How open are you open? Pre-sentiments, pre-conceptions, pro-jections.

Sarma Oct 2004English

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Contextual note
This text was written as opener for Bojana Cvejic's residency as critic in the Amperdans festival. It was presented as a Powerpoint presentation, screened in the foyers of both wpZimmer and Monty for the whole duration of the festival. Pictures and photos could not be reproduced in this publication.

DAY 1, Wednesday October 6

asks Hamlet the queen, his mother, when the ghost of his father enters their conversation. Hamlet needs a bodiless creation to mirror his argument.
Writing in the prospect of a festival before the event is like boiling the chicken before the egg. The egg definitely needs no chicken-cooking to come out. It knows it’s gonna boil after deliverance anyhow. So what to say?
The situation of writing before an after, when the criticism begins, could become interesting, though.

Why not regard it as an opportunity to reflect on the moment before you enter the performance space and take the seat of the spectator?
What if, for once, we didn’t pretend we were open, ready as ever to risk our definitions and welcome new propositions?
What if – before actually letting performances IN in the frame of our viewing – we would REview the frame itself?
Itself, the frame in itself – I know – not possible to isolate and then reverse the process of framing! Impossible to see the framing before there is an object there to be framed.
But this is precisely the experience the spectator seeks to be challenged with: a performance which will reverse her frames, return them to her as inadequate lenses.

So I suggest an exercise of the artist in her nastiest dreams about critics and programmers. We artists, we wanna know what the mission of the critic or programmer is. What are their agendas, criteria, preferences, blind spots. What are the values at the bottom-line of their argument?
I made a decision. Instead of instantly responding to performances in situ, I’ll expose and reflect on my views as pre-views, presentiments, preconceptions, projections before the event. Before these views preclude and foreclose the possibility of performances changing those very (pre)views as my initial framings.
I’ll try to disclose the stake I bring in to the performances, texts-tools-tactics I move about with.
Not for the sake of transparency. Perhaps, because I wish performances, like any other practice, could lead to connecting meanings and sensations outside of the object of artwork or artist.

Why else would we still entrust in perception, sensation, affect, if every concept could best be communicated?

Perception can’t be reduced to communication, and vice versa.
Cary Wolfe:
“The work of art co-presents perception and communication at different speeds which makes them irreducible to one another.”
I had to go back to see héâtre-élévision by Boris Charmatz in its virtual presence and live-less hypermediated immediacy twice to try to grasp what it’s doing to me. Understanding has temporality, cognition deferred.
So we should be fortunate that performance, most of all art disciplines, arises from this irreducible difference between perception and communication.

What is at stake for me as a spectator when I come to see contemporary dance in theatre?

Where is my good object of dance?

When am I challenged to give it away?
‘Object’, here, is obviously not the site of performance, and ‘good’ is relative to what I abstract from the event and muse on as properties of dance.
The good object thus traverses the gap between the artists’ property to the propriety of the spectator who judges:
This is dance. This is hardly dance.
In fact, this festival makes me think of the shift:

Artist making art becomes the object itself.
(thank you, Rebecca Schneider)
Ergo, we represent artists.

But there are works, and works are always about something.

However we conceive of this something: as a concept, a situation, an event, a space between the viewer and the viewed, and the spaces of the outside to which it must connect.
The preview begins with the program notes – the promises – and the first question one informs oneself by when deciding whether to see a performance or not: What is it about?

(Jean-Luc Godard: parler sur choses ou parler de choses?)
I draw out of the program three or four strands of questions I am curious in:

I How is body language research relative to perception and relevant for artistic research today?

Artificiality, materiality, virtuality, are the key words I underline in the program notes.


Is vision the sense asking for thorough reconfiguration in perceiving movement? Why has dance, and specifically, movement, become a new metaphor for going beyond contracts, systems, structures, as models of theorizing subjectivity, art, society, politics? Movement operates from the middle of things. Makes us step outside the pre-determination of points and positions. Expresses the potential of moving relations.


And then something else, is performativity still in focus of the critique of spectacle?

(Which spectacle, of theatre, or of society?)


And then again, something completely different, what is the ethic of small-scale work?

Is there something like:

“small is beautiful”

ethic at work here?

So this writing, you see, will pre-write the performances before their occurrence.

In that way, I will try to expose the pool of my references, show how opaque must be the optics despite my urge of transparency.

We usually proceed in such a way that we take the performance to trigger references shaping a view of interpretation. But, here and now, I would like to unfold the background where texts are working before the instance after.

The best way to fuck something up is to give it a body.

A voice is killed when it is given a body. Whenever there’s a body around, you see its faults. Theory proves that.

The body of a famous critic came to our class the other day.

Now we don’t believe its writings anymore.

Its writings became theater.

And the presence of all that flesh made us think of all the things the writings didn’t speak of ... of what was left out.

from Mike Kelly “Theory, Garbage, Stuffed Animals, Christ: Dinner Conversation Overhead at a Romantic French Restaurant” 1990

DAY 2, Thursday, October 7





“When I think of my body and ask what it does to earn that name, two things stand out. It moves. It feels. In fact, it does both at the same time. It moves as it feels, and it feels itself moving.

Can we think a body without this: an intrinsic connection between movement and sensation whereby each immediately summons the other?” (Brian Massumi)

We definitely cannot be certain about the medium ‘body’ when we speak of dance, choreography or performance today.

What could be specific rather than special about it? Specific only when the medium in, and of, every performance is always something else: another configuration of its heterogeneous elements, another field of forces, sensations and affects. *Force is no mystification for a word. It brings effects and is proven by their repeatability. Like gravity. Check with Newton

How does performance? Why performance does what it does how it does and how those decisions are directly related to the interpretation we make of it? The fact of mixing media isn’t enough.

For senses to mix, there has to be movement which will make them co-attract.

My body is relatively slow in perceiving the interconnectedness of senses in experience.

Light hits retina at such (absolute) speed that I always already have made my habits which co-produce reality.

How do senses intertwine so that, say, seeing is touching, hearing is moving, moving is sensing?

I see it move because I can hear it.

A high school experiment in psychology of perception

If you find yourself bored watching a performance, try to isolate a hair sticking out of your arm. Take a sharp-pointed pencil and prick the hair with it while you keep your eyes closed. Some people sense something, others nothing at all. But the laboratory production shows it’s not a matter of personal sensitivity but that it would be difficult and ridiculous to mutually exclude senses.

Lost my shape tryin' to act casual!

Can't stop I might end up in the hospital

Changin' my shape I feel like an accident

They're back! To explain their experience (Talking Heads)

A scientist who was also an experienced pilot and had been trained to orient expertly during high-altitude maneuvers anesthetized his own ass. Amazing but true: he could no longer see where he was.

Kittens need to move in order to develop sight. An experiment proved that if immobilized from birth, they will remain blind.

When do I begin to feel the surface of the image? I can see its texture.

My sight bends under a movement which doesn’t encompass the total field of vision. My eyes sense touch from distance, as if they had the capacity to move step by step and discover things in linear succession.

I don’t need to touch in order to sense the haptic in the image. What is most deep is the skin

To search for a quality, a property which is claimed to “subsist” on or “inhere” in the body, one needs to perform a cutting on the surface of the skin, a drawing of the limit where the contact between the interior and exterior happens.

Manipulating the image of the body is like cutting the skin to attribute a quality to the body. The attribute doesn’t designate any real quality... it is, on the contrary, always expressed by the verb, which means that it isn’t a thing of substance perceived, but a way of seeing mediated.

Will I ever use muscles in my viewing? What do I have them for? For orientation in space (proprioception).

Do you believe that space is “sensored” by the organ of muscles apart from vision?

Did you ever find yourself in the situation where your kinesthetic experience involved the work of your muscles in your spectator’s seat?

A corny image: the only situation where our senses spontaneously co-function and collaborate by themselves is when we’re waking up. Again it is the movement which confuses the functions of senses. It provides simultaneous attacks of tactile, space-perceptive, auditive etc. Imagine how this is when you wake up in the middle of a performance.

DAY 3 Friday, October 8


About ten years ago, a group of European choreographers discovered the power of the speech-act. Speech acts or performatives are the utterances whereby saying or in saying something, we are doing something. Like: “I promise”, “I do take this man,” “I address the people of x.”

These (mostly) men were clever enough to match performatives with the logic of Duchamp’s ready-made, so they proposed: “This is choreography.” And by framing everyday life practices like social dances and popular culture and entertainment they made us see the performativity of the spectacular images of our western society. Theatre spectacle displayed the emptiness of the frame of representation. Spectator became the object of the spectacle.

Performances were conceived in the acts of self-reference: I know that you know that I am looking at you. You also know that I want you to recognize my intention of looking at you as an intention intended for your recognition etc etc. The performative of “This is choreography”, look, “This could be dance” was liberating in the respect of dance being regarded as an open concept. All at once, we were invited to perform movement in our mind’s eye and substitute it for the formal, abstract, expressive or narrative movement of the body we traditionally call dance.

Thus many new registers emerged: dance exited the romantic stage and the body that doesn’t matter the interest in phenomenon shifted to the interest in concept ‘dance’ spectators learnt how not to be represented by what they wouldn’t be able to perform themselves and many more

But the one register which remains well after the vogue is the cynicism of void act.

To indicate a gesture to the outside, the impossibility of engaging with social and political realities in artwork, Robert Barry stuck a note on the door of the exhibition space in 1969, saying: «My exhibition at the Art&Project Gallery in Amsterdam in December, 1969, will last two weeks. I asked them to lock the door and nail my announcement to it, reading: 'For exhibition the gallery will be closed.'»

“A perfect nihilist is the one who understood that nihilism was his/her (only) chance.” (Gianni Vattimo)

Today, all one need do is find a new form of the criterion of truth. One of the best travelled and most commented upon philosophies to emerge from Italy in the last three decades has been known as il pensiero debole or ‘weak thought.’

Instead of admitting the necessity of a quest for a new criterion, it holds the strangely pluralistic position of acknowledging the weakening of the True which allows truths rather than Truth to exist. The performing subject plays her own self-denial by way of: unfulfilled promise? (I tell you the story I won't perform) the equation of intention and realization X=X?

(I'm doing it, I'm saying I'm doing it, and I'm still doing it)


(I'm not competent for this, I'm in the wrong place to do it and you're probably the wrong audience for my performance)

If human communication becomes the commodity in the society of spectacle, how can it be critiqued in theatre and dance?

DAY 4, Saturday, October 9




IN THE MIDDLE OF small-scale work Solo or duet? Two categories of small-scale work.

A pragmatist answer: Because we in Europe think or can afford research in small. Fine enough. A single body performing on stage. Be sure you crossed out: the myth of origin and authentic expression of self

And then put in brackets: (identity is a matter of construction)

But what remains of the solo act?

Subjecting my own body to the research of movement, I still produce the evidence of necessity.

Standing against the wall of the studio, I squash-bounce questions like: I need to... What do I need to do? Qu’est-ce que je dois faire? Je ne sais quoi faire. All you need is to mark a territory. Animal-peeing.

In making a territory, it is not merely a matter of defecatory and urinary markings, but also a series of postures, a series of colors, a song. (after Deleuze) Performance studio is the first territory to conquer.

For Virginia Woolf, about a hundred years ago, it would suffice.

I’m reminded of her famous opinion: a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction

I went to studio every day and tried to be productive. The question of labor comes to my mind. And this has nothing to do with the mythic acts of masculine creativity any longer.

The labor of the solo or any performance the author will also take part in as a performer is feminized.

What I mean here is not the weakness of doubt: I fail, I know I don’t know I lick the wounds of my vulnerability Feminists analyzed “women’s work” as: labor in the bodily mode. Personal services, caretaking.

The singular bears no ideality of origin any more. The singular of solo has the power of the common. In solo, I’m trying to hear a multitude of voices pass.

A body substitutes for the one presenting itself in front of me. Let us reconsider virtuosity once again. Marx after Virno: activity-without-end-product includes all those whose labor turns into a virtuosic performance pianists, butlers, dancers, teachers, orators, medical doctors, priests etc.

Virtuosity is, here, understood as an activity which finds its own fulfillment in its own purpose; also an activity which requires the presence of others. Of course, the surplus-value will be drawn from the performance once it starts repeating itself, circulating earning its material fee, as well as its immaterial meaning-value.

But what is important here is the desire to relate with what performance excludes, the potentiality to move not between positions, but in the field of the possible, showing the limits of territories, moving relations which change contexts.