Movement, Performance, Film, the Book: On the Body and What It Can Do

One of the things I had set out to write about in my last blog post was about how my interest in exploring the limits and capacity of my body have to do with a desire to engage with a new direction in my practice as an 'artist' (a term I've never accepted as needing to point to a single medium). Throughout my (written) work I've always been concerned with the following list of, for want of a better term, "experiences of the impossible": limit-experiences, the trance-state, levitation, hypnosis, inversion, and, perhaps above all else, the sensation of the "float."

J.G., a perceptive reader of Spiritual Instrument in a review on Amazon stated (emphasis mine):
Only at the instant of limit-experiences, ranging from excursions into the desert, violent sexual episodes and encounters with distortions of familiar media (TV, videos, etc.), the vast dimension of the external reopens as a void; one in which consciousness drains way all the perversely useless excesses of the Idesire, meaning, need, significanceuntil all that remains is just a lucid awareness of the body: Kitchell often refers to this liminal state, teetering between an irrevocable conclusion of being or nonbeing, as "floating." Much of the intensity of Spiritual Instrument derives from this blurring of the internal and the external, self and space.
I was shocked when I encountered this review because, in many ways, J.G. manages to articulate something about my work which, while I am certainly aware of it, I'm incapable of pinning it down so directly. This positing of the limit-experience as a route toward a state in which "all that remains is just a lucid awareness of the body" is almost a working definition of modern yoga (at least my preferred styles, Rocket/Vinyasa/Ashtangaalso, it's worth noting here that yoga is a practice and more of a concept than something that specifically is or isn't something: I don't want to lend a definition to "yoga" because it can mean many things to many people and, aside from semantically meaning unity should not be held to anything specific), and Spiritual Instrument was entirely written and published before I had developed a sincere yoga practice.

This might point to another revelation for how I felt so at home in a yoga practice after finally diving it, but what I want to point to now is the fact that this conceptual bent, which I formerly have explored primarily through language-based mediums (whether through prose-narratives, fragments, poems, spoken language, etc), is easily translated into the medium of my body. I don't have all of the necessary strength, flexibility, skill needed yet to do everything I want to do, but somewhere between performance, dance, and something else, I have an idea growing about the possibilities that are opening up to me.

I've been committed to the acts of writing and reading (literally always away from any dominant forms) since my early teenage years, I have not been committed to exploring the potentialities of an expressive body for the same amount of time. I recognize this, and often find it frustrating that an idea I have cannot yet be as easily translated from idea to body in the way it perhaps could be from idea to text. I think this is ok though, as recently I've felt somewhat like I've neared the end of what writing can do for me in exploring the aforementioned "experiences of the impossible." I'm not done with language, I can't imagine I ever will be, but as I've pushed further and further through the experience of the book, I'm looking for yet another vocabulary to complement the work.

What do I mean by that? Right now, in my head, it involves a sense of performing for a camera (whether still images or moving-pictures), and combining said images with the other elements of the book that I make use of, allowing the book to further become a vessel of performance. This is, undoubtedly, where I will first find any sort of success with what it is that I think I'm after, as it is of course the form of the book itself that I call my home as an artist (an important distinction; it's not writing that I call my home, it's the book). In the future I'm interested in pushing into the form of the film (and I should of course qualify that my preference for this signifier "film" should not be read exclusively as medium dependent, i.e. on Super8 or 16mm itself; that would be my preference but I recognize financial constraints and always have) in the way I have explored the form of the book. Allowing sound and movement into these explorations of the impossible is something I've been concerned with for a while, and I feel closer to this than I ever have before.

One might be wondering why I wouldn't just concern myself with performance itself. I'm fascinating with studying performance, and I do often love the act of performing for audiences, but I'm not convinced that the "performance" is the best "vessel" for that ideas I'm interested in expressing via an artistic practice. For my purposes I'm more interested in performance as a tool rather than as a form. Performance in itself seems to work best when it requires the presence of an audience (look to perhaps my favorite examples of theater and performance art: Grotowski's actors intensity among a audience instead of in front of, Hermann Nitsch's participatory actions, Gunter Brus's theater of the extremities of the body, John Duncan's work from before he was "exiled" from the US). The idea of private performance and ritual fascinate me, but to directly present said examples to a public would be to cancel out what it is that makes them interesting. I think here of the difference between Rudolf Schwarzkogler's actions (always performed exclusively for a camera) versus Otto Muehl's actions (which are more like oogled happenings perhaps). The power of the image that Schwarzkogler presents is dependent upon the fact that what is happening (or not actually happening) in the image was performed in private. It lends an air of the other rather than banalizing the extremities in the way Muehl's actions and Reichian therapy exercises do (and perhaps this is why it's really the documentation and Kurt Kren's films that use images from said actions that have lent Muehl his aura of transgression).

* * *

I'm once again moving too far away from what I thought was the issue at hand, so before I carry on down one route, I want to talk about a few films I've seen recently that have inspired ideas about the potentialities of developing a new direction in my practice recently.

Site (Robert Morris & Stan VanDerBeek, 1964)
I've always held a fascination with Morris's work. Part of it has a lot to do with a confluence between form and desire. Morris himself carries a rugged masculinity that is not dominated by machismo. He visually references masculine archetypes (specifically gay archetypes, despite not being a homosexual himself) while still insisting upon form and the enigmatic nature of certain forms (i.e., the labyrinth). Site was a performance from Morris with the help of Caroline Schneeman.

Part of what appeals to me about this performance is twofold. For one, it's an excellent illustration of something that has always appealed to me about Morris's work, which is the way much of his work seems to carry a masculinist impulse to use the bodytied neither to machismo nor necessarily heterosexuality, but rather to his own experience. Site serves almost as a "dance" but at a construction site without a pretense of insisting that he is saying something about gender. Rather, it's about the use of the body. The second thing I like about this performance is the way VanDerBeek films/presents it. The inclusion of Schneeman's nude body possibly could be said to dismantle some of my above commentary, but the film reads more like a subversion of the generalized art gaze where, instead of objectifying the nude woman (i.e. All of Art History), the point of focus becomes the choreography of manual labor and Morris's actions. This is what makes it interesting; the way the film is able to shift the point of focus, whereas in the performance itself the spectator is, of course, going to look wherever she pleases. Also, VanDerBeek's film pairs the performance with Burroughs reading from Nova Express, which of course affects what we see even further!

(watch an excerpt online here)

Gong (Teo Hernandez, 1981)

Some notes I took upon first watching:
An immensity introduced after a somewhat banalized beginning, lowered expectations shattered into something close to what it is that I'm looking to do with cinema myself: a model or an example, a route to follow finally. There's a use of the body for the purpose of performance contra the use of the camera for the purpose of a sort of cinematic performance and both instances are aimed at one thing: intensity. Parts of this film approach the optical verisimilitude of a flicker film purely through camera motion and the image trail of motion blur, the way the mechanical apparatus of the camera changes in different settings of lightHernandez's exploits this wonderfully.
Many of Hernandez's films sit comfortably in a gray area between film and performance (or at least "performing for the camera"), but here there's further integration between the idea of movement/dance of a body and the way the camera interacts with this movement; moving itself, rapidly zooming cutting moving. The two meet each other and, in result, "movement" as a general concept is extensively magnified, becoming something more exciting than each would be on their own.

The combinatory results are why I bring this up here; an example of a cinema in which it is not merely dance or movement that is recorded, but rather movement that is completed by way of editing and camera itself. Something more intending as cinema rather than as document, and in the idea of the "vessel" or the "container" or the "form" this is very important to me.

Memosium (Louis Dupont, 2002)
 Sometime around 2008 or so I wrote a novella called Paul Gerrior in Jacques Riverrun's The Abyss is the Foundation of the Possible. It was my first major publication (being published in its entirety in 2011--and with color photographs, in in issue 03 of No Colony), and in many ways the "establishing chapter" of what I would continue to be obsessed with for the next ten years. Part of the creation of the book involved writing descriptions of invented experimental films with an attention to a developing eroticism. One of the invented films involved passing around room of a hotel, down a hallway, and encountering a writhing body through an open door at the end of the hall; basically what I intended the imagined film to feel like was something desperate an something that wasn't supposed to be accessible, something that you're not supposed to be seeing.

Dupont's film is wholly is own, but there are elements of the film that struck such an uncanny note that I felt as if I was seeing something I had invented without my own knowledge, so close did it capture the intended feeling described above. At only 6 minutes Dupont builds an eroticized space of pure movement, the figure writhing, unclothed or partially clothed, singing praises to the sky, inhabiting an abandoned building.

Once again, like in Hernandez's Gong, the film has to exist as a film; it is not merely a filmed performance. The cut displaces time, the camera circles through, space and time are disjunctive, impossible. The figure a hermit, lone inhabitant of abandoned space, as the other, met against the camera.

(watch an excerpt online here)