Notes on Watching

Narkosis (2017)

In Narkosis, watching is the subject itself. Even if the gaze plays a decisive role in all our works, it is this gaze in which it comes to itself. The work has its starting point in the myth of Narcissus and Echo.

Narcissus looks in the spring and falls in love with his reflection. How does he look at it? What look does he have? What happens in this seeing? – Narcissus is in love. He sinks into looking, he comnpletely opens up into sight, he does nothing but look, he looks very closely, every detail in the other’s face attracts him. He fades away in this look / sight, he loses and forgets himself in it. His loving, desiring look is above all oblivious to everything else, he does not know whom he sees, he just sees. It is a pure act of seeing, desire that dwells in looks, the attraction tangible in a ray of vision. He sees and does not see himself. This extremely intense pleasure of looking is interrupted by another gaze: that of knowledge. The moment Narcissus sees himself, the moment he knows who he sees, the moment he no longer simply sees, but sees what he sees and no longer self-forgets himself completely in seeing, he wants to die. The recognition deprives him of his lust. The spring strikes back, the knowledge kills him.

Echo too is in love, and is looking. While she waits for a first word from Narcissus, she watches him the whole time and after he rejects her, she loses her face, out of shame she turns into a cave, completely inside without outside, completely voice without body; she is heard, but no longer seen.

It is this complete merging into the pleasure of looking, this merging into glances, this total seeing, that intrigues us with Narcissus and Echo; the self-forgetfulness and self-abandonment that accompany gazing as an act of sensual desire. The intensely desiring gaze as the flip side of the recognising; the dazzling in the reflecting; the bewitching, numbing, ecstatic nature of looking: the narcotic in narcissism is the subject of Narkosis.

In Narkosis, Narcissus and Echo are spectator names. Names for ways of looking, in which sinking, rising, abandoning oneself, surrendering oneself are in the focus. It is an encompassing seeing: Viewed from above, the entire piece takes place in an eye. From the side it is reflected in two projection screens. In the centre it circles around itself. In the audience space it looks at itself. Narkosis is a Schauraum – a network and rhythm of looking and being looked at.

As a spectator in this room I always encounter looks and images at the same time, I look at while I am looked at, I am part of the general visual movement, which I also see as a diagram. Looking is what takes place in Narkosis, sinking into images and gazes is the invitation of this work. The narcotic “sinking” into looking itself is physical, it opens with all senses and in all directions to gazes and views. It is not so much about something specific that I see, but rather about all the movements that exist in looking: a gliding and wandering, a feeling of gazes on one’s own body, a scanning of an image, a taking in and looking back; Narkosis allows to be exposed and protected, close and distant at the same time.

Spectator Training

In essence, each of our works is a spectating space. A space for spectators and one that the spectating participants substantially co-account for. By this we mean something else than energies and reactions of an audience affecting a performance. It is more radical and lies in the fact that what one does artistically produces specific ways of watching. In this positive sense the creation and creating of spectating spaces is also something else than the irritation of expectations. Such irritations may occur when trying to turn watching into an event, but they are not the intention or purpose. It is not about disturbing someone’s expectations. To put it bluntly, we are not working on something that we then show to others – the audience – but we are working on the viewing itself. Similar to making a picture or object or piece, we make an spectating space. A space in which watching can happen, i.e. become tangible and experienceable as such, rather than being the watching of something. The space chorus prepares the spectator space so that watching can take place. It does not produce something that is being watched. In a somewhat formulaic way, one can also say that the space chorus itself is the spectator space. It is not or does not do anything else, but its movements are the spacing, allowing space, space-giving of the spectating space. Space Choreographies are always spectator spaces.

All the things we describe here and do in our works are on the one hand completely different from the approaches of many other works of art and on the other hand they are not. It is completely different because we access this kind of watching so explicitly, it is the same because in every artistic work the way (it) is seen is implicit and is brought forth with it. Probably every work of art is about watching as a transformation and a transformation of watching.

For us, this transformation of watching is not implicit, it is explicitly about watching as the central momentum of our work. This exposing of the watching is a transformation that cannot be taken for granted. It needs special attention and the question arises how spectators can be sensitised to the act of watching itself, how watching can be prepared; how the act of watching can become conscious not so much as one of judgement, but rather as one of perception, and can be enjoyed in a work. How could there be a training of spectators that opens up the scope and possibilities that I have as a spectator. By this we mean a physical-sensual training that is different from our conventional preparation for a work of art. Normally, such a preparation consists on the one hand of the examination of a concrete work (one reads, listens, follows the work of an artist over a longer period of time…) and on the other hand in art historical knowledge. In any case, one is historically familiar with an art genre. Thus prepared, one can compare and classify, judge whether something is new or epigonal. That is not bad, because every such preparation inevitably involves spending time on a work, being with it in some way before you see it. It is not a matter of rejecting such knowledge and judgements, but it does not meet what spatial and corporeal perception is all about.

Beyond reading and knowing art history, we want to find out in the context of our future work what happens when there is an actual Spectator Training that not only draws attention to the cognitive possibilities of seeing and understanding, but also focuses on the body as a source of perception and resonance space, and in addition to judging also allows for accepting and letting happen.