B a r e
b a r i n g s u r f a c e s k i n
In the installation of Translucent surface/Quiet body, there was a practical and conceptual necessity for the performing body to become a naked, or bare body. Moving-drawing on the installation’s elevated platform disturbed any direct material encounter and any evidence of reciprocal surface touch between body-skin and paper-glass. This bare body opened up questions around nakedness and nudity, specifically the female nude in Western painting traditions and the use of nudity in performance art traditions. Yet there was also something distinct to this bare body: although willing to address an historical lineage, there was also a desire to look choreographically at a different operation of bareness. John Berger explained in the BBC series Ways of Seeing (1972):
To be naked is to be oneself.
To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognised for oneself.
A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude. […] Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display. (Berger, 2008: 48)
In The Artist’s Body (2012), Amelia Jones and Tracey Warr address how developments in performance art in the latter half of the twentieth century revealed a shift in artists’ perceptions of the body, which was being used not simply as the ‘“content’’ of the work, but also as canvas, brush, frame, and platform.’ (Jones & Warr, 2012: 11) However what is it to be naked in a choreographic work and how is nudity or nakedness implemented as a choreographic strategy? Adrian Heathfield offers another option, using the term ‘bare’ to articulate his experience as spectator of the choreographer La Ribot performing in Panoramix (2003) and to explore her nudity as a choreographic strategy in relation to contemporary cultural and historical arts contexts:
Though she spends much of the performance without clothes or barely dressed, La Ribot is not nude. Nudity is a kind of wearing of the skin as a sign of revealed self, it is swathed in eroticism and projections of gender. Naked might seem like a better word to describe her condition, but even that seems too much of a proclamation: there is no definitive statement here in this stripping of the cloaks of culture.
More accurately, the state to which she constantly returns is that of bareness. […] The kind of blank bareness that is unresponsive to erotic projection, intimate, but impersonal, saying very little about itself, but allowing actions and objects to speak in relation to it. (Heathfield, 2004: 25)
Over two hours, La Ribot performs a series of short ‘piezas’, or pieces, one after the other in different places and orientations in the space. The spectators never quite know where she might go next or when. They must either follow her, watch from a distance, gather around her, or they are unexpectedly confronted by her proximity as she leans on or slides down the wall next to them. Each piece involves a different costume and/or prop and La Ribot’s nudity within each piece also operates differently. Sometimes it is sexual, at other times political, neutral, minimalist, simple, or complex. However, there is another operation of her nudity as bareness that is present throughout the whole performance, one that is distinct from the particular expression of her body in each piece. In the documentary film La Ribot Distinguida (2006) by Luc Peters, which follows the installation and performance of Panoramix at Tate Modern, La Ribot talks of the relation between audience proximity and nudity, explaining that her nudity is ‘just another thing’, another material that she can use in her process, much like she might use a piece of music, a chair, a dress, or any other object (Peters, 2006). In the film she says, ‘I think I can escape or that they [the audience] do not threaten me, because I am naked. It means that my being naked which is utterly violent to them makes me untouchable. How can I say? It saves my life.’ (La Ribot, cited in Peters, 2006)
La Ribot seems to imply that her bareness created a separation between her body and those of the spectators. In the spatial proximity of bodies, her bareness operates as a kind of screen. Bareness itself, then, operates as a choreographic layer in the performance as La Ribot’s body, neither nude nor naked, continually dressing and undressing. The body is exposed and re-configured as a moving object amongst other objects.
La Ribot’s bareness in Panoramix seems to represent nothing other than itself, performing alongside and with other materials and objects of the performance. It generates its own conditions or politics for the body as a performer, an agent, a human being, an art object, an appearance. La Ribot’s bareness operates again and again as a fresh blank page or interface through which to experience and navigate the whole event: Panoramix. Heathfield’s notion of bareness connects the bare female body in performance to the choreographic rather than to genres of live art and performance art, in which the body is often explored in relation to endurance, political resistance, or sex. This bare body might offer another category of artist body and object body to those presented in Amelia Jones and Tracey Warr’s The Artist’s Body (2012), in which the body in performance is explored in relation to abject, transgressive, absent or gestural themes. The choreographic bare body might be able to shed some of its historical layers and expose its objecthood in a way that it is ‘bareness’ itself, operating as a choreographic object.
‘Bare’ as conceptual term finds affinity with the body’s surface exposure and potential surface touch with other things, unlike concepts linked to the social body or the erect, well-built, standing body. Both bareness and skin-as-a-surface operate in movement rather than as a state. As artist and writer Katharina Zakravsky writes in her essay ‘Unbareable’:
To be bare is not a state, it is dynamic, a potentiality. Baring is a dangerous power, a pull and where ever [sic] there is desire it can never be bare enough. The integrity of the skin ends layers and layers outside of the body. To touch the bare skin would mean cutting it: if the body were not always already the touching of another touch (Zakravsky in Gareis & Kruschkova, 2009: 347)
Zakravsky complicates the ideas around skin, limit, layer, and touch and suggests that performance is itself a process of baring;
[I]t is not the search for a core, it is the very taking off of layers that draws us into the art of baring. Each layer is as precious and as contingent as the one underneath. If there is no discovery of a final core legitimizing the operation, any activity of baring has its ethical and political risks. (Zakravsky in Gareis & Kruschkova 2009: 347)
Performance, then, can be approached as a process of shedding, like the skin continually shedding its layers. Performance not as digging into the depths of matter but allowing the surface appearances, fleeting and temporary as they may be, to be illuminated, revealed, and dispersed, and the superficial layers to have an impact. As Erin Manning proposed in her book Politics of Touch (2007), the shedding of layers means we have to keep touching — lest we forget.