After The Eclipse @ Flutgraben e.V. reviewed

, 15 April 2015

Some of us, who either were too young or too unfazed to remember the last total solar eclipse, expected the earth to get completely dark while the moon passed between us and the sun.  Rather than complete blackout, we noticed a slight change in directness of the sun’s rays. For the evening of performances and readings on at Berlin’s Flutgraben e.V. on March 22, the organisers of After the Eclipse, Ebba Fransén Waldhör and Imri Kahn, perhaps dedicated the evening in this artist-run space to the astrological event, not in terms of the sublime, but rather as an ordinary moment of interference.

Anna Zett begins the evening preparing for her performance as she prepares for a boxing match. As she wraps red wrist wraps around her fists, she repeats, “how can you have a dialogue within a monologue?” The long strands of blood red sparring fabric, and the ritualistic, methodical way they are tightly wound on to the body to allow for the sport’s skillful (yet violent) physical interaction. With a similar method, Zett overlaps the complexities in our everyday interaction between mental and physical (neurotransmitters and the nervous system), Zett draws attention to the value of this communication, persistently failing, persistently under threat by sudden knockout– or a host of diseases, malicious intent, or the unpredicted, violent interventions of applied science.

After The Eclipse (2015). Photo by André Wunstorf.
After The Eclipse (2015). Photo by André Wunstorf.

In a reading also heavily concerned with communication and its failures, Imri Kahn reads what he found in an archive in a recent trip to Jerusalem– a medieval debate between a pen and a pair of scissors over their relative superiority as instruments of writing. Which makes more meaning, that which inscribes or that which excises? Written by Shem Tov Ardutiel in Christian Spain of the mid-14th Century, the unusual rhymed narrative is an allegory from a darkening political atmosphere filled with motifs fitting the occasion of the eclipse: loss of speech, hostile surroundings, self-contradiction. The main characters battle, through dialogue, through sheer function, between preservation and evisceration of meaning and representation.

Dealing again with preservation and loss, Hannah Black’s performance is in some way a critique of Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of World History. The artist-writer remembers a year spent on both coasts of the United States, as if the space between each side is enough to separate one version of the self from another -the architecture, the weather, the history of a place can split a person between, in Black’s own words, “animal and miracle”. Through this coupling she movingly recalls a Summers day spent in the Harvard Poetry Library, the “the historic campus with generous scholarships and beautiful light”. In juxtaposing her surroundings with her real condition of eating “trash for breakfast”, she is astonished by its resplendent architecture which, as Black points out, maintains its status as one of history’s greatest constructions with an air of being “built invisibly, built by no one”. This appearance becomes the site for critique, as it’s in this library that she makes vivid the very political struggle of remembrance.  In a shaft of this beautiful light, she contemplates “the knowledge, and the suppression of the knowledge”, which is redeemed only by, as Black puts it, “the knowledge of the suppression of the knowledge”.

After The Eclipse (2015). Photo by André Wunstorf.
After The Eclipse (2015). Photo by André Wunstorf.

In another take on this interplay, the opposite of the suppression of knowledge is its enhancement. This appears to be the premise under which the characters of Elvia Wilk’s novel-in-progress operate, as they seem to spend the weekend experimenting with nootropics and developing a comedown machine that facilitates both physical rejuvenation and ethical reflection. Quantifying the self is taken beyond bodily performance into the realm of ethics. Yet, as these characters retrace their intoxicated steps through a paperless trail of audio and video recordings, online banking transactions, they seemingly reach an all-too-human impasse: as they try to reach a ‘real’ doctor, an artificial intelligence-powered phone service interferes.

Also dealing with the failures of communication, in her performance Sarah M. Harrison seems to wonder, how all this failure looks to the outside world. This idiom used to be an expression referring to people at large, but (perhaps it is the eclipse) lately, the outside world seems more distant, less familiar. One of Harrison’s protagonists feels this disjuncture acutely, and brings this to a head as her main character finds notes from her sister’s tarot reading. She recites it out loud, announcing it to be the most beautiful poem she has ever read. It concludes, as the evening of performances did, with a conspicuous sense of hope: as if all this trouble with messages, memory and meaning were just a series of  ordinary interferences, no match for our persistence in making sense of it all:

“…magic in
little things in life
little steps see the doors
opened through account to others
time to open up to others.” **

The After the Eclipse reading was on at Berlin’s Flutgraben e.V. on March 22, 2015.

Header image: After The Eclipse (2015). Photo by André Wunstorf.