodern culture live performance would have “no greater or different cultural authority than its adaptors”. Anyway, live performance remains, of course, “live”, but according to his argument, “liveness” itself is already different from the one of the 1960’s or the 1970’s, which was characterized by “pure physical presence” (1992: 65).

[5] Such perspective, as I shall discuss later, might restrict resistance strategies and interventions within a kind of naturalized context, that of mediation, which is seen as having no “outside”.

[6] Cf. Michel Foucault in “A Ordem do discurso”, (1992: 26). The figure of the “author” has the function of gathering and giving signification to discourses, of being a focus of coherence and above all, of providing them the character of truth.

[7] In “Collected Videos”, released in 1991 by Warner Bros.

[8] Deleuze and Guattari (1980:139) affirm, in A Thousand Plateaus, that there are “passwords” under “the words of order”, refering to the coercitive nature of language. According to them, it would be necessary to “extract one from the other, since everything, every word has this double nature”. “Passwords” emerge from dislocations, deterritorializations of the “words of order”, which, once modified, open space for other meanings and operations. I suggest that Anderson’s appropriations of technology function as “passwords” she produces from certain cultural practices which are primarily linked to dominant discourses.

[9] It represents a shift which Deleuze recognizes as being the passage from a “society of discipline” to a “society of control” (Deleuze, 1992: 219). The society of control corresponds to a “postproduction capitalism”, where power is continous and ilimited, “digital” (television, the enterprise, the market), not “analogical” (the factory, the hospital, the prison), and no longer confined in “molds”, but dispersed in fluid, auto-adaptive “modulations”, so that it can produce a form of control capable to legislate life and subjectivity. This is why, in such power regime, alterity is no longer confined or excluded. Rather, it must be accepted in order to be neutralized.

[10] I have here particularly in mind the “eletronic civil desobedience” strategy developed by Critical Art Ensemble and the Eletronic Disturbance Theater. One concrete result from this new form of resistance was the battle started by, a giant american net-based reseller enterprise which judicially attacked an internet site (, without “s”) from a swiss net-artists group and took off their internet domain. So, hacktivists did a 12 consecutive days-protest in the internet, overloading their site by the end of december, so that people could not enter the site to purchase toys. After a bitter Christmas period, the giant not only returned the domain to swiss artists but also paid the costs of the process and apologized publically. Cf.:Spyer, Juliano. “Zapatistas, guerreiros da informação”. Interview with Ricardo Dominguez (in portuguese),



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