Wednesday 31 December 2008

your moon in bella luna and (love dog)

Lonely little love dog that.
No one knows the name of.
I know why you cry out.
Desperate and devout.

Timid little teether.
Your eyes set on the ether.
Your moon in bella luna and.
Howling hallelujah ...

Nameless you above me.
Come lay me low and love me.
This lonely little love dog.
That no one knows the name of.

Curse me out in free verse.
Wrap me up and reverse this.
Patience is a virtue.
Until it's silence burns you.

And something slow.
Has started in me as.
Shameless as an ocean.
Mirrored in devotion.

Something slow.
Has sparked up in me.
As dog cries for a master.
Sparks are whirling faster ...

Lonely little love dog.
That no one knows the ways of.
Where the land is low is.
Where the bones'll show through.

Lonely little love dog.

That no one knows the days of.
Where the land is low is.
Where the water flows to.
And holds you.

'Love Dog', tv on the radio / tunde adebimpe, dear science (2008)

For tv on the radio's myspace site, see here

Photos: Bantham, Devon, 31 December 2008

for sue

Tuesday 30 December 2008

being prey

'The form of the monster ... was forever before my eyes, and I raved incessantly concerning him'
(Mary Shelley, Frankenstein).

'Large predators like lions and crocodiles present an important test for us. An ecosystem’s ability to support large predators is a mark of its ecological integrity. Crocodiles and other creatures that can take human life also present a test of our acceptance of our ecological identity. When they’re allowed to live freely, these creatures indicate our preparedness to coexist with the otherness of the earth, and to recognize ourselves in mutual, ecological terms, as part of the food chain, eaten as well as eater' (Val Plumwood, 'Being Prey', 2000).

Carnivorous creatures are in the news in Australia over the holiday period. A stray alligator - an escaped pet? - wanders into a camp site in New South Wales (30 December) and is restrained with a volleyball net. A group of kayakers are circled and nudged by a great white off Sydney (28 December); one of them is knocked off his kayak but scrambles to safety. A 51 year old man is taken by a great white off Rockingham, south of Perth in Western Australia (27 December).

Sharks in particular tended to catch my somewhat paranoid imagination during my 14 years in Australia (and they still do, pathetically). Friends regaled me with terrible tales of narrow escapes and crunched surfboards and lost limbs; with more than a wink-wink ooo-er hint of 'get-a-life-Daveo', they liked to feed my wide-eyed fafucksake Englishness, within which a hedgehog is about as scary as it gets; and it was fed. In the end, I was always a little wary swimming and body surfing, much as I loved it; encounters with the sea were invariably coloured with a certain frisson. And while watching the surfers at Margaret River in W.A. or at Bell's Beach in Victoria, I often found myself scanning the water's surface for a shadowy presence. Although I saw countless darkly ominous 'shapes' (usually clumps of seaweed pulsing in the currents), I never really saw a shark.

I have a weird file of cuttings about sharks and other rather extreme human/animal encounters. Many of them from Australia: crocodile attacks; snake and shark incidents; even a kangaroo and a feral camel assault. Images of sharks hunting in swarming shoals of sardines, rolling and morphing in waves, like starlings. And a clipping about a fisherman who fell off the back of commercial boat in the sea off Queensland, the other crew members only noticing his absence when they arrived back at Townsville. Prolonged searches, but no sign of him. A few days later the same boat returned to the processing plant with the day's catch, including a huge cod; when they cut it open, they found the missing man's head in its stomach.

Stuff about Antoine Yates, who kept a fully grown Bengal tiger ('Ming') in his Harlem apartment for a couple of years until 2003, until suspicions were triggered when he went to hospital with enormous 'pit bull' bites in his thigh. An image of Damien Hurst's 'The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living' (1992), the glass-cased tiger shark floating in formaldehyde in the shark-infested waters of the Saatchi collection; and a print-out of a New York Times article about Hirst's replacement of the decaying original shark with a 25-30 year old female caught specifically for Hirst off Queensland in 2006.

There's a copy of a long article about the increase in shark attacks off Australia in 2000-1, in which a South Australian diver Geoff Grocke describes how a fellow diver was 'played with' for over an hour by a great white: 'It held him down, lay on top of him, dragged him along the bottom, knocked him around like crazy. He punched it as hard as he could, but it was like it was laughing at him. It knocked his mask off ... he felt around and put it back on. When he could see, there was this head about half-a-metre away, just looking at him. He crawled from rock to rock trying to escape, but it just kept after him. He told us he was hysterical, howling and screaming into his mask. In the end, it just got sick of him and swam off. He wasn't the same after that; he gave up diving for a while, and now he won't even talk about it' (Frank Robson, 'The fatal shores', The Age magazine, Australia, 3 February 2001. Hilariously, The Age's colour supplement is called 'Good Weekend').

Then there are all sorts of loosely related bits and pieces, including a cutting of AC Grayling on 'Loss': 'To take life in armfuls, to embrace and accept it, to leap into it with energy and relish, is of course to invite trouble of all the familiar kinds. But the cost of avoiding trouble is a terrible one: it is the cost of having trodden the planet for humanity's brief allotment of less than 1,000 months, without really having lived' (Guardian, 4 August 2001).

Pride of place goes to an astonishing, wise text called 'Being Prey' by the late environmentalist and ecofeminist Val Plumwood, sent on to me years ago by Adrian Heathfield (download it here). I recommend it for a little Christmas reading, for it is a text in which all sorts of assumptions are turned on their heads in bewildering and humbling ways.

The file's most recent addition, from October this year, is an image of a young Irish surfer riding a wave off the coast of Perth with a 500 lb great white lurking in the green wall of the wave alongside him, as if it's surfing too, like a dolphin. (Or is it a bleached log, an innocuous bit of flotsam drifting around the Indian Ocean? In truth, it's hard to tell from the image). The surfer had been unaware of the shark's presence until he was shown the photograph later. The caption above the image, inevitably sensationalist: 'White Terror: Surfer shares wave with killer shark' (Guardian, 4 October 2008).

'Watson and the Shark' (1778), by John Singleton Copley: National Gallery of Art, Washington. Brook Watson was 14 years old when a shark in Havana harbour took his right foot. Years later, as Alderman of London, he commissioned this painting; he also put a shark in his coat of arms. (Source: Thomas B. Allen, Shark Attacks, New York, Lyons Press, 2001).

To access an edited online version of Frank Robson's 'The fatal shores' (
from the Sydney Morning Herald, 3 Feb 2001), see here

Friday 26 December 2008

Monday 15 December 2008

horse milk

for the noo

photos © David Williams
for ... 'unusual' horse & cat milk products, see here

Tuesday 2 December 2008


'Jump, for God's sake,
Jump like your life depends on it'
(Sandra Beasley, Theories of Falling, 2008).

A few days ago, I left work around 6.30 in the evening to walk to the bus - about a mile through the darkness. Heavy cloud, no moon, and by the time I reached the entrance to the Dartington garden I could barely see anything. No torch, dammit. I knew there were granite steps a few feet ahead of me, just above the Buddha statue, so I triggered my phone to try to light my way. Faffing about with the settings, I failed to find anything approximating the effect of a torch; instead, effectively I blinded myself temporarily. Seeing absolutely nothing at all now, I warily felt my way forward into the pitch black with my feet, and found the lip of the top step; I edged down step by step until I reached level ground. Then set off at a brisk pace into the night along the path I knew to be ahead of me. But I'd forgotten the stairs were divided into two flights by a small landing, and that there were still 7 steps to go. So I stepped into mid-air and dived into nothingness. For a split second I felt like some anoraky version of Yves Klein. Quite calm, just very wide-eyed, wide awake. Deceleration, expansion of a moment, then sudden rush back into the materiality of the present. With both arms outstretched I landed half on the path, the right side of my body sliding through the muddy earth of the empty flower bed right in front of the Buddha. My body was soft, relaxed, and my hands took much of the impact, so I didn't really hurt myself. I stood up quickly, checked my computer was still in my rucksack, brushed some muddy smears off my coat and trousers, slowed my heart with a couple of big breaths, then looked round for the Buddha. I couldn't see a thing but I knew he was right there, feet away, knew he'd seen me fly and fall and crash. I figured he'd have found it mildly amusing, and I smiled before turning away and setting off again towards the bus. I felt a bit of a plonker, but was somewhat impressed by my 51-year-old body's 'intelligence', the speed and effortlessness with which 'my' instinctive emergency responses kicked in. Nothing heroic in this, they simply took over and cushioned me from my-self. Clever.

En route to the bus I managed to find every conceivable puddle and mud pool in the darkness; in the end I gave up caring and just splashed my way forward. By the time I reached the bus stop, and the street lights, my shoes and trouser bottoms were drenched. I probably left a trail on the pavement.

When the bus arrived I jumped on board squelching audibly and asked for my ticket. I gave the driver the money, and saw that my hand was caked in mud - and indeed one side of me was a thick brown slick from shoulder down. Impressive. The driver looked at me rather distastefully. While he punched out the ticket, I turned into the bright glare of the bus; everyone was staring at me as though I was a malodorous vagrant who had just stirred from a snooze in a ditch. Suddenly I was visible, and being judged. I smiled, thought bollocks, and sat down for the ride. In my imagination I went back to the Buddha still there in the night, blissfully attentive behind that lichen patina. The things he must have seen over the years from his silent, discreet vantage point.

Infinitely detailed ice patterns on Sue's car yesterday morning, the windows layered in feathery palm-like structures that refract the weak sunlight.

Then last night, the rare conjunction of a crescent moon with Jupiter and Venus in the clear night sky, three of the brightest objects visible from Earth. We see it as we drive home, and stop to watch from the road side. At first, the moon was transformed into the outline of a nippled breast by Venus protruding from its edge; gradually Venus separated from the moon to leave three discreet planetary bodies in drifting relation. From our earth-bound perspective they seem close together, although in reality we look past the moon's edge to planets million of miles away - the moon at 239,000 miles from Earth, Venus at 94 million and Jupiter 540 million. Astronomers suggest a similar conjunction occurred in June of 2 BC, and various religious scholars and astrologers have connected this event to the birth of Christ (the star of Bethlehem). It seems such propitious conjunctions also relate to the 'Chemical Wedding' of Rosicrucian and Alchemical traditions. Mmm. I just thought it was beautiful, hypnotic.

Now, this is a night to walk home through the garden, I thought. You'd be able to dance down those steps and wink at the Buddha. He'd probably wink back, he sometimes does, the Enigmatic Dude with one open hand up and one down.

'The sun glows by day; the moon shines by night; in his armour the warrior glows. In meditation shines the brahman. But all day and all night, shines with radiance the Awakened One' (The Dhammapada).


Fall guy

Nightfall (1971) - Bas Jan Ader
Black and white film, 16 mm, silent
Duration 4'16"

"BJA stands in a garage behind a concrete paving slab. On the floor to his left and right are illuminated light bulbs. The camera records BJA frontally from a fixed position. After approximately one minute BJA picks up the heavy concrete slab and raises it onto his left shoulder. He the shifts the block onto his left palm and holds it like a serving tray. All of this is accomplished with great difficulty due to the weight of the slab. He throws the slab onto the light bulb on his left, smashing and extinguishing it. He remains standing in the middle for a while, picks up the slab again and repeats the entire process on his right-hand side. As the second light bulb is extinguished the scene turns to black" (84).


Bas Jan Ader, in an interview from 1972: "I have always been fascinated by the tragic. That is also contained in the act of falling: the fall is failure. Someone once said to me: I can well imagine that you are so obsessed with the fall; that's because your father was shot. That is obviously a far too anecdotal interpretation. Everything is tragic because people always lose control of processes, of matter, of their feelings. That is a much more universal tragedy ..." (14).


In his master's thesis (1967), Ader proposed to explore the meaning of 'fall' and its complement 'rise'. These two terms were sub-divided into categories:

1. Humpty Dumpty - fall guy - the egg suspended above the sky, and the use of the bicycle before and after its unexplained misfortune.
2. Sue Falls - table your feelings - the congratulatory letter to the Eiffel Tower and the leaning table, about to be sawed through, which contains this letter.
3. Plans for a dangerous journey and Niagara Falls ... (15-16).

Extracts from Rein Wolfs (ed.) Bas Jan Ader: Please Don't Leave Me, Rotterdam: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen / London: Camden Arts Centre, 2006. To see Bas Jan Ader's Nightfall, and some of his other 'fall' films (from the roof of his house, a bicycle into a canal, a tree branch into a stream etc.), see 'Selected Works' here

Saturday 29 November 2008

sight fall - the time of light

'Falling into the World: Gravitational Space'

An interview with Paul Virilio, by Laurence Louppe and Daniel Dobbels

Translated by David Williams 

'After the nuclear disintegration of the space of matter, we have finally arrived at the territory of the time of light' (Paul Virilio)

Laurence Louppe: In the course of your pedagogic activities, Paul Virilio, you have become interested in dance notation. This fact, in conjunction with the importance of your work, prompted us to enquire about your perspective on a field that is still rather misunderstood.

Paul Virilio: I became interested in choreographic notation as a teacher of architecture. I had a Moroccan student who was working on this subject, she was doing a diploma on dance and space; and for my own part I was interested in a measure of space in architecture that would no longer simply provide facade sections, which comprise a wholly abstracted vision. Space is movement, that's the quality of a volume, so it's very difficult to notate. When I became interested in choreographic notation, I was wondering, for example, whether there might not be a way of qualifying space through Labanotation that would help develop architectural drawings and sections; as they stand, they're utterly primitive as measures of a space since they provide no measure of time. Whereas in dance, where notions of time and space are interconnected, there's a relativity which translates that reality effectively.

In architecture, people were only producing geography; and I thought it was time that the urban or architectural geography represented by the survey plans of a community, or by the floor plans of a house, should be further developed with a choreography: in other words, a measure of the quality of volume. Here Labanotation would function in ways other than as the body's preparation for a movement practice.

LL: What you're saying is at the heart of our own preoccupations. I would like to add in this context that Laban saw the body as a sort of score, essentially arranged by what he calls 'effort', in other words the displacement of weight. But this displacement of weight organises an interior cartography, and at the same time a geography in which the relationship between space and time already comprises an architectural space. When he talks of 'effort shaping', he means constructing space with one's weight, with the displacement of one's weight; it's a geography too.

PV: When I say 'only geography', I'm not denying its importance. I mean that it must be taken further through a measure of movement, and not only a measure of surfaces. In architecture, surfaces are measured, but volume isn't apprehended at all; now it seemed to me that in addition to the measure of surfaces, there was a measure of time through movement, for which Labanotation could be useful. I wasn't suggesting that it had to be adopted literally, but that it could inspire architects to qualify the space of movement, for example when going from one level to another. When architects draw up plans, they're interested in these things, but they're only able to measure surfaces for the lack of any tools to qualify volume.

LL: What you're saying is very important; but in actual fact this idea of apprehending objects, not so much in terms of quantitative measures, but in terms of qualitative criteria, is something very new.

PV: Yes, absolutely. And as far as architecture's concerned, it's still not resolved at all. I'll give another example. Earlier on you talked of interior mappings; and in fact I get my students to work on mental imagery. For about ten years I have conducted exercises where I get them to draw mentally and then graphically. In this way I try to synchronise the mental vision of plan, space and the graphic or geo-graphic representation, as we've evoked it. At present this research in architecture is not yet finished, but it's continuing in the same direction. Something else that also interested me a great deal at the time was what was called 'musicography': in other words, research undertaken by musicians into new notational forms, not simply the solfeggio. This too offered us an example. How could architecture interpret and make use of. such techniques so as to further develop its traditional practice of space?

Daniel Dobbels: What seems important to me is this definition of displacement through weight that you indicate by the word 'qualify'. The impression today being that this primordial sensation of weight is compromised, altered, imperiled.

PV: That's what's at the root of the word 'glory'. Glory means a weight, not something that's brilliant, shiny. When one thinks of 'glory', one thinks of stars, of things that shine; it's not that at all; it's weight, density.

DD: At the same time, when one 'qualifies' space-time and movement through the displacement of weight, one must immediately think of the imponderable, as a corollary. It seems to me that in Laurence's work on choreographic notation, one of the recurrent obsessions that conspired in the invention of notation related to the fact of never seeing this imponderable aspect inscribed anywhere.

PV: I would like to deal with this question in another way. I have been working on a text, which will be published shortly in Chimères, on the notion of falling. I don't think that one can perceive the world without falling into the world. This is not a metaphor. Human vision is dependent upon weight, in other words upon the fact that one either falls or one doesn't. Horizontal displacement, walking, is a way of falling from one foot to the other; similarly, the perspectival vision that we have of the horizon is connected to the fact that we are falling into the horizon. Let me explain. The Renaissance perspective of real space is already conditioned by weight, by gravity. The notion of up and down doesn't exist, no more for the living body than for the visual cortex independently of weight; so there is a fall at the origin of the perception of the world, and I would suggest this connects back to Genesis; when the eyes of Adam and Eve open, they discover their nakedness, which signifies that they fall into the real.

But I think this symbolic vision is also a practical vision. I think that any relation to the real is one of falling therefore one of weight. I am sufficiently interested in this perspective to bring gravity to bear in perception. Why? Because what interests me is speed, and because I don't believe in the purely geometric perspective of the Renaissance, with those lines that converge at infinite, the vanishing point; I find it primitive, it doesn't correspond to reality at all. I don't think the visual cone has any reality independently of the weighted body that's at the origin of this vision of the world. Hence my interest in 'vision machines', technologies of perception which eschew weight; they escape gravity since their perception is automatised, it occurs through the recognition of forms stemming from a computer being connected up to a camera.

So it's true that there's a reinvention of the body's weight, but in my opinion it could go much further philosophically speaking; what's still missing between subject and object is the trajectory. We must reinvent and retrieve meaning for the nature of the trajectory - I say this in a very concrete way; nowadays I talk of the trajective and of trajectivity, in the same way one talks of object, objective, objectivity. The existence and nature of the trajectory has to be reinvented. And it can be if we give gravity back its force, its power to emit and express reality. We are creatures of gravity. When we say we're terrestrial beings, this means that we are creatures of the earth's gravity - not of the moon's gravity, or of any other planet's.

LL: What you're saying is particularly disconcerting, because a system such as that of Feuillet, as far back as 1700, bases the essence of dance on the 1055 of support. What creates the transaction of the danced movement is the exchange between the supporting leg and the free leg, and it's the way in which the supporting leg loses its balance that is notated. So it's the quality of the loss of support on which the dance is based. And when Laban discovered this, he was astonished, because there was already, as far back as the 17th century (and it's not surprising that this was the Baroque period), an idea of the gravitational.

PV: Today what interests me, and this picks up on what you've just said, is what in parachuting is called the 'sight-fall'. A sight-fall is a free fall without recourse to an altimeter. I'm also studying those people that throw themselves into the void with elastic attached to their feet [bungy jumping], because it seems to me that this contains a shift to the very limit of falling, which reveals in an essential and very pure way the elements we have just been discussing. A sight-fall is when someone throws themselves into the void relying only on their weight to evaluate their vision of the moment when the parachute should be opened - and their weight in this context is absolute, since they're free falling. Usually parachutists use an altimeter for this purpose, and they open it up at the last moment. But the sight-faller (which is a beautiful term in its own right) attempts to base the decision to open the parachute on the perception they have of the ground, and this perception wholly results from their body weight. If they make a mistake, and the parachute opens too late, obviously they kill themselves.

DD: How is this moment of evaluation inscribed?

PV: I can't go into much detail because I'm still working on the subject. But I am interested in the number of people involved in falling sports: bungy jumpers, or cloud surfers who throw themselves into the void with a board on their feet so as to glide on the wind relative to their fall, or sight-fallers. All reflect the attraction of falling, which seems to be another way of explaining the allure of drugs today - except this is a drug of weight, it's 'gravitational' rather than chemical; it's a question of attaining and exploring one's limits exclusively through one's weight, rather than through the ingestion of substances of varying degrees of danger.

LL: One must also attain vertigo ...

DD: In situations of extreme vertigo one clings on to something; what's the ultimate point at which one still clings on to life?

PV: If one's perspective is connected to one's weight, there's a moment at which one can fully experiment with it; and that's the sight-fall, because there the measure of one's weight in free fall brings the rational person to the moment of decision. So the vision they have is directly connected to their perspective, since it's related both to what's fleeting, in flight (remember that vertigo is an effect of the fleeting), and at the same time to one's weight, which provides an absolute perspective. A sight-faller's perspective is the only true perspective. We must really try to analyse in a very fine way what occurs at that moment. Furthermore, as you well understand, it's a phenomenon of speed, a dromoscopic phenomenon; this vision is really very pure, it doesn't involve any mode of conveyance with its own trans formative, mutative effects.

When you're in a train or in a car, rather than a true perspective, what one sees is bluff - deformations related to the motor and the vehicle's position in relation to the ground. In sight-falling, the vehicle is the body in free fall; it's the trajective which reveals the objective.

DD: Is this trajectory rectilinear, or rather, is there still the possibility of effecting a sort of clinamen, of opening an angle of inclination and producing a deviation?

PV: No, there's no change. When you listen to sight-fallers you realise that there are states of perception which change on one hand with the speed of acceleration of the fall, and on the other with the modification of the relation to the ground. So something very complex occurs at the level of stages gone through before the parachute comes in; and they say this quite explicitly, one's vision is modified several times until the moment at which it stops changing, because one's afraid of going too far and that the ground's too close. So the free fall manifestly contains radically different sequences. At the beginning, it's clear that the ground doesn't seem to be coming towards one, one gets the impression of being in a kind of nirvana, although admittedly this is at about a thousand metres up; subsequently the ground does look as though it's coming up - in other words, one inverts; and finally in the third stage, the ground seems to open up. There would be still further stages after this, but they are beyond human possibility given the risk of crashing into the ground.

DD: What would be the status of language in this experience? One often associates the cadaverous state inertia, death - with the fact that the body no longer has signifiers; in this context is the signifier suspended, as if it's in parentheses, or, on the contrary, does it fall with the body? One gets the impression that when one falls, one makes language fall too.

PV: There's a very misunderstood word, and that's vertigo, which you mentioned just now. In some ways, quite apart from chemical vertigo, in other words something stemming from bad digestion or similar phenomena, vertigo without chemical effect is something wholly unknown; I would even suggest that the word 'vertigo' is a carry-all concealing what vertigo is. I would suggest that it will not be possible to discuss vertigo until the existence and nature of the trajectory has been rehabilitated. In a certain way, 'vertigo' is what serves to conceal trajectivity. I talk of the trajectivity of someone walking or of someone falling. What interests me behind this idea that any vision of the world is a fall, a literal fall that entails weight, is that we have a perception of the world because we are falling into the world.

A friend of mine, who was going to have his liver removed before a transplant, was saying to me: 'It's extraordinary, now my liver's sick it weighs; it's no longer a liver, it's a dead weight'. As if something was falling inside him; it's not only the body that falls into the world when it's living, but when the life of an organ starts to fade it falls into the body like a dead weight, as if an interior weight inside the body doubled up the exterior weight of the body in the world. To my mind, corporeity-as-fall is a wholly interesting element of the materialism of corporeity. And one is reminded of religious and mystical thought in a non-metaphorical way: falling into the body, falling into matter - these aren't metaphors, they're concrete.

DD: In the word that you use, trajectif ('trajective'), I'm hearing trajet-dit (' the said trajectory'); as if something in the trajectory is 'said' at the very moment the fall occurs. Is consciousness of this 'saying', particular to the trajectory, embodied at such moments? Is the signification of the gesture 'spoken, in such a way that it suspends other forms of speed, other forms of reduction, other forms for the advent of dead weight? Finally, don't you think that all these systems of notation, as well as the actual practice of choreography, seem to be haunted by an obsession: to suspend time, in such a way that another time can come and double the dead times?

PV: This takes us back to Husserl and the notion of a 'living present'. There is no time, no temporality for someone not living; time doesn't exist for stone, or for water. Time only exists for the human being looking at the stone, or watching the water flow. I think that the notion of a living present is very current, particularly given how much we talk today about real time, present time. The real time of technology is only real time because of the living present of the spectator, listener or actor. So dance is effectively the implementation of the dancer's living present. And this living present is an enigma. It's not the present of the past, or of the future; the living present has neither past nor future; it's in the 'quick' of life, it exists in the speed of being in the world - in the speed of falling into the world. And it is so in a total way; in other words the body of the dancer is wholly implicated, like the body of the parachutist we discussed just now.

DD: Which is not to confuse it with the ephemeral. In what you're saying, I still hear duration.

PV: Absolutely: the living present is life itself. It's not a chronological time; it's a 'chronoscopic' time - in other words, the time of presence. And I would suggest this kind of time avoids the tripartite structure of traditional time; the living present contains no before/during/after. […]

DD: There's an exhibition about J. Van Cleve on at the moment, and it contains two representations - one by him, one by Gerard David - of Adam and Eve, naked, after they've been expelled from Paradise …

PV: The nude should be reinterpreted, in terms of a fall into appearance ...

DD: What 's magnificent with Gerard David is the impression one gets that the body, in particular Adam's body, is a fall into the world; behind him is a shadow drawn on a grayish blue background, and the shadow grows increasingly slender towards the bottom. Could one fall into the world either with or without a body? This is also one of the questions of dance. Of course I fall into the world, but perhaps I don 't fall with the body I require to be able to support this relation to the living, which awaits me in some way as destiny, as the unknown, as enigma.

PV: I think that images possess a weight. I disagree very strongly with people who say that images are nothing and that the thing is all. I myself am an image with weight, and I'm nothing other than an image. Besides there are certain technologies which allow an acceleration of visualisation; in fractions of seconds, one can show a mouse in perfect condition decomposing to the point of crumbling into dust. I find that there's a truth in such documents, so that there's no difference between the living mouse and the representation of the mouse. In some ways, I'm a Berkeleyan; I find many things in Berkeley very interesting and very relativist. So for me we're images that have weight.

The decline of the image is a decline in reality. To say that "images are nothing, the thing is all" in some ways sweeps away the thing, it sweeps matter away. To my mind, the materialism-gone-astray we've inhabited for about a century, contains a 'tragedy' (back to your word again [trajectif/trajet-dit/tragédie]) of the visible. "What's visible is nothing, matter I all”: what does that mean? It means that an image only has value when one touches it; we valorise a tactile image to the detriment of a visual or auditory image. Is something more real because I have it in my hand, or because I see it? We know full well that we can't do this, all the more so given the technologies we have today for 'tele-palpation'. Therefore it's clear that the image has weight, the image is the thing.

DD: This brings us back to Léger's 'Ballet Mécanique', to that rendering of a woman who, by climbing some stairs in a way, takes weight in the image and gives the image its real weight. There's also the work of Bill Viola, which shows how a body is constantly in the process of reestablishing balances, and that in fact a body comprises
pure moving.

PV: Movement is nothing other than an imbalance fostered and entertained.

DD: Why do you want to point that out?

PV: Well, why is imbalance negative? Why does moving take precedence over imbalance? Because, I would suggest, there's an old underlying pride, in the Biblical sense of the word, that says that what drops, what falls, is not good … Well, I believe exactly the opposite. I believe that the original accident - the 'fall' - is a blessing; we exist because we inhabit an original accident; we are because we're 'sinners'. Maybe this is a poor interpretation of the Bible, or a resistance to the Scriptures; but I believe the accident to be original, at the root of humanity. I myself am accident-prone, I'm a man in the process of falling, a fall-ible man; that's my greatness. Terms like chaos, imbalance, accident are located as negative, whereas they constitute us as humans. In reality we only exist through our failures, we only exist through our falls; we only exist through the accident that our life itself is. This is true of human beings and of many other situations one could mention. And what's interesting in the idea of dance as fall is that in some ways it reintroduces humanity as accident rather than as 'glorious substance'.

DD: And this is the starting point for our inventions of the real.

PV: Yes, for our constitutions of it. Which brings us back to the philosophical adage, which is now rather forgotten: "Lightning doesn't flash if there's no eye to see it; thunder has no sound if there's no ear to hear it". This table is not solid without a hand to feel its solidness. In a certain way, therefore, the entropic principle (which we now talk about at a cosmogynic level) reintroduces the notion that as the observers of the world, human beings thereby constitute the world. And this takes us back to Berkeley. And it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with immaterialism. Unfortunately analysis of Berkeley's thinking has revolved completely around immaterialism, whereas to my mind it constitutes another kind of materialism. Perhaps today, through Einsteinian relativity, the analysis of Berkeley can be reinterpreted in another way.

LL: If in fact we constitute ourselves in falling, how does one interpret the idea of rebound, suspension, the function of holding oneself upright? In Doris Humphrey's work, for example, there were two principles in dance: fall and recovery. And she also said: "Movement is an arc of life, strung between two deaths: vertical death and horizontal death". And movement is precisely what describes the curve …

PV: It's the trajectory.

LL: Yes, but a trajectory that's not on the ground: it's in declivity.

PV: It's a parabolic trajectory.

LL: And, furthermore, one which can also cut podal supports. But how do you locate suspension, rebound? In relation to this ancient desire to fall, how can we hold ourselves up, suspend and rebound? For you, is this something negative for the existence and nature of falling?

PV: No, not at all, because a fall to the horizontal, which means one goes towards the horizon, includes a rebound. One shouldn't understand falling as being exclusively from up to down; it can also happen from down up. A jump is a fall upwards, just as taking flight is an attack in reverse. I don't think there's any centre to the fall, except for the living present of the dancer. The centre is the dancer's own body, there's no centre elsewhere, there's no ground. If one accepts that walking is a falling towards the horizon, there's no ground; the ground is relative, it doesn't exist at all any more except for someone falling from up to down.

In order to understand what sight-falling means - the fall into reality - one must try to forget traditional referents: down and up. So as to locate oneself exclusively in the particular body as centre of time, centre of the living present. And all technologies today lead us back to the human body. Tele-technologies mean that it's at the centre of the world, that the ground has less importance; hence deterritorialisation, the horizon has less importance, it's possible to see weapons over the horizon with radars … In a certain way, the last planet, the final frontier is the particular body, and the particular body is the living present. This isn't only a 'body' in the materialist sense of the word, it is the living present. Behind desocialisation, behind the return to individuality, I think that in reality there's a resurgence of the human being as centre of the world, the human being as egocentrism. The conquest of the universe, whether infinitely large or infinitely small, the conquest of space, all technological conquests lead us back to 'egocentring'. And dance is in fact one of the arts of egocentring. To avoid falling over, to turn around and find oneself confronted with an audience, an egocentring is constantly exercised, just as it is in certain sports too. And this brings us back to the sightfaller, who is a sort of planetary body: weighted-ness making them fall, like planets attracting one another mutually. The sight-faller is Newtonian.

DD: At this stage in your thinking, what would be the status of the presence of others in relation to this egocentring? Can more-than-one fall into the world together? If so, how?

PV: One does nothing else, since one is engendered, one is reproduced. The fall begins with parental reproduction, and through a reproduction of the social body. I would like to suggest that there's more than one fall. There's the fall into birth. In certain techniques of giving birth, in fact, the women allow the child to fall: it falls as it is born. Similarly, society falls on to the territorial body, it's projected by the territorial body. If one takes the three bodies - territorial body, social body, animal body – they each fall into each other. Because there's a territorial body, the species falls into the world. If this world wasn't the earth but a planet with gravity x, life would be entirely different, as would the vision of the world.

Similarly, the family makes the animal body of the new-born child fall, because the family itself is expelled from the social body; it distinguishes itself through the loving relationship and marriage, through what I call the 'peopling unit'. The peopling unit, which will produce the animal body of the new-born child, is itself expelled; hence the importance of the family, of this structure which is both outside of society and its very foundation. What a long way the notion of 'social class' is from the materialist, animal origin! The origin of society is male/female reproduction; hence the gravity of instances of in vitro reproductive 4 technologies today.

It seems clear that there are three falls. Firstly, the fall into the world of the earth [terre], of gravity; without gravity, there would be no society; the terri-torial body is fundamental, it's the first weight, the first measure. Secondly, there's the social body, in other words the species; and the species will engender a couple who will become the source of a new fall, the third fall, into birth. Therefore the movement of falling is global, gravity is everywhere; and it's not a metaphor.

DD: And we talk of ‘descendants’, ‘offspring’: that’s what this is.

PV: Absolutely.

LL: You feel this falling when you give birth.

PV: It's like the problem of my sick friend and his liver, except that the weight in giving birth is that of a living being. When one carries a child, one feels its weight, and then it's pushed out.

LL: And it'll weigh differently too.

PV: Yes.

LL: I'd like to deal with the question of the choreographic. You spoke of territoriality. Does a sign in fact have the right to mark out this falling into the territorial, as choreographic plans and notations do? To what degree is it imbricated in wider ideological mechanisms? I'm thinking in particular of Laban's relations with Hitler. Laban distributed copies of his scores all over Germany, to different dance and gymnastic groups, and about a thousand dancers gathered in the stadium in Berlin. At that moment, Laban was frightened because he saw that the sign had been reassembled instantaneously as something far beyond his own wishes; and they were all using his signs as their starting point. Ultimately he recognised that his signs reterritorialised an absolute, centralising power. I mention territory because choreographic territory isn't exclusively metaphoric, it's a real space too. So isn't the sign-itself dangerous?

PV: I think that pushing off with one's feet, when one's at the bottom of the swimming pool, is one of the elements of the rebound. And there's no rebound without a collision of bodies: the feet touching the diving board, the body rebounding, the bottom of the pool … Your reference to Laban seems to me to be an important element; I wasn't aware of his relations with Hitler.

LL: The following day, he was forced to leave Germany very quickly.

PV: It's true that Nazism has a very strong relation to the territorial; blood and earth are core elements. And it's not surprising that Laban felt so strongly, because he was touching directly upon something central to Nazism. What I mean is that there's something in the ancient, even pagan, myth of the earth-mother that continues to fascinate me: not in the sense of the ancient goddess, the alma mater, but in the sense of what we've just been discussing - in terms of the relations of falling from one body to another, from the body of the earth to the body of another, and from the body of another to the birth of the new man or new woman.

I want to say that there's a mysterious conspiracy or complicity between inert elements (matter) and animate elements; and inevitably my favourite saint is Francis of Assisi, who said that the inanimate and the animate are closely related; he talked of a 'fraternity'. If one says 'my brother the sun', it's not simply a beautiful phrase; if one says 'my sister the rain', something of this conspiratorial relatedness of animate and inanimate is articulated. And in terms of the body's gestural life, dance is another aspect of this relationship; one needs a floor to rebound, and a spectator to see the movement the dancer won't see ... So there's a mysterious complicity of animate and inanimate, which means one can no longer oppose spiritualism and materialism; one can read Berkeley again with eyes that don't blink at the 'absurdity' of his immaterialism and of his materialism - absurd because he supposedly fails to take into account the complicity of living and non-living. To my mind, dance is one of the important sites of this. Moreover it's not just chance that so many mystics use dance as prayer.

DD: This reminds me of the work of Edouard Boubat; in his photographs, one perceives a sort of 'solidarity' between the inert elements and the solitude of bodies. One of Boubat's photos is of an old woman, who really looks to be near the end of her life, resting on a bench in the Place Saint-Sulpice; and what's wonderful is that one gets the impression that the street, and the feet of the bench holding her up, are in a strange relation of solidarity with her; they share and accompany her in her solitude. That's why, when you mentioned Nazism - the blood and the earth – I think it also entailed a change of light, a shift in the register of light, such that a flood of bodies were carried off and away; this was one of the vectors of what was called total mobilisation. How can we invent systems of movement today which will enable the creation of effects of solidarity between distinct bodies and morphologies, distinct rhythms and dynamisms, without this inevitably and ultimately producing a mass effect, in the totalitarian sense of the word?

PV: That's absolutely true, but it had started with Futurism. One mustn't forget what Nazism took from Fascism and what the Fascists took from Futurism; it started with Futurism, although for them it was an attack, an assault. One finds something similar with Heidegger; an attack on the world is not a fall into the world; it involves a movement of course, it's simply that its interpretation is quite different; an attack on the world is a violence enacted in a fall. The Nazi assault contains a fall, but it is a conquering fall. Whereas the sight-faller's fall is exactly the opposite. I risk dying in order to gain the world, for the acquisition of a goal. Parachutists who throw themselves into the void want to acquire the world through their weakness; it's an anti-assault.

DD: That's always the crucial question. What is it that always makes for a possible ambivalence between the moment of either gaining the world through my weakness, through my fall, or becoming the kamikaze that's the extreme point of this? So the question, for choreography for example, is: at what point am I even half-sure that my fall is not going to be a kamikaze fall, but a fall to 'gain the world through weakness', to be on the side of weakness, as Bram van Veld said? It's a question of this difference.

PV: Once again I can't respond. This is where the freedom of human beings is to be found; in a certain way it's the enigma of the liberty of the living. Moreover there's a lot of work to be done on the notion of liberation; remember that there's a speed of liberation, that of rockets, which enables human beings to free themselves from the control of gravity. The free-falling parachutist is the opposite; they remain constrained within gravity, and indeed it's from within gravity that they acquire the world as experience of falling; in this way, they prefigure a new perspective - their fall is vertical and horizontal, it's a fall towards the horizon, and no longer a fall towards the ground. This touches on elements to which we lack answers - in other words, questions of liberty; one can choose assault, one can choose suicide, one can choose grace, but it is a choice.

DD: Is it a choice, or isn't there still in fact a completely unforeseeable or imponderable part which determines at a particular moment whether you come down on the side of falling or on the side of grace?

PV: There is death. It's clear that today's bungy jumpers possess a suicidal dimension similar to that of drug abuse; it is very dangerous. In some ways, one can throw oneself into life just as one throws oneself into death; that is one of the great differences between attack and flight. We've just seen an example of flight in Iraq [at the end of the Gulf War] - a rush towards life; we could have seen the inverse, a rush towards death. There's nothing more I can say. It's a problem of choice, and one is free to choose death.

DD: One's own death.

PV: Yes, one's own death.

DD: But what about being brought to the point of choosing the death of others?

PV: That's a completely different discussion.

DD: There's a sort of disproportion …

PV: I think that when one chooses the death of others, one has already chosen one's own. But this is an altogether different matter, we're touching on areas that I'm not willing to develop further; I'm not a moralist.

DD: Nevertheless there's a threshold at which one would like morbid or death-dealing things to be suspended. In the practice of dance and choreography, this possibility of deviating exists, amongst others …

PV: Let me give you an image: the difference between dance and combative arts. One can dance with pride and one can dance with modesty. To my mind, the greatest dancers are not proud. I have seen some great dancers - I won't name names - who were so arrogant, so proud that their work was technically perfect but emotionally dreadful. What does falling with grace mean, if not falling with modesty, dropping into the world with humility? I'm tempted to say that the great dancers I've just mentioned, those that I find so horrifying, are combatants; they have gestures and a way of revolving around themselves that resemble warriors, martial artists; they have a strength, an arrogance, a pride which makes them both perfect and dreadful. I've often felt that in dance.

DD: And yet one gets the impression that some people want to see arrogance. They see more interested in an occupation of space than in a pre-occupation with it. It seems with some choreographers that, rather than being preoccupied with fashioning a space, inhabiting it, knowing how to enter into it, observing its implicit rules, they try to appropriate it - sometimes despite themselves, because they are under great pressures.

PV: Once again there's not much I can say, except that I don't want to see that kind of dance, which has had its day. I saw too much of it in the 1950s and 60s, after the ballets of the Marquis de Cuevas, which I attended regularly; and it dated very quickly, it aged enormously; in some ways, it became a parody of dance. What interests me in contemporary dance is its invention, its innovation, the fact that it is never the same, it's always other. One learned a great deal from those dances on vertical wall surfaces [Trisha Brown], for example.

LL: With regard to the living present, how do traditional systems of representation function? Semiology assumes the absence of the living present in order for a sign to be formulated; are we dealing with something concomitant here? For example, dance notation attempts to trace out its territory, and at the same time reveals its own confusion, constituted as fall, as hollow trough within the territory. In relation to the living present, how can such a constitutive tracing be effected?

PV: It's the difference between the aesthetics of appearance and the aesthetics of disappearance. Despite its informing principles, a lot of older dance inscribed itself in the aesthetics of appearance: "did I bring it down properly?" Dance today is rediscovering the principle of fidelity to the aesthetic of disappearance; its movement shows much more effectively that the body is in flight, that it's falling. So it's reconnected with the arts of representation, like music and cinema; in other words, it's accepted the primacy of the aesthetic of disappearance over the aesthetic of appearance. Remember that in the aesthetic of appearance, what persists is matter; whereas in the aesthetic of disappearance, it is retinal - the 'persistence of vision' - or the persistence of memory, of the mental image. I saw a lot of dance in which appearance was a very important element; it sufficed to see the dancers' costumes to realise that there wasn't anything 'fleeting' there, these were things that encumbered. The aesthetic of disappearance informs and supports our own time; now the body is naked, in the sense we discussed earlier - nakedness as a fall into appearance, or rather a fall into transparence.

The French essayist, philosopher and urbanist Paul Virilio is the author of a number of books, including The Aesthetics of Disappearance, War and Cinema, Vision Machine, The Lost Dimension, Vitesse et politique, La Dromoscopie, ou la lumière de la vitesse, Open Sky, and The Virilio Reader. This interview first published in Laurence Louppe (ed.), Danses tracées: dessins et notations de choréographes, 1991.

This unpublished translation is by David Williams.
Thanks to Barry L for his unwitting reminder, and for sending me a copy of a translation I had long since lost but not forgotten.

A rather different translation, by Brian Holmes, is published as 'Gravitational Space' in Laurence Louppe (ed.) (1994),
Traces of Dance: drawings and notations of choreographers, Paris: Editions Dis Voir, pp. 35–59.

Monday 24 November 2008

as my soul me ella ella tell me

'The use of the word 'subjectivity' is as enigmatic as the use of the word 'responsibility' - and more debatable. For it is a designation chosen, in a way, to preserve our portion of spirituality'
(Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster).

A November drift in freezing London with Sue, around visits to Roger Hiorns' exquisitely self-generating sculpture/installation, Seizure, and to Susan Hiller's brilliant ellipsis-filled exhibition 'Proposals & Demonstrations' at the Timothy Taylor Gallery.

Reflections on scale, reproduction, proliferation, consumption, astonishing beauty, morphing magic lantern colour fields, dream life, angels, spirits, the paranormal.

A copper-sulphate crystal encrusted abandoned flat in South London.

Levitations. Voices from beyond the grave in the static of old recordings. Unknown ghostly languages. Churchill says, "Mark you make believe my dear yes". Another voice: "He begged for bread in a dream".

Cushion covers with print images of Ann Frank, Mother Teresa, Prince William. (Let's face it, an unlikely trinity in any context. Why these three? My mind races around possible connections between them).

Serried ranks of little edible people.

Who needs drugs?


Susan Hiller, on abandoning anthropology for art: 'I didn't believe there was anything called objective truth, and I didn't want to be anything but a participant in my own experience. I didn't want to stand outside it'.