—4bid gallery – Critical Writing in Performance from the audience of Highs & Lows – Critical Writing in Performance at 4bid
(1)Performance as inversion
Review of Highs and Lows #8, 4bid Gallery, Amsterdam, 18 March 2015. Presenting: Bodyless Heads, by Setareh Fatehi with Nadia Bekker and Paula Chavez; Limitation Sky, by Svetlin Velchev; and Aria di Vetro, by Martina Francone and Simone Tecla.
1. The body of the other as one’s own
The audience enters a low-lit room where three people are sitting in front of three projections of indistinguishable light and shadow forms. There is music in the background. As the onlookers take a seat and wait for something to begin, one realises that it has already started. Perhaps it was there all along but no one paid attention – any close attention, until now. Caught between a mixture of organic and electronic sounds coming from the rear of the room, a source now lost amidst the crowd, and the shifting images on the wall across the room, half-obscured by three bodies seating with theirs backs to the audience, one gradually realises that one is presented with extreme close-up shots of body surfaces. Is this what is to be seen? The bigger picture seems elusive and can only be approximated by a series of contrapositions or inversions.
The performers come between the audience and the projections of their bodies on the wall. Their shadowy outlines barely move while the close-up images pulsate with life. One might be able to locate the position of the camera on the body of the performer, but the projected image is so amplified that it acquires its own presence. The attempt to bridge the gap between the performing body and the projected image is fuelled by a desire to secure meaning. In an interplay of light and shadow, close capture and outline, movement and sound, what is exposed is not the body but the pleasure one seeks, and which is now denied, from its confinement and identification.
To compensate, one may choose to concentrate on the image and detach it from its source. The wall projections reveal and explore the depth of the skin not just as a surface but as a microcosm, a universe in itself. Still, the bodies of the performers come in the middle. As the location of the camera changes, the projections become dark and left immobile; the performers lean back on their benches and look at the audience. One turns to the source of this exploration and discovery with anticipation. Who is the subject and who the object?
By being on the stage, the performer allows her own body to be overpassed. The intimacy that is built up between the performer and the camera is constantly reconfigured; rather than incorporating presence, the performing body exceeds its own material surface. It meets the onlooker at the other end of the projection where the blown-up images become, at an organic level, images of any body including that of the spectator’s. This causes tension between any spectatorial demands for disclosure and resolution, and the laying bare of inter-subjectivity and one-ness drawn to the surface underneath layers of fragmented identities and gendered bodies.
Bodyless Heads creates indeterminacy between the habitual binaries of subject/object, gaze/body and exposure/concealment that it stages, and achieves a tentative inversion of voyeurism. Well allocated in space and orchestrated, it allows for an exploration of one’s body at a close-up but not under scrutiny, intimate but at the same time defying identification and ownership, escaping any totalising view or possessive gaze.
2. Fluidity and the body of shadows
The dialogue between the body and its projection, presence and absence, light and shadow are some of the themes explored in Limitation Sky. The piece is divided in two parts that build on the metaphor or day- and night-dreaming. The room is dark. In the first part, colour lights, mainly blue and red, flash against a white wall while the dancer moves to an electronic beat. His body comes between the light and the rigid surface but seems to gradually lose consistency and to fragment as one’s eyes drift to the growing shadows that spread behind him. Pivotal and rolling sequences, as well as the lack of direct contact with the wall due to the use of a small ball give to the execution an additional feel of ethereality.
The shadows take precedence. Despite the close view of the performer and the sounds of the moving body, there is a growing sense of immateriality and dilution of focus and presence. The body seems to fuse with its supporting surface and to lose its clear contour; at the same time, the multiple shadows resonate, emerge from the wall and acquire substance. Across moving shadows and tangible surfaces, Limitation Sky articulates a struggle between one’s weight and weightlessness, the body and its sprawling projections, form and imagination. The choreography is well staged and there are seamless transitions between the object that casts a shadow and that shadow as the initiator of movement.
In the second part of the piece, this analogy is reversed. The placement of the body and the projection surface changes and a rigid grid of light dots appear on a shadowy corner wherein movement is executed. Movement and melody are more fluid, and the performer’s clearly outlined shadow is cast on the dotted walls. Their geometry, however, seems to enhance the tree-dimensionality of the architectural space. As a result, the projection of light seems to extract the shadow away from the wall and to pull it across the space of its trajectory, a space that real bodies occupy.
In this way, the piece generates a series of inversions and operational duplications of light and shadow, object and subject, origin and effect. It counters frontality by drawing the background to the fore, by lifting a two-dimensional surface against which movement is executed over the performing body, and by indulging the passing of shadows through the body as the latter undertakes a journey of exploration, initiation and engagement. At the same time, as attention is diffused away from the inverted presence of the performer, the viewer is drawn into a mesmerising dreamy state. But it is not an immaterial, abstract sphere but one grounded in and enabled by the corporeal. In that sense, rather than creating the impression of an alternative escapist state, Limitation Sky seeks to unlock the possibilities of the body and its imagery.
3. In-betweens of bodies and sounds
The third and last performance of this Highs and Lows edition, Aria di Vetro, is a performative dialogue between body and sound. When talking about the performative gesture, meaning is enacted through interpretive engagements that are conditioned by the inter-subjective context. In addition, the open-endness and dialogical process of interpretation are underlined as the work stages playful tensions through which meaning is actualised.
The piece has a minimal setting where a drum set is located under the spotlight. As the musician begins to play and to explore the different surfaces that surround him, pieces of straw and metallic tokens bounce off the surfaces of the drums and roll on the ground. This gives an earthly, tangible feel to the act, and an element of theatricality that denotes the physicality of space. This space is explored and occupied in different ways. One route of exploration is led by the musician, who at times stands up to reach for and use the instruments and at times moves above their surfaces without touching them, letting the sound of the last beat resonate across the space and become absorbed by it.
In parallel, the space is explored by the dancer, who walks out of the audience and begins to move in horizontal and vertical sequences across the room. Metallic bracelets around her wrists create an additional layer of communication across different bodies, between sound and movement, seeing and hearing. This conversation constantly morphs and becomes part of the space geometry, tunes in and out of the rhythmic beating of the drums, of breathing and jingling; and culminates when both performers move in space and gesture one another without really touching.
From one perspective, the piece mediates intent by materialising sound into body and dematerialising body into sound. However, this act is not left to linger on in some void stage or to be congealed into a static binary. Rather, it becomes part of a constant attempt to devise new ways of communication. With particular reference to intimacy and interpersonal relations, the piece seems to ask: what is said in silence, in absence, in retraction?
In response, bodies, sounds and movements grow and communicate across the material and the immaterial, the visible and the audible. More than an execution of a music piece or its choreography, Aria di Vetro gives presence to the agents of the act and, perhaps most importantly, to the exchange between them as real, living and breathing beings. It also allows reflection on how sometimes it becomes necessary to obscure in order to make visible, to silence in order to speak and to stand still in order to communicate a meaningful gesture.
Highs and Lows #8 brings together three central themes: the body of the other as one’s own, a recognition enabled by the intermitted projection of close-up body shots that exceed possession; fluidity and the body of shadows, in the exploration of presence, projection and surface; and the in-betweens of bodies and sounds, seeking new vocabularies of communication. In this enquiry, performance itself acts as inversion – an inversion of order, binaries, and habitual modes of seeing and communicating; but also of roles, risks, discovery and play. The structure of the event itself, with these acts being presented in different spaces, further supports the exploration of space and its extensions, physicality and exchange.
Highs & Lows
Triple bill evening at OT301 is a roughly selected evening of performances based upon
the availability of artists traveling through Amsterdam and those based in the
Netherlands. 4bid manages the evenings from the 4bid gallery located at OT301.
The performances use various parts of the building give the viewers time to refresh
their eyes and explore the space.
The performances on 18 march consisted of two individual works that were highly
visual in nature and one that was sonic in nature. The works are in various phases of
completion. It is good to keep in mind that these works are mostly works in progress.
The first – a try out – by Iranian choreographer Setareh Fatehi who was trained at SNDO
in Amsterdam. This is more an installation than dance piece. The performers, sitting
with their backs to the views, use magnifying cameras at intimately close range on their
bodies. Mostly on their faces, feet and upper bodies. The projections form a triptych in
which the images are shuffled. The choreography lays in development of the images:
starting with eyes, fingerprints, moles, hair, proceeding to wetter images with saliva and
returning to eyes. There is a grotesque aspect to the images, but it that fascination-
repulsion on the safe side of erotic is what holds the viewers attention. The research
here is delving into the Persian/Arabic concept of body/intellect separation that might
be compared to the European Enlightenment and neglects the more rituals of movement
leading to greater spirituality and focuses on the face as the communication mechanism
of the brain.
Svetlin Velchev performed Limitation Sky. This solo performance deals primarily with
visual perception and optics. The first half of the performance the performer dances in
an extremely constrained space. He moves very close to the wall, to enhance the
prismatic effects of his shadow on the wall creating the illusion of a dance duet. His
movements are extremely fluid and vary in speed closely connected to the music. The
second half of the piece changes the lighting from shadow to an overlay of light spots
similar to a stellar galaxy. The projections do not light the dancer, but rather make the
movements visible while the body is invisible. The best way to see this piece is with the
audience placed at a greater distance from the performer, thereby the illusions are
Aria di Verto by dancer Martina Francone and musician Simone Tecla is an attempt to
cross the borders between movement and sound. Simone Tecla performs with
percussion instruments in non-traditional ways with a strong personal presence,
expressive in his face and movements.
The dancer’s is dressed with two arms full of silver bracelets that are intended to
generate sound through her movements. The movement jewelry feels out of balance
with the strong sonic presence, and perhaps should have had some other sort of
‘instrumentation’. In the progression of the performance comes a greater harmony in
the movements and soundscape. It is not clear in what phase this presentation was in–
an early tryout, experiment etc. Perhaps a clearer introduction would be useful for the
audience to understand what they were to see.