Site-Specific Performance: The Parasite’s Approach to Ponteix
When philosopher Michel Serres, describes how we may appreciate the lives of those in the past – the actual feeling of what it must have been to live once upon a time – he compares the role of the historian to that of a parasite. The historian must be attuned to the “noise” that is part of the “signal” of the past, he says, and being attuned to the noise of history in such a way is not to see it as the opposite of historical fact, but rather as this fact’s very fiber; the life at the core of the past. Here, noise forms the surprising third part of the meaning of the French word “parasite” and is defined in the introduction of Serres’s book by the same name in the following way, “parasite: 1. biological parasite; 2. social parasite; 3. static or interference” (Serres xiii). Whether it produces a fever or just hot air, the parasite is a thermal exciter, it functions as relational catalyst, an agent that produces disorder and who generates a different order; Serres is clear that it is entropy as much as creative energy that affords the parasite its place of purchase. The historian as parasite fully acknowledges his or her role in the process of approaching the past, of being an agent whose animation of historical material is perhaps as important as the material itself.
As site-specific artists, I think we’ve approached Ponteix, its history, and the occasion of its centennial celebration as the kind of historians described by Michel Serres as parasites. Over the past year we have read many books about this place, we’ve made trips here, and we have given what we know of its history a good deal of thought. Over the past few weeks we have lived in this town, squatters in the local high school; where we have gone from pouring over books and writing material, to walking around the town, taking pictures, asking questions, and enjoying conversations with the curious locals we meet in the bakery, in the hardware store, the bar, or on the street. Our approach to this place is based in part on what we understand to be the historical facts of its past, but also on our approach to these facts, and to the place itself. As good parasites, our approach to the history of Ponteix has been to offer a perspective of the past, but also to generate some ‘heat’ and some ‘noise’ – some questions, some concern and hopefully some inspiration – around the past of this place. We hope that our approach to the good people of this town and its history may create some excitement and some curiosity about its past. We hope that our performance may be equally a consideration and a jolt to memory, an appreciation and a critical concern for Ponteix, as well as a summoning of why “next-year country” might also be a promising place for the next century to come.