Review On embodiment and agency
What is the relation between the body and the space that it occupies? The space of action, and the space of the realisation of the self. The fixed and heavily regulated space of the city, and the mutable space of interpersonal communication and desire. This idea formulated in my mind during the (official and unofficial) Amsterdam Dance Event 2016, and became distilled with 4Bid Gallery’s latest Highs and Lows #19 (27/10/2016). One of OT301’s public spaces, 4Bid Gallery’s programme is becoming more eclectic. It showcases high quality work in a versatile space with good technical support; and it is also a critically engaged space that places emphasis on dialogue, exploration and feedback.
Kevin Trappeniers’ film Cone (2011) zooms into two naked bodies lying across an undefined floor. Pressed together at shoulder hight and hiding their heads, their outlines create each other’s reflection. It is as if we enter a kaleidoscope and see a fractal piece. Could it be that these bodies fuse and mirror each other as much as they mirror us? Cone explores the visuality of movement and the sculptural qualities of film. The camera traces the movement of a naked and carefully staged body against the lights and shadows of its reflection; a body that shifts between substance and immateriality. We are immersed in this image projected on a wide screen in a dark room, and the beat of the soundtrack physically resonates in our own body.
Yet there is an alienating feeling that what we witness is the body of the other: an other, already abstracted body set against and trapped behind the camera lens. A faceless body oscillating between the three-dimensionality of the corporeal and its disembodied image, structured by the camera frame and placed under the purview of the spectator.
The body carries an image of ourselves as much as it carries the image of another. This does not only refer to seeing what we are, but also to realising the ideas that the body embodies, the space it occupies and the communication it actualises. Would, then, the collapse of the frame entail the collapse of the body and of the self?
Rosalie Wahlfrid’s Rosco 2x2m and Småland negotiate the relations across the frame, the body, the self and the other. The first is a solo dance piece within a square defined by an overhead spotlight. A breathing body reaches out and expands in space. It is swayed by the force of its weighing materiality, but it is also wilfully re-directed with precision. And there is more than that: there is a shadow. Two-dimensional, mute and monochrome, the shadow becomes the body’s collapse, marking its limits. But this exploration of the corporeal can also be read in reverse: the shadow that rises and becomes embodied.
Småland further explores presence, absence and embodiment. A well composed film, it presents three frames set in a row, and three different takes. Even when their contents are the same, our view is already displaced. These poetics of framing are craftily interwoven with whispers and other bodily sounds. A woman is knocking on the camera lens set up as a glass door behind which we are trapped, searching for someone. In the next frame, clothes in an emptied bathtub move and turn, gaining a body of their own. In this way, Wahlfrid’s works juxtapose the space of the body – a space of confinement but also a site where the body can emerge and stand its ground – with that which remains in its absence: the vastness of the frozen wilderness that surrounds us, disengagement, isolation and image projection.
All that the body encompasses can never be put down in one streak. For we are not only an image or a body; we are also agents. This seems to be a central idea in Hayley Adams’ Fall/Fail to Recover (2016). Amidst spotlights, household waste and magician’s props, emerges the performing body. The performing body as it realises itself in a spectacular, frontal confrontation with isolation, loneliness and repetition. Caught up in a cycle of compulsive-obsessive behaviour and dressed up in vanity, the body tries in vain. And yet it tries and tries again, as much as it tries again and again to stop itself from trying so hard.
What is at stake in this loop of fleeting desires and projections? Adams’ work invites us to reflect on how we become spectators of our own lives and the triviality of the world that we realise around us. Through a repetition which is both renewed but also displaced, it demonstrates a well orchestrated and self-consuming cycle by which an object realises itself. But it also shows how reflection can create a breach in this process. “Why don’t you just stop?” a voice echoes. By reclaiming its agency, voice and body, therefore, the externally measured and looked-at object can transform into an active subject.