Repetition as a theme for investigation presented itself to me during the Erasmus Intensive. Kirsi Monni, head of the Helsinki program, during her presentation said that there is no repetition in Trio A. At the end of her talk I said that there is a lot of repetition in Trio A and showed several examples. Maybe I was being pedantic. One man’s pedanticalness is another man’s accuracy. Yes, Trio A could be said to have no repetition as there are no long sections of movement that repeat, but if the time frame that one uses to examine all of the choreography of Trio A is short, several instances of repetition do appear. The arm swings in the beginning, the toe taps, the ear flaps. These repetitions are just within the kinesphere of the performer. If we look at other performance elements we see a lot of repetition. The performer is always the same person. The costume never changes. The performer repeatedly does not look at the audience. One of the performance instructions for Trio A is to keep the same speed throughout the piece – if you start slow, stay slow; start fast, stay fast. In other words, repeat the velocity. Keeping vocally silent is another form of repetition in Trio A. How many ways of repeating exist in Trio A? How many ways of repeating exist in any choreography or performance?
One hallmark of contemporary dance could be said to be the continual search for the new. The new way to move, the new sounds, the new taboo to break, the new way to engage the audience, to frustrate, to excite, or aggravate them.
I am sure that we have all heard “Oh, that’s been done” in relation to a performance. But if that, whatever that is, has been done, then Gertrude Stein is wrong. A rose is not a rose. But if a rose is a rose is a rose does mean that there is no such thing as repetition because the context is changing then nothing has ever been done before and we can stop worrying about newness. Or maybe something similar has been done. And for some folks that similarity is too close for comfort. Enough change has not been instilled into the second rose to be different enough to be something new.
The human body can sense a 1% drop in water levels triggering a thirst response. Maybe in art there is a similar response. The change from one rose to the next needs to be greater than 1% to be registered. Or maybe 10%. I read once that humans can detect temperature change in a space only after the initial temperature drops 10%. How to measure this percentage necessary between roses I do not know.
Taking a very wide “zoom lens of attention” to performance in general, we could say that 90+% of performance is a repetition of something else. We sit here, performers there and we watch. Humans on one side of a box watching humans on the other side of the box. Zoom in and change the lights, change the framing statement, change the performers etc. and each piece is wildly different.
Emperor Penguins, the ones that stand with eggs on their feet all winter while their mates eat and then switch roles. To me they all look alike. I can’t tell them apart. They are just repetitions of each other. But penguins can certainly tell each other apart. Maybe if I took more time, trained my eye and zoomed my lens of attention in, I could see beyond the repetition and see the variety. Maybe Stein should have said a penguin is a penguin is a penguin is a penguin…
Coming back to my research. Some of you saw the piece I presented during the Erasmus presentation – a repetition of a spiral initiated by my right foot. Using that initiation repeatedly and by changing the physical context around that repetition I was able to craft my trajectory through space. The physical context I changed by altering where on my body(hands, pelvis, shoulders, quads etc) I increased or decreased pressure into the floor; how large or small I made the angle between my legs; how tight or open I made the spiral by varying when in the spiral my upper body followed the initiation of my lower body. All these elements within the repetition led to change.
Recently, I have been more interested in repetition within the body’s kinesphere than in repetitive actions that relate to the space or repetitive actions that are used to create a physical remainder. Examples of those kinds of work are Bruce Nauman’s Square Dance or Richard Long’s A Line Made by Walking (1967). One of the second years repeated Nauman’s Walking in an Exaggerated Manner around the Perimeter of a Square in December. If traveling through space does happen during my kinespheric repetition, that is fine, but not the goal. One ah ha! moment I had about physical repetition and looking back on it now, seems quite obvious, is the relationship to time. Repetition of an action is not time dependent. The repetitions can happen rapidly and evenly spaced in time or the time between actions could be quite long and the action happen only twice.
I have also been investigating repetition in relation to words by using Context Free Grammar language generators to create texts. From what I understand they generate a type of Mad Libs that are then filled with vocabularies of a certain genre. One such generator for physics I came across is snarxiv and is described as “a random high-energy theory paper generator incorporating all the latest trends, entropic reasoning, and exciting moduli spaces.” Another text generator I came across, is The Postmodernism Generator.
Could I create a sensible piece of writing using “senseless” repetition? I selected chunks of text from the Postmodernism Generator at random, hitting refresh to generate more texts and created a “Frankenstein” text. With a little word substitution here and some rewriting there, I tried to breathe life into this text. I repeated words throughout the text hoping that their repetition would create enough of a through-line to create meaning. While I do not think that if looked at with a wide zoom lens the Frankenstein text I created has meaning, there are some interesting nuggets in it. It is possible that the whole text is coherent and I do not have the ability to understand it.
These nuggets, if they already existed in the texts of Lacan, Eco, Lyotard, or Derrida, are now available to me without their original context, thus allowing me to craft my own meaning out of them. The original context is not interfering with my perception of them.
In my attempts at repetition I invariably created change. This change, to draw a geographic metaphor, can be catastrophic or gradual. Gradual change in geology is just as it sounds, gradual. The Himalayan mountains grow about 5 mm a year. For us 5mm is nothing but for a bacterium that 5mm might as well be the Himalayas. The opposite view of gradual change or gradualism is catastrophism – sudden, huge events that radically altered the face of the earth, creating mountains and valleys in moments. From a human perspective, the recent events in Fukushima, Japan were huge and devastating. For the Earth, a mere hiccup.
A similar idea in evolutionary biology is phyletic gradualism(slow, gradual but continuous change) versus punctuated equilibrium (rapid change with longer moments of stability). An example of rapid change in evolution in species is the Cambrian explosion. This “rapid” change lasted 70-80 million years. An incomprehensible time frame for humans, but only 2% of the age of the Earth.
The change created by my repetitions can be viewed as gradual or catastrophic. While holding a static pose, I might fall slowly due to my hands and feet sliding out from under me because of increased perspiration. I might have fallen abruptly due to muscle fatigue. The distal and proximal initiations might have changed abruptly or evolved slowly.
Two artists whose work resonates with me are Sol LeWitt and Agnes Martin, artists whose work involves a lot of repetition. I first encountered LeWitt’s work several years ago when Kelly suggested that I look at a piece of his called Variations of Incomplete Open Cubes. When I looked at it I saw something very similar to a sculptural project I was working on. I was trying to figure out all the possible variations of the minimum number of lines needed to indicate a cube. I was working at the time with 16 gauge two inch square steel tubing. The pictures I saw of LeWitt’s piece were just what I had been drawing. I first saw Martin’s work at the Dia:Beacon in Beacon, NY in 2006.
In reading about them I came across some words about and by LeWitt and Martin. I will share just a few here with you. I find that these words are a distillation of how I tend to look at or make work. Jannis Kounellis said of LeWitt “His fundamental square, I believe, has as its target the iconographic excesses…” Agnes Martin in her poem The Untroubled Mind writes – “…this is a return to classicism/Classicism is not about people/and this work is not about the world…Classicists are people that look out with their back to the world…it’s as unsubjective as possible…The classic is cool/a classical period/it is cool because it is impersonal/the detached and impersonal”
The works I presented to you I consider to be works in progress. I do not have a definite answer why. I feel that I know what tools or processes I have created – the physical scores, the texts – and am confident that they can take me some where. I just do not know where yet. Each of these tools has as its generative source a form repetition – the first, repetition of thought; the second, repetition of intention; the third, repetition of process. What I do know is that I am interested in repetition as a means to target iconographic excesses and to create work that is not about the world, trying to make something as unsubjective as possible and through the repetition wash away past experience.
To repeat Lisa repeating Ric repeating Deborah Hay –
What I am really trying to do is just be here in my body, in this costume, doing this movement and not have what you think this movement is from your past experience interfere with your seeing now.
click here to see 3 of the Roses, my final presentation for the second semester of my MA SODA program.