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What Does The Earth Think It Is?


Following the ecological theme of the performance What does the earth think it is, before sunrise? in 2013, I virtually recreated the performance with the wish to embody the awakening of my mind into the vastness of everything non-human, to its micro sentiments of bacteria, virus-invisible, immeasurable, yet the primary mirror into our survival, the atmosphere around and within.

The primordial and unnameable beckons the questions: What does the human species do with this earth? Will it respond to the emptiness of its own creation? Will it succeed to reach the mysteries of this planet and its surroundings with the form that humanity has become, centred in its own construction of what life means? How is the human being being subjected by the existence of matter, in abundance on an immensely microscopic scale?

The idea of a linear unfolding of choreography was out of the question. This performance was rather an immersion into the vast and the intimate of the Antropocene. The liminality of being human, as well as sub-human at the same time, moving not forward, but in the space, at a pace that sustains this context, mental content, a neurological integrity to the possibility of one’s nothingness, yet alive.

Then in the midst of this when does consciousness arise?

Water, flow, wave, fluids, another life, form outside of function, flight, winged-ness, excessive movement yet captured in species identification and existence.

This production allowed me to depart from ecology as Nature, to arrive at my own ecological thought, non-dependent on the comfort of Nature. Timothy Morton (The Ecological Thought) equates our addiction to Nature for the construction of our mental activity and survival, to the discomfiture of the mentioning of the word ‘unconscious’. We don’t quite know what it means and can only really relate to it as a mental construct when we think of the ‘conscious’. The analogy, that we can only make sense of ourselves as ecological beings when we have a grip on Nature. Morton and some eco-philosophers have greatly contributed to the deconstruction of still proliferating Romantic tendencies that the earth is a passionate place onto which one could cast your yearnings and thrivings - as displayed by Nature itself. His deliberate and relentless revelation of earth as uncanny, the strange stranger, the liminal paradoxes of identity within ‘human’ and ‘animal’ and his insistent to think big, ‘and bigger still, beyond containment, beyond the panoramic spectacle that dissolves everything within itself,’ was a welcoming relief from the performance in 2013.

That we have to reconnect to new perspectives on the presence of the human species on this planet beckons a further trajectory namely that we would have to regroup with a micro-world already and always in our bodies, a micro-world that might have been part of the origin of the human species but certainly one that also has new cousins in the existence of highly diversified forms of radiation, for instance. These matter/s exists in our lungs and organs. Gilles Deleuze’s mention of ‘The Body Without Organs’ depicts the dismantling future where our knowing of who we are would certainly have to step down from how we will get to know who we are in the form of a different knowing that might not be the result of brain activity. At least, this is how I extend the thought in his book with Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia. And I consider it the prerogative of a dancer to be able to interpret these philosophers in the context of my body and her quest to know beyond the word.

And in the body solely.

With no centre and no edge, viewing extensive film material on the internet, Guy De Lancey embarked on the uncompromising search for Nature without nature. Total interconnectedness of matter was projected onto my body – white clay and white dress made of bridal fabric for optimum ‘screen’ reflection, and my favourite Bushman necklace – while the response I could muster for full integration of body and images, was vast, yet a contraption of human existence, in the best sense of the word.

The embodiment of the ‘soul’ of earth, darkness, dark thought, dense life, teeming organismic vitality, crystalised growth of root tips, and shoots racing for the sun, intelligence of plant, bark, forest, a universal enhancement under a canopy of shade. Fire, heat, reflections, obliteration, alchemy that totally transforms and novel phenomena at extreme response of extremes. Balance and vulnerability of the exact blue of the planet. Multiplication, reproduction, the underworld of DNA, the essential activity of the smallest, mono-cellular subject, atoms and electrons darting in and out of existence. Pulsating life and dendrites.

How much could anatomy, skin, reflection, mystery endure this investigation? The rapid multiplication of sub-species, a response to extreme adaptation to waste, pollution, heat, gases, and irreducibility inaccessible to us became a choreographic impossibility, which aimed to be embodied.

The Original Swimming Party is a Cape Town based band that embarked on the virtually impossible brief to create sound for an impossible embodiment. As Guy De Lancey churned out the film footage this three-man band positioned themselves at the receiving end of images and human body experience. The aesthetic quest to ‘go big’ but to remain subjected to the vastness of the topic, in itself a curtailment of sound’s ability to become anthropocentric in its own making, was the challenge which they learned of over months’ work in the studio. The search for a ‘pure’ sound is part of their trademark.

My gratitude to The Original Swimming Party and Guy De Lancey for their dedication to this work, which gave me entry into states I would have found with even greater difficulty, without them.

The work was performed at TAAC in Cape Town and on the Main Festival of the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in 2014.