Artist Talk 'Body Space' 101, 2018
Strand Bookstore, NY New York
Presented by Think Olio and Fulbright Scholars
June 1 2018
"I’ve been thinking a lot about the Miles Davis philosophy these days (maybe it’s because it was his birthday May 26 last week):
It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you do not play.
This philosophy of music, or more broadly, this philosophy of presence, embraces the space around a note (what we think of as negative space) as the more dominant element over the presence of the actual note itself.
Indeed, without space around a note, we could not hear music, or sound, or absorb it’s aural presence.
This is contrary to the mainstream notions in our positivist society, which praises & privileges presence, productivity, expression, as continually dominant and more important over what is perceived of as negative space, the background, or maybe even quietude or repose.
I want this Flip to be the departure point for this fast-and-furious introductory lecture to this broad theme ‘Body-Space’ (kind of a life long inquiry of mine) precisely because I want to emphasize our own body’s contextual space first : that is, its relationship to our spatial-ecological-biological supports, before we even begin to talk about the Body.
That is to say, no living body or things exists in isolation, and in particular remains continually supported by // and dependent on its occupied space and use of its environment.
So, in my lectures and classes, I like to have some “lighthouses” or “key words” - some structure
The term living can be understood in terms of contemporary biology, in dealing directly with living organisms.
The current definition of life, which has changed throughout history and is controversial, is as such (summarized from the Oxford Dictionary & Wikipedia 2018):
“Living: The condition that distinguishes animals, plants and other organisms from inorganic matter. The organisms can maintain homeostasis, are composed of cells, undergo metabolism, can grow, adapt to their environment, respond to stimuli, and reproduce.”
To go further, in terms of a meta-physical position, one could also state that all materials or matter have come from previously living things, such as paper, fibers, leather, or pigment. Even plastic, coming from petroleum, is linked to the organic living, ultimately.
All movement is directly related to force, which is directly related to energy. This opens up our discussion to an understanding of living material and matter as an amalgamation of processes of energy.
Furthermore, this means that our understanding of matter and not just living beings is fundamentally relational as opposed to isolated or self-sufficient. All energy is transferred from somewhere else in physics.
I like to call this:
A radical notion of dependency.
This goes back to our understanding of that which is living: Living necessitates an engagement with one’s surroundings and environment: living matter is a circulating and symbiotic process.
Or, to quote an American ecologist and conservationist John Muir, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it attached to everything else in the universe”
I believe that this structure of understanding the world is the basis of what we know today as a school of thought called ‘bio-centrism’
In the last two decades, it has become painfully clear that a positivist, human-centric view of inhabiting the world is becoming untenable and destructive.
***Eileen Gray : brief description of her work / anti machine à habiter / l’architecture vivant
The dystopia of the machine // reliance on the machine
I would like to quote Paul Valery’s Eupalinos, or the Architect, 1921
“This body is an admirable instrument, of which I am sure that those who are alive and who all hav it at their disposal do not make full use…they know not what multitudinous bonds with all things they have in themselves, and of what marvelous substance they are made. And yet it is through this substance that they participate in what they see and what they touch: they are stones, they are trees; they exchange contacts and breaths with the matter that englobes them.”
The body has instrumental agency.
It moves, navigates, it gesticulates, it traverses.
A Living Body, and not just the human body, can thus be understood as an organism that is in continual development, evolution, and interaction with its environment.
The word “le pli”, coming from the Baroque philosophy of Leibniz and reappropriated by Gilles Deleuze, is a helpful visual in understanding this definition of a living body: “the development of the egg, where numerical division is only the condition of morphogenic movements, invagination as an endless pleating.”(Gilles Deleuze, Le Pli: Leibniz et le baroque)
Understanding the body as a continual pleating of biological matter.
This concept I believe relates back nicely to choreographer Lucinda Child’s choreographic score from 1977 depicting group movement in various suites.
I like this idea of a fold, too, because it has something cyclical to it, having to do with usage and refuse, a wild vibration, the idea of materials being cycled back. As opposed to the idea of matter being able to be disposed, which is an impossibility in science and physics.
The idea of a continuum, and again, going back to the void - the negative space - the space that presence takes up.
So let’s interrupt this theoretical programming for a moment with some hard facts. What does it take to support one body in the USA today?
4.4LB of trash per day / 1600 LB of trash per year = equivalent to the weight of an adult cow
Direct use of water 100 gallons of water a day / showers toilets drinking water / suburban lawns
Indirect water footprint of daily food and nourishment is 1000 gallons of water per day (so the water it takes to grow your kale, beer, wine, cheese, steak, pasta, whatever)
*These are facts from National Geographic.com
The drawings to the right by artist Oskar Schlemmer, from 1924, portrays the human figure surrounded by abstract geometry, depicting (to me) a living web of the body orienting itself in space. To me, this drawing is living and vibrating, flux is sort of implied in its dynamism… It makes me wonder what is next for that body, how the web around it will evolve…
The influential German biologist Jakob Von Uexküll, as he details in his Umwelt theory states that all living organisms “cut out the vital circle which suits them in the same way that we cut out figures on a sheet of paper.”
Umwelt is an established biological theory that is accepted in the scientific field, but has recently been more of interest in literature, art criticism and philosophy.
This image to me, of an organism cutting out its life from the fabric of the universe, is so powerful.
The Umwelt theory, which roughly translates to environment, essentially states that all living being’s vital circles (or their bodies) are subjectively carved out of their relationship with the environment, and no single living thing’s Umwelt is the same as another living thing’s Unwelt.
So, the ant’s Umwelt that lives in my living room and my Umwelt are entirely different, even though we are inhabiting the same space.
This theory also implies that the act of creating one’s “vital circle” is also an act of violence of some sort, of choice, of cutting the fabric of the universe.
To me, the Umwelt theory is radical because it is almost existential; to live also means that you are choosing your vital circle, and I think it is in this choice that the individual and collective future lies.
An almost Sartre like notion of living “Man / Woman is condemned because she is free”
Which brings us to the idea of orientation -> as a foundational link between the notion of Body and the notion of Space.
As art critic / philosopher Christophe Kihm recently wrote for a text accompanying a suite of my drawings :
“Orientation precedes movement. To orient oneself is to direct a movement, without necessarily having to correspond to a destination.
L’orientation précède le mouvement. S’orienter ne signifie pas aller quelque part en particulier, mais opérer un mouvement sans nécessairement rejoindre un but ou un objectif.
In ethology, the distinction that is established between orientation and navigation highlights the absence of a precondition for orientation, while navigation strictly depends on the choice of a goal.
La distinction qu’établit l’éthologie entre orientation et navigation souligne l’absence de principe préalable au fait de s’orienter, dont dépendrait le choix d’une direction.
We could consider, therefore, that orientation is not the contrary to getting lost. Perhaps, even, the actions of getting lost and finding one’s way are both folded into the act of orientation.
On peut, dès lors, considérer que s’orienter n’est pas le contraire de s’égarer ou de se perdre. Peut-être, même, ne marque-t-on pas de différence entre se perdre et se retrouver lorsqu’on s’oriente.”
I have been thinking a lot about orientation these days; as a kind of permanent contemporary condition now, as a zeitgeist both mentally and physically.
Orientation as directly linked to body-space in the cosmos; heliotropic plants that orient themselves to the sun, architectural orientations of space in relation to sun and moon, orientation as a means of listening to the environment
Orientation as a sort of freedom and allowance to get lost, to take up space that is not pre-determined, but that listens to the moment and responds.
In a highly digital and surveillanced world, it may be useful to go back to the fact of the body and its spatial orientation.
Yvonne Rainer’s ‘NO’ manifesto (very catchy and well written) was not necessarily radical because of its content “NO to spectacle no to virtuosity no to transformation and magic…” but I think because her work had the capacity to fully explore the presence of the body in a factual way. Her famous piece Trio A stripped away the perfectionism of ballet, the spirituality of Isadora Duncan, the emotiveness of Martha Graham (her teacher!) and tried to “mise en valeur” place in its value the body as fact: The body in balance; the frailty of the body; the gravity of the body
I would argue that now, in 2018, though, it is the very facts, the very biological facts of our bodily existence and our spatial dependencies that could be spiritual, radical and transformative.
In fact, not so different from the paradigm shift that Copernicus’ Heliocentric (waited til death bed, blasphemous) view of the universe endowed upon modern history, I do believe that a paradigm shift of the human body’s place in relation to and our use of its living space will be and is a key to our navigation of the future.