Discomfort has the ability to undo and this undoing is essential to its critical potential. If we see performance-making as a critical practice, then we should definitely abandon any desire of sitting back and relaxing in a theatre – or in any other designated space where performance might happen – to relish discomfort.
The Benefactor – with a slight but emphatic stress on actor – is a lecture performance by the Utrechtbased artist Julian Hetzel, that makes us squirm with discomfort. The artist here is an actor in a double sense: he persuasively performs his line of thought, while exploring how he can become an autonomous actor despite his dependency on institutional structures (art schools, art institutions) that provide him with the education and support needed to develop and achieve success.
The performance gradually undoes the problematic rhetoric of support and development: it draws on Julian Hetzel’s personal situation as an ‘emerging artist’ participating in the Dasarts m.a. programme in amsterdam (at the time of its creation in 2011) and connects this micro level to the larger scale challenges of budget cuts and austerity politics in the Netherlands, to then take a surprising turn and link cultural politics with the policies of development aid, inspired by a public statement from the Dutch right-wing politician frits bolkestein who claimed: ‘We cannot cut arts funding. rather, we should raise its budget. but to pay for the arts’ budget, we should first cut back on development aid!’
This is the point where julian hetzel’s line of thought triggers the most discomfort: art meets the social to open up the ethical dilemma of ‘development cooperation’. this is the most recent term used in Dutch foreign policy as a more eye-level substitute for development aid, but it can also be linked to the grant-giving practices and support structures of art schools and institutions. the patronising character of these relations might be obscured, but nevertheless they continue to define power dynamics between the supporters and the supported, in an artistic and in a global, neo-colonial context. controversially, instead of closing the gap of inequality, it is being constantly capitalised on – and this is the strategy that the artist himself also adopts.
Julian Hetzel provides sharp insight by making a speculative proposal that chooses to parasitise the system and reproduce its perversity, in order to distance itself from it and to create a time and space for intelligent discomfort. Intelligent discomfort, as art historian and critic Claire Bishop says 1 , has to stimulate ideas, thoughts, feelings – exactly what julian hetzel does with The Benefactor.
Enjoy discomfort is an invitation to discover the work of Julian Hetzel, paraphrasing Enjoy Poverty by Dutch visual artist renzo martens 2, but appealing to ‘white guilt’,Western audiences and the dilemma of self-criticism and self-emancipation.
1 Claire Bishop and Julia Bryan-Wilson: Intelligent Discomfort, http://moussemagazine.it/articolo.mm?id=885