Acting in relation

By Mario Sud

Looking back and recalling these days of „Scores#4: under protest“ at Tanzquartier Vienna, there are some thoughts and questions which keep coming back. In this sense the following text does not cover all contributions. It rather is an attempt to trace an experience and actualize it through writing, getting in touch with an undercurrent stimulation and passing it on as a way of sharing it.

„The space of choreography is always a space of shared responsibilities and gestures.
It always asks how multiple voices can be organized and
how thinking resisting can become action and vice versa.“
Sandra Noeth

The introductory lecture of Sandra Noeth took place in one of the studios of Tanzquartier, where two of the „Choreographic Objects“ by William Forsythe were installed. The multiple perspectives of resistance and protest in cultural and artistic practices, which were offered and introduced during the days to come were delicately addressed through three points by Sandra Noeth: “Protest as a mental topography“, “Hesitation“ and “Choreography as participation and intervention“. She started with a quotation by Judith Butler: “For politics to take place the body must appear. My body does not act alone, when it acts politically.“  Butler refers to the performative act, which evolves between two bodies. This space of in-betweenness was formulated further by Noeth as the very core of a responsive structure, highlighting the continuous dialogue of response and responsibility towards oneself and the other. „The other“ as an encounter of that which seems strange and alien in the world around us, but „the other“ also in relation to ourselves, of zones which stay unknown to us, which we are not capable of connecting with. „Hesitation“ as a practice of „deposition“, as a possibility to get one’s own position in motion, as a way to step aside, to create a notion of distance to one’s own entanglement, passions and desires, which can turn easily into ideologies. Hestitation as an insert to interrupt the notion of promoted forwardness and engage instead in a notion of circulation and deviation, to open concepts of identity into multidimensional shifts of positions, always staying in relation with issues at stake.

„One’s voice, which seems so personal and individual to us
which is always already a coming together of many voices –,
is calling for response and responsibility.
It connects with the other in a movement of address and addressing,
which can not be separated from what it addresses.“
Sandra Noeth

The mentioning of five aspects developed by the Serbian Peace Activist Nenad Vukosavljevic during his peace building and reconciliation process in former Yugoslavia – 1) The establishment of facts. 2) Resistance to simple truth. 3) Multiple perspective of history. 4) Collaboration and peace building meshes. 5) The development of a culture living with and in conflict, and acknowledging that the conflict is a sign, that something has to be changed – can maybe be seen as a fine, but nevertheless crucial indication of difference (which is continuously renegotiated) between art and social / political work.

We, who are hoping it will be okay.

One of the „Choreographic Objects“ by William Forsythe called „Suspense“ is a video work projected on a white screen in the space. A man (Forsythe himself) handles an unmanageable rope, a spring with oscillation and gravitation, hanging from an invisible ceiling, to help levitation, to get off the ground, to hang in the air, to be hanged, to get all bonded and tangled, to transform the head to a knot.

On the other side of the space, a monitor was installed, like the ones which are used by newsreaders to read the their script. In „The Defenders Part 3“ sentences like „We, who have enough to worry about. We, who were not aware of the gravity of the situation. We, who did not want to interfere. We, who trust in the virtue of our good intentions. We, who know that it is nothing new. We, who thought we had it all figured out. We, who are hoping it will be okay.“ are slowly rolling down the monitor. Sentences like shadows and murmurs in the collapse of time and space, when the flood of world news of catastrophes, economical breakdown and state violence breaks into our rather safe environment.

The performance „The Ballet of Sam Hogue and Augustus Benjamin“ by Raúl Maia (P/A) and Thomas Steyaert (BE), which was divided into 2 parts framed the evening. A disfigured communication between two men facing, circling around each other. A physical negotiation side by side in white, oldfashioned underwear. Sensation evolving into vibes and twists. They listen to each other, but rarely look at each other. Here in-between spaces get sculptured by gestures and become tangible, interwoven with sounds of string instruments which seem to follow their own time, as does the dance. The two sets were placed into two different representative settings, where in one – referring to here – the focus is drawn to physical practice. No illusionary theatrical elements are used to embed the performance. In the second, where the same body practice and memory are used, light, costume and sound play a bigger role. The physical material is not fixed; they rather seem to navigate and re-negotiate certain routes and relations with precision and awareness, exposing moves and being moved by the other in an intriguing way.

Gathering the hidden

The navigation of certain routes during the practice of walking through cities in order to get in touch with something we don’t know, or that which is hidden, are thematized by Elke Krasny (A) and Tony Chakar (LB) the next day. Elke Krasny introduces a project in which she did „A Feminist Remapping of Vienna“. She invited different women to share their daily walks with her and did a historical investigation of women, who had been living along these ways throughout time. As history, like street names and monuments, still mainly represents a male past, this project was designed to re-enforce the appearance and participation of women in public spaces and public life throughout history.
Walking as a way of using not just space, but time, too. Time shared while walking together with someone else and shifting through time by moving through an architecture soaked with and constructed in time. Using the archives of the city hall to engage and encounter what is there, but not visible. Walking as a mobile production of critical knowledge and critique to share and exchange.

„The body in pieces has been a metaphor for a long time. 
The body in pieces as images and concepts, but never actuality.“
 Tony Chakar

Tony Chakar started his lecture „The sky over Beirut“ by reading two letters. In one he related to the images produced and distributed by the protesters in Syria. These protests filling the streets and the extreme violent reaction of the Syrian government – „The route is drawing into nothingness, while people are filming their own death.“ – as sudden immediacy, a metaphor swallowed by reality. How to deal with a reality which is catastrophic? When the integrity of the body is destroyed and the human being is challenged to an unimaginable extent, when language fails to communicate experience?


For centuries we have been living in dualities which determined and shaped us and the spaces we lived in, inner and outer, subjective and objective, concept and form, god and she, materiality and image, private and public, domestic and political.“ Chakar reads from the letter. The current protest in the arabic countries a disturbing and disrupting these dualities. For him as he walks the streets of Beirut, 20 years after the Lebanese Cilvil War (1975–1990), the routes which were divided in dualities become – through the immediacy of walking –  routes divided in „here and here and here.“ (Which, by the way, according to the British novelist John Berger is the only possibility to write a love poem: „Here and here and here. Now.“)  “Everything is undone, everything becomes memory,“ states Chakar. He had to ask himself how to talk about the civil war. (Because when one comes from Lebanon, one is always asked about the civil war.) But words fall short, civil language does not succeed in talking about events which are extremely catastrophic as such. “Catastrophe manifests itself in a way that things are exactly as they were.“ In this sense, gathering stories is not enough to handle history, to enforce critical perspectives and resistance. Chakar took the famous saying of Wittgenstein to heart: one should remain silent about that which one cannot speak about.

„But if you stay silent about it, this silence, 
this void will be filled by the worst kind of discourse you can imagine. 
Sometimes by blatant fascism: Kill everyone that is not us. You hear this discourse now. 
I am sure you can hear it in Europe, in the United States, everywhere. 
I want to remain silent, but I want to speak at the same time, 
I do not want to leave this space empty.“
 Tony Chakar

He uses a metaphor of astrophysics: The black hole. A black hole cannot be seen as such, it only can be recognized by the movement of the stars and light around it. Chakar decided to treat the experience of the Lebanese Cilvil War as a black hole. And traces the movement and consequences of it by collecting traces and objects pointing at it, which he finds during his walks through the city. He shows slides of photos, as for instance a poster of a mother killed in a car accident. Her son disappeared during the war – as so many others disappearing in the prisons – and she did not succeed in finding any document of what happened to him. Or a graffiti in a part of the town were the fighting was especially disastrous, saying: „Nothing happened here“, and thereby recharging the memory of what cannot be spoken of.
Another strategy he is uses is the collision of images and texts he collected instead of creating them himself. Through the way of putting them together, meaning appears. „When everything is gone, what stays are aphorisms, fragments of the language.“

Both Elke Krasny’s and Tony Chakar’s contributions reinforce the critical potential of artistic strategies used by the Dadaists, George Bataille and his concepts of the formless, or the Situationists in Europe during the 20th century. These strategies also were developed in conjunction with the traumatic experience of the First and Second World Wars. Mentioning this – which might seem obvious – does not mean joining the chorus of „We-who-know-that-it-is-nothing-new“. It is rather an attempt to reappoint a specific potential relation within the production of arts for a future critical potential. To stay in connection with that which is other, strange and unknown to us, of that which cannot be spoken about, of that which cannot speak, be it individually or collectively. Or, in relation to what has been stated before, that these dualities disperse. History extends into presence and needs time to unfold, as the body needs time to engage.

The vocabulary of the market

The complexity of experiences is more and more traded in formats and categories which on the surface resemble the artistic strategies mentioned, and which have been turned into fashion and market-compatible commodities. In the screening of the film „Imagining Globality“ (Un imaginaire pour une mondialité à faire) by Federica Bertelli, Édouard Glissant states that the vocabulary of the market is ruining the imaginative. Whereas the imaginative is constituted through our social relations, the market is legitimized by profit. For the Martinician writer, poet and literary critic, poetry is a way to imagine and interact to find a temporary balance of how to live together which is not defined yet. A way to resist concepts of identity, state and empire. This very interesting screening, which gave insights into the exceptional body of concepts of Édouard Glissant, in a way connects with a comment of one of the visitors after the lectures of Ivaylo Ditchev (BG) and Yosi Wanunu („Aesthetizising protest. New scenographies for revolution.“) During a discussion of the performativity of protests circling in the media and internet – as, for instance, the Occupy Wallstreet movement – and its possible consequences, this young man stated that people (like him, i.e., also being part of the Occupy movement ) who were born after 1980, mainly learned to treat the world around and themselves as commodities. As far as he is concerned, the process of getting in dialogue and not getting caught up in promotional presentations and representations is something like a challenge. It always is. The global capitalist market executes another sort of terror. Or does one have to be Lady Gaga to empower the uncanny freakiness of that which preferably is excluded?

Will Rawls in his performance (work in progress) „Folk You! Folk me too!“ approached the uncanny freakiness of national dances he encountered during his trip through Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia. “As a black American I was watching a familiar and reductive treatment of ethnicity.“ Still Rawls engaged with this formal dances with the passion of a dilettante and managed to expose respect, fascination and suspicion with a fine sense of self-humor. Whereas Frederic Gies (F/D) embodied an exhausting repetitional movement vocabulary in his performance “Little did I know that I, ere or since, ever should speak mouthless“. He merges formal dance, disco and pedestrian moves, covering his head with a capuchon, dancing in a shallow triangle light, accompanied by the great sound by Daniel Jenatsch (AUS/D). Both performances present the body with its moves and gestures in a concrete immediacy of non-theatrical desire, of an urge of becoming, but at the same time keeping a reflexive relation through the manifestation of repetition (which is circular at first, then jumping to the next sequence) and venerability.

To be with

„It is difficult to stay in art making, because there is such a force and the human suffering is so big, that during rehearsals 
it pools you into discussions about politics, which in a way is nice,
but I am not so sure what kind of art comes out of that 
or what is the productivity of it.“ Hooman  Sharifi

The choreographer Hooman Sharifi (IR/N) introduced his work and artistic process by showing slides of previous works combined with Youtube clips (partly material of the uprisings during the Iranian election in 2009 and the Arabic spring 2011, which he also uses in his process).
“It is extremly strange for me ethically that we are taking all these things of those people in real danger, and being inspired by it. They are so much in danger and I have no danger. The least I can do is throw myself in this little danger of some ethical questions working here in the field of arts.“ In his work the bodies of the dancers are exposed, the body is dismantled with materials. Paper, cardboard, colors – rough figurations seem to to invade the dancers, whose faces are often covered, who are exposed blindfolded to an audience which might – and did – interact. Acephalic bodies, bodies merging with the ground, with the materials around, disappearing and reappearing as something else.

„We were looking at all these burning images.“ Sharifi tells. „We came up with this theory that you have to become a certain superbeing, superhuman, you have to become bigger than you are to be able to react in such a violent environment. You are standing in front of the tank-man not as one person, but as a persona, you become as big as ideology.“ The construction of a „We“ without beoming trapped in fascism, simplification of fundamentalist unification. Hopefully this is what is happening through the new civil protest which is emerging in a reflection of different constructions of the self, as a person and in value of the individual and the body and community.

In „Being Singular Plural“, Jean-Luc Nancy writes: “Not without reason, communisms and socialisms of all kinds have drawn a major part of expectations upon themselves: hope for a break and an innovation without return, a true hope for revolution, i.e., the re-creation of the world. It is not enough, that much is becoming more clear to us every day, to stigmatise the aberrations, lies and crimes of ‘real socialisms’ as ‘national socialisms’. Moral and political condemnation – mainly represented by a decided and demanding consciousness of ‘human rights’ – always include the danger that behind the latter’s indisputable legitimacy, that other legitimacy would dwindle which was and is an irreducible demand: that we can say ‘we’, that we can call ourselves we (say it of ourselves, and that the ones can say it to the others) from the moment when neither a god nor a boss says it for us. There is nothing second-rank about this demand, and this is what lends her the terrible power of unleashing, of subversion, of resistance and insurrection. For not being able to say ‘we’ is what drives every ‘I’, be it individual or collective, to madness, where it cannot even say ‘I’ any more. There is nothing sentimental, nothing familiar and also nothing ‘communitarian’ about wanting to say ‘we’. Here, existence demands what is due to it, or its condition: co-existence.

This co-existence can also be found between art and politics. „Scores#4: under protest“ presented an exceptional sequence of friendship between art and politics, leaving the one (or the other) for what it is, still moving together in exquisite entangled relation. To be continued.

 Another text by Chris Standfest about „Scores #4: under protest“:

Full program of Scores#4: under protest: