September 25th, 2015
by Hamish MacPherson
The Third Chamber is something that Gillie Kleiman and I created as an appendix to the House of Lords and the House of Commons in 2014. During each sitting (there have been three to date), members of the public can write to a Member of the Third Chamber (MTC) or they can volunteer to become an MTC and answer one of these letters. When the Third Chamber was hosted in Leeds by Ludus early this year, MTCs responded on a huge range of topics covering immigration, social awkwardness, park safety, Sep Blatter, and misogyny.
One thing that came up several times was the question of whether this this kind of exchange could have any effect. For example there was the sceptical vicar asking what the next step would be, and the person who told us they had wasted their time after they realised that their letter wasn’t going to be sent to the council.
Part of our explantation of the work, of why it might be worth taking part, is that an ordinary person might have a perspective or some information that a Member of Parliament wouldn’t. And in many cases the MTCs had just that – insights and experiences that were really relevant.
And something maybe happens in the performance of the two roles – citizen and MTC – that is different from writing between peers. The slight mimicry of the powerful politician through a gold cloak and high quality paper invites people to enjoy a position of responsibility.
But other times people respond from their own positions of ignorance, uncertainty or confusion, their replies offering a different sympathetic, emotional kind of understanding. And this starts to cast the relationship into something other than a reproduction of existing relationships with MPs for example. And aren’t these kinds of exchanges political too?
And the medium of the hand written letter is perhaps as important as the content.
Letters are wasteful. They take money and materials – papers, envelopes, stamps, ink. They take time – to buy materials, to write, to look up the spelling of words, to post. They take effort; to draft without invisible edits, to distil thoughts without the easy option of a corrective follow up. All this waste arguably side steps the logic of efficiency which drives capitalism. All this slowness forces a different, more considered way of thinking of sharing ideas.
Not so long after The Third Chamber was in Leeds I attended a rather polite anti-austerity march in London where I was reminded of Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi’s view on the value of protests: that the physical coming together of people who are otherwise separated and abstracted – the activation of the social body – is as important as achieving any stated objectives of the protest.
Now receiving a letter is not the same as physically being together with other people, close enough to touch. But nor is it the same as an email or a text. The material of a letter carries with it traces of a human being, the cross of a T, an illegible 4, a tired slanting loop of the last y. Political ideas begin and end with human beings and by reminding ourselves of that we can perhaps enact a politics that is built from particular relations.
But for all of it’s big ‘P’ political references, I’d like to think that The Third Chamber points to wider questions about how other artistic encounters exist as civic, social encounters. Such encounters are more likely to be thought about of in terms of the economic agendas that make them possible – in terms of international competitive cities, and creative industries and economic growth. But how might a performing arts festival for example be experienced or talked about in ways that don’t fit with these dominant discourses or perhaps even be at odds with them? For example in terms of things like intimacy and care which offer an alternative basis for politics.
I’m now looking forward to thinking these questions and lots more on 26 September at Ludus Thinks: Festival Futures. The Third Chamber will be sitting again too.
Hamish MacPherson September 2015