The history of puppetry is full of supernatural bodies on stage that dramatically or subtextually represent their quest of coming to life and gaining autonomy from their masters. A puppet’s performance often reflects on its condition of existence: How does a random object become an animated body on stage? This practical and theoretical question energizes South Korean artist Geumhyung Jeong’s (b. 1980) body of work. Jeong extends the possibilities of puppetry by choreographing her entire body as her animation technique. Moreover, she explores the various dimensions of the object’s liveliness by way of sexuality. In fact, in Jeong’s exploration of animacy, this stage life of the object always already involves intimacy and sensuality. She crafts and manipulates her performing objects that range from simple masks to dummies to machines, embraced carnally with them in the double entendre of playing with control. Reflecting on the six performances Jeong created between 2008 and 2019, I am repeatedly reminded that there is no anima, no life, and no agency for objects devoid of sexual being.
What does it mean to build an oeuvre as a woman? There are still obstacles on the road that are related to being a woman. Which life questions are intertwined with the development of a life’s work? Ilse Ghekiere, the initiator of Engagement Arts, points out some concerns and intersections in a story that cannot but be personal.
After several projects which look into ways to expand performing art’s notion of ‘spectatorship’ beyond the predominance of the visual, Vera Tussing’s new project at the Kaaitheater, though still relying on it, goes beyond just the touch of the hand.
In order to analyse the concepts ‘skill’, ‘artistry’ and ‘virtuosity’ within the performing arts, I need to unpack their meanings. If they imply spending a longer time with a practice or task and formalising it (and oneself) within a given institutional framework, then the work spent immediately becomes labour, recognised as part of an economical system to which the art world belongs. Moreover the work gains a certain value. But the transition from ‘any work’, to a valuable skill isn’t that clear – the distinction between ‘work’ and ‘labour’ in the context of art is tricky. While work can be understood as an uncountable effort, labour is the work spent on a specific task, often including monetary exchange: a salary. Artists are seldom paid for their labour, but rather for the artwork produced, meaning that the (uncountable) work spent when producing this artwork resides in a conflictual gap between labour and work. When it comes to performance and dance, the living labour often equals the live work, further blurring the economic lines of contemporary production. Virtuosity must be understood through this gap, which with this essay, I will try to unfold.
South Korean artist Eunkyung Jeong’s interdisciplinary work at TAZ#2019 recalls the structure versus agency debate in social sciences—whether we are the product or disruptor of the society we grew up and live in. But by yoking elements and strategies not immediately associable with one another (such as a flashlight, a basement, drawings and personal family stories) she effects agency in relation to one’s own place in cultural arrangements which frame one’s choices and opportunities. This results in a refreshing and empowering artistic contribution to the debate.
Anyone associating ‘De Keersmaeker’ and P.A.R.T.S. mainly with ‘dance’ is surprised by the fact that over three quarters of the ‘choreography’ and performance informing Somnia pivots on the narratives adapted from William Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595/96) and Johannes Kepler’s Somnium (1608)—the former being much more recognizable in the show than the latter.
“You have to sit on the side of the stage. You’ll see that when you enter you have the option of sitting on the left or the right. In front of or behind the stage. Sit on the left or the right”, a friend cautioned as we separated and I made my way to Dana Michel’s performance Cutlass Spring. Upon entering the black box the audience must choose which perspective and subsequently which position they wish to occupy for the duration of this piece. This introductory question is one of many which Michel, a choreographer and live artist, asks us to consider.