Thursday, May 19, 2016

Looking into the future behind

People often say the past is behind them and the future ahead. But, Aymara people seems to think the opposite: the past is in front of them because it is what they see--what they already know; the future is behind because it is what they do not see--what they do not know yet. I am not familiar with the people, so my poor imagination goes like this: Aymara people's experience may be similar to nature trekkers' and climbers'. If you are a climber, you may have plenty of experience of watching from a mountain peak how far you have come. The past is in front of you. My hypothesis may be false unless other peoples living in mountains and highlands are proven to have the same notion of space and time in relation to their own body.

When the future is coming from somewhere in front of you, this future becomes somewhat predictable at a certain point. You can be prepared for it. But, when the future is coming from behind you, this future may not be good, as often happens with horror movies. It can be literally a backstabber.

When you cannot see the future, you need a mirror, You hold it over your shoulder in order to look what comes next after the disaster.

"If an artist or writer nowadays aims to speak about the times in which we live, how does he avoid being crushed by reality, by a world overflowing with horror?," in his Through the Back, Jeroen Peeters asks (Kinesis 5, 2014, 267). Citing Italo Calvino, he suggests that how Perseus handled Medusa and her head can be a clue: "Perseus' power is not the denial of a monstrous reality, but a mastering of it through the refusal of direct perception." Perseus saw Medusa's reflection in his shield.

The Peeters' book primarily aims to introduce contemporary European dance pieces and choreographers to his readers, but he seems not to try to interpret the pieces directly. Instead, he inserts his notes on what he has read and seen, such as Sloterdijk's writings, Botticelli's drawings for Dante's Divine Comedy, Wenders' Lisbon Story, Claude mirror (glass), Calvino, etc., between his description of the pieces and also discussions with choreographers. While these references are not irrelevant, he carefully avoids rigid interpretation. One of his leitmotivs is the art of watching, such as his notes on Perseus and the Claude glass. "Filtering" repeatedly appears as well.

According to Wikipedia, a Claude glass is "a small mirror, slightly convex in shape, with its surface tinted a dark colour. Bound up like a pocket-book or in a carrying case, Claude glasses were used by artists, travelers and connoisseurs of landscape and landscape painting. Claude glasses have the effect of abstracting the subject reflected in it from its surroundings, reducing and simplifying the colour and tonal range of scenes and scenery to give them a painterly quality. They were famously used by picturesque artists in England in the late 18th and early 19th centuries as a frame for drawing sketches of picturesque landscapes.The user would turn his back on the scene to observe the framed view through the tinted mirror—in a sort of pre-photographic lens—which added the picturesque aesthetic of a subtle gradation of tones." Peeters explains, "The gesture of turning one's back on the contemplated landscape and corporeally appropriating the image is what marks the modern spectator: framing is no longer a compositional practice that seeks to reduce and arrest experience, but the recognition of a complex mediality and a way of navigating in the world." (It reminds me of the people looking into the smartphones.) And then Peeters cites a part of Truman Capote's novel that mentions the Claude glass' soothing effect.

Is he tired of something? I am certainly tired of things going on, especially in Tokyo and have no energy to ask what art can do. After watching Merce Cunningham's (old fashioned) pieces, he asks:
In dance's short-lived memory and poor sense of history, what can be the value of Cunningham's legacy today? Looking at Cunningham's work, I simply felt like an outsider excluded from a perfect world. And yet, confusion and doubt stayed with me, indicating the work's recalcitrance, which imposes an unexpected modesty upon me as a spectator and writer. Placed firmly outside time, high modernism's abstract nature and autonomous stance operates as an anachronism that puts contemporary practices and their historical contingence into perspective. How much medium-specificity do we need for dance to be a critical, self-reflexive practice? Doesn't the critical craze in today's art risk becoming a fetish economy that is often blind to its own limitations, and which ends up trading empty formulas and political pretensions? Aren't we all too eager to embrace not-knowing, doubt, failure and trauma, and even to instrumentalise them in view of promoting dance's critical potential? Why do we, artists and intellectuals today, expect art to make statements about the world? Juxtaposed with current artistic and critical practices, doesn't Cunningham's high modernism teach us, paradoxically enough, more about dorsality, limitations and modesty than we suspect or than we're willing to admit? (290)


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