During my one year at University of Chicago I became obsessed with the performance of pain, artists who explored the limits of the body, the boundaries, the theatricality of suffering, artists who were trying to reach a higher consciousness through pain, sometimes the pain or discomfort of the audience, like Stelarc or the Viennese Actionists or Ron Athey (the essay "Trust in Rubber" about Ron Athey is fantastic). And I didn't know too much about Marina Abramovic at the time, the only thing I knew about her was the column C. Carr wrote in the Village Voice about her experiments with Ulay.
But now I am hearing about her earlier body experiments, her Lips of Thomas, her Rhythm endurance experiments. Rhythm 5 (1974) seems to be in keeping with my discussion of the spazmataz woman, a simulation of the hysteric. This is from Wikipedia (I sold all of my performance theory texts! yes, Wikipedia!)
As an experiment testing whether a state of unconsciousness could be incorporated into a performance, Abramović devised a performance in two parts.
In the first part, she took a pill prescribed for catatonia, a condition in which a person’s muscles are immobilized and remain in a single position for hours at a time. Being completely healthy, Abramović's body reacted violently to the drug, experiencing seizures and uncontrollable movements for the first half of the performance. While lacking any control over her body movements, her mind was lucid, and she observed what was occurring.
Ten minutes after the effects of that drug had worn off, Abramović ingested another pill – this time one prescribed for aggressive and depressed people - which resulted in general immobility. Bodily she was present, yet mentally she was completely removed. (In fact, she has no memory of the lapsed time.) This project was an early component of her explorations of the connections between body and mind, which later took her to Tibet and the Australian desert. Following Rhythm 2, she set to develop the rest of the series of rhythm projects, continually testing her endurance.
I sometimes feel like this naturally. No pills. But the most intriguing one I think is Rhythm 0, where her performance dealt with cruelty and mob mentality:
As Abramović described it later:
To test the limits of the relationship between performer and audience, Abramović developed one of her most challenging (and best-known) performances. She assigned a passive role to herself, with the public being the force which would act on her.
Abramović had placed upon a table 72 objects that people were allowed to use (a sign informed them) in any way that they chose. Some of these were objects that could give pleasure, while others could be wielded to inflict pain, or to harm her. Among them were scissors, a knife, a whip, and, most notoriously, a gun and a single bullet. For six hours the artist allowed the audience members to manipulate her body and actions.
Initially, members of the audience reacted with caution and modesty, but as time passed (and the artist remained impassive) several people began to act quite aggressively.
“The experience I learned was that…if you leave decision to the public, you can be killed.” ... “I felt really violated: they cut my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person aimed the gun at my head, and another took it away. It created an aggressive atmosphere. After exactly 6 hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the public. Everyone ran away, escaping an actual confrontation.”
from lips of thomas
When i was the cliched depressed girl in college i had written in the lip of my notebook Nietzsche's line: "one must have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star." And then I tattooed a star much like the above on my back, my back of many scars. Unrealizing the Marina. An amateur star just like this. A cutting through. Except I didn't do it myself. Now when I look at my scarred star, I will imagine I am merely quoting Marina, much like she did when she performed Vito Acconci's jacking off performance and all those other performances she redid.
Marina's cutting experiments remind me of Lidia's "Loving Dora"and then Erika cutting herself to see what's inside in Piano Teacher.
From Lidia Yuknavitch's "Loving Dora," a modern, delicious, weirdo, painful, adaptation of Freud's Dora, Freud's Dora, as a teenage wild child who imagines herself as a Marina Abramovic-ish performance artist through cutting and writes letters to Francis Bacon:
Dear Francis Bacon,
The best canvas is the body, since I can't paint I had to find this out. Sometimes I think about what my life would be like if I hadn't figured it out. It's too unbearable, it's worse than any withdrawal, it's worse than screaming veins by a long shot. I'm not kidding. Sometimes I let the blade tickle little circles and hieroglyphics gentle as a moth fluttering at the surface of my skin, a second pulse. Just before the pierce into red no inside outside anymore I think, the too white stretched out flesh itself is already a disfigurement, an effect of some hilarious idiot's involuntary marks. No nervous system is housed, no corpuscles, no blue tubes and bones and blood shooting up and down safe and sound inside the membrane. It's obscene! Flesh just sitting there like that it's sheer appearance, innocent, dumb. How can anyone ever drown out the cries and screams of all the openings in a body saying over and over cross over cross over we are thresholds of light and wonder and fluid of transfusional joy? It's like cacophonous armies raging day and night reminding every one every second of their lives, there is no inside out, there is no outside in.
Lidia's Dora is a total spazmataz, she is the body without organs through her cutting and through the sheer ecstasy of hanging out at an S/M club in Seattle called The Den. A jouissance that is destructive, the "transfusional joy," this reminds me of an essay on Ariana Reines Ross Brighton is writing, he quotes Lyotard's Libidinal Economy: "jouissance is unbearable". Lidia again:
visiting the dead, that's what the relief of going to The Den is like for me a sixteen year old girl. The men I know are dying - either literally or with desire for all the other men in the world. I love them all as if they brought me into the world, I want to daughter over all their grief.
Today the only thing I did, fulfilled today was reading for the 95th time Deleuze's chapter on Hysteria in his book on Francis Bacon, and now I think I finally got it, I finally get what he's saying, this body without organs.And am I wrong to think Lidia read it too when she writes about nervous systems in the work, tying together Dora and Bacon? Or if not read it intuited it? somehow I am beginning to feel that about some theory or books, I read them after, but it was as if I had psychically intuited them, somehow read them before. The body without organs also about the spazmataz, Deleuze deciphering Bacon's canvases, his writhing figures: "an excessive and spasmodic appearance." So the body without organs is the body without an organism, it is a series of sensations and waves of energy, Dora lost in the crowd at the Den, ecstatic among bodies. The body without organs is the hysterical body, its "disordered convulsion."
This somehow links to an essay Roz reminded me of, Kleist on puppets, that I read in a performance theory seminar. The grace of the inorganic body. Deleuze too is talking about a sort of grace, but the grace of convulsive fits, a dance? In the comments Angela brings up choreia, a disease of spasms, from the Greek word, chorea, to dance. Dora dancing. Dancing. Dancing.
So is Deleuze like Cixous embracing the revolutionary power, the spasmodic energy of the hysteric's body? He does not really reference Freud's hysterics, just hysterics generally, "spastic and paralytics" (referring vaguely to a 19th century book on hysteria). It seems that the body without organs is genderless, defined by the "temporary and provisional presence of determinate organs." So where does the abject female body fit into this? I think of Bacon too now, of Isabel Rawthorne (the only woman he ever fucked he would proclaim loudly at parties).
I think of Artaud's little daughters, his motherless cunt he birthed art out of, how he would stop speaking to his female friends if they got pregnant. So what about the female hysteric? Or the pregnant senile hag, to go back to Rabelais? She has a womb, it is full or empty, a cunt or anus, it is penetrated, she licks and kisses with her tongue and mouth she maybe cuts a star onto her stomach she cuts mouths all over her body her larynx is tickled by her hysterical coughing...can she be a body without organs? Is the dance a form of release? Or does Deleuze mythologize the dance? Which is really a grotesque outburst of suffering?
I like when Deleuze writes about art and hysteria. "With painting, hysteria becomes art." I think of literature that is hysterical. Lidia's story, so spazmataz and rhythmic and glorious. "Abjection becomes splendor; the horror of life becomes a very pure and very intense life." Now I think of Jean Rhys' Good Morning Midnight and Elfriede Jelinek's Piano Teacher. The joy in which Sasha opens up her arms to the man who disgusts her at the end, mimicking Molly, yes I will yes I will yes, the destructive jouissance surging through Erika as she voyeurs squatting near a tree as she writes up her S/M list for her lover as she stabs herself like a performance artist at the end, like a Marina, a spectacle of suffering, for all to see.