“Fragile” and some other fragmented bodies

Eiko & Koma, Fragile, 2012

Eiko & Koma, Fragile, 2012

Things and thoughts advance or grow out from the middle, and that’s where you have to get to work, that’s where everything unfolds.

-Deleuze in Negotiations

In Postproduction, Nicolas Bourriaud discusses how postproduction artists, by making new relations among existing cultural artifacts, erase “the traditional distinction between production and consumption, creation and copy, readymade and original work” building on the Situationist International’s tradition of subversion and appropriation. (Bourriaud 4) In these artworks, the spectacle of images is not for the sake of representations, but the artists are making use of them to reach a network of signs, “a temporary terminal of a network of interconnected elements, like a narrative that extends and reinterprets preceding narrative.” (Bourriaud 19) Isn’t this the perfect way to engage in schizoanalysis? Instead of old family pictures, or a recollection of childhood memories, the cultural artifacts ready at the artist’s disposal for her/his act of choosing, a mixing of codes for new assemblages…

Richard Hawkins, Ankoku series, 2012

At the 2012 Whitney Biennial, Richard Hawkins’ Ankoku collages are exhibited, for which the artist cut out and pasted smaller prints of well-known works such as Picasso’s Guernica, Willem de Kooning’s Woman series, Hans Bellmer’s Dolls and Francis Bacon’s various paintings. These visuals are accompanied by texts from Jean Genet, Lautréamont and Antonin Artaud, as well as Hawkins’ own. The artist states that he was inspired by the scrapbooks of Tatsumi Hijikata, the founder of the Butoh dance. Hawkins adds how in the Western scholarship, the Butoh dance is contextualized within the traumatic history of post-war Japanese culture and how he is not convinced by this common trauma tale. He guesses Hijikata’s intentions for creating Butoh are overlooked, perhaps, because it was something far too challenging and uncontainable for the Western academia. Hawkins adds that he recognized something sexual, something erotic in the journals of Hijikata, who performed under the name of “Tatsumi Genet” in his earlier years. Inspired by his method of making collages, Hawkins makes his own. Perhaps, by cutting and pasting these works by Picasso, de Kooning, Bacon and Bellmer together, he tries to see something else that is left behind, something else that is seen better when they are together. He cuts out and reassembles the pieces of the works of art in which their creators dismantled the body, whether they are painted as fragmented and disfigured or photographed as tied up. The name Hawkins chooses for his collages is “Ankoku”. He refers to the darkness he recognized in Butoh but he is far from being satisfied with the word “darkness.” When asked about the title, he answers, “The darkness, I wish there were another word –“unspeakableness” or “threatening uncontainableness” might do- but perhaps it’s best merely to use Hijikata’s word, ankoku.” (Sussman and Sanders 133)

Over the spring break, I had the chance to see the retrospective exhibition of Eiko & Koma, the Japanese performance/dance duo who began their artistic career when they joined Tatsumi Hijikata’s dance company. For their retrospective show, they performed Fragile, a version of their previous work Naked accompanied by the Kronos Quartet. It is a four-hour long “live installation” that involves the duo, the musicians, a sound collage and set design.  The performance began as they were lying on the floor covered in bushes and feathers. Their bodies were naked and painted white as if they were covered by dust. As the sound collage started, they began moving very slowly; their movements were repetitious, incremental, almost indiscernible. Their performance was hard to define, a blurring of dance and almost, sculpture; hence they called it a living installation. They moved their bodies in such an incremental and slow manner, their bodies looked nonhuman with their twisted limbs in the middle of all dust, bushes and feathers. Their dance wasn’t an expression of ideal movement like the perfect circles of the whirling dervishes of the Islamic Sufi tradition, nor it was a dance that sacrificed the intervals for the sake of the poses. Instead, their movement was the dance of the intervals, constant movement without any poses or ideal routines. No poses, no routines, no representations, but constant movement. The score of the piece was a collage of audio including President Truman’s address on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an interview with J. Robert Oppenheimer, and reports on the Tohoku tsunami and the Fukushima Daiichi disaster accompanied by the Kronos Quartet. Even though the score of the piece points out to the traumatic history of Japanese culture, contextualizing Eiko & Koma’s performance only in reference to that would be awfully reductive. Their movements were not only the dance of bodies that attempted to recover under radiation, but also, they looked pre-human. I think there is a lot more to the piece: a different perception of time, nonhuman bodies, moving to find new ways of inhabiting the body and relating to each other…

Hawkins, through visual and textual collages, tries to find new relations among existing works, “testifying to a willingness to inscribe the work of art within an network of signs and significations, instead of considering it an autonomous or original form”, as Eiko & Koma moves to find other ways of inhabiting the body and the environment they are on. (Bourriaud 16) Perhaps, new ways of existence emerge mostly after a trauma, an atomic bomb, the Spanish Civil War, or under the terror of fascism, especially in the absence of a collective imagination and some kind of mythology, at a time when Deleuze is “doubtful whether the individual imagination, unaided could raise itself up to such an admirable identity.” (Deleuze “Desert Islands” 11) Nevertheless, it is too reductive to assume a perfect causality. Art by its capacity to affect can create the necessary zones of indetermination where new ways of being emerge without trauma being a prerequisite or the most common trigger. “Schizoanalysis, or pragmatics, has no other meaning: Make a rhizome. But you don’t know what you can make a rhizome with, you don’t know which subterranean stem is effectively going to make a rhizome, or enter a becoming, people your desert. So experiment.” (Deleuze and Guattari 251) Isn’t this what art is for?

Piril Gunduz

References:

Bourriaud, Nicolas. Postproduction. New York: Lukas and Sternberg, 2002.

Deleuze, Gilles. Desert Islands and Other Texts 1953-1974. New York: Semiotext[e], 2004.

Deleuze, Gilles. Negotiations. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism And Schizophrenia. Univ Of Minnesota Press, 1987.

Whitney Biennial 2012 Catalogue. Edited by Elizabeth Sussman and Jay Sanders. New York: The Whitney Museum of American Art, 2012.

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One Response to ““Fragile” and some other fragmented bodies”

  1. immanentterrain2 Says:

    A few years ago I had a chance to participate in a Butoh dance workshop. The first day we spent learning about shapes and materials – how they feel, how they move in space and what onomatopoetic sounds they make in Japanese. The next few days we tried to become those materials. For example to go through all the stages of a match from the moment when it is lit to the moment when it has turned into a tiny bit of ashes. The attempt was not to give a metaphor for a human movement or being through the burning match, but to find a movement in human body that was a series of new becomings of different materials. I find this aspect of Butoh dance most intriguing because the dancers are trying to loose their human identities, to become pure movement, pure material or pure shape.

    Piibe Kolka

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