One Flat Thing Reproduced by Choreographer William Forsythe (2008) /// Photograph by Michel Cavalca
A few months ago, I presented the work of dancer/philosopher Erin Manning and her book, Relationscape (MIT Press, 2009) through a Bergsonian interpretation of movement. Her most recent book, Always More Than One: Individuation’s Dance (Duke University Press, 2013) indicates twice in its very title its credit to Gilbert Simondon‘s philosophy. This volume continues to construct a philosophy of the dancing body, continuously “taking form” in relation of its environment. Dance is not necessarily on stage and does not necessarily requires music (at least, not music that knows that it is music) in the case of individuation’s dance. “There are techniques for hoeing, for standing at a bus stop, for reading a philosophical text, for taking a seat in a restaurant, for being in line at a grocery store,” says Manning (p33) using the Simondonian terminology.
Interpreting this last passage in terms of normativity would be completely misunderstanding Manning’s dicourse. The techniques she describes do not involve a normalized body on which these techniques would be layered: they are proper to each body’s specificity. In fact, what Simondon brings to the concept of body according to her consists in the refusal of thinking a predetermined form for the body, which brings us back to the first episode of this week in critique of the hylomorphic scheme:
I am aware of the fact that I already wrote a very similar article (same topic, same reference) a bit less than three years ago. Yet, with the forthcoming sixth volume of The Funambulist Pamphlets dedicated to Palestine, it might be a good time to revisit it.
The small group of Palestinians practicing parkour in the Gaza strip has been largely spread around the net (see Joseph Grima’s article in Domus for example with beautiful photographs by Antonio Ottomanelli). However, we should not be overwhelmed by the aesthetics offered by these bodies subverting walls in a region where walls embody the paradigm of the containment from which the people of Gaza suffer. We should nonetheless not refuse the symbolical aspect of such practice as symbols have a strong impact on collective imaginaries. The latter have various degrees of political involvement and one can easily understand that, in the specific case of Gaza, the collective imaginary built by the Palestinians have indeed strong political implications.
Power of the Lines – Lines of Power ///
text originally written in French for the 2012 issue of the journal of ETH Zurich, Trans entitled Stance (thank you to Stéphanie Savio). My apologies for the egocentrism of this article.
The graphic novel Lost in the Line (2010) materializes an allegory of my architectural manifesto. The line constitutes the medium used by the architect as a tool and a representation code. Geometrically it does not have any thickness; it is therefore difficult to imagine that one could loss oneself in it! However, when the line is drawn by the architect, it is susceptible to acquire a thickness with heavy consequences when transcribed into reality. A line that becomes a wall does not simply acquire a height, it also includes in its oxymoronic thickness a violence against the territory that it split and against the bodies that it controls irresistibly. Architecture is therefore inherently violent and each attempt to defuse its power on the bodies is useless. Maybe should we, on the contrary, accept this violence and use it in favor of our manifestos.
Lost in the Line is therefore a narrative allegory of such a position. In it, the line is both this geometrical figure traced on a piece of paper and that separates the desert into two parts, but also a fractal component and quasi-molecular that is contained in the dark matter of the graphite dropped on the paper by the pencil. The bodies, in this story, are subjugated to the violence of the lines that split the space all around them; however, they attempt to appropriate the interstices provoked by these lines in order for them to move in all directions, build new forms of dwelling, and ultimately cross the original line that yet constituted an impenetrable border at the macroscopic level.
Many of us probably saw the horrifying videos of the new collective rapes that happened in the last few weeks on Tahrir Square by groups of men who took advantage of the political crowd in order to commit the unforgivable. These assaults on women occurred several times in the past already and I invite my readers to look at the work Bridgette Auger (see past article) has been doing to document these extremely violent acts. How can art express this unbearable violence that has been perpetuated for centuries by men on women? The work of Pina Bausch has such a strong response to this question that it allows us to wonder how deep can art go.
The violence on the female body is one of the recurrent themes in Pina Bausch’s work; sometimes it is introduced in the context of a continuous struggle in life, but often, the body seems to be simply dispossessed of any vitality and treated as an object that can be pushed, pulled, thrown, molested, hit, carried, fingered etc. Such a violence made Anne Linsel, director of the documentary about Pina Bausch, Tanzträume (Dancing Dreams), to explain that when her mother saw her film, she could link these gestures to what she had lived in the concentration camps during the Second World War.
Prosthetic Aesthetics by Lawrence Lek (2012)
Today I want to talk (once again) about the body and its relationship to design by presenting five young (four of them are less than 30 years old) designers (two French, one German, one Korean and one American) who each in their own way challenge the body through their design and vice versa. In order to do so, I will introduce them successively from the design at the closest of the body to the one at the furthest. We might call the first one fashion, the last one architecture and the ones in between industrial design or art, but really that does not matter at all and attributing these designs to a specific discipline would be missing their common point: their investigation on the body. It is true that the scale of clothing (or prosthetic), because of its privileged relationship to the individual who wears it, might present a more direct political dimension as it introduces an immediate performativity of the same individual within the public realms. What we wear is necessary a form of political expression of our desires, our gender, our social class, our ethnicity, or rather the desire, the (non)gender, the social class, the ethnicity and the relationship to society and to the norm that we choose to express. I would like to claim nevertheless that the same is true for the localization and behavior or our body, and that also involves our relationship to the designed and built environment that surrounds it. Most of us do not design our own clothes, our own furniture, our own buildings. What the body make of them is obviously conditioned by the design, but it can also consist in the subversion of these conditions, or at least in the sum of behaviors that go beyond the original spectrum of behaviors imagined by the designer and other decisive actors of a design.
Basile Doganis is a French philosopher particularly interested in the field of Japanese culture (see his work about the silence in Ozu’s cinema for example). His book, Pensées du corps: La philosophie à l’epreuve des arts gestuels japonais (danse, théâtre, arts martiaux) (Body thinking: Philosophy confronted to Japanese Gestural Arts (dance, theater, martial arts)) (Paris: Les Belles lettres, 2012) is an analysis of the way the body is considered in those arts and how it can be approached through concepts created in Western Philosophy (Deleuze, Bergson, Whitehead etc.). The book is also prefaced by Alain Badiou who used to be B.Doganis’ professor. In his research, jujidsu, kendo, butoh, no have all in common to depersonnalize the body in order to make it a “puppet” subjected to the forces of its environment. Of course, this requires some explanations not to be detrimental to both Japanese gestural arts and B.Doganis’s writing; and that is why he goes back recurrently to this idea along the book in order to provide a clear visualization of this paradoxal status (one would think that the puppet is precisely what one would want to avoid to be in the situation of dance or fighting).
My translation (all originals excerpt at the end of the article):
We therefore come up with a paradoxical situation that we could formulate as the following: if the body, in its most primary manifestation and its mere existence, presents more intensity and depth than a conscious artistic intention, then we would have to seek the minimal degree of intention that is of particularity, of personal will. However, since a part of consciousness and will always remains in action, the regulatory ideal will consist in “being dead” while being alive or, at least, to give to the body some properties based on pure inertia. For Hijikata, as we saw it, the will to dance always goes, in butoh, with a surprising desire of dispossession and handicap. Handicap is like a limit, where the body is silent and refuses any principle of will and control. The dancer chooses to give up progressively all his ordinary capacities to become only an instrument, a tool, a mere support through which an uncontrollable intensity acts. (P62)
Today’s post is a short homage to those who I call funambulists. Among them, of course, are the literal funambulists, tight rope walkers exercising their freedom by subverting the power of the line they work on; but more generally, anyone who uses her or his body to create and express forms of freedom of movement (parkourers, skaters, jugglers, dancers etc.).
I recently encountered a piece of the work of German artist Oskar Schlemmer (merci Martial) who was working for the Bauhaus in 1927 when he created the Slat Dance choreography. The latter consists in a man wearing a dark bodysuit and dancing with a full set of sticks attached on each of his limb. The visual effect for the spectator (see the video below) is the abstraction of the body itself and the quasi-hypnotic movement of the lines materialized by the sticks. The body is thus perceived in its bare mechanical form, an assemblage of straight pieces articulated by a kneecap at each junction point. The fascination of this dance surely comes from the ambiguity created between this mechanical dimension and a pure geometrical one created by those lines that can concentrate the entire visual ability of the spectators. The extension of each of those lines also impacts the space around the dancer and materializes forces of influence created by the movement.
I often write about the power of the lines as used as primary medium by the architect; their static dimension and heavy materialization (the wall being its paradigm) enforce a violence on the body that it convenes to study (to remain with dance, see for example the body of Pina Bausch violently encountering the stage’s wall in her Cafe Muller). In the case of O.Schlemmer’s work, the line is created and animated by the body itself, producing a complex system of movement and forces. The latter would then be interesting to observe when it encounters another system centered on another body. In this last case, the lines could either negotiate forms of harmonization or, on the contrary, encounter themselves in a more antagonistic and violent way.
See the more recent adaptation by Gheorge Iancu in the following video:
Biosphere by Tomas Saraceno
Today’s guest writer essay is written by Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, co-director of the The Westminster International Law & Theory Centre in London. Andreas was kind enough to center his text on the figure of the Funambulist who incarnates both the body that experiences and creates the atmosphere (s)he is in. He uses Tomas Saraceno‘s sculptures as a materialization of this atmosphere. Materiality is indeed important here, as Andreas points out that atmospheres are too often perceived within a phenomenological interpretation rather than a materialist one. His essay is therefore an attempt to describe the epidermic reaction a body experiences from the atmosphere which prevents any form of contingency.
The Funambulist Atmosphere
by Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos
Jill Stoner‘s new book, Toward a Minor Architecture (MIT Press, 2012.) could constitute an excellent manifesto for The Funambulist as it uses a very important number of common references (Kafka, Borges, Ballard, Guattari, Deleuze, Bataille, Foucault, Robbe Grillet, Torre de David etc.) in order to express the political power of architecture and draw a strategy of resistive architectural processes, that she calls minor architecture. The title of the book, as well as its object, is, of course, a direct homage to Deleuze and Guattari’s book: Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (see previous article).
Minor, in both books, has to be understood in its double meaning that French and English allow. Minor in opposition, of course, but also minor as a discipline that digs within the matter of a dominant order. Kafka is indeed the author to look at to analyze these processes of resistance. Although he was Czech, he was writing in German and thus develops, through the language, what Deleuze and Guattari calls, an exercise of detteritorialization proper to any form of resistance against the dominant power (whichever this power is) over a territory (whichever this territory is). He is also the author of a short story entitled The Burrough, which literalizes the action of undermining; and for Deleuze and Guattari, he indeed writes like a dog digging a hole, a rat digging its burrow.
Kafka is therefore also the starting point of Jill Stoner’s book. In her opinion, the spaces of The Trial are the most expressive example of architecture’s oppression on the bodies. Each room is a prison in which the main character Josef K. can feel a strong claustrophobia increasing his endless delirium.
It has been said many times that the most beautiful ballets are the ones that makes us forget the weight of the dancers’ bodies. With Pina Bausch, on the contrary, dance becomes a vehicle of celebration of this weight in its interaction with itself, the others’ and the environment. The film Pina by Wim Wenders (2011) is remarkable in this regard. It offers to the spectator another point of view on four of the German choreographer’s main pieces (The Rite of Spring, Cafe Muller, Kontakthoh and Vollmond) as well as introducing her dancers in various open landscapes thus perpetuating the emphasis on the relationship dance creates with a terrain.
This new point of view is highly interesting as it focuses on details that are almost imperceptible from the audience’s traditional situation. However, all those details are what composes the atmosphere of P.Bausch’s ballet and are beautifully emphasized by W.Wenders. The sound of the bodies, in particular is fascinating whether they inhale, breathe, run, fall on the floor or hit itself. Bodies are celebrated both in their superb as well as in their fragility. There is a violence in Pina Bauch’s work that is fascinating and frightening in its crudeness. One more time, the film recounts well this dimension of dance, whether it is by those two female bodies which repeatedly encounter the power of a wall in Cafe Muller, or the group of women ritually hitting their bodies in Le Sacre du Printemps, or else the rope that retains this young girl from escaping of the room, or again, this couple, in Cafe Muller, who can’t stop repeating the same action over and over between embrace and fall. Each time, the sound produced by those bodies reminds us of their weight i.e. their factor of attraction for gravity and shocks us in its coldness.
Depending of the matter it is composed of, the environment reacts more or less visually to those encounters. Earth, sand and water are found regularly in the movie as good examples of such visible interactions. Indeed, these materials embody expressively the effect that the environment has on the body and vice versa.
This article registers itself in a series of short posts questioning this notion of weight of the body:
- 01/ The Weight of the Body Falling (Sept 11)
- 02/ Spinozist Collision (Sept 11)
- 03/ Gravity Dances (Dec 11)
‘‘Life should be lived on the edge of life. You have to exercise rebellion: to refuse to tape yourself to rules, to refuse your own success, to refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a true challenge – and then you are going to live your life on a tightrope’’
The Funambulist is one year old since it replaced the boiteaoutils. The following project, Highlines of New York; Chelsea School of Aerial Arts by Adam Shapland (University of Greenwich) provides a good imaginary in order to celebrate this anniversary. Indeed this project is a well built-up building for a school of tight-rope walking also known as. funambulism.
Of course, in my own interpretation I see in this project, both as a metaphor and as a real project in which the body’s action is celebrated. Just like in Zarathustra (see previous article), living on a line cannot be a mistake.
The following text is Adam’s own interpretation:
This article is the second sequel of the one called “The Weight of the Body Falling” that was followed by another entitled Spinozist collision. When those two articles were insisting on the weight of bodies, in particular when they fall and hit a surface, this one is dedicated, on the contrary, to work that celebrate the lightness of those who manage to play with gravity to a certain extent of transgression. Three beautiful examples come to mind in this regard:
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon by Ang Lee (2000) is a film in which some warriors have learned secret fighting skills among which they are able to defy gravity by becoming lighter:
Having question the relationship the body creates with its physical environment in the two last articles, I find appropriate to bring a very expressive and beautiful illustration of this relationship found in the choreographical interpretation of The Rite of Spring by Angelin Preljocaj (2000). In the following excerpt of this contemporary ballet, the young woman, soon to be sacrificed is pushed and fall on a little piece of terrain on which she is contained by the Pagan crowd around her. Oppressed and violented by the terrain, she is nude which, of course, creates an eroticism for the scene but more importantly engages the body in all its fragility and all its expression with its direct environment. Each contact with the ground can be read as exercising a strong influence on the body.
After the young woman get accustomed to this terrain by experiencing its violence, she develops a dance of resistance half combative half voluptuous and affirms her territorial presence. A while after this ultimate revolt, she dies and seems to make one with this same terrain on which she slowly falls.
For an even more expressive body interpretation of The Rite of Spring see the 1975 Ballet of the great Pina Bausch.
Alessandro Petti, Sandi Hilal & Eyal Weizman and their team of Decolonizing Architecture are proving to us, once again, that not only they keep being the incontrovertible thinkers of the built dimension of the Palestinian struggle, but also that they constitute a crucial avant-garde in the relationships that architecture maintains with territorial and political challenges.
Their new exhibition, in Neuchâtel (Switzerland) is entitled Common Assembly: Deterritorializing the Palestinian Parliament and focuses on the construction site/ruin that constitute the building of this Parliament. As the text that follows this article explains, this building is situated in Abu Dis as the Israel State still do not want to recognize East Jerusalem the capital city of the Palestinian State and therefore pushed the Parliament for it to be built beyond its unilaterally declared border of Jerusalem. Incidentally this same border happens to cut the building in two parts, or rather as the Decolonizing Architecture team states, in three parts. One being part of East Jerusalem, colonized by Israel, the other being part of the Palestinian controlled territory and the last one being hosted by the line itself.
This idea of a space contained within the oxymoronic thickness of the line is obviously something that needs to be celebrated in a blog that took its name, The Funambulist (another name for tight-rope walker) and manifesto (see the small text on the sidebar and the graphic novel associated with it) based on this idea. In fact, in a world and more specifically a discipline, architecture, that materialize lines into borders and walls, the space of liberation might be contained in this infinitely small thickness of the line and we should indeed exercises ourselves to become funambulists.
I did not have much time to write long articles lately…I apologize for that and leave you with one of the most beautiful illustration of a funambulist I know. This beautiful illustration has been created by Russian artists/architects Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin (see previous article) extracted from the just as much beautiful monography: Brodsky & Utkin: complete works. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2003.
Daniel Fernandez Pascual had the very good idea to post on Deconcrete some thoughts about the new movie of Wim Wenders which I am looking forward to see with great enthusiasm as it is built around the beautiful work of German late choreographer, Pina Bausch. The preview (see below) give a first taste of space, bodies and cameras as being orchestrated both by Wenders and Bausch’s dancers in perfect accordance with PB’s ethics which insists on the urgency and the necessity of dancing: “Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost.” As the preview suggests in its beginning: “Is it Dance ? Is it Theatre ? Or is it just Life ?”, dance here needs to be understood as the celebration of the power of the body and its Spinozist indissociation with what we commonly call the soul.
Alain Robert develops an original way of moving in the city, he litteraly climbs on high rises’ facades without any security device and eventually…get arrested by authorities. He is now famous all over the world as the “French spiderman” and architects such as Renzo Piano (NYTimes’ tower) invent devices to prevent him to climb their buildings !
I recently watched James Marsh’s documentary called Man on wire about funambulist Philippe Petit and his team’s success of crossing illegaly the two towers of the World Trade Centre on August 7th 1974. Their plan was as accurate as bank robbers and they eventually succeed to allow Petit walking 45 minutes in a 5cm wide world between the twin towers. The documentary shows as well his crossing of the two towers of Notre Dame de Paris and those from the Sydney bridge.
There are a lot of real shots either from the towers construction or from Petit’s preparation and dance on wire. All those images are obviously even more charged with emotivity since september 11st has touched the western inconscience.
I already posted one small article a year and half ago here with some more pictures
and it also reminds me of the two posts I did about Zarathoustra’s tightrope’s walker (here
in French, here