How to listen to the here and now? Metamorphoses of the reflexive body

Programme text on Beweeging 8, 'Still life - Beleefde stilte'

Programme note 1 Oct 2000English

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Contextual note
This programme text was commissioned by De Beweeging in Antwerp on the occasion of 'Still Life - Beleefde stilte' in October 2000.

Under the title of "Still life - experienced silence", Beweeging 8 is looking for experiences of the here and now, in flashes of intensified bodily conscience. This is an oxymoron, for how could the flesh be able to appropriate a mental activity? But on the other hand, why not. The body has never shown itself to be unequivocal, and today, more than ever, it occupies a paradoxical place. Reflection upon corporality is more popular than ever, while at the same time, the body has never been so estranged as today. In a world where Internet and the new media are omnipresent, and plastic surgery and genetic manipulation are fashionable, the body always appears mediated, an abstraction in technology and culture, in images, letters and numbers. Every representation is determined by decorum, by codes, for example from the art of painting or theatre. Representations of the human body can't escape from this fact.

Artists could reply: "Do we still have a place for the body in its physical directness today? However, this question shows great naivety, or rather arrogance, which can only result from thinking. Something like a zero point of the body, flesh that is totally present in itself, is not more than an idea, immaterial matter without human effort, introverted and untouchable. Therefore, the question concerning physical experiences, should always be a two-sided one, a search for the relation of the body with image and theatre, with space and time, with a spectator. That is to say, a search for a reflexive body, which is marked with bad faith in relation to the pure mind or the pure body, because the ambiguity and therefore the activity of the body, are at stake in a search for the here and now. How do the artists, who participate in Beweeging 8, understand these metamorphoses of the reflexive body themselves?

"The – and especially my own – body, I experience as a necessary evil. I would prefer not to have a body at all, and if I don't have a body anymore, it will be my ultimate performance. Till then, I am looking for transparency, a see-through body, a guide to other realities, which throw you back into the immediate present." With this sigh, Dominique Pollet articulates the above mentioned paradox. He wants to set himself free from his body, to become transparant, even immaterial, pliable and unassailable. At the same time, he realizes that his incapacity encloses the power of his work, because, in a strange way, he can be led to other realities, and participate in a here and now: "The body is present in a surrealistic way."

Pollet's training in Butoh puts a light on that strange tension between the body and an ideal world, a mental representation. Inner representations are the basis of Butohdance, as with Hisako Horikawa. "Last summer I pickled pilchards together with my father, who sells fish. Suddenly I strayed through his life, I grew dizzy as I got back into the old days. Now the pilchards are swimming like a hot breeze through my body, as if my perceptions grow into a tangible form." The image takes possession of the body, which, on its turn, sweats out the image. In this way, the image grows tangible through the body surface, it gets a material carrier, a tangible moment. Crushed in a violent way, the image becomes skin with breathing pores, out of an armour. Tiny openings in the body, which make the strange blending of expression and abstraction, of visualization and tactile capacity, susceptible to temporality.

The Butoh strategy is not that much different from what Cathie Caraker has in mind with "Body-Mind Centering". " I do research in the field of the vascular systems of the body (blood, lymph, brain- and nerve liquid, ...) to find access to a new particularity in my movement qualities and theatrical expressions." So she too, plays with a confusing proximity of body and image, although in a different direction, like a cartogram of internal body landscapes.

Désirée Delauney too, flies at representation, the demand that the body has to correspond with a picture. "My body is my home. I do have a body, but I am not a body, although I often think that I am my body.... I wish I could get closer to the master of my house, to find peace. But I take care of my body, because I can express myself through my body. On stage I am here, now and somewhere else at the same time." Delauney uses body deformations to tear apart the body image, the fiction that it corresponds with itself. At the same time, she attributes a new expressive application to it, although it lingers between likeliness and difference, and it makes you feel dizzy. How are we to understand this oscillation between body and image, this conceptual flexibility, which nevertheless leaves tangible traces?

It seems as if such a complex perception of the body has got the power to withdraw itself from the context, which is enforced by theatre, the force to transcend the representation. The contribution of the flesh (or of the skin for example) can suddenly become too big for representation, unspeakable. The struggle of the performer, who wants to weigh out the physical materiality against representation, shows the activity of the body and can therefore wipe out the rules of image and theatre. Because activity means temporality, which, on its turn, also means instability, against which the image has no defence. For the theatre, only a skeleton is left, from the representation there only remains a sheer experience. The body makes it susceptible for the presence of the here and now.

Theatre and representation are wiped out by time. The body remains silent, because it is deprived of language, readability and expression. But in any case, what remains is no introverted quality, but rather a "growing still", a "being passive". Movements are postponed, in order to be able to listen better. To wait and to anticipate. The movement has grown still, but the silence is moved. The body rediscovers its intuitions and sensitivities in its physical, almost organic qualities. The senses are sharpened, connected to each other. The body finds itself back, exactly on the moment it returns to itself.

Angela Köhnlein aptly describes the metamorphosis. "I am interested in a complex body, which is suitable for changes, but also for stability at every moment. Besides, the body must be able to move its different parts independently from each other (for example different paces from head, torso and legs), a capability which it can require by training. In this way, the mind cannot limit the body too easily, to the usual forms of expression. On the other hand, the mind is able to "unhurry", it is no longer asked to comprehend all the information, which is constantly presented to the body. The mind becomes only a passionate witness, and mental choices can be replaced by clear instincts."

Because of the disappearance of the image, of its penetrability, the body gets a new openness, a susceptibility to life and liveliness, to experiences. It is ready to unfurl, to open itself like a flower. For a physical presence here and now, always implies involvement. There is a kind of fascination for the unknown, a physical sensitivity for what happens around. After the wiping out of the image, the body wants to mark off itself again, to situate itself in space and time. So concentration and opening succeed. This cycle is repeating itself over and over again, performed by the body, here and now. When the body withdraws and stops moving, time is not standing still. In the present, all time flows together, a passage that makes the body shimmering and alive.

"By showing the gaps in the way of thinking and the choreography, I kind of disappear a little. In this way, I make room for all gestures that can be made and can be lost. I make room for ineffectiveness, the reservoir of everything that has remained uncertain. Gestures without a story." The amnesia Emilie De Vlam is talking about concerns the own identity, qualities of representation and meaning, which are connected with her body. By postponing those qualities, she creates room, a dynamic that is called MA in Japan. At the same time a gap and the creation of room, the movement of the creation itself, the installing of a threshold, which marks off new possibilities.

Time also asks for room, and a lot of time asks for a lot of room. When Kris Maria-Karel lies unmovable at one and the same place for hours and hours, it is because "real time is not important. Clocks don't interest me, but the eternity of time does." Maria-Karel understands real time as time that is arrogated and structured by the human being. This time has to make room for the eternity of the here and now, an excessive amount of time, which can be felt in a flash. And it is precisely the reflexive body, which, in its functioning, is susceptible to this supreme moment.

The performer knows his body, he knows how to create time and space. He describes a cycle of withdrawal and involvement, through his physical presence. But what to think of the spectator? Does he share in the same intensified physical consciousness, the same sensitivity for the here and now?

"I perform with my back turned to the audience, to eliminate the banal influence of the expression of the face and look. At the same time, I orientate myself in the same direction as the spectator, which makes it easier to share something, in particular observing and listening." Rob List sees the role of the body in the perception as a basis for sensitivity towards space and time. He also describes a transformation. Not only does he avoid the eye as an expressive object, but he also avoids the supremacy of sight, which, as a sense, is closely connected to the brain, to thinking. His eye is a listening eye, an eye that awaits what and if there will happen. Because, in the end, it is not important anymore what happens, it is important that happens.

So the presence is that strong, that the spectator is enforced to look, or rather, to listen with the eye. Thinking wallows in the body, and becomes passive. The reception too, withdraws and in its turn enters into a new pact: a pact between the senses, like a synaesthesia. Body and perception are on the same wavelength in flashes of esthetical pleasure, they make an analogue movement. Together with a spectator, still life is also an experienced silence.