«Visibile e mobile, il mio corpo è annoverabile fra le cose, è una di esse, è presso nel tessuto del mondo e la sua coesione è quella di una cosa.»1
You are invited into a dark room, dimly lit by the corridor lamp, where you can barely distinguish a couple rows of chairs. You sit down and patiently wait for the performance to begin. You’ve come to watch Romanian dancer Manuel Pelmuş, Preview, a live dance performance, but the stage lights never come on. Darkness becomes a space, a non-space, where a dance without an apparent dancer takes place. It takes a few minutes to get used to darkness, to understand that no matter what you do, this performance will not be seen. The brain then tries to respond to this new context, searching quickly for any other sense that will calm the fear, that will aid the instinct of survival. And then a voice. Pelmuş describes his movements, his choreography, his body as his limbs contract and relax. «Movements of the body are brought about by the harmonious contraction and relaxation of selected muscles. […] movements relate the body to the environment, either for moving or for signaling to other individuals.»2 To this, Manuel Pelmuş responds, «According to Encyclopedia Britannica, I’m not here.»
The perception of movement is directly related to sight, the eye is the primary organ used for sensing movement3. But when one cannot see a space that allows the body to interact with the environment through movement, and there is no body, how is it possible that when you leave the performance, you are sure you saw a body dancing? Manuel Pelmuş annuls the supremacy of sight but suggests another point of view, or better, another sense to view. Hearing becomes the primary tool of perception and acquires importance. Not only does one listen to the performer’s words, one becomes conscious of the details: the fabric of his clothes that rub against the body as he dances, the sound of his steps as he performs the choreography. Volume also becomes important, and even the subtle lowering of the sounds acquires meaning. It allows one to perceive the position of the dancer in the darkness and his distance from us spectators. Is he close to me, is he far, will he be close enough to make me feel uncomfortable? Through the repetitive verbal description of the choreography, one can visualize the body dancing, as one engages in an interpretation of words and sounds that allows the construction of a personalized mental image of what is happening. For the artist, the repetition of a simple choreography is essential for the comprehension and visualization of the performance.
Space is difficult to define. Encyclopedia Britannica’s entry on space perception says, «…process through which humans and other organisms become aware of the relative positions of their own bodies and objects around them. Space perception provides cues, such as depth and distance, that are important for movement and orientation to the environment.» The concept of space has always been one of the recurrent themes in the theorizing of dance and movement. Performers such as Saburo Teshigawara have shown us that the air that surrounds us is not an empty space, but a tangible cluster of molecules that constantly interacts with our bodies. Manuel Pelmuş, on the other hand, changes the hierarchy of the senses and offers us a consciousness of space without the use of sight or vision, a space that one cannot see but that can be visualized through hearing. Paradoxically, when the visual perception of the body is negated, the result is an almost obsessive consciousness of the body of the performer and that of oneself. In this altered self consciousness, the mind listens and analyzes the darkness that embraces the space and the body, becoming aware of one’s own skin, the chair on which one sits, the estimated distance to other bodies in the room. This situation leads to an interesting corporeal but silent conversation, in which the performer dances and the spectator listens and feels. In this encounter between bodies, the normal mental and cultural mechanisms of identification do not happen. Without sight, one can only know that the dancer is male, and therefore an encounter (which normally includes the element of vision) that would allow the habitual identification discourse, changes. In the darkness, the spectator exists in relationship to the dancer’s moving body, but cannot catalogue or define the other socially, culturally or politically. Hence, Pelmuş achieves a “perfect” encounter, in which a process of corporeal identification is possible through self-consciousness and the consciousness of the other, but where cultural judgments vanish with sight.
Preview speaks of the concepts of space and vision in an atypical manner. For Manuel Pelmuş, darkness is the «main dramaturgical tool of this choreography4» and it is exactly through darkness that one becomes conscious of vision and its habitual supremacy. Once the spectator lets hearing become the priority, the performance opens a new space for various questions and interpretations. The performer is present and absent at the same time, making it difficult to describe what was “seen”, heard, or experienced. Here, the frailty of language is given away once more and the brain is forced to accept an event as true and real, even though there is no visual evidence to support the mental “image”. At the end of the performance, after the applause, one waits for the performer to come back and take a bow, hoping that he will grant us the visual evidence of his body that is necessary to calm the brain’s dependence on sight. It doesn’t happen, but we are certain of the fact that we DID see an invisible body dance.
1 M. Merleau-Ponty, L’occhio e lo spirito, SE Srl., Milano 1989, p. 19.
2 “Human nervous system: Movement”, Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
4 M. Pelmuş, cited.
Laura Estrada Prada è nata a Bogotá, Colombia ed è un’artista e curatrice d’arte contemporanea. Nel 2007 decide di lasciare la Colombia e di trasferirsi in Italia per studiare fotografia presso l’Istituto Europeo di Design di Roma. Nel 2011 frequenta il Master per curatori di arte contemporanea e di eventi performativi dello IED. Nel 2012 ha curato, insieme al collettivo curatoriale Gruntumolani, Singolarità mobili che abitano uno spazio nomade, una mostra di videoarte italiana presso la Casa dei Teatri di Roma. Attualmente vive e lavora a Roma.