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PARIP 2003



department of visual and performing arts
nottingham trent university
slowly kissing down with tears: a performance papaer

© Fiona Wright, 2003, Department of Visual and Performing Arts Nottingham Trent University,


This ‘performance paper’ presents the live event of the artist standing up to show a video of herself performing — negotiating the ease and awkwardness of the act of finding a place to perform herself, next to her own performing screen/video image; simultaneously presenting the live and the recorded presence. The video is a short edited document of the solo performance piece, …kneeling down softly/And what is something to cry about then; (a Tramway & Arnolfini Live Commission 2002) with camera and edit by Lucy Baldwyn. It is in two short parts, edit 1 and edit 2, underlining the impossibility of one single version of the work. The use of a split-screen, provides a further multiplying and mirroring of bodies.

The written and performed ‘talk’ seeks to foreground the event of the ‘paper’. It emphasises the connection of the material to the practice and memory of live performance and the fact of the presence of the speaker’s body as it is seen and heard by the symposium audience. The presentation has developed out of ongoing work concerned with the use of writing as documentation of performance. The piece touches on ideas about:

  • the academic body/the body of the academic
  • other versions and knowledges
  • the uncertain status of documentation
  • notions of ‘performance writing’

Fiona Wright (b. London 1966) has been making primarily solo performance since the late 1980s, working through choreography, writing and installation, developing an approach that is inevitably personalised yet deliberately unconfessional. Some of her recent pieces, including the small stolen dances series, have been performed for an audience of just one or two at a time. The work is driven by a fascination with the image of the lone figure and the uncertainties and possibilities of intimacies in performance. She is also a lecturer, previously with the Contemporary Arts course at Nottingham Trent University and recently at the Dance & Visual Art course at Brighton University. Her current research is also concerned with writing and issues around practices of documentation, forming a PhD study at Nottingham Trent University, which will include practice as submission (working title: Other versions of an uncertain body: writing towards an account of a solo performance practice)


slowly kissing down with tears: a performance paper Fiona Wright

[play video]
[perform extract of “end dance” facing audience]
[sitting on chair facing projection screen, with microphone]


I was dancing, repeating a movement I have been starting and stopping for years.

I was dragging my own body weight measured in salt, breathing hard and sweating.
I was jumping backwards, copying the postures in Muybridge’s Man Performing Standing Broad Jump sequence.
I was falling, and gasping, pretending that I was a woman in an imaginary Muybridge photograph.
I was rolling, using a movement that I had taught myself when I studied a documentary about a journey made by an Indian Sadhu who rolled 4000 km, accompanied by his chanting followers.
I was crawling, with a mirror in my mouth, averting my eyes.
I was brushing salt out of the grazes on my knees, especially the right knee, which was bleeding slightly.
I was dancing, wearing pink shoes that I cannot walk in.
I was performing the ‘quivering bird movement’, an imitation of a movement performed by Mark Jeffery from the second time we performed together, when he performed without his glasses, so he did not see that I had been copying him, until he watched the video weeks later.

The first time we performed together we made a duet during which I would attempt, gently, to restrain Mark from throwing himself repeatedly onto his knees on the concrete surface of our performance site. I remember standing behind the chair, leaning over his shoulder, rocking his weight side to side and then, slowly, carefully, taking his hand and removing the ring from his finger with my teeth. This was a copy of Mark taking off his ring with his own teeth. Over the years, in performance, I have often returned to taking a ring off my own finger with my teeth, getting sore knees and re-inventing the ‘quivering bird movement’. These days he looks up towards the sky more than he used to. I know the feeling. He throws himself around differently now too, and he does wear contact lenses when performing so that he can see where he is going and who is copying him.

I am thinking about looking for dancing.
Where does the movement come from?

In Unwinding Kindergarten Matthew Goulish considers dancing and copying:

Insoluble Problem of Dance 4: Counterfeit
In our search for a usable past we find ourselves dancing a copy of what we love and failing to revive it.
But in this exercise we make 4 discoveries.
Discovery 1: we are and must remain counterfeit.
Discovery 2: in order to appear legitimate, which we also must do, we must imitate with extreme precision. In doing so we learn that precision in itself is of value.
Discovery 3: our failure to overtake the object of our imitation produces a hybrid. This hybrid is ourselves.
Discovery 4: without imitation there is nothing. (Goulish 2002: 103)

[standing to side with microphone on stand]

Beginning with the TITLE:

He was asking:

“So, how is it going then, this ‘slowly kissing down with tears’…?”
The question trailed off into an invented version of the long title of my latest solo work in process. The interested question re-named the work, giving me back another description of the performance I was making, opening up a new picture through alternative words and images.

From the Abstract:

The video is a short edited document of the solo performance piece, …kneeling down softly/And what is something to cry about then; (originally a Tramway and Arnolfini Live co-commission 2002) with camera and edit by Lucy Baldwyn. The running time is approximately 12 minutes and it is in two short parts, edit 1 and edit 2, underlining the idea of the impossibility of one single version of the work. The use of a split-screen in edit 2 suggests a further multiplying and a kind of mirroring of bodies.

The video was a way of recording some of what was happening.
This writing is a way of recording some of what is happening.
The presentation of the video and the writing together is a way of moving towards and away from the work I have been making.

The ‘performance paper’ presents the live event of the artist standing up to show a video of herself performing – negotiating the ease and the awkwardness of the act of finding a place to perform herself, beside herself, next to, her own performing video image on screen. The performance of the paper seeks to emphasise the fact of the presence of the speaker’s body as it is seen and heard by an audience. The proposal of a spoken ‘talk’ was a way of placing the written ‘paper’ alongside the playing of the video recording, and to foreground this as an event; an embodied act of documentation. A presentation. Another representation.

There is the question of dissemination; to scatter about, to sow in various places.
There is the question of reflection; ideas and reconsiderations.
Perhaps an artwork can already be described as “some form of disseminable ‘reflection’”; something that is about something else, instead of something else. Another way of telling, elsewhere. Telling versions of a thinking body. Other versions of an uncertain body; and context is everything.

Other questions that surface:

When I wrote the abstract, what did I mean by “the practice and memory of live performance”?
Can I write about this by writing about something else?

[watching the body on screen crawling]
[pouring handfuls of salt from pocket onto the floor]
[rolling, jumping, standing again]

Questions about Dancing:

She asks me a question: “Have you started dancing yet?” I ask: “Do you mean, when does the dancing begin?”

I am thinking about beginning to dance.

When does the dancing begin? Where does the dancing begin? How to locate the origin of a movement. We notice how the reach of a hand seems to begin in the shoulder and can be felt much further away. The arms, depending how I look at them, seem barely attached to the main skeleton, but are at the same time bound onto the body from deep inside the lower torso. Is the dancer standing up or lying down? What happens as the dancer tries to source the movement will depend on the organisation of her body in space.
Where is the movement coming from?

I am thinking about starting to dance.

The moment when someone gets up to perform, however informal the situation, is to some extent, a moment of formality, somehow set aside. Someone appears to make a move from the functional, to the stylised; a new task. They are beginning a different moment and it seems to matter. Drawing our attention with a different kind of performing. This can be observed in movies, not necessarily in the Musical genre, where someone steps forward and gives a performance, a ‘number’, and, usually, we are watching an audience watching.

Becky Edmunds is asking me a question about dancing. She is making a documentary. We are questioning dancing.

I was watching Yvonne Rainer speaking about dancing. She would often break off to demonstrate from memory a fragment of someone else’s work from 40 years ago. We think of her as a filmmaker who used to be a dancer.

We watch her speak about reconstructing Trio A (originally performed as The Mind is a Muscle in 1966). She starts dancing, quickly pointing to a moment in the choreography to illustrate how it was constructed to constantly avert the gaze of the performer, or to emphasise that the continuous, un-modulated movements should be performed “with a lack of attack”.
You often have to deal with the actual weight of your body.
You have to deal with this body and all the dancing and not dancing it has seen.
She had stopped dancing.
She was asking questions about dancing.
She was asked questions about not dancing.
She had returned to dancing, she was asked to.
She has started dancing again.

[rewinding and re-playing video]

Performance question one:

How much salt can a body carry outside of itself? – that is, beyond itself?
I decide to work with shifting my own body weight in salt.
Approximately 54kg.
(How to sweat that much salt?)
(How to cry that much salt?)
When I lie on the floor and close my eyes I can see a child version of my-self, laid on top of my body. This smaller self would weigh about half this amount of salt.

Performance question two:

How much salt is carried inside a body?
Approximately: 250g
A salt cellar full. A pocket full.
(How to sweat that much salt?)
(How to cry that much salt?)

Watching Watching:

In the photograph, the bodies on the screens appear to be mainly in close-up, mostly faces, eyes, watching, looming larger than life looking down onto the performers and the surrounding audience. The bodies, some on horseback, are performing the traditional popular play in the middle of the space. The bodies of the present audience are watching the faces projected all around the space as they, in turn, watch the live action of the play.

The newspaper article describes the performance of the Ta’ziyeh, a kind of passion play, directed by the filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, that takes place in a hexagonal, open-air theatre in Rome. Images of an Iranian village audience, recorded as they watched a previous performance of this production are projected onto six large screens surrounding the live action in the centre, which the live audience are watching.

This edited film version of the first audience shows people becoming increasingly emotional as the Islamic tragedy, a depiction of the martyrdom of Hussein, progresses “and eyes begin to fill with tears. One woman sobs uncontrollably… men rock, head in hands, or beat their breasts in grief.”
“We watch the play, and a version of ourselves.” comments the reviewer. (Marshall 2003)
Kiarostami states: “It comes down to innocence: the innocence of the Iranian spectator, of his reaction … and the innocence of western audiences, who feel inadequate when confronted with that type of reaction to the very same show that they are watching.”
Kiarostami has framed and multiplied documentary evidence of another possible experience of and response to the play.
Watching someone else’s eyes crying might make you think of your own eyes watching.

Not for the first time, I am fascinated by a performance I have not seen. I imagine watching it and not crying.


Beginning again:

Notes at close quarters: excerpts (second edit):

The bag contains 54kg of table salt, about as heavy as my adult, naked, then, thirty-six year-old body has ever been. The length of red carpet stretches across the space. An audience of only two people at a time enter and sit on chairs at either end of the carpet. I am performing in between them and directly in their line of sight, my proximity to them constantly shifting as I travel towards and away from the seats that they occupy at the far ends of the performance space.

The performance lasts approximately twenty minutes and is repeated for each new audience of two people, over three hours across three consecutive nights. In total 54 people see this version as audience. The deadweight of the salt is emptied onto the carpet at each repetition; the bag becomes lighter each time I perform. The changing effort of dragging the diminishing weight alters the movement. The original action that formed that moment in the performance begins to disappear, taken over by the new task of re-filling the bag. I scoop the pile of salt back into the bag in impossible, dusty handfuls. The white grains are lost on the carpet and spread around me, constantly rearranged by my movements. The mass of the salt becomes split in two, the large white smudges marking the red carpet as visible traces, forming small temporary landscapes, almost beginning to meet in the streaks, footprints and swirls towards the centre. I see myself working on two salt drawings instead of trying to move the singular object of my body weight measured in salt.

Days later, in the seminar, I hold up one of the pink shoes. I demonstrate how I look over my shoulder at the audience by holding the open compact mirror in my mouth and they can look back, seeing only a single eye reflected in the small circle of mirror. I do not get down on my hands and knees here. The postcards provide some other kind of evidence, giving information but revealing little. I mention that there was no spoken text and that I chose not to give the audience the use of the opera glasses this time. We do not discuss pillars of salt nor the saltiness that passes through our bodily membranes but I do show them the deep graze now healing on my knee. Sore knees, a strange memento.

The seminar becomes a documentary act where I tell about the performance events, reflecting on a performance at close quarters, looking (back) at recent experience and already getting some distance on it. I give accounts that seem to detail events and I make many conscious omissions. I repeat myself.

Writing about making and performing. Describing and documenting – and archiving? I say I have only just begun to use the word.
Still making the work, re-tracing my steps. It is still happening, in process, nearby, localised, within reach, close to the body and the body of the work itself. Another kind of practice, which this same body, writing this, sometimes does (and did sometime, in some other place). Mapping out some of the functions of remembrance. Writing other bodies into this throughout. Writing part(s) of my own history into this, yet resisting a linear, chronological (auto) biography of the artist and the apparent ‘object’ of her process. A body of texts, which are inevitably personalised and yet deliberately unconfessional and, of course, knowingly, purposefully incomplete. I repeat myself.

In making and studying performance we are approaching the question of memory and the re-telling. As Mike Pearson emphasises, we work to “find a ‘way of telling’ about it which has personal and communal currency” (Pearson 1998: 41). In his essay Memory and Forgetting, Paul Ricoeur usefully describes the “exercise of memory” as “an exercise in telling otherwise” (Ricoeur 1999).

Performance and writing are connected by the body and uncertainty. I say I am looking through, rather than at the idea of solo performance. To approach live performance works, that of my own, or other artists’ as objects of criticism engenders uncertainty and uneasiness. This ambivalent, critical eye is an interested, fascinated audience, which scrutinises the body of the artist moving through space and working through time. The study of the life of a work or the body of the artist that made it seems to be both a process of ‘othering’ and a process of citation.

In her book Body Art: Performing the Subject, Amelia Jones articulates an understanding of particularised bodies, bodies being unveiled and issues that surface, in pursuit of the idea of an interested, subjective, and perhaps embodied mode of art criticism. Particular, unveiling and surfacing. I recognise these words. I use them, though often differently.

I make a new move towards an articulation of the ideas. Another version. A snapshot of where the work is at now and how the work is doing. A picture of a moment in the research. The image of a body —a body which moves between knowing and not knowing, and is also knowing about this. Returning to remembering I find ephemera and reminders. Some are deliberate acts of preservation and memorialisation. Most are incidental and inevitable relics, which I cannot help but leave behind. Adding to the collection, for now; approximate and ambivalent. A sort of archive that is resisting itself and becoming an event itself.

Monica Ross remarks on the museum’s failure to “recognise event as art, or art as event” and our disappointment at the inadequacy of the established systems of preservation. She asks:

“What are we ourselves mourning here? The lost object of a unique performance? Or a desire for a transformation of our museum traditions?” (Ross 1999).

[dusting off salt]
[sitting on chair with microphone]

Watching Yourself:

In a small cinema is the image of Jacques Derrida watching a video of himself watching a video of himself. The footage shows Derrida watching a scene where we see him with his wife Marguerite as they are filmed together on a sofa, answering questions about the beginning of their relationship. They met because she was the sister of his friend, in 1953 they were on a ski-ing trip; but when asked to they are unable to describe the moment when they first saw each other. They stall and become shy of the camera. It is not as if they cannot remember, it is as if they cannot say. The scene becomes personal, intimate. But there is no confession. There is no revelation and yet it is revealing.

The frame of the cinema screen frames the image of Derrida watching a television screen, which again frames the picture of him watching the same moment previously. As we watch him watching himself, he tells the camera that he likes this scene very much, although he says he cannot remember it happening. The image of frames inside frames is multiplied by his re-watching of the scene. The film crew are recording his enjoyment of seeing this image of himself and Marguerite and their inability to give away these memories of a young love. It is their private life and it is touching to see them keeping it to themselves. It is a memorable scene in a documentary that shows the camera following Derrida — walking down the street, eating his breakfast at home, travelling, lecturing in public and answering questions on love, forgiveness and secrets.

Allowing documentary.
Resisting biography.
Archive Fever seems to be everywhere now.

[standing to side]
[undressing and speaking]
[rewinding video and re-playing]
[re-dressing while speaking]

Artist Talks:

In Camera Lucida Roland Barthes describes his response to having his photograph taken:

I instantaneously make another body for myself, I transform myself in advance into an image (10)…I don’t know how to work upon my skin from within (11)…I am truly becoming a specter (14)…For me the noise of Time is not sad: I love bells, clocks, watches (15). (Barthes 1993)

The artist can show an audience the video document, the evidence of her performance work and simultaneously pretend that her own body is not in the room.

How do I watch myself? Shall I watch myself — or not? Sit or stand — in front of or next to the picture? Will I watch vaguely or purposefully? Scrutinise interestedly — gazing or glancing?
I have tried sitting next to or almost on stage with the projected screen image, arranging myself beside myself.
I remember just turning the video on and sitting in the audience to watch with them, as if I was one of them.
Last year I met some people I know who had seen the video in another time zone, when I was not there at all.
I can copy myself and become more of me. I am inclined to get naked live in response to an audience watching me get naked on screen. What happens to the artist’s naked video body? What is the difference?

The video body, or this body? A smaller or larger body? A second, or even a third body? Remember talking about a sense of body-memories triggered when watching ‘video’ me (me on the video) moving, remembering a movement “…as if its just to the side of me or something” she said. Watching the audience as they see their own bodies “arranged around the edges of the picture” I said.

I decide that I will write the paper to be read off the page and that only the physical actions and dances will address the event of the presentation and speak to the live audience directly.

I decided to make the video and have the video made as a way of looking at some questions and assumptions around how visual modes of representation are used in documenting performances. I wondered about somehow resisting the apparent conventions, so I engaged in the process. A video piece that functions primarily to record the live event of that performance work at that time, yet also become transformed in response to the material as it is edited and becomes changed as it transfers onto this other mode and different way of seeing.

Generally, I cannot look easily at my video image. This time I find myself with a video of the performance that I can, after all, watch. Our pictures often seem to us to be too much and not enough. We look at the inadequacy and inaccuracy, looking for the discovery and unexpected pleasure of images. Writing about the operations of representation Peggy Phelan notes:

Representation follows two laws: it always conveys more than it intends; and it is never totalizing. The “excess” meaning conveyed by representation creates a supplement that makes multiple and resistant readings possible. Despite this excess, representation produces ruptures and gaps; it fails to reproduce the real exactly. (Phelan 1993: 2)

The video itself seems at first to track the performance in ‘real time’, but it does not follow the sequence of events. It traces an outline of the performance and selects example moments but the live work was twice the length. It is intentionally incomplete and deliberately partial. I notice that there is a whole section of movement gone.

What is missing from the final edits?
Am I starting to forget?
Is this a memento?
Is this a deliberate relic?

The video itself is a record of our work on it. Making it is full of repetition. Rehearsing and practising movements. Performing the piece live for two people at a time, again and again, night after night. Repeating it one more time at the beginning of the night, at the end of the night, for Lucy and the camera. Kira O’Reilly, as performance usher, watches, witnesses, every moment.

We watch the ‘rushes’, first edits and then Lucy goes on to edit, watching for hours and days. The work goes away from me.
Watching it again and again to write about it – is this video writing? – a document of a document.
The split-screen repeats the picture - showing different views and different takes of the same actions, performed differently.

The video itself reminds me of the sound of being in the performance. There is little sound to speak of, but it somehow sounds like the performance was. I recognise it, like an echo – it works on my memory – I can see and hear the time of the performance or the general field of that experience.

Lucy has talked about following with the camera and a sense of erasure when thinking back on the editing process.

The video itself is like another mirror.

I see the mirror filling my mouth.
I notice salt sticking to and falling off skin.
I am moving slowly, softly - you can’t see me now – I disappear.
We say that we can see white salt marking a red carpet, as a kind of inversion or negative of blood marking a white wall or white sand.
I see a new version, salt drawing, wearing a new red suit, marked by white stains, my body weight in salt again, an audience of one. I am thinking about making another performance as I watch it.
And here I am, waiting for myself trying to catch up and meet myself, on the split-screen. I see a material reference to the work of the camera and edit – a pause, frozen, held still in time for a moment (I like this bit very much, my ‘favourite part’, something melancholy, something touching is here.)

[sitting on chair, facing the projection screen]

.25 edit 1 (4 mins)
chair, handprint,title,title,stills, carpet
.55 stills: kneel, crawl, jump, mirror
1.15 crawling
1.29 rolling (sadhu)
1.34 jump, begin, clean carpet, (creaking), crouch, hit
2.30 naked, falling, (overhead shots), rolling
3.07 pink shoes on clean carpet, quivering bird hands
3.39 filling bag, stills, shoes etc, filling bag, knees, skin, slow
4.38 edit 2 (8 mins)
split screen
6.30 jump & more close ups, drag
7.28 falling, standing (out of synch)
8.10 right hand screen freezes (favourite part), stopping
8.49 both bodies crawl naked with mirror in mouth
9.24 (out of synch, again) both bodies rolling
10.15 brushing salt off
10.55 end dance begins,
11.36 close mirror
12.32 end credits
14.29 black screen

Performance question one:

“Have you started dancing yet?”

Performance question two:

Have you started theorising yet?

On dancing bodies and copying Pina Bausch, Matthew Goulish writes:

Cue the tape at a random point.
In that first moment when the image assembles itself and we recognize it, we never see only one thing happening.
Before the mind makes its decisions, we see the differences, irreconcilable, we see the bodies, the familiar and strange activities, we see a multiple image that aggregates into this: something funny at which we fail to laugh.
Let us say this phenomenon has its roots in bodiness, and accept this aspect of the dancer’s material: imperfectibility. (Goulish 2002: 95)

The “two basic questions” that he asks at the end of Unwinding Kindergarten are:

“Why does the dancer start dancing?
Why does the dancer stop dancing?”
The last two answers on the list that fills the page are:
“The dancer starts dancing because the audience wants her to, and she agrees.
The dancer stops dancing because she does not want to overstay her welcome.” (Goulish 2002: 107)

[watching the video playing to the end – the video performer ends the presentation]


Barthes, Roland 1977 Image Music Text. London: Fontana Press.

1993 Camera Lucida. London: Vintage

Goulish, Matthew 2000 39 microlectures: in proximity of performance. London, New York: Routledge

2002 Unwinding Kindergarten Performance Research 7 (4): 92-107

Jones, Amelia 1998 Body Art: Performing the Subject Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press

Pearson, Mike 1998 My Balls/Your Chin Performance Research Vol. 3 No. 2: 35-41

Phelan, Peggy 1993 Unmarked: the politics of performance London & New York, Routledge

Ricoeur, Paul 1999 ,Memory and Forgetting. In: Questioning Ethics. R. Kearney and M. Dooley, eds., Routledge

Ross, Monica 1999 Just for now (and then)…some notes on time and event Performance Research Vol. 4 No. 3 (no pagination)

Wright, Fiona 2002 uncertain bodies: fragments Performance Research 7 (4): 88-91

2002 Notes at close quarters: fragments/early version (first edit) Contemporary Theatre Review Vol.12, Part 4: 37-41

Marshall, Lee 2003, 14th July, People Watching The Guardian Arts pages: 14-15

Ziering Kofman, Amy & Dick, Kirby dir. 2003 Derrida the Movie

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