Last night I walked into the dilapidated studio of William Forsythe. He was leaning against one of the windows, all white and grey now, huntched over, looking at his dancers improvising. A whole room in motion. We exchange a warm gaze, we hug in passing, without distracting attention from the work. My wife, in her winter-coat, joins the dance without a word, but Bill stops her. ‘It’s the last one, let them be amongst themselves’. We watch in silence. It is different, beautiful and disturbing. The dancers: creatures doing things. They move quickly amongst themselves, no coherence, an unbound expulsion of energy – they seem to follow an inner logic: doctors, office-workers, athletes; shivering in embrace, moving along unbound , mysterious trajectories – a desperate life raft of frantic beauty on its last day at sea. Amongst them, a researcher gathering the names of all dancers for a book, christening the ones that don’t have one. The dance ends. I look at Bill and he seems absent. We talk, there is warmth, he seem incoherent. What he says, his gestures, his eyes – it does not make any sense and no one seems to notice. He asks me how my ballets at the opera are coming along. I need to think about it, then tell him that I do nothing of the sort. He smirks. We climb down the ladder from the studio, his body is too frail for working, his mind is coming undone.


…and silently rewrites your vision.

I was a warrior once, raised to fight the good fight: to create and produce, to prosper and progress. To not question anything beyond token-gestures of post-structuralist musings in the confines of academia or the artisan leisure of cafes. Provided that nothing ever changes, change is most pleasurable and endearing. Hence, a faithful class has established itself to demonstrate beauty inherent in our existing social construct and celebrate the ever-unfolding advent of human knowledge. For hundreds of years the arts have collaborated to demonstrate constraint, ambition and appropriate ways of conduct and production. They have propagated all these high ideals in order to justify the restrictions imposed upon our Leib, the body, the individual and thereby managed to soften the contours, consequences and implications of our collective, economic life. These are the Defenders of the Empire, the Beautifiers, models of civility, the ones who oblige to beautify as part of the existential bargain: employed by society to demonstrate, to comment, to struggle, to endure and defend: twirling in new clothes, bathed in artificial light. They have failed this society. Art has the obligation to cultivate new ways of seeing, to develop an aesthetics as to the establishment of a comprehensive field for sensitive knowing. To embed oneself in the world anew: for our existence to attune itself with the oceanic, the sacred and the unknown over and over again. This urgent, permanent quest for grace is what must concern our societies most.

Image by Lida Touloumakou

Image by Lida Touloumakou

Frames of our doings.

To order things depends foremost on what is understood as ‘order’; what ‘order’ wants to achieve and to what purpose and extend order unknowingly exists in the one that orders. We were born orderly, grew up somewhat orderly and fulfill a role in an orderly fashion. We actively put order of all sorts out into the world by putting brick on brick or encircling ideas with other ideas. We do that rather effortlessly, in the manner we have grown to understand the order we are immersed in and that grants us our human and social identity. At times we challenge the containers of our doings, the works of our labour through creative acts. Then we stretch the imagination to yield unusual results. The stretched canvas is filled with the patterns we know, brick by brick, and ideas that encircle others. So what if the ordering-patterns of our times are insufficient to meet the challenges of our creations? What if the order of the hive stands in direct conflict with the way a deeper ecology requires our modalities of ordering to be in order to grant us survival?

Socially agreed containers for the arts whether theatre or museum are templates for original thought to pass through and take hold in society. They have grown out of, and represent the symptoms of he same thinking that produced slaughterhouses, stock markets, competitive primary schools, injectable lip-gel, 24h news channels, banker’s bonuses and cluster bombs. No separation from its context, the wider system that maintains it is possible: art and its institutions are no islands; they are implicated collaborators in maintaining and extending the status quo. In their promise of offering an alternate reality, a fuller sense of humanity, they are potentially more culpable than those, which don’t deny their role in the system. Art institutions have become the new opiate for the elite to evade the pain of sustainable life; of what it would actually take to achieve relevant change: to embody, to sacrifice and shape shift into truth seeking dreams.

Underneath. All Poetry.

One day, grass will grow over our cities. It is vital to converse with grass for the prophecy to realize itself only in the upmost distant future. The great anthropologist Gregory Bateson once said that the deeper logic of nature, hidden from our consciousness, goes something like that:  Grass dies. Man dies. Man is grass. He outlines how rationality is foremost a subset of such deeper connections of thought as illustrated by this syllogism. The wider living world is bound through a reality of metaphors – a poetic reality – and if we want to sustain each other and thereby other living forces in the matrix of life this poetic reality needs to form a central aspect of our concerns.

Our cradles for emerging thoughts and actions, the spaces of education, arts and culture themselves need be imbued with the reality of metaphors and the associative connectedness of everything. Not in a simple representational way, as an inner image of the outside world, but in an utmost direct and embodied manner. As Bateson insisted, for action to be planned at all, for us to escape our modes of thinking, it must be planned upon an aesthetic base.  All action: national planning, governance, teaching, healing, institutions, performance spaces must be choreographed upon an aesthetic, embodied base vs. a purely projected reality. Hence, art and its spaces must rise from such an aesthetic base too in order to become the canvas for truly original cultural, social and ethical innovations, formations and realities.

We might think of choreography in terms of ‘rehearsal’; that is, as the working out and working through of utopian, nevertheless ‘real’, social relations. ( Andrew Hewitt)

Image by Lida Touloumakou

Image by Lida Touloumakou

Proposition to build differently.

When I am reading traditional Japanese Haikus I feel saner. As if all things commune in a silent manner that hum with mystery. Confronted with the unfathomable vastness of existence the world stops shaking. An opening for new thought ensues. Our time requires spaces for art to be more like Haikus as it dispenses with punctuation and frequently with words ordinarily required by grammar. This dissolving of rules thrusts the reader into an unmapped world (Zaleski), potentially into a Batesonian world of metaphors. Furthermore, through an association of ideas the Haiku manages to create a web of unexpected relationships, just as Basho links the warriors to summergrass. This method interrupts our systems of logic and points to the numinous gaps and links between all things. Most works written in this poetic form also suggest a calendar season in order to trigger a barrage of unpredictable intellectual and emotional responses that are held deep in the body connecting it to its very context. Urgently, art and its spaces need to connect us to our context, allowing to experience a poetic reality, connecting things that are apparently not connected and to give us real, embodied experiences in order to destabilize dominant thought-patterns.

All dance-spaces will have windows. The era of mapping one’s imagination upon ‘the void’ is over. It didn’t work. It created havoc. We now know that human imagination without constant connection to its contextual surroundings is perilous: we aimed to be like gods, we’ve ended up as ignorant caricatures. We critique other’s gods as if we haven’t secretly, collectively, unknowingly conspired to be just like them: to create a dance in just 7 weeks out of nothing, mapped onto a black canvas and divorced from the brown earth outside, to immerse ourselves, in an exact communion with others, in this artificial hell. (Proposition: No more Artificial Voids)

 Art institution-to-be will have windows, they will combine aspects of society that previously seemed divided: theatre as asylum, dance studio as soup kitchen, museum as homeless shelter and concert hall as research laboratory. They will chart the way forward, moving in mutual vulnerability and eternally encourage each of us to dance outside, underneath the stars. These institutions will have been built on the understanding that dancing underneath the stars is felt differently, and that such difference makes the difference when building the world anew.

The origin of all art:
A rice planting song
In the inmost field of all

Silent Witness, Ireland

Michael Kliën, 12/2014
Thanks to Volkmar Klien, Jeffrey Gormly and Steve Valk for their input.

Badiou, A., (2005), Handbook of Inaesthetics, Standford: Standford University Press

Bateson, G., (2002), Mind and Nature, Hampton PR, original date of publication: 1979

Hewitt, A. (2005), Social Choreography: Ideology as Performance in Dance and Everyday Movement, Duke University Press.

Kliën, M. & Valk, K., (2007), ‘What Do You Choreograph At The End Of The World?’ Zodiak: Unden Taussin Taehen, Finland: Like

Kliën, M., (2012), ‘Propositions: To Dance Differently, New York:

Zaleski, P. (2005), Prayer: A History, New York: Houghton Mifflin

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: