Realizing the Unready

In the last post and the one before that, I’ve done some process reports on an ongoing work with choreographer Uri Turkenich. In the end of March 2016, we did a series of presentations at Skogen in Gothenburg with the support of Konstnärsnämnden, also sharing the space with some other artists. A long and complex conversation about the necessities of sharing spaces and processes led us to that conclusion. In our program folder for these evenings, this is how we explained it:

Uri Turkenich: This text introduces Tova Gerge’s and my thoughts about the curatorial aspects of the three evenings we organize in Skogen in the end of March. We invited three other artists to share these evenings with us and show unready work. We want to explain why we did that.

Tova Gerge: We did it because we will also be unready, and we think unreadiness can be a beautiful condition to be in, for both audience and artists. For audience because unreadiness gives access to a certain kind of vulnerability, and maybe also a power to influence. For artists – well, it’s too lonely a condition to be in a process of artistic production where the end result is our first encounter with others. And for us specifically, to meet the audience at an early stage makes even more sense. Our whole project is about differences and getting to know the other as separate from the own identity. This means for us to explore the vulnerability of being together as we are – audience and performers alike – with all our fragilities.

U: We also enjoy thinking about conditions of production of art, and wanted to try producing under different conditions than what we are used to. Producing art alone is a precarious condition. If we do it together, it can become more sustainable. So we are very happy that the author Khashayar Naderehvandi, the choreographer Svarta fåret and the visual artist Anna Ehrlemark agreed to participate. It’s not so obvious to be willing to expose artistic processes to an audience and present work before it’s ready. It takes a certain kind of courage to do it.

T: I agree, but also it makes total sense to do it. To me, art is about being in dialogue, with friends and strangers. When we invite audience to a traditional, finished stage product, the dialogue sometimes only happens on the level of fantasy. Me and the audience are in the same room during the time of the performance, but we never meet.

U: For me every time I perform for people it is a kind of meeting. I hear how they breathe, I perceive their expressions and reactions. And they see me too. So this dialogue can also happen with the traditional finished stage product.

T: Maybe what I’m trying to say is that when it’s a finished product, we tend to give up on the conversation – including the breathing and the expressions and all that – because we know not much can change anyway. If we don’t have the means to continue working, the opinion of the audience becomes our potential adversary. It’s like when you have a conversation in your head with your lover, and you think it’s pointless to have it for real because you know what they are going to say. We hope that this format of presenting unready work would make it possible to have the real conversation with the audience.

U: Last month, I organized a similar event in Tel Aviv and my mother came there. In this event, I showed a video work about being lost, and this scared her. Maybe she was afraid that I wasn’t doing well. And when we spoke, I understood that for me, being lost can be fun. Maybe more than that – I see a value in getting lost, because it means I took risk in doing something I didn’t already know how to do. And I put myself in a vulnerable position, which means for me that I am more open to others. I couldn’t see it before talking to my mother; I didn’t realize it was in the video before talking with her.

T: I like this story, because some kind of ideology of getting lost is also part of why one would like to present unready work. When we don’t know exactly where we are or where we are going, there is the possibility of allowing ourselves to share the space differently with the audience; not always taking them for a ride but also asking them for directions, being inside a question with them.

U: Yes, we are sort of asking people – Where are we? Either in words, or just by seeing their reactions.

T: Sometimes the mere fact of sharing something can make me realize how much I actually know about my position, even though I might not want to admit it to myself before sharing. It could be that I have a darling that I don’t want to kill, or I have a problem that seems unsolvable before I show it to someone else. While it’s a horror having people commenting on this if in the bitter aftermaths of something, I become grateful if I’m allowed to see it with the help of others before the crisis, fight, publication, premiere, release… So to show things that are not ready can reverse my approach to criticism.

U: So we show something that is not ready yet, but at the same time it needs to be ready in some way. I think there are different phases of unreadiness. I show it when I know there’s something to it, but I don’t know what it is yet. In a way, it’s the point in the process of production when the performance needs the audience to realize itself. I also think that at this point it’s more enjoyable for the audience to see it. I wouldn’t like to show it before that phase, there’s no reason to show it yet.

T: It is also a question of why one would like to show it. To “realize” it as you say – or to just get better tools for working, using a test audience as your motor. As I usually work with audience participatory work, to try things out in practice has been absolutely crucial for me also really early on in my processes. But I would call it testing, not showing. Maybe that’s why it was you – usually doing a stricter separation of the performers vs the audience than me – who from the beginning insisted on the importance to meet the audience mid-process also for this work. Together, we had to reconceptualize what showing to someone then means. I think now what we are doing here in Gothenburg is not testing something; it’s sharing something.

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There Is No Outside-Text 2

As I mentionned in the previous post, me and the choreographer Uri Turkenich have spent one week preparing working methods for a common project. Among many other things, we started learning the first verses of Inana’s Descent by heart. Being one of the oldest texts known to mankind (approximately 6000 years old, from Mesopotamian times), it might actually predate writing, as it has the characteristics of a song learnt by heart and passed on from mouth to mouth. Here, I’m sharing one of our first Inana improvisations, where we sort of summoned the goddess:

 

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There Is No Outside-Text 1

During December 2015, Swedish Arts Grant Committee supported one week of method development between me and the choreographer Uri Turkenich.
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Preparing for a production residency at Skogen in March 2015, we researched different ways of creating states of vulnerability in speech and action. Many of the things we did – like meditating, singing songs we didn’t know and learning ancient texts by heart – doesn’t translate so well to the blog format, or are somehow too vulnerable to be shared just like that. We did however invent a sort of game that we were practicing continuously during the week, and that we also transcribed to some degree. The rules were that we could only use the personal pronoun ”you” (not I, she, he, they and the other forms belonging to them). We were also to limit how much we repeat and mirror each other. If we broke a rule, we had to do a small dance, here symbolized by [ACTION]. Here, we share some fragments of the conversations for inspiration and memory:

THE ”ONLY YOU” GAME, FIRST TRY-OUT
T: It’s recording. You’re making a recording too?
U: Yes. I thought it could be nice to have.
T: You said “I”.
U: Ah. Did I?
T: Yes. So basically it’s you. But maybe we do it both. Or?
U: Or me? As you said it it’s me.
T: Yes.
[ACTION]
U: So. Do you think we should choose a subject?
T: So. You thought a subject would be good. Fuck.
[ACTION]
U: Why do you…?
T: Because I mirrored you. I repeated what you said. And sort or reconnected to it instead of just acting.
[ACTION]
T: You told me once that you have a secret.
U: No abstractions.
T: It was in the middle of March and you were sitting under a maple tree.
U: What year?
T: 2006!
U: 2006, 2006, is that mirroring? No, it’s thinking.
T: You’re right.
U: 2006 – what happened in 2006?
T: There were some some massive urban uprisings in Paris?
U: Sounds sad.
T: But I think your secret had nothing to do with that.
U: You think?
[ACTION]
U: What do you think about punishment?
T: Like voluntary or more that someone puts it on you against your will?
U: Voluntary.
T: It can be great!
U: Why?
T: It’s a way to challenge your perception of punishment when it’s not voluntary. And also it’s simply a source of enjoyment and pleasure. Why do you ask the question?
U: It’s a self-reflection on what you’re doing.
T: No abstraction.
U: Well. When you set up the rules about the game maybe you thought it’s a sort of punishment to go and do the action and come back. It’s a self-beating, maybe.

THE ”ONLY YOU” GAME, SECOND TRY-OUT
T: As an ancient person, the first thing you have to do…
U: is to deal with death. To find a solution for it. How to live with it.
T: But already when you’re a baby, do you have a clear idea of death then?
U: That’s unclear. There might be studies that suggests that no.
T: Maybe survival, the urge for survival, is there already in the small new born baby.
U: Yes.
T: Like a biological impulse.
U: Yes. The baby feels hungry. But the baby doesn’t know death.
T: Do you?
U: Expressions of it, yes. Encounters with death, yes.
T: Other people’s encounters.
U: Other people dying. The possibility of death. The possibility that life stops at some point. I know that can happen.
[ACTION]
U: So, at some point you are born and then you discover you can die.
T: No abstraction.
U: When the baby is born, the baby doesn’t know it can die. All babies. They don’t know it yet.
T: They.
[ACTION]
T: The question was really: when do you discover it? When is this passage from not knowing to knowing? Not like a general point, but when did you discover it?
U: It’s unclear. There is no memory of this. Do you remember?
T: Maybe more like rediscovering. No original moment but instead many different occasions. Like when a friend died, when a father had a cancer…
U: But when you were really young?
T: There was a constant fear of death, which is not necessarily to say that death was understood.
U: But you knew about it? I think you knew about it.
T: For sure. A hobby was to look up psalms that would be played during different people’s funerals.
U: Psalms?
T: Psalms… Holy songs.
U: It reminds me, there’s a lot of death on television. So young people probably get to know about it pretty soon.

 THE ”ONLY YOU” GAME, THIRD TRY-OUT
U: Are you alive?
T: Yeah, so far.
U: So far, you see the sky, you cry…
T: The rest of that song is not here anymore. Maybe you could say it’s dead.
U: It is not dead. It’s alive. You could hear it in the radio.
T: There’s no radio now.
U: I can hear it in my mind.
[ACTION]
T: Were you dancing to it?
U: No. But do you think there is something about repetition and rituals?
T: No abstraction.
U: There is something about repeating the same movement that can help to connect to some kind of energy of… I don’t know.
[ACTION]
U: Maybe not.
T: There was this thought while you were speaking that that is actually what the universe is busy with. Like repeating the same patterns over and over in order to come to a specific state. Like the flower that bursts into bloom and then it goes away and comes back… like the universe is beating its drum.
U: Maybe it’s pleasant.
T: For the universe? I hope it is, especially when it can entail suffering for us.
[ACTION]
T: The subject is very heavy. I think you should change it.
U: I’m not sure that we’re… that we’re speaking about a subject.
[ACTION]

 

 

 

The ambivalence of being identified with resistance is totally not bothering me right now

A text from a small solo project I recently run in the context of a residency at the University of Dance and Circus in Stockholm.Skärmavbild 2015-09-01 kl. 16.52.52

I was pulled back into this Lithuanian bowling hall from Soviet times. The party organizers had filled it with a thousand balloons popping in irregular outbursts as the feet of the dancers hit them. The soundscape was a divider. I had already spent some time out on the porch with a girl who had flashbacks from air raids. Others just hated balloons. And then there were the drinkers who would never opt for a dance floor in the first place.

I made a toast with pickles and cheese at the post midnight snack table. I was sincerely considering putting ham in despite my vegetarianism, but in the end I was being put off by the sweet and fleshy smell. I experienced some kind of vague relation between that and the fact that someone who was maybe flirting with me earlier (maybe?) seemed to be busy with something else. I didn’t know if I was mostly relieved or disappointed that I wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore. Balloons were still popping, messing up the beat of some techno remix. My head then started playing a third beat; I was invaded by Lady Gagas Just Dance like some kind of prophetic voice.

I started by shutting out the welcoming smiles. I felt my deep tissue, the pressure of damp air against my skin and the slight movement of the old wooden floor as I gave my weight to it. It was not a question of enjoying it or not. It was just what was at hand, the only reasonable thing that I could give myself in this situation. As the sweat started running I had no questions to myself anymore, just an ongoing imagination of movement in space. I could not be interrupted, because there was no sequence, just the necessary grip of my body around the circumstances. And then I spotted the hopscotch.

The Intimacy Records

The Institute of Political Therapy (home page in Swedish), a project that I run together with Lisa Färnström at Skogen, did not only offer political therapy but also hosted a program where related themes were discussed and examined. One of our guests was Valentina Desideri. She is a wonderful thinker and artist. We have also had a number of interesting conversations, and this text (that will also be published in Skogen’s yearly documentation book) is the result of one of them.

6th of September 2014
Valentina Desideri and Tova Gerge

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Recording N° 1.

T: We have a starting point: we are holding hands on a bench. And we’re on an expedition to look for intimacy as if it was a drug.

V: No, to look for intimacy the way one would look for drugs.
So looking around, following trails and sequences of events, but also looking for it as in looking for something that one wants to know about. One might also not find anything but that doesn’t diminish the experience.
What is the interest that you have in intimacy? What is the assumption you have about intimacy?

T: I think I’ve been busy with it from different perspectives. In terms of performance, I’ve been interested in this way of handling precarity that is a part of working with intimacy in performance. To be a performer working with intimacy is to meet people under very ephemeral conditions. And for some reason I desire that ephemeral quality. I wonder why and I wonder how that is connected to the precarious conditions of performance workers in general. Also, for me personally, intimacy is connected to questions of when I feel that I let something close in a way that is meaningful to me. How much closeness can I handle, why/not? Things like this. I mean then closeness in quite a broad sense, not only physical.

V: I wonder if we can extend – when we think that intimacy, it’s not only between people. You can also be intimate with an idea or with a certain way of living. It is also a form of knowledge. You know the other person when you can be intimate. So for example holding hands produces an intimacy because it produces another knowledge. So I can feel the temperature of your hand, if it is sweaty, how you hold, if you release. There is a lot of information we’re dealing with. I don’t remember, I think it is from Isabelle Stengers, but there was something about hesitating together, it was the definition of something…

T: What was it?

V: Hesitating together. I’m not sure. I think it was about practice, that to practice is to hesitate together. But whatever, the formulation “hesitating together” has a lot to do with intimacy to me…

[Someone passes by]

What are they talking about?

T: I heard a few sentences. It was like: ”It just becomes more empty. There was this hysterical man running at me, and I just…” And then I missed the rest.

V: Let’s follow them.


Recording N° 2.

T: I think we lost track of the people we were originally following.

V: We were incidentally walking behind two women begging for a while, so we started to think of the intimacy of begging. We speculated that a situation may be intimate when it puts power relations or power into hesitation. When it makes power hesitate. The question “Do you have some spare change” between two strangers is not only a question about the change, it is also a question about how the people involved should and could relate to each other: will there be any other exchange than money and so on…

T: If intimacy can make power hesitate, it is also constitutional for how we perceive the world. What I mean is that the hesitation that the request for some coins can put in motion usually ends in a specific situation, something that no longer vibrates, and that “end product” is easily  understood as representative. So both the active parts in this interaction, and other people witnessing it, might think that they get to know something about society as a whole from what happens in the singular situation. And whether they are so to say “right” or not, what people think they know about this situation constitutes certain dynamics in our shared lives.

V: This is also one example of how intimacy is not that fuzzy little cute sense of connectedness with somebody you love. Rather, it is about the moments that open up vulnerabilities in the people involved. And sometimes of course you are willing to share this so you go for an intimate moment, but sometimes it comes whether you want it or not. These are also the moments when you can be very embarrassed or ashamed…

T: Totally. To be ashamed is to be at the hands of something bigger than you; an imagined and real society that points finger at you, reveals you in a way that you don’t want to be revealed. And that is intimate if intimacy is about getting to know something that you didn’t know before.

V: Intimacy makes something known, reveals something, but maybe what it reveals is power, the power relations at play. It gives a picture of how power is distributed, how it is operating. Not as a fixed picture, but as a picture that is twitching, hesitating.

T: One more thing. I think intimacy is always something happening in between: in between people, objects, words. It is not belonging to one or the other even though it happens also inside the people involved. Like a position that becomes available for a while, something that allows us to acknowledge that we exist not only in and by ourselves, but also through the perception of something radically other than us. Us consists of you and me, and you are always radically different from me.

Recording N° 3.

T: We started to speak about the intimacy of the masses, like when you’re a part of a crowd and you lose your face in that crowd, no longer knowing who you are outside of it. Like being in a party, dancing and sweating and sharing other people’s sweat, and also going in the metro and feeling the pressure of other bodies against your own. And then I also thought about Järntorget, a square that we were walking over. In 2001 in Gothenburg when there were big political protests, a lot of my friends were held there for several hours. They couldn’t go out from the blockades of the police and they were just sitting around. So there was this forced intimacy with others where thirst and hunger became a part eventually. When you are hungry and thirsty and don’t have water and food yourself, you are at the hands of whoever has the decency to share. That kind of collective experience was deeply radicalizing for many, also because of the aspect of being forced into it I think.

V: So what you say is that violence can produce intimacy? Also right now, we are sitting close to the hunger strike of Palestinian men. These 25 men are sharing their living space in this occupation of public space because they got caught in this situation. They can’t return to Palestine and they are not allowed to stay here. In a way this specific collectivity, and the intimacy it comes with, is being produced by this violence: Both the intimacy within themselves and the hesitation they produce in any passers-by. The hunger strike is both a result of, and show, the absurdity, racism, violence of the situation. It confronts everybody with it.  And rightly so, because we are all involved.
Of course it’s not a matter of glorifying violence, it’s not that you suffer and then from that, don’t worry, great things come out, beautiful collectivities etcetera. But we have to take it into consideration because we are all subjects to some form of violence and we do perform various degrees of violence every day. It’s not something we can just avoid because it’s “bad”. This hunger strike is just a more clear example because they aren’t just activists in the classical sense of people who decided that this is a good action to make the conflict visible. They are the conflict. It’s happening in and on their bodies and lives.
And this also has to do what we talked about earlier today concerning the recurring question of how to become a ”better” ethical subject, what organisation to join with so many problems in the world…  like we could pick and choose between other people’s problems. For me the starting point is another one: Even if you think you’re some privileged Swedish middle class white person, you have enough problems of your own, because you are a very active part in making this world what it is. So there is no extra organisation or charity to join if it is not something that allows you to really understand the violence that is done to you as well and how you reproduce certain patterns of it. From there I see a real possibility to recognize the political consequences and value of what you are already doing and how that can/should/could reorganize. And not because “Ok now I got it, I have a plan and if I do that then I will be fine and the world is gonna be a better place” but because you try to associate differently, to assemble differently, to produce yourself and the world you live in differently, already now. I mean it simply, like in the way you live or love or pay the rent or not pay the rent…
I also then think a lot of intimate relationships like lovers or friends, how they are organised and reorganised and how we take risks with them, what we want to know with them. I consider it an interesting field of experimentation because those relationships have the capacity to unleash very strange forces! Certain close relationships can bring us to such impasses that we feel we can potentially be destroyed. And for me that space of intimacy with myself and the other is a great rehearsal space. It’s a place where we can prove ourselves wrong, when we can perceive ourselves in contradictory positions that do not exclude each other. There I can sometimes have a sense of knowing, feeling, being A and not A at the same time without it destroying the world, the relationship or myself – it’s an amazingly empowering feeling.

T: I’m thinking that the A and not A can be both empowering and alienating, and that it is symptomatic for the urban condition in general, or maybe even the human condition in general. Like we sit around in the closeness of this hunger strike and also we are somewhere else, in our own bubble. Thrown in and out of it.

V: I really like now, this is the best moment.

T: With the people jumping on the springboard?

V: The guy was jumping on the springboard alone listening to music in his headphones but just by his ways I almost could feel the music. And I also felt like I felt yesterday walking back home at night listening to music and having a great time on my own.

T: One guy there was more like passing through. Taking one jump at the springboard and then continuing.

V: It’s funny how intimacy works through distance too. How the gaze in this case brought together not only us but also different moments in time, and songs and people who are not actually here now.

T: There is a kind of tactility in the gaze.

V: Yes, maybe intimacy could be understood as touch…

T: I feel that the air is touching me in a way that makes me a bit cold.

V: You’re just being intimate with cold.

T: There is this play… No, now I’ve forgotten the title of a play that I haven’t read. It’s a nice combination of words.

V: Oh, now he is there with a joint too…

T: Do you feel tempted?

V: I feel connected. And these three guys hugging. So nice. It is also how being cold prompts physical proximity or movement. The have to get closer, cosier…

T: Oh, I remember this thing from Paris… You know on the ground, on the streets sometimes there are these grids where hot air is streaming up. One winter night when it was at least five degrees below zero – kind of cold in Paris – I walked past three quite young guys sleeping on this grid, completely cuddled up. I don’t know who they were, but obviously in some kind of precarious situation. And it was such a beautiful and odd image somehow. Like you would like to join almost, because there is this bunch of sleeping…

V:…bodies on warm air…

T: Yes. But then at the same time it is a completely bad situation to be in.

V: Imagine that intimacy would be administered, organised or felt differently, that it could be possible to join because it wouldn’t be such an inappropriate thing that I can’t also lie there.

T: But it’s a question of trust also, I think. For both them and me. To get close to someone sleeping… that’s very violent.

V: True. But when I was in China everybody was sleeping in the street, it’s normal. You know, people are working and then they just snooze. You can always take a nap anywhere. And I thought it is good because you are so vulnerable when you sleep and yet you practice this in public. I think there are all sorts of things that must affect us on some level. You can’t sleep here, you can’t eat here, you can’t pee there… Is it possible to imagine a system of power that allows body function to be self-regulated?

T: I don’t know. I think our bodies are always social and depending on each other. But how we approach that aspect of the body can of course change, also from context to context, time to time. Sometimes I have the feeling that before I started to work with movement professionally, there were different kinds of touch that felt more intimate to me.

V: I think becoming aware of what I do as i do it is a way to get more intimate with it. Looking for example. The more I practice looking, the more looking at anything feels closer, more intimate. And I realize there is no natural look, nothing more than what is agreed upon. You know the thing they says that you only look into the eyes of someone for a certain amount of time before it gets weird? It doesn’t work like that. There is no natural way of looking. It’s just like with words, the more you are aware of them the more words you have to express what you want to say. I never think there is a risk of exhausting the words because they are made of the world and the world is always in excess. I don’t think we will ever know too much.

T: It is a question of how we use it, I think. With something that I incorporate as a technique; a goal more than an awareness or process, I could maybe be possible to know “too much”. But this also leads me back to what we said about not confusing connection with intimacy. A technique can get under my social and actual skin and get to know me in a way that is not necessarily fuzzy and sweet. But I could also find more tools to relate, to be aware of how I am relating and be empowered through the technique, let it become my tool rather than the opposite. It’s a throw of dice, again.

Language is also an interesting parallel I think. When I learn a new language or fragments of a new language, sometimes I get so touched by the fact that a stone is called a stone, or a pierre or a pietra. I’m getting dizzy thinking about the fact that something has a name, sort of. With Swedish, this only happens for me when I have been away from the language for a long time. It’s like I forget how intimate that language is to me, how it is constantly shaping me. It doesn’t mean it isn’t, just that I can’t always be in the discovery of it.

V: Yes for me too, language is never a knowledge that pins down; like ”stone” is ”stone” and that’s it. It is also pietra, pierre, ah Pierre like my friend and so on, you know there is always more to the things than…

T: Sten. That’s what we call it. Which is also a name.

V: Sten. And Stina also?

T: No that comes from another name, and I learnt that yesterday because one of my hosts is called Stina. It was short for Kristina which is ”the Christian”. What’s the meaning of your name?

V: Valentina is ”valente”, something with value.

T: That’s an interesting name, I think. For someone who is into philosophy and movement…

V: Well, the surname is Desire…

T: Value and Desire. A wonderful name. Let’s not close it down. Maybe we walk a bit.

Recording N° 4.

V: We are holding on, holding hands again. That is our ending point. We are sitting on, well, not a bench, but something else. Holding hands until we let go, and then it’s over.

T: We sneaked away from this party and we are in a yard with a barking dog.

V: Also stone dogs. Statues.

T: Very big ears.

V: The dog that barks we can only hear.

T: Do you think the bark is real or recorded?

V: It’s real. That would be too much of a conceptual turn for this messy backyard.

T: I’m also sure that it’s real. I wonder why, but I really strongly hear that…

V: Yes, you can feel it.

T: There is someone there.

V: And about tonight, during our mission, did you see any intimacy? I mean in the way we defined it. I could see people hugging and screaming and dancing together, couples holding hands, but…

T: But you mean this hesitation, ondulation, vibration of power?

V:  Maybe unless you are involved in an intimacy you are not going to be able to know that it is there. That is also the nice thing, that you may not be able to see it from the outside. So maybe it is the wrong question to ask if you have seen it. Maybe if you sensed it?

T: I think we were in a kind of intimate bubble, though if we put something at risk, I don’t know yet what the outcome was or where we are heading with that. I also think we observed people and some people observed us and wondered what was going on when we took out the mic. Couldn’t that be something that vibrates?

V: I’m gonna take a picture of ourselves. If someone would walk into the scene… they would see this.

T: It’s like ghosts. Very pale light. Beautiful.

V: It’s over. We unleashed the hands.

The Hospitality – Trailer

During the spring, I and some of the other members in the performing arts collective Nyxxx have been working with a game or a workshop for Gothenburg Dance and Theatre Festival 15-17 of May 2014. It is a perfectly normal space epic about collective decisions, consensus and losing identity in a group.

To post a trailer does not completely relate to my primary goal with this blog – to post things that I write about performative practices – but it is the first real trailer I made, so I feel it fit to also break other boundaries. I am getting increasingly interested in documentation lately, also image documentation. Maybe one day I write more on that practice. Until then – come play with us in Gothenburg!

Identity in and out of Time

I wrote this text for The Black The Box The Theatre – Texting Textures, that was a series of events programmed by Pontus Pettersson at the stage Weld in Stockholm 11-15 mars 2014. The text was part of an ongoing exhibition, originally edited in a font made by Pontus and written about the piece Preparing for Battle.

mopa

MOPA, My Own Private Army, is a triology. This text is about the first part of that triology, MOPA – Preparing for Battle. Pontus once told me that he thinks of the triology as a series where the last part is a preparation for the preceding, and the middle one a preparation for the first. I find this description meaningful, also because each part in itself does something with time – letting the history, the now and the future of an individual body mingle, addressing experiences of being out of time in different senses.

I saw MOPA – Preparing for Battle at Dansens Hus (Stockholm) in early 2012. To come back to the alternative chronology of MOPA, it is strictly speaking the last part of the triology; the one that concludes the two following. However, I think it is fair to say that that this show also had a past outside its future, that the battle it was preparing for in a sense already took place. The battle that I am referring to is one about the timing of identity – what it takes in order to be perceived as consistent and readable subjects over time. For me, MOPA – Preparing for Battle was very much a work about precisely that.

Before I continue analyzing my experience of this piece, I wish to use myself and my route to writing this text as an example of why the question of identity in time can have conflictual aspects, also in the most mundane social situations – that is, not only in the dramatic transfer between carnivalesque explosive parties and the-day-after confessions/discoveries. It seems reasonable to not think so much of who I was in early 2012. It does not seem reasonable to hold myself in 2012 accountable to any higher degree for what I do now, and even less reasonable to hold myself in 2014 accountable for what I did in 2012. Retrospectively, however, it seems like I was in some sense preparing for writing this text about MOPA – Preparing for Battle already that night when I spoke with Pontus after the show, even though none of us knew it back then. Because I got the question to write this text now two years later, I have the possibility to establish a reassuring line of coherency in my self-narration, introduce a sense of meaningfulness between now and past. Who I was that night two years ago obviously has useful consequences for what I become now. At the same time, the very thought that reassures me of the meaningfulness and consistency of my identity can turn into a worrying potential of losing control of my self-narration. What other things did I do on different nights two years ago? What are the lines, consequences and coherencies that I cannot identify between then and now? What am I forgetting? What am I remembering? Why? In this way, my identity constantly remembers and recognizes itself as other. If the goal of identity is to stay the same, to be identical, then it is indeed very easily thrown into conflict with itself in relation to time.

Let me thus bring this conflictual knowledge of remembering it differently into my relating of what happened that night in 2012. When I saw MOPA – Preparing for Battle, it was the second show of two the same night. The one before was Between Dog and Wolf by Frédéric Alstadt, Kajsa Sandström and Ulrika Berg. During the course of this text, I will get deeper into the fact that shows lined up after each other always influence each other (no matter who is the choreographer). But I will now leave Between Dog and Wolf  behind.

MOPA – Preparing for Battle consists of solos, almost like a set of separate shows within the frame of one performance. Each dancer – the night when I was watching, it was Pontus Pettersson, Bosmat Nossan, Linnea Martinsson and Robert Malmborg, but on other occasions also Anna Pehrsson and Joe Moran – has their own stylized characteristics in terms of both costume, scenography and movement. Generally employing one signature color (blue, red, yellow, green, grey…) and one signature object (clothes, spoons, pearls, metal, boots…), as well as directing open gazes and striking poses towards the audience, the solos give an impression of presenting individual identities as readymade commercial units, like a series of warrior dolls or boy band members.

At the same time, the cuteness, sexiness (in the sense of presenting a lustful carnal quality to, or even for, the gaze of the audience) and general accessibility of these solos have an aspect that withdraws from being locked by the frames of identity. Or rather, if identity has a strive towards sameness, the solos insist that any sameness will inevitably negate itself. This, identity reveals itself as a process or action rather than an object: a constant movement between recognition and lack of recognition. In the solo where Pontus dances himself, timing in its most concrete sense is a part of that withdrawal from sameness. Movements can speed up or slow down in a way that connotes both fast forward, slow motion and the twitchy speed of silent films. This cinematic physicality inserts a certain unpredictability in the commercial unit of identity, something uncanny. Also the other characters presented in the series of solos have different uncanny qualities inserted in what first seems to be a solid, sellable frame. In Bosmat’s solo, the glittering pattern on a bright red cardigan reveals itself to be tea spoons that fall out of the knitwork, giving an image of metal splinters or splitter on the floor, which is also somehow consistent with the sense of inside pouring out that permeates her movement. In Linnea’s solo, she is busy with eating, spitting and spreading pearls all over the space, insisting on it until it changes meaning from fun to compulsive and back again. Robert in his turn engages with the isolation techniques and stop motion aesthetics of street dance in a way that completely overrules the established commercial identity of these styles, and taps into a very human, sulky, and messed up doll-likeness. In this sense, the solos are not only connected by their respective claim to specific and distinguishable salability, but also by how they insist on attacking themselves from within. My Own Private Army thus gets a double meaning in relation to the subtitle/module title Preparing for Battle. It is not only question of a neat collection of war dolls, but also a question of launching war on oneself, breaking down the exact thing that commodifies or locks identity into objecthood.

This said, I think MOPA – Preparing for Battle should not be understood as a piece that presents a critique towards commercialism in a polemic sense. Rather, it proposes an examination of the commercial as an aesthetic category, thus getting the audience hooked through playing on the basic desires and fears of having and losing identity. ”Commercial” becomes a language with versability and adaption as defining features, since its goal is to grab the guts of the consumers and keep them hooked, with whatever means at hand – but also to keep a healthy parasitic balance through refraining form consuming the consumers. Otherwise, the consumers have no chance of regenerating themselves and return for more. With this abstinence oriented way of addressing the audience, MOPA – Preparing for Battle does not have to argue for its own discursive usefulness, cultural importance or political urgency – or at least not anymore than a cup of bubbly dark brown soft drink with a red and white logo does.

Yet, MOPA – Preparing for Battle can never be that bubbly soft drink completely. It breaks out of its own salable category, inscribed as it is in a cultural economy of giving things away for free, and working as it does on and with live dancers that also embody different kinds of resistance to the reduction that commercial unification demands. Thus, the piece becomes a game where the audience can try out different experiences of both selling and buying into the longing, yearning and anticipation that is at the core of commercial exchange, which in its turn leads us back to a three-fold relation to time. To be able to wish for something implies both a feeling of having missed something in the past, of wanting to have it now and of being able to project it as a possible thing to have in the future. Longing is thus a promise of getting control over time – but it is a promise that cannot really be fulfilled. The history and the future is always out of control; the now always cracks, explodes into something unexpected. And this is how MOPA – Preparing for Battle operates: Inviting its audience to mirror both its strive for controllable identities and its capacity of letting go of control.