Death and other matters
This is a reflection on the content of the module “Environments of Expanded Acting”, taught by Dr. Pedro Manuel within the frame of the program Master of Theatre Practices at ArtEZ University of the Arts, Arnhem, the Netherlands. I will begin by outlining a collaborative experiment developed with peers Anushka Nair and Lucia Kramárová during the module from the theoretical perspective of “environments of play”, articulated by Dr. Pedro Manuel in “Theatre Without Actors: Rehearsing New Modes of co-Presence” (2017). I will then share the experiment Rise – a performance with and for nonhuman bodies – that gives continuation to the investigations that took place during EEA. Rise is the artistic outcome of speculations on how the absence of professional performers and/or human presence may affect my individual research practice.
// Environments of play, death of objects and co-presence
The collaboration with Anushka and Lucia was triggered by a common interest in exploring the performativity of objects and ritual practices related to death. Our starting point was a list of actions performed by Amazonian indigenous natives as funerary practices, which I had written in the very beginning of my individual artistic research, The Amazonizing Project – a research in the fields of dance and choreography permeated by anthropological and philosophical perspectives on the body, humanity and environment. The research devises artistic practices and performances that reflect and speculate on ways of seeing, perceiving and becoming that escape the rational western gaze. It is informed by investigations of intersections between Amazonian indigenous knowledge, posthuman philosophy and decolonial perspectives.
Besides a series of instructions on what to do with a corpse, the list of Amazonian funerary practices also mentioned what should be done with the dead person’s belongings. By discussing the destination of objects belonging to the dead in distinct cosmogonic contexts, Anushka, Lucia and I arrived to the idea of working with the death of objects. Inherited, burned or buried with the corpse, the belongings of the dead can either have an afterlife, die with their owner or, in some cases, stay in the limbo, being spared from material destruction but not escaping symbolic invalidation due to its bad omen potential.
We curated an ensemble of objects by bringing together items collected outdoors and some of our personal belongings. We disposed them in the performance space creating a gallery-like environment. We decided that the environment would be activated by the participation of spectators, who would be invited to follow the guidance of an aural score based on the list of Amazonian funerary practices. Our performative experiment took the form of an “autonomous participatory performance” (Manuel, 2017), a performance of participation that runs on its own, without the need of a professional performer being physically present (in the context of the module the performers were present due to practicalities and time restrictions). The aural score enabled the agency to be shifted from the makers of the work to the spectators/participants.
The strategy of absenting professional performers in our work aimed to create an experience of immersion that might transform the perception of the space surrounding the spectators/participants. Absence has the potential to undermine the dualisms of co-presence – the relation established exclusively between human performers and spectators at the same time and space (Manuel, 2017). We wanted to create conditions for the relation of co-presence to be expanded into modes of being with human and nonhuman entities. This way, the performativity of objects and traces of the outdoor environment could be activated through participation.
// Aural scores and expanded co-presence in The Amazonizing Project
In the performative experiment Rise, I attempt to challenge my individual research by removing myself from the center of action. I have continued investigating absence as a strategy that can potentialize the creation of “spaces in-between, spaces of discovery, spaces in which emotion, imagination and reflection can actually take place”, as described by theatre director Heiner Goebbels in the lecture “Aesthetics of Absence: Questioning Basic Assumptions in Performing Arts” (2010). When devising Rise, I employed the perspective of an “environment of play” activated by autonomous audience participation following an aural score. I have decided to explore these operations further in order to activate the performativity of objects and to enable multiple ways of co-presence. However, differently than the collaborative experiment during EEA module, Rise should be performed by a single human body with and for nonhuman bodies.
One of the practices of my research, The Amazonizing Project, is performing a score that I have written taking the solo dance score No Time to Fly (2010) by choreographer Deborah Hay as a starting point. Writing the score was the first step of a procedure that uses the feedback loop between writing the score and activating it, in order to rewrite it from an embodied understanding of its performative potential. The choice of Hay’s score was made based on its open form and its use of poetics and imagery juxtaposed with directives to avoid representation and ilustration. The poetics and imagery became entryways for its rewriting, means for transforming it through the gradual introduction of Amazonian societies’ ideas regarding the body, humanity and environment and mythologies. It is a complex written score to be studied, practiced and performed by professionals.
In response to the challenge of considering how the absence of human presence or of professional performers would affect my practice, I have adapted the above mentioned score into an audio version that can be performed by anybody in his/her/their space of choice, as long as there are no other humans present. In Rise, the participant receives a written introduction with a few instructions, observations and requests and an aural score. Such dispositive was developed also having in mind the current isolation period due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The participant receives the materials through this link: https://korinakordova.wordpress.com/2020/04/07/rise/
The participant does not need to leave the house to activate the score and he/she/they should not have contact with another human being for the duration of the performance. Moving further into the aesthetics of absence seems pertinent at this moment.
The score combines the form of a choreographic score and performative utterances borrowed from videos of lessons of kundalini yoga (another practice in my research). The original score proposes actions related to worldviews belonging to nonwestern, nonmodern societies. Combining such content to utterances from internet videos creates a friction that may produce uncanny experiences.
This is the information each participant has access to through the link:
Rise: a performance with and for nonhuman bodies (2020)
Rise is a performance guided by an aural score.
Rise must be performed with and for an audience of non-human bodies, organic and inorganic matter.
No other human being should be present in the space for the whole duration of the performance.
An ancient voice will guide you through the journey.
// instructions: preparation
Do not listen to the score before the performance.
Choose a space where you feel safe, calm, at home.
Choose nine bodies to perform with you. Objects, plants and animals are welcome.
Spread the bodies through the space.
Your choices may be random or not. It is up to you.
After you have completed the preparation, you may begin the journey.
// observations and requests
You must listen to the score through earphones.
Rise may be performed as many times as you wish.
Make sure you will not be interrupted during the performance.
Register the first performance in video.
When you are finished, photograph the landscape you have created.
Please, send the documentation to this e-mail address: email@example.com
// instructions: performance
All materials are relevant and useful.
Remove hesitation and reconsideration.
Emotion is motion.
Be in relation always.
There is no “there” to get to.
Notice where you are and use it.
Listen to the music and rhythm of your breath.
Practice having multiple bodies by, at times, seeing yourself from the outside.
// key words and notions
attention / vitality / displacement / gaze / form / decay / imagination / imperceptible / transformation / forces / perspective / perception / anthropophagy / asymmetry / in relation to / multiplicity
Rise is a performative experiment in the development of my artistic research The Amazonizing Project, currently undertaken in the frame of the program Master of Theatre Practices at ArtEZ University of the Arts, Arnhem, NL. Rise combines the poetics of the solo dance score No Time to Fly (2010) by choreographer Deborah Hay, performative utterances from internet videos and elements of works by artists Jeanine Durning and Steve Paxton (The Small Dance).
// Rise as a practice of expanded choreography
Rise is a practice of care between human and nonhuman bodies as well as an exploration of modes of co-presence between them. Rise has the potential to bring forth issues related to memories connected to the objects chosen as performance partners.
The process of removing my physical presence opened up new possibilities of experimenting with delivery formats and gave me the opportunity to stand as a (kind of) outside eye in my own performance work. Since my research is within the fields of choreography and dance, I approach the perspective of “environments of play” as expanded choreography. The score is the choreography and it performs through language. In the context of my research, such experiments can work beyond their own performativity, as they may become means to observe how different bodies respond to instructions I also work with in different choreographic dispositives. The observation of the participants’ experiences through video documentation and their feedback from individual experience can feed both my movement and writing practices.
I am also interested in the traces left by the performances of Rise, reason why, in the written introduction, I ask the participant to photograph the landscape created during the activation of the score. I am curious about the performative potential of the images on their own. Furthermore, I have been speculating about the possibility of creating a participatory performance based on the same score; this time in a previously given environment in a gallery space or a studio. I am attracted by the idea of performing the written original score among the traces left by an “autonomous participatory performance”, adopting them as a given environment, as a new beginning.
// Practicing posthuman philosophy and Amazonizing
The performance of artworks that expand the notion of co-presence and create a horizontal relation between human and nonhuman entities may be considered ways of practicing non anthropocentric worldviews (Manuel, 2017). Such works propose ways of looking at reality that acknowledge the interdependence between human and nonhuman entities. The practices of interdependence in a context where the human is not a central figure may be seen as ways of rehearsing ideas from posthuman philosophy (as argued by Manuel) and, from my perspective, as ways of practicing Amazonian philosophy (drawing from the writing of Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro). The indigenous concept of humanity permeates all animate and much of inanimate matter, i.e. humanity is not a special condition, and is therefore not central. For this reason, the act of anthropomorphizing animals and objects (what at times happens in the scores I write), does not reflect anthropocentrism, but it comes from cosmogonic perspectives that take humanity as the substance from what the universe is made.
Since Rise has just been created and I have shared it with peers and friends, I will keep uploading documentation of the activations of the score to this page.
Goebbels, H. (2010). Aesthetics of Absence: Questioning Basic Assumptions in Performing Arts. Cornell Lecture on Contemporary Aesthetics. Cornell University. (9 March 2010). Available at: http://igcs.cornell.edu/files/2013/09/Goebbels-Cornell-Lecture18-1dnqe5j.pdf
Manuel, P. (2017). Theatre Without Actors: Rehearsing New Modes of Co-presence. Available at: https://dspace.library.uu.nl/handle/1874/358079 (Accessed: 3 April 2020).