‘is it my world?’ in Rome 2020, by italian performance group kinkaleri

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kinkaleri: is it my world?

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‘is it my world?’, Rome 2020. Photo © kinkaleri
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Anastasio Koukoutas
How a public relay by Italian group kinkaleri turns into a fruitful question: have we become estranged from the world we created?

The world is a collapsing shit factory, wrote Darren O’Donnell in Social Acupuncture: A Guide to Suicide, Performance and Utopia in 2006 – a blatantly political and not overly pessimistic statement about the future of our consumerist societies and the persistently utopian role of art within them. What’s maybe most disturbing about this statement is that it remains accurate and acutely relevant in the present moment. While reading the news, catching up with the world’s latest attempt to convince us of a futureless, ‘there is no alternative’ fate, I stumbled upon some pictures of the Italian performing group kinkaleri. A slogan, ‘is it my world?’, printed on stickers and placed in various incongruous places, such as a porcelain urinal or a post office box, reminded me of a Dadaist communication tool to invite people to a performance. This crucial and alarming question, ‘is it my world?’, also seemed to capture art’s internecine struggle after the Covid-19 pandemic. Have we become estranged from the world we created?

This unconventional performance is only a part of what kinkaleri call their world. The slogan was initially designed for an initiative – now in its tenth year – that combines residencies, ongoing choreographic research and exchange of ideas with younger artists in their base, spaziok, in Prato (Italy). But foremost the project was about the idea of a shared space that could accommodate critical questioning about the practices and the relations of the people working within the dance field. No wonder that in a moment of artistic stasis, when all the above were suspended, the slogan came to the surface, carrying both an existential and a political meaning.

In fact, the very question became the locus of the performance, which has taken place already in Florence (May 2020) and Rome (July 2020). The participants – potentially anyone in good enough shape to cover the distance – were called to be part of a relay, running while carrying a white flag with the slogan ‘is it my world?’ written on it. The itinerary wasn’t conceived just by taking in mind the kilometric distance; neither sports nor competition is at the heart of kinkaleri’s concept. Instead, what the flag represents in relation to the symbolic value of public space that was in question: the very opening and reclaiming of this space, which after the quarantine became even more vital and evident. Especially in cities like Rome and Florence, once flooded by herds of tourists every day, this remarkable ‘vacancy’ made kinkaleri re-examine the shrinking of public space in comparison to the rising will of citizens to be outdoors again and present.

Interestingly enough, this performance doesn’t have utopian ambitions. It’s simple and fragmentary, furtively political and coyly humorous, if we think of how kinkaleri are subverting the historical significance of the relay and how their performance, without being a parody, re-examines the ambiguous circumstances of its reappearance. It’s a simple act to execute – no extra skills needed, you just take the flag and run – and exemplary of how the will to participate in this relay performs something else than the usual experience of ‘being together’. Without falling into the ideological trap of either extreme individualism, that would favour antagonism between the participants, or extreme collectivism, that would subsume everyone in a higher abstract goal, this relay shows us the middle way: questioning if there is a goal after all, an accomplishment other than just a vague sense of being part of a bigger picture of which the pieces you do not hold. Run, meet the next one, pass the flag on. End? Maybe. But most importantly, resign from the fantasy that you can make a difference, that you are carrying a bigger message to the world. You don’t know whose world this is anyway.


kinkaleri’s ‘Is it my world?’ in Rome (July 2020). The performance finishes at the installation ‘Gaia’ by UK artist Luke Jerram

What is it all about then? It’s not the spirit of agonism: it’s not about young muscular messengers carrying a universal meaning; it’s not even about the grandiose backdrop of Florence or Rome, which – however empty – still keep their fascination intact. What does a running body perform in public anyway? Let’s rephrase: what does a running body ask via its presence in public? There’s a message on the flag, sure, but also the body in public can be ‘the message’ placed in a wider context – that is, the city in its given circumstances.

Actually, kinkaleri are intrigued by the very ambiguity of this gesture: is it an advertising campaign, a political demonstration, a delirious act or a purely artistic project? The very significance of this ambiguity lies in ‘what bodies can do with words’ – the performativity of language mixed with the performativity of the body in public. Just as the runner/performer crosses the city carrying the flag, so the body crosses language, participating in a relay of meanings. In a moment that ‘our world’ has lost its consistency, we are invited to ask again: ‘is it our world?’ and more specifically, could a performance help us trace a possible answer?


Blue Quote Mark

We all know that the emancipatory role of art has few if any possibilities left

Blue Quote Mark

We all know that the emancipatory role of art has few if any possibilities left. As with every institution which has withdrawn from its reformative power into a more entrepreneurial endeavour, one might wonder, what difference does it make to publicly problematise if not provoke passers-by with asking: ‘is it my world?’ Isn’t it just irony in reverse – art being exposed to its limits and failing to respond critically to its incessant commodification?

kinkaleri don’t want to be didactic, pointing dogmatically in this or that direction. They think of the moment in terms of possibilities, and work on actualising what the moment has to offer. If the runners/performers have limited power, in terms of what can be achieved in this performance, their presence could still remind us that the power of art lies in its non-power; in a revolutionary irony the simplicity of this performance allowed for the unexpected and the awkward to appear publicly without the ambition of a lasting effect. In our devastating reality, even if things are not so accessible and possibilities may not always yield something fruitful, kinkaleri playfully urge us to run, just as they say, to find a way to return to this earth.

What the runners/performers can achieve in this project may be limited, but their presence still reminds us that the power of art lies in its non-power. In a revolutionary irony, the simplicity of this performance allowed for the unexpected and the awkward to appear in public, without the ambition of a lasting effect. In our devastating current reality, where access to change is restricted and possibilities may not yield fruit, kinkaleri playfully urge us to run, as they say, to find a way to return to this world. 


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‘is it my world’ will run in Munich, Germany, on 24 October.
Details here (English) or here (German)

For more on kinkaleri, visit www.kinkaleri.it

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