Materials, dialogues and observations on proximity, walking about Connexive #1: Vera Mantero

Sarma 1 Feb 2004English

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Contextual note
This essay was commisioned by Vooruit, written in January and February 2004 during the event Connexive #1, were Jeroen Peeters was writer in residence, and first published on Sarma at the same time. Special thanks to Myriam Van Imschoot and Martin Hargreaves for their editorial comments.

From January 17 until February 5, 2004, Arts centre Vooruit (Ghent, Belgium) organised the project Connexive #1: Vera Mantero. An invitation to be a writer in residence gave me the opportunity to attend all the events that took place, including performances and concerts, master classes and seminars, two weeks of workshops, informal showings and exchange in between. Since the project was too large to document exhaustively and since there was no central theme which was reflected upon, I had to define a particular way to organise my writing, which would combine insights in the project with my own trajectory of connections. I assigned myself to work on 'proximity', a notion where several research themes that interest me might find a common ground. If one engages in a critique of vision and visuality, which entails a deconstruction of distance as basis for criticism, is there a possibility to formulate its reverse 'proximity' in positive terms? This is a large question on the border of art and cultural criticism, which involves issues of the body and the hierarchy of the senses, the participation of an art critic in artistic projects, an ecological approach of cultural criticism, etcetera. What follows is a collection of materials, dialogues and observations, written during and right after Connexive #1, which aim to define some of the questions brought up by the term 'proximity'. Rather than formulating a conclusive theory, preference is given to an exploration of the theme through artistic praxis. Approached sideways as a subject, Connexive #1 is only fragmentarily described but operates as an inevitable ground for reflection in this text.


Note on the proximity of resounding bodies

In the Connexive #1 lounge, which housed a small library and video materials linked with Vera Mantero's work, the integral film works of the Portuguese cinematographer João César Monteiro were available on DVD. Watching his O Último Mergulho (The Last Dive), some motives came up that were resonant in Vera Mantero's workshop during the first week. The story is rather simple, the way Monteiro directs it a clear but intricate choreography of the senses and their physical and cultural connotations. The young Samuel is sitting at the canal when an older man approaches. The latter projects his own will to make a last dive onto the adolescent, tells him that he is too young to die and proposes to him that he should meet his daughter Esperança, to get acquainted with 'real life'. She appears to be a dumb prostitute, Samuel is a taciturn type. Their relationship is interesting, as it is not defined by speech, but by silence. What becomes audible is a complicity provoked by sound or the absence of sound. What becomes visible is the proximity of their bodies, which doesn't quite go into touch or contiguity yet, nor is their distance large enough to enter the visual realm of the gaze.

The main part of the movie is void of dialogue, almost nothing happens, but the image of the silent couple, and thus the film image as such, is overflowing with environmental noise. The complicity of two silent persons thus stretches into an audible co-presence with the world, and more precisely with the social interactions in a city. Desire haunts the scene solely in auditory ways: the dirty songs of the father, the sounds of a couple who have sex. The image and the story are perpetually suspended, in order to keep up the choreography of bodies in proximity, with sound as their trace and seal. Whether Samuel and Esperança have sex or touch intimately, you don't know. In reverse, Monteiro always removes the distance or right angle required to develop a visual perspective, and thereby can somehow prevent the scene from obscenity.

In the second part, it is through theatre that the plan can shift: Salome's dance provides a pretext for the visualisation of male desire. When the dumb prostitute performs the second dance, Monteiro omits the music to underscore the importance of vision. After Esperança unveiled her body on stage, Samuel (and the spectator) is for the first time able to watch her naked. This visual relation allows the couple finally to have sex and turn distance into contact. Afterwards they continue their life in proximity of bodies, this time in paradise.

The proximity of bodies, constituted and sealed by the sound they produce, turned up in the very first exercise of Mantero's workshop on Monday January 19. It concerned an awakening exercise in which four people envelope a fifth, check the breathing, rhythm and sound of that body, force up the bodily pressure, and eventually try to prevent the fifth body from escaping out of the envelope. Allowance is a keyword in this exercise, which entails the free use of the voice and bodily sounds: breathing, sighing, laughter, singing, shouting, moaning and so on. As distant observer, retired in a sofa in the reading corner of the studio, I couldn't relate visually to the exercise whatsoever, but realised at once that I was part of it via the body sounds floating through the space. The sound provoked a proximity of my listening body with the dancers elsewhere in the studio. Thereby the sounds were not solely an index of the bodies, but also of the very space in between us and of an inevitable bodily complicity. That physical aspect of sound is important: the way sound or vibrating air is received by the eardrums is through touch. Sound thus produces a chain of contiguity, forges a particular proximity of resonant bodies.

This trope kept recurring with different exercises throughout Mantero's workshop. In the 'zealous silence' of people doing free writing, paying attention to environmental noise, breathing bodies on the floor and pens scribbling onto paper. In an improvisation with closed (!) eyes, mumbling and singing together. One can add also laughter as a particular figure that forces proximity, where both a visceral and a playful aspect are intertwined. In the second week of work, already after two days the issue was stretched to its limit in the workshop of Benoît Lachambre. The exercises dealt with the redistribution of bodily energy, the softening of the eyes as an extra limb, the mouth and the tubes as guiding organs. Visceral sounds were as much an outer trace of this investigation as the 'regressive' movement material. Since exposure was a main field of research in there, it entails the intimacy and even privacy of the bodywork, which doesn't quite allow observers. Interestingly enough, there happened to be no space to step out of an improvisation, to withdraw oneself temporarily from a task, as the balance between performers and observers would suddenly tilt. This imbalance provoked a discussion on Tuesday 27th about voyeurism and obscenity, but also demanded the conceptualisation of the task on that very point in order to develop it further. What would happen if one used the whole space in exercises, including the reading corner from where people mostly watched? How could the bodily research instigated by an internal geography of energy be transposed to pedestrian movements, everyday actions and eventually observation modes?

(Note: for an extensive description of the exercises in Mantero's workshop, see Jeroen Peeters, 'Places of allowance: untwining mind and body in writing, gestures and speech. Notes to Vera Mantero's workshop Thought, poetry and the body in action, ImPulsTanz Vienna 2002', August 2002,, which documents a similar workshop. For a more detailed treatment of Lachambre's workshop, see below in the dialogue with Lachambre.)


Dialogue with Lilia Mestre on slow motion

Her bodywork made everything transparent. She saw and thought clearly, which might only mean there was little that needed seeing and not a lot to think about. But maybe it went deeper, the poses she assumed and held for prolonged periods, the gyrate exaggerations, the snake shapes and flower bends, the prayerful spans of systematic breathing, life lived irreducibly as sheer respiration. First breathe, then pant, then gasp. It made her go taut and saucer-eyed, arteries flaring in her neck, these hours of breathing so urgent and absurd that she came out the other end in a kind of pristine light, feeling what it means to be alive.
She began to work naked in a cold room. She did her crossovers on the bare floor, and her pelvic stretches, which were mockingly erotic and erotic both, and her slow-motion repetitions of everyday gestures, checking the time on your wrist or turning to hail a cab, actions quoted by rote in another conceptual frame, many times over and now slower and over, with your mouth open in astonishment and your eyes shut tight against the intensity of passing awareness.
(Don DeLillo, The Body Artist, 2001)

On Tuesday January 20, Lilia Mestre gave a Connexive #1 master class on slow motion. After a warm up with strong physical and dynamic exercises such as running, the participants had a heightened perception and feeling of their bodies. The first task was to form a cluster of bodies, a huge ball with all the participants, and subsequently move out of it in slow motion. Simultaneously, the dancers would call out their names and introduce themselves briefly. The slow motion task made several participants' bodies block, they transformed into statues, which was not quite what Mestre was after, rather the opposite. Details and micro-movements could eventually emerge and be enhanced through exercises with extreme expressions.

Mestre explains what fascinates her in slow motion as a choreographic tool: "It has the effect of a zoom. You can really see everything that is going on, all kinds of details and micro-movements. Furthermore it allows you to dissociate different levels of consciousness of the body, of intention and awareness. Each movement consists of elements you're mostly not aware of, slow motion creates the opportunity to dig exactly in these places. In a workshop situation you have the possibility to observe, to look at each other, which is an effective way to learn about movement skills. Still, it is an extreme condition for the body that is not so easy to execute. It can quickly lead to extreme movements, bodies out of co-ordination, like people walking with their feet very high up. Slow motion entails a certain degree of artificiality, but my interest is to get as close as possible to the normal movement, to produce an exact copy, which is only slowed down. A second element concerns time. Slow motion functions as a time stop, a break, a suspension, almost as a photograph. One second of movement stretched out as if it could last forever. Slow motion as a way of losing time. In a rather short amount of time, a few minutes, everything becomes visible."

Less is more? "Minimal movement for maximal expression," Mestre calls it, "although it piles up fast when you are intensely aware of your body. Movement grows so detailed that it almost returns to nothing." Precisely on that point, slow motion allows for the instigation of a different hierarchy in the movement. "The slow movement bursts with awareness, so that is becomes possible to touch emotion. You can slip inside the emotion and at once be able to express it, to bring it about. Hierarchy is indeed obliterated at some point: you devote the same importance to the particular movement of your toes as to the intensity of your emotion. At the moment of expression though, you inevitably make a choice: you can emphasise the emotional states or the physical awareness. Thereby you pay attention to small elements, like picking a single word out of a phrase. If I had to choose the moment of slow motion right now, what would I choose to communicate?"

The extreme reality of the moment, the hyperconsciousness of movement and intention involve the environment, which leads us to Mestre's interest in the analysis of social behaviour. "The execution of common movements in an everyday environment or a normal social space provokes particular questions," knows Mestre. "What are the rules for social behaviour? Why are they like this and not like that? Slow motion thus guides you also into an awareness of being, of things and actions that you do all the time without realising it anymore. Our world is overflowing with information, everything goes so fast that there is no time to hold. It makes us exclude many things from our lives as unimportant. At the same time, they are there, as everything is already there, also the creation of movement. My interest is to develop channels to make things come out, but in a different way, with a heightened consciousness. To enable the recognition of certain emotions and movements that are all too familiar. To enable an identification of yourself with these forms. That is another social issue: as a performer, I am not very different from you as a spectator, so I would choose themes and relations that allow for identification. And in the end, slow motion is a tool available for all of us, it doesn't require virtuoso technical skills."


Dialogue with Lisa Nelson on communication with objects

However, many of the most learned and wise adhere to the new scheme of expressing themselves by things; which has only this inconvenience attending it, that if a man's business be very great, and of various kinds, he must be obliged, in proportion, to carry a greater bundle of things upon his back, unless he can afford one or two strong servants to attend him. I have often beheld two of those sages almost sinking under the weight of their packs, like peddlers among us, who, when they met in the street, would lay down their loads, open their sacks, and hold conversation for an hour together; then put up their implements, help each other to resume their burdens, and take their leave.
But for short conversations, a man may carry implements in his pockets, and under his arms, enough to supply him; and in his house, he cannot be at a loss. Therefore the room where company meet who practise this art, is full of all things, ready at hand, requisite to furnish matter for this kind of artificial converse.
(Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels, 1726)

On Wednesday January 22, Lisa Nelson performed her piece Two go in duo with Steve Paxton. It concerns a 'tuning score' wherein bodies, objects and space tune one another. Nelson and Paxton are seated at a small square table and play a sort of game. One places an object on the table and waits for the other to read the situation and reply with an object and the particular movements it elicits. Sometimes, music also intervenes in this landscape. Both performers call out specific tasks, such as 'repeat', 'pause', 'check!' or 'reverse' to deepen out the experience of tuning. Eventually, Nelson and Paxton end up using the whole stage, carrying about also chairs and larger objects.

Seeing Two go, the first thing that came to my mind was the passage in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's travels on the communication with objects. I asked Lisa Nelson to read it and share some ideas. "Interestingly enough, I immediately read the passage completely wrong. I imagined that these wise men carried the objects with them, but didn't really understand they weren't speaking. So I imagined, and this intrigued me, that these things were kind of metaphorical weight. It made me think of a Kurt Vonnegut story about a world where all people had to become normal. To normalise the population, each human, whatever their talents were, had to be blocked from their talents. So ballet dancers had weights on their limbs, and scientists had an implanted tone in their brain, which would buzz annoyingly every time they thought so they would get a headache. These devices were carefully tuned to equalise and balance all people. So I thought that the wise men were burdened with things as a handicap, and didn't realise that they were actually speaking about the objects and their usage, as if they were selling them. But then in a living room, it wouldn't be a commerce really."

"Anyway, this relates to my experience of working with objects with the senses, which brings me more to the preverbal state of children. It is a magical state because it precedes naming. Objects have texture, weight and shape, so to build experience you can approach these objects with your eyes and your ears, but especially with your hands. Our hands are incredibly malleable, they can take the shape of many things, they can learn the shape of things by simply forming the hands, or by moving the fingertips for small differentiations. That approach of the physical world helps to rebuild the pre-naming state, were you admit that the world is all objects, including your own body, as children play with the body as an object as well. Underneath that physical tuning is a technique that reveals why we move. Or rather a 'pre-technique technique', an involvement to physicalise the body and let it train itself in feedback with the environment."

"In the world of a score on the other hand, the premise is different: all the objects and actions are communications. It's a communication score, it's about showing each other, whether it is with ten people or two people. It's about showing to the other what you see; and I don't mean it just physically when I say 'see'. Showing means making physical what you see. That is why you have to pay attention to how long it takes you to see, you have to pay attention to time and the way you measure it. How long does it take to see?" We are sitting at a table, Nelson demonstrates her point at once. "So, I put a cup in your view. I am observer to it, but I am also offering it to you. And I don't want to get stuck with the eyes, because our whole body experience is looking at that cup. It is about showing, so that objects transform if you leave them in time. Since the longer you look, the more experience you draw from the situation. Infants are taking instructions totally from the objects themselves, to explore their quality. In the premise of the score, what I do with the object is always a communication, we are in an advanced stage of development. And still it preserves the unmediated relationship to objects, which precedes naming. The object could be a tool, a present, a gift, or a window. But you can't depend at all that the other person will receive the communication according to your intention. Still, the contract is that I will show and you will look and take the instruction from that. Your response etcetera does matter, it becomes part of the situation. And as you are an object as well, it is part of the way I read the space. So, seen as a communication and not simply as a cup, I might handle the object differently. It has properties that exist, but your experience fills it with completely different ones. There might be things and qualities that seem stable about the object, but when interfaced with your experience and associations, it might be taken away from my understanding and stability."

Nelson returns to the quote of Jonathan Swift: "He also said that John Locke wrote that 'words were names for things'. I don't agree with that, do you? Unless you say experiences of things, then I could go with it: what might be perceived as physical things are things mediated and thus transformed by our experience. Things also can provide an intention, but that happens mainly through language and naming. Still, if you organise a bunch of objects with your eyes closed, you discover intentions that come from other senses. They kind of really cut right past language as we know it and enlarge it with the utility of objects. Or even guide us back to a more exploratory human organism. We know that animals have a stage before the utilitarian, where they explore the world with their senses and can just discover what their organism is programmed to do: it bends, stretches and conforms itself without intention to objects."

"Taking instructions from the objects and listening to them is really what I've been busy with, which includes the objects of the space, of the architecture. That's why I don't think I improvise, because there is no such thing as impulses. There are reactions, but no impulses that just come out of nowhere: it often concerns reactions to the local environment, to the signals that exist but that we're not so attentive to, although they are very powerfully moving us. The more aware you become of the local conditions, the better you can make a response. You can take a reaction that people might call an impulse, and redirect it into a response before it appears in the space. And that's when time gets involved: the milliseconds of time between the moment that the body organises itself and an action is made. Shifting your use of time by going just a little slower allows your body to really direct its intention."


Note on the body as site of reflection

C'est d'ailleurs Nietzsche qui a inventé la formule du philosophe comme médecin de la culture - dès lors, aujourd'hui, lorsqu'on émet un diagnostic sur son époque, on évolue toujours aussi sur un terrain que Niietzsche a contribueé à explorer. Cela implique du reste que pour pouvoir formuler un diagnostic sur l'époque, il faut être intoxiqué par son époque. Je voudrais ajouter ici que la pensée philosophique ne signifie ni la pure réflexion, ni l'expression, mais qu'il s'agit d'une fièvre réagissant de nouveau à une intoxication spécifique. (Peter Sloterdijk, Essai d'intoxication volontaire, 1996)

Our world view changed drastically during the 20th century: the technological revolutions and their ideal of progress produced violent excesses, world-encompassing ideologies proved to be failures. God died and the unconscious came into being. The traditional notion of culture was unmasked as a power vehicle of the western, white male. Too long a list: the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk describes our world as a series of explosions that are not possible anymore to be contemplated from a safe distance. Therefore the traditional notion of culture altered, criticism and theory are forced into a field of proximity and called to formulate different questions and different answers. In his seminar Walking about recent developments in the field of dance and performance studies, André Lepecki pointed out a paradigm shift in cultural studies: the aim of theory is no longer the perpetual development of knowledge, but the generation of discursive tools to engage in a critical praxis. Performativity, as defined in J.L. Austin's speech act theory How to do things with words (1962), is the main instrument of performance studies, which allows the redrawing of the geography and hierarchy of visibility produced by the traditional occidental matrix. Dance studies adds another dimension by its insistence on bringing the body into play: the body as site where discourse is happening, where theory finds its limits, and moreover where any critical observer or theoretician finds himself standing in the world, embracing both its proximity and the blindness and confusion this brings along.

Give discourse back to the body? This happens to be a central question, also for Sloterdijk, who states that "one has to take part in the terror of our times, to have something to say as a contemporary intellectual. One speaks with a mandate of the horror or of the ecstatic potentials of the times one lives in." Neither the king nor god provides the critic with his mandate, but the nearby reality and its explosions that make the eardrums tremble, and thus ask for a listening ear. The role of the body is clear: not the abstract fiction of vision but the sensorial proximity of the ear is susceptible for noise. Not a safe withdrawal from the world but participation is the role of the theoretician, the body his means to attempt and prove his engagement, eventually to be 'proved' in reverse. That is precisely what Sloterdijk understands as 'self-intoxication', a notion that stems from homeopathy, invented by Samuel Hahnemann about two hundred years ago. The practice of the latter was that of a self-intoxication to promote bodily resistance, the concept behind it a belief in the isomorphic character of the phenomenon of illness and the sanity brought out by medicaments. It was Nietzsche who introduced this idea in philosophy as the 'vaccination with madness', interpreted by Sloterdijk as "a critical representation of sanity till death, of a pathological armour against the infections of our times." Sloterdijk takes the thought further, throws the body into the fight and let it react, produce symptoms and fever in correspondence to our times. It is the ultimate challenge for an all too humanist tradition of critical theory.

Give discourse back to the body? The expression can be understood in a twofold way. There is Sloterdijk's body, producing a particular discursive flow after intoxication with an explosive reality. Second, a 'milder' version would be to feed discourse or discursive utterances as such back to the body, to test thoughts and theoretical concepts physically. If the first one in the end risks remaining too much of a metaphor within critical discourse, the second one prepares tools to eventually achieve a similar goal, although through a 'dramaturgical' praxis. When dance and performance are understood as a critical praxis, dramaturgy should be a way to stimulate 'improper' thinking, through the 'organisation of accidents', to paraphrase André Lepecki's definition that occurred in the public talk with Vera Mantero on Friday January 23. A poetics of accidents could consist of a dramaturgical reading of literature and theory, unceasingly literalising metaphors through body and movement. The proximity of artistic practitioners is welcomed to develop such a critical discursive praxis. In the talk, the image of the solitary philosopher in his study came up, both in the figure of the lonely Descartes who receives only his own thinking process in a clear and distinct way, as in the figure of Merleau-Ponty, touching his own body to develop a reflection on sensorial knowledge. Specialisation, as a central trope of modernity, haunts the body of the choreographer too, as it might remove itself from critical awareness and dwell in a solitary investigation of form. Proximity of art and theory allows for a mutual exchange beyond mere specialisation and for the development of a critical praxis.

Give discourse back to the body? Instead of constructing an overwhelming theory, the description of some micro-events that occurred during Connexive #1 might help to deepen this thought. A central exercise in Vera Mantero's workshop was the task 'to convey your moment' through movement, gestures, sound etcetera. In preparatory exercises both the skills and the personal characteristics of the performers were at stake, and also here: the moment concerns what the performers experience themselves, as well as the translation and communication of it, which is close to strategies of automatic writing. The workshop participants did the task in pairs: one conveyed his/her moment, the other watched closely and shared this observation afterwards in a dialogue before changing roles. Eventually, the experiences were discussed in a group dialogue. Everyone happened to develop different strategies: seeking for a known place to use it as a trampoline and go beyond it or embracing a state close to something unconscious. Which brought up a discussion about differences between the 'unconscious automatic' and the 'composed automatic', or between 'personal intention' and automatic 'intention'. Whatever term is glued to it, there appears to be a tension between clearly intended communications and others that follow through the body's response to it. Isn't that a form of feedback? I was watching the exercise as an outside observer and took the opportunity to pay attention to the bodily dialogue that emerged between performer and observer. Interestingly enough, the observers were both intentionally perceiving the movements in a detailed fashion, and receiving them bodily: they mirrored in a very fine manner the feedback produced by the performers and ended up conveying their moment of perception through a range of micro-movements. If there exists something as 'giving vision back to the body', then this came close.

On the fifth day of Vera Mantero's workshop, there was a group talk about 'fundamental artistic issues'. To put out these issues, they were first broached in a session of free writing, structured and then shared with the others through speech. Unclear to most of the participants was the neat division of the 'fundamental artistic issues' from 'fundamental issues of existence', wherein the body played an equivocal role. Since most of the participants, although mature as performers, weren't used to talk in public about their work, these reflections happened indeed to affect and even infect their bodies, which was even consciously turned into a small performance by some of them. Tonija Livingstone charged herself by telling a story: she found herself on thin ice wanting to cross a frozen lake and thereby challenged herself to make use of all her knowledge and skills, and forced her mind and body into the particular field of survival to face the realm of the unknown. It made her voice shift and brought her body to the border of a paroxysmal state, through which she could convey in a lucid way her interest in disappointment, sacrifice and rage, and society as a place to give it a meaningful form. Almost the last to introduce her fundamental artistic issues, Astrid Endruweit decided to use few time as a vehicle: "the length of a rock song should do". She did not only speak about self-hypnosis and a state of paralysis before performance, but even plunged sometimes in and out such states during her talk. Thereby she showed how they could function as a tool in performance and have her body sweat it out at once, balancing on the border between lucidity and self-eclipse. Giving discourse back to the body?


Dialogue with Benoît Lachambre on body energy and sensorial proximity

During the second week of Connexive #1, Benoît Lachambre taught a five-day workshop around body energy, to open up the possibilities of entering different states of sensorial awareness. The tools employed to reach these states of enhanced susceptibility could be approached as particular strategies to visualise a proprioceptive relation to the body. These entail, furthermore, a different understanding of space, a specific sensorial proximity wherein a network of connections to the environment is built out of the inner bodily geography. A dialogue with Lachambre about the tools he makes use of helps to clarify what the all too enigmatic notion of 'energy', often frequented in dance milieus but discarded in discourse and academia, actually means on a basic level.

"In my sensorial work, the recognition and enhancement of energy is a central question," tells Lachambre. "A first degree of that recognition of energy concerns heat, the heat of the body. There is a sensation that is triggered by the electricity of the body, the movement of heat through the body, and by the energetic field of heat around it. When I first started dancing, I used to question this whole energy issue a lot. It was always about 'demonstrated energy', like moving with a lot of force, amplitude and dynamics. Now, the energy has taken another meaning for me, it is more about the sensorial aspects of movement and the paths it is drawing through the body. The sensorial perception of space through the inner and outer layers of the body. Now, if you change the perception of your outer and inner energetic body, you change the sensation, which becomes very tactile. Very surprising, but it's as real and rational as holding a glass in your hand, that's how it feels. Depending on your state, you can block your perception, or on the other hand open it, as if some body parts and your skin start to grow antennas. You have a different awareness of the external part of your skin, whereby this capture starts to vibrate on a higher level. That changes the sensation in different segments of your body, your thought, vision and other systems of perception."

The extension of this bodily energy follows out of the perception of an inner landscape and thus gives a particular orientation to the moving body. A first tool in this is the 'softening' of body parts, such as the mouth or the eyes. "If you soften the ball of the eye, you obtain a very fluid sculptural sensation of the inner skull. Once again, this is not a fictive but a real sensation in the person that experiments with it. Look now at the eye as a limb, as a possibility of seeing and a way of directing vision. With the eye, you can interpret surfaces you are looking at, read its signals and so on. If you then let the eye formation come in, its connections to the brain and the nervous system, you can suddenly create connections to any body part. So what you are looking at can also be an emotion of what you are looking at, you can connect it to any part of your inner body and to your sensorial system. This leads into a physical-sensorial experience of what you see, and that has all to do with an external energy field, because you actually 'touch' what you are looking at, it's really an extension of the body function. You have access to texture, but from a distance."

'Shining' is a second tool, closely linked with the 'opening' of the body sphere. "It concerns the question of the visualisation of an open body. Take for instance 'shining sitbones': they open and go into the ground, create a sensation of continuity of the sitbones and the floor or the space, with the outer body space. The continuity of an opening space into other spaces, that is shining for me. The action continues in outer space, it's a prolongation of the nervous system through your actual feeling of it. I give another example. This extended perception facilitates a different work on the proximity of the body. With the palms of your hands you can go around your body, mark a kind of body sphere, and then open it further. If you open the sphere around the head, then you have a cone, which is actually embracing space more. By opening the perception of this cone, it starts energetically sensing the movement through the space. Instead of solely staying with the kinesphere as a certain sphere around the body, you have more sensorial possibilities."

To extend also inner parts of the body that are not visually accessible, a pair of 'virtual gloves' are helpful, whereby the hands float in the air and virtually touch inner body parts from a distance. "That imagery helps to transpose the function of the fingers, to gain access to body places you can't reach normally. It allows me to actually go and work on body parts that I can't touch with my physical hands. That permits at least to mobilise the part with nervous and electricity patterns. It's a very easy tool to build a relationship to a particular body part, and shape an action around it. The hands are also very malleable and used in different ways to perceive things, like reaching or sensing."

Another track is the work on 'tubes', like breathing and digestive systems in the body. "You should talk first to Steve Paxton about this issue, who says that the body is one big tube. The outside and the inside are one continuum, so when you move through space, the outside comes inside you. That's quite a fantastic image, and a beautiful globalisation of space itself," says Lachambre. "In my case, the work on 'tubes' is connected with a reinforcement of the breathing system and digestive system, and the path between the openings of the body. It's very much used in singing: you make the sound vibrate in chosen places and cavities in the body, even in the tip of your hand! Working with the tubes is similar in that it allows airy spaces in the body to radiate. While breathing, you can make a little curve around your ribcage and move on to your sitbones: breath leads to multiple possibilities that can be transmitted to any body part."

Lachambre's techniques create a different state of bodily awareness, but also create possibilities to redraw the geography of the body, by reshaping energy paths, transmitting sensation from the one body part to another etcetera. "We worked on sliding patterns, by motivating the ball of the feet, its extremity where all the nervous points are located. By motivating and changing weight, you also address a lot of inner body space, or you reorganise the whole balance system of the body. The balls of the feet being in constant mobility and readjustment, using different points of the ball the foot, as if the whole surface of the foot were like a giant keyboard. All different systems are different keys, and you have really thousands of them, each point is related to multiple dynamics inside the body. So if you just take a point inside the hollow part of the ball of the foot, you can do things such as an organ or tubes massage, just by inducing a wave from here to there. The ball of the foot is very tangible, but you need practice to access it. The body has the ability to build neural connections, to create electrical pathways, even links with the cellular system of the body. Those paths inside the body can serve as support system to engage in sustaining, addressing or holding your body, and eventually in different states and thought systems."

"The brain is nothing else than a different kind of density of matter, a more active electric field, but nevertheless very much in relationship with the rest of the body. The movements of the energetic field of thought and its organisation in the body are similar to the other proprioceptive systems. You can make a curve of the proprioceptive system from the palm of the hand to the arm, like a path, through the heart and up to the neck spine, into the mind, via the eye. Judging the sensation is creating paths of inner movements, you don't need to do big things to create them. The interesting thing about it is its infinitesimal and infinite character, because the body is so complex, and there is so much matter and so many ways of connecting that it has an extreme potential. If we could face the multiple possibilities of sensations of patterns in the body, that would probably bring also the staging of the body into the realm of quantumphysics. The body has the possibility to connect within itself and to connect with the outside. On an energetic level, the possibilities are quite endless. I think it's a lifetime endeavour, because if you keep researching you go further into the realisation of how to reach different paths and awarenesses. The exciting thing is that you cannot only discover new ways of perception, but also transpose them and make them mobile. The senses can start to intertwine and develop new kinds of proprioceptive qualities. As a system of communication and proprioception, the body is very complex and listens to itself a lot, it is very active in that way. We just tend not to listen to it, since it is apparently not a priority for social functioning in the society."

A heightened proprioceptive and sensorial awareness also leads to a different sensation of the environment and of nearby bodies. "Sensation is of course also a matter of interpretation and is very poetic in that sense. On this 'creative' level, the body can give shape to electric irradiation, to its perception and interaction with other radiating bodies. The fact that you can perceive the movement of someone in a sensorial way is quite captivating. Then you can create connections on a sensorial level by using imaginative extensions of the energetic body, you can sense those movements, but inside the body. That's quite different than making just an analysis of steps and gestures. Opening your sensory system is an alternative state, which makes the inner body, its relaxation and mobility, very sensitive to any change of its surrounding. An alternative state, but it demands practice to achieve this very specific timing and listening state of mind."

Where could this all lead to? During the workshop of Vera Mantero, Lachambre labelled his fundamental artistic issues as 'envisioning possibilities of communication'. "We are used to all kinds of different motors and verbal codes to communicate. It's impossible to arrive to a codeless state, but peeling off layers of codes might help to realise that perception, vision and communication existed already in very basic, ancient ways, that were more sophisticated than we would believe normally." Lachambre therefore claims his research to seek for a place beyond language, instead of one of regression. "Language brings us a lot of knowledge, it's amazing. We have learned to codify, but we haven't learned yet to listen to it enough. Therefore I consider listening to all those other systems as a further point of learning, there is still a long way to go. It addresses a system we haven't developed yet, so I wouldn't agree with the idea that it concerns something regressive."

"Recently I saw an interview with a economist on television. He was perpetually talking about power issues, but would always answer: 'No, I don't want power, not at all, that's not my interest.' But the interviewer replied immediately: 'You are saying no with your words, but all what your eyes are saying is yes, yes yes!' That was brilliant and intelligent, you could see that there are really essential things that language cannot erase. Perhaps we shouldn't learn too much to listen to them, it might turn out to be a dangerous tool for social and economical purposes. We could even learn to develop ways of communicating that are more transparent and more accessible, more earnest also. Communication is used a lot to fool and manipulate, and it is very human to do so, we all do it with different purposes. At the same time it is a strong and powerful political and economical tool to control the masses, also the intellectual masses. There is a lot of creative work that can be done around this and the creation of some counteraction to it. To question, show and cause mischief to it. My work concerns the potential ways of what we can do in that field."


Note on inclusive space as site of reflection

To be lifted to the summit of the World Trade Center is to be lifted out of the city's grasp. One's body is no longer clasped by the streets thet turn and return it according to an anonymous law; nor is it possessed, whether as player or played, by the rumble of so many differences and by the nervousness of New York traffic. When one goes up there, he leaves behind the mass that carries off and mixes up in itself any identity of authors or spectators. An Icarus flying above these waters, he can ignore the devices of Daedalus in mobile and endless labyrinths far below. His elevation transfigures him into a voyeur. It puts him at a distance. It transforms the bewitching world by which one was 'possessed' into a text that lies before one's eyes. It allows one to read it, to be a Solar eye, looking down like a god. The exaltation of a scopic and gnostic drive: the fiction of knowledge is related to this lust to be a viewpoint and nothing more.
Must one finally fall back into dark space where crowds move back and forth, crowds that, though visible from on high, are themselves unable to see down below? An Icarian fall. On the 110th floor, a poster, sphinx-like, addresses an enigmatic message to the pedestrian who is for an instant transformed into a visionary:
It's hard to be down when you're up. (...)
The ordinary practitioners of the city live 'down below', below the tresholds at which visibility begins. They walk - an elementary form of this experience of the city; they are walkers,
Wandersmänner, whose bodies follows the thicks and thins of an urban 'text' they write without being able to read it. These practitioners make use of spaces that cannot be seen; their knowledge of them is as blind as that of loverse in each other's arms. The paths taht correspond in this in this intertwining, unrecognized poems in which each body is an element signed by many others, elude legibility. It is as though the practices organizing a bustling city wre characterized by their blindness. The networks of these moving, intersecting writings compose a manifold story that has neither author nor spectator, shaped out of fragments of trajectories and alternations of spaces: in relation to representations, it remains daily and indefinitely other. (Michel De certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, 1980)

'Testing thoughts in space' is a central notion in Vera Mantero's working method, which she explains as such: "The inclusion of space in your thoughts is very important. Crossing the space is part of your thinking process. Walking or dancing brings your body into play and makes you spatialise your thoughts, incarnate them with your body. Thoughts have to undergo the test of space." Via our bodies, we stand in the world with our thoughts, are exposed to an urban space or to social life. Mantero understands the spatial test in a strictly physical sense though: "Let us take human existence as an example. Everyone collects experiences, so all humans have a specific rhythm of life, driven by desires and knowledge. Still, our passions make things seldom work out the way we would like them to. There is always a gap between the physical reality and the way we think or want it to function. We collide with matter, which answers and informs us, but hardly corresponding to our wishes."

Does an ideal space to test thoughts exist? The protected space of the studio? A blank sheet of paper? An endless landscape, which invites walking and talking in nature? The development of tasks and exercises in Vera Mantero's workshop often consisted of two steps. First writing, which could take the form of automatic writing, organising thoughts or working on a particular task. Second, a reiteration of the exercise in space, to physicalise the thoughts and test them. Some exercises and improvisations were done in pairs or by the whole group, which brings in a particular communicational aspect: 'thinking together in space'. Mantero is convinced that "working alone leads to a rough, not quite developed creativity, since you get easily stuck or confused with your own ideas. When you think together, you are part of a positive dynamic, there are many more possibilities. Precisely the presence of others has a nourishing effect, the energy of that presence is awakening, it creates life in yourself. Simply because you are not thinking alone."

The workshop ended with an improvisation for two hours on Saturday January 24, where all the participants could make free use of the space, working through issues that came up earlier that week. The session took place in the studio, but it was conceived of as an 'inclusive space', which means that participants, observers and objects shared the same state and awareness, everybody and everything was 'in'. Having been an observer during the whole week, this task was a particular challenge to me, as my activity wasn't only connected in a visual or auditory way with that of the others, I couldn't claim distance anymore. I decided to read a chapter in Michel de Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life (1980) on 'Practices of Space', to tune my activity of reflection and perception with the task. Interestingly enough the text forced me into a practice of space, since it started with a passage on the collapse of distance and the role of the traditional spectator. Perhaps I had to leave my overview on the improvisation and instead walk its texturology? Taking up André Lepecki's definition of dramaturgy as 'literalising metaphors', I continued reading whilst walking, aiming to incarnate the whole taxonomy of walking described in De Certeau. This brought up particular problems to solve: since I kept reading, I was indeed troubled by blindness. What about the others? What about communication? What about the texture of the improvisation? All the participants went through a long span of introductory work, to finally plunge into a group improvisation with a heightened self-consciousness and awareness of a space bursting with activity. In the discussion afterwards, it turned out that everyone had similar problems dealing with the inclusive space, where one has to be 'in' all the time: how to connect to what is happening and avoid to find oneself trapped in the position of an observer, that is being 'out' in a situation which is agreed upon as always all 'in'?

On Wednesday January 21, Steve Paxton presented Lecture on walking (1966), an account of his lifelong investigation on the physical and cultural aspects of walking. It was the more recent lecture demonstration on space 0x2 that introduced a conception of space which stayed very much present during Connexive #1, especially in Benoît Lachambre's workshop. Paxton conceives of space as a continuum, one single surface, thus without borders between inside and outside, not unlike a Möbius strip. Seen that way, a body doesn't only move through space, at once space moves through the body. In topology this sort of space is called infinite and non-orientated and is therefore subversive. In his performance, Paxton marked a 'theatrical' space on stage with four transparent bottles, which he would displace several times, include part of the backstage area in it, turn the marked space inside out (if this spatial metaphor is still valid within Paxton's conception of space), make it smaller and eventually drag it off stage. All this to demonstrate that "we know very little about space". An older dancer manipulating bottles makes this peculiar transparency of both body and space tangible. Indeed, imagine a body incarnating a continuous, infinite, non-orientated, subversive space: it makes notions of self and identity shift, beyond the common view upon the person as opaque, that is visible for others. This remark leads also to the core of Lachambre's work on the body as a system of tubes, as a continuum of inside and outside, the identity shift this exposure entails, as well as the notion of communication in energetic terms.

The particular conceptions of space employed by artists in Connexive #1 leave us with questions about the place and role of the spectator. How should an 'onlooker' deal with a space which is defined in non-visual ways? An inclusive space where everyone takes part in the same awareness or state, an energetic economy provoked by transparent bodies incarnating subversive space? For the improvisation evenings that concluded Connexive #1 on February 3 and 4, visual artist Nadia Lauro proposed an answer. Of three spaces she designed as compositional frame for the improvisations, the first one was meant solely for the spectators. When they entered the theatre, the spectators found themselves in a corridor between walls made of green, transparent air cushions. The walls were deflated a little and inflated again, in a slow rhythm, a mechanical breathing of which the sound was slightly amplified. Spectators thus were invited to slow down and develop their mental and sensorial attention before moving on to their seats: a space for warming up the audience.


Dialogue with curators Barbara Raes and Myriam Van Imschoot about collaboration, generosity and environment

The collapse of stable figures in the field of dance making and dance writing that we have been experiencing in the past 25 years, together with an exponential emergence of different types of collaborations and cross disciplinary contaminations can only be welcomed. So far, it has generated an extraordinarily creative impetus. An impetus that not only reconstituted compositional practices of dance, but that reshaped the very ways dance criticism, dance theory, and dance production are understood today. The active effort to tear down disciplinary autonomies and to pursue dance as a field of knowledge rather than a distancing motion reserved to fetishised, silent bodies, is what gives the work of Pina Bausch, William Forsythe, Meg Stuart, Jérôme Bel, Xavier Le Roy, Vera Mantero, Boris Charmatz their intensity and depth. This shift, first of all, can be characterised by the collapse of labour and aesthetic barriers between dancers, choreographers, producers, promoters, critics, academics, and the audience. In the new landscape, the choreographer claims a theoretical voice, the critic emerges as producer, the agent writes dance reviews, the philosopher tries some steps, the audience is invited to join as both student and practitioner.
What becomes urgent, then, is to investigate what the new "critical distances" should be like, when all seems to move towards a denial of such distancing. The need to consider the problem of distancing is not only crucial for understanding how critical discourse keeps up with the new configurations of the field, but most importantly, it is crucial for an understanding of how this new proximity can generate and maintain a new ethical space and discourse in the dance market.
(André Lepecki, Dance without distance, 2001)

In August 2003, dance presenter Barbara Raes from arts centre Vooruit (Ghent, Belgium) and dance researcher Myriam Van Imschoot as invited curator started preparing the project Connexive #1: Vera Mantero, a three week event which would half a year later take place from 17 January to 4 February 2004 in Vooruit. The project encompassed a series of performances, workshops, concerts, seminars, films, etc. related to the figure of Vera Mantero. The preparations entailed a series of practical decisions concerning budgetary limitations, the institutional framework and communication, but mainly focused on the development of a particular curatorial model. What interests us in this dialogue are precisely the concepts that were at stake in there.

“The concept is in the name. In speaking about connexive with an x we foregrounded the word nexus. It can suggest the link associating two or more people or things, but for me it is more than just sheer networking. I like to privilege the biological resonance of the word ‘nexus’: a specialized area of the cellular membrane that helps cells to communicate or adhere. I also think of nodes as points on the plant stem where leaves grow or where lines cross and branch. It concerns a whole ecology of relations, clusters, which is about exchange or osmosis but has something spatial too” explains Van Imschoot. “Suppose that a curator makes decisions, choices and selections, then my question was: how could one build in a few different parameters that inflect those decisions? The curator as an isolated, self-empowered decision maker or a prime mover of a perpetuum mobile doesn’t interest me. I prefer to set up a construction around a given, in this case Vera Mantero, which then can dynamize, trigger, suggest other linkages. Vera’s person and the world that comes with that is as a cluster of interests, images, stories, moments, encounters. If you start to pull at such a cluster, a thread unrolls automatically, as yarn one can use to weave with. So we didn’t come up with the yarn, design and fabric and everything else only by ourselves; rather we defined some materials and parameters, and then followed their logic. In that sense it was a dramaturgical process: a dramaturge has a smaller distance than a critic, but still keeps reading, attempts to decode fascinations and obsessions hovering around the artist’s world. As dramaturge, you need also the collaboration of the artist, the openness and willingness to co-operate. We had discussions with Vera and that was the engine for a collaborative curatorial process. That was the starting point.”

“Collaboration is one of the basic things for me, that’s what interests me in all the projects I organize,” adds Barbara Raes. “Instead of programming a dance season as an author, my policy hinges upon collaboration and thus upon collectivity, both in my relation to artists as within the team of Vooruit, to then see what happens in this dialogue. That is far from evident, since you need to find out each other’s affinities, which demands a lot of communication and inevitably brings along misunderstandings. In talks with artists, it always boils down to the unraveling of their affinities: my first interest is their world, the project comes afterwards.”

While in some cases a project that is initiated around a central artist risks becoming a retrospective or a star parade, Mantero’s work is itself based upon collaboration in an interdisciplinary manner, which was an important factor to make Connexive #1 succeed. But still, apart from the encounter as a dramaturgical motive, the curators valued first and foremost Mantero’s generosity, on all levels. A central question for the curators thus became: How can one stay true to such a generosity and make it into a guide line?

“To give just an example, Vera never treated Connexive #1 as a way to maximally present her own work, even when her work has not been shown in Belgium for years. Instead she supported us to invest in enhancing the context and to put other things and people around her. Even when we were brainstorming whom to invite, names came up scantily at first, she didn’t have a list straightaway. As a consequence, we had a lot of freedom in curating this project,” says Van Imschoot. She stresses that generosity and hospitality are as important as the notions of collaboration, interdisciplinarity, horizontality, alternative working processes etc. that have been growing more familiar in the field of the arts. “Over the past years, especially when doing my research on improvisation, I have been thinking a lot about how I can return something to the artists that have been nourishing my work. It is no surprise that André Lepecki spoke about ‘the gift’ in his seminar, here in Connexive #1. I totally agree with Jacques Derrida when he says that the most disinterested way of giving in our hectic times is the gift of time. Therefore Connexive #1 is not only a spatial metaphor, equally important is the time component: it is an environment of almost three weeks. Nearly most of us literally reserved and thus gave ourselves that amount of time to be here during the project and take part in the workshops. Many decisions Barbara and I took have got to do with time.”

The concept of giving time demands also a particular engagement from the curators within a project as Connexive #1. Their role is somehow defined in terms of proximity, and thereby formulates a possible answer on Lepecki’s question of the ‘dance without distance’ and the role-play it entails. “The way we represent ourselves within the event is indeed far from classical,” Raes points out. “Myriam joins the workshop, she’s constantly available for everything, that’s not to be underestimated. I don’t know many curators that would do that. Usually you have to search for your position, find out its limits, and also look what is missing. Only at the very last moment you can find that out: your task as a curator is to deal with unforeseen things and solve problems. You observe the event and look after the whole, but sometimes that puts you outside of the action as such because you are immersed in logistics, organizational matters, etc. That’s why collectivity is here a keyword for me: you can’t know and foresee everything by yourself. Working with two curators is a great help because it creates possibilities for more participation and proximity. Although in Vooruit this perpetual dialogue is what we are aiming for, I still think that a few people in this house might be surprised to witness my role in this project. They wonder why I am not sitting in the office anymore, why I seem to let loose all the other upcoming projects to focus on what is happening right now. It would be sad not to do that. I don’t want to act as a dance presenter, but be myself and do the things of which I think I should do them at a particular moment in a particular project. Simply inviting dance shows is a very limited activity.”

“You’re Alice in Wonderland!”, exclaims Van Imschoot. “When we discussed the program, Barbara replied at one point that it was dramaturgically well-conceived, but perhaps too perfect. She always wants to create openings and a context for play to appear: a game with many players, wherein you define the rules, but not what should happen. Chinese checkers, a game that we have been playing a lot here during Connexive #1, appears to be a perfect metaphor for that: you have an amount of pieces, but where the game actually happens is in the holes. And that’s what curating is about: to organize contours with holes in it. You can hope for the happening, but not ‘schedule’ it, so you create conditions for something else to happen in the holes.”

Giving time, organizing space: Connexive #1 is an environment that allows things to happen. “You have various kinds of environments. Take the model of the biosphere or ghettos or the hermetically secured dome. I said from the very beginning on that I didn’t want a sealed-off environment,” says Van Imschoot. “Of course those inhabitants of Connexive #1 who settle down for three weeks develop a different relation to the terrain than passers-by. But it is a terrain that keeps access roads open, which creates an inviting atmosphere for visitors. There is time and space for something else to emerge than during a regular visit to a performance: temporary visitors create a surplus, as new clusters are growing around the core group. The lounge designed by Nadia Lauro is a good example of the permeability of the project: it’s a place to read, watch films, discuss and hang out, it functions as library and meeting place, but also as an antechamber to warm up or to chill out before and after performances. Connexive #1 is not a project for an incrowd, which is simply proven by the fact that the several people who were brought in here moved unexpectedly beyond their motives and expectations as theatre visitors. The project suggested a lot more than the entrance ticket promised. The question is not only what those people bring to Connexive #1, but also what you communicate through the project once they are here. What happens then, what comes into being? In that sense the project endorses your thesis of proximity: at the moment that you bridged the distance, with any communicational strategy, we have a strong belief that when you are here, landed on the terrain, that something else comes into being, and thus that something is further branching and spreading.”

Note on inclusion, incarnation and lightness

Mean-time, on shore triumphant Perseus stood,
And purg'd his hands, smear'd with the monster's blood:
Then in the windings of a sandy bed
Compos'd Medusa's execrable head.
But to prevent the roughness, leafs he threw,
And young, green twigs, which soft in waters grew,
There soft, and full of sap; but here, when lay'd,
Touch'd by the head, that softness soon decay'd.
The wonted flexibility quite gone,
The tender scyons harden'd into stone.
Fresh, juicy twigs, surpriz'd, the Nereids brought,
Fresh, juicy twigs the same contagion caught.
The nymphs the petrifying seeds still keep,
And propagate the wonder thro' the deep.
The pliant sprays of coral yet declare
Their stiff'ning Nature, when expos'd to air.
Those sprays, which did, like bending osiers, move,
Snatch'd from their element, obdurate prove,
And shrubs beneath the waves, grow stones above.

(Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book IV, written 1 A.C.E.)

An anecdote, for the sake of the anecdote. I remember a discussion with Connexive #1-curator Myriam Van Imschoot about networks, connections, archives and horizontality, notions that deeply influence our work. These concepts are often grouped under the denominator 'rhizome', a notion developed by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, which is used all over in the art world, in proper and improper ways, and therefore in the end confusing and even avoidable. In the meantime Van Imschoot developed 'connexive', back then I proposed 'coral reef' as an alternative, all too dull as a word, rich as an image though.

In his Norton Lectures (1985), the Italian writer Italo Calvino pleads for lightness, for a malleable, nimble and witted use of language to approach the heaviness, slowness and intransparency of the world. The myth of Perseus who conquers Medusa, as written down by Ovid, delivers him some images that should speak for themselves, but also help to clarify his own poetics. Only through an indirect and very sensitive approach of the Gorgon's head, Perseus succeeds in avoiding petrifaction. Thus Perseus's power is not the denial of a monstrous reality, but the refusal of direct perception. Linked to literature, Calvino states that a light and precise formulation could bear an intense awareness of reality, without the risk of being entangled in it.

If one, as an artist nowadays, aims to speak about the moment, how does one avoid being crushed by reality, by a world overflowing with horror? In a creation process, Vera Mantero focuses on four issues, as she explained on Monday February 2 during the workshop showing Proposals back to Vera, Benoît and Meg: fundamental issues of art, fundamental issues of existence, fundamental issues of the moment, and fixations, obsessions and tendencies, which play a part on an unconscious level. In the workshop, one session was devoted to a presentation and discussion of 'fundamental issues of art' from all the participants, for many of whom it was apparently hard to tell them apart from the 'fundamental issues of existence'. Later that evening on Friday January 23, in the talk with André Lepecki, Mantero underscored again why this division of 'how' and 'what' is important to her, why the separation is a conscious strategy. Many artists, and students in workshops, tend to pay attention or direct their work solely towards one of the two, to art or to existence. The development of forms and instruments happens autonomously, making art requires some technical knowledge. Speaking about these formal aspects also brings the possible contents into balance. Performance has to do with incarnation, which involves the risk of being overwhelmed by a violent reality, for which there are no answers to be found. A precise formulation is therefore fundamental in art, since it could bring along some lightness and turn identification into critical distance.

Elucidating her 'fundamental issues of art', Mantero said that she aims to develop alternatives and possibilities of being. She regards her art as a proposition, not as mere criticism on common ways of living. A first keyword in this is 'incarnation': art as a way to embody thoughts, to incarnate answers and alternatives, to enrich modes of communication and interaction. A second keyword is 'inclusion': all materials and sources are of equal interest, whether rational or sensorial, conscious or unconscious, artistic of existential, common, different or dissonant. This multiplicity should lead into a reflection upon life, in favour of 'upside down activity', as Mantero calls it. Poetry is her main tool: "Poetry has the incredible capacity of thought, and moreover makes manoeuvres with language itself, as an instrument. It plays with the thought, with language and so with us, with our perspective. Almost all people speak, language is a familiar instrument. Everyone uses it to function, language makes that we don't bang on each other's head all the time, but are able to understand each other and communicate. At once poetry takes us out of reality, not as in a dream, but by putting its instrument upside down. With language, it transforms reality as well. To be another creature from time to time is necessary to function. In primitive cultures there are many rituals that flirt with the supernatural and the abnormal, as a temporary state of being different. In our society and culture they are almost absent, we are lacking upside down activities."

In her solo a mysterious thing, said e.e. cummings (1996), Mantero's presence is hybrid: her face is heavily made up, her naked body painted brown. She balances clumsily on hooves, whispers, murmurs and sings, drifts on a peculiar flow of words, aims to name atrocities to end up in a mere activity of naming, in chanting and the enchantment of words. A void, a gap, an abyss, an emptiness… atroce! In spite of the unmistakable weight, she succeeds to lend an imaginative lightness to them, and eventually discover even a joy. Through inclusion, multiplicity and the proximity of difference, lightness is the very exercise of incarnation.