Presented as a part of their Artist’s Film Club series, the event is based upon the life of a character called Anxietina, by day, and ANXIETINA at night, who when darkness comes is transformed from a life of “anyone—working for money, caring for self and others, difficult circumstances, friends, social media, bank cards” into a “force for simultaneous good and evil, the vanishing-into-irrelevance and the emerging-into-history of human action and interaction.”
Black presents ‘Anxietina’, a new work, through text, textiles and music into a cumulative performance that echoes her past work which has employed latex, fabric, and processes or investigations of connective layering. Bonaventure, a sound project by Soraya Lutangu, uses music as “an identity research tool” to connect her African and European roots.
Carried through its softly dystopian prose are characters like Bonky, Eggie and Bubs who’s opinion on the book are given in its accompanying blurb: “If he’d read it Bonky would call it ‘an I-scream-landic saga complete with raging sea hags and bullshitting Beowulfs.’ But Bonky is holding out for the telenovela.”
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.
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”.
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 opening opened through account to others time to open up to others.” **
Ruddy-faced with awe, a glass of wine in each hand, I find myself standing beside Noha Ramadan following her solo performance, Los Angeles, which premiered during Berlin’s Tanztage 2015 festival at the Sophiensaele. I gush effusively in an attempt to offer her due praise, “great, amazing, great, amazing”, and find myself inarticulate, tongue tied with inadequate adjectives. I am not the only one. The friend I came with disappears while I am at the bar, later telling me that he snuck away because he couldn’t even begin to talk about the performance and didn’t want to risk losing the high it’d given him by attempting to. Lost for words I mumble banal, “…so what was your inspiration?” Noha tells me that she was influenced by “the shift of perspective between earth and sky, the movement between terrestrial and celestial gazes” and the aerial perspective of contemporary Aboriginal art. “Since thousands of years there has been this art that sees from above with such clarity, way before air travel.” I recount a (too long) anecdote that I heard on Radiolab about an anthropologist who discovered the ability to access an internal GPS or ‘aerial tele-port’ whilst working in an Indigenous community in far North QLD, for whom the ability to think in precise navigational coordinates was second nature. Noha tells me that she “spends a lot of time in aeroplanes, flying over Australia staring out the window, looking at the land and at the abstraction and knowing that abstraction is really specific.”
Los Angeles opens in darkness. “Rise above the earth, and looking down on that now…” a ‘soothing’ voice sampled from a sleep hypnosis track echoes through the eclipse, lulling and vaguely irritating. The voice “…happily onwards to other places…” peters out. Deep sleep binaural beats and a cyclic pink noise wave drone resonate in sparse effusive lighting. Noha rises from the audience shrouded in a retro reflective cape – an oblong length of fabric, which dimly illuminated is both matte and sparkling like glittering coal, which throughout the performance, at times in symbiosis with her movements, her voice or the lighting, will adopt a shifting schizophrenic presence. Everything floats, legs akimbo, Noha fixes in a horizontal drift against the back wall; a raw wall of exposed concrete and plaster, left-overs, remnants, squares of colour, muted green, grey and beige, scrapings of decades of wallpaper and paint, architectural columns, a black stage curtain.
Having worked with Ebba Fransén Waldhör on set and costume – “we talked a lot, generated a lot of ideas all over the place, and joked a lot about where it could go, but in the end as usual we landed on a really reduced concept which minimally incorporated a lot of the crazier ideas” – and Wassan Ali on lighting – “we played with different colour temperatures and qualities of white light and switched between those, which creates a haptic shift in the space” – the piece has an epic supernatural momentum. With sparse props and setting, Noha’s layered movements carve a transmogrifying universe onto the vast empty stage, conjuring detailed cinematographic scenarios as if from thin air. Like the fabric she sometimes holds, hides under and wears, Noha shifts between schizophrenic subjectivities; at once the tool that disembowels, the earth onto which the viscera spills and the creature that creeps out from shadows to lap at the gutted remains.
Rapid and dynamic, the first half of the piece reminds me of furiously flicking through channels in the hotel room of a foreign country. Noha describes this section of the performance as more or less a duet with sound artist S.M Snider. Together, movement inspiring sound inspiring movement, they seem to access collective memory as the basis for an elaborate palette of special effects. Combinations of reverberation and abstraction over, under and around movements lend themselves to effusive yet concrete interpretations; here our heroine squats over a hole to give birth to a screaming mess, here she tears her own eyes from their sockets with a flick of her wrist, exhibiting the throbbing, oozing eyeballs in her open palms, over there she operates futuristic machinery, under a blanket she is a cyborg, on the floor a real girl. Noha pony gallops live through this elaborate responsive soundscape, a soundscape that lends itself to her manoeuvres, leading to fleeting moments of schlock horror action and the beautiful serenity of silver screen violence. A dynamism enabled by an impressively tight, seamless collaboration. “We decided that it made sense conceptually for all the sound in the piece to be generated by my voice because I am also creating the universe, it’s images and references, like a god. S.M Snider would then manipulate my inputs live to get to wherever we needed to go by layering the fictional elements.”
The piece shifts from this visual and cognitive realm of references and imagery and into sensation; Noha’s dancing body, abstracted and sculptural. This change of mood is an oblique, massive contrast, yet I can’t help but think that it is yet another side of this constantly streaming collective memory, what just now bombarded the audience with so much viscera and gore soon drifts off into shapes, cogitation. It ends with Noha addressing the audience with absurdist, surreal poetic wit and film quotes in rapid delivery. She asks the audience “are you following me?” Someone yells out “no!” She smiles, disarmed, charmed and charming.
I ask Noha about specific cinematic references that she seems to make throughout the performance. She tells me that there are less direct references than most people think and begins to describe a process of streaming. “I decided to open up to that epic stream and be bombarded with it instead of trying to be singular… let it all in and then see how I deal with that, see how my body deals with that, how does my mind deal with it, how do I do it in front of an audience, so that the audience brings its owns stream and energy and speed of perception and energy into the room…”
Weeks later or earlier, I overhear Tanztage curator Anna Mülter comparing Noha’s piece to a Ryan Trecartin video work. The comparison resonates powerfully, for both artists it is not the ‘objects’ or ‘subjects’ of their art, but the assemblage, that is so impressive. Both Noha and Trecartin, in their respective mediums are skilled editors. Noha describes it as “shifting from content to content management; opening up and letting it stream… and that is to do also with speed. Because if you slow it down too much, if we slow down all the inputs too much then you start to fixate on content.” Like Trecartin, Noha casts an incredibly wide net regarding references, inputs, influences, images, concepts, text, memories and gestures, yet ends up producing something quite specific. **