Vita Activa 2013 with Daniel Linehan & Michael Helland

Vita Activa
Created in collaboration with Daniel Linehan and with support from Anneleen Keppens

deSingel (Antwerp) January 12, 2013
Opéra de Lille at Maison Folie Wazemmes (Lille) February 8, 2014
Vooruit (Ghent) December 3, 2014
STUK (Leuven) September 24, 2015
STUK (Leuven) November 2023 – SPECIAL EDITION, stay tuned for updates!

For Vita Activa, Michael Helland and Daniel Linehan collaborate to lead a week-long workshop with 40 unemployed people, concluding with a stage presentation. The workshop creates a space for people to exchange one hour’s worth of time for one hour’s worth of time, whatever that time might be. Their collective experience is recounted in a performance which highlights the network that emerges and sheds light onto the different values that are implied and embodied by these different types of temporal exchanges. The title Vita Activa comes from Hannah Arendt, who distinguished three types of activities that make up the “active life”: labor (repetitive production), work (singular creation), and action (speech and politics). This project draws on all three types of activities, while blurring the boundaries between them.

The workshop is based on the concept of a time bank, an alternative model of economic exchange which has emerged sporadically in various localities during the last two centuries. Each participant in the workshop offers one hour of time to another individual. The possibilities of what happens during this hour are endless: one might give a massage, mend some clothing, sweep and mop an apartment, babysit, write an essay, write a song, take a walk and have a conversation, exchange ideas, teach a skill, share resources in order to become informed about a relevant issue, etc. Each participant gives an hour to someone and receives an hour from someone else. However, there is no direct reciprocation; instead there is a network of relations that creates indirect connections among the whole group. These relations are recounted during the performance in the form of “speech deeds,” events in which communication becomes a form of action and action becomes a form of communication.

Why work with unemployed people? It’s simple really. Those involved fulfill the basic criterion of being available to participate during the week. Perhaps there is something wrong with the construction of “employed” and “unemployed,” which implies that the unemployed are lacking a positive attribute. They are defined by a negation, as if employment is the basic, positive condition of participating in an active life. But what if we define the unemployed individual in a positive light: as an “available” person? A “potentiality-endowed” person? An “activated” person? Someone who can participate in the vita activa, while free from the constaints of a regimented schedule… This is not to belittle the plights of unemployed people who are struggling to make ends meet; it is to question a system that creates such a class of people and defines this class negatively, through what the individuals lack rather than through their potentialities.