Arts on the edge of moving

Program text on 'No One is Watching' by Meg Stuart and Damaged Goods

Programme note 5 Aug 1995English

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Contextual note
André Lepecki was dramaturg for the production No One one is Watching. This program text came out on the occasion of the première on August 5, 1995, at the Sommertheaterfestival in Hamburg.

Arts degenerates as it approaches the condition of theater”(Michael Fried)

The moment performance and dance enter the realm of the visual arts, art becomes invaded by disappearance. It can start to comment on memory, amnesia and historicity. Hence, by acknowledging its perennial nature, and the perennial nature of living, the visual arts as a whole must let themselves become “degenerated” (to use Fried’s expression) by performance’s essence – the one of being always already vanishing. Like Mapplethorpe’s self-portraits; like Joseph Beuys’ deteriorating objects covered with fat or fur, painted in blood; like the sad repetitive machines of Rebecca Horn; or like Iana Sterbac’s Meat Dress decaying in some museum.

So, the interesting question to ask is what lies behind this need for a certain kind of “degeneration” in the visual arts, a degeneration seen as properly theatrical? I would suggest that this “staging” in the visual, this call for the performative in art, emerges precisely (and not as paradoxically as it may sound first), as a political need to underline the political implications of art’s vanishing nature. Arts should poke our lazy eyes, trained to be blind, it should gesture towards the absent in the portrayed, that which is left out, in between. Art should initiate a certain form of movement; it should be inhabited by movement and by its own death.

Since the first presentations of Disfigure Study (1991) in Europe, dance critics have been unanimous in associating the work of Meg Stuart with that of visual artists. Francis Bacon was the main reference for this work. In No Longer Readymade (1993), the ironic references to Duchamp, and somehow to Rauchenberg’s found-objects were emphasized in an essay by Rudi Laermans. The work of Meg Stuart then moved on to a more close relationship with the world of the visual arts in 1994, with her first collaboration with a visual artist in 1994, with her first collaboration with a visual artist in the production Swallow My Yellow Smile for the Deutsche Oper Berlin. Still in 1994, she created a dance installation for the project This is the Show and the Show is Many Things, curated by Bart Debaere at the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst in Gent, Belgium. In 1995, Meg Stuart continued this approach between the dance and the visual arts with No One is Watching with set design and objects by visual artist Lawrence Carroll.

In 1994 Meg Stuart named her company Damaged Goods. In which ways Stuart’s “damaged” comments on Fried’s “degenerated” art?

Meg Stuart’s continuous studies in the approach of the dance to the condition of the visual arts constitute the prolongation of her choreographic concerns on two fundamental areas of postmodern art: the performative implications of a rhetoric of the pose and the political implications of an aesthetics of defacement. In both, Meg Stuart emphasizes the choreographic possibilities and the ethical consequences of tracing and of the inscription of history onto the body of choreography. In other words, of how choreography can approach the problem of memory as movement. This ongoing research is truly challenging and important in the scenario of contemporary performing and visual arts. Its implications on a politics of the gaze are visible by the inscription of time in Meg Stuart’s carefully built and precise movements, and by her invocation of the audience in her work. Meg Stuart’s choreographies continuously poke our lazy eyes, trained to a careful, hygienic blindness.

I believe these still non-existent spaces for being that dance performs, are those explored and inhabited by Meg Stuart’s choreographic works, where, as she says, “Life happens in between”. The space-in-between is but that cognitive gap inhabited by gestures that can exist only as a trace; it is the space of difference, and of memory. It is in this sense that Meg Stuart’s work is unique – it is not just another well crafted form of dance-theater, but rather a most radical form of choreographing. One critic wrote on the work of Meg Stuart that her “choreographic skill lies in the love for detail and in the victory over time”. This hyperbolic inscription of time in the choreographic material and this extreme attention that Meg Stuart pays to the most minimal gesture, attitude, and posture is but her claim of the highly choreographic essence of the rhetoric of the pose. Thus Meg Stuart creates her time. A time as radical as touching what will no longer be there.

The unanimous critical remark that the work of Meg Stuart is highly related and informed by the visual arts can only happen in a historical context where the visual arts themselves have been already “damaged” by the power of the theatrical. If Meg Stuart’s work approaches the work of the visual artist it is because art had already entered the realm of performance, of historicity, of time passing, of the power of the ephemeral. To the question is her work still dance then ? My answer is – it is only dance, and cannot be anything else.