body as/with thing(s): snapshots in disintegration reflection (2017)
I am interested in abstracting the body with things and things with the body until the things are living and the body is merely a thing. This was my approach going in to making snapshots in disintegration, a movement study about the ‘body as/with thing(s).’
The first choice I made was not to perform live and instead to project the moving body. I thought about how projection could in itself be a thing and considered allowing this performance to be as simple as a projected video of myself dancing. Ultimately I wanted to push the idea further. I was struck by Andre Lepecki’s description of Simone Forti’s 1960 work See-Saw:
See. Just seen. Saw. And see again. And not see again. This visual instability, of not quite seeing fully, or seeing without light, or having one’s gaze cut against one’s will, made it all hard to grasp. (34)
This prompted my thinking towards building some kind of installation that might create this effect of fragmented seeing to further separate the viewer from the body and its liveness. Thus rendering it more and more thingly. I chose the following materials for the following reasons:
- Sheer curtain panels because they would both catch the projection and filter it through creating a doubling, tripling, or quadrupling effect depending on the spot in the installation.
- A wooden palette because it would break the projection into multiple pieces.
- A sheet of metal because as a solid flat surface it would catch the projection clearly but because it is reflective it would throw some of the light back onto the curtain hanging in front of it creating a very obscured version of rear-projection.
- Solid white rectangular pieces of foamcore that are fairly small compared to the rest of the objects because they would catch fragments of the projection as it moved over them in absolute clarity.
Lepecki comes back again and again to a quote by Fred Moten and Stefano Harvey:
Some people want to run things, other things want to run. (29)
I didn’t think much of this upon first reading; resisting his interpretation of thing and instead thinking of the thing as an entity so abstracted to the point of abjection, devoid of any agency. But, as I built my installation and watched my own body move across it I was struck by how alive it all felt. As I intended, the objects and the body felt of the same world – all merely things in the installation. What I didn’t expect was for the inanimate-ness of the objects (curtains, palette, sheet metal, foamcore) to be so highlighted while the projected body seemed to run away from itself, awarding itself agency over it’s own thingliness.
I began to think not of the projected body as the thing or of the objects as the things. Rather, the entire installation became the thing as Lepecki writes of things in performance:
A ‘thing’ as whatever escapes instrumental reason, whatever exists outside logics of manipulation, whatever is unconditioned, whatever actively wants to run away, escape, from being reduced to graspability and comprehension… (29)
At the same time I was working on this study I became obsessed with Czechoslovakian amateur, outsider photographer Miroslav Tichy. Brian Wallis discusses the primary form of the amateur photographer as the snapshot. I think of snapshots as images that capture clearly, distinct moments (birthdays, vacations, etc.) in an effort to aid in the remembering of those moments as things in the photographer’s life. Wallis discusses Tichy’s photographs as antisnapshots,
They deny everything that conventional personal photography strives for: clarity, composition, ritual, family, perfection…it is these shorts of ‘mistakes’ [double exposure, the blurred image, the bad cropping, the misfired shot, the finger over the lens] that Tichy appropriated from snapshot photography and accentuated in his own work…For the most part, Tichy eschews the direct gaze, the personal connection, or the highly individual relationship implied in many snapshots. (16)
In discussing them this way I think Tichy’s photographs become things in a way similar to how Lepecki talks about the thing in performance.
I bring Tichy’s work in to my own reflection on snapshots in disintegration for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, due to the sheer number of photographs he took, as a collection they become about “what happens when nothing happens, what passes when nothing passes, except time…” (Wallis, Wallis 18). The movement in my own work is not the important thing. More important is what happens to the body as the viewer watches it as time passes.
Additionally, “he was not interested in outmoded or found objects…but in the deliberate creation of damaged goods, objects that accelerate or at least call attention to their own material vulnerability” (Wallis, 20) The drawing attention to material vulnerability certainly speaks to Tichy’s work but I think also pretty beautifully evokes dance in general. At least, I empathize with the concept as it relates to and knits together my own practices as choreographer and photographer.
Ultimately I wanted to talk about Tichy because I drew a lot of inspiration from how his work captures the body in fragmentation. I thought about this mostly as I finessed the placement of the white foamcore to ensure it did what I wanted it to; to create antisnapshots each time the body moved across one of them.
Lepecki, Andre. Singularities: Dance in the Age of Performance. London + New York: Routledge, 2016.
Wallis, Brian. “What Happens When Nothing Happens: Miroslav Tichy and the Mysteries of Everyday Life.” In Miroslav Tichy, 11-20. New York, NY: The International Center of Photography, 2010.
Bones Rest MotionlesS (2015)
At five-thousand-five-hundred feet the air starts to get thin. It is harder to breath there. In through my collarbones, out through the floating bone in my throat in a slow whistle that fills my neck with air. My lungs cannot read this oxygen. They never fill and never empty. The edge I stand on is sheer. It is a vertical drop.I can see through it. A few thousand feet below me is a pile of bones.
I know they are there because I passed them in another life 3 miles ago. As I watch them I imagine these bones are mine. They are as big as I sometimes feel mine are, or wish they were.
The size of an elk. Orange cartilage still stitches a section of my spine together, in one long flexible knot. The rest, except for the more beautiful pieces that have been taken, fall in confusion around it.
These bones are the remains, the pieces unwanted.
I reach down from the ridge and pick up one vertebrae that has become unglued from the others. I place it in the pocket of my rain jacket. It reminds me of how tangible it is to fall apart. How real it is to have your skeleton jettisoned from your skin. How physical the grotesquely meaningless can be.
A few thousand feet below the bones is a river. It cuts a trench through rock. Some trenches, like this natural moat, have water that runs, unseen just beyond your footing, threatening to pull you under. Once trenches were dug to hide a soldier from the other men and machines that fought him. What kind of trench is this? Is it there to hide me from the mountains that loom above me when I’m down there? Or is it conspiring with the clouds that press down on the crown of my skull when I hover above where the trees grow?
That river flows to the ocean. I saw it there two days ago. It flows out as the tide rushes in. Fresh and salt fight each other.
They call that brackish.
The patterns of their currents wear down on the islands that once sat offshore until they are only colossal structures looming, cutting the waves with their sharp edges.
They call these sea stacks.
Across the trench is a mountain, a famous mountain. You would know the name of it’s peak if it weren’t surrounded by mist. Tiny drops of water freeze on each glacier and attack each stone summit, turning it to sand to be carried to the beach by the river. There is sense in such natural decay. A famous poet once called what I am standing on ugly. Ascar. Ablemish. A wrinkle. A pox.
There could be beauty in the violence that caused the earth to cut itself up to make these mountains. Or is there just too much fire underneath us? Do I love to watch things burn because it is stunning or because it is terrifying? My bed is a platform made of splintery wood that I bought under florescent lights right after I told someone a scary secret that wasn’t mine. Just one I had witnessed, though I wished I hadn’t. I built this bed.
That was the first time I told that secret out loud. It is solid. I am capable.
Lying on my left side, I watch my bone rest motionless next to my lamp. My room smells like the night it was taken away, the night I was drained: like a pool of blood spilling over the memory of sex. I can feel my cat moving against my foot. Her preening making a slow and rhythmic pattern. The night I am thinking about there was a boy next to me. A boy I hardly remember except when he smiles at me out of the mouth of a stranger I see sometimes. I chase that smile. I never catch it. I am thinking of this stranger as I climb down from the ridge. Down a narrow trail that zig-zags through a field of dead trees.
Struck by lightning in 1978.
Almost at the bottom I stop. In front of me is a pile of crumbling fallen wood. Twenty feet up is a twisted stump. How long could I have been gone that a 300 year old tree grew and fell while I was away.
if tangled bits fly loose: describe (2013)
One woman stands on stage,
Her back to the audience.
She is wearing a sheer black dress.
One light fades up slowly
And at some imperceptible moment a mechanical
But recognizably organic drone sound comes in.
She begins to move. It is small, the ghost of something huge.
And then again. And again. And Again.
A little bigger each time until it is full
It propels her into a run.
She is joined by another woman in a sheer black dress.
They stop, cut short, just at the end of the stage
And then repeat their motions
Propelled again into a run that ends standing.
They are side by side, still, the reverberations of their
Flinging resonating in their stillness.
Four more dancers enter
One by one
Forming a scattered clump.
One begins to move, a full bodied, yet lackluster phrase
That is shocked by the entrance of a repetitive clang.
She sets off a chain of duets.
All six dancers move in and out of stillnesses,
Partnerships shift almost without noticing.
They move with violent grace in and out of the floor.
They attack the space, eating it up, and then losing it.
They never see each other while they move
But they bear witness intensely when they are still.
Almost forgotten, she has been still so long
Enters and begins to run. Frantically, stopping once to jump
She falls. Releases into the floor.
Her focus pulls her back up to stand.
Her focus draws the other five back to her.
They are a collective body.
They begin to move, swinging in a precarious balance.
In unison they tip
Fall of balance and regain direction.
And then their unison becomes fragmented.
There is dissonance
A building tension.
Nearly resolved when they find each other again.
But then five of them run to the end of the stage
Leaving one alone.
She dances fiercely.
Fighting loneliness. Fighting alone for
Something we cannot see.
Eventually one woman re-enters
Stands behind the dancer who jumps,
It seems as if she might fly
Until she is caught before she even reaches the peak of her jump.
She slides down to her knees. Crawls away.
Five bodies on stage are still
And one performs a tiny dance.
A reference to the first moments,
She is understated, melancholic, missing something.
Simultaneously remembering and forgetting.
Slowly the other bodies come to life.
Joining in her tiny dance
Or creating their own.
Suddenly two fall to the floor
Two others burst with energy
And two remain still.
Then three fall to the floor.
Then three burst with energy.
There is a breath. A pause before
Three explode followed closely behind by a fourth.
These four bodies crash and fly.
They find pathways around each other.
They are sweating and breathing heavily
As two women walk at a painfully slow pace
Across the stage.
They arrive. Take a deep breath together and then
Mimic the movement the other four have recently finished.
These two finish this vehement dance
And carefully retreat.
They stand perfectly still. They see nothing,
As the other four dancers re-enter.
There is a dip of one knee into the floor.
A circle and catching of the arm. A tripping slide.
A wobbly, ravenous step.
And as they each find quiet the still two
Begin the advance, still they see nothing
But they walk precariously.
So precariously that they eventually fall
Into a scary orbiting chase.
Ending one behind the other
The one in front jumps.
It seems as if she might fly
Until she is caught before she even reaches the peak of her jump.