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.

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, 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.

To move is to touch

Yet again something I wrote for the festival Dans ❤ Stockholm in early December 2013 – this time about On Orientations: Untimely Encounters by An Kaler.

There is a desire in reaching out to the world or letting the world come to you. It can be as great or as small as what we feel for a coffee cup, the caress of the wind or something half unknown. But this desire is also compulsive. But one that is also compulsive. We need points of orientation to move. Without knowing what constitutes space, the body or how the body moves in space, it is impossible to make sense of the movements, to tell the difference between point a and point b, to be able to distinguish the wind, the coffee and the rest. On some days, the necessity of expriencing the world through your body can seem excessively heavy. Why this particular body? Why this particular world?
In Untimely Encounters, one of several works in which Kaler explores orientation in various respects, there is an unusual ease in relation to the constraints of the points of orientation. Since the work comes into being precisely where the intention arises, in movements that precede touching, each direction retains more of its many possibilities. Where a completed movement always risks being tied to its meaning, culturally and relationally, the uncompleted movement leaves an openness as to where it is going. Is it on its way to a cheek, to a wall, into thin air? What will it do there, what will it create? It is undefined and therefore unlocked.
In some ways, Untimely Encounters is a duet – there are two bodies on stage, relating to each other. Disrobing the obligatory love story of the duet is no easy task. The very idea of two bodies on stage asks the question of how they belong together. But precisely because the work consists of a game of directions where the negotiation of each gesture is still open, where one’s own body or the other’s body, as well as the floor, walls and air, are all objects of the same open intentionality, it is also not a duet. The space and its attributes become an additional dance partner, appears in its own function as the bodies turn towards it. Distance and proximity become relative categories: Distance from what? Proximity to what?
These questions should not be mistaken for being an attempt by Untimely Encounters to disorientate the audience by assimilating the movements, rendering them meaningless beside each other. Rather, meaning is created in the relativity of direction. There is an intimacy in the incompleteness that invites those who encounter it to add bit of themselves or mirror a movement in order to understand it, to discover its origin. In this way, Untimely Encounters also involves the audience in the ostensible duet.
On certain days you can feel the friction from every direction taken. It is here the relationship between the body and surroundings is unlocked. The face touches the wind just as much as the wind touches the face, the coffee cup reaches for your hand just as much as the other way around. Such days do not alter the fact that all movement is conditioned by physical and spatial constraints. Yet, they can reveale how movements always touch something bigger than themselves, something that can never be fully overviewed, pinpointed or finished. Untimely Encounters could be an excerpt from such a day.


Social and political soundscapes

I wrote this text (Niki Woods translated) to the festival Dans ❤ Stockholm in early December 2013, where Band by Ingri Fiksdal and Atlantic by Juli Reinartz  were performing in a double bill.

Fiksdal and Reinartz present two in many ways different works on the same evening. Band is a quartet, Atlantic is a solo. The dancers in Band are quiet with covered heads, while Reinartz turns to address the audience. At the same time, the two performances share a common theme. They both explore concert moments – not the type of concert moments that occur in controlled, bright, state-funded places, but those that happen in cramped and unpredictable club environments. Such concerts alter or direct a nocturnal collective state, injecting rhythm to social and chemical movements in people’s bodies.

Most of us – many more than those who have ever seen a dance performance on stage financed by public funds – have had such a concert experience. Some of us have also had pivotal political and social experiences in such rooms. Identity and relations may emerge in the fandom. And the darkness of the club incites stepping outside the norm, with the potential of both strengthening and undermining the prevailing order.

Fiksdal and Reinartz approach the concert each in their own way as a cultural artefact, relation and sensation. Reinartz’s work with the socio-politics of music forms a piece that likens a concert, not least in the way it paraphrases the “between-song banter”. But this talk is not there to provide an answer as to what the piece portrays. Rather, it aims to establish another type of presence among the audience, getting them ready for what is to come, from the dance or from themselves. Atlantic is on the cusp of the kind of concert moment where many different bodies find their own inner swing, together, and are surprised by it.

Fiksdal’s Band can be described as an almost silent psychedelic concert. The audience sit close to each other by the stage, mostly in the dark, inciting listening with ears and skin. How do the dancing bodies sound? How does the synchronised breathing of audience sound? How does the warmth that radiates from one body to another feel? In the darkness, with the rhythmic repetition of movement, the audience is given the chance to sink back into sensory impressions, blurring the contours of identity.

Band and Atlantic are being performed at MDT, a scene that incites other forms of existence than the singular, unpredictable pulse of the club concert. Nonetheless, this pulse is perceptible in the dance works, explored and offered both as a memory and possibilty for the audience.”And so, watching Band and Atlantic can be like seeing two dance works and two concerts at the same time, but it can also be way of finding new tools for interpreting the so-called regular concert happenings that break into our (night) life, move us and bring us together.

In preparation for the double-bill show, Reinartz and Fiksdal interviewed each other about their respective works. Their dialogue is published in the MDT program. Not to be missed by those interested in immersing themselves into the two pieces and learning more about the encounter between the choreographic domain and various concert experiences!

The Fake Survey

More stuff on the neutral theme and The 90°! This was back in 2011.

In Mexico DF, we had the bright idea to make a survey with people to see if they felt the same as us about neutral:

We called it The Fake Survey in honour of Liz Lemon.

This is some of the results we got. We might fill in more answers later: they sort of spread themselves all over social media and international harddrives and were difficult to collect. All answers that were given in Spanish and Swedish has here very neutrally been translated to English.

The conclusions drawn from this survey are mostly that neutral varies a lot and that all of our friends disapproves of neutrality – it seems almost neutral to do so. Anyway, we disapprove, too, there’s no breaking out of this flocking exercise. And we had a great time reading these answers. Thanks everyone for answering!

Random answer outside questions
– I think neutral is that which makes no fuss, leaves no prints or impressions. Guess it has to do with impersonality and non-identification somehow. Thus it feels contradictory to *identify* something, such as a single colour (that is made up of a multitude of lights and such), and then point to it as neutral. If it makes sense.

– Somewhere after the first few questions, I started thinking pretty seriously about neutrality and I sort of realized that it’s a concept that doesn’t really seem feasible when I try to situate it inside of my perception of things. I don’t see how it’s possible to not take a position, to not be demarcated and cast into a kind of “otherness”/”separateness.’

What is a neutral colour?
all other than white. if you mix every colour you see its brown.
white or light yellow (hospital neutral)
A self-well-known one.

What is neutral food?
non spicy food and poatoes
food speaks of shared memories. loose your sense of taste by smoking for several years, then swollow fast: its neutral.
Hot soup. water.
Pasta, rise
Without salt
Rice and sallad grown by farmers with the help from EU-money and state funds.
mashed potatoe and brown sauce
Some that you pick yourself after patiently been awaiting (you) to do so.
rice or tofu
an apple

Give an example of a neutral music score for contemporary dance performance (CDP)
c c c c
Brian Eno
arvo pärt.
steve reich
ambient sound
voices and noises
sounds without a melody, wind like
Accordning to question 1: (for me) Feist. Following the second question: instant music-making.
maybe one of Erik Satie’s furniture music pieces?

What is a neutral light setting in a CDP?
warms lights from the side
sort of light everywhere on stage.
Frontal lights
Yellow or white light directed from above in different directions so that it doesn’t blind the audience nor casts sharp shadows on the dancer.
white yellow
natural light from above
rehearsal lamps
blue spots and cold white anti-shadows
i can’t think of lighting that would be neutral. maybe none?

What is neutral body temperature?
37 – 38
38 c
37,5 celcius
32 C. Nor hot nor cold.
37 C
65 is the number that came into my head but it doesn’t make sense in either fahrenheit or celsius.

What is a neutral make up in a CDP?
no make up.
No make up or make up that cover bad skin/pimples.
skin colour
no make up
mascara and red lipstick
black eyeliner
No make up at all
A smile of friend.
no make up, really. maybe some chapstick and foundation.

What is a neutral country?
one that others orient around? usa?
a country not involved in a specific conflict.
San Marino
A country that no one notice (could be a closed country as well, with a opressing leader. Hm…)
Unknown country.

What is a neutral language?
a mix?
Sign language
A boring language
no such thing

What is a neutral first name?
female names ending on an A.
“My name is nobody” – Ulysses
ben anna
A european wide name without provocative hints, as Anna or Maria or Charles
no such thing

– What is a neutral use of the space in a CDP?
non appearing?
To move and relate to the space as if it is up to me to create. To play with a high social status against the room, like the room is mine, not dangerous or otherwise charged. The room feels self-evident.
Black box
flying through it
Like in Italy
open space no wings or legs
the whole space almost all the time
An empty space
oh, i must sound like such a curmudgeon, but i’m not sure i think that neutrality truly exists (partly because i don’t think of things as existing on a linear spectrum). even defining a space is, for me,the act of taking a position/a side/stance and so it can’t really be neutral in that sense.

What is a neutral way of being on stage for a contemporary dancer?
To be yourself, be neutral to yourself.
moving sort of slowly, undesignedly
to breathe
in training outfit
no movement
in parallell
walking from side to side throwing castañuelas
To have a conversation with the audience and to be open about what is happening
…a break? pause-alike turnarounds?
being on stage and having a body, for me, means creating a position in a very literal sense, but also in an interpretative sense.

What is a neutral way to use gaze in a CDP?
Gaze straight forward, about three meters ahead of yourself.
to look where one has to in order to perform the dance
a la brechtienne without any emotion
not looking at the audience
not sure if it’s what i really think, but the first thing that came to mind was a kind of blank stare where it would be difficult for the viewer to see what the dancer(s) were looking at.

What is a neutral way of standing in a CDP?
Parallell straight forward. perhaps legs a little bit bent.
feet down
just standing with arms along the sides
parallell feet
In parallell and a bit diagonally
Like a fox on it’s way to run

What is a neutral duration of a CDP?
60 minutes
a neutral risk
50 minutes
like Beckett did with theatre, “a breath”
a couple of weeks
25 minutes
20 minutes
not possible, since average durations of performances are so culturally and contextually variant that picking any length of time would either be understandable as conforming to some sort of norm (i.e. average lengths like 45 minutes, 1 hour and a half, etc.) or as deviating substantially from those norms.

What is a neutral dance technique?
shake your butt
contemporary dance
free techniques
Tai Chi
shake but whilst lifting the leg

Explain the neutral feeling of a performer in a CDP.
like being dead
focused and relaxed.
light, sexy, able to move, very aware of everything
without intention
melting and floating
Muscle relaxed in hips and face, Deep breating, body ready, mind empty
no fealing

What is a neutral shape?
always new, in motion
a square
a loose line
any form that is not mixed up with another form is neutral. A sole line. A sole circle.
a circle, i guess, since it just continues and continues, never breaking up into sides and angles. although there is an inside and an outside of a circle, so i guess it’s not really
neutral/beyond ‘positions’ either

What is a neutral venue to perform a CDP?
a venue built for a CPD
theatre black box
in a building that wasn’t build for theatre purposes. a ols factory place out garage.
any stage
a square
An empty space without history or referencies… I don’t think it exists.
at home
any place that has a big floor and space for audience

What is a neutral age?
over 80 when you’ve done the earlier ones.
there is none
From 10 to 20

Give an example of neutral costumes in a CDP.
sweatpants, t-shirts and hoodies
Pants. Like I’m a dancer but not that much.
long sleveed cotton t-shirt and loose pants
your own normal clothes
T-shirt and different kind of normal trousers

What’s a neutral font?
times new roman
this one or times new roman
times new roman
Times New Roman
times new roman

What does a neutral contemporary dancer look like?
open spirit generous on stage, soft.
slim, white, young, girl, short hair
a dance that does not resemble any dance
without sweat or muscular pain
he/she is not very tall, has short hair and a small mouth
as if she or he is not a dancer, but maybe an art student

What is a neutral fund for financing a CDP?
Parents wallets
To work for yourself, not asking money by anyone
money from a university
a european based fund that takes a lot of time an effort to gain
any state-sponsored fund. Everybody = nobody = neutrality

When do you encounter the term neutral in your life?
never before!
in board games (neutral = unpassable square/zone)
Nothing is neutral if I think of it. Things that belong to basic physical functions feel more neutral, breathing, body temperature, drinking water and so on. On stage it would be what I don’t notice. Maybe I’m mixing it up with natural? Natural is also in the food store, advocating for good health, and in school.
The seconds after orgasm
When I have a shower
when I talk about yoghurt. otherwise never.
Unfortunetly mostly in a negative way. In a positive way about artists when they seem to be able to clean their own toilet.
I think I encounter it the most in discussions of contemporary US politics, where self-ID’ed political moderates claim their views are somehow beyond the polarizing discourses of the Democrats and the Republicans. Maybe this is why I am resistant/skeptical to the concept of

A Neutral Manifesto

The Neutral Manifesto was written in 2011 by Tova Gerge, Josefine Larson Olin, Magdalena Leite, Juan Francisco Maldonado and Helena Stenkvist as a part of the process with The 90° Project in Mexico City (see film below). Please use it to mess with dance. Thank you.

  • Neutral does not take sides, it is not a political statement because it only works with pure matters of fact. Artists are like activists but neutral. If they wanted to be political they would have chosen another field of activity, because what is political it is not really art.
  • Dance is the most neutral art form because its main means of expression is the body, and the body does not represent anything, it is just real.
  • It is neutral to have a body that is soft to hug, yet can make a handstand and an arabesque. A body that can mold into anything, but quickly return to its own neutral shape. Neutral is the open body school concept, the humble middle class, the body that has not been hurt or that heals quickly.
  • The neutral body has trained a lot of release technique, which is present in its appearance and in its calm, yet very hearable, breathing.
  • A neutral dancer does not exaggerate. S/he stays close to the point 0 in Laban technique and has the expression of a Berlin dancer.
  • A neutral body is clean, without tattoos, piercings or scars. Or if there is, it must be discrete enough to pass as a small variation from a clear standard. The body is often off-white, but not so blond, with the hair-colour cendré/gris. No make-up of course.
  • The body doesn’t need clothes to be neutral as long as it presents a clear gender without pushing sexual aspects. It is neutral to be a man or a woman, or everybody shave and wear all covering leotards.
  • Neutral dancers can also come like they are, in ponytails and a sloppy outgrown what-used-to-be a proper haircut for men, in white or off-white t-shirts, in the whole collection of Lacoste colors for t-shirts, in sneakers nikers and blue jeans because its the uniform of normality, because its the symbol of a casual imperium, and last but not least because its not what you would primarily choose to move in since the cloth is not flexible. This makes it more neutral: the dancer is just like everybody else, almost a non-dancer (but not quite).
  • Even a black dress can be neutral to wear. Everything goes with black; “the little black” is a manifestation of neutrality within the world of fashion since it impersonates the clean femininity without stating anything about class background, ethnicity or sexual preferences.
  • It is neutral when the performers fix the performance space by themselves while the audience is entering. The fixing should give an urban feeling.
  • The neutral space for theatre and dance is the black box, but used in a casual way, showing that the users are aware of the criticism towards it and thus entitled to keep it the way it is. After all, the least implying and most allowing space is the classical theatre space, since it has been used so many times it is practically emptied of meaning.
  • The neutral space for art is the white cube, and as with theatre, tradition has emptied it from disturbing political implications. The white cube is just a discrete institutional frame that makes art accessible as such. It is there in order to not create any misunderstanding about what is what, because neutral doesn’t like misunderstandings.
  • The neutral does not show any history. The neutral doesn’t express anything, but in a very clear way. It appears simultaneously as the first of something and as one in an endless mass. The neutral action is an action that has been executed so many times, ie. is so dense with history, that it cannot be distinguished as a specific historical phenomena unless if you watch it from some uncomfortable angle that no-one really wants to watch anything from.
  • Tasks involved in a neutral performance can be for example the neutral walk, the neutral position, the neutral water-drinking on stage or the neutral throw of a neutral ball; a throw that has no history and tells nothing about the thrower. On the level of physical engagement, this could mean relaxed hard work or hardworking relaxation, like having relaxed but working feet with no point and no flex.
  • It is neutral to be oneself, especially on at the front of the stage. To be oneself is to be neutral, staring into the audience with slightly horny ‘n cool looking gaze, expressing very little other emotion. It is also neutral to not exactly look but not exactly avoid them either, as if they where an unidentifiable wall of jelly.
  • It is neutral to find very organic movement phrases that are repeated without any fault, working in the oxymoron between robotic and organic: organic robot, robotic organity.
  • Making dances from the Fibonacci numbers is neutral, because it reproduces beauty that anyone can see, even if they do not know about the golden ratio. It is as neutral as it is natural, like shells and snowflakes. Consequently, it is neutral to canonize Rosas’ principles of work, but without letting it show in terms of repertory because you don’t want to be entangled in that dirty capitalist Beyonce Countdown conflict.
  • It is neutral to not feel anything specific or to not give any weight to whatever feeling might occur. To act neutral is to act without question or interpretation, postideologically and post identitically.
  • Neutral means no mysticism. There can be kitsch, but no belief in it. Charged symbols must be emptied before using.
  • Neutral doesn’t have climax, except in the case of playfully reappropriating Hollywood dramaturgy, but even then the climax happens more on the surface – the subjectivity of the performer is still kept safe, unmoved, untransformed.
  • A neutral lighting is a lightning that makes “everything” visible, yet not blinding. Just a general swash of white and yellow. It can also be neutral to let the light change in the rythm of sunset.
  • English is a neutral language and broken English is alright if it is not commented upon. It is neutral to assume that everybody speaks broken English. The vocabulary cannot include any patois, but possibly a bit of well assimilated slang. Neutral talk must have properly crossed the borders of integration: it resides where there is no longer provocation.
  • A neutral way to use English on stage is to call a practical instruction with a neutral voice tone. Like: “Jessica, can you put play to the sound? Thank you!” The sound that Jessica puts play to is hearable, still not dominating.
  • Silence can be neutral, but it is even more neutral not to insult people. The weather is the most neutral topic of conversation, it does not discriminate, this is why people love talking about the weather, they don’t want to insult anyone.
  • If there such a thing as talking neutrally to the audience, it should be done tenderly, as if the audience members were very close friends in an intimate moment. Being personal without being irreplaceable is neutral. There should be intimacy without implication, not stating, just saying…
  • The neutral performance starts around 7 pm. Welcome!


Burn After Writing

Burn After Writing

I write this text as a solo study for an imagined group piece that has the same title as an imagined exhibition. I also write this text as a piece for someone else, a performer, namely my friend and colleague Josefine Larson Olin. When she accepted to take on this position in my piece of writing, she also altered my modality of writing. Although I am still the author in terms of initiative, I cannot write without her. And although we will both take the consequences for how we structure our work, I am responsible for the outcome. One likely consequence of this is that people will perceive Josefine’s occurrence in the text as a vehicle for my thoughts and desires. Both of us can try to disturb this order in different ways, but it will still be my signature under the piece of writing, and her name in it.

The reason why I put us in this tricky relation is that I had a text commissioned by the master students of choreography at the Stockholm University of Dance and Circus. They asked me to write something about their festival Ok Show Kids Return (May 22-29 2011) that took place in four different locations around Stockholm. Six out of the seven performances in this festival were made precisely with the demand that they should function as solo studies for imagined group pieces that had the same title as imagined exhibitions.

With me and Josefine joining in, seven pieces out of eight now fill this criteria. The festival also goes on for a considerably longer period than originally planned – i.e., until this text can no longer be read. This modification of the format of the festival is our way of responding to the strive for prolongation that often comes with the wish to have someone write about or document live events. Instead of trying to capture, break down or by other means make these live events accessible after their disappearance, we wanted to address the very question of the ephemeral and the continuous in different kinds of performance. As our title Burn After Writing indicates, we are primarily thinking of the performance of writing and about in what ways the activity of writing could take on a value beyond the text that it generates. Of course, text and writing are then also to be understood as an analogy to choreography and dance, i.e. what value can the performance of dance have beyond the choreography that frames it?

Even though the seven other performances in the festival clearly influenced this piece – not least in its festival-infesting format – there are also other influences that made the theme of ephemeral writing particularly interesting to me. One is an unfortunate tendency to lose my diaries and never find them again. Another is my many experiments with creating text material through actively altering the rules that frame the writing – experiments that in their turn can be traced to a long tradition of scores for writing, most commonly exemplified by dadaist and surrealist poetry practices such as cut-up techniques and cadavre exquis.

Texts such as A Room of One’s Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf or Queer Phenomenology (2006) by Sara Ahmed also play a part. From two different points in time, Woolf and Ahmed address how writers and thinkers challenge or confirm the limits for recognition by writing through and about material conditions that are not so easily altered. As both Woolf and Ahmed point out, the recognition of a text as a text is not only about the criteria of selection set up by different social or cultural institutions. The questions of readability start already before the process of writing has taken place, and questions of this character can of course also be put by, through and to choreography. Where are the social and spacial stages for the performances of writing and dancing? Where are the material resources? Where is the subject legitimized for an authorship within those fields?

Those who, for some reason, have sufficient resources to become recognized as authors can of course stretch the scope for recognition through insisting on leaving traces of material conditions that might not fit into all legitimate categories. They can also try to undo some of the readability of their authorship by willfully introducing an element of disturbance. The latter is one of the functions I imagine that Josefine could have in this text. This by no means implies that Josefine could stop me from making this text readable – I am too much of an author for that. On the other hand, not even the author in me can stop her presence in the text from embodying the idea that writers are also practitioners inscribed in a complex sociality, and that writing is an activity that always happens outside the text.

To embody the idea of the complex sociality of writing is of course also a function that the presence of Josefine fills in this piece. And yet, this is not a process diary where me and Josefine give an exact account of how we worked together with the text. Instead, I have covered all traces of my specific ways of working with Josefine, so that the circumstances of production of this piece are present mostly through their absence. The honesty of this solution is that it mirrors the power relation that we engage in as writer and performer, as well as openly admits to the fact that we are still prioritizing perfect form and clear authorship over the process of writing, even if we indicate a possibility of something else.

To speculate in what futures an ephemeral writing could have, i.e., what is to become of the imaginary group piece and the imaginary exhibition called Burn After Writing, is one such indication. To propose any exact protocol for the future is of course risky, since it must rely on the experiences of text and writing that I and Josefine already have and thus repeat the thoughts that we can already think. But even from this figuration of hierarchical power exchange and half-hidden contextual bodies that is ours, we will propose.

In this solo piece, I use Josefine’s unclear bond to the authorship of the text as a way of underlining that the idea of putting writing persons on display or making writing a part of a performative set-up is definitely not what I am after. How it looks when one writes says very little of what it does. Rather than imagining writing as a spectacular practice, I imagine it as a relational practice, whether or not the text that results from it is read by anyone else than the writer. Even to write something that is unpublishable – unsharable, unreadable, fragile in its to and from – is to simultaneously rewrite one’s position in the social. This not only because writing culturally represents a specific act of withdrawal (and this might be a point where the analogy between writing and dancing falls apart), but even more because the writing as such structures the experience of inner and outer worlds. Writing a memory note is not only about being able to look at it later. Writing a letter is not only about who receives it. The writing is a process of inventing binding notions between fragments, choosing experiences and framing realities.

Thinking writing like this gives an opportunity to imagine how it could have priority over text, for example in a group piece and exhibition named Burn After Writing. As this title suggests, immediate destruction is a possibly useful tool if one wants to isolate the practice of writing from the traces it leaves. The destruction of text is in this sense not necessarily a memory loss or a threat to shared intelligence (as in the culturally charged image of burning books), but rather a way of getting to know something about writing that the preservation of the text would not have allowed the writer to know. The written is thus in its destruction replaced by an affirmative loss, a loss that gives back meaning to an act of writing that is all to often co-opted by the text, just like dance is frequently co-opted by choreography.

Towards the end of this solo piece, Josefine and I keep insisting on the possibilities of writing and destroying the written as two nodes of desire that can overlap and constitute each other in ways that disturb the privileges of text. In this insistence, we simultaneously criticize and reestablish our positions as writer and performer. All this said, it is too late to burn this text.

By Tova Gerge with Josefine Larson Olin

The other pieces in the festival Ok Show Kids Return were:

40 minuter by Nadja Hjorton, Chrisander Brun, Cicilia Östholm, Per Sundberg, Emelie Wahlman, Erika Thalinsson Ranhagen, Anna Strand Andersen and Elvira Roos.

Burn Your Fun by Kim Hiorthøy with Ilse Ghekiere.

We Made a Piece from Thin Air by Stina Nyberg with An Kaler.

So What by Zoë Poluch & Valentina Desideri.

One on One by Juli Reinartz in collaboration with Liz Waterhouse with Linnea Martinsson.

Gear and Tactics, You Know What It Is What It Is When We Do What We Do, To Rely with Confident Expectancy, The Precious Moments Are All Lost in The Tide, Sidestep Translation, Again and Again and Again and Again, Metaphor Motion by Rebecka Stillman in collaboration with Ulrika Berg.

The Authentic Ludvig by Uri Turkenich with Ludvig Daae.

More dance and more fire:


Speculative Swan Lake (Reappearence)

I wrote some texts before, during and after PAF Spring Meeting 2011 that I now repost here. First out is an essay on swans and lakes. Enjoy!

I recently had a dream about two authors who chose very similar titles – both containing the word “swan” – for their books. In the dream, I also had a rather clear idea about the content of each book.

The whole dream was set in a dance context, which made the reappearance of two different swans very loaded. In The Black Swan (funnily in the dream it had the same cover as the Hollywood movie, but it was absolutely not the same), Nassim Taleb argued that any type of forecasting in economy is futile, since the appearance of the unimaginable event – i.e. the black swan – is an ever present possibility that mainstream economic theory tends to deny. But he took the metaphor not from The Swan Lake, but rather from the – in a colonialist point of view – unimaginable discovery of the black swan in Australia.

In the mirror-book The Blank Swan (not the same cover as the film, more abstract), Elie Ayache suggested that the market makers – who worked mainly with derivatives – should somehow become swans themselves and move in the same irrational pattern as economy. As the title in the dream indicated, it was still not a reference to Odette and her companions – these were not des cygnes blancs. Nor were they des signes vides, or even floating signifiers. They were simply blank swans, which meant that they had no expectations. They just moved empty-headed through the market making and tried to feel the next second trend: they were the in-between and the waiting that made the market.

When I have a strong animal dream, I always consider that there is some deeper meaning to it. Just to do a quick recap of what more traditional interpretations would suggest, the swan might be an omen of economic wealth, a recommendation to take care and act with dignity and grace, a sign that the dreamer is happy with their personal life, or even a phallus symbol (just think of its long neck and the rape scene between Leda and the Zeus-swan in Greek mythology). The relation to the water is also of importance. If the swan is black and close to clear water, this could denote illicit pleasure or feelings of discord with sexuality. If the swan floats the surface of a swimming pool or a little pond, this could mean that spirituality is restricted. On the other hand, if the swan dives, this is a sign that the dreamer is really getting into life. If the dreamer is a believing Christian, the swan might be a representation of the Holy Ghost.

Now, it would be easy to assume that the ballet relationship between a black and a white woman-swan was – according to dream logic – transposed and distorted, so that the story about the two male authors is actually about working with issues such as mirror stage, narcissism and lesbianism. This is quite an obvious reading and very much derived from recurring themes in my spiritual life: integrating different sides of myself, taking pleasure in the illicit, and so on. This doesn’t make the interpretation unimportant, but possibly, it is too simplified.

For what truly intrigues me with this dream is not the relationship between the two authors, but rather, how the dream partly emptied the swan symbol of traditional cultural meaning. In the dream, the swans somehow insisted on being inconsistent. They were certainly not woman swans. They were not even swans. For example, the black swan could take form as a violent event, but it could just as well be a nice surprise, or just something. The blackness had nothing to do with dark sides. It was more an image for improbability. The blank swan (aka the market maker) was maybe slightly more inscribed into a dream story in the sense that it had a spacial and corporal aspect to it. The blank swan was floating (possibly in a pond that was the pit – could this stand for an experienced restriction of spirituality in economy?) and it interacted with other swans, blank and black ones. So in a way, they made the black swan – which was not really a bird-swan – behave more like a bird-swan: at least when they encountered each other. The blank swans thus had more of a subjectivity, but their actions were not individual, spacial or temporal. They were not enemies or lovers: they didn’t plot. They just were a mindset.

If I would have to force them into a Swan Lake-setting, they would probably be a chaotic corps de ballet, guided by unknown impulses. I think I could like a Swan Lake with black and blank swans. Maybe that is how this dream was a wish fulfillment: a feasibility study for an unimaginable project.