rethinking why performance matters through the matter of performance
3. Potentials of Performance

30 July 2012

Sťances of Absences



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   There are different types of absences: epileptic symptom, non-attendance, loss of consciousness, minor blackout or lapse, simply not being there. All of these signify a lack, or missing of a presence. By contrast, séances, as attempts to communicate with spirits, invite a kind of hyper-presence, an acute awareness and oversensitivity to receiving messages. Channelling not a message but Emily’s dancing body – the humbling experience of somatic exploration beyond substance – and unearthing the remnants of her presence as my body remembers her body... this was the method Emily and I worked with during recent weeks. Dancing with each other with an ocean between us.

As part of the tuning into the séances I sometimes sang Emily’s name, which sounded like this:




   Here are some reflections on those practices from my notebook. This is what I wrote after a day of walking and dancing in the sun:

   In your absence I wear the trousers you gave me as a present from Berlin. It is my precious piece of second skin that I have received from you. When you are away, there are certain objects, smells, sounds and movements that make me remember your body, voice and touch. I am reminded of Spinoza’s second Axiom: “What cannot be conceived through another, must be conceived through itself.” I feel folded back into my own experience of being a body, while searching for the emergence of the being-in-the-medium, as Agamben’s thoughts resonate in me, that gestures exhibit mediality. The resonance comes right through me – not my mind, not my body, not my heart. The location of those reverberations is unclear to me as they are binding all my attention. I slowly lift my left arm, and start to turn in a circle, but time has been stretched, it seems as if the beat has gone half time. The knots of my dance get loose and I remember that we were talking about Schwelle 7, Felix Ruckert’s work and specifically the bondage experiments. Baruch Spinoza’s Chapter IV in Ethics has the title “Of human bondage”. Proposition 38 in Chapter IV: “Whatever so disposes the human body that it can be affected in a great many ways, or render it capable of affecting external bodies in a great many ways, is useful to man; the more it renders the body capable of being affected in a great many ways, or of affecting other bodies, the more useful it is; on the other hand, what renders the body less capable of these things is harmful.” Again I read this as a plea for the singularity of bodies and their extensive potential to evolve through liminal experiences, though I know that this might not have been Spinoza’s argument at all, who appears to have lived quietly and without major turbulence after the herem (excommunication) issued by the Jewish religious authorities in Amsterdam in 1656. Also, again, a discussion of usefulness is needed, I know, and maybe we can have this conversation when you are here? However, the unbelievable fact is that it will be as exhilarating, confusing and difficult to understand the affects we exchange when you are here, despite (or maybe because of) your presence.

And here some notes from a rainy day, after a long studio session of dancing, reading and writing:

   I am back to the book that we read and discuss together – your birthday present that I sent to your temporary Berlin address (because you had said that you miss your library when travelling). The process of shared readings proves an extensive deviation, but as a relevant undercurrent that supports much of this dialogue – in addition to the shared dances, dinners and letters, of course.
Sabisch outlines the body as a pack of practices, with potential for changes to the habitual precisely because of the body’s own vivacity, formative dynamics and specific resistances. There is much tacit knowledge exchanged in sharing a dance and a delicate attunement to bodily processes, even when your body is not present. I perceive modal differences that reach beyond the known physicality, because the deviation from the assumed presence generates a subtle dance that is addressing the fragile contact between us and is hypersensitive to dissociation. If I cannot sense you, I pause – it is a generative hiatus, a deviation as I pass through the strata of post-subjective intensitives, intensities that don’t belong to me, or any other clearly delineated subject. “Yet in order to weigh the aesthetic force of intensity, one requires the deviation of the idea.” (Sabisch, 2011, p. 83). I feel strongly the desire to follow the process rather than to execute a preconceived idea.

   P.S. Some of this sounds like excerpts from a love letter, and maybe it is true that collaboration needs some tenderness and appreciation that comes close to the experience of love.

   P.P.S.: Do you remember Gerald Siegmund’s argument in his book Absencea performative aesthetic of dance, that at the horizon of absence, where the images open up, what eludes the subject is death emerging as the most radical form of absence? No, I resist calling this thought pathetic because there is consequently following through the argument (I think he is right) that dance radically faces death.

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