From construction towards struction
Throughout my doctoral studies, one of the most challenging questions has been how to position my understanding of artistic research and this research project in relation to the discourse of Western philosophy. Within the curriculum of the doctorate I have studied, and I have found relevant art-philosophical materials that have functioned well in dialogue with the research project for example in terms of conceptual clarification. Still, the balance between developing artistic practice’s thinking-doing as art and Western philosophy has sometimes felt like being squeezed into a small space with the pressure of traditional academic research and philosophical or theoretical substance. I have taken the position in which the relation between artistic practice and philosophical thought develops them both mutually.
The notion of struction by Jean Luc Nancy
One of the philosophical references I need to take a closer look at in introducing this take on choreography is philosopher Jean Luc Nancy’s essay Of Struction (2015). My choreographic thinking and its development is influenced by Nancy’s concept of struction. The reference here is the book What’s These Worlds Coming To? (Nancy, Barrau, 2015), which consists of dialogic essays and writings by Nancy and astrophysicist Aurélien Barrau. In the book, the concept of struction is introduced as one of the concepts that could help us understand how ‘we are not living in one world but worlds’, and how we ‘no longer create, but appropriate and montage’ (quotes from the book cover).
The essay ‘Of Struction’ was introduced by professor Mika Elo and philosopher Miika Luoto at the doctoral seminar of Architectonics of Sense, which took place in 2015, my third year of research. I immediately got hooked by this text, because it clearly matched a question relevant for the shift that had happened in my artistic practice: How does one understand the practice of choreography as something other than constructing a linear, coherent, and composed dance piece? In this section I go through the relevant points of Nancy’s text and reflect on the influence and impact of the notion of struction on my research project, as well as discuss the relation between my choreographic practice and struction as I have come to understand it.
The gap that the notion of struction fills
The impact of Nancy’s text is based on the process in which I have deconstructed my previous choreographic practice, as well as in which I have aimed to build understanding of choreographic practice as a way to examine and process the choreographic potential of simultaneous multidirectional incoherence and make this inquiry manifest itself as art. This process has opened conceptual, operational, and artistic gaps in my practice, which this research aims to fill; in other words, I seek to answer questions such as: What is choreography as reading practice? How does it operate? How does one contextualize this practice as art?. Nancy’s essay strongly and beautifully contributes to this problematic. In the process of the second examined artistic part, #CHARP (2017), I discussed the text closely with the working group, and the artistic process of #CHARP is an introductory inquiry to the choreographic use of the notion of struction.
My specific interest in this text lies in Nancy’s way of moving between construction, deconstruction, destruction, and struction. Nancy writes: ‘What is at stake beyond construction and deconstruction is struction as such’(ibid. 48). Nancy’s text made such a significant impression on me because it matched with my process of trying to understand how in my practice, the collapse of understanding choreography as a linear construction happened, as well as the gaps that this collapse exposed and what kind of alternatives that collapse could generate for choreographic thinking and practice. In my professional history, I have studied and practiced choreography as a construction, which is constituted by certain temporal dramaturgy, movement composition, and spatial design, aiming for one coherent repetitive unity that could be called a dance piece. When this understanding of choreographic practice collapses, Nancy’s text becomes relevant.
Struction and choreographic
‘Struo signifies “to amass”, “to heap”. It is truly not a question of order or organization that is implied by con- and in-struction. It is the heap, the non-assembled ensemble. Surely, it is contiguity and copresence, but without a principle of coordination’ (ibid., 48-49).
This quote forms the basis for the dialogue between my rerouted choreographic thinking, practice, and struction. In my choreographic practice, material multidimensional contiguity and co-presence are the operative premises instead of coordination, by which I understand here choreographic practice in a linear sense of the coordination, which organizes movements into repeatable construction. Instead of incorporating linear coordination in the practice, I inhabit another mode or state, which allows contiguity and co-presence to operate as a spherical orientation. In other words, when I use the concept of orientation, it refers to a bodily state in which the mode of engagement is 360° and gaseous or vaporous. From this orientation, the body, also understood as an atmospheric organism, cannot hold a construction. The choreographic becomes an evolving viscosity instead of a construction to hold or move through. Instead of a preplanned choreographic path to be followed, in the bodily practice many motion-sensitive directions and dimensions are active simultaneously, and they are visited, touched, and acknowledged but not developed further or assembled and composed in the sense of putting them together.
The second artistic part, #CHARP, examined this process with the additional question: How is it possible to share the solo practice with other performers and make a choreographic performance with it? In the process of #CHARP, one of the open questions that a working group experimented with was, ‘If everything moves, how do you take place here?’ This question implies the premises mentioned above. Choreographically, to inhabit this question leads to the examination of the quality of the orientation of the bodies in space as something else than the aim to put together a linear choreographic pattern.
#CHARP as an inquiry to struction
Nancy describes struction as follows: ‘…It invites the consideration of a struction: the uncoordinated simultaneity of things or beings, the contingency of their belonging together, the dispersion of profusions of aspects, species, forces, forms, tensions, and intentions (instincts, drives, inclinations, and momentums.) In this profusion, no order is valued more than the others: they all – instincts, responses, irritabilities, connectivities, equilibriums, catalyses, metabolisms – seem destined to collide or dissolve into one another or to be confused with one another’ (ibid., p. 49).
By inhabiting, witnessing, and observing this kind of relational matrix with an embodied practice, the choreographic emerges between the different modes of engaging in the matrix of inhabiting, witnessing, and observing. In #CHARP the practice of choreography becomes a process that examines how various ways of belonging together collide or dissolve into one another and what kind of choreographic emerges when no order is valued more than others, as Nancy describes. Each of these modes affect each other, molding and defining each one’s qualities simultaneously. The reciprocal quality of the embodied practice in this sense creates one element for what I call choreography as reading practice. Following this, in this stage of the research process I called my works as atmospheric choreostructions, and after the process of #CHARP, I renamed this definition ‘astroembodied choreostructions’, a term with which I am still working.
In this definition of the practice, ‘astro’ refers to outer space and to the cosmic movements that set conditions for the practice beyond human spatioremporal scale. The prefix ‘choreo’, which replaces ‘con’ before struction, indicates the modality of the practice that processes plural motional relationality. By choreo I refer back to the etymology of the word choreography, in which choreo indicates the synthesis of various elements. The latest version of astroembodied choreostructions in the body of my works is #CHARP_solo, which simply continues the process of #CHARP by taking it further. In this solowork I have also started to direct my attention to the examination of how embodiment without corporeality could function in the practice. This direction is opened through working with galactic scales, which my body cannot reach. So in this sense, embodiment does not refer here any longer to the human body, but to the relations in which the choreographic is understood as a virtual cosmic body. #CHARP_solo has led me deeper into the realm of science fiction, in which such questions have been dealt with, for example, as computational artificial intelligence bodies that do not have a fleshy corpse or as bodies of superheroes whose special powers can reform the body beyond the human corpse. My work with astroembodied chroeostructions continues with interest in these kinds of disembodiments.
Struction and choreography as reading practice
Reading Nancy through this choreostructional perspective, he describes the field and network of forces I have aimed to inhabit and examine in the artistic works. To scrutinize and embody what Nancy calls uncoordinated simultaneity generates and creates choreographic thinking, choreography, and choreographic art in a way other than working with the mode of linear coherence in the sense of being coordinated by a pre-choreographic idea. In my work, I do not aim to embody this uncoordinated simultaneity in the representative and fixed sense; instead, the body functions as a gaseous substance, which processes continuously the situation in which it takes place, sometimes also failing to touch the relations at hand. Nancy continues:
‘Whereas the paradigm had been architectural, and consequently architectonic in a more metaphysical way, it then became more structural – a composition, surely, an assembling, but without constructive finality – and finally structional, meaning relative to an assembling that is labile, disordered, aggregated, or amalgamated rather than conjoined, reunited, paired with, or associated’ (ibid., p. 49).
Set parallel to the practice, this sentence was for me a key to Nancy’s essay in the sense of building understanding of the potential of choreography as reading practice. Choreography as reading practice delves into the relative to an assembling by inhabiting the labile, disordered, aggregated, or amalgamated with the choreographic strategies stemming from the examination of what happens during the reading. This inhabiting is contradictory and paradoxical and in the practice movement is understood as a discontinuous, fragmentary, and crossbred from several directions. Thus, the mode of assembling is specific in the practice developed. Building understanding of the choreographic potential of reading, of the developing practice, and of exploring the choreographic movement from construction towards struction have been simultaneous reciprocal processes in my research project during the doctoral years. Altogether, it has been a process that can be described as labile assembling with an awareness to avoid compositional mode of choreographing and in which the mode of linear coordination and approach to choreography is not the main operative mode but a mode escaped and replaced by multidirectional spherical orientation.
‘What am I calling here “struction” would be the state of the “with” deprived of the value of sharing, bringing into play only simple contiguity and its contingency. It may be, to take back the terms that Heidegger wants to distinguish in his approach to the “with” (mit in the Mitdasein as the ontological construction of the existent), a “with” that is uniquely categorical and not existential: the pure and simple juxtaposition that does not make sense’ (ibid., p. 49).
Juxtaposition that does not make sense indicates in my material an interesting choreographic potential of juxtaposing, since according to reading theories juxtaposing is an operative mode of making meanings. I could also describe the choreographic practice developed during the research by the preposition ‘with’, and keep in mind the adverb ‘through’, and take these two as descriptive modes of being engaged with the movements that surround my body and make it move. In other words, in the choreographic practice the mode of with is combined with the adverb through, which I could visualize by imagining material condition as a motional sphere with which I work by going through it in several registers and layers simultaneously. Thus, working with keeps on transforming, and when this with changes it affects the qualities of through too.
In the version of #CHARP in the studio, I start to work with the immediate surroundings, usually meaning orientating towards the floor and its patterns with the question of how it moves. This includes sensing the gravity and its effect on the body. Usually, the floor patterns already give a lot of motional information, and, for example, working with the wooden floor includes the knowledge that the material comes from the tree, and the temporality of the movement of the growth of the tree touches the body because I know that this tree has been growing. Usually it does not take a long time for my attention to be directed to the rotation and orbit of the planet. The awareness of the speed with which Earth moves affects my bodily work. By continuously asking how I take place here in this relational motional information – in this example with the wooden floor and its patterns and the velocity of the planet – generates bodily gestures. The gestures then also affect the way I take place in the relational movements. Working with the velocity that is present affects the way I touch the floor and the way I look into the space. And the way I touch the floor affects the way I work with the velocity. The simultaneity of inhabiting multidimensional movement is important in my practice. When it comes to the bodily practice, #CHARP is a tentative example of experimenting with this kind of reciprocal mode. After #CHARP I continued experimenting with the same embodied practice in pompom but this time as a soloist in the urban environment of Tokyo.
Nancy’s concept of struction is very open, and maybe that is the reason I find it choreographically interesting and potential when set parallel with my other materials in this research project. To understand choreography as something other than construction is an old idea, but Nancy’s concept opens up to the simultaneously active notions in the practice, namely virtual-actual, visible-invisible, and singular-plural, and in this way it contributes to my expanded understanding of choreographic practice, which operates through avoiding binary consideration; ‘either/or’ becomes ‘as well as’. His concept also makes sense to me if I think of reading practice as something other than how linear hyper-reading is. If choreography can be understood beyond the practice of linear order, organization, arrange, capture, and frame of movements, then struction offers valuable potential to the practical alternative.
‘Struction offers a dis-order that is neither the contrary nor the destruction or ruin of order: It is situated somewhere else in what we call contingency, fortuity, dispersion, or errancy, which could equally be called surprise, invention, chance, meeting, or passage. It is nothing but the copresence or, better yet, the appearing-together of all that appears, that is, of all that is’(ibid., p. 54).
By being in dialogue with Nancy’s struction, my practice has shifted and moved to an unknown place. The notion of struction has opened me a way to build understanding of the body of choreoreading, which is taking place in what I could simply call the poetics of somewhere else. When the choreographic practice of construction crumbles, another space is opened. This space can be made meaningful by experimenting with another embodied mode of choreo-, which might materialize and create choreostructions. For the inquiry to make sense of this space, I suggest that one of the modes be choreoreading.