G.S Phillips & Laurie Robins, 2018
'Real Performance' is a research project into contemporary labour and managerial technique. The project is a collaboration between writer GS Phillips and artist Laurie Robins.
In the industry of workplace management and leadership, Empathy is now understood as a concept that can be analyzed, honed, and mastered to increase profit margins. It is a tool used with precision and efficiency in a streamlined process of production that yields highest possible returns. As such, it must be deployed under control and with the appropriate training. This new managerial paradigm supports and is backed by an entire industry of ‘emotional capital’ appearing as degree programs, lecture series, conferences, books and certifications.
The problem is, the nature of empathy itself resists such instrumentalization. Is it possible to figure as a means to an end? Does this denature empathy, reducing it to little more than manipulation? Empathy can entangle the empathisers in ways that do not adhere to any structure of efficiency, nor within a frame of measured output and input. It is excessive and imprecise; it is surplus energy that escapes capture as value. Is it possible to resist the corruption of this concept by embracing it more fully than ever intended by the institutional apparatus relying on it?
'Real Performance' plays on different notions of ‘performance’. It stages a repetition exercise used for training actors in the Meisner Techinique within the landscape of a contemporary shared office space, fluid and casual, suggestive of comfort and support. The repetition exercise is designed to teach actors to build authenticity by truly listening to one another, with spontaneous real emotion as the goal of each new performance. 'Real Performance' pushes the exercise beyond its normal time constraints, inducing exhaustion and forcing the actors beyond the controlled limits of training. At regular intervals, and, on the signal of a coach occasionally heard off-screen, a series of lines selected from management textbooks are incorporated into the otherwise improvised exercise. These lines, intended to induct managers into emotional leadership, are abruptly inserted into an exercise thats ultimate goal is the production of an ‘authentically’ emotional performance. As such, their intentions and imagined cadence are contorted to, and destabilising of, the performance they inhabit.
In highlighting the language and methodology of management styles that focus on emotional capital, empathy and performance, 'Real Performance' experiments in visualizing the distance between the idea of empathy as a method of extracting value from labor, and empathy as an intense and transformative force that can produce an alternative kind of space, conjured in plain sight, spontaneously available to anyone, anywhere as a resistance to instrumentalization.
Camera: Matte Chi
Sound: Shirlyn Wong
Acting: Michael Filisky, LaTonya Grant
Acting Coach: David Newer