Saturday 26 May 2018

performing the holes

Inter-views and the flower mind:
an exploded view of Goat Island’s films

‘The challenge is to find a way to let the film perform the holes, the gaps, and the specific absences by which it takes shape’ – Trinh T. Minh-ha

‘Treachery is beautiful if it makes us sing’ – Jean Genet

‘Is that everything? It seemed like he said quite a bit more than that’ – ‘Bob’ (Bill Murray) to a translator in Sofia Coppola’s film Lost In Translation

By way of a preface to what follows, I’d like to begin by quoting at some length from an interview by Elizabeth Dungan with the filmmaker and cultural theorist Trinh Minh-ha. Alluding to the accelerated tempo-rhythms of cinema for instant consumption, and the temporal and perceptual propositions of Zen Buddhism and its paradoxical rhythms, Trinh describes her own approach to cinema as a site for what Matthew Goulish, in another context, has called ‘slow thinking’:

In times of coercive politics and transnational terror, slowing down so as to learn to listen anew is a necessity ... The question is not so much to produce a new image as to provoke, to facilitate, and to solicit a new seeing. Science without conscience, politics without ethics, technology without poetry result in deadly short-circuits. We've had to learn this, not only through disastrous political events, but more intimately through one's own body when it is under stress - the wired-up body that takes months to wind down, to recover, or to find its own rhythm. Non-being is what we use in working with being ... when we start taking care of this utter silence, life speaks to us in a different language, one in which we catch glimpses of stillness in movement and feel movement arising in stillness. Velocity in stillness ... Speed is here not opposed to slowness, for it is in stillness that one may be said to truly find speed. And rather than merely going against speed, stillness contains speed and determines its quality. Speed at its best … is still speed. The speed of a flower mind.

(Trinh T. Minh-ha, 'Still Speed', The Digital Film Event, London & New York: Routledge, 2005, p. 13).

As Gilles Deleuze once pointed out in conversation with Claire Parnet, in French there are two terms for ‘interview’: entrevue and entretien. Entrevue, from the verb entrevoir - to see or encounter one another, to meet. Entretien, from the verb entretenir – to maintain, cultivate, sustain or prolong: a ‘holding together’ that nourishes (‘that’s enter-tain-ment’). Both terms contain a sense of relationality and between-ness (the mutuality and exchange of entre-/inter-), and implicate the senses: of sight (-vue/view) and touch (-tien, from the verb tenir, to hold and to see). Both terms also suggest something uncertain, partial, incompletely or fleetingly or suddenly perceived, the glimpse of a possibility to be discovered in the in-between. So the interview is posited as the possibility of a ‘third space’ of seeing, holding, and tactile feeling, both in the dynamic axis between and in a vector of futurity, a forward looking (dialogue as the possibility of fore-sight). Something happens in this dialogical spacing: the event of a felt sighting and sounding of resonances between.

Perhaps it is possible to conceive of these films as ‘inter-views’, as articulated in the terms above, with or in response to the work of Goat Island. Rather than proposing documentation of live performances, it’s important to recognize the status of the films as creative dialogues or responses - in part inspired and encouraged by the core Goat Island proposition of the ‘creative response’, a generative compositional strategy and disposition returned to repeatedly in the company’s processes of making and teaching. The films are also translations, proceeding through both loyalty (to the spirit, enquiry and affective architectures of the ‘original’ live performances) and betrayal (transformation as becoming, a ‘treachery’ that can ‘make us sing’ what Paul Celan called ‘the singable remains’ – Singbarer Rest - rather than transformation as a failure to reproduce the selfsame). For in these films fragments of performance actions, images, texts, sounds are displaced, transformed and reconfigured in new architectural assemblages within which the spectator is implicated spatially, affectively, and corporeally.

In It’s Aching Like Birds, for example, filmed in the gym building in Chicago where Goat Island used to rehearse, a complex architecture of interrelated spaces is elaborated: the penumbral basketball court, with its subaquatic tonality, and an assortment of weathered attic spaces, lockers and corridors. As spectators we are asked to navigate the relations between spaces, things, materials, feels, and our own associations and memories: of childhood, disjunctions in scale, enclosure/entrapment, falling, cars, family, landscapes, weather, Pina Bausch choreographies, loss, care, the mortality of all things and forms, and so on.

In my uncertain memories of Goat Island’s live work, including It’s An Earthquake In My Heart (2001) from which these materials are sourced and reinvented, I was always more interested in what they did rather than what they meant; or rather, perhaps, my conviction was that their meanings resided precisely in what they did. These intensely physicalised ensemble performances were characterized by a continuous shifting of modes, a dizzying density of intertexts proliferating and unraveling, and meanings skidding, fracturing, realigning and multiplying in excess. And perhaps above all for me, in this vertiginous layering and mutability, a profound sense of moments of stillness arising in movement, and velocity in slowness and suspension. The work created spaces for thought in all of its rhythms; and attention itself became a material to work and at play in these performances.

A further paradox: in Goat Island’s work concept and form generated spaces of affect, sensed intensities that remained mysterious, un-settled, vibrant in the domain of intuition. They offered an exposure that was also a veiling, enabling not ‘readings’ (the drive to decipher, to decode the legible), but a listening to resonant alterity in the image and in representation’s seams, and an attention to multiplicity and an openness to the passage of elsew/here and other/wise. In my memories, within the pieces themselves the precise location and formation of sharp-edged clarities, flarings into visibility, intervals, blurs, holes, absences, entrance and exit points, slide on unstable ground; but rhythms – and the hum of relations of speed and stillness - linger effortlessly, helping to focus, disperse and prolong precisely accented networks of relationships.


When Lucy Cash first sent me these films on DVD, she wrote a note on the back of a postcard of Cornelia Parker’s Cold Dark Matter: an exploded view (1991). While watching the films, I kept returning in my mind to this image and my embodied experience of that work in the Tate Gallery, London. Here was a garden shed and its contents blown up for Parker by the British Army, its fragments then collected and reassembled as a proliferative mobile, atomized and suspended. In this way matter is anatomized in terms of its processes of flux and transformation. Material becomes molecular, dynamic, nomadising, its ‘fall-out’ moving imperceptibly and incessantly in a relational field. There were ghost architectures, disappearances, emergences. Inertia was released, fixity animated and refashioned as multiplicity, in process, caught in a liminal meanwhile of both flying and falling. The big bang. Still speed.


In Daynightly They re-school you The Bears Polka – the title itself a montaging of fragments from a Celan poem - the two unedited camera shots place us im/possibly in the wall between two discreet and connected interiors, a classroom and a hallway with a descending staircase in the background. Invited to ‘hold together’ these two antipodal spaces, we are the very locus of montage and passage: an affective, embodied conduit, a connective tissue seeing and feeling between. As an installed work, the film concretised this spatial dynamic, with the two screens placed on either side of the spectators; here, with the DVD on my laptop, my eyes flit between congruent spaces on the screen in a micro-dance of separation and reparation.

In A Last, A Quartet, four screens juxtapose different rhythms and temporalities, as well as diverse modes of performing and spectating. We are invited to navigate routes and connectivities between two interior spaces - the main hall at Pulaski Park in Chicago and a corridor along its outer edge – and two areas of woodland. Minute shifts in filtered light and sound in the fixed exterior shots offer attenuated, contemplative rhythms of change, punctuated by the passage of a chestnut horse led by someone on foot, then an anomalous trotting grey, saddled but lacking a rider. The radical alterity – energetically, rhythmically, ontologically - of the untimely event/advent of an animal. In the main hall, two fencers practice a small desultory duel with swords and helmets, before the camera pans left to focus on the members of the company performing the precisely detailed and modulated choreographies of the ‘dome dance’ from The Lastmaker. The revolve of the camera ultimately describes a circular trajectory paralleling the interior of a dome, a shadow architecture informing the choreography. Meanwhile, in the corridor shot, a range of materials from The Lastmaker are refashioned and montaged into an intricately layered choreography of fragments disposed along a linear axis of passage.

As performance, these materials occur in multiple modes: functional tasks (carrying, moving objects), rehearsed or internalized markings of a performance deferred or to come (a restrained version of Mark Jeffery’s hybrid of St Francis and Larry Grayson; Matthew Goulish’s timed song), detailed choreographies (including that of the hand-held camera in its movements to and fro, and its longing return to the space of light-breeze-flowers-outside through the corridor’s window: this choreography reflects the sense of an embodied consciousness and kinaesthetic intelligence behind the mechanical eye of the lens), a stand-in (the small girl), and various modes of something akin to acting (including Karen Christopher’s uncanny channeling of Lenny Bruce’s last performance, Matthew’s heightened and interrupted recital of a section of Robert Creeley’s poem ‘Bresson’s Movies’), and so on.

The dispersed, relational architecture of the film constructs an assemblage of rhythms and angles of incidence within which there can be no singular, privileged position or mode of viewing. Its cubist, multi-perspectival form and layered temporalities undo the apparent fixity of film, and the protean micro-shifts of the ‘live’ unfold into proliferative differences in the loop of a formally doubled repetition. In addition, circularity and linearity are set in frictional counterpoint in the spaces, the set up and trajectories of individual cameras (two outside shut-off in a fixed position, one rotating in an interrupted 360 degree pan, one moving freely although constrained within a narrow linear architecture), and the use of multiples of single unedited 16mm shots. Linear progression pulses, decays into aleatory forks and curves, and unfolds into becomings through repetition. Singularity becomes multiplicity. The predicament of watchers here gives us agency, and makes of us performers. And throughout the film we encounter, glimpse, sense, remember, overlook, forget in an open field of multiple entrances and exits – a flow meeting other flows in an immersive assemblage of intensities for the activation of memory, intuition, the ‘in-sight’ of connectivity and possibility. To borrow a phrase from Deleuze in The Logic of Sense (1990) in which he endeavours to define ethics, the invitation or challenge is above all ‘not to be unworthy of what happens to us’.

When the red curtains are fully closed – formal bracketings at the beginning, middle and end of A Last, A Quartet – and we are confronted with this cultural sign of ending (the final curtain) and anticipation (the show to come), at moments it’s impossible to tell which side of the curtain we are on. Are we waiting to go on, or to watch what will be revealed? We wait in stillness in the landscape of the inter-, the trans-, the passage, our thoughts traveling at the speed(s) of a flower mind. Meanwhile the sun sinks ever lower behind the trees, and the white dog watches: ‘Keep on walking, keep on walking. To be new in ending is not the only thing to do. White dog, tell me, where is the door?’

Essay published in the catalogue/ booklet accompanying the release of Goat Island: A Last A Quartet, a DVD of four Goat Island films by Lucy Cash; launched at PSi, Utrecht, May 2011. Photo © John W Sisson Jr / Goat Island, 2009