© Fiona Wright, 2003, Department of Visual and Performing Arts Nottingham Trent University, firstname.lastname@example.org
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 speakers 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:
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
I was DANCING:
I was dancing, repeating a movement I have been starting and stopping for years.
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.
thinking about looking for dancing.
In Unwinding Kindergarten Matthew Goulish considers dancing and copying:
[standing to side with microphone on stand]
Beginning with the TITLE:
He was asking:
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 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 speakers 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.
Other questions that surface:
the body on screen crawling]
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.
I am thinking about starting to dance.
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 elses work from 40 years ago. We think of her as a filmmaker who used to be a dancer.
[rewinding and re-playing video]
Performance question one:
Performance question two:
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 Taziyeh, 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.
Not for the first time, I am fascinated by a performance I have not seen. I imagine watching it and not crying.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In Camera Lucida Roland Barthes describes his response to having his photograph taken:
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.
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.
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.
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 OReilly, as performance usher, watches, witnesses, every moment.
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.
The video itself is like another mirror.
[sitting on chair, facing the projection screen]
edit 1 (4 mins)
Performance question one:
Performance question two:
On dancing bodies and copying Pina Bausch, Matthew Goulish writes:
The two basic questions that he asks at the end of Unwinding Kindergarten are:
[watching the video playing to the end the video performer ends the presentation]
Barthes, Roland 1977 Image Music Text. London: Fontana Press.
Goulish, Matthew 2000 39 microlectures: in proximity of performance. London, New York: Routledge
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
Marshall, Lee 2003, 14th July, People Watching The Guardian Arts pages: 14-15
Ziering Kofman, Amy & Dick, Kirby dir. 2003 Derrida the Movie