(SAC) Ongoing Bodies: Syndrome de Paris Suite

(SAC) Ongoing Bodies: Syndrome de Paris Suite

Video from the collaborative project (SAC) Ongoing Bodies: Syndrome de Paris Suite by Simone Hutchinson, Alexander Kennedy & Conal McStravick. Listen to Ongoing Bodies (Sound) in a new tab to hear the accompanying audio track.

The project was initiated as a text based collaboration developing into a set of ideas focusing on interpretations of orientalism, academicism, the clinamen, pataphysics, sexuation and psychoanalysis and thus into a series of performances featuring dancers Rachel Smith, Rob Heaslip and Tom Pritchard, artist Leanne Hopper as well as the artists themselves. These were filmed in the theatre and artists accommodation spaces of CCA Glasgow and Glasgow School of Art library in late 2010 early 2011. The audio re-combined elements of the original notes and further self-authored texts.

First shown at CCA Glasgow, 2012 with the accompanying audio soundtrack controlled by viewers movements in the gallery. The video material was filmed by Martin Clark with additional material by the artists and CCA technician Chris Nelms.
Funded by Scottish Arts Council and supported by Glasgow School of Art and CCA Glasgow.
For further information see the CCA Glasgow website.

Accompanying text:

Notes for (SAC) Ongoing Bodies: Syndrome de Paris Suite


This work presents an exorcism and a bodying-forth, an invocation and re-imagining of the battered corpse, now exquisite, that is the body after its academic and institutional deconstruction. A dancer appears to disappear, objectifying him/herself before the viewer, disappearing in the role, transcendent, the opposite of acting. In order to examine this situation, the Suite makes reference to Bando Tamasaburo’s kabuki performance1 as the Heron Maiden2, Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece3, and a kimono inspired dress by Kansai Yamamoto4 found by chance on eBay. The ethical consequences of ‘flirting with the other’ are exposed via principles of Aristotelian and Lacanian logic, and formalised into filmed improvised performances that reference Beckett’s Quad and Dan Graham’s film and video-performances works of the 70s. Furthermore, the work uses japonisme5 as a metaphor for the institution’s colonialising power, with the dancers performing butoh-inspired6 improvisations in Mackintosh’s japoniste library at Glasgow School of Art. This sense of internalised, performed otherness relates to post-Lacanian and Kristevian theories of subjectivity, where we are strangers to ourselves. In revealing this strangeness rather than exploiting it, the institution’s eternal thirst for ‘new knowledge’ is rejected and replaced by immediate realisation and revelation – a kind of gnosis – that is metaphorically acted out in the hikinuki or quick on-stage costume change in kabuki. To ‘reveal’ in this way complements a Greenbergian call for instantaneity in the modernist artwork countered and re-configured in parallel with Lacan:

‘The time for comprehending can be reduced to the instant of the glance, but this instant can include all the time needed for comprehending.’7

or subjecthood defined by Leo Bersani:

‘We are neither present in the world nor absent from it . . the aesthetic subject, while it both produces and is produced by works of art, is a mode of relational being that exceeds the cultural province of art and embodies truths of being. Art diagrams universal relationality.’8

In order to express her/himself, each subject must make a leap of madness (Nietzsche) as a leap of faith (Derrida). One must speak as a subject and the subject in order to give the illusion of a particular sovereign subjectivity. This is an impossibility and demonstrates the contingency of our claims to universality (to speak as ‘one’). But these claims must be made. All words and therefore actions are generated out of the constitutive lack within language; its failure,
Beckett’s ‘I can’t go on, I’ll go on…’9
What is sought is a stylistics of existence, an awareness and examination of the overlap between ethics and aesthetics, subject and object, which simultaneously generates art objects and artistic agency as unstable but beautiful precipitates.

Key thematics and concerns:

The Clinamen, Pataphysics and OuLiPo.

The concept of the clinamen10 represents the principle of creation: a hypothetical random swerve of a single atom as it falls amidst a uniform rain of atoms in the cosmos causing a collision and creating matter.11
In the context of Alfred Jarry’s ‘pataphysics, the clinamen describes reality not as the rule but as an exception. Pataphysics is Jarry’s playful meta-metaphysics and critique of orthodox science which he invented to define alternative approaches to knowledge. It has been described as resting on the truth of contradictions and exceptions. Its inventor was influenced as much by symbolism and the occult as contemporary Victorian scientific exploration.
The clinamen became crucial in the theory and practice of this collaborative project. It forged a relation with other research concerning for example sexuality and gender, Aristotle’s logic, based on four predicates (universal affirmative, particular affimative, universal negative and particular negative), and the application of these in Lacan’s table of sexuation- a diagram used to demonstrate the theorisation of sex as non-biologically defined and language centred. The constellation of these ideas invited a relation to another pataphysical concept – that of syzygy – which chiefly describes planetary opposites but which in relation to language ‘represents the rule of prose style, that a word must transfix a momentary conjunction or opposition of meanings’12. Another component was summoned via our passing interest in Hegel’s writings, which anticipated systems theory’s emergent property or rather, emergent quality. Indeed, style and therefore the subject as her/his significations can be considered an emergent quality.
This concept of an emergent quality returns to the Jarryite adoption of clinamen: emergent quality as exception.
This nexus of structural imagery with its constituents’ connotations of harmony, potentiality, movement and creation suggested a design for a choreographed performance which engaged with the OuLiPo tradition of using constraints and the clinamen.

The Academic Institution – Orientalism, Exoticism, Colonialism.

This element within the work visualises a problem with the discourse of the university, namely: the university as an unstoppable colonialising force. This urge – which can be seen as a misplaced and misunderstood rear-guard manifestation of the European Enlightenment – is very real, and relates to the university’s terrible hunger for ‘new knowledge’, for academics to continually find and exploit a dark, virginal, rich seam, and to turn terra incognita (hidden ground) into terra firma (a firm foundation). This careerist approach is to the detriment of Truth and ignores the complex, symbiotic relationship between the dominant ideology and knowledge. Because of this, a clichéd image of exoticism, of ‘the orient’ is superficially attractive and useful. In this sense the work appropriates a misappropriation, in that it lets us understand, or at least expose, a misunderstanding (that there is an ‘other’ waiting to be saved, incorporated and exploited by the benign university). The heightened, theatrical effects that are used in kabuki emphasise and hypostatise this sense of separation from the other, a theoretical ‘distance’ and ‘strangeness’ that we are told we feel in relation to High Art generated by a different, ancient culture. It is perhaps necessary to further stress that within this area of research, particular interest lies in the kabuki tradition of musical theatre and dance. Born out of a series of edicts (threats by the Law voiced and embodied by the Emperor), the de-naturalising effects implicit in kabuki became further emphasised – all female roles had to be played by men (onnagata). In this way, the form kabuki takes today demonstrates how performance and performativity overlap. The performative speech act can be understood as a
command to Be, based on the Emperor’s ‘Thou shalt not’; the resulting art form forces us to deal with binary ideas – what is condoned and what is not, the natural and the artificial, the performer and the performed, male and female.


1 Bando Tamasaburo, contemporary Kabuki performer famed for his onnagata or female impersonation roles.
2 Heron Maiden, 18th Century Kabuki play based on a traditional tale of unrequited love. For more info: http://www.kabuki21.com/sagi_musume.php or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4q1MPwD7zCI for performance.
3 ‘Cut piece’ first performed, 1964 http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3dsvy_yoko-ono-c ut-piece_shortfilms
4 Kansai Yamamoto, most famously designed kabuki inspired costume for David Bowie in the early 1970s.
5 Japonism or Japonisme: an art historical term applied to Western art that references the art of Japan. The term first appeared in 1872.
6 Buto or Butoh: a contemporary expressionist dance form that originated in postwar Japan, first called Ankoku Butoh, or Dance of Utter Darkness.
7 Jacques Lacan, ‘Logical Time and the Assertion of Anticipated Certainty’, Cahiers d’art, 1945.
8 Leo Bersani, ‘Psychoanalysis and the Aesthetic Subject’ Is The Rectum A Grave & Other Essays, University of Chicago press, 2010.
9 Samuel Beckett, The Beckett Trilogy: Molloy, Malone
Dies, The Unnamable, Picador, 1976, London. Page 382
10 In literature, the clinamen gained currency in the twentieth century with a number of writers most significantly OuLiPo (‘Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle’, approximately, ‘Workshop for Potential Literature’.). Inspired by Alfred Jarry’s pataphysics the Oulipo group sought to advance new methods of writing, employing constraints to their writing processes, sometimes deliberately deviating from their chosen constraint as a specific way of invoking the clinamen. Yet the group insist that a writer can only use the clinamen as long as it is not needed – that its use can only be an aesthetic one. Italo Calvino, a celebrated Oulipian, felt that the clinamen played a crucial role in the theory and practice of the group.
11 Lucretius’ poem De Rerum Natura (1 BC) concerns Epicurus’ cosmology. Epicurus (341–270 BC) believed in free will and used the clinamen as hypothetical evidence for this. Quantum physics informs us now that atoms do move and collide unpredictably in the presence of other atoms – albeit perpetually rather than occasionally as Epicurus thought. However, the idea of using this atomic evidence as proof of free will clearly encounters problems since on a macro level, large bodies of matter do move in predictable and determinable paths.
12 Roger Shattuck, ‘Introduction’ in Alfred Jarry’s Exploits and opinions of Dr. Faustroll Pataphysician: A neo-scientific novel Translated and Annotated by Simon

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