Presence Review


Performance Research Journal Routledge January 2004

Moving Bodies Issue

A moving meditation on a dead line

Tracey Warr


interrupted. All the time and eventually irretrievably. Although Bataille sees life disrupting the continuity of death. Continuity and/or caesura. Moving and stopping.


Moving. Going. In October 2001 I went with UK performance group, Optik, to Sao Paulo, Brazil (Edwards, 2003). Optik explore moving. And




















Walking. Taking a line for a walk. The three Optik performers walk and run in straight lines with Brazilian students in dance studios in Sao Paulo and Campinhas. Their lines are moving sculpture in space. They make fleeting connections and collaborations. They fill a space, a void, gaps, with their moving. They fall into entrainment – walking or running together. They mirror each other. They lay down on the spot where someone else has just stood up. They walk to an internal rhythm – a body clock. They invade or do not invade invisible territories – body space, in your face. They do not go backwards. They do not waver from their straight line. No circling, serpentining or wriggling. I sit on the floor watching, their static recorder. Grounded.


Writing. Taking my line for its walk on the page of my notebook. Filling that blank void with lines of writing. A line is a purpose. A line is definite. It is a mark, a definition. It is a seam or a zip between one thing and another. A line has continuity, connection, coherence, consecutiveness, duration, a beginning and an end, direction but reversibility. It defines, outlines, manifests invisible and imaginary spaces and things. A line is a border, between one thing and another. A border between self and world. Dead straight. A sign of time on a face. A timeline. A dropped plumb line sounding the depths of consciousness.


Taking a line for a walk through a commodius vicus of recirculation as James Joyce puts it at the beginning, or mid-point, or some point or other, of Finnegan’s Wake. Early in the 20th century writers took lines for walks along streams of consciousness, painters took lines for unconscious walks and performers explored the movements of the unchoreographed body in relation to consciousness. The consciousness of Dorothy Richardson’s heroine, Miriam, streams along her life as a writer, Joyce’s Bloom walks around Dublin for 24 hours thinking, mulling it over, Paul Klee takes his line for a walk, dawdling and doodling, the Surrealists frottage, fumage, and commit decalcomania. Andre Masson’s automatic drawings are scrawled lines, graphic apparitions on the paper, pure gesture, rhythm and incantation and Jackson Pollock is first a still centre of meditation, a vacuum, and then a moving, flinging line of paint. Three mathematicians have analysed Pollock’s drip paintings and found that his trance danced skeins of paint slung with gravity map onto fractals (Taylor, Micholich, Jonas, 2000: 137-50). They are patterns that replicate the chaotic motion of nature – how snow falls, how forests grow, how turbulence moves in water. Fractals are not detectable or doable on a conscious level. Of course there is conscious forming operating in all those artists’ unconsciousnesses, but still only a tiny proportion of our experience is consciously thought in words or any other symbolic language.


Moving makes a libidinal impact on consciousness. Moving stirs up the contents of consciousness so that as a writer you can find sentences and paragraphs by literally taking your consciousness for a walk. Consciousness is not a thing. It is a process. There is a consciousing. And this consciousing is closely related to movement (Ginsburg, 1999: 79-91).


If Optik encounter an obstacle on the line they are moving along – a wall or another body – they may walk or run on the spot, they may embrace the obstacle, they may fall down, they may turn and take their line another way and if it is a body, they may push the obstacle off their trajectory and continue or they may continue with the obstacle – the body – attached. They may stop.


Stopping. There is a libidinal impact on consciousness of stasis. In stasis there is concentration, focus. No competing bodily data in still meditation. On waking if you can remain still you may remember your dream. If you move your arm or roll over you are likely to dissipate and lose the memory of the dream through the introduction of competing somatic stimulation (Scarry, 1987: 354). The contradiction of seeming to sit still on a train or a plane as the world hurtles past, when in fact you are hurtling through a world that is also moving, but slowly. There is no stopping in consciousness or life until the end of it. There is only focus to hold forms in the flux. The will to sculpt the flux.


The mind, in short, works on the data it receives very much as a sculptor works on his block of stone. In a sense the statue stood there from eternity. But there were a thousand different ones beside it, and the sculptor alone is to thank for having extricated this one from the rest. Just so the world of each of us, howsoever different our several views of it may be, all lay embedded in the primordial chaos of sensations, which gave the mere matter to the thought of us indifferently. We may, if we like, by our reasonings unwind things back to that black and jointless continuity of space and moving clouds of swarming atoms which science calls the real world. But all the while the world we feel and live in will be that which our ancestors and we, by slowly cumulative strokes of choice, have extricated out of this, like sculptors (James, 1890: 288-89).


Enacting. Carving one reality from the myriad potentials. The mental energy it takes to do anything, go anywhere. Optik’s presence in Brazil, for instance, results from the conjunction of the mental energies of the company’s director, Barry Edwards, who is actively seeking such connection, Renato Cohen, the Brazilian teacher who invites us and myself. Wilfully I create the critical mass of belief that carries us there. Not shy to be an act (Imlah, 1988: 35).


Continuing. Anarchic lines of revellers follow carnival floats in Sao Paulo, progressing, processing, shuffling, whirling, dancing. Ravers trance dance and resonate to music that mimics and amplifies the rhythms, thumps and shudderings of the body. Losing consciousness in movement. One of the Optik performers actually suffers from narcolepsy. Stopped abruptly in mid-sentence, mid-consciousness. Falling to the floor and slumping in a chair, dreaming and moving down streets in sleep like a dog dreaming and twitching its limbs through a dream park. Slipping in and out of consciousness. The stream of consciousness interrupted by sleep or a collapse into unconsciousness. Driving around Sao Paulo at 4am sliding in and out of jetlagged stupor, images of broad avenues, high architecture, topless prostitutes flickering through indistinguishable reality or dream. Performance artists Malcolm & Lily sleepwalking through Hamburg’s red-light district, in pyjamas, eyes shut, arms outstretched zombie style (Newman, 2001: 22). Somnabulent.


Deciding. Deciding where to draw the line. If the Optik performers stop moving they must decide when to move again. What is the genesis of movement? The precise moment that is the origin of action, the impulse to movement. It is a key point of transition between two polar states of performing, between the desire to move and the desire to rest, between energy conservation and the expenditure of energy (Edwards, 2003). The performers try to strip away the usual factors involved in deciding about moving – habit, patterns, aesthetic, rhythm. They try to respond ‘unconsciously’ – with reflex, urges, temptations, responses, mirroring, entrainment, trajectory, proximity. Everyday interactions, movements and decisions are amplified. I started working with intuitive performer actions …. I moved into … elemental areas, just working with people, in space, in time…. But being simple is not at all easy…. Engagement in action is a matter of decision, to move or not to move, continuum of potential moments. In this dynamic arena, which is an inner space, the performer can attempt to wait. At this liminal waiting moment, which is a simultaneous experience of movement potential and rest the body appears, not as an image but as an immediate and felt presence (Edwards, 2003).


Waiting. Waiting for a sense of when to move and what to do. The performer is both stopping and moving, both the still centre of experience and the origin of action. When exploring the next moment, the performer is also in the present moment (of action). The performer must not leave the present action to anticipate some future one …. the performer must transform one action (the present one) into another one (the next one) (Edwards, 2003). There is an anxiety of the actions of others in relation to yourself, an anxiety of stasis, a pressure from spectators to act, to resolve the tension of waiting with action. The performers patiently hold emptiness and inaction, waiting. The difficulty of not jay-walking. In Germany or Finland where you should wait for the lights to change before crossing the road. The difficulty of continuing to wait when there is no perceived physical reason not to move, only cultural consent. The difficulty is not so much fear of legal consequence or cultural disapproval. The difficulty is that moving and bodily actions are on the cusp between entirely unconscious somatic actions – the heart beating, the lungs breathing, the stomach digesting – and potential actions that arrive in the conscious mind requiring attention – thought and decision. When we live in a city our navigation of other people, obstacles, routes and traffic becomes a bodily habituation. After practice this moving sinks out of consciously directed action and into the body, into reflex. The body runs on its own well-worn grooves and ruts.


Running. Marina Abramovic and Ulay run naked in a space, drawn to each other, colliding with each other, sometimes gently, sometimes painfully. They want to attach to and hurt each other. Barry Le Va runs fast in a white space, hitting the walls over and over, leaving smears of blood from his impacts (Warr, 2000: ??). He wants to hurt himself and the walls. He wants to escape. An Optik performer is running on the spot, nose up against the wall. Everything I write is on the same subject, running on the same set of ideas.


Seeing. Seeing is a temporally extended pattern of exploratory activity. Our visual experience includes non-visual components that are vestibular and kinesthetic (Noe, 2000: 131). Balance created in the central cavity of the labyrinth of the inner ear. The beauty of the shape of movement. Myriad invisible lines of potential emanating from or entangling the body in Oskar Schlemmer’s drawing of Man. The sensed weight of emotions and moods. Proximity, distance sensed as well as seen. The body sensing invisible magnets that attract and repel. Optik walk straight lines. The flaneur, the Situationist walking a derive around a city, meanders in an indeterminate fashion – like a ball in a gentle pinball machine – deflected and impelled by chance. A chance sculpting of experience. The curved reality of sense perceptions operates in and out of the straight abstractions of the mind (Smithson, 1979: ?). To be an artist is not a matter of making paintings or objects at all. What we are really dealing with is our state of consciousness and the shape of our perception (Irwin, 1972, cited in Noe, 2000: 123).


The Optik performances make emotions, moods, body chemistry, visible. In the dance studio the relationship between space and performer is stark – there are four walls, the floor, the ceiling, the lighting, sounds, other moving bodies. In Kompanhia Theatre Optik transgress spatial conventions – they go through doorways, they disappear from view but their footsteps can still be heard, performing invisibly. A performer sits next to a woman in the audience and stares neutrally. She stares back, laughs, breaks away from the stare, reconnects, laughs. The performer waits patiently. Am I an actor? A dancer? An object? Or just a projected image? Or shadow? Standing in front of an audience of strangers, of inquisitive/smiling or confused/angry faces? Seeking contact, connection (and disconnection) with other people. It seems like possibilities are endless. When asked what I do in Optik I do not know! I am there, looking for something, some moment, for the audience and myself (Simon Humm, Optik performer cited in Edwards, 2003). The performers’ images travel down a phone line and are performing simultaneously on a screen in London and reappearing re-represented, well travelled, fuzzy at the edges on a screen in Sao Paulo that they sometimes halt in front of and watch. A commodius vicus of recirculation. Listening. They are performing to live music being relayed down the phone line from London, the image of the musician flickering on a screen. The sound is intermittent and uneven as it travels down the dodgy internet connection. The performers, electronic sound and image, are flowing round the space, round the audience, round each other, round the world.


Walking. Optik perform in Praca de Se, Sao Paulo – a vast crowded busy open rectangle in front of the steps of the high Cathedral. The three performers walk and run and stand along their lines carving a performance in the gulf and confusion of this street space. People go about their business, walking momentarily with ladders, buckets, pushchairs or briefcases alongside or through the performance – real life intersecting with art. Or the people form into curves of audience, moving and meandering along the invisible frame that is created around the performance. Hot, heavy air moves around us all, almost visible. Being about energy I have chosen to work in parts of the world where energy (from people) is abundant and freely shared or given; former Soviet countries, as well as North Africa and Brazil. We give back, but also crucially tap in to that energy (which sometimes seems lacking in the UK performance scene) (Edwards, 2003). After the workshops of Optik lines we are given gifts by our Brazilian hosts. In Sao Paulo we are given and join a circling dance. In Campinhas we join a Capoeira masterclass and at the end of the class we stand in a tight ring shoulder to shoulder with the Master soothing us, closing our eyes, leaning my whole body weight in trust against my left neighbour as my right neighbour leans theirs on me. Ringsome.


Swaying. In an art bar two young men with naked torsos stand near the wall, facing into the room, swaying backwards and forwards rhythmically for hours and hours, two inverted pendulums sprouting from the floor (Vain, 2000, ??). They rock us, they soothe us with their swaying. Existing, in motion, through time. They go on endlessly. They will never stop. They stop.


Stopping. The full stop. Optik must eventually stop performing although there is no particular reason to do so. Going on a journey we try to ‘finish everything’ before we go. Writing to a dead-line. I must eventually stop chipping at potential realities, stop thinking, reading, writing and complete, finish, close. End. Start. Life,



Edwards, Barry. (2003). Optik website:

Ginsburg, Carl. (1999). ‘Body-Image, Movement and Consciousness’, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6: 2-3, pp. 79-91.

Imlah, Mick. (1988). Birthmarks. London: Faber & Faber.

James, William. (1890). The Principles of Psychology. Vol. 1. New York: Henry Holt, pp. 288-289, cited in Velmans, Max. (2000). Understanding Consciousness. London: Routledge. p. 153-54.

Newman, Hayley. (2001). Performancemania. London: Matt’s Gallery.

Noe, Alva. (2000). Experience and Experiment in Art. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 7 (8-9): 123-35.


Scarry, Elaine. (1987).The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 354.

Smithson, Robert. (1979). Collected Writings. Edited by Nancy Holt. New York: University of New York Press.

Taylor, Richard P., Micolich, Adam P. & Jonas, David. (2000). ‘Using Science to Investigate Jackson Pollock’s Drip Paintings’. Journal of Consciousness Studies 7 (8-9): 137-50.

VAIN (2001), Kier Williams and Roly Carline at VAIN 2991, Freud’s Art Café, Oxford, 2000.

Warr, Tracey. (2000). The Artist’s Body. London: Phaidon