VOIC(e)SCAPES. Traces and their interruptions examined through the field of experience
Who speaks when voice speaks? I would like to expand somewhere this question, here, in this room, now. In the vibration of this question, I’ll introduce another one that takes as starting point the question posed by Gilles Deleuze –following Spinoza—, the well known What can a body do? Now I would like to reformulate it into: What can the interweaving of voice, body, word and language do within dance? This question lead me to explore the field of experience, as well as the new meanings that arise from a dance that allows its voice to emerge and bursts into speaking. Within this experiential field the experiences of voice, language and tactility emerge in a specific way. Soon I’ll explain what I mean by these experiences.
Thus, in my exploration I propose a genealogical1 –non historical— approach to performances that burst into speaking from the perspective of voice. To do so I trace a line between the field of experience and some concepts opened up by artists such as Vera Mantero, Mónica Valenciano, Idoia Zabaleta, Filipa Francisco, Irena Tomazin, Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion. Theses dance makers dialogue with questions that I consider essential for the current critical thought –and not only for it—: The concept of experience, the concept of life and that of animality. We could call this dialogue extra-disciplinary2, as it establishes bridges between a micro-political practice, such as dance, and issues belonging to a macro-political frame.
Dance burst into speaking in the sixties –mainly through the Judson Church—. Nevertheless, it is only from the nineties onwards that voice and language experimentation become more specific in choreographic works. Which are the aesthetic and ethical consequences of the irruption of this voice in dance? And, why did I choose to analyze this scene from the perspective of voice? Dance that experiments with its voice from the nineties onwards unfolds a diverse experiential field; experiences that take place at a processual stage of creation but also in its reception. It is due to these, that analyzing critically this experiential field seems relevant to me. These choreographic works render visible other ways of communication –forms of communication related to performativity—. And simultaneously, as I will explain now, they reflec other ways of understanding the body, ways linked to processes of subjectivation.
Why did dance emancipate and subvert its voice since the nineties? Which are the motivations and the experiences of the artists I have researched on? Here I’ll quote those of Vera Mantero, Irena Tomazin, Idoia Zabaleta and Filipa Francisco. In a conversation I had with Vera after the Spanish premiere of her piece We are going to miss everything we don’t need, in Gijón she explained to me that voice is for her something quite liberating. For her this experimentation has a political sense: ―I think that not talking can be also very political‖, said Vera. ―But what it had always seemed quite strange to me was the fact that dancers were something without orality. It seemed historically regressive. When you do not talk you are something different, another animal. So it was quite weird to face an activity upon which it had been decided not to have words, language. It has never seemed normal to me. In this sense it can be a political decision‖3. I should recall now the litany Mantero chants in Uma misteriosa coisa, disse e.e. cummings: ―A sorrow, an impossibility, atrocious, atrocious, an impossibility, a sorrow, atrocious, atrocious…‖.
Irena Tomazin, a performer from Ljubljana, explained to me that she reached voice through dance and physicality. Tomazin, like Vera Mantero, has also a double facet as singer, and in her pieces (Caprice Relapse or As a raindrop falling into the mouth of silence), she seeks a voice that embodies the body and the embodiment of voice.
―I would had never reached the places at which I’m arriving through voice, if I had just worked with the body‖, says Irena. ―I do not mean that it’s better, but simply that voice talks to me about other body. How this internal body comes out and externalizes through voice […]. When you only use the gaze you remain in the surface. The first time I appeared naked on stage I felt really embarrassed, but with voice there is another kind of nudity. […] It’s a very fragile place because listening, the sense of listening, is something very intimate‖4.
Roland Barthes in the essay The obvious and the obtuse.
―Hearing is a physiological phenomena; listening a psychological action. […] the act of listening can only be defined through its object or, even better, through its scope. […] We’ll propose three modes of listening. According to the fist type of listening, living creatures direct their audition towards indexes. […] This first listening mode is an alertness. The second mode is a deciphering, where the ears try to capture signs. And the third and last mode of listening […] is not interested on what is being said or issued, but rather on who is speaking, on who is issuing; supposedly this takes place in an inter-subjective space, in which ―I listen‖ also means ―listen to me‖5.
This fragment establishes a direct dialogue with Tomazin’s last statement. Barthes concludes that freedom of listening is as relevant as freedom of speech.
In the pieces I have mapped, the voices, the bodies and the words can be read through our gaze. Also heard. They can even become touchable if we allow the gaze and the hearing to fall all over our bodies. In general terms, we do not attend so much to the message, but rather listen: we are the active recipients of the polyphonies composed by these voices. Thus, we better place ourselves within a semiotic of voice.
When crossing the landscape of these choreographies I have placed myself in a narrative territory where, in general, the important thing is not what is being told. Here, the carnality of words comes to first plane, as well as the need to introduce narration in territories that are remote from any search of sense and expressiveness. In these performances, which I have also called choreopoetic polyphonies, we do not look for a totalizing sense.
Nowadays, we don’t find any more those huge meta-narratives about the world nor about history. Narratives have dissolved in an atomization of narrations which, in most cases, instead of placing us in the ambiguous, in the questioning and problematization, frame us in a self-referential world. A world that individualizes and isolates us in the poverty of experience that inhabits our daily life6.
In these choreopoetic polyphonies voice detaches from body and composed language. Voice is the condition of tactility. Voice is a corporal missile that escapes and inhabits the space between the «I» and the «you», between the «I» and the «other‖, to return to the body. Voice inhabits between body and language, mediates between body and language, but it does not belong to any of them. As if when talking our voice did not belong to us. As if we would speak with voices that emerge simultaneously from several bodies or places. Also the ―I‖ decomposes: into that voice which is ours and at the same time does not totally belong to us, into that language and those bodies full of fissures; the ―I‖ moves into a de-subjectivated place.
Thus, parallel to the decomposition of all the stage elements a space of interruptions, traces, and remaining is created: dance as an act that does not finish in itself, an act of potentiality; if we understand potentiality as an act not totally fulfilled, always ongoing, as a time constellation7.
Voice exceeds language, surpassing and escaping literal and established meanings. Voice breaks the stability of dance: a break that, at the same time, implies an opening up force.
Then, who speaks when voice speaks? Why does voice function as both a destabilizing element and a force for opening up?
Maurice Blanchot in The Infinite Conversation:
―Voice issues words; announces a possibility prior to any saying, even prior to any possibility of saying. […]The wordless voice, that speaks silently, for the silence, of the scream, tends to be […] just nobodies voice: Who speaks when voice speaks? That which can’t be placed anywhere, neither in nature nor in culture, but it rather manifests itself in a redoubling space, of echo and resonance where is not someone, but rather that unknown space – […] its vibration-, who wordlessly speaks. […] One of the characteristic of voice is to speak in a non lasting form. Fugitive, condemned to oblivion where it meets its completion, without trace nor prospects. […] Word that vanishes as it’s been said, always destined to the silence that carries along […] Becoming word that is not retained in the present but rather given […] to its essence which is vanishment […]8.
―Word that vanishes as is barely been said‖. Blanchot’s fragment is without doubt a poetic and premonitory reflection on voice.
The Slovenian philosopher Mladen Dolar explains that voice places itself in a space of ambiguity and fragility, between the interior and the exterior. And it’s certainly difficult to set the distance from which to draw a line between the interior and the exterior worlds. Not in vane voice is pure alterity. Voice does not belong neither to the sender nor the recipient, neither to the subject nor the other. In the same way it does not belong neither to the body nor the language: ―Voice as between the two, placed precisely at the curious intersection‖9 writes Dolar. It is from here that Dolar explores the political dimension of voice. To understand it we need to distinguish the differences between mere voice (phone) and intelligible word (logos). Mere voice is that which animals and human beings have in common: it can only indicate pleasure or pain, experiences shared by animals and humans. For Dolar the discourse not only indicates, but it is the expression of something, it is a manifestation. At the bottom of this difference lies the opposition between two diverse forms of life: zoe and bios. Zoe is bare life, pure life reduced to animality, and bios is life in community, political life. The Slovenian philosopher refers to the explanation Agamben offers in Homo Sacer in relation to bare life. Agamben establishes an analogy between phone –belonging to zoe, and logos belonging to bios. Voice is like bare life, something supposedly exterior to the political, while logos is the equivalent of the polis, of social life regulated by laws and the common good. Agamben’s thesis in this book is that there is not one simple exteriority. The basic structure, the topology of the political is for Agamben ―the inclusive exclusion of bare life‖. This, points Dolar, places voice in an even more paradoxical and peculiar place, in ―the topology of extimacy”, a simultaneous inclusion/exclusion, that retains that which is excluded in its nucleus‖10.
Voice becomes something fundamental and ambivalent. The transformation of voice into logos is immediately a political passage, it implies the reemerging of voice in the core of the political.
In its precarious and elusive existence, in that extimacy which is at the same time exclusion and inclusion, voice finds its power for opening-up and its capacity of destabilization.
Then, and here I take up the question I asked myself at the beginning: what can the interweaving of voice, body and language do within experimental choreography? At the beginning I was saying that these artistic practices render visible other forms of communication and other ways of understanding the body. As it’s well known, one of the claims of social and political life is the right to having a voice. A voice that is heard, a voice with consequences, a voice with repercussion in the decisions that concern our lives. A voice that is not limited to the every four years call to elections. However, as we also know, this claim falls into automatism. As a matter of fact, our voices end up accepting to be called just once every four years, and accept, as well, the spectacle of political representation. Faced with the expropriation of our communicative possibilities, in a society in which language itself has become a spectacle, it is urgent to question ourselves about our own language potentiality. In other words, it is urgent to look at and think about what it means today to make –and not only to have— an experience of language.
Agamben writes that the problem of poverty of experience must be confronted with the problem of language. According to Agamben, the problem of language becomes visible in childhood: when we pass from the mere emission of sounds to speech, from voice to speech. Nevertheless, this experience of taking up language can not only be referred to infancy, Agamben does not speak about infancy in a chronological sense. On the contrary: we go through an experience of language every time we make the move from language to discourse, every time we lack words, or when they remain suspended on our lips. And this happens all the way through our lives11.
In the choreopoetic polyphonies I have mapped we also live the experience of language Agamben refers to: these practices require their own language (they make it babble and implode) as well as their own voice (they subvert end emancipate it). And through this positioning they are rendering visible other ways of communicating. Other forms of communication that go through the deconstruction of voice, body and language; mechanisms that break and displace logocentrism and discursivization.
Along with Derrida, we understand logocentrism as a philosophical orientation that tends towards a certain order of meaning. In other words, towards Truth, Reason, Logic, the World, Thought, all in capital letters. The authority of the logos, of the transcendental meaning imposes itself and, if we follow Derrida, the masculine order is then justified. To dismantle logocentrism
is, then, to displace the authority of the logos; to displace from speech the privilege of the word, and to dismantle also the authority of the masculine order12.
If we take now a look from the point of view of language philosophy, also performativity is related to these displacements. We can understand performativity, and here I quote Derrida, as ―communicating a force through the impetus of a mark‖13. Performativity produces or transforms a situation: It does not limit itself to carry a semantic content; there is no intention of truth. For Paolo Virno, each speech act is an action and voice is the performative statement of the ―I speak‖. For the Italian thinker «I speak» is, precisely, the absolute performative, a potential space14.
Well, up to now I have spoken about those other forms of communication that these art practices render visible. But, as I was saying, they are also rendering visible other ways of understanding the body. A vibratile body is an affected, dense and opaque body. It is also a body crossed by intensities and flows of desire that run between the interiority and the exteriority. A body that holds many bodies. Once someone dives into the potentialities of its body, understood as the possibility of affecting and being affected, begins a process, always in becoming, that collides with the idea of a fix subject. The body that takes action can activate processes of subjectivation that detach from a closed identity: the production of singular subjectivation modes can also generate intersubjectivity15.
Ranciére’s thesis on the Emancipated spectator is quite known. There, Ranciére advocates for the creation of a third way, a third way that would invalidate the opposition between activity and passivity. Unlike Ranciére, here we are not posing a third way situated between activity and passivity. ―Emancipation‖ in these works is linked to a certain level of perception, sensation, and affects. More than an emancipation is a cognitive and sensorial involvement, that seeks to activate a gaze and a listening that embraces all our body. A gaze and a listening that I have called tactile because all senses are a sort of touch16. These works place us, thus, in a threshold of the tactile, where we affect and are affected simultaneously.
This body, these voices and these languages not only reveal other corporality –that’s to say, an emancipatorial position towards body and subjectivity—. They reveal also other audibility17. Although it’s urgent to look beyond this audibility, as I said before, because we are immersed in the poverty of experience of a language that has became spectacle. The audibility of body, voice and language that acts in the redistribution of times and spaces (both conditions of our sensibility), moves continuously the gravitational field of affects. This audibility moves the possibility of an affective empowerment. However, besides expropriating our language ability, capitalism has already corporatized the affective production18. So neither am I here referring to a relational esthetic, but rather to artistic practices that make visible other ways of subverting an immunized and homeopathic body. What do I mean by this last statement? Affect is the capacity of doing. Its vitality or potential interacts with other body. Is not what an affect expresses what is relevant, but rather what it moves, renews and differentiates.
Who speaks then when voice speaks? In our case, the affective gravitational field goes through voice, through the intimacy and exteriority that conform voice. Or as Agamben would say, through the extimacy that voice represents. This extimacy is related to the third person, to an impersonal place and the breaking of fixed identity. An impersonal place, in third person, where the Italian philosopher Roberto Esposito places animality. The animal, the animal becoming, that Esposito retakes from Deleuze, means above all multiplicity, plurality and concatenation. The borders between identities are blurred to give way to a vibratile threshold among bodies that are proximate. So we are dealing with a human-animal and an animal-human, two faces of the same fracture, where bare life is obtained19.
As it is well known bio-political order comes to existence when life itself, its protection, becomes the base of politics. The body is the battlefield between politics and life. Obviously the artistic practices I have mapped do not escape from the bio-political paradigm. Although, in these choreographies the immunized and protected body is subverted, is suspended. Our bodies are involved, non immunized, non homeopathic recipients and makers. Our bodies interweave and contaminate: and certain fissures, which are not confined to the here and now of the performance, can open up.
It is due to all of these that I have spoken about a change of paradigm and also that this practices are performing history today. That change cannot be framed just within the dance sphere; the stage works I’m mapping reflect something that takes place beyond the fourth wall. It’s reversible, as it also renders visible, in a conscious or unconscious way, a potency that operates at affective, esthetic and also political levels. They are esthetical, political and critical experiences. Potencies that free feelings, thoughts and acts of life. Something that takes place in that intimacy and exteriority, in that extimacy, that already points out other time and other space.
Ixiar Rozas is a writer, documentary film-maker, dramaturge and researcher in performing arts. Her publications include narrative, poetry and essays. She was co-founder and artistic director of Periferiak, international exchanges in critical thought and art practices held in Italy and Spain (2002-2007). PhD at the Faculty of Visual Arts (UPV, University of Basque Country) and member of Artea. Practice and Research. Currently she teaches at the University of Mondragon (Basque Country) and is part of the team of Azala space for creation.
This text was presented in the panel ―Performing history today‖ within the Performance Studies international Conference (Utrecht, 25-29 May 2011). The panel was proposed by the Spanish research asocciation Artea. Practice and Research as a continuation to its project Autonomy and Complexity.
- 1 Burt, Ramsay (2004) ―Genealogy and dance history‖, in Lepecki, A. Of the presence of the body, London & New York, Routledge
- 2 Rolnik, Suely (2007) La memoria del cuerpo contamina el museo http://eipcp.net/transversal/0507/rolnik/es / Suely Rolnik, «The Body’s Contagious Memory; Lygia Clark’s Return to the Museum,» translated by Rodrigo Nunes, Transversal (January 2007): http://eipcp.net/transversal/0507/rolnik/en
- 3 Fragment from the conversation with Vera Mantero held in Gijón (9/5/2010) and part of the materials of my PhD ―Voic(e)scapes. Experiences and potentials of voice, language and tactility in current dance scene‖ (Faculty of Visual Arts, University of Basque Country, unpublished).
- 4 Fragment from the conversations via skype with Irena Tomazin, held in December and January 2010. Part of the materials of my PhD.
- 5 Barthes, Roland (2009) Lo obvio y lo obtuso. Imágenes, gestos y voces, Barcelona, Ediciones Paidos, p. 277. In French L’ obvie es l’ obtus in Essais critiques III
- 6 If we follow Agamben’s reasoning when talking about the poverty of experience, already forecasted by Benjamin when he spoke about soldiers returning dumb from the battlefield. In Agamben, Giorgio (1978) Infanzia e istoria, Torino, Einaudi
- 7 Kunst, Bojana (2009) ―Prognoses on collaboration‖ published by Kan Van Eikels B-Books in http://www.prognosen-ueber-bewegungen.de
- 8 Blanchot, Maurice (1970) El diálogo inconcluso, Caracas, Monte Avila ediciones, p. 413. In English published under the title The Infinite Conversation.
- 9 Dolar, Mladen (2006) A voice and nothing more, Massachusetts, MIT Press, p. 103
- 10 Ibidem, p. 106- 107
- 11 Agamben, Giorgio (1978) Infanzia e istoria, Torino, Einaudi, p. 70
- 12 De Peretti, Cristina. (1989) Jaques Derrida. Texto y deconstrucción, p. 31
- 13 Ibidem, 31-34
- 14 Virno, Paolo (2003) Quando il verbo si fa carne. Linguaggio e natura umana, Milano, Bollati Boringhieri, p. 17
- 15 Guattari, Félix y Rolnik, Suely (2006) Micropolítica. Cartografías del deseo, Madrid, Traficantes de sueños. In English can be found under the title Molecular Revolution in Brazil. New York: Semiotext(e), 2008.
- 16 Pallasmaa, Juhani (2006) Los ojos de la piel. La arquitectura y los sentidos, Barcelona, Gustavo Gili, p. 18. In English published under the title The Eyes of the Skin. Architecture and the Senses
- 17 I have taken the idea of Audibility from the article by Kunst, Bojana (2009) ―The Voice of the Dancing Body‖ Zagreb, Frakcija, Performing Arts Journal Nº 51/ 52, autumn, pp. 144-160. Bojana Kunst has been among others an important reference through my research, started within the MACAPD Master of Contemporary Arts Practice and Dissemination (L´animal a l´esquena, UdG, Dartington College of Arts) and continued at the Faculty of Visual Arts (UPV, University of Basque Country).
- 18 In ―Briam Massumi in conversation with Mary Zournazi‖ (2009) in The Swedish Dance History, Stockholm, Inpex- MyCoreography.org
- 19 Esposito, Roberto (2007) Terza persona. Politica della vita e filosofia dell´impersonale, Torino, Einaudi, p. 43
Translation from Spanish into English: Ana Buitrago