Notes

What Forms The Present? – Sandra Man and Marita Tatari, Talk at Flutgraben Performances #4, 9 Feb 2020


At the fourth event of Flutgraben Performances on February 9th 2020 Sandra Man invited philosopher Marita Tatari for a lecture. The text that was read at this occasion is an excerpt of an ongoing talk between the two, initiated by Sandra Man in late 2019 and to be continued all over 2020.

SM: In a recent talk that you gave at the conference in Munich in November 2019 you spoke about the becoming irrelevant of tradition, of history as a frame and source for the new in contemporary art. You said something like: Not that today’s art forms would not refer at all to their history but – in contrast to strategies of breaking up, overcoming, deconstructing etc. – the progressive relation to the past is no longer the reference or the source for the new.
The contemporary change in the relation between art forms and a certain understanding of history, between art and its past, actually has been the core of your thinking for some years now. Let’s start from here: Could you describe today’s shift in relating to the past? Why and how is it no longer out of a “post” to the past that art forms emerge? What is it that is changing so radically today that you even headline it in your talk as “the change of change” itself?

MT: If we take the term „contemporary art” beyond the restrained meaning of the art-period coming after modern art, the idea that artforms respond in a very particular way to their present time, was shaped in modernity: the idea that they respond to their present time by giving to it a form, opening it up as such, all by opening up in it something new, a possible (or impossible) future. The change of artforms has been related to historical change both as a result and as anticipation. Modernity projected this idea of art retrospectively into the past as well as into other, non-western cultures. In the core of this idea lies a precise understanding of relationality at stake in all artforms.
We could even say that the word and the thing of “art” were invented in modernity to designate a relationality that on the one hand is concrete and singular, let’s say, a touching, an affective relation in the present moment (affecting not only for instance visually or acoustically, but also a sensuous feeling even of ideas or thoughts). But at the same time “art” designates this relationality as bringing at play or opening up in each one of its addressees, in each one that is affected by it a non-defined relation: this is its public, its addressees is a non-defined “we” – the common, namely when the common is not conceived as a given order, when it is not defined or definable in a hierarchy. It is from this non-given common, this universal activated in the public addressed by art, that comes all the trouble with art.

SM: Let me interrupt you shortly, I would like to insert a question: How does the public, relate to what we usually call an “audience”? I am asking because I think there is a relation to it but however what you mean by public is not simply spectators as opposed to performers, makers, authors etc. (they are also affected and addressed by the work). Is and how is the public you are talking about an audience?

MT: Well it is first of all a change of perspective, a way to think of an artform/artpiece/artwork/artprocess I mean, it concerns everyone implied in it. But if we think of it in these terms, then we can’t take audience as a ready-made concept, applied to each artform. We have to think of the audience out of the way this special kind of relation takes place (it is actually an emanation of relation). So, if the central question concerning the arts is where lies the extreme limit, that enables relation under different cultural conditions not to be relation between given things, but emanation, then we have to think of the audience and its transformations out of this question too. There is a whole field of artistic research that can be opened up by this change of perspective.

By common as non-given order I mean here the extreme limit that allows for anything to come to the foreground and relate, to appear not as defined by something else (as in an order). The common in this sense is mortality and natality together, the extreme limit on the one hand, and the emanation of relation on the other, the extreme limit as emanation of relation. This emanation of relation has also been called techne and technique, because it does not belong in a pregiven natural order. If art has been touching to these extremities, if it has been touching to the common as non-given, that is to say to relation as emanation, it has been opening up a non-given, an excess of the given, in the punctuality of its form, or of its taking place.
This non-given, this emanation may be felt as intensity, and intensity is an emanation of a “more”, a surplus. But at the same time art opens up in us, in each one touched, a distance – the limit or nothingness, that allows to address all “me” as other than “me”, namely „we” as emanation of relation. This emanation exposed as such in a form interrupts the flow of time and opens up a non-time into historical time, an infinite. Christianity understood this infinite as a moment or a pretaste of eternity.
In contrast to this understanding, the modern designation of art in singular, the modern invention of art, distinguishes art from cult and ritual. While the latter addresses the “we” in its distinction from gods (as in non-western or pre-western cult-practices) or, in Christianity, in its relation to God opening up an eternity as an outside of the historical time, art in singular – this modern invention – deals with the surplus interrupting and exceeding the given, the surplus exposed as such, as newness arriving into historical time.
That is to say as change projected into historical time. “We” as exceeding any given, is then being translated in terms of the demand for equality, for inclusion of alterity, inclusion in a non-given order, inclusion of everybody in a non-given and non-hierarchical “we”, a demand opening up a future. The new in art, the change of artforms has been related to this demand and has been interpreted as progress.
All forms of “post”-art: postmodern, postdramatic, posthuman, some tried even to speak recently of postcontemporary art, they all neither just designate a new artform, nor just an artform that gives form to their present time, but also they relate overcoming the older forms to a better realization of the demand for equality into historical time. In other words, emanating relationality was still until the beginning of the 21st century perceived as in modernity, perceived as a non-hierachical and all inclusive “we” to come – be it in Derrida and Agamben’ terms as always to come, suspended in the present, never given, open to its non-giveness; be it as disillusionment from and denouncement of the utopias in which the 20th century still hoped (as in Lyotard’s “sublime”, vertiginous, postmodern art); be it by permanently subverting given orders and hierarchies – for instance between spectators and actors, beholders and art objects, keeping open the non-given common (as in many positions ranging from Ranciere to Judith Butler and theories of performativity); or be it as non-anthropocentric, subverting the established hierarchies between humans and non-humans (as in new materialisms, in technoecologies and OOO)… The variations of the modern scheme conceiving art, history and the evolution of artforms in their relation to history as progress, history as a project of a better realization of the demand for equality and art as progressively contributing to this goal – even as a goal impossible to achieve, or as an open horizon – all these variations are still inscribed into the modern understanding of relationality at stake in artforms. The address exceeding any given as common or universal is being translated into the demand for equality exceeding the present into historical time.

Despite all kind of critique of the concept of art, of its singular, despite the critique of the bourgeois beauty, the bourgeois ideal of state, later on the critique of the political utopias, the emergence of participating artistic forms, etc., etc., the progressive understanding of the evolution of artforms remained untouched until the beginning of the 21st century. Anthropocentric criticism, non-anthropocentric art-forms, as well as postcolonial-art, colonial-criticism are in this sense extensions of western enlightenment: they serve an always greater demand for equality. From a posterior point of view (im Nachhinein), the public each time at play in an artform, is restricted. Forms to come have to address otherness again and as progress, better, more, they have to bring at play a greater openness to otherness.

Today it is said that the oneness implied in the modern invention of “art”, its public (the conception of public upon which the concept of art was based) and the universality implied in it have been founded on racist and anthropocentric presuppositions. We are thus seemingly confronted with the paradox on the one hand to stand for the western demand for equality (which cannot and did not exist in societies not dealing with the non-giveness of the common, that is to say in societies not dealing with the autonomy of the common), and on the other hand to denounce this same western demand for not being enough at its own height. I say seemingly because actually this paradox obeys the scheme of western logic itself, it is projecting into historical future an improvement of the previous conceptions of the common and of the public implied in art, so to include non-western realities or non-humans.

Saying that all these critiques of the enlightenment’s conception of art are still inscribed in it, sounds today almost as an insult; yet this is not how I mean it. Why does art have to be new, why do forms have to be new? Newness was not a request for “artistic” practices in ritual communities. Art, this modern invention projected, I repeat, retrospectively into other cultures, has to be each time new because it addresses a non-determinable “we”. Hence this can only be addressed each time under the conditions of its time. It has to bring at play a „we” escaping the given.

Nevertheless, there is currently in my view a shift of this same western scheme. While the demand for equality, enabled by the autonomy or the non-giveness of a “we” persists, as well as the need to address “us” (in other words the need to address the absolute in us, extreme limitation as emanation of relating), oneness has lost its hold over the contemporary world. Under current technological (and actually techoeoconomic) conditions there is no one horizon to project change, and no one history to understand the present. Maybe this is why currently the new in arts, “contemporary” art does not appear in the form of a “post”: not a new artform defined by overcoming the older. The demand for equality, the denouncement of colonial or anthropocentric blindness do not help us understand what is happening currently in terms of art, because they are inscribed in the scheme they denounce as its improvement and continuation. Hence it is this very scheme that shifts: it is not in terms of a new artform, it is not in form of a “post”, that the demand for equality in art persists. So how can we grasp what is happening in terms of art, in terms of form, of artmaking?

When we say that the new in art is not conceived in terms of form as an overcoming of older forms, we say that the surplus of relationality at stake in it, the excess of the given in it is not projected into a horizon. But also, that the given is not the oneness of a history. We could then say that it is rather the framing of what is a form that shifts and with it the very notion of public, the space of appearance, the space in which relation accesses an extreme limit able to address its free course, its emanation. For instance, I find interesting in the case of the so called decolonialization of aesthetics or of postcolonial art, that the demand for equality – the confrontation with the pain and violence caused by colonial blindness in western-global culture, is paired with an experience of limit that is completely strange to western culture: an experience that cannot project the excess of the given into future, an experience of alterity that cannot be motor for historical change.

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.

Space Choreography and Language

Space Choreography is a certain relationship to writing, speaking and text. In contrast to theatre, the text is not the starting point of the work, but part of it; nevertheless, it claims an independent literary status. Speech or voice is material and movement, not play and role. In terms of content and form, the writing developed so far for Spatial Choreographies is a lyrical writing.

One of the reasons why we began to be interested in choreography was the search for a different way of artistic writing and dealing with language and text. That is, a way of writing that is primarily and from the beginning spatial and specific to the work in question; the writing thus continues throughout the development of the piece, the final text does not exist before the piece: it is in relation to all other elements and changes with them.

We think of speech and voice as ways of moving: as the interplay of breathing, muscles and cavities in a body and as pulsations between bodies.

The texts written so far for Space Choreographies are lyrical texts, because they are essentially determined by sound and rhythm. In terms of content they open up a world-space of organic and inorganic, animal, human and cosmic bodies in permanent transformation.

Beyond drama and post-drama, a Space Choreographic language practice enables writing for and speaking on stage, which does not work on questions of play, role and figure, but starts somewhere else: in and between body(ies), in space, in the relations and not in the subjects.

Choreography as Space Art

I

We see and make our works as choreographies, but understand choreography as spatial art. By this we mean that we do not start out from a dancing or moving subject, but that space, spatial references are in the foreground for us. In our practice we take seriously that existence is a moving, relative and relational being with each other. We work on relationships within a body, between bodies, between bodies and other things, e.g. technical devices or objects; we work on perception (hearing, seeing, feeling), moving/being moved, speaking, looking as ways and forces of opening and relating to each other.

“Choreography as Space Art” is less a definition than an open direction of a contemporary search and research. We are not the only ones who are choreographically interested in space and/as movement; many works in the grey area between the visual and performing arts do so and are currently changing both the view of what installation or sculpture means and of what a stage and an audience space is. In both art forms they go beyond the dominant dispositifs of (objects) exhibiting and (subjects) performing.

This transformation also includes reception. If choreography is understood and made as spatial art, the question arises, how can it be watched? If it is not a piece that is shown facing opposite the spectator, if it is not about what takes place in the (stage) space, but about dancing, moving, speaking, looking etc. as material and as the sensual materiality of the spatial references themselves, then this produces a different presence and way of watching than, for example, a theatre performance. The looking that belongs to a work made in this way, has more of the contemplative or meditative gaze usually practiced, for example, in the visual arts; it is more like a “watching with”, a certain kind of immersion, rather than looking at an opposite.

II

By space we mean relating, by relation we mean movement. That is why we call our works Space Choreographies. We try to see the relating-to as primary and work accordingly. We do not work with something – a text, a concept – that we stage or that we implement. We start with spaces as doing: In Fortress / Europa 28 people worked together, each with just as many wall elements and in months of rehearsals found movements between the static and the dynamic; from this finally a spatial rhythm emerged that was performed and included the visitors. In Narziss Echo we worked with the dancer Charlie Fouchier on the centre as self-reference and on looking as moving oneself and others; with the singer Christine Börsch-Supan we explored speaking and singing as being everywhere. Together, a pulsation of point and sphere, of seeing and hearing, of looking/being looked at and speaking/being addressed is created. In our series Choros we deal with the choir as a space, as a milieu of speaking-with, singing-with, listening-with, feeling-with, moving-with and watching-with, which is neither individual nor collective.

III

We are interested in the chorus in choreography and are concerned with the occidental history of the chorus, especially with that before the beginning of the theatre. Not much is known about the dancing, singing, speaking chorus on a square – choros is the ancient Greek name for the chorus as well as for its meeting place – and because it has not left many traces, it is a source of inspiration in its indeterminacy and alienness. In all our works, but explicitly in the ongoing series Choros, named after it, we explore what a chorus can be, a chorus that exists solely for itself, that has no protagonists and is not inserted into a theatrical plot.

In doing so, we neither presuppose a specific chorus, differentiated according to its form of expression – singing, speaking, movement chorus – nor do we ask about the who? of the chorus. Nor do we try to make the tension between individual and collective the theme of the chorus, instead for us “choral” means working in the fluid in-between of the participants (and this also includes the visitors). This means to understand talking, singing, walking with each other as relating to each other and to work on these sensual-material relations in such a way that they are not used for something else (communication, skills), but are primarily and explicitly perceived as such (experienced as exhibited/exposed). What makes a chorus for us is that and how the participants perceive each other by listening and looking at each other, talking, singing, moving, and making themselves permeable to the sounds, rhythms, forces, etc. that arise between them. Mouths, eyes, ears are openings for each other.

IV

Globalisation as transformation through technology is a matter of the world as space and no longer of progressing time and thus of history along with its subject. In philosophy, art and physics, for quite some time space has been called relativity and relationality. In a space understood in this way there is no centre; the relations are primary. When dance and choreography are working on space at this very moment and thus find inspiration for new forms, intensities and forces, they are decentering the subject in their own way and searching for other escape routes. In the moving and being-moved human body that is at the centre of dance and choreography as such, questions of immediacy resonate in all intensity, which the body raises and rejects. If, however, it is not a matter of “overcoming” this human body in the name of a “post”, but rather of actually starting somewhere else by thinking of bodies as openings and the senses as a relating to one another that goes in all directions, then it is not by chance that dance and choreography is the field where this can take place. The visual arts, especially the history of sculpture, are often a source of inspiration because in them the relationship between figure and space (perception) becomes an explicit theme, at the latest with Giacometti and later from Minimal Art to the installation.

Space Choreography

We call our works Space Choreographies. By “space” we understand a flowing, dynamic field of forces, which differs from the idea of an existing container that first has to be filled with content. For us, “choreography” is the movement of space itself, all its elements and references.

Space Choreography is neither installation nor staging. It takes place in constellations, in the flow of a spatial event through living bodies, dancers and spectators, their movements, sounds, voices and through objects, images, videos. It is an interplay of different elements and qualities, the movements, pulsations and rhythms that pass through the participants and unfold between them.

In Space Choreography there is no one-sided frontal juxtaposition of stage and auditorium, but a flowing overall environment. The audience is part of an area, the Space Chorus its moment of motion. It is at the same time protagonist, place and action of a Space Choreography and brings forth both stage and auditorium. Depending on how it moves, it enables the path and position of the audience in the landscape it opens up. Like the old word chorós, the Space Chorus is not clearly assignable, meaning both the people involved and their place, the dance circle, something that is at the same time and between body and space. This makes it alien, inviting a kind of “double vision” or “double experience”. The Space Chorus transforms the status and the way of reception, visitors experience not only the What? but also the How? and Where? of their own reception.

Space Choreography is neither clearly performing nor visual art. It differs from a stage set in that it is not the frame in which an action takes place; it differs from the room installation in that it is not about exhibiting a room, but rather that the room performs, flows, acts – is happening. The spatial event is directed at nothing, makes no statement, is a physical experience of emergence in the here and now.

Space Choreography is artistic experience also in the sense of reception. In every Space Choreographic work, there are other ways of participating, watching, listening, each of which produces its own contexts. The audience is an essential part of the constellation, it is co-choreographed as part of a space-as-event.