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Testimonial by Patricia Couvet / conversation with Katya Ev

KE: Hi, Patricia!


PC: Hello!


KE: Patricia, you participated in my performance ‘Visitors of an Exhibition Space Are Suggested to ‘Do Nothing’. You are a curator based between Brussels and Berlin, and we have a commun interest for economies in arts. You are the visitor [of the performance] who stayed the longest, and you came on Sunday, when the compensation for ‘doing nothing’ is double. 


What was the reason for you to come and to take part in the performance? And what ‘doing nothing’ means for you?


PC: The reason why I came on Sunday is very pragmatic: I was working the whole week for my side job …and I was also thinking about this Sunday break. There was no relation with the compensation. While being on the way to come I was asking myself what it means to ‘do nothing’. I had a lot of questions what would be expected from me, what should I do or not do.


There is this Christian cultural thing, you have alway to do something and then you will be able to earn money and achieve a certain level in the society. And by reversing this logic “ I have to do something to get paid” you reverse this idea of value, it is about making valuable something that is normally is not - ‘doing nothing’ and giving the time […] And I think that giving the time was something I was really happy to give, because I was working every day this week, so giving my time on Sunday to ‘do nothing’ and just to keep this presence was important to me. 


If I am looking at the sky, if I am looking at my shoes, at the clock on the table where the host is, I am already doing something by focusing my attention towards an object. Then I was thinking “ok, I have this problem in my life, I have to solve this, this and this”. There was something with the body. Of course, you stay for a long time sitting and your body goes into an ‘off’ position, you are feeling that you are more relaxed, in a sleeping mode but being conscious.

The host was good was actually good for that because he helped me with the understanding in the beginning, relaxing the body and being able just to navigate through my thoughts without grasping a problematic.


I was alone with myself, and sometimes I was trying to catch the eyes of the host, exchange and maybe ask “am I doing right?”


When you work, when you do something, when you get paid to do something, you are in this active position when you produce something and you give the time to produce something, you sell your knowledge and skills. Your performance comes to the basis of what it means to give the time for something, to be present and to be at one moment totally dedicated to ‘doing nothing’. It’s not about selling your crafts, your power…


KE: But were you selling your presence then?


PC: But it’s nothing away of an exchange. The question of remuneration was more a reflective question than a direct exchange.


KE: Did you come with a defined pre-meditated idea of how long you are going to stay, for exemple, at least one hour, or did you come with an open mind that you stay as long as you can and you will decide spontaneously when you leave?


PC: I knew that at one time I had to go, but until that I could stay and it was more spontaneous. I was running from one project to another, from one side job to another. I knew that I could stay longer but then I had to run. I think I was conscious of the time because it’s the only way to see the time passing, because during the week when you run the you do not see the time passing. And of course, the space of the performance played a lot.The structure is imposing me to ‘do nothing’ so I have the chance to take it. 


My attitude on the chair was not affected by the contractual obligation. If would be in a different frame, I would not ask myself the same questions. Being paid for giving my time

… These are different activities that are part of being in a state of labour, and I would approach them totally different if I had enough money to live, to fight for living. If I am not able to survive with the money that I have I can not create. All these activities are connected together within the same economies of arts.


KE: Why is the state of ‘doing nothing’ is so important then, in opposition to the state of labour?


PC: To understand that the labour is not supposed to be the main activity, it is not supposed to take all your time. Labor comes from torture, it’s not a natural state of being, we are not supposed to work as much as we are. 


It helped me to dig into these questions of the work and of working and exchanging time and money. It gave the key for understanding certain things, and maybe the gift economy. There is this gift economy that the anthropologists discuss in ancient societies: when you give a gift you always have a contra-gift. This is something that you have with the contract: you are asking to ‘do nothing’ and ‘getting paid’ for that, that is the exchange. That is supposed to be in a same balance. And all contemporary societies are asking to flatter on the same balance, and I think the performance raises a lot of questions about that. I came on Sunday which is supposed to a be free day, so ‘working’ for a  double amount, that’s how the balance is gained. In this performance but also in your other performances you are giving the structures - which is a gift-, and also you are giving the confidence towards the people so that the people can make their process, they can hold your scores, it’s a very generous way of giving to people. I find this notion of a gift very important in the performance, in relation to the capitalist frame : I give the opportunity to ‘do nothing’ and take the space for that.


KE: What did you do with the money that you received, with €20,50?


PC: I decided to receive the payment via the bank transfer so that I could declare this money. I will use my independent status in France to declare that I gained €20,50 for ‘doing nothing’. I think that I spent this money in food, infilling my body because I was actually very tired so I just bought some food.