Tuesday, 20 May 2008
Expressing the Duende in Meetings and Engagements in the city
Myth – def: ‘… fictitious person or thing or idea …’ The Concise Oxford Dictionary
‘… any invented story, idea or concept …’ Dictionary.com
The nature, function and types of myth, ‘… Most (cultures) however, make a basic distinction between “true” and “fictitious” narratives, with “true” ones corresponding to what in the West would be called myths’. Britannica.com
Myth and Science, ‘… Several thinkers (e.g., the theologian Paul Tillich and the philosopher Karl Jaspers) have argued convincingly for a mythological dimension to all science. Myth, in this view, is that which is taken for granted when thought begins. It is at the same time the limit reached in the course of scientific analysis, when it is found that no further progress in definition can be made after certain fundamental principles have been reached. In recent scientific researches, especially in astronomy and biology, questions of teleology (final ends) have gained in importance, as distinct from earlier concerns with questions of origin. These recent concerns stimulate discussion about the limits of what can be scientifically explained, and they reveal anew a mythological dimension to human knowledge’. Britannica.com
Myth it seems, within narrative, is not stable, either as to meaning, association or signification. I am pursuing thought and making connections about social behaviours which are not in the mainstream and by no means accepted as being based upon established, proven conclusions. I have been careful to try to support my assertions with regard to notions of our living within change and continuity itself, by considering those theorists who seem appropriate. I am currently also trying to be careful not to let my enquiry simply illustrate some of these theories. Rather, I would prefer the theoretical research in which I have been engaged to inform my practice, or at least to achieve a symbiotic arrangement between the two. I am seeking a balance therefore, between the experiential and the philosophical/theoretical to define my territory of investigation. To some extent, I genuinely do not ‘know’ what I am doing, but then that is the way I believe it is meant to be. I do not mind nor make any apology for this. I am making efforts to discover ‘what’ I am doing through my research practice. In field-work fashion, my practice is both affected by my conceptual directions and itself, assists in dictating those directions. To some extent, insight and knowledge in the midst of uncharted waters are forthcoming in ways which identifiably sustain my enquiry.
The 'Myth' of Leaving:
Unlike Martha Graham, who used Greek myths as inspiration for some of her dance works, I am in the process of constructing my own work as myth - suggesting that perhaps the event of ‘Leaving’ underpinning and governing our movements in life, is itself, mythic. Through my own experiences, I have encountered qualities which suggest a truth in my assertions, but this is subjective and is arrived at to some extent through personal inclination toward both the concept and the event itself occurring. For others, the 'true myths' I am creating may appear equally, as mythic fabrications. I am not suggesting that what I am asserting is incontrovertible, but I am not sure that under the auspices of being carried out in this subjectively-articulated environment of study, the notion lends itself to being easily refuted either. My ideas appear to be in that littoral zone between the subjectively experienced, optimistic dawn light of discovery - the ‘Ammil’ (the Devon country term for that rare event of sunlight blazing through early morning mist – the proverbial morning glory) and the cold, sober light of scientifically-proven overcast and washed evenly by both. I have no intentions to declare the findings in the research in which I am engaged as definitive, but I am encouraged by the tangibility of the various, small swatches of recognition for privately remembered feelings (I have felt these kinds of feelings in these kinds of places before) which, in the wider public terrain of the city, still manage to colour my process of enquiry - the work is about imperfectly-observed moments which carry the seeds of speculation for the viewer (what is going on here? And perhaps, 'Oh, I know how that feels ...) as much as it is about passages of internally-registered poignancy for the dancers. Small dances made up of micro-dramas with attendant, small discoveries. It feels real.
The process of ‘Leaving’ and what this may imply in relation to the notion of ‘becoming’ (H. Bergson and B. Massumi, see 2007 posts) has come to the fore in my study of meetings and engagements in the street. After past and recent research and in my current exploration, (the) Duende has begun to emerge as an area of interest for me. I would like to examine how the properties of Duende as an expression of poignancy and pathos might be revealed in engagements between people.
At first, perhaps, it might be appropriate to distinguish between selected types of meetings which could take place. In my most recent work in Wellington, in April 08, I introduced structured movement-improvisation into real street situations to represent possible different kinds of meetings or engagements. They were comprised of the following strategies in 3 categories:
1) vid recorded members of the public, friends, arriving/engaging/leaving
2) vid recorded my dance partners, Fiona Baker and Sylvie Haisman arriving/engaging in talk and latterly, CI duets/leaving on the street.
3) vid recorded myself and Sylvie Haisman arriving together at the Railway Station/engaging in conversation through talk and subtle CI practice/parting with Sylvie leaving on the train.
In all, there are 13 video clips which can be viewed on this post:
Categories 1) and 2) can be viewed mainly at the very bottom of this post where it says 'Older Posts'. There is one Category 2) clip (clip 6 on this page) together with a re-edit of Concourse Roll (clip 5 on this page) from 2007 at the bottom of this post just above where it says, 'Older Posts'. The clips in Category 3) can be viewed above this text. There are 4 clips in this category with the title 'Station'. All the clips in this post (including those 7 clips in 'Older Posts' which are still connected to this post) are selected from the latest work in Wellington.
Only those clips in Category 3) ('Station', above) were focussed particularly on beginning to see if qualities in the work may be surfacing which could be identified with the Duende. Clips 'Station 1' and 'Station 4 ... ' are beginning to articulate more outward feeling with the Duende in mind. These benchmark and serve to highlight the differences between them and the other types of meetings taking place between people which I am both observing and contriving and how these meetings may or may not be appropriate as vehicles to express what I want to say/enquire into:
I began working with artificially manufactured situations in the street, (these clips are under 'Older Posts) creating apparently ‘chance’ and very pragmatic meetings, where I was asking for directions in an effort to ‘capture’ a person in conversation, to observe our behaviour, the body language/gesticulations in the 'white noise' of the crowded street, the nature of the interaction and the quality of the moment of parting from one another. Realistically, it would be vain to say that these meetings were charged with emotion and visibly poignant - unless and this is important, they are viewed, either as allegories or metaphors – examples representing, not illustrating (I make a distinction here: 'representing' I consider indicative of ownership by me of my concepts; 'illustrating' I is suggestive of embellishing another`s departure point) a philosophical-state-in-the-world of being-as-becoming, (see earlier posts on H. Bergson and B. Massumi). This may be the factor which recognizes the occurence of the Duende in the wider context of people interacting with one another. I also videoed Red Cross workers accosting pedestrians. I documented a range of these meetings over two hours in different locations on Lambton Quay. The one shown deals with young people enjoying the encounter, with an element of wistfulness (to offset the pragmatism) at the moment of leaving. * 'Older Posts' at the very bottom of this post.
Category 1) deals with meetings at a distance between people who are unknown to me, yet who are themselves friends. Some of the footage in 'Older Posts' contains stranger-to-stranger meetings as well. It is only possible therefore, to surmise through observation of body language, what is transpiring in terms of the quality and nature of the engagement taking place between them. The event of leaving in one of these distant examples (the three friends in Cuba Mall) can still however, be quite rich and visibly poignant.
Category 2) was repeated through improv, perhaps thirty times over an hour, in the street. I allowed the dancers freedom for their meetings to develop/be realised as they saw fit over this time period. Only after a while did I request a more sober rendering of the engagement/leaving process, so there is a range here, perhaps representing a cross-section of emotion experienced by someone in a city environment on any given day. The net result is of a reasonably neutral, pathos-free series of departures between two people. Part of this was due to Sylvie and Fiona being strangers. It was interesting to note however, that after a number of ‘meetings’ their empathy for one another had markedly increased.
Empathy, surely, is the ingredient necessary to imbue such a fugitive process as leaving another person in a public place, with meaning and significance and the attendant qualities of poignancy and pathos. How then, can pathos be introduced into engagements between strangers unless in a somewhat attenuated, abstract sense? This is where the wider issue of 'Leaving' itself may offer itself up as a reciever and projector of the Duende.
Category 3) was set deliberately in Wellington Railway Station for several reasons. I already have a performance/working history there from last year which has informed my more recent exploration. (See 2007 posts). The entry portico or concourse was chosen as a location for its overall ambience; the sombre lighting and architecture, its echoing acoustic value, the compass motif on the floor (indicative for me, of the multitude of directions to which we are flung and a reference to a sundial – time-based lives), the physical structure of the space which acts as a conduit for the flood – during rush hour, a solid stream of mono-directional (in contrast to and passing straight over the compass) people through the space and the transitory ‘non-place’ (see reference in 2007 posts, to M. Augé) nature of the space itself.
There is another aspect to the work here, which needs mentioning; the seasonal value. So far, all my filming of work in this location has been carried out in the winter time. This has meant that the space has been populated by commuters in, for the most part, warm, dark, subdued coats on what by chance, have been windy, cold and rainy evenings. This has suited the tenor and timbre of my work, exacerbating, I think, the minor key in the overall concept composition. I do not intend to work/video while researching the above aspects, in hot, summer conditions where clothes and indeed, faces, will speak of light, sunny climes and beach-going. (This is part of my problem when working in Nelson as a location, governed by very different ambient properties. I am tailoring other strategies which might be pursued away from Wellington environs. These will be careful selection of spaces, people, camera angles and other developmental ideas).
I am also faced with the obviously predictable aspects and related risks that could arise when working with my concepts in such a location as the railway station. The station is clearly a point of arrival and departure which has the potential to encourage cliché. However I am disinclined to be put off by this factor and see the location as a challenge to consider and problem-solve in lateral ways if I can.
We spent several hours working in the railway station, (Category 3, 'Station 1,2,3 and 4 poignancy in Leaving'). This was the first foray into seeing if I could introduce elements of poignancy and pathos into the act of leaving, using slightly more emotive body language. I do not want to enter into the realm of melodrama here. I am looking for internal movement-scapes which could be said to have, when witnessed peripherally by passers-by, a slightly ambivalent, yet intimate signature, perhaps when perceived on the way past or recalled later, assuming an almost spectral nature, but one to which we may all relate. A subliminal activity in this prescribed space and time. I am not interested in ‘conventional’ Contact Improvisation dance vocabulary for this work. There will be no big lifts or flying while listening to one`s partner – no spectacle (at least, at this stage) demonstrating virtuosity or in the words of Christian Larsen (see my link, throwdisposeablechoreography) to me eight years ago, no pursuit of ‘high speed soft’ – the ability to execute Contact Improvisation dance with a partner at full speed without losing the ability to listen and respond with sensitivity to the partner/moment. I am looking for small ledges, brief interludes of resting in various postures on one another and possibly next time I will investigate low flying moments, so small that they could be missed. Sober ‘proto-conversations’ (see April 25 08 post). I only want to be just noticed by the audience.
I am currently, as a result of critically reviewing the movie footage you see here, thinking about how I can develop and explore further, the small personal dramas which may occur in this kind of situation which can assist in the embedding of that reference to the Duende in these everydayscapes of activity. I am thinking about using contrast and emotion a little more consciously to investigate the creation of tension in the movement dialogue; handheld camera running through both, with and against the grain of oncoming crowds, to promote that feeling of being late - ambiguously perhaps for either train or personal meeting or seeing someone off, or searching for someone or something. Contrasting this with slowed intimate movement of parts of duets. In the clip 'Station 4 ... ' above, I have introduced small, slowed moments already, using the cut-away to people boarding with focus on one woman looking intently, almost personally with recognition, at the camera. So speed, which is time-based, could be a factor here. I am also planning on exploring the potential dynamic of contraposto in moving composition during dueting. Up, down, diagonally pulling away and apart or pushing toward and together within the conversation - there is a little of this emerging in our duet in this clip, when we are blocking the doorway to the Concourse at the beginning of the duet. I like this - our joint intention is slightly stretched and contrary - do we have to go this way? Now? Are we borne along by the crowd or our intention? And we said farewell in the Concourse with our hands parting - but met again at the train - another, often so real moment of wanting the parting to be drawn out. Then not being able to hear the voiced farewell over the sudden train engine sound. (Edited in by me). These small details for me, are beginning to create a certain poignancy and slight disfunction in the smooth running of the departure. Emotional moments.
I am interested in creating, not performances on big stages with formal seating for an audience, but perhaps an installation with the collaborative unconscious of the audience itself, in situ. But my means; my movement structured -improvisation scores, I want to be perceived as small, almost-missed, intimate entries in a diary the disposition of which is redolent with deeply-intimated feeling and aspects of the surreal – almost a dreamscape. Postcards from the edge of the everyday - narratives to which we cursorily nod in passing – events which by nature are fugitive and for both the dancers and the witnesses, ephemeral. Which brings me to my next question:
Is it possible to introduce even a hint of such an apparently raw and powerful force as the Duende, into everyday meetings on the street and the subsequent process of leaving, without it visibly stemming from a ‘… struggle present in the artist`s soul, the struggle of knowing that death is imminent … gut-wrenching authenticity, painful hues and tones …’? F.G.Lorca, La Habana, 1930
In The Tragic Myth: Lorca and Cante Jondo by E. F. Stanton, the University of Kentucky Press, we are informed that much of Lorca`s poetry carries us back to a mythic universe. The word ‘myth’ appears in Aristotle`s Poetics with reference to an action, plot or narrative. The ‘plot’ of Lorca`s verse, like that of cante jondo, is essentially tragic. It is realized under the auspices of the Duende. In both Lorca and cante jondo, a musical score which manifests through the flamenco, the territory of this tragedy is Andalusia, not however the tangible spaces of southern Spain, but a poetic region of the mind. Stanton goes on to say, ‘As a power that springs from the depths of the earth, Lorca tells us that duende is linked to the dark realm of the unconscious; it is an enemy of reason. It does not descend from Aristotle, but from the Dionysian Greeks, passing through Nietzsche. This demon cannot be summoned at will, but when it arrives its force is irresistible. It shakes the man it possesses like an electric charge’.
For Lorca, the Duende was true myth – literally, an extraordinary inspiration that could not be set aside and which, as a force, could visit anyone under certain conditions.
An event such as leaving someone (or some thing, such as a place) for whom one feels empathy can be, for the people involved, traumatic to say the least, but this is not always identifiable for anyone watching the departure. My ideas so far have revolved around a premise that our daily movements in the city (and in life) are governed by, in Brian Massumi`s words, ‘… a non-present potential to vary …’ (See my March 08 post, Indeterminacy and the roaming body) and this apparent inability to stay put, ensures that we are forever ‘becoming’ (H. Bergson) ourselves, somewhere else. We are always leaving. If one acknowledges or agrees with this notion philosophically or theoretically, is this acknowledgement then sufficient to include the presence of the Duende through the intrinsically-real makeup of everyday ‘leaving’ as a human experience? Can this constitute a visitation for us, of a force which is irresistible?
A justifiable response to the notion of leaving colouring all our actions in dealings with people, is that one could say equally, that we are also, always arriving. This I admit, is true and its existence creates and supports, indeed, is indispensable to the frame of reference of which leaving is but a portion of the whole, but it does not hold in its makeup the seeds so clearly recognizable of the Duende. (They are present, yet perhaps more subtly articulated. When one arrives in a new place, with unknown inhabitants, the sum total of days lived in that place tends to spell out and lend credence to the properties of Duende – one perhaps cannot easily return, or go back and be resident, displace space in the old life previous to that one currently occupied, or in the case of don Genaro mentioned in my previous post, one may in this new life be forever searching for, without ever reaching, ‘home’).
So, is it possible to instil the Duende into ‘Leaving’ in a situation with someone you don’t know – a stranger? My project after all, is called, ‘In the Company of Strangers’. Might this exacerbate the state, the feelings of ineffable sadness? Or is it only possible to introduce and perceive this subliminal force in the province of intimate friends and loved ones? I am honestly not sure.
In my posts earlier this year I describe meetings and engagements with people in the street as points of purchase in the surrounding flood of humanity and the inexorable sweep of time. I see evidence of this in all the different meetings I am documenting. My latest video clips of ‘Leaving’ in 'Station 1,2,3 and 4 poignancy in Leaving' in Category 3, above) are beginning to express a sense of loss, of pathos. Is the Duende present here, or is it only present as a diminutive, with a small ‘d’? Is it even possible for Duende to emerge in this context in this way, or is this a contradiction in terms? Can Duende only be visibly huge, gut-wrenching, profoundly catalytic? I wonder. Allowing for the subjectivity of feeling, is there not evidence of poignancy of the Duende in this vision of fleeting meetings – havens at which to find a brief purchase in our everyday time-based negotiation of a myriad of barren and peopled spaces?
In all of these video clips then, but perhaps particularly in those last duets that Fiona captured of myself and Sylvie, Category 3) are traces I believe, of possibility in portraying this evidence. I selected a portrayal based upon almost normal behaviour in a public space, clothing that would pass as normal yet would be analogous with the general lighting and dominant colours within the station Concourse. I wanted us to almost blend in and I think we achieved this. I used distance shots and a low camera angle predominantly so that I could present our movements set within a larger palette of colour, movement and the textures and sound of a large crowd of people moving with a focussed intent or purpose. I contrasted this with a hand-held camera perspective in the last duet to introduce an intimacy and a personal perception of our movement and impending parting. The re-modelled video clip above, 'Station 4 ...' combines both, the long angles and the hand-held camera angles in an effort to investigate a composite perspective of the internal and wider context of place and feeling. (I have plans to expand on this direction in my next visit to Wellington. I will probably have some ‘dry-runs’ in Nelson first). Emotion, I think, is quietly evident but a certain contemplative intensity too. But the poignancy of parting here is created through the fact itself that one of us is leaving, not through an excess of angst or trauma made visible through our behaviour.
I have concerns about the length of this clip ('Station 4 ...') on the blog – approx 4 mins, but at this stage of the process I am looking for continuity and combinations of imagery to express my enquiry. In this clip, I have also introduced opacity manipulation in my editing through the introduction of footage of crowds boarding and trains leaving, to gently reinforce the proximity of impending departure, prior to the end footage when Sylvie boards the train to actually leave the station. I inserted one second, subliminal stills taken from earlier in the piece to represent that state left behind – those half-remembered, disjointed images which so often assail us when time suddenly contracts and events in the midst of an emotional hiatus rush to a conclusion. Suddenly, with leaving imminent there is never enough time ...
I also want to expand our vocabulary of what may constitute a ‘conversation’ through movement. In Category 3) our leaving was expressed in part, through a mutual hug prior to the physical parting. If we are using Contact Improvisation movement modes or elements of authentic movement, we can investigate the expression of ‘hugging’ through a wider description. CI ‘hugs’ may have nothing to do with putting arms around one another. Propping, leaning, or even subtle platforming may be suitable if sustained to represent that moment of last contact before separation takes place. Selected camera angles and possible close-ups could be a way in for me to define the tension inherent in these moments.
Last but by no means least, I desire ambiguity in the work. It is not my intention to explain my aims or queries to the audience. It is important that anyone witnessing either my process as it unfolds and later, the presented works, perceives what is going on perhaps very differently from their neighbour. I do not expect or seek collective agreement about what is going on, but if this were to occur that would be acceptable too. More questions would be useful. Appreciation of a kind would be a bonus. The work in this clip currently projects a certain interrogative note for passers-by. During the work, I was stopped by a curious individual and asked what I was doing. When informed, her face lit up in recognition of the feelings we were endeavouring to make subtly visible. Would she have reached the same place of recognition if we had not spoken? I do not think it matters. What matters most perhaps, is that I am playing with sensed information that is common to us all. If the work achieves a small jolt of wonder, inquisitiveness or desire to interrogate my concepts – or even studied indifference, this might be enough to create markers for the audience in-situ or later, when sitting in the train, remembered emotions or thoughts brought up by the work.
To move on, another possibility which presents itself, after discussion with one of my supervisors, is for me to explore airport contexts again. Early last year I began to investigate airports under the auspices of ‘non-places’. I researched the French-Algerian anthropologist Marc Augé and as a foil to his theories, those of the Wellington artist and lecturer, John di Stefano. Augé maintained that airports, like train stations and hypermarkets are spaces which define supermodernity and are as such, incapable of supporting a sense of belonging. These theories are refuted by di Stefano who as a riposte, asserts that so many people use and spend so much of their time in these kinds of spaces now, that they have become very much, new places and descriptors of belonging.
I made some initial exploratory works in Nelson airport, the Nelson Fresh Choice supermarket and in another, what I felt to be a ‘non-place’ or at least transitory place, the Interislander ferry, ‘Kaitaki’. (See my May 28, 2007 post, Ownership of Spaces: What makes a space a place? What makes a place a non-place?).
The airport represents an opportunity to investigate work based on ‘leaving’ in a context where people are arriving, as well as leaving. It is possible that enacting a leaving scenario surrounded by people who are being warmly greeted as arrivals may create additional dynamic tension in the work through incongruity. I will need to acquire new permission to carry out this work. I also feel that I need to conduct this work in a crowded, busy environment so will need to explore possibilities in Wellington airport. I am not sure about the aesthetic of the space itself, however. This is very different from that of the railway station. (which may not be detrimental to the work. It will however, require some adjustment by myself to accommodate how I feel about the changes in the physical attributes of the airport spaces).
I am also including in this post, a re-edit of my rolling across the railway Concourse last year. I have presented a range of different view-points and begun to develop a sound-scape for the clip. Please refer to my August post for 2007, Small conversations in Urban spaces – Wellington city centre and surrounding environs, in relation to rolling in and activating redundant spaces. This work was more interventionist than my current exploration, not literally but spatially, my presence was perhaps more unsettling for the viewer/audience/commuters traversing the space. The rolling now has a slightly different import, a relevance to the Duende in relation to horizontally-orientated movement and death, outside the norm of accepted public behaviour. In the light of this consideration I may re-introduce this device in future studies with closer camera angles and viewpoints, a range of approaches to the rolling and careful thought about where the rolling occurs and why.