Twice this week I’ve been asked to give wishes, the first a list of fifteen for a magazine, and the second last night at the Forsythe Company‘s four hour performance Human Writes. This is the third time I’ve seen the company since the epiphany of In the Middle, Artifact, and Limb’s Theorem in 1994 that made me give up everything to dance, and these three occasions are absolutely the best art I have seen, but last night was especially poignant, as anyone who is familiar with the tribulations Eleanor Roosevelt and John Peters Humphrey endured to see the Universal Declaration of Human Rights become real.
There is a gaping absence of humanity and responsibility, of the kind of necessary empathy that allows such a declaration to exist in the current world leaders, including the United Nations. Without such a leadership, others are beholden to make a difference, effectively to make the failure of leadership irrelevant and certainly that obligation falls upon artists. It is also self-evident that the jingoistic hubris of economics and the market to save the world, and bring freedom is worth nothing, as is any act of the world’s nations which do not come from the spirit and the letter of the Declaration.
“Human Writes” parallels the arduous history of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). The work stages an allegory of the UNDH’s contentious origins, persistent contradictions, and the continuing obstacles to its implementation. The performers have been given the task of writing language from various translations of the UNDH. The inscription of the UNDH undertaken in “Human Writes” is subject, however, to one overriding rule: the act of writing must be accompanied by a parallel inhibition of that effort. No stroke or character may be directly accomplished. The performers will thus be compelled to resort to strategies of indirection. Any and every mark that contributes to the formation of a single letter must be the result of physical restraint, encumbrance or resistance. To take a phrase from Jean-François Lyotard, we might say that these limit-rules force a recognition that “humankind continues to be inhabited by the inhuman”.
“Human Writes” is, in part, an effort to explore the uses of choreographic concepts as a tool for participatory human rights education. During the course of the evening, the performers will enlist the assistance of the audience. We encourage you to join them in their work. In staging a collaboration between performers and audience, “Human Writes” seeks to engage both the performers and their audience-participants to reflect on the roles of art in building a culture of human rights, and to experience the difficulties of “righting” human wrongs in a world in which we human beings have yet to become fully human.
We must (il faut) more than ever stand on the side of human rights. We need (il faut) human rights. We are in need of them and they are in need, for there is always a lack, a shortfall, a falling short, an insufficiency, human rights are never sufficient.