Author Archives: Sandra Man

Niklaus Largier on Chora: Mesmerized

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Chora | Open Spaces Festival, Tanzfabrik Berlin | 9.11.2019

Conceiving of ourselves as viewers at first, we often turn into participants. What seems to be observation and abstraction becomes absorption, immersion, experience in time. Reading turns into feelings of sweetness and bitterness; looking into taste, appetite and arousal; hearing into affective pleasure and melancholic longing; touch into an abyss of desire.

I am tempted to start with a simple scene. A multipurpose room with an old hardwood floor, once used as a gym, in what is probably an ex-GDR school building in Berlin, Pankow. Sitting on a chair, I am observing a group of dancers rehearsing, working towards a future performance. A choreography, Chora. The Earth is a foreign planet. Every day it shows a different face, produced by Moritz Majce and Sandra Man. Silence reigns, except for the faint hum of a freeway in the distance, and for irregular moments of sound produced by the steps of the dancers. From time to time hints of a minimalist soundscape float in the air, mostly rhythmical echoes that don’t distract from the bodies that move. This is all there is. Bodies that move, bodies in no explicit form of interaction, bodies in space and time. Bodies that give form to space and time; involving me, while I am sitting there: attracting the gaze, holding it, redirecting it, absorbing all the senses, affects, and thoughts into the new space and time that unfolds here. It is, we might say, nothing else than a landscape of figural effects and of movements; a landscape where sensation and imagination converge in blissful play; a landscape of beauty.

I think, surprisingly, of Hume’s skepticism and his happiness in scenes of eating and conversation—and of his melancholy that came about when he engaged in philosophical matters. Looking at the movements of the dancers unfold, I don’t think of concepts. Instead, thought itself turns into movements of perception and feeling; and, starting in a critically descriptive mode, I find myself a skeptic absorbed in a dream of sensation. Looking at the dancers, sensing the movements, I think of angels. Angels, each of them singular and not bound by the hierarchies of thought, engaging each other in a form of language unknown to us. Angels, as in the drawing of Paul Klee that Walter Benjamin loved, looking back towards the ruins of history and alluding to a language that restores what is lost. Angels, as in Rilke’s vision, terrifying in their beauty and always close, too close to us in their intimate movements and presence. Angels, also, deeply immersed in the broken world, carrying all its passions, its desires, its senses in their silent voice. In Wallace Steven’s words “the necessary angel of earth, / Since, in my sight, you see the earth again.”

Or, shifting to another image, I think of bodies, just resurrected from the womb of the earth, seeking the words and the language they don’t have, yet fully alive in this tentative world of moving encounters. Bodies, encompassing all, humans and animals, flowers and stones, rivers and landscapes; hierarchies lost in the flow of the forms.
What remains, in this state of a different time and perception, is the figural play of the bodies alone, a play that takes shape both outside of and in our souls, fully material and fully spiritual. It would be wrong to speak of depth here, of meaning, or of a world. All this, even the allegory of angels or of resurrected bodies that I am happy to produce, is being undone. It is being undone, time and again, and replaced by the pull of the movements, the series of impressions, the axes of gaze and sensation, their layerings and circulation, in short, by mesmerizing effects of figures and configurations—not figures of life, but of living in the blissful multitude and beauty of silent voices.


Watching the undoing of social, racial, and discursive subjugations in these movements I think, thanks to Rahma, also of Audre Lorde when I write this. Of her “Poetry Is Not a Luxury,” and of the sentence: “The white fathers told us, I think therefore I am; and the black mothers in each of us—the poet—whispers in our dreams, I feel therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary awareness and demand, the implementation of that freedom.” In that essay, she concludes: “For there are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt, of examininng what our ideas really mean (feel like) on Sunday morning at 7 AM, after brunch, during wild love, making war, giving birth; while we suffer the old longings, battle the old warnings and fears of being silent and impotent and alone, while tasting our new possibilities and strengths.” This, the “tasting” of possibilities and strengths, in the undoing and remaking of figures, comes into view here—not in poetry this time, but in the silence of dance, nourished by the cosmic dreams it embodies in its figures and unfolds in the mesmerizing effects that so blissfully unsettle.

Niklaus Largier: Figures of Possibility, to be published in 2020

Chora: Note on Relating

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Chora | Concrete Dancers | 2019

Poetics of space, not dramaturgy of actions

The space gives the movement, the movement unveils the space.

We are working on a different relation of time and space: different from installation in which space is exhibited and visitors move; different from performance in which time moves and spectators watch.

We are interested in how spaces, various spaces move bodies – performers’ bodies as well as visitors’ bodies. We take ”space” as relational sensorium in which bodies are being moved by being here – through affections, sensations, perceptions: listening, seeing, sensing, experiences of closeness and distance.

”Being moved” is taken in all senses: the physical and somatic movement of the body as well as the affective and reflective movement of the soul and the mind – feeling and thinking.

We are interested in how such a being moved by relations is given back to a space, allowing the space to appear: The space gives the movement, the movement unveils the space.

The main difference in this approach on the side of the performers and their training is that we work on perception and opening up the sensitive antennas of bodies, their awareness for affections, their becoming ”passible” (as a very active way of being passive). We do not work on shapes, we do not intentionally produce a recognisable, readable language of movement. And we also do not work against it, it simply is not our interest.

The main difference on the side of the visitors is that we do not offer any dramaturgy and thus no implied interpretation to be discovered. We do not work on the level of meaning, we do not aim for readable, understandable and recognisable connections; and also not for the opposite. We are trying to change the register. We do not take visitors as detectives who have to find out something, be that meaning, concept, task, score. We want to go before and beyond that and invite audience to let be, let appear what is already here.

Like a landscape the space will open up to the viewer but it is not made for them.

We encourage and invite performers as well as audience to let go of looking for, recognising and identifying relations and rather let them happen, contemplate space, be surprised. We encourage to stop searching for and to forget about missing something.

We understand our work as a space in which relations and connections are not already given, already produced and understood but as a space that opens up to relations – makes them become present, lets them become the space of presence. We do not (re)present relations, we are creating conditions in which they can appear.

The beauty is in the appearing of a relation, in its becoming present, its being born out of nothing and for nothing – again and again.

That is why we do not fill up nothingness. We let it be. Out of nothing and for nothing movement originates. A movement that serves nothing.

We name it ”poetics of space” to put the light on this coming into presence of any and every movement; and to differentiate it from shaping actions and connections that might be the essence of dramaturgy.

I could also say: We work on the conditions – time and space, sensing – and not on the content (or: we take the conditions as content).

This is the reason why movement is different in, of and for all the elements we work with: Movement in and of video images, movement in and of texts, movement in and of a live performance is different from each other because it happens in different spaces. The conditions of time and space are different in the various landscapes shown in video images, different in words and imagination, different in the live environment performers and visitors inhabit and pass through.

The main focus is not on the shape of the movement – the movements of the bodies do not exist independently from where they are, from which space moves the bodies. We try to stay as close as possible to sensed and perceived space and time as themselves moving conditions for movement: the where moves bodies and the bodies’ movement lets the where as where appear. The where drives us, motivates us, moves us – in every sense.

One of the ancient mythological names for a space in movement out of which movement emerges is ”chora”. It still today echoes in the word ”choreography”. Thus, we are working on the essence of choreography as being the art of moving and being moved by time and space.

Parataxis, not syntaxis

One can connect things having a goal, a finality, a unity in mind, aiming for it.

We are looking for ways of relating, connecting, that do not close on unity, finality but that are essentially open.

Ways of relating in which one goes to the other, lets go again, goes on etc. – thus creating an open string, open to infinity. No consecutiveness, no consequence, no progression. But moments of an infinite and and and, one next to the other, in various relations of distance and closeness, of density and looseness, of lightness and heaviness etc. We are interested in intensity and extensity.

A paratactic way of relating rather than a syntactic one, shifting the focus from causality and finality to musicality, to rhythm and infinity.

In paratactic strings difference, distance, separation, pauses – spaces in-between – are not the opposite of relating but the very space for relations. Relations do not fill the gaps, they need them, they come out of them – gaps and relations let each other appear.

This is also true about the relations between different elements and spaces we work with: We do not glue videos, live performance, objects, texts together, trying to bring them closer, thus forming a whole. Our work is not immersive. The ”being-in” we are creating is not total, it is not closed, it is an open whole, a lot of nothing.

The being-in consists of in-betweens, it is an interspace.

In an interspace some elements and spaces can be very closely connected, almost becoming the same; some can be very distant and far away, almost becoming unrelated.

We work with autonomy of different spaces and elements. The autonomy of an element (text, video, performance…) is the condition for relations to happen while at the same time its autonomy can only appear in and as relation to others.

A New Sensualism (Extended Version)

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Choros VI | District Berlin | November 2018

In Berlin’s Schinkel Pavillon, sitting in the centre of the circular exhibition space is a humanoid robot, his face looking half-human, the cables, the metal limbs and the computer that keeps him going, are visible. He is giving a speech about the world and humanity, he opens and closes his mouth to say the words, he moves his head, his eyes, his facial expressions are convincingly human-like, he gestures with his hands to underline his statements. His audience – us – is sitting in a semi-circle around him. We listen to him. Impossible to say if this is a performance or a sculpture, the most intriguing thing about this work by Goshka Macuga – Now this, is this the end… the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end? – is the affective and sensual impression it makes. It is not some flashy showcase of technology and what it can do, there is no emphasis on the machineness and no critique of us being or becoming mere robots. It is the softness, the openness, the kindness, the calm and peaceful way this cabled man sits, speaks and moves that draws you in and that creates an intense presence. There is something new and unknown going on between you and the other, who is becoming more and more like you, or perhaps you are becoming more and more like him, and this open and mutual sameness and otherness is certainly weird and uncanny, but not in an eerie or frightening way. Instead of being spectacular, it feels quite intimate and somehow even normal, it is a present tense glimpse into a world inhabited by hybrid identities. This world of alterity can not only be looked at, but felt, sensed, lived in this performance. It is present. Its presence changes the way you watch, it affects your being a visitor. You are not outside and separate from what is going on, this undefined being – the performing sculpture, the humanoid machine, the blurred difference – is looking back at you. It is addressing you, it is speaking to you. In this encounter, a space is created in which what you look at and who you are changes. This change happens in a subtle and radical way, you feel it before you realise it. Your looking at a thing turns into your own exposure. The performance affects you and that means you enter a state in which watching and being present become the same.

Two big screens next to each other on a slightly inclined line in an empty gallery space (Carlier Gebauer Berlin), two videos projected on them, each of them showing the same place and the same people, but not exactly the same perspective and progress in time: two policemen on an empty street at night, a man and a woman in heavy uniforms, armed with machine guns. Aernout Mik’s A Swarm of Two shows the precise, slow movements of these people, their bodies, their being on this street. There is no one else, no one they would chase, there is no story and no plot. They are simply there, on this empty street that leads to nowhere and could be anywhere. There are strong signs and codes – the police uniform, weapons, trash on the street – and there is a narrative atmosphere in the images. But the work is neither about (de)signification nor about (de)narrating, nor any other kind of (de)constructing signs and codes. It is the softness, the fragility of the bodies and their movements that is touching; it is there for itself, not simply contrasting and confronting physical vulnerability with the aggressive protection of uniforms and guns. That is why this work primarily changes your affective state: it is a visual, dynamic meditation, a calm trip through this street. And while the moving images and bodies pull you in, you remain outside. This effect is intensified due to the double screens and double scenes you are watching. The strong sensuality of the images, the just-being-there of the bodies, the street, this world, unfolds a presence that is surprisingly even stronger as it is doubled and the images spatialized. This double presence in the images as well as of the images presents itself as an overabundance that you feel in the immediacy of a sudden just-being-there. This presence is striking in a piece full of signs that would usually call for interpretation and meaning. In this work they are there, they are needed. It would not work without them, but the balance shifts, and the signs are affective forces, elements of what is touching you. The work is not about the significance of signs, but creates a way of watching as being moved by bodies and images.

In Nacera Belaza’s piece Sur le fil at Tanzquartier Wien, it feels like there is no time passing. Three dancers, one after the other, in solos, are dancing in a rectangle of light on the stage, while the rest of the theatre is in almost total darkness. Repetitive music and the dancers’ moving like spinning tops create an extremely dense moment, a very strong sensation, an intensity that becomes physically nearly unbearable, and how this happens is difficult to grasp. There is nothing that forces you into it, there is not the slightest persuasion. There is not even anything interesting, in the sense that you would like explore it or find out more about it; you do not look at a specific movement, you do not actively listen to the music. Nothing here is there to be watched or listened to, you do not see a ”something” – instead you are offered a space. Through dancing, music, light, a space opens up and this space is infinite. It is an infinity that is real and concrete, paradoxically thus finite, happening in time, here and now. It is timelessness crystallizing in time, it is pure presence, inside of you as well as outside in the space. The stage, the dancing and the music are the passage to a state, a physical trip to an outer space inside of you that opens up when you truly feel you are being exposed, that is: existing. In the moments this space is opening itself you can hardly breathe, its intensity explodes in your chest. It is a strong feeling of freedom; it is precisely the state the dancers are in, which they offer and transmit to you. To be able to do so, the dancers are no doubt very present. Yet it is not sufficient to say that they are present, because it is not “their” presence. The piece itself is an open presence, in which dancing and watching merge without being or becoming the same. This open presence is able to emerge because the dancers and the piece overall are not showing anything, but serving. Sur le fil serves being there, coming into existence. The mode of watching this piece is part of this service. You are not looking at a service, but your watching serves the piece being nothing else than its own existence.

In Ismaïl Bahri’s videos in the exhibition Instruments at Jeu de Paume in Paris, you see a drop of water quivering on the bare skin of an underarm and its movement, almost like breathing, is immediately strangely beautiful; rather than being an alienation or abstraction of everyday life, it is very concrete, a living intensity. In another room on another screen, two hands are folding, unfolding and folding again a colour printed magazine page until all the letters and pictures disappear and it turns blank; when one page is finished so is one video and another one begins again showing the same procedure with another page. After about the second or the third one, something inside of you decides to stay and to continue watching. What you see is putting you into the state of watching, while it is no longer about it. What you see is there so that you can get into a watching mode. You are watching means: your whole body, your whole being is this watching. The videos allow you to not hold anything back in your desire to watch; in becoming a spectator who enjoys the movement of watching itself instead of the fixation and possession of an object.

All of Laurent Chétouane’s dance pieces offer this kind of non-possessive watching. The most intriguing and impressing being Considering Accumulations at Tanzquartier Wien and recently Invisible Piece #1 at HAU. The dancers and the musicians, who are adept at being in a special mode of letting their movements go, rather than planning and controlling, create a landscape. You are watching and listening as you would on a meadow, being inside and outside at the same time. You do not watch a meadow as you would look at an object; you are in it, but without interacting. You are there, watching and listening to what surrounds you. All of Chétouane’s pieces offer you this way of perception and ask you to be prepared and open for this. The shift from what you see (an object seen by a subject) to just being there watching and listening is something you have to allow yourself to happen. And only if this is effective, only if it is a performance in which the dancers and musicians reach a certain level of letting go and you in the audience let yourself watch freely and openly: the meadow appears.

There are more works in the last couple of years emphasising sensuality and presence. Some of them do this purely and directly, some of them are full of signs and codes. For example, the video installation What the Heart Wants by Cecil B. Evans, which deals with the topic of future, technology and mankind and all its meanings, but creates a landscape and an immediacy of affection and perception; there are the dance pieces by Margrét Sara Guðjónsdóttir in which the performers let appear an extremely pure state of intimately being there. And there is our own choral work that gradually intensifies the essence of sensual presence, my work with Moritz Majce, from Festung / Europa to Narkosis and Choros. It is from there, from the desires, longings and questions in my own artistic experience that I see the pieces I just described. I feel close to these works and that they have something in common. They all create a presence in watching, no matter if they are performances, sculptures, videos. They allow a watching that is not triggered by anything interesting on the side of what is being shown and that is not an understanding on the side of the spectator. It is rather an appearing than a showing and rather a contemplation than a rationalising. A watching as a state surpassing what you see and who you are as a spectator. Neither the artists and the performers nor the visitors can control it, but all of them are involved in exploring a state in which watching becomes being sensually present.
The works I described all express a belief in presence, in sensuality, in openness. They are not critical, not ironic, not detached, not cool; neither are they personal or emotional. They are at the same time humble and radical, because they follow a drive. After postmodernism and many subsequent posts and turns, after conceptual art and its application to all the arts, after deconstructing narratives, genres, bodies and identities, and beyond today’s political imperative, there is something else going on in the arts. It is subtle and it is strong, it is a new way of relating to being in the world.

A new sensualism is emerging in our time of globalisation, when the globe is recreating itself. It is hard to imagine anything more elementary. It is not only that something is changing while the rest stays the same, rather it is a transformation of everything, including the nature of change itself. Technology is clearly no longer an instrument but a condition, it is becoming our nature. We live in a technonature on a radically changing planet. It is characterised by a climate change we experience as natural catastrophe and a technological environment in which we have lost social bonds, while at the same time everything is connected. Apparently we cannot control and plan what is going on and that in itself is integral to what is going on. We can feel and sense this new becoming. We live it. We are not detached from the extreme planetary transformation, but we are in it and we are part of it. The planet is not changing without us. The transformation that happens cannot be looked at and studied like an object. What is changing is changing us: what we see and how we see, what we hear and how we listen, what we feel and how we feel – how the senses make sense – is transforming itself and that is why sensing as such is becoming so surprisingly new, intense, exciting, disturbing. We are listening, watching, moving, speaking, crying and loving in this emerging technonature. We are being born into the environment of a transforming planet; we are exposed to experience it, to live in it. The works I gave as examples expose this exposure, and you can feel it. These artworks are affected by the elementary change we are in. They work with presence and sensuality to let you feel, hear, see this self-transforming time and space. To do so, some of them address technology and nature explicitly, others do not. It is not important. When technology becomes natural and nature is technologically transformed, it affects our existence and our senses – always. Not only when we use devices or talk about it. The transformation goes deeper and beyond technology’s instrumental function. If a piece is about presence then it is about the elementary nature of this change.

All the pieces I mention here share – after a long period of works and humans feeling like the last ones, burdened by a certain melancholia and the heaviness of closure, of history being over – an atmosphere of something else coming into existence. Indefinite beings, ones who start living and feeling in this new world, who start being (in) technonature. That is why “mere presence” becomes so important in these pieces. What matters in them is the drive to open the senses, to approach our transforming existence as sincerely as possible, even innocently. On this planet which is giving birth to itself and so to us, we are vulnerable and fragile. We are not dominant. We are not the strongest. We are able to kill some or even many of us and a lot of life on earth, and we do so every day. But we are not life as such. There are forces pushing on without us and we can clearly feel this today in the change and transformation that is happening around us, between us, within us, exceeding and surpassing us. The works of a new sensualism open themselves to these drives and offer a space for getting in touch with them. This changes the relation to those who come to experience the work.

None of the pieces I refer to are ”interactive” but all of them engage with the audience and establish new relations, offer a different kind of participation. The being present, the pure being there, happens in and as an environment. It is an environment that includes the audience, and that appears in-between, consisting of relations – bodies, feelings, sensations, perceptions. An environment of affects and forces in which you are exposed and connected, open to what comes into presence right here and now. In this milieu a new way of being an audience is emerging. It is not about what you see – neither what nor you – but about the state a piece offers. As an audience you still have to enter that state, be open for it; being a spectator or visitor here does not mean staying outside observing. From the outside you will not see any of these works. It is only after dropping our reflex for understanding, decoding and explaining, our opinions on whether it was well or badly done, our will to categorize, our looking for the concept etc., it is only when we are not busy with any of that that something will happen. The works I take here as examples do not manipulate you. They do not force you into something, they give you space and time for being. It is an offer, not a product and not a task, and it is not always easy to let go the everyday mode of feeling and perceiving trained to consume and to perform.

The pieces outlined here ask for a certain way of watching and being in them. Yet they do not form a movement. It is not a group of artists agreeing on a shared perspective, form or method; they do not even know each other and all of the works are singular, the artistic intentions different. What links these works is a strong and intense feeling of being alive, a sensual affirmation. It is out of this affirmation that I am writing this text. In current dominant critical discourse about art, centred on the political relevance of art, I am missing the resonance of this serene ‘yes’. This yes is strong and it sounds new. It sounds new if you are used to a more melancholic tune, or to a maybe-yes, or a yes because there is no other choice. It is a yes that sounds not only new, but even shocking if you are tuned in to a no, a political no to all that is unjust and unbearable in this world, of which no doubt there is a lot. This yes is not ignorant of violence, of injustice, of exploitation; it is not an escape from the suffering. It is charged by and opening up for what is stronger than any destruction. It echoes that there is something rather than nothing. This yes sounds like it is coming from somewhere else. It is the call of an adventure.

This text owes a lot to the ongoing exchange with Marita Tatari, her thinking and writing, e.g. »Kunstwerk als Handlung. Transformationen von Ausstellung und Teilnahme«, Fink Verlag 2017

A New Sensualism

A new sensualism is emerging in this time of globalisation, a time when the globe is recreating itself. It is hard to imagine anything more elementary. It is not only that something is changing while everything else stays the same, rather it is a transformation of everything, including the nature of change itself. Technology is clearly no longer an instrument but a condition – it is becoming our nature. We live in a technonature on a radically changing planet. It is characterised by a technologically triggered climate change that confronts us as natural catastrophe, and a technological environment in which we are losing social bonds, while at the same time everything and everyone is connected. It has become clear that we cannot control and plan what is going on, and that in itself is integral to what is going on. We can feel and sense this new becoming. We live it. We are not detached from this extreme planetary transformation, but are in it and are part of it. The planet is not changing without us. The transformation going on cannot be looked at and studied like an object. What is changing is changing us: what we see and how we see, what we hear and how we listen, what we feel and how we feel – how the senses make sense – is transforming itself, and that is why sensing as such is becoming so surprisingly unfamiliar, new, intense, exciting, disturbing. We are being born into the environment of a transforming planet; we are exposed to the experience of it, to living in it. In our work we aim to let ourselves be affected by the elementary change we are going through. Our pieces work with presence and sensuality to feel, hear, see this self-transforming time and space. In doing so, some of them address technology and nature explicitly, others do not. It is not important. When technology becomes natural and nature is technologically transformed, this affects our existence and our senses – always. Not only when we use devices or talk about it. The transformation goes deeper and beyond technology’s instrumental function. If a piece is about presence then it is about the elementary nature of this change.

After a long period in which both works and people feel as if they are the last of a line, burdened by a certain melancholia and the heaviness of closure, of history being over, we experience an atmosphere of something else coming into existence. Indefinite beings, ones who start living and feeling in this new world, who start to be (in) technonature. That is why mere presence becomes so important in many pieces, including ours. What matters in them is the drive to open the senses, to approach our transforming existence as sincerely as possible, even innocently. On this planet which is giving birth to itself – and so to us – we are vulnerable and fragile. We are not dominant. We are not the strongest. We have the power to kill some or even many of us and a lot of life on earth, and we do so every day. But we are not life as such. There are forces in continuous motion within and without us, and we can clearly feel this today in the change and transformation that is happening around us, between us, within us, exceeding and surpassing us. We want to open ourselves to these forces and offer a space where we can get in touch with them. This changes our relationship to those who come to experience our work.

None of our pieces is ”interactive” but all of them engage with the audience and establish relationships, offer a kind of participation. The act of being present, of pure being there, happens in and as an environment. It is an environment that includes the audience, and that which appears in-between, consisting of relationships – bodies, feelings, sensations, perceptions. An environment of affects and forces to which you are exposed and connected, open to what becomes present right here and now. In this environment, another way of being an audience is emerging. It is not about what you see – neither what nor you – but about the state a piece offers. As an audience you still have to enter that state; being a spectator or visitor here does not mean staying outside, observing. From the outside you will not see. If a piece works, it does not force you into something, it gives you space and time for being. It is an offer, not a product and not a task, and it is not always happening. The pieces we are trying to make ask for a certain way of watching and being in them. A watching that is not triggered by anything interesting on the sidelines of what is being shown, and that is not an understanding on the part of the spectator. It is rather an appearing than a showing, and rather a meditation than an understanding. A watching as a state exceeding what you see and who you are as a spectator. Neither the performers nor the audience can control it, but all of them are involved in exploring a state in which watching becomes being sensually present. Our works follow a belief in presence, in sensuality, in openness. They are not critical, not ironic, not detached, not cool; neither are they personal or emotional. They are at the same time humble and risky, because they follow a drive. It is subtle and it is strong, it is a new experience of being on this planet. It is a sensual affirmation, a yes. This yes is not ignorant of violence, of injustice, of exploitation; it is not an escape from the suffering. It is charged by and opens itself up to what is stronger than any destruction. It echoes that there is something rather than nothing. This yes sounds like it is coming from somewhere else. It is the call of an adventure.

Notes on Watching

Our works are Space Choreographies because they deal with the mobility of space and the spatiality of movement. We are interested in the simultaneity of what happens and where it happens; in such a way that the place of the event does not exist before the event, but is created along it. A Space Choreography is not a stage set in which an action takes place; nor is it an installation that exhibits a space. We understand Space Choreographies beyond stage design and installation and beyond performance and exhibition. This raises the question of what the participants in a Space Choreography actually do, how they do it and who or what they are while doing it. And this question comes up for both aspects of participation, that of making and that of watching. We understand the performers participating in a Space Choreography as a Space Chorus and a Space Chorus is determined by the fact that its movements – physical and/or vocal – create a space. This creation of space also includes those who attend a Space Choreography. What does this “inclusion” of the visitors mean and how does one visit a Space Choreography?

Opposite and Event

Usually in performances we watch subjects acting and in exhibitions we look at objects in their form and shape. In performances we sit, in exhibitions we stand and walk; in one case what we watch moves, but we do not; in the other case we move ourselves, and what we watch is immobile. The performance takes place in time, as a spectator you follow something (plot, story, dramaturgy…) that develops, at least unfolds in the course of time; the exhibition is spatial, many things are there at the same time, you walk through as a visitor, observe something from all sides. In the performance one watches a movement, in the exhibition one is oneself in motion. If you think in terms of exhibition and performance, movement is activity and either on the side of the performing or the visiting subject. But it is not a spatial event that takes place between all participants.

What if movement is distributed differently, for example, if everyone is moving and being moved, not just either the performers or the visitors? And what if this movement of everyone does not happen for the purpose of interaction, dialogue or exchange between the participants? If nothing but this movement itself takes place, nothing is added to it – no task, no story, no plot, no action, etc.? If it is a movement that encompasses the whole space and all participants, that exhibits itself and is sufficient for itself. – Where and who or what are you as a spectator and how do you watch something like that, and is what you do spectating or something else?

Experience and Structure

If one looks at our previous Space Choreographies in terms of what being a spectator can be in them, one comes across ways of participating in a spatial event. There is a transformation of being a spectator itself, when there is not a subject and object, active and passive, that face each other, when being a spectator does not mean watching something, but rather sharing a spatial experience. Sharing does not mean that performers and visitors become “the same” or (should) do the same, but it takes place before or beyond identification as performers or spectators. It is about watching as experience and structure. Structure means that what is meant by “watching” – more generally: the way in which one participates as a visitor – that lies in the centre of the artistic work itself, is created by it and is not something that only happens when a work is “finished”. Watching takes place much earlier and comes much deeper from inside of a work than one might think at first. One thinks like that because of rehearsing without an audience and then thinking that watching is what comes when you don’t rehearse anymore. That makes things complicated and contradictory: while the way you experience a work is rooted very deeply in its process of creation and is part of its essence, spectators are at the same time that which eludes production. In contrast to the artistic participants – the Space Chorus – one does not normally rehearse and train with an audience. The more spatiality is involved as an all-encompassing happening, the more essential and tangible this difference becomes, the more one can and must work with it and think about it. One has to be concerned with what kind of invitation to what kind of participation is in a work, and the way in which spectators are prepared and become aware of it. Ultimately, it is a matter of looking at each work in terms of what kind of spectatorship it produces. For spectators, this means first and foremost being able to accept the invitation to participate in a work and to explore how one is part of it while watching.

Fortress / Europa (2015)

Fortress / Europa begins as an exhibition, the visitors walk around looking at paintings, the performers are initially invisible, the wall elements stand statically in the room, the paintings are attached to them. In the next step, the performers begin to move, the walls open up, leaving an audience space free, the visitors sit down.

There is a change in movement: Those who stood still before, now move, those who walked around, sit down. What follows can be seen in this way: An exhibition that passes in time, in a certain way performing itself. As an audience, one watches a moving installation. The wall elements are reconfigured again and again, the performers carry and move them, their faces towards the walls, you only see them from behind, they almost merge with the wall objects, the objects almost become protagonists. The audience space is in the centre of the action, the room is reconfigured around it, so you only see a section, something always happens behind one. At the same time, you sit in the audience space aligned to each other in such a way that you always have other viewers in your view and are seen by others. You are very exposed yourself, while at the same time there is a temporal course through the permanently changing spatiality, but neither individuals representing something nor an action that you could or should follow.

Probably the overall situation is something like this: An installation is moved, the performers become components, the components become protagonists, the spectators become exhibits. In a certain way, all of them find themselves in a space that moves and exhibits itself in this movement. In the change of who is what and how (object, exhibit, protagonist) a space appears in which everyone is embedded. Which everyone shares, even if they – performers, spectators – do not interact and do not do the same. Being part of this space and sharing this space is what happens. Nothing more or nothing else happens. As a spectator I can get involved in this happening, i.e. participate in it in the literal sense of the word, by seeing, feeling, perceiving, surrendering and surrendering myself to my own being exposed. Then I am in and with it, I participate without doing anything specific in the sense of interacting. It is a very corporeal process and has to do with relaxation and silence and letting things happen. When this happens, when I let go and do not want something (to understand, to be entertained…), the work goes through me and can actually take place in the in-between, in the interrelation of all those present. But it requires of me as a spectator a change in how and what I look at. As long as I am curious, looking for what you can call action or story or statement or concept, as long as I am interested in what you can understand as the performers’ skills, I see nothing. On this level there is really nothing, nothing takes place. The gaze that wants to understand something or find something ingenious and skilful fails. But if I succeed in letting what happens simply happen to me, a transformation takes place in me as a spectator: The “I watch something” becomes less, instead I become a zone of contact and feel an intensity.

Notes on Choros III (Koroška)

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Choros (III) Koroška, Exhibition View, photo: Kunstraum Lakeside / Johannes Puch

In summer 2017 we worked together with the singer and performer Christine Börsch-Supan for several weeks outdoors, in the mountains, the Hohe Tauern in Carinthia/Koroška. We continued our artistic research on voice, space and movement, with the intention to work for the first time only outdoors, in a landscape, and to get to know its acoustic, visual and choreographic possibilities. We showed the result of our work from 8 Sep to 6 Oct 2017 as a video and sound installation at Kunstraum Lakeside in Klagenfurt/Celovec, curated by Nora Leitgeb.

The summer of 2017 was characterised by extreme weather conditions caused by climate change. The south of Europe burned in the sun, while the north drowned in rain. Our artistic questions about the relationship between man and nature also arise from the massive climatic transformations to which our living environment is exposed.

Choros

For some years space is a strong topic in our artistic work, and in the course of time we have begun to think space and movement together. Movement as a kind of “spacing” – giving space to oneself and creating space – has led us to the ancient chorus, e.g. in the artistic research projects Choros I + II, and this in turn to the question of landscape. The ancient chorus before the beginning of theatre was a singing and dancing choir that did not have a fixed, architecturally predetermined stage, but performed outdoors. It prepared its stage through its actions; at first simply by stamping a circular surface into the ground in a round dance. “Choros” is the name for this ancient choir, the round dance and the place where it danced. This simultaneity of movement and place interests us: Choros as a dance place does not exist before the chorus, the stage does not exist before doing. We are looking for ways in which what happens and where it happens are created simultaneously and go hand in hand.

Intimacy of Expanse

Landscape as an open space, a place of interaction of elements and forces, not primarily made and inhabited by humans, an exposed and unpredictable environment dependent on geological durations and environmental influences. – In working outdoors we became involved with this openness of the landscape. We neither hiked in the mountains to reach a summit, nor were we interested in landscape as a backdrop. We went to the same places over and over again, and stayed there for a very long time. Without us knowing or planning it beforehand, it was high grounds that attracted us most in the end. These are flat places that open up into the horizontal inbetween steep slopes and in front of rocky walls – in the middle of the verticality dominating the mountains. Here, it is not so much height and depth, and the conquest and abyss associated with them, that determine the landscape and its affects, but expanse. On these high plateaus we spent many hours again and again, staying and letting light, air, underground, sounds affect us. With and from these elements we found body movements and ways of speaking and sounding. We worked with the landscape, the nature of the surroundings, made ourselves permeable to them, but not with the intention of merging with them. Christine’s movements and her voice stand out from the landscape and at the same time they are embedded in it. What happens is not a unification, but an affection. In the long stay at a place and the physical, sensual opening to the landscape, in the feeling of its elements – the intonation with a breeze, the dancing on the blades of grass and walking on the stones in a stream – an intensity is created that is due to a very specific relationship between closeness and distance: In the human body, which sounds with the air, feels the stone, rolls in the grass, the vastness comes very close.

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Choros (III) Koroška, Exhibition View, photo: Kunstraum Lakeside / Johannes Puch

Breathing Gaze

We spent a long time in places in the mountains that are not destinations in themselves, places that are remote, on routes that are scarcely used; places through which one only passes, if at all, when being on the way to a peak or a hut. In these places we have heard, seen and felt the surroundings and have intensively studied the relationship of the human body to these surroundings. In several senses, “recordings” have been created: the body recording the landscape by dwelling in it and moving with and within it; and audio and video recordings of these voice and body movements.

The video recordings are related to landscape painting, if it is a matter of this painting to first putting landscape into the picture and letting it be seen in a certain way; in other words, not to be the image of something, but to produce a view that belongs to what is seen. The videos are filmed in such a way that the gaze capturing them is physically present, it sees with them, it breathes with them; as a viewer, one sees in the movement of the image the breathing, the pulse, the weight of the filming body, the gravity that acts on it. And also in the image space itself, everything is organised around the relationship between rest and movement; one sees a distribution of the unmoving and the moving, which relates the human body and the environment of light, wind, water, clouds to each other and permeates all elements: Sometimes the body is completely still and thus allows the course of water, sun, clouds to emerge and become visible, sometimes the rhythm of movement of the body fits into that of light, wind or stream. In this way, each picture breathes as a whole and in each picture you see an interplay of different rhythms; the longer you look, the more you immerse yourself in the pictures, the more varied and finer the various elementary movements that relate to each other become.

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Choros (III) Koroška, Exhibition View, photo: Kunstraum Lakeside / Johannes Puch

Listening Voice

The voice moves with the water, the wind, the buzzing of the insects, it is another soundtrack that blends into the environment. With this insertion it makes itself and the other sounds audible, it is not the foreground to sounds in the background, but in the resonance with the stream and the air the interplay comes out. As with the body movements and sometimes simultaneously with them, the voice is also about participating in the elementary movements and sounds of the landscape. It is about a sounding, vibrating breathing with the air and the sounds that are already there on the one hand and that you find when you go out into the open air, but which at the same time only appear when they are added to the sound of the voice. Christine’s voice receives the landscape, it sounds out of hearing, enters into what she hears, brings what she hears into her own voice. From the recordings of this hearing resonance, the sound environment for the listeners is created.

Free Writing

The texts spoken in Choros III (Koroška) come from a cycle entitled Into the Open and are nature lyric. They describe a space in which one body becomes another, carried out once more, again and again, from the ground, from the earth, from space. They speak of this space as a free one. The texts want to write about this free space and write from this free space, they want to write (themselves) freely and write something free. They try a reversal, which is similar to what the movements, the images and the voice are all about: to take up less of oneself, to do less on one’ s own initiative, but to take up something from somewhere else – the landscape, the surroundings, nature – and be set in motion. Not only wanting to go out into the open as a direction of liberation, but also wanting to be approached by the open and being touched, changed by the open. In lyrical writing, this freedom is not only a motif or theme, but also and above all a movement – that of the rhythm and sound of language. In the sound of the words and their stream one also hears a freedom from their other use, from information or communication.

Narziss Echo – Note on fragility (after the first premiere at imagetanz-Festival, Vienna)

Narziss Echo works with micro movements in body and voice and lyrical text. Its substance and material are affects and relations: looking, listening, speaking. Almost in direct contrast to Festung / Europa (2015) where we used very heavy wall elements we work now with waves and impulses – light, sound, nerves; whereas in Festung / Europa a chorus of 28 people was literally carrying the piece it’s in Narziss Echo the single body, the single voice and their technical doubles and extensions who are performing; and while in Festung / Europa the audience was grouped and enclosed it is singularized and detached in Narziss Echo.

The fine and airy connections of gazes and spoken words and the exposure of single bodies make Narziss Echo a fragile piece. Its fragility lies in the very character of the material (micro movement, atmosphere of the voice, lyrical words), in the role of the audience (who is exposed and participating but not interacting), in the spatial and sensual separation of the two performers and in the relation to their respective technical doublings (the interplay of what is live and what is recorded/on video); all of these aspects, elements and strings together make the performance and whether or not all of them find and engage in the right rhythm is the challenge and the risk of the piece every time it is presented.

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Narziss Echo | stillshot

Narziss Echo is precarious and in an almost naïve manner does not protect itself; every little lapse (too slow, too fast relative to what is needed right here and now) in the performance, every technical sound or video problem, every movement and reaction by an audience member can derange it. – But: This risk, this radical unprotectedness and openness to contingency is the piece. It’s a piece that can easily break, fall apart, become vain: the moment when Narcissus recognizes himself in the mirror, the deadly catastrophe of mere superficiality and shallow looks-like-something-but-is-nothing belongs to the piece. It can happen that the piece falls into a vain abyss of identification and sameness. But it can also happen that it relates differently to this moment of narcissist disaster and allows to surf on the flat and slippery surface of the spring. In this piece it is not only the dancer who incorporates Narcissus and who can thus fail but everyone, including every single audience member, and everything, including technical stuff, contributes to and participates in the rhythm that is needed to create the right surface tension for drifting (this interplay of elements and in-betweenness of the performance is btw the reason why we call our pieces „space choreographies“). The spring in and of this piece is the rhythmical tension of gazes, movements, voice, words, the permeability of audience and performers, bodies and technical equipment. In this airy arrangement lies the danger to collapse into narcissist pretentiousness as well as the chance to experience narcotic intensity.

Narziss Echo – Note on the echo space

During the development of the piece the monologue transforms itself into a language cosmos. It is no more a timeline marked by pauses as spaces in-between but it’s the spatial qualities as such becoming more and more present and create something new. This new is a cosmos consisting only of language spoken and sung; as opposed to the ancient idea of a cosmos it is not a given order that guarantees stability but a space that continuously originates anew from different positions. It is the space(s) and the spacing in-between and beyond stability and instability, continuity and disruption we are trying to find and create.

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Narziss Echo | installation shot

This cosmos consists of a voice, of language spoken and sung but it is neither text nor sound, neither music nor literature as such we are producing; we try to open the space(s) in-between sound and meaning. So, although this cosmos carries songs and lyrical poetry parts, it is not a concert and it is not a reading you are listening to. It is only language we are working with (and not sound material of all sorts…) because we want to change the perspective from a space opened by language (an imaginary space, created e.g. by a story) to spaced language. We need this reduction and focus on words only in order to achieve a twist from story to space by using the same means: The cosmos created by language is not one that is merely being told, but it is here and now in the space of words and the words in space. This cosmos is not about a story, it is not about a dialogue; neither is it about physicality as opposed to meaning; and although there are more fragmented zones and more linear ones deconstruction and liquefying is not our main goal; neither is alienation of pre-existing sounds what we are working with (we record and then change very little, we don’t use effects…). Instead of or beyond fragmentation and linearity, beyond solid and liquid we try to think of the possibilities of aeriform movements; instead of or beyond deconstruction and alienation and thus working on the meaning and identity of words or sounds we want to space them. This asks for another practice, not only of making but also of listening to it and being in it. We don’t know it – we try it.

It is the mythological Echo, our preoccupation with her, that led us to such a space. The cave she turns into, the pure resonance she is, the voice that only answers and thus transforms enabled us to think of an Echo not as a poor and paranoid chamber of always the same but as a rich and full cosmos. Finally, all the material we produced during our long engagement with the myth, all the different words, tunes and rhythms we found in response to her: the melancholic, the somnambulant, the demanding, the sad and the desperate, the longing and the fulfillig… are building, forming and moving the narcotic Echo space of this piece.

Narziss Echo – Note on myth and metamorphosis

In the myth there is no development; but there is transformation. This change without progress is essential to our artistic search for working with time as space, our interest in making pieces with a beginning and an end but beyond narration.

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Charlie Fouchier | Narziss Echo at imagetanz Festival, Vienna | March 2017

The myth of Narcissus and Echo (as it is told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses) deals with the relation of image and word, look and voice; love, pain and death, unity and separation are in this complementary and impossible relation between two senses. Although famous as the myth of self-relation par excellence it confronts us with otherness and alterity: Narcissus falling in love with someone he does not recognize as being himself until the moment when he realizes that the image does not speak; Echo transforming the words of others into her own and becoming the space of transformation as such: a cave. The myth of Narcissus and Echo echoes Plato’s allegory of the cave by transforming it from a place about vision, knowledge and exit into a space of sound, love and reception.

For Narziss Echo – linking only the names, leaving the relations between them open to all directions – we take the myth in its spatial and relational aspects: Narcissus as centre, Echo as being everywhere; Narcissus as vision and reflection, Echo as sound and resonance.

Narziss Echo – Note on the dance, the voice and the image

Narziss Echo consists of movement and voice. Inspired by Caravaggio’s Narcissus (1597–1599) and its tension between attraction and levitation the dance is centered on the look: looking on oneself, looking outside (horizontal), looking upside (vertical), looking at others; at the same time looking and being looked at, (not) getting in (eye) contact. Looking is a way of relating to oneself and to others and this relation is choreographed and exposed in the movement. It is so not only on the side of the dancer and his looking/being looked at but also on the that of the audience who is looking at the performer but also looking at itself: The elliptic space and the distance between the chairs expose the audience members and make them visible for each other.

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Caravaggio | Narcissus | 1597–1599

The corresponding element in the monologue is the pause. The rhythm of speaking is organized on the pause as space and not as a break-up and interruption. The monologue pauses in moments when the text opens up in all directions – nothing and/or anything could come now, the pause gives space. Thus the monologue relates to others: it is not addressing the audience, it is not directly speaking to it but it is giving space to it.

Both, the solo and the monologue, are traditional ways of aesthetic self-relation. In Narziss Echo they are exposed in their respective qualities of being relations to others. They do not enter into a dialogue between each other but rather create different spaces of contact with and resonance of/for the audience.

In the beginning and in the middle the performance is transformed. The solo becomes an image, two videos frame the choreography; they show the dancer moving in two different spaces. As part of the piece the video image is not an image of space, it is an image in space: it opens up another space, an outer space right here in the installation to which it belongs.