Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Missed conversations in urban spaces - the body as 'stage'.

'Perhaps speech-in-transit is itself ... indeterminate. In a sense, one could say that the environment or ‘stage’ for my work, rather than a commuter-busy passageway, is more accurately the actual, moving body itself.' (MB, this post, 20.10.07)

These posts are passages which to some extent are contextualizing my current thinking on my concepts:

The first is an extract from Brian Massumi`s (2002) impressive text: Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Post-Contemporary Interventions), Duke University Press (p. 4). Here, I am seeking both, corroboration and challenge for my thinking in relation to how it may be possible to encounter the virtual in our everyday lives.

The second extract is from the paper, Remembering Praxis: Performance in the Digital Age, (2005) in Text and Performance Quarterly, 25:2 (p. 156-170) by Marcyrose Chvasta. Chvasta`s essay very succinctly interrogates 'liveness' within performance in relation to mediation and how it is becoming increasingly informed and alternatively contextualized through mediation from a range of apparently limitless sources, not the least of which is digital new media.

I have for some time occupied a place which has been investigating the notion that perhaps the 'real' is actually mediated by the virtual, all the time and everywhere. These two extracts support this notion.

Brian Massumi:

‘When a body is in motion, it does not coincide with itself. It coincides with its own transition. The range of variations it can be implicated in is not present in any given movement, much less in any position it passes through. In motion, a body is in an immediate, unfolding relation to its own nonpresent potential to vary. That relation, to borrow a phrase from Gilles Deleuze, is real but abstract … This is an abstractness pertaining to the transitional immediacy of a real relation – that of a body to its own indeterminacy (its openness to an elsewhere and otherwise than it is, in any here and now)’ (Massumi, 2002, p.5).

Other referenced texts for this project have been underpinned by a concern in relation to the body, for what could be termed parallel, or simultaneously manifesting entities. Evidence that we are not alone in the everyday of our lives. This notion for me is supported in Massumi`s exploration of the ‘indeterminacy’ of the body – the realities facing the body which are incomplete without the recognition of another, constantly simultaneously-generated virtual description of ‘now’. Massumi posits that ‘this body’ is here, but also, ‘this presence’ and essentially when in motion, they are no longer with us, here, but ‘over there’, now - ‘… the body does not coincide with itself …’ (Massumi, 2002, p. 5). The above quotation is relevant for my research practice with its focus upon the nature of movement itself, a phenomenon (one could otherwise, perhaps describe movement as a process or sequence of interminably-linked events) which is inevitably coloured and controlled by what could be said to be a force outside almost everything, but which equally, is integral to all: Time. Time is relational, everywhere and always a governing factor in the ongoing manifestation and expression of our bodies and our ‘selves’, in motion and in transit.

Massumi suggests that the body in movement means accepting the body in its occupation of space and time, as a paradox: that there is an incorporeal dimension of the body itself. Of it, but not it. Indeterminate, coincident, but real and material. Massumi calls this echo a, ‘Fellow-travelling dimension of the same reality’, (Massumi, 2002, p. 5). A legitimate interpretation of identifiable alterity, I believe. Massumi points out in my original quotation above, that, ‘In motion, a body is in an immediate, unfolding relation to its own nonpresent potential to vary’. In other words, it could be said that the body in motion is never, ever, quite fully present. Or that the body is present but within its indeterminacy, the time-based embodiment of ‘body’ has already moved on. This assertion as a concept, is interesting to consider in the context of my ‘in-transit’ dominated practice and offers a framework for speculation about the reasons for what so much of the time are the expression of truncated, disjunct forms of communication in the street. Perhaps speech-in-transit is itself as a result of this, indeterminate. In a sense, one could say that the environment or ‘stage’ for my work, rather than a commuter-busy passageway, is more accurately the actual, moving body itself. Massumi asserts that this disjunct in embodiment – this nonpresent potential to vary, creates a wider re-defining of ontological difference away from a linguistic differentiation which instead, becomes orientated around process, potential and event and directs this into the heart of the body. The body`s potential to vary suggests an alignment which places ‘being’ next to becoming. To re-iterate and re-interpret the substance of the above text then; our ontological existence can be defined by the idea that we are in a continual state of being/becoming – a time-based positioning. In qualifying his argument, Massumi paraphrases Deleuze in saying that the problem with dominant modes of cultural and literary theory are not that they are too abstract to grasp the solidity or corporeal fabric of the real. The problem is that these modes are not abstract enough to grasp the real incorporeality of what we take to be real.

Marcyrose Chvasta:

‘Performing arts as in theatre/drama/live-art performance more than any other field of study save perhaps sports, inevitably puts at its core “live performance”. Indeed, the co-presence of live bodies has been a defining feature of performance. It is in the practice of performance, however, that this proclaimed ontological feature has been challenged for years’ (Chvasta, 2005, p.160).

According to Marcyrose Chvasta, Philip Auslander has argued convincingly that ‘all performance—if not electronically mediated—is mediated by language of some kind. Because language mediates our experiences, any presentation of one’s self is not one’s Self.’ Auslander employs Derrida to argue that the ‘mind cannot communicate the body without being defined by the rules of language as a system of difference, and the body cannot express the mind without being defined by its system of differences’ (Auslander, 1996 quoted in Chvasta, 2005, p.168).

In short, and I concur with this view, any presentation of self ‘live’ or ‘mediated’ - is mediated somehow. Every mediation is intertextual, containing a multiplicity of texts that are mediations in themselves. By extension then, any ‘live’ performance is a mediated performance. It just depends on the language of that mediation and the vocabulary used to express that language. The work may be comprised of any number of technical dance steps or states. Signing for the deaf may be used, or cross-disciplinary media, the spoken word, the written text, classical word, txting text or semaphore, costuming or digital new media. Each represents a signification of mediation.

In her essay Remembering Praxis: Performance in the Digital Age questioning the current demarcations between live and mediated performance, Chvasta also cites Steve Dixon, who has developed performances that interrogate performance theory itself, his work leading to insights that serve both traditional and more contemporary conceptualizations of the performer and audience. For Dixon, there is no power differential between the live and the mediated body. According to Dixon, both are equally forceful embodiments of human experience. Like Dixon, I question the extent to which that rarefied atmosphere of ‘pure’, live dance performance is placed above mediated dance performance. Between virtual videos of live performance works, internet mashup sites empowering the public to create their own virtual performances from a selection of available sources, fully immersive worlds like Second Life where ‘live’ virtual performances are carried out in real time, the boundaries defining what constitutes legitimate ‘live’ performance work have never been so blurred. In my own work I am investigating ways in which the ‘virtual’ may manifest as an extension or transformative moment in time of the ‘real’, rather than simply its binary opposite.

Chvasta states that Pierre Levy defines four ontological elements: the real, the possible, the actual, and the virtual. Each of these elements—or ‘vectors,’ in Levy’s terms—operates ‘almost always’ in conjunction with the others. Levy is interested in these vectors as unstable modes of existence. I am interested in these vectors for their potential to determine transformative embodiment. How they may offer a way of understanding how the virtual or ‘possible’ may have an osmotic role in the real, rather than one which is clearly differentiated.

Chvasta asserts that Levy is interested in ‘the process of transformation from one mode of being to another’ (Levy, 1998 quoted in Chvasta, 2005, p.165) which perhaps is the enactment of that osmotic role. I am also interested in these vectors as descriptors of the ‘possible’ – states of a present which is not passive but dynamic, the present as a state which is always becoming. Specifically, according to Levy, he engages in the ‘study of virtualization that ascends from the real or the actual toward the virtual’ (Levy, 1998, quoted in Chvasta, 2005, p.165). While the real is orientated in the present, in the temporal and spatial sense of the term, the virtual is orientated in the future.

This speaks to me of the virtual residing neither ‘here’ nor ‘there.’ It lies in-between and mediation within performance can be viewed as an instrument which allows us to perhaps more readily recognize embodiment in the virtual in our respective realities.