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Montreal

Erin Manning holds a University Research Chair in Relational Art and Philosophy in the Faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada). She is also the director of the SenseLab

Dance

 
 

Excerpt from the First Chapter of Relationscapes, by Erin Manning (MIT Press) 

There are always at least two bodies. These two stand close, facing one another, reaching toward an embrace that will signal an acceleration of the movement that has always already begun. The movement within becomes a movement without, not internal-external but folding and bridging in an intensity of preacceleration. This means: you are never stopped. To move is to engage the potential inherent in the preacceleration that embodies you. Preaccelerated because there can be no beginning or end to movement. Movement is one with the world, not body/world but body worlding. We move not to populate space, not to extend it or to embody it, but to create it. Our preacceleration already colours space, vibrates it. Movement quantifies it, qualitatively. Space is duration with a difference. The difference is my body-worlding, always more than one. Our embrace quickens the molecules that compose us. An adaptation occurs – we begin to recompose. Volumes, always more-than-one, emerge from surfaces, recombining with lines, folding, bridging, knotting. This coming-together proposes a combination of form-forces where preacceleration potentially finds passage. The passage flows not in a pre-inscribed direction: this is an intensive flow. Preacceleration: a movement of the not-yet that composes the more-than-one that is my body. Call it incipient action.

Two bodies: compositions – actual, virtual, organic, prosthetic. As we move with them, remember: there are always at least two, even when you perceive one, connected. Connection not as the locus of all beginnings, but as the invisible-but-palpable link between bodies. To move together, the connection must be alive. As they move, they reconnect. Call it a relational shape-shifting. Potential physical points of contact: chest, arm, stomach, shoulder, breast. William Forsythe calls this cz, the connection between two limbs where “the pressure of one limb on the other gives the alterations in the skeletal mechanic” (2003: 65). In relational movementi we will not always have the same contact, but contact will remain. This contact will be the impetus for creating movement. Remember: we also shapeshift at a distance.

We take a step. My step leads me forward, but before I can step I must call on you to move almost before my own displacement. It is this almost-before I must communicate. This silent question takes the form of an opening. Technically: the energy that is preaccelerating through my body convenes in a direction that can be harnessed. The direction becomes a potential movement that repositions by almost-shifting body in a towardness that has not yet actually moved. The towardness draws you in. What they see: we move forward together – I step forward, she steps back. It looks seamless. Result: they think this must be choreographed.

“I consider choreography to be a secondary result of dancing” (Forsythe 2003: 24). The appearance of choreography signals a reaction to a movement that seems to have been known in advance. Yet nothing here is known in advance. What moves is a feeling more than a direction. The feeling can be harnessed into a repetition – a choreography of sorts. But what emerges in the first instance is an openness toward moving, a movement moving.

The concept of preacceleration is a way of thinking the incipiency of movement, the ways in which movement is always on the verge of expression. Bodies invent motion incessantly, creating habits to satisfy the carrying out of these inventions. These habits tell us how to keep our balance as we take one step after another, how to reach the floor with our toes as we crawl out of bed in the morning, how to find the bathroom at night without running into the walls. Proprioception provides us with clues that precede our cognitive understanding of where we are going.ii Preacceleration: we are going, always already.

The dancer’s body – in the case of relational movement, the two of us moving together – provides a glimpse into the ways in which movement creates the potential for unthinking dichotomies that populate our worlds: abstract-concrete, organic-prosthetic, alive-dead, mind-body, actual-virtual, man-woman. It’s not that movement directly undermines these dialectical concepts. It's that movement allows us to approach them from another perspective: a shifting one. When we are no longer still, the world lives differently.

We can think of movement in at least two ways. 1. I enter a room and see that room as preexisting me. I walk across the room, drawing an imaginary line that cuts the space. 2. My movement creates the space I will come to understand as “the room.” The room is defined as my body + the environment, where the environment is an atmospheric body. Without that particular moving body that particular environment does not exist. In Boccioni’s terms, the first way of thinking movement might be termed “relative movement” and the second “absolute movement.” In the first instance, we participate in an hylomorphic quandary where form pre-exists matter.iii The matter – my body – enters into the form – the room. Both body and room are pre-given in this instance. The room defines the limits of my body’s potential. In the second instance of “absolute movement,” individuation occurs in intimate connection between the moving body and its atmospheric potential. The room becomes configuring as the body recomposes. There is no “body itself” here because the body is always more than “itself,” always reaching toward that which it is not yet. The not-yet takes form through the intensities of pre-acceleration that compel recompositions at the level of both strata, the body and the room. What this means is that both body and “space” are experienced as alive with potential movement. The body-room series takes on an infinite variety of potential velocities. These velocities take form at certain intervals, remaining virtual at others. The body-room strata is therefore neither object nor form, but infinite potential for recombination. When an event takes form within this malleable strata, there is a configuration. Displacement is one such event. When a displacement actually occurs – direction the force of preacceleration that holds the series in anticipation – a shift takes place that alters the coordinates of spacetime, beginning the process anew, bringing new  configurations to the machinic phylum “body-room”.iv

The body-room series opens the way for thinking the “pure plastic rhythm” of bodies. For Boccioni, “pure plastic rhythm” is not “the construction of bodies, but the construction of the action of bodies” (1964: 48). In his work, Boccioni is concerned with sculpting the body not as an immobile body that is modeled as though it were in motion, but as a body in movement. To sculpt movement is to prolong a spiral potential that is already inherent to matter. This prolongation of the spiral is what Boccioni calls dynamism, or dynamic form. Pure plastic rhythm is dynamic form in potential. In a Spinozean gesture, Boccioni seeks to create a movement that is preaccelerated, a movement that never stops yet has not come to full expression through displacement. That a body moves without displacing itself means that rest becomes an instance of absolute movement. Rest becomes an activity of rhythm. Boccioni calls this continuity in space. Continuity in space does not imply a static concept of space with a moving body transposed into its interior. For Boccioni, space moves. What Boccioni (with the other Futurists) seeks is a simultaneity of form and content where the virtual (preacceleration) is felt as creating a simultaneity of body and environment. Preacceleration forces movement to take form: “By its centrifugal direction, the form-force is the potential of the living form” (Boccioni 1964: 48). Force taking form.

Boccioni does not seek a representation of movement. He creates movement. To create movement is not to sculpt movement's illusion. It is to make movement felt in the recreation of new body-world series. This sculptural ambition is political. Through it, the political achieves a thickness, a volume. The immobile silhouette of the stable subject is usurped by a recomposing body that “seeks complete fusion of environment and object by means of the interpenetration of planes” (Boccioni 1964: 49). Gesture becomes dynamic: there are not two legs moving, but twenty. It's all about rhythm: “Rhythm appears not only dependent on the velocity, fastness, and linear measurement of an extensive movement, but also on the intensive capacity of the body, on its passage between direct potential states and its affective relations to the states of other bodies” (Portanova 2005: 34).

Duration is key. The two dancers have now taken a step forward. Their embrace connects them. It is not the touch “as such” that holds them to one another, but the movement-toward that is the continuous repetition of the touch.v This inframodalvi experience of touching awakens their bodies to all kinds of perceptions, alerting the dancers to the continuous recompositions of the spacetimes that world them. Inframodal vitality propels the dancers to become more-than, to embody more than the strict envelopes of their individual bodies. The dancers begin to feel the dance take over. They feel the openings before they recognize them as such, openings for movement that reach toward a dance of the not-yet. What takes place in this not-yet? Facing forward on the crowded dance floor, I feel the urgent presence of bodies moving behind me. Even if they seem still, they press against my back, creating space in front of me. The music lends urgency to the moment. The music begins to move us. I lead an interval. This interval is not mine alone to lead. She invites me to instantiate it, feeding it with her own intensive preacceleration. Inframodaly, we shapeshift this interval. As it takes form, the intensity of

moving together translates into a step, this time to the front and around. She moves around me, urging my moving body-form to propel her shifting axis into a turn as I step back, repositioning my axis in direct relation to hers. The interval moves with the music, with the shifting axes, moving us, creating a shared body. We move the relation.

The interval is duration expressed in movement. It is not something I create alone, or something I can re-create by myself. It exists in the between of movement. It accompanies my movement yet is never passive. It activates the next incipient movement. The interval is the metastable quality through which the relation is felt. Many potential intensities populate it. It expresses itself as the shifting axis that connects us. Proposition: the interval creates the potential for movement that is expressed by at least two bodies.

*continue reading in Relationscapes  (2012)