The body understood as an object
In the last years, the art world fell in love with live and time-based practices. Since then, a lot has been said and written about performance and performativity, but too little time has been given to listen to those whose work has been stretching the tight disciplinary confinements that shape dance, performance and visual arts. That is what Filipa Ramos sought to do in asking the Swedish performance-related artist-dancer-choreographer-producer-writer Mårten Spångberg to give us his thoughts on four concepts: Space, Rhythm, Expectation and Embodiment. The result of this encounter can hardly be described, as ideas, concepts and words sprang out all over the place without restraint and with such overwhelming speed that capturing it in writing was a performative feat in itself.
Architects are people who are afraid of disorder and mess. Architecture is a way of taming or subjugating space. We tend to address space as though it has a stability from which something can take off, open up or engage. I’m interested in the formation of spaces that implicate their own decay, corruption, collapse or undermining: spaces that actively produce an indeterminate instability. The spaces I am interested in dramatically fall through, are sinking, are being devoured. It is through implosion that space becomes active and productive of »whatever« or another words, it produces (or becomes productive) through sheer necessity, an instance of ex nihilo. Modernity, with its narratives around the liberal individualized subject, »classical« capitalism, and private property tends (or tended) to consider space in terms of occupancy, which can be seen in a wide range of examples, from the notion of the nation to the Occupy movements. Some thing occupies what is not yet completed, and spaces are filled through strategies that adhere to a desired, complete and authorized subjectivity. Space is understood through legislation, measurability and power. In this respect, the Occupy movement – which desperately desired approval from the dominant discourse – was doomed from the start. Instead of occupation, I’d like to address space through a different metaphor: that of mould. Mould and fungi inhabit spaces that are already full. Fungi don’t move in: nothing needs to be emptied out or evacuated. Fungi fuck occupy, they superimpose. However, for this superimposition to be effective, it needs to approach space using different forms, or at least to experiment with different forms of subjectivity. It’s not as if mould would share a space, like a double room with two single beds. No: mould relates to space like an incompatible phenomenon, it has the capacity to undermine and corrupt it. To me, decay is a building material. The process of corruption is a spatial practice.
I’m interested in the tension between perspective and horizon. I’m discontent with the primacy of perspective, whose domination has been strengthened since the end of the 18th century. For me, perspective is necessarily reductive, discursive, directional and functional, and is operated through affordance and investment: perspective is by proxy economical, territorial, reflexive and trivial. I conceive horizon to be a non-territorialized identity that withdraws from measurability and direction, and hence from economy. Perspective can be understood in respect to openness, negotiation and divisibility, but horizon is unconditional and ready to be conquered, consumed, and annihilated. Perspectives are not necessarily strong, they simply form strong and consistent relations. Said differently, perspective is measurable whereas horizon is a matter of intensity.
In the Western world, for the last 250 years (considering the birth of the modern subject and so on) we have been treating rhythm as a spatial capacity – not least through elaborate musical notations or music software – and rhythm has become architectural and perspectival. Could we dare to say that composers are people who fear sound and use their compositions to tame music? Rhythm should be understood as a horizon and through its intensity, not as a series of weak entities connected through strong and consistent relations. On the contrary: rhythm consists of strong entities with weak and fuzzy connections.
Gossiping with Deleuze – thinking that structures are great, strategy is bad, tactics are underrated – location, position, statement, definitions are so last Friday! Deleuze emphasizes the need to transform what change and speed are. It is a matter of staying in the middle, and the middle is not a location but a change of speed. When understood as horizon and intensity, rhythm is something that can change speed and change itself.
Recently, I realized that I’ve never been able to show up. I don’t mean that I was constantly late or always ended up in the wrong place, that would have been quite cool. Instead, I’ve never been able to reflect (hence project) onto the future something that was already possible, unable to justify or judge in advance.
»Great, you’re« – that’s me – »a guy that approaches the world with caution and respect, a reflected and« –here it comes – »good person«. All this in opposition to naiveté, ignorance, and innocence; but is there a third option that doesn’t sign up to either reason or to some hippie esoteric mumbo jumbo? The act of showing up indicates an exit point, approach or perhaps a closure. To show up is really not easy. Godard said (Not again! Another think-worthy little sentence that makes the arguments untouchable) that there is no »just image«, there is only»just an image«. This depicts the same enigma or dilemma: not a justified, measurable or moral image, but just an image, an image that shows up, without anticipation, expectation, or telos. We are once more facing a twofold quest: how to avoid moralising »just«, and how to avoid a strategic showing up, one informed by economy, affordance and investment.
Godard’s words are the result of a particular political imagination that in many respects is fundamentally different to our current predicament. Showing up is not a matter of liberating ourselves from something; it is not pedagogy but a matter of circumventing imagination in favour of a different process. Orbetter, in favour of a different production, which is notcreative, not attached to imagination (thus to possibility), but instead, relates to potentiality, or better, to AlainBadiou’s notion of »truth procedure«.
Identity politics and the whole package of performativity appear as highly romantic. Sure, Judith Butler and the rest were amazingly important, but perhaps we should start verifying the expiry date of thought, not only of milk. Our societies had a different composition when this stuff was put together. Nowadays performativity is as original as the welfare state was in the 60s and 70s. And don’t we need a movement against us to emancipate us from the shackles of performativity? One could just wonder what the equivalent to Woodstock would be today? For sure not Occupy Wall Street and certainly not the Berlin Biennale, I mean the very idea of a festival or event is obviously totally out of the question. The problem with embodiment (or its negative) is that it takes human consciousness for a given, it’s both anthropo- and logo-centric. The problem is not the body (at least not in a negative sense). The problem is consciousness: a human generalized consciousness and its utmost superiority to anything else. We need to acknowledge that the »semiotization« of both subject and body through performativity coincides with a general movement towards the financialization of the world. The access to this process is semiotics, the financialization of meaning.
At a certain moment performativity carried the capacity of emancipation but today, in a differently configured world it became a big business. I remember when during an MTV gala Robbie Williams said something like: »I want to thank MTV for my three houses, my five cars and my supermodel girlfriend«. It was hilarious, but now it sounds rather lame. He should be giving thanks for his performativity and for its legitimation by another performativity, that of MTV. It is clear that nowadays your most precious property has nothing to do with material things: cars, villas or babes. No, your most precious possession is your subjectivity, with which you participate in the world through performativity.
Nowadays, the interesting problem to engage with is clearly not embodiment. Perhaps, to paraphrase philosopher Graham Harman, the interesting problem today is not the relation between mind and mind, or between body and mind, or mind and body: the real problem is the relation between bodies and bodies. Not only between human bodies, or human bodies to other objects but also, and foremost, the relationships between objects and objects. The first task is how to consider these relations functioning without us and our consciousness. So, no to embodiment and yes to the body, no to the body as viewed from consciousness and yes to the body understood as an object. Moreover an object that has its own consciousness, a consciousness that doesn’t care about whatever consciousness we do or do not have.
Mårten Spångberg (*1968) is a performer, choreographer, artist and writer. Since 1999 he has produced solo and larger scale works, which have toured internationally. He has collaborated with Xavier Le Roy, Tom Plischke, Lynda Gaudreau and Tino Sehgal. He lives in Stockholm.
Filipa Ramos is a critic based in Milan and London.