In the tense breathless silence, the motionless restlessness at the beginning of the installative performance fault lines by Meg Stuart, Philipp Gehmacher and Vladimir Miller, something is foreclosed and revoked at the same time – something that will have been. Fault lines: something will have happened, and the tectonic fissures between the bodies, between the media – reconstruct, remember it just because of their paradoxical emptiness. From the outset, a dispositive of the past shimmers through what could have been, will have been totally different. A scene under the banner of a farewell which will pass into the strangely melancholic restlessness of technical challenges – choreographical and medial ones. Neon lamps flash up, glittering, which paradoxically mark a kind of ramp for the white cube and simultaneously engulf the scene in laboratory light. No black box, an exhibition space as the location of this installative performance. A dance performance which turns into a kind of video installation that, however, happens frontally towards the audience. There is a curtain, too, yet it does not serve as a partition between stage and auditorium, but stretches along the one white wall of the stage area – a curtain behind which there is nothing. And nothing will stand behind the performative gestures either, they will stand for nothing – and disclose more and more nothingness, wistfully uninvolved.
We hear the room’s breathing, the whispering of Vincent Malstaf’s sound installation which will later turn into the stuttering acoustics of a film soundtrack. We see Gehmacher, Stuart and the video artist Miller (also on stage), far apart from each other at first. Abandoned. And exposed. Exposed, too, the projection equipment, the golden beamer, the golden cables. The tectonic fissures. Then, Stuart and Gehmacher will not fall into each other’s arms but rather attack each other, in a fighting embrace, violently, repeatedly, with absentminded resolve – and fleetingly, an undecidable tenderness, an inactive solicitousness will yet arise. Already under the banner of parting, on the verge of a farewell the performers, the man and the woman, will turn towards each other for evanescently brief moments only in order to immediately turn away again. The movements will pause in a still, in a picture, but not as a picture. Idiosyncratic. A thwarted expenditure which cannot be actualised in any act. A movement which would rather be none, which prefers not to. Rapt touches bordering on violence, fierce, unrestrained and at the same time casual, oblivious. Amnesia of gestures, contingency of touch.
Later, the two will remain on the floor for some time as if they were about to fall asleep, and Miller’s drawing directly on the projection area which shows a virtual double of the two bodies remaining in still will not wake them up, it just caresses their images. These drawings will not trace or continue the movements that took place, but rather continue to imagine dreamed touches. As if they were small whirlwinds and tongues of flame, proliferations in all the contingency of caresses or landscape structures, the drawings note down the fault lines of contact between chaotic structures, their contingent, maybe provisional and not retroactive traces – as a “memory of that which was not”. Stuart will briefly turn around on the floor, smile lopsidedly, tickled by the video artist’s pencil – not she herself but her image. Later Miller will leaf through the room slightly changing the projection’s position so that he virtually takes along the performers’ live body, turning it into two dimensions. The paradoxical, trembling flatness of the live bodies, that in the beginning seem to miss each other so intensively, is taken apart when they converge in reality, dissected more and more by the medial manipulation. The projections of the figures that are actually positioned near each other are separated virtually – as if the medial event were articulating something the live event is not able to formulate even if it could only happen ‘live’.
It takes place when it doesn’t. Like touch. Between the bodies, between the bodies and their images, between the singular body surfaces and their plural projection areas. In Être singulier pluriel, Jean-Luc Nancy writes, “The law of touching is separation, and even more, it is the heterogeneity of the surfaces touching each other […] insofar as the actual power of a body consists of its capacity of touching another body (or touching itself), which is nothing else but its de-finition as a body.” Thus Miller’s medial de-finition, definalisation of the bodies, his articulation, his medial touch with the live event – especially in the heterogeneity of this contact of different presentation and projection areas – will not be illustrative but strikingly illusive, in all its openness and its apparentness of illusion, which exposes itself to its own techné and thus, in a literally potential manner, turns relity into possibility. Literally exposed illusion made visible and in spite of this – or rather, just because of it – magical. The video artist who performs his apparatus on stage becomes part of it. The exposed path of the images and electronic impulses through the golden cables will paradoxically oscillate between illusion and disillusion, simultaneously present and absent, visibly illusive: real virtuality instead of virtual reality. The whir of projections will make the projected live bodies (and not only their projections) tremble. This is comparable – if in a different way – to Stuart’s Alibi and Visitors Only (2003).
A brief reminder, something like fault lines between works: Stuart’s Visitors Only begins with the vibration of the bodies with which her previous work Alibi ended. This time there are bodies clothed in transparent raincoats whose long trembling unsettles the scene’s visibility. Like trickling, vibrating raindrops the bodies in transparent coats fold the transparency of sight. The virtual veil of rain translates the scenic air into another state of aggregation. Intension instead of intention. The trembling choreography makes the room vibrate and fold: real movement that, however, virtualises real space. And when at the end of the scene the vibrating bodies jump on the spot now and then, as spring-back ball-point cartridges, it is as if the gestural tension of the sequence were critically whipping the writing utensils out of the hands of the choreography.
In fault lines, too, there is critical optioning instead of clinical representation; here, too – even if with an entirely different medial implementation, we witness a kind of virtual rainbow after the virtual veil of rain – a choreography in italics instead of boldface – as if it were only quoting the dancing body whose outline resists any presence like bristling skin, like goose bumps, as if the bodies were merely trembling quotes of themselves, put between quotation marks, as if they were not there at all. This is the strong mutual affinity between the choreographies by Stuart and Gehmacher, the author of in the absence (2003), Mountains are Mountains (2003), incubator (2004), like there’s no tomorrow (2007), to name but a few of his works. What do the choreographies of two of the most interesting protagonists of contemporary dance try to present so passionately, long after having conceptually committed themselves to the un-presentability of passions? What shakes the bodies on stage, what makes them tremble like this – searching for an Alibi for their own movement, their own being moved, for grasping their own emotion? What may still touch them when every kind of solid ground withdraws from under their feet as if they were floating – like at the end of Visitors only – over an abyss? As a place of medial ascriptions, the motivation of touching becomes increasingly harder in contemporary dance and performance practice, and it is all the more interested in the emotive fall of the body which keeps evading the idea of its dancing weightlessness, even lightheartedness. As if this practice were asking again and again where the customary oppositions of conceptual/emotional, minimalistical/affective come from, by letting these oppositions fall. Instead of rehabilitating affects or opposing emotions to concepts, it tries to dis- and reassemble the ever emotive texture of choreography especially in the course of minimalism. It tries to defigurate the illegible figurations of feeling, to deconstruct its all too blind constructions – and to persevere, knowing about its referential imponderability.
The question of the potential of touch also deals with the main rule of the scenic – visibility. This investigation of the preconditions of a medium also has to be seen politically – i.e. against the ideology of sentiment, against the slogans of a positivistic view that postulates the evidence of visibility. The scenic emotion, however, stays in the trembling, the oscillation of potentialities – it is thus never actual, never present, but potential, in marked absence. “There is no falling in love, no falling out of love”, it says in Meg Stuart’s and Benoît Lachambre’s Forgeries, love and other matters (2004). The fault lines of lacking, failing, falling: falling in love, falling out of love. “There is no dance in this place, there is no reason to stay in this place”, it says in Forgeries, love and other matters. And yet the piece closes with the words: “I’m staying here forever.”
Maybe forever is the name of Stuart’s and Gehmacher’s first joint performance created in 2007 which they continued in 2010 with fault lines – to draw further confused fault lines and lines of distortion, of touching the other, prone to fault and missing, measuring, impudent, missed. Joint artistic research, too, between the video artist Miller and the choreographer Gehmacher: in the choreographic video installations dead reckoning (2009), at arm’s length (2010) and the group piece in their name (2010). Here, too, choreography and video installation, body and images go along with each other – toppling and diving into each other, immersing and submerging. What seems to separate not only the live figures but also the various projection areas actually connects them – if they are to be connected at all. Bodies and their stories, put down by themselves but not anywhere else either, that linger at the fringe of their mirror-image without breaking the glass. “One reaches a border not by crossing it but by touching it”, Nancy writes in Corpus.
Fault lines: bodies that touch the border between each other without crossing it – that are, in fact, this border. Exposed bodies, exposed to touch, in all their immeasurability, incalculability – and vulnerability. As if they were phantom pain, a painful nothingness, completely exposed to the other. Touching each other as attention and distance. For it is necessary “to interrupt the immediacy and continuity of touch”, says Jacques Derrida in Le toucher: Jean Luc Nancy. It is this chance of possible interruption, of interrupted immediacy in all the anchorless melancholy of every gesture in fault lines that endows the scene with the optics of the optional, of openness. The camera makes the eye alert for the live event, the invisible distances within the live touches. Doubles, reflections, surfaces, layers. Bodies disrobed by themselves, bodies on withdrawal, which are, at the same time, quoting themselves, setting themselves in italics, every gesture resisting itself – and merging into the pixel-like goose bumps of Miller’s projections. Medial replays that only play the live bodies back into their real virtuality. Stills that always assert the choreographical and medial movement. What remains is the never-shown, the performative residue of absence, the performative and medial gesture of the undeliverable. Gestures that are too big and too small at the same time, marking the rest of the inexpressible and only articulating with restraint – if at all.
The reserved manner of pathos and melancholy, so typical of Gehmacher’s choreography, here deals with the incommensurability of the other with the utmost aesthetic strictness. The too much/too little of scenic gestures as a residue. The rest is silence. And the melancholic absentmindedness of these gestures that evoke the exceptional circumstances of dance, ecstatically immobile or stutteringly bespoken, existential and exhaustive. Gestures so small that they touch their absence, as if they were not even there yet. Gestures so big that they tear apart. Fault lines. The bodies of Stuart and Gehmacher will leave each other and themselves – while touching. What will remain will be their outlines. Even after the two fighting/embracing bodies separate, one of them will stay in the interrupted gesture of touch. An embrace with empty hands. And Stuart will not so much caress her partner but rather retrace the contours of his body – a line along his body, almost as if tenderly outlining a dead body on the crime scene. Nor is this gesture accidental in Maybe forever. Choreography as an epitaph, as touching the ephemeral. At some point in the fault lines HE will push her ‘corpse’, her unmoving body along in front of himself. And again SHE will caress his outlines, touch her border to him, cut out not so much the body but the touch. The peephole projection, too, with which Miller will softly spy on and sample the two bodies, inert again – entirely different, cuts out the live bodies or rather the distance of their touches in order to focus on them: however, as punctum, as a crossfade of something invisible, in the sense of Roland Barthes’ punctum of photography, the incalculably interrupting and simultaneously painful punctuation of the ephemeral that records the literal withdrawal of the figurative, as a kind of blind spot in the eye of the hurricane. In “Les morts de Roland Barthes”, on the other hand, Derrida, on the occasion of Barthes’ death, specifies the punctum of transience as “incompleteness made visible”, as “punctuated yet open interruption”.
Interruption once again, narrative spots instead of narrative plots: the peephole of projection, its spotlights virtually punctuating the live event. The virtual touch of reality punctuates, isolates, focuses, interrupts, hurts it. It, too, is a touch in the mode of I prefer not to. Like the performative violence in the beginning, when the two performers touch each other to become separated – along their opposing fault lines. When they attack each other in order to then let go of each other, to desist; when they go towards each other in order to part. Bodies parting. They turn towards each other only to turn away from each other. The live touch raves, goes up the wall, is played against the wall, in the beginning a brutal and painful touch of the two bodies literally throwing themselves at the wall, letting their embrace fail intensively – and later also cast their projection on the wall, the projection that vibratingly repaints the live figures. The foil which Vladimir puts in front of the projector like a curtain makes the projected bodies shimmer and lets them immerse in virtuality. The rainbow of movements passing into each other is virtually doubled by the lyrical rainbow of glittering colours Miller will cast on the wall. Like a “drop of sky” (Friederike Mayröcker), the touch will camber down to the other – without actually touching. And always, shortly before the bodies raving with and at each other throw themselves against the wall, his body will cushion her body’s blow. He will protect her. Too much? Lyrical film soundtrack. The performance’s making of by Miller. And time and again one will come to lie in the other’s arms. Untouched.
Near the end Gehmacher and Stuart will sit on the floor together in front of the curtain and the white wall behind which there is nothing, and draw big circles around themselves with their arms. Two embraces without object, drawn embraces, two circles intersecting. The empty intersection of an embrace. The arms are folded, but in the frontal drawing of an embrace that never happened. An entanglement of two semaphores, two clockworks ticking peculiarly instead of signalling. Miller will pull the glittering foil over the images’ projection, let the figures glimmer pixel-like, thereby transporting them somewhere else entirely, uncannily enlarging the pointillist distance between them. And once again he will virtually isolate only Stuart’s projection which now – depixelated – will seem to inhabit a parallel world. The interrupting, painful, invisible punctum of touch in the image of the finale, the parallel worlds of touch will pause – in a downright transcendental longing for each other. Meanwhile, Gehmacher will have quoted his long arms, his self-referential gesture of a singular absentee’s outward tension.
In the choreography – as a punctual temporisation and spatialisation of touches – rather the untouchable is inscribed. The untouchable in figures of touching, figures without shape. Choreography as a technique of borders. And the borders as the figures of touching. Where the choreography splits the scenic bodies and glances with its sense of rhythm and touch, no body and no gaze will have stayed intact. In the fissure of this impaired and longing seeing and feeling, optic and haptic contact with each other, contaminate without ever becoming one. The ‘touchingness’ of a scenic touch will have been its potential, its strong weakness of touching without touch; without transgressing any limits, without mingling surfaces, but rather touching the borders, affecting, tangential, contingent: in all the contingency of a contact that occurs, happens, is imparted – only in separation, only in the non-intactness of tactile experience which does not concern unimpaired subjects, which takes no immediacy as given, which aesthetically, ethically, politically opens and closes the quotation marks for “touching” – as if they were the eyelashes of an ever distant, interrupted gaze. No immediacy, uninterruptedness, continuity, symmetry. The technique of touching rather concerns the caesuras, the syncopes, the fault lines. As if our world were built on fault lines, on those subterranean fissures and crevices in deep rock strata that are supposed to be responsible for our aggressions and depressions, for our violent stills and tender distances. Fault lines – perhaps those fissures, disturbance areas, lines of distortion at which we always abide, anchorless and restrained, in our mutual inverse desires, the lines at which – only in our inconsistency, our brokenness – we can touch each other.
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