Academic journal article About Performance

Pathos, Pathology and the Still-Mobile Image a Warburgian Reading of Held by Garry Stewart and Lois Greenfield

Academic journal article About Performance

Pathos, Pathology and the Still-Mobile Image a Warburgian Reading of Held by Garry Stewart and Lois Greenfield

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION: HELD AND THE "UNRESOLVED COMPOSITE"

At the dawn of the twentieth century, European society seemed to be hurtling into the future. Étienne-Jules Marey was producing his influential stop-motion images and composite photographs of moving bodies at his Physiological Laboratory from 1880 to 1903 (figs 1-2), while the Lumière brothers screened the first movie in 1895. At the same time, however, figures such as Mare/s colleague Paul Richer (lecturer in physiology and aesthetics at the Paris School of Fine Arts) and their German peer Aby Warburg sought to give the image back to the stability of history and the past, to ground this newly activated sense of embodied mobility within a hierarchical narrative of Classical art and aesthetics. Richer's extension of the canon of Classicism to encompass those recently described "incessant changes" in the plastic shape and position of the limbs and their muscles constituted an attempt to produce a Modern rationalist model of beaux-arts academicism (1897a; Marshall 2007 2008b). Warburg's formulation of the opposition between the Dionysian mobility of Classical art and its Apollonian formalism, by contrast, represented an avant-garde response to the challenges ofModernity and movement (Warburg 1999).

As Georges Didi-Huberman has explained, to conceive the diaphanous nymph of Classical sculpture and Renaissance painting in Warburg's terms is to consider the image as "a montage of heterogeneous times." Warburg's model brings "things that are at once archaeological (fossils, survivals [images from the past])", together with that which is "current (gestures, experiences)" (Michaud 2004, 7-19). Robert Maggiori adds that, contrary to most visual theorists who contend that the visual and photographic arts are distinguished from those of literature and performance by the fact that the image appears before the beholder in a single global moment, the Warburgian image "never gives itself over entirely to the gaze" (2000, 4-14). Rather "it speaks via" a multiplicity of "instants," through "duration" and in compound "simultaneities, in successions, through the conditional tense and via the future anterior, it speaks, in other words, to memory" (Maggiori 2000, 4-14). Warburg's image of the dancing nymph references not only the agitation of the body, but that of the image itself, as it travels across the ages, its mobile tensions denying it any static meaning, interpretation or historical placement. Viewed from this perspective, the image becomes a "pathological symptom" not so much of history - where history is conceived as a series of narrative additions and successions - but rather of the unconsciousness of history itself. Aesthetic development thereby comes to be seen as a procession of layered, ambiguous "survivals" and discontinuous multiplicities; a quivering, striated and interrupted "archaeology" in the terms of Warburg and Michel Foucault.

The collaboration ofAustralian Dance TheatrewithLois Greenfield onHeldconsú tutes just such a mobile symptom of historical and cultural memory, both in formal arthistorical terms, and with respect to the image itself. Garry Stewart's choreography has exhibited a tendency towards the iconographie ever since his first, full-length independent work, Plastic Space (Thwack Dance Company, Melbourne Festival, 1999). The piece featured several poses which were maintained for long periods and which were only slowly moving, if at all - such as an extended slow revolve of an otherwise static hip-hop-style headstand.

Stewart's later work Held should not, however, be considered simply as a collection of renascent Modernist tropes and forms. The piece's assemblage of historical vestiges and reconfigurations is defined, rather, by a contradictory animating tension between the artists' pretensions to novelty, and the residues of the early history of the Modern filmic image and its Neo-Classical precursors. If, as many theorists have claimed, we are now living deep within the Post-Modern moment, wherein images, materials and culture are endlessly recycled and reconfigured (Jameson 1984; Hutcheon 1988), Held offers an unusually rich text for the analysis of some of these renascent forms by virtue of the production's focus on iconography. …

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