One of the interesting things that happens is that if you look at your hand and consider it not as a number of bananas on the end of a sort of flexible stick, but if you consider it as “a nest of relations” out there… you will find that the object looks much prettier than you thought it looked. Part of the discovery of the beauty of a biological form is the discovery that it is put together of relations and not put together of parts. This means that with a correction of our epistemology, you might find the world was a great deal more beautiful than you thought it was. Or you might let in the fact of its being beauty in a way that you were able to keep it out by thinking that the world was made of parts and wholes. (1)
recorded lecture by Gregory Bateson, On Epistemology
Michael Klien: STATEMENT
Choreography has become a metaphor for dynamic constellations of any kind, consciously choreographed of not, self-organizing or artificially constructed. It has become a metaphor for order, intrinsically embodied by self-organizing systems as observed in the biological world or superimposed by a human creator. If the world is approached as a reality constructed of interactions, relationships, constellations and proportionalities then choreography is seen as the aesthetic practice of setting those relations or setting the conditions for those relations to emerge. Choreographic knowledge gained in the field of dance or harvested from perceived patterns in nature should be transferable to other realms of life. The choreographer, at the center of his art, deals with patterns and structures within the context of an existing, larger, ongoing choreography of physical, mental and social structures, whereby he/she acts as a strategist negotiating intended change within his/her environment.
As an aesthetics… a sensitive knowing… the discipline of choreography can be applied to inquire into the the dance of life, effortlessly merging observation, theoretical writing and philosophy with practical rigor and personal expression to create works of art. The stage becomes a laboratory, the laboratory a stage for the governing and steering of existing mind-dynamics and processes whether physically expressed such as a human body or a flower… or not… such as evolution or learning. Applying the aesthetics of choreography as a purposeful, creative and pro-active tool upon the surface of reality, embodies a healthy disregard for established boundaries which have arisen in fields of human knowledge production such as philosophy, sociology, psychology, education, religion, biology and history. “Choreography as an Aesthetics of Change” engages everyone´s perception and knowledge of “how things move”, inquiring if and how individuals can imaginatively order and re-order aspects of their personal, social, cultural and political lives. It examines the role of choreographer as one of … an active agent of change… within an ever-changing environment.
Steve Valk: The perspective you have offered… choreography as “a pattern language”… represents a paradigm shift in thinking about this historical category of dance creation… bringing it very close to something like “a mode of being” in the world, the choreographer as “an architect of a fluid environment he himself is a part of etc… “. If there has been such a profound shift in the conceptual underpinning of this notion of “choreography”, does this word or concept still have meaning? Is it a useful term and why?
Michael Klien: When we first moved into our new premises, St. John’s Church, we decided to stop what we were doing and really look deeply and carefully at our practice. We initiated a public thinktank called Framemakers, examining choreography and dance outside their traditional cultural frameworks, exposing these artistic disciplines to other fields of human knowledge, to areas of wider concern and understanding. We invited theologians, politicians, scientists, cyberneticists, psychologists, organizational relations specialists etc…, to entertain the idea, to discuss the notion of Choreography as an Aesthetics of Change. Who “choreographs” what in society? Who, if anyone, is constructing these perceptual frames and who is living by them. What unfolding rule-based choreography is at work in the DNA of emerging lifeforms? What composes or choreographs the symphonic complexity of human lovemaking?
Working under the simple and boldly naive assumption that the “theatrical stage” is a part of life as such, and that the strategies developed there have a wider relevance, including the ordering of the social sphere, the Framemakers Project began asking questions of how things are ordered and which frames are created for movement to take place. The term “choreography” was transposed to the field of human relations, as a way of seeing the world, an art of interaction and interference with… an art of traversing… the everyday governance of relations and dynamics, expressed in physical movement or ideas.
For me, there is simply no other or better word or concept than “choreography” to describe the active inquiry into the non-concrete, or “super-sensible” reality of complex relations and connections within the natural world. Many fields of human inquiry deal with elements in a specialized reductionist manner, but alas, there is as yet, no “surface” onto which we can map the experiences and phenomena we are only able to apprehend aesthetically, kinesthetically, intuitively and that have until now, only been conceived in terms of symbolic expression.
Steve Valk: The theoretical biologist Walter Elsasser in his book “Reflections on a Theory of Organisms” talks about a complexity in nature that is “transcomputational”, where the behavior of living organisms cannot be reduced to physico-chemical causality (2). He comes to biology from field of quantum physics and has proposed the notion of “creativity” as a scientifically admissable concept. Elsasser sees creativity as an intrinisic part of reproduction in all organisms and as a liminal space between non-classical quantum-theoretical-thinking and the more widely practiced mechanistic-biological thought.
FREE FLOATING ATTENTION
Michael Klien: The word “Choreography” extends the possibility of understanding and posing questions about the nature of the creative act within living systems. These days choreography has become associated with ordering processes, however the philosophical inquiries into order from chaos theory to complexity theory and cybernetics invite us to rethink the very notion of order as something non-linear / unfixed and far beyond our ability to measure or control. Choreography is not to constrain movement into a set pattern, it is to provide a cradle for movement to find its own patterns… over and over again… to prevent a body… whether bound by skin or habits… from stagnation and enable lightness, primal energy and elemental possibility only to be found once relations start dancing.
ORGANISM AND ENVIRONMENT
What is called for in and by the democracy to come is the unconditional gift, which does not seek a return on one`s investment, the gift, in which the self gives up its power, the power of the “I can,” the power of the possible, which is what constitutes a self. What we have asked of the king, we now must ask of ourselves; to give up power, to share and divide it. What is called for is a self that shares its power in a gift without return. What is called for is unconditional hospitality to the other, to the stranger and the immigrant… What is called for is a transforming and transfixing revolution in which the self turns itself inside out and lets itself be claimed by the other.
John D. Caputo, Without Sovereignty, Without Being : Unconditionality, the Coming God and Derrida’s Democracy to Come
Steve Valk: Lying next to me on the desk here is a magazine called Art Review and this issue’s cover story is entitled “Environmental: Can Art Save the Planet ?” When I showed it to you, you groaned and when I look inside it seems like the world of an alien mind. What is the difference between what you and I have just been talking about and that which seems to be happening in the world of “contemporary art”, in the world of “contemporary dance”?
Michael Klien: I think it has something to do with closed self-referential loops that are at work when a system, in this case “contemporary art”, is validating its own existence. Such loops, when fed by their own history and concepts develop a condition known as “infinite nesting”. Safety zones are created in which, in this case, people and ideas can remain protected, unchallenged to confront and interact with an “outside” world. Western Art has engaged in a devil’s bargain with the rest of society in which it has received a kind of “ivory tower”, or “exclusive” status, thereby impoverishing all understanding of society, humanity, creativity etc… as a connected and living system. It has occupied a very specific niche in the way the world is understood, organized and acted upon. This self-legitimating and ultimately “delusional” identity has cost contemporary art and culture all its credibility and has robbed it of its authority as a vital part in the dialogue of civilization. Therefore, in times like these, of crisis and of existential challenge, art and culture remain completely marginalized.
Steve Valk: So… can art save the planet?” I guess the answer is, “Not in a million years!!!” Not unless this “nest” or protected zone begins to address the issues humanity is facing from a more inclusive, self-effacing, “wider” perspective. Not unless it can give up its power, its constituting “I can”… as John Caputo says, unconditionally.
Michael Klien: When Derrida speaks about the political act being “the settings of artificial relations between people”, how can the choreographer, who does exactly that for a living, retreat into a studio and practice his or her “politics” in front of a mirror. It doesn’t make sense. I feel that there is a real lack of critical, and by that I mean “transformative” evaluation of the role of art outside its own historical context. This then leads to a closing of the information loop and the propagation of status quos, of conceptual “safety zones”; theaters, orchestras, dance companies, galleries, festivals, exhibitions etc…
Steve Valk: The director of one of Germany’s most important museums told me recently, in total seriousness, that statistically only 12% of the population participate in the arts. He accepted that as a given fact, and allocated his marketing funds, designed his publicity and advertising strategies in accordance with that “reality”.
The Figi Islanders say, “We don’t have art.
We just try to do everything as well as possible.
reading from Marshall Mc Luhan’s book The Global Village, p. 86
Steve Valk: The image of the Balinese ceremony comes to mind. This sense of full immersion, involvement, participation etc…, of everyone present. Half the performers breaking out in trance, some people out-of-control, trying to hurt themselves etc…, audience members diving on top of them, others standing and watching… amidst all of this mayhem, the priests setting up their ritual space.
In our present-day culture this kind of spontaneous, ungoverned behavior only happens during real catastrophes, floods, earthquakes, or storms. It is sad to think that it always takes a real catastrophe to reconnect people to themselves and their environment.
Michael Klien: “Contemporary Art and Culture” seem powerless to have an effect in the present day situation. They do not play a transformative role in society… in the creation of new social forms, laws etc…, despite the critical situations most societies are facing. You will hear talk of the end of western hegemony, the need for profound shifts in environmental awareness, “peak oil” and the catastrophic depletion of energy resources, of the demise of functioning democracy etc… but in all that discussion you will not hear a word about art or culture as an aid or a resource in coping with the oncoming tidal wave of global uncertainty. As someone deeply committed to a belief in the potential of human creativity, this is a painful and sobering reality. There is a schism, a disconnect that prevents co-relation or “Correalism” as the Frederick Kiesler calls it. Art and Culture seem unable to respond affirmatively, courageously, to the demands, the complexities, to the richness of the contemporary situation. I think we are in desperate need of new language, new understandings of a new “surface” on which to map the relationship between consciousness and aesthetics.
The whole of our thinking about what we are and what other people are has got to be restructured.
This is not funny, and I do not know how long we have to do it in. If we continue to operate on the premises that were fashionable during the Pre-Cybernetic era, and which were especially underlined during the Industrial Revolution, which seemed to validate the Darwinian unit of survival, we may have twenty or thirty years before the logical reductio ad absurdum of our old positions destroys us. Nobody knows how long we have, under the present system, before some disaster strikes us, more serious than the destruction of any group of nations. The most important task today is, perhaps, to learn to think in a new way. (3)
quote from Gregory Bateson in About Bateson
Steve Valk: Out of a growing awareness of the ever-widening gap between “the way man thinks and the way nature works,” choreography, traditionally understood as “the art of movement in time and space”, has found itself being drawn away from “the ideal world” of the stage. At the same time it has been driven to undergo a re-examination of its conceptual language and explanatory systems. Choreography has moved beyond the architecture of its stationary historical universe and has emerged as an embodied act of a human consciousness no longer separate from, but embedded within, the irreducible, unfathomably complex ordering system of the biological world.
1) Bateson, G., (1970) Esalon Audio Lectures: On Epistemology. California: Esalon Center
2) Elsasser, W., 1987. Reflections on a Theory of Organisms, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, p.4
3) Bateson, G., http://www.global-vision.org/bateson.html, accessed 3/2007
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