PLATFORM 2011: Body Madness writer-in-residence Huffa Frobes-Cross on Mariangela Lopez and Arturo Vidich’s shared evening
March 14, 2011
“Different cultures have different concepts of personal space. That each person must stay within his isolated space allotment (like similarly charged particles) is typical of our culture. When crowding occurs, personal space is maintained by condensing the field into a tight bubble around the person-or even withdrawing inside the skin wall.”
—Steve Paxton, “The Grand Union,” TDR, 1972
For that which touches on it or that about which one speaks in speaking of touch is also the intangible. To touch with tact is to touch without touching that which does not let itself be touched: to embrace eyes, in a word (or in several words, and the word always brings to your ear the modest reserve of a kiss on the mouth).”
—Jacques Derrida, On Touching, 2005
Stiffly shambling into half-light, head stuck flush against one lopsided shoulder, muscled body seemingly naked but for a loin-cloth, Arturo Vidich entered like He-Man reanimated in Romeroan undeath. After plodding ominously towards the audience, Vidich freed his head from his shoulder with the sound of torn Silly Putty, ripping a ragged hole in the tissue around his neck and revealing his apparent skin to be a full-body layer of latex. As Shitopia proceeded, accompanied by Igal Nassima’s digitally distorted soundtrack, Vidich’s movements remained constricted, a body wrapped in a rubber band shifting from formal, almost balletic passages, through bodybuilder flexes to screaming, terrorized pratfalls while it’s second skin wrinkled, rustled, and tore open.
Vidich, who performed memorably the previous week in Yvonne Meier’s Brother of Gogolorez, has a long history of getting in his own way. Like Meier’s, his pieces are often strewn with obstacles, its participants physically restricted, and movement always appears mediated, as a negotiation between objects and bodies. For Indy (2004)“Vidich performed entirely within a “giant rat wheel;” DRAWN (2004) had its three participants move within “piles of old wooden furniture” with human body and domestic object “animating” each other. In Coil (2005), Vidich made the connection between human body and object increasingly intimate, wrapping himself in rope and slowly, partially extricated himself. In Shitopia the restraint, the obstacle becomes a mimetic double of the body it wraps itself around. Taken in sequence, these pieces seem to chart an asymptotic trajectory between human and object converging on the skin of the performer.
Throughout Shitopia, Vidich’s thrashing limbs collided with his torso, latex bonded with latex and ripped away to form new lesions as he became entangled again and again in his own other skin. If, as I argued in last week’s post, Meier’s work continually interrupts and contaminates the social and psychic space of improvisation, Vidich dismembers the neutrality of ‘the’ body often placed at its center. Vidich does not point to his own body in order to appeal to it as an immediate fact, or as an uncorrupted, undivided source of creativity. In a way that parallels Cori Olinghouse’s The Animal Suite, bodies appear in Vidich’s work always through something other. Like Olinghouse, the ‘neutral’ body of postmodern dance no longer grounds Vidich. Skin is both keratin and latex, protein cells and cellulose, the porous boundary between the artificial, extraneous, exterior and the interior, innate, and natural is indecipherable. Along with contemporaries and Danspace alumni like D.D. Dorvillier, Aitana Cordero, François Chaignaud and Cecilia Bengolea, the loss of a stable neutrality does not lead Vidich to eschew embodiment so much as dive into its divided, disseminated materiality. The neutral phenomenological body dissolves into an always augmented, altered, contingent thing.
Tensing his stomach, shoulders forward around a hunched back, rubber wrinkling across his abdomen, about midway through Vidich’s performance he took on the pose of a scoliotic bodybuilder, his plastic muscles once again bringing to mind an action figure. Indeed, the uncanny non-naked nakedness of Vidich’s body echoes the genital-free appearance of such bare figurines. Barbie and G.I. Joe, released, respectively, in 1959 and 1964, filled American homes with their plastic bodies as artists from Donald Judd to Anna Halprin were pulling the minimalist, postmodern body into galleries, performance spaces, and journals around the country. Both Barbie and G.I. Joe, are exteriorized, ideal bodies made small, manipulable, and tangible, a second body for a child to imaginatively occupy, more whole, and manageable then one’s own. Vidich dives into the material of the doll itself, actualizing the fantasy of the child to become one with this fantastic object. Yet, with a nod to Jacques Lacan, at this point of absolute contact between idealized fantasy and self the fantasy deprived of its distance becomes mere excrement, messy, dirty shit. The body we are left with is living dead material, cultural ideal sloughing off in peeling rubber, and ‘neutral’ ‘original’ body hopelessly tangled up in it.
“It was a like a sea of connected alienation…[A] lot of the time you just spent on your own dancing…You’d have people in their own world doing that mad trance dancing, oblivious to everything else. But then you also had blokes coming up who were like ‘yeah, all right, mate!! smile! smile!,’ and hugging you.” (Reynolds, 1999, 60)
“I was quite shocked, almost appalled, actually. Just the hedonism, and how out of line everyone was getting. Back in the late eighties, the club scene was quite uptight, you had to wear exactly the right clothes to get in. … But at Spectrum, everyone looked like they were from fucking Mars.” (Reynolds, 1999, 60)
This is how Nick Phillips and Mark Moore described the nascent rave scene of early 90’s London, one place where a kind of communal partying, a kind of dancing separately all together, began to take shape before becoming a ubiquitous part of nightlife around the world. Beginning as dancers, dressed vintage store bricolage outfits, walk onstage, one after another, finding their own spotlight and holding single poses, or moving in soft, quiet repeated movements, and ending with all the performers in a wild, bouncing, hugging ball, Mariangela Lopez’s Accidental #5, which followed Shitopia, seems to chart the course of a night out in a place like Spectrum in 1991.
Accidental #5 is the latest piece to arise out of Lopez’s ongoing Accidental Movement project. The performers, most of whom are not professionals, are drawn from a series of workshops Lopez offers in the months leading up to the performance. Presented as the outcome of a group of strangers getting to know one another and move together, the piece’s narrative mirrors the process of its creation. Isolated dancers beginning to fleetingly interact to bounce off one another before going off again, coming together about midway through to face the audience and share a synchronized held breath, then to the sounds of Amanda Lear’s “Follow Me” falling together into a shared orgiastic pose reminiscent of Delacroix’s Death of Sardanapalus. Wound around one another, the group presents an omnidirectional intimacy, the kind of ecstatic, non-personal connection of a peak hour dance floor.
As the performance took on more of the appearance of a party, the audience became increasingly excluded. When the revelers excitement peaked, they moved off into a small room almost invisible to the audience. Barley discernible, through a doorway, the group danced and shouted, finally lifting one of their own up on their hands and carrying her off, completely out of sight, through the entrance of the church, as they all woozily sang together as if the sun was rising at the end of a long night. The audience is reminded that the party has gone off without them. Accidental #5 reaches momentarily towards the wild utopian community of Miguel Gutierrez’ DEEP Aerobics, but ends more like the recent post-rave music of Burial or FaltyDL’s just released You Stand Uncertain, presenting the ecstasy of being together as something already slipping beyond grasp, remembered, dreamed of, but not quite tangible.
“What is contact if it always intervenes between x and x? A hidden, seal, concealed, signed, squeezed, compressed, and repressed, interruption? Or the continual interruption of an interruption, the negating upheaval of the interval, the death of between.” (Derrida, 2005, 2, cited in Miller, 153) Contact or touch, Derrida argues here, names what lies between, that at the same time tries to negate its own existence, tries to negate the fact that there is a between at all. Contact mediates between two things while claiming that there is no mediation at all. Vidich and Lopez both work within the irresolvable impossibility nestled within this notion of contact, of immediate touching. For Vidich, skin and object come together in absolute proximity only to lose their own boundaries, only for skin fall off into mere material, and for object to soak into the human interior. For Lopez, the momentary bliss of shared pleasure can only be seen as it moves away, as it becomes already a memory.