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daily chronicle

Are we losing words?

By Claudia Galhós

 Here, let me show you!

I have no words to describe it.

You have to see it for yourself.

You had to be there to know what it is like.

Time goes by in a flash. And in the context of a project like TryAngle, the quantity and quality of information, discussion, actions, questions, knowledge… is being exchanged in a vertiginous velocity. It is not just that the projects, experimentations and ideas are almost as much and as diverse as the twenty artists involved. Sometimes they seem to be even more. And when you add to this so rich equation a dense and inspirational lecture from a ‘zap visitor‘ – in this case was Janez Janša (artist, writer, performer and director of interdisciplinary performances), who is with the group only for a couple of days followed by one hour of intense discussion – at the end of the day there comes the temptation of resorting to an easy way out. Which would be to refuse the effort of trying to find words to talk about all that has happened by writing “there are no words to describe it”, or “here, let me show you”. So, lets just consider a topic that also has been around in the last days in Tanzhaus.

How many times and in which circumstances one person finds himself saying: there are no words to describe it? This comes up very often in TV news, when there is a report on an extreme event, either happy or tragic. We tend associated this kind of responses more with supposed “normal people” that are reacting to something that had an intense impact on them and are supposed not to have enough vocabulary to answer otherwise.

But lets be honest, it is not only in that context that this happens. Internet is the most powerful and complete source of material to support this easy way out. In the process, the practice of vocabulary, its richness, varied texture and nuance, is threatened. But even when describing such a spirit of time, it doesn’t mean that avoiding all images, and all alternative media of communication besides words, is the right thing to do.

So, here is the paradox: On one hand, there is the defence of an abstract language. The defence of a poetic, ambiguous, metaphoric or symbolic way of expression, that escapes a directive, reductive, linear, simple word formulation. This is the case of an abstract or conceptual dance, for example. On the other hand there is the trap of the dictatorship of image, where no matters where you are going, the path you are taking, it means avoiding the challenge of having to find words. It means escaping the trouble of dealing with a difficulty. In this sense, we are loosing words. Which means we are losing the variety and richness of the verbal language. And the alternative is: here, I show you. And then you show. You show (or you upload) photos, videos, sounds, music. And this showing takes the place of written text. And you may even add a brief comment: YOU HAVE TO SEE IT!

There are always words to describe it – this is the truth. Or there are always words to express impressions that can even go beyond the idea of description. But avoiding the task of putting something into words should be questioned in this mediatised society, where things have a tendency to be reduced to, or expanded into, an image.

And in this reasoning, there is a spirit of time that has been challenged by artists in TryAngle. Is always a place of contamination, but also a place that is finding his way to overthrow the resistances, protections and walls. So, at the end is not just about the need for artists to have a substantiated articulation of their work. It is about integrating in their artistic research – or even in the very first beginning of improvisational process – an exposure of fragility that is at the level of the discourse, the thematic or content of what is experimented. So, in that phase of inquiry, this fragility is not only expressed through the body and/or action. This is not even about critical discourse, in a time where objective, exterior thought concerning a work of art is more and more rare.

André Lepecki (curator, dramaturg, writer, Associate Professor in Performance Studies at New York University) pointed this out in a lecture about “My History of Dance“ in Forum Dança (Lisbon), in the beginning of 2012. The articulation of ideas through speech is becoming lost, if we accept this line of thought. This means also a kind of impoverished use of lexicon.

In this reasoning, going to that place of sharing images, ideas, possibilities, verbalising doubts and rough thoughts for a starting creative process is putting oneself at risk. And there can be different degrees for that exposure of vulnerability mixed with effort. It can be giving yourself available to somebody else’s questions, being able to answer a mixture of personal and artistic questions, as Cécile Martin was proposing with her “Flying” project. But is even more grateful when as a result of that first challenge – initiated by Cecile -, someone decides to incorporate that risk as a strategy to interrupt a practice that become a kind of method on how to approach a new artistic experiment. And poetically but concretely enough, there was this proposal of a technical set up installed in a studio, as an usual way of working, but which was deconstructed by the decision of inviting people to join in order for to exercise a different way of starting.

So this is Jan Machacek. He is an artist from Vienna. He was working in a technical apparatus with fans, with propellers painted in white. Connected to one of them there is a video camera. When he decides, the camera films and projects faces, in real time, in the frame of the fans. Of course, writing this is reducing what it is and what it can become. Susan Sontag expressed this concern in her 1966 text “Against Interpretation”. Jan, then, was proposing a set up that created the possibility of something unknown to emerge. This set up contains the technological elements, but contains also the first thoughts about the story he wants to use as content. And at 4p.m. the group of artists was listening to him. This was how he started:

“I usually do a technical set up and play with it. I would say that when I started in performance, ten years ago, I worked with very intuitive personal stories that I told with the performance. I feel now that after these years my personal stories have all been told. And if not, they are not as much interesting to me. So, I try to get into some kind of story telling which is more about issues concerning aspects of living in society. But the way I work – which is actually what I would like to question – is doing a set up, and maybe having some thoughts in mind, or some kind of vague idea of what I want to tell. The question is that going into the machinery is very much about creating images, which become hopefully quite beautiful images. This way my performances somehow have quite the structure and the length of the images. Most of the time more they turn out to be a kind of music video clip that has 3 to 5 minutes of duration. The reason for this, I think, is because I am always looking for the next beautiful image. A beautiful image for me is something that can be a distorted image. Is more about strong image, about intensity… And in that next triggering image the storytelling emerges. So, images tell the story. This time I want to tell share a topic that touches me, which I think should be the guiding line for my next piece. After, I show you this technique, or set up, that I did, because I think somehow this two lines of work develop together. But the tendency until now was to leave the content aspect behind.”

And then Jan Machacek went on talking about the content of his idea, answering question and exchanging opinions.