From Jenn to Maria (30 December, 2012)

Dearest Maria,

I am writing you from the edges of the sand where liquid horizon touches sky. Thinking of you in Cyprus or perhaps now in Athens and soon to return to New York City where we will meet for the next iteration of SHOW. From this distance, temporally and geographically, it felt necessary to consider our mode of address—the languages and locations from which we speak, I write and you dance. And always you are dancing, with Hristoula, with Robert, or alone; “breathing and trembling are my movements,” you remind me.

Your work explicitly stages a precarious mode of address, one that acknowledges my complicity as witness and asks me to participate (and not only during the performance but in thinking about it as well). Writing of this precarious relation, Judith Butler points to the constructed quality of such tremulousness attention. We do not decide to be addressed, but rather are called, invited, placed in relation, one to the other. To acknowledge this would require a consideration of the facts, ideologies, obsessions, politics, aesthetics determining these relations. Often these conditions, dare we call them shadows, imperatives, or ghosts are never so visible. Yet I sense in your work an impulse toward their revelation. Could this be a way to think about Solo or SoloShow?Two works that take the image as a point of departure, then edit and transform it into something quite else, something that calls out to our too easy recognition of iconic postures to reveal the less stable, shaking, tears along the edges of what is seen.

This is what I remember of Solo[1]:

You begin lying on your back under the carpet off to the side of the space; white noise, footsteps, cars passing, horns, audience conversations fill the space. You lie still long after we enter. Slowly propping up one knee, you pause, then roll over, then pause, then climb out from under the carpet. You pause. Now splayed out on the carpet, your leg catches on the fabric. You rise to roll up the carpet and it becomes less surface skin and closer to a collaborator in your spatial negotiation. Now perpendicular you arch your back and your head disappears. This distended figure pauses, again. The duet with carpet continues—falling, leaning, wrapping. Later standing against the back wall, you appear almost camouflaged staring out over the crumpled carpet. Yet it seems to call you and as the lights dim you carry it to the edge of the stage before returning to the wall.

This is what I remember of SoloShow:

You sit on the edge of the platform in stillness as I enter the theater. Dressed in creamy beige pants and translucent tank top, your skin seems almost indistinguishable from the fabric. Spotlights illuminate half of the platform so that it almost disappears into the dark. You uncross your leg and turn away from me, one leg propped on the platform with one arm resting and the other draped off the edge. You move your arm from knee and place it behind as you lean back. Your tendons strain as your neck extends. The poses are long, almost too long, almost long enough to lose me. Yet this never happens, I remain entranced. Your chest lifts and lowers with each breath as the sound, a crush of white noise cut with fragments of conversation and an occasional song lyric, fills the space. You continue for almost an hour carefully exchanging positions, executing a choreography of excruciating transition across the platform.

When you shift from a contemplation of image to that of task, your translation remains marked by a tremulous intensity of extreme presence and virtuosic groundedness. Your duet with Robert Steijn renders a gorgeous intimacy drawn out over time through a subtle positioning and repositioning in the space. Your gaze is for Robert alone and his for you; I remain outside. Yet from this distance I cannot look away. What is more seductive than to witness the machinations of attraction, energetic or erotic, even as performed? Following one performance, DD Dorvillier described the prismatic sparkle as a “capture of light in the liquid of your eye.” Exquisite proximity: a spasm of tears releasing.

This is what I remember of Robert and Maria[2]:

You and Robert walk onto the stage and look into each other’s eyes. At first you stand near me. You embrace then walk onto the sanctuary floor. Lit by a pile of black stage lights, you face each other. This will be the refrain and structure of the work: to gaze deeply into each other’s eyes. I remember Rosmarie Waldrop’s words: “Eyes breathe. Like open wounds.” At once simple and gorgeous, the duration of your gaze renders a devastating address. It is not a gaze that reifies the cult of the visible, but rather transports me to a more sensuous moment of its undoing. As you stand in front of Robert, looking up and into his eyes, tears flow down your cheeks. Not once, but a series of times throughout the performance, so I am never certain if you are crying from emotion or physical fatigue or memory or any combination of these.

In a later moment, Georges Didi-Huberman whispers: “Here is exactly what dancing is, I then told myself: to make of one’s body a subtracted form, even if immobile, of multiple forces. To show that a gesture is not the simple result of a muscular movement and a directional intention, but something much more subtle and dialectic: the encounter of at least two confronted movements––those in this case of the body and the aerial milieu––producing, at the very point of their balance, a zone of arrest, of immobility, of syncope. A kind of silence of the gesture.”

In Didi-Huberman’s peculiar text the dancer appears as a bird of prey suspended in air. Another philosopher seduced by dance, he follows Friedrich Nietzsche’s affiliation of dance with flight, innocence, light, verticality, and silence. Didi-Huberman imagines not only a virtuosic escape from ground, from thinking, from gravity, but rather a virtuosity of stillness that can only be generated in relation––between the bird and the air, between you and Robert, between the dance and I.

Over coffee last month we spoke of another philosophic seduction not Gilles Deleuze but Alain Badiou. For Badiou dance acts as a “thought-body” as a “metaphor for thought.” Yet I want to hold onto the deeply material, physical, desiring bodies of the dancers and audience and not allow our seduction to end only in metaphor.

“You dance inside my chest where no one sees you, but sometimes I do, and this sight makes our dance,” you intimated about Robert and Maria. A work that Ralph Lemon describes as an “aesthetics of love.” SHOW brings us even closer, placing us inside the dance with you and Hristoula to propose an aesthetics of desire.

This is what I imagine of SHOW:

Waiting. Still waiting. Time amplified by the intense heat from the pile of stage lights. Waiting. Still waiting. A subtle entrance as you and Hristoula walk into the space among the audience dressed in gray with long black hair. A duet doubled, at least: you with Hristoula, you with me, Hristoula with someone else… A multiplicity, if I were to steal Didi-Huberman’s term.

You speak of this dance as a mode of language, of communication that exists only when the audience is present. It is not concerned with duration, but rather details or intensities of heat, light, proximity. Neither image, nor task, nor steps, the choreography of SHOW evolves from the delicate articulation of distance between you and Hristoula, between each of you and the individuals composing the audience. When you stretch out your arm behind me, you create space or establish a trajectory although you rarely reveal these patterns. Instead you secretly shift from one encounter to the next and wait, as we waited in the beginning, for me for her for him to acknowledge the encounter as well.

SHOW might appear very quiet; at moments you and Hristoula almost disappear into the audience or into the dimming lights. And yet, the trembling sweating sensitivity of each moment articulates the subtle violence of togetherness and this is the paradox of SHOW—as imperative and as title. There is no illusion of theatricality. We feel the heat of the lights and the relief as they dim. I move with you in this “space of consciousness,” of desire, of attention.

It is an intimately precarious mode of address. A magical gift, thank you.

Sending love until we meet,

Jenn


“30 December, 2012” also is available in READING – a zine produced byAMERICAN REALNESS 2013. The zine contains critical content relating to every artist presented in the festival, and its authors have diverse relationships to the artists they address. This project aims to make clear the value of as well as the need for this kind of work—supporting artistic production through developing thoughtful commentary.

Select articles from READING will be hosted here on Culturebot, released throughout the festival. Find the complete printed version over at American Realness, available for sale on a sliding scale—true zine/DIY style.