Gaze is a Gap is a Ghost

Self-interview with Daniel Linehan

Programme note 19 Oct 2012

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Contextual note
This text was published as programme notes to Daniel Linehan's 'Gaze is a Gap is a Ghost', which premiered on 19 October 2012 at deSingel in Antwerp (Belgium).

I know that you hate to be asked the question what is this piece about, but can you tell me some of the concerns of Gaze is a Gap is a Ghost?

That sounds suspiciously like the same question, but let me try to answer. The central theme that the piece seems to be concerned with keeps slipping away. Early in the planning stages, I wrote something about how the piece would give the audience an imaginative empathetic visual connection with the dancers, giving the viewer the chance to see through the eyes of the dancers. Of course I quickly realized that this was impossible, that you can't really see the image that the dancer is seeing. The most you can do is see an image that a camera has recorded. Even in the future, when someone develops special contact lenses that record a high-definition image of your whole field of vision, it won't be the same as seeing what another person sees. You can never really see through someone else's eyes. You never know what they see when they look at an object. We might be able to give it the same name—“coin,” “skull,” “Salka Ardal Rosengren”—but we won't see the same thing.

But surely you and I would see the same thing, I mean, me being you and all.

Well, I'm becoming less sure of that. The first obvious thing I realized is that you can't really knowwhat someone else is seeing when they look at something. Then, the less obvious thing I'm now realizing is that I can't even see through my own eyes. I can't even capture my own perspective, let alone the perspective of someone else.

What do you mean by that exactly?

Well, to be perfectly practical about it, if you make a recording and then look back at it, there will be some things that the camera missed, because its field-of-vision is framed, it lacks peripheral vision. But you will also notice some things that the camera sees that you didn't notice because your attention was elsewhere. So the camera captures both more and less than what you see. But I also mean that there is something that feels foreign about the gaze. It was trained and acquired its habits long before you could consciously do anything about it. Don't you have the feeling that it doesn't fully belong to you? Like it could float away from you at any moment...


I don't know... It always stays with me. I feel like I'm stuck to my gaze, and it's stuck to me, and I can't escape it.

I see what you mean. Maybe sometimes the gaze can feel fluid and wandering, and sometimes it gives a feeling a claustrophobia, like you're stuck inside it. I mean, it can be both a trap and a means of escape. In this piece, it tends to be more of a trap, and that's probably because they are not dancing with a living gaze that can adapt, but instead with fixed captured footage. Throughout the course of the piece, the dancers keep trying to find ways to escape from this unyielding structure, or at least find ways of playing with it and softening its influence.


Do they succeed?

Well, I don't think it's a matter of success or failure. They certainly can't fully escape from the gaze.

So then they are always stuck to it.

This is also impossible. They can't fully escape it, but also they can't fully attach themselves to it. There are always tiny discrepancies between the timing of what they do and the timing of the video recording. So they have to find their way within a zone between absolute escape from the structure and absolute synchronicity with it.

They have to find their way between two zones of impossibility, and so they are stuck in the realm of the possible.

That sounds so sad; I hope that's not completely true.


Tell me more about your interest in impossibility.

Well, I'm interested in pushing the range of the possible, for the dancers to try to imagine how to do something which might not seem possible in the system that they're inside of. But it's important to keep the rules of the system very strict, to make many things stay impossible, so that there is a real friction between the system and the attempts to push its boundaries.

In some ways, it's important to reaffirm what's impossible, and not be fooled into thinking that it is possible. The danger would be if we created too strong of an illusion, if people really began to believe that they could see from the dancer's perspective. It would be a big problem if we fooled the audience into thinking that it is possible to see from the perspective of the other. So we found ways of forcing a separation between the dancer and her recorded perspective. It is necessary to affirm the essential fissure that separates one perspective from another.


I understand why you would want to reaffirm what's impossible, but on the other hand, it doesn't sound very interesting to aim only for the possible and then achieve it.

No, right, exactly. Unless you're aiming for the impossible, there's no reason to be doing what you're doing. Aiming for it even while you still affirm its impossibility. What I find most interesting is the gap between the ideal and what is achieved, all of the mistakes and imperfections that don't meet the ideal. This is where the human dimension comes out most strongly.


You've talked about this before.

Yes, I think this subject comes up often in my work. I try to push the performer toward the technological, not in order to make them less human, but to try to get at the essence of the divide between the human and the technological.