—on intimacy, writing, body
Where Were We is a grand international festival reflecting the murky world of words and visual arts, voices and voids, poetry and plastik, presence and performance, sounds and scholarly endeavours. Over five days and nights in early December, local and international audiences are invited to take part in a rich programme of readings, interpretations, concerts, conversations, interventions, crossovers, collective recitation and lectures, all on the large black box stage in the former rail freight yard Godsbanen, now a centre for cultural production.
Where Were We is an attempt to focus on a moment of confusion, a pause to ponder where the line of speech—or writing, thinking, remembering—is now heading. A saying, a phrase that spans the lost, intimate inner monologue (where was I?) and a collective context, memory or social body (where were we?). From this central theme of translation and illusory dichotomies between the inner and the outer, the festival questions the intimacy of writing versus voicing as an immediately public, collective function.
Forty-seven renowned artists, poets, performers, conductors and scholars working in what has been coined an expanded field—of words and voice, objects and space, sounds, silence and interference, commentary functioning as poetry, facts becoming cast objects or conductors tuning collective utterances—consider these issues and shape the festival programme.
The festival programme has been devised by Daniela Cascella, Rhea Dall, and Martin Glaz Serup, both in collaboration and as individual programme strands, respectively titled: ‘Inner Voices: Translation, Transmission, Interference’; ‘The Social Body Sounding’; ‘Where’s the Body’.
To hear, read, write, voice, perform inner voices as they’re transmitted, translated, interfered with.
To consider thinking as material, mind as receptacle and mediator of voices and sounds.
To merge ideas into identities, thinking-listening-into-writing, the tangles of intellect, body, intuition. Is writing only ever inscription, or is it not also refraction, reflection, erasure, echo, transmission, arrangement?
There’s writing in silence and writing in non-writing. The Italian essayist, journalist, novelist Pier Vittorio Tondelli wondered in 1987, in his series of Fragments of the Inactive Author about these gaps, about the moments of pause for a writer, those moments when he/she looks back at his/her words and asks: who wrote them? Who spoke to me, through me? What did I hear?
To think of writing as listening to a multiplicity of inner voices even during apparently inactive or silent times; of the circularity and short circuits of writing thinking translating listening reading. These circuits demand attention as much as abandon, activity as much as inactivity, undoing and obsession as much as doing and structure.
To listen to, play with, perform, structure or short-circuit the inner voices that speak or sound in the mind when reading and writing.
It is never only writing—it’s a transmission that channels and merges and is interfered with, and works through residues of before, and moves them, and moves.
I am prompted by Clarice Lispector who sought to write ‘the invisible in the mud’.
Curious about the intermissions of translation as listening.
Prompted by Henri Michaux as he wrote sparrow music, as he wrote silence stoned by thoughts, and longed to write music to question, auscultate, approach the problem of being.
Prompted by the early meaning of psyche—not only as interiority but as air, breath, an element connecting inner states with the sensuous world.
And because sometimes inner voices voice desire, I am prompted by Rainer Maria Rilke’s Malte Laurids Brigge who copies and rewrites books in the library then finds the sense of it all in the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, the sixth mysterious one in the series bearing the inscription ‘À mon seul désir’: ‘To my only desire’.
The American poet Jack Spicer said that no matter what message they receive, ultimately mediums speak in their own accent through their own individual bodies. There is an inextricable tie between body and inner voices and yet at the same time, a deep sense of beyond our selves channelled through them and through us in writing, listening, translating, transmitting. What rhythms, what arrangements move them and frame them? Listen to the whispers, speeches, cries of inner voices; to what is deemed ineffable or inaudible and yet is present when you listen, read, think, translate, perform, write; to what sounds and resounds when you appear to be silent.
To interfere with inner voices, translate them into words, complicate them into other sounds, empty them out.
To leave plots behind and present sounds and poetics of thoughts into words performed, messages distorted, whispers, murmurs, the ineffable, the unnameable, the inaudible, movable entities and ideas into presence: present.
Clarice Lispector, A Breath of Life: ‘I’m writing because I don’t know what to do with myself. I mean: I don’t know what to do with my spirit. The body tells a lot. But I don’t know the laws of the spirit: it wanders.’ … ‘Since I was a child I’ve been searching for the breath of the word that gives life to murmurings’. Between thought and words is ‘a tiny difference of less than a millimeter. Before thinking, then, I’ve already thought.’ … ‘I only use reason as an anesthetic… I therefore turn back to my rich interior nothing.’
Writing, vortex-transmission of inner voices never owned, but echoed and passed on through that ‘rich interior nothing’.
‘And now you give the impression of knowing absolutely nothing’, said one of the voices channelled through Elfriede Jelinek’s Her Not All Her.
Muted reiterations dwell on the changing textures of written unforms.
I cannot quite hear inner voices but in half-guessed disturbances.
Tempted by broken utterance, in spite of dissolution and rarefaction, a sonorous nothing, a stuttering reverb.
Transposed and rearranged, cut through by words and voices that won’t be explained, but transformed and shaped as they expire: in proximity rather than in understanding.
Inner voices outstretched beyond the borders of body to be cast over and over again, an echo of echoes, headed toward transformation and change rather than tracing origin and keeping permanence. And the question is not who I am, but whom a self and its words are cast onto, and how.
Where were we. Where’s the body in art writing and in the expanded field. These are some of the questions that are being explored in this part of the festival’s programme. The conceptualization of art in the expanded field derives from American art historian Rosalind Krauss and her article ‘Sculpture in the Expanded Field’, published for the first time in 1979. Here she succinctly describes a development that had taken place within the arts over decades. The understanding of an expanded field—of the intermedial and interdisciplinary art, potentially without borders, open to its surroundings—picked up momentum with the radical changes within art and the surrounding discourse that appeared from the 1960s onwards. Among many other things, these changes brought about a dismantling of the Modernistic demand for, and intense interest in, the media specificity of the individual artwork. All of a sudden it became an acknowledged possibility to work across different media, genres and traditional divides between the arts.
The Swedish scholar Nils Olsson has written about how the showdown between minimalism and abstract expressionism gave way and space to other aesthetic strategies, such as performance, pop art, process art and conceptual art. Olsson describes how the system of different artistic skills, the idea of mastery, that up until the 60s had had a strictly governing effect of separating the different artistic branches and, de facto, worked as a kind of exclusion mechanism, dissolved. It allowed for different artistic disciplines to merge in an expanded field where an artistic practice, as such, evolved. A more generalized practice where all media, techniques and discourses, in principle, were readily available for artists to use as he, she or they found fit.
And here we are. As a kind of archaeology of the present, of the contemporary, of our now, the performers as presented here; all are intensely occupied with the world that surrounds us or, more accurately maybe, intensely occupied with the language that the world is continually mediated through. But where’s the body—always precarious, vulnerable, sensible—in all this. The language that is being used is affecting the language-using-body in the same way as the body is affecting the language—it does matter where you are and who you are, how you represent and are being represented. As the French scholar Michel Foucault has written, even what you think belongs to the most intimate you, your feelings, your body; they have a history: ‘The body is moulded by a great many distinct regimes; it is broken down by the rhythms of work, rest, and holidays; it is poisoned by food or values, through eating habits or moral laws; it constructs resistances. “Effective” history differs from traditional history in being without constants. Nothing in man—not even his body—is sufficiently stable to serve as the basis for self-recognition or for understanding other men.’
‘Where’s the Body’ will investigate where the body might be in the archives, in the history, in the memory, in the language, in the stone and in the pharmacy, in ideologies and in the poetry reading; in the sound, in the writing. The intimacy. Where’s the literature in the expanded field and where’s the body.
Where’s the Body:
Where Were We is the question one asks when a train of thought is lost in conversation, a colloquial phrase that indicates the indebtedness of an instant to its surrounding timescape. Whether asked during a monologue or a conversation, Where Were We translates as ‘what was I (or what were we) talking about?’ It means, ‘where was my line of thought heading?’ The saying thus evokes the future of a situation through its precedent—carving out a tension, a ‘now’, between its past- and post- reasoning. It marks a productive moment of ‘con-temporality’, the merging of different times, which time-based media artist and festival contributor Gerard Byrne has consistently invoked when reshuffling past-time media manuscripts into current presentations.
Where Were We is also the form of a shop sign and an essay (by visual artist, writer, and speaker at this event, Angie Keefer), of which the latter—beyond generously lending its wording to this festival—discusses the alter-ego of author Stephan Mallarmé as the pseudonymous editor of a fashion magazine called La Dernière Mode, which he published in a series of several issues in the late 1800s. Hence, the title also points to the literary double, the ‘nom de plume’, or the author as the voice for a fashionable (collective or social) body of opinion. Whether uttered in conversation or in text, Where Were We calls the context to its speaker’s or writer’s words. Where Were We directs the personal confusion to a collective outlook: do ‘we’ know ‘where’ the thoughts ‘were’ going? And thus brings into question whether the ‘I’ is not inevitably connected to a moving social body that—as scholar Erin Manning has pointed out, referencing philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari—is always more than one; a notion explored by Guattari Reading Circle’s serial, collective readings, one of which will take place within this festival.
Or is Where Were We ‘just’ a saying, a tonal note to fill a pause with pure non-sense? Whether merely pronouncing a standstill or deliberately halting syntax, as a potential lapse in a greater frame or determined structure, Where Were We indicates a caesura, an indefinite moment, a place of non-sense, of humorous refusal, or of words for no good reason. Yet it is also a moment that is always already being pushed back towards mutual sense-making: grammatically, at least, Where Were We is a fully functional phrase, like the ambiguous line walked by artist, author and contributor to the festival programme, Gerry Bibby, in his recent publication, The Drumhead, through which he extends the ‘language costumes’ of his singular artworks into landscape.
Taken at its ‘face’ value, Where Were We is a factual question concerning placement—it asks what was the actual geographical site visited on a particular day, a particular moment. Where were we when we strolled those streets, produced that particular work or wrote these particular words. Shorten it, and you get w-w-w, an apparent allusion to the World Wide Web, and its re-orientation of the concept of ‘location’ into the results of an explosive virtual reach—a search through and for connectivity in a networked world. In so doing, it points to a web of algorithms to deduce needs, longings, in effect one’s (living) ‘currency’, i.e. the big data created by always signalling ‘where we actually were’. Your phone directed you and traced the secret sidestep you made; someone or something somewhere ‘listened’ to you when you left the festival to swing by a burger joint. A surveillance sophistication incubated throughout the 1960s—when the FBI began monitoring the lives of poets—is discussed by professor of literature and event participant Lytle Shaw, speaking from his new publication on the intimate and in situ (lyrical) utterances that were overheard and recorded.
Yet, at its physical core Where Were We is of course an alliteration: a vortex, casting a first word long, a next word shorter and a last word short, giving language a rhythm. It is an optical rhyme, as well, with a series of elusive e’s, each voiced differently in a syntax that drowns the tongue in a wash of words: Just say it ten times, quickly, and it will become sound, moulding your lips, rounded, as if preparing for a kiss [wɛr wər wi, wɛr wər wi, wɛr wər wi, wɛr wər wi, wɛr wər wi, wɛr wər wi, wɛr wər wi, wɛr wər wi, wɛr wər wi, wɛr wər wi]. Taking a cue from this resonance, ‘The Social Body Sounding’—a programme component of Where Were We—spins into an unruly throng of collective rhythm tying or tied to the singular voice, as unpicked by the participants mentioned above: coined by contributors Will Holder and Alex Waterman (from whom the title ‘The Social Body Sounding’ is borrowed), chanting the American tv-opera-writer Robert Ashley’s communal compositions: ‘texts’ made as collaborations of a larger team; probed by musician Andreas Führer in the borderlands between plain speech and resounding lyrics; or filtered by Angie Keefer speculating on her voice as something other than a means of utterance.
The Social Body Sounding
Guattari Reading Circle
In 2015, I’ve had the pleasure of facilitating three individual masterclasses, hosted by Project Art Writing, over the theme ‘body and intimacy’. The point of departure was the idea that the body is the reservoir of experience that makes the text, as well as the body always being in some way or another the site or vessel of the textual performance. I’ve worked in close collaboration with the invited guest teachers, Steven Zultanski, Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen and Helena Eriksson, who have each presented a new variation on how to teach art writing to the carefully selected participants: 12 artists, writers and performers from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Ireland and the US. The format has been readings, writing exercises and performance exercises: always generating stimulating and surprising discussions and exchanges of ideas. Each masterclass has brought about new perspectives on the body and the intimate—stretching from ideas of how the body is always phantasmagorical in our representations of it; over the performance of marginalized bodies; to intimate re-enactments of lyrics from our favourite music albums; and finally an exploration of the relation between imitation and intimacy, through performances using masks and inventing voices for others.
Over the course of 2015 the participants have been able to engage in a continued dialogue about their individual practices, interests and, from meeting to meeting, new discoveries. Each participant has a specific and wide-spanning practice and the group includes filmmakers, performers, poets, researchers, editors, translators, dancers and sculptors. As a whole, the group has resembled an energetic ant colony, with strong affinities and antagonisms, and over the course of the year, a rare sense of intimacy and trust has emerged within the group, occasionally exploding into hermetic giggles, non-logical experiments and a growing courage to transform even the most banal exercise into a set of challenging responses. Some of the performances presented at Where Were We were sketched out already in the first masterclass and the generous feedback from participants as well as guest teachers has helped these performances to grow and take form. I am curious and excited finally to see the performances on stage in the Saturday and Sunday programme!
body and intimacy
Andreas Vermehren Holm
Naja Lee Jensen
Ditte Lyngkjær Pedersen
Rasmus Brink Pedersen
Roger von Reybekiel