Watch, Listen, Move

I ran into the following video by chance a few days ago. Equal parts interpretive dance, performance art, and painting, needless to say it caught my eye immediately.

If you have had the chance to look over my posts, you will have undoubtedly noticed what I think of dance: it is the ultimate form of physical movement (see: “the A-Z of Dance”) and certainly a method of self-expression (see: Pina Bausch). You will have also noticed my fascination with artists that “get physical” with their painting (see: Jackson Pollock). Pollock, similarly to the artist in this video, had a unique painting technique which required, or perhaps was inspired by, a physical relationship with his paintings. “Physical” art, however, is imbued with meaning from the audience only when the relationship “artist/performance/product” is heartfelt and natural. As the famous German choreographer Pina Bausch has said about her ballet troupe, “I'm not so interested in how they move as in what moves them.” “Moving” can easily only have one meaning – the literal, physical one – if the artist leaves it at that.

Considering the above, you can imagine, then, my immediate response to this video. Apart from the actual performance, what also caught my attention is the narration – an intimidating, at moments terrifying, voice, a warning tone which I later realize should scare me. The dance’s gradual and seamless blending with the narration makes it so that, at moments, you find you’re listening to Alan Watts warning against our culture and at other moments, the visual performance dominates. (Video is performed from an artist from Kosovo)

This video, however, makes you use more than just your eyes and your ears. You should try to understand how the narration, the performance and the finished painting are all connected. Why do the colors appear when they do? What do they symbolize? Why the total number of seven colors? why is this video color number 5? The questions are many and perhaps it’s up to you to tell me your answers.

While I do not have all the answers, I try to understand painting as “movement” and painting as a “finished piece”. As I see it, the finished piece is that landscape of the greedy child - all seven colors thrown, splashed, poured, and indistinguishable as they have mixed together to form a mostly dark grey image, as daunting and ominous as the narration it is inspired by. Watts warns us of the alienation from technological advancements, the gradual absence of content, the invisible creation of a mindless crowd, our reluctance to learn our lessons. I understand that the alarming increase of our mental and physical laziness – for “life” other than the purely financial or purely physical – will lead to “the destruction of life.”

What I’m interested in is the movement. We live in times where art is no longer static, and our only option is not to similarly statically look at it. Yes, we watch the screen but inside that screen, there’s movement. We can see it live or physically experience the artist’s movements and even the relationship with his/her audience. Art is becoming, as the famous Marina Abramovic says, increasingly “immaterial”. We live in the era of performance art, and this is no coincidence. We understand that the same things that help us share and communicate with one another make us lonelier and, worse, make us stay still. We are still when we go to the bookstore or the cinema and while staying still we can even “create” relationships – because that is exactly what I think we are doing, “creating” rather than “building” relationships.

Part of a series smartly entitled “Living movement,” this video is showing you life through movement. If movement is life, stillness is surely death. In order to live, you must move. And if you don’t listen to me or the video, at least listen to Marina Abramovic, the most powerful woman in contemporary art. In a short interview, prior to her most recent performance art piece, Abramovic said “I feel old only when I look back. So I’ve got to keep moving, otherwise …”

Excerpt narrated in the video below:

“What is wrong with our culture?” by Alan Watts

Why is it that we don’t seem to be able to adjust ourselves to the physical environment without destroying it?
Why is it that in a way this culture represents in a unique fashion the law of diminishing returns. That our success is a failure. That we are building up – in other words, an enormous technological civilization which seems to promise the fulfillment of every wish almost at the touch of a button.

And yet as in so many fairy tales when the wish is finally materialized, they are like fairy gold, they are not really material at all. In fact, so many of our products, our cars, our homes, our clothing, our food. It looks as if it were really the instant creation of pure thought; that is to say it’s thoroughly insubstantial, lacking in what the connoisseur of wine calls “body.”

And in so many other ways, the riches that we produce are ephemeral and as the result of that we are frustrated, we are terribly frustrated. We feel that the only thing is to go on getting more and more. And as a result of that the whole landscape begins to look like the nursery of a spoiled child – who’s got too many toys and is bored with them and throws them away as fast as he gets them; plays with them for a few minutes.

Also we are dedicated to a tremendous war on the basic material dimensions of time and space. We want to obliterate those limitations. We want to get everything done as fast as possible. We want to convert the rhythms and the skills of work into cash. Which indeed you can buy something with, but you can’t eat it.

And then rush home, to get away from work and begin the real business of life, to enjoy ourselves. You know, for the vast majority of American families, what seems to be the real point of life, what you rush home to get to. Is to watch an electronic reproduction of life, you can’t touch, it doesn’t smell, and it has no taste. You might think that people getting home to the real point of life in a robust material culture would go home to a colossal banquet or an orgy of love-making or a riot of music and dancing, but nothing of the kind.

It turns out to be this purely passive, contemplation of a twittering screen. You see mile after mile of darkened houses with that little electronic screen flickering in the room. Everybody isolated, watching this thing, and thus in no real communion with each other at all. And this isolation of people into a private world of their own is really the creation of a mindless crowd

And so, we don’t get with each other except for public expressions of getting rid of our hostility, like football or prizefighting. And even in the spectacles one sees on this television, it’s perfectly proper to exhibit people slugging and slaying each other, but oh dear no, not people loving each other, except in a rather restrained way. One can only draw the conclusion that the assumption underlying this is that expressions of physical love are far more dangerous than expressions of physical hatred.

And it seems to me that a culture that has that sort of assumption is basically crazy and devoted – unintentionally indeed – but nevertheless in-fact devoted not to survival, but to the actual destruction of life.