In probability theory, the event is the potential for something to happen, distinguished from the occurrence which is an actual happening (Intelligent Systems Lab, 2020). In general terms an event is a spatio-temporal phenomenon, a singularity, something that deviates from the norm. To create an event is to set something apart from the general flux of social conditions. The combination of these different usages of the term results in a charged concept with applications from mathematics to philosophy, from statistics to pedagogy to aesthetics. As a political concept, event is a name given to the potential for something to happen, a possibility to be seized, a productive suspension of the usual. Quoting Alain Badiou, Glenn Loughran argues that ‘an event is not the affirmation of “what already exists” in the order of social reproduction . . . but rather a proposition for the future’ (2020: PG NO?). What Loughran refers to as ‘the evental site’ (ibid..) is not outside of the social order, but ‘names a formal gap . . . a void internal to the situation’ (ibid.), a site from which ‘a radical new’ (ibid.) may emerge.
Dimitris Papadopoulos, Niamh Stephenson and Vassilis Tsianos are critical of this idea of the event. Because the event ‘is never in the present’ (Papadopoulos et al., 2008: xii), but always ‘designated . . . in retrospect or anticipated as a future possibility’ (ibid.), it works against the social transformation that arises in ‘the potence of the present that is made of people’s everyday practices’ (ibid.). The event, they suggest, is an avant-garde notion. However, the present moment is not unaffected by the brutalising effects of capitalist time that shape everyday practices, with alienating and distorting effects. Fissures exist in the temporal conditions of capitalism, which, according to Henri Lefebvre, serve as a basis for the construction of a different kind of time-space. Lefebvre identifies these fissures as ‘moments’:
Lefebvre’s notions of “moment” (in close dialogue with Debord’s more spatial “situation”) and “event” highlight temporalities which conflict with linear repetitive time either within the residualized habits of daily life or in intense periods of political struggle (Goonewardena et al., 2008: 30).
Brian Holmes articulates another concept of the event that is productive in relation to struggle. For Holmes, ‘eventwork’ (2012) is a combination of critical and constructive action that derives its force from ‘perceptual, analytic, and expressive collaboration, which lends an affective charge to the interpretation of a real-world situation’ (Holmes, 2012). The evental is mobilised in relation to a social order that is oppressive on many levels and must be addressed as such, not only at the level of everyday practice.
Associated with the political concept of the event is an idea of rupture, an idea that is very significant in Jacques Rancière’s politics of ‘the distribution of the sensible’ (2004). Distribution of the sensible denotes the field of common experience, shaped by an inherently unjust ‘system of divisions and boundaries’ (Rockhill, 2004: 1) that he describes as ‘the police order’ (2004: 3). In this model, the event is an unprecedented, immanent, transformative undoing and reconfiguration of the social order. However, Rancière’s idea of a social order that conceals an invisibilised, underpinning, chaotic multiplicity may be anachronistic. Chaotic multiplicity has become a defining characteristic of the current social order, not its critical shadow, as a result of extreme deregulation, the free-for-all of social media and the psychological and physical impacts of climate change, which may be understood to have eventalised everyday experience.
Antoni Negri reads current socio-political conditions as a ‘void between that which is finished and that which still has to begin’ (Negri, interviewed by Gielen and Lavaert, 2018). The void, as argued by Loughran, is typically an ‘evental site’ (Loughran, 2020: PG NO?). Part of the work of this research has been to consider how those disparate perspectives can productively co-exist, and how aesthetic work might navigate their contradictions vis-à-vis the project of the Commons. An influential idea in the research has been that of ‘the aesthetic event’ as described by Yepes (2016: 124), discussed in relation to the Bogota-based group Mapa Teatro (Mapa Teatro, 2021). Mapa Teatro describe themselves as
. . . an artists’ laboratory dedicated to trans-disciplinary creation . . . a propitious space for transgressing - geographic, linguistic, artistic – boundaries, and for staging local and global issues through various “thought-montage” operations (ibid.).
Their work is devised in collaboration with disparate groups and communities, creating conditions for those without political representation to speak truth to power. Active since 1984, Mapa Teatro describe their work as ‘the production of poetic-political events’ (ibid.), and employ the metaphor of cartography to describe the distribution of their work across different times, spaces and mediums. Based on his experience and reading of a specific work, C’undúa: Testigo de las Ruinas (2002 - 2013), Yepes articulates the aesthetic event as a constructed, spatio-temporal phenomenon that holds potential for ‘an eruption, an emergence, one that assembles disparate elements whereby a suspension of the relationality that configures the habitual world is put into place’ (Yepes, 2016: 125). The aesthetic event -
produces a complex relationality that creates its own time and space, assembling diverse elements: the materiality of the objects and actions presented, the discursive content of those objects, the affects and sensations they elicit, the discourses that frame the latter, as well as the discourses and frames that the spectator/participant brings to the above elements (Yepes, 2016: 125).
Through the aesthetic event, fragmented residues may aggregate and organise around matters of common interest, to produce complex relationalities with lasting effects. Objects (in the broad sense) may be produced that become available for transformative, everyday practice. It is important here to acknowledge the significance of the non-evental dimension of aesthetic work. The aesthetic non-event is the facet of practice that holds and supports different elements, it is an ongoing, unfolding potentiality that never arrives at a point of emergence but sustains the conditions for such a possibility. The aesthetic non-event mediates between the evental and the everyday in such a way that they do not operate as binaries but in a relationship of immanence.
Gielen, P. and Lavaert, S., 2018, The Salt of the Earth, On Commonism: An Interview with Antonio Negri, in Open! Platform for Art, Culture & The Public Domain, Available at https://onlineopen.org/the-salt-of-the-earth, [Accessed August 30th, 2020].
Goonewardena, K., Kipfer, S., Milgrom, R., and Schmid, C., (eds.), 2008, Introduction, Space, Difference, Everyday Life: Reading Henri Lefebvre, New York and London: Routledge, pp 1 – 23.
Holmes, B., 2012, EVENTWORK, The Fourfold Matrix of Contemporary Social Movements, Available at https://brianholmes.wordpress.com/2012/02/17/eventwork/ [Accessed August 23rd, 2020].
Intelligent Systems Lab, 2020, Probability spaces and random variables, Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DqGUwoz4d4M [Accessed 11th May 2021].
Loughran, G., 2020, Evental Research: After the Future of Work, in Aftermath. The Fall and Rise After the Event, Jagiellonian University Press.
Mapa Teatro, 2021, Mapa Teatro, Available at https://www.mapateatro.org/ [Accessed May 17th, 2021].
Papadopoulos, D., Niamh Stephenson and Vassilis Tsianos, Escape Routes: Control and Subversion in the Twenty-First Century, London: Pluto Press.
Rancière, J., 2004, The Politics of Aesthetics, trans. G. Rockhill, London, New York: Continuum.
Rockhill, G., 2004, in Rancière, J., 2004, The Politics of Aesthetics, trans. G. Rockhill, London, New York: Continuum.
Yepes, R., 2016, C’undúa: Activist Art in Downtown Bogotá, in Field, Journal of Socially Engaged Art Criticism, 3, Winter 2016, pp 123 – 149, Available at http://field-journal.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/FIELD-03-Yepes-Cundua.pdf [Accessed April 10th 2020].