The Figure of Clearing and Emptying Out is one of several ‘figures’ identified and named during a sustained period of collaborative live exploration (involving various studio-based improvisatory and performative practices) within the frame of the artistic research project Choreo-graphic Figures: Deviations from the Line (2014 - 2017). This ‘figure’ is recognised as the experience of ‘beginning’, opening or ‘clearing the ground in readiness’ within the arc of artistic-aesthetic exploration.


Drawing on the shared experience and examples from the process of collaborative artistic research, Emma Cocker, Nikolaus Gansterer and Mariella Greil engaged in the practice of conversation-as-material to ‘flesh out’ a language for describing the Figure of Clearing and Emptying Out. This involved a process of corroborative dialogue, where conversation was oriented to collectively arriving at a vocabulary for expressing both the what-ness and how-ness of this specific figure, its particular essence and ‘mode of being’. 


The recorded conversation was transcribed (See extract from partially edited transcript below). Selected fragments of the original transcript material (bold in the text below) were then rewritten / reworked into a dense poetic description for the figure (See right). The inclusion of the transcript below attempts to reveal the relation of the original conversation and the resulting vocative text, alongside indicating something of the ‘attitude’ practised within the conversational practice itself. As such, the invitation to the reader is to glimpse or scan rather than necessarily read the transcript material in its entirety.


Extract of transcript (partially edited)

[…] Some of the properties … are to do with this sense of making space, a kind of letting go, a settling or re-setting. Allowing things to pause, but with a quality of re-set, and with that sense of re-set we were also talking about the sense of forgetting or letting go of the histories of how it has been in order to make space to begin again. This principle of beginning again, a clearing and emptying out in order to begin again. […] The sense of separation in there, in something settling […] I am thinking of the preparatory gestures involved such as sharpening the pencil … to shake off the layers of everyday life that we don’t bring with us into the practice. Also a kind of wiping of the ground to open the possibilities, expelling. There is also something about ordering and categorising involved, like saying this one goes here and that one goes there […] (W)e were also talking about what the figure isn’t. This figure of clearing and emptying out is not only a utilitarian clearing, as in putting things away, although it might have gestures that do have a sense of this. But there is a more than quality. So if I am mopping the floor it is not just that I am mopping the floor  there is also something that is actually I would say even ritualistic. There is a cleansing that is beyond simply making the floor clean […] there is the nature of the operations but actually it is more than that. All of those gestures which could just be seen as preparatory are also … there is much higher charge, they are doing something more than simply cleaning. It is not cleaning and emptying out  maybe that is an important distinction […] This emptying of a space where you ritualistically prepare for the work […] It is very much also bringing the circulation into motions, clearing the body and the space through action … It is packing the suitcase in a way, like preparing for a journey, so you really see what you want to have with you. So you decide which tools and which means. It is related to the space, so it is either inner or outer space […] Doing the things in the outer space like brushing has the effect to prepare the space. It also has a meditative function. It is the moment before I embark on a journey, it is also saying this goes with and this not. So you have a container or a space or a field where you are deciding whether things go or others you leave behind […] It almost has a quality of exorcism … like how you can burn herbs and take them around a space - it serves to exorcise ghosts in a sense. It is exorcising some of those things that had been there before  unwanted ghosts. So this sense of what do you want to keep and what do you want to let go is really important. There is a sense of an exorcism of the thing that you no longer want or no longer needA letting go of certain histories, or stories even, of certain materials, of certain spaces […] As part of writing, it would be to do with letting go of the associations of previous texts, so I can start with something that is specific to that moment. So there is something to do with disassociation, so you are not just repeating the same formulas. So you can begin with something that has a sense of that specific situation. But it is interesting also to look at the etymology because there are also things here, which it is not. There is a lot to do with clarity, the easily defined. Distinct. So the etymology of clear is to do with clarity of sense. I am not sure whether this is to do with this … even to do with the physical removal of things, because we are also talking about the possibility of clearing by bringing in. It is not just to do with making space but how you do clear objects of their histories. I remember bringing in the comma and placing it on things as a device of clearing away the sense of how things might have been used before, so it could become present in the space in a new form […] It can also mean to throw light on something and I am wondering what happens to the shadows this creates. I feel like we include the shadow side created by throwing light on something in order to clear it […] This could also be a way of understanding the emptying out … not only the visible things but the invisible things are part of the clearing. So it is not a clearing that is very factual, that is just creating order but taking the whole consciousness of the things that you are putting into a certain order with you, which is embracing also the invisible parts. It is more like energetic awareness that comes with you through this clearing process, and also the purification that is also somehow unspoken  one enters into the clearing and the emptying out. I also don’t see the purifying as cleaning  it is a purification that goes beyond that […] The fire-breath - this emptying out of stale air. It could seem like it is a very calm process of clearing out, but there is scope for this more energetic form of brushing out, or shaking out or dispelling of staleness. Stale as in not fresh, so like the thing that is hanging around but has lost its energy, has lost its vitality in a way. Staleness. Not fresh, the vapid or the flat, the dry or hardened. Musty or stagnant. The thing that has lost its novelty or interest. The thing that is overstrained, bored or is a surfeit of some sort. Lost its force or effectiveness through absence of action. The division between what you want to keep and what do you want to let go. Some things hang around for a while and it takes a time to recognise that they are no longer vital. So yes, the recognition of what to let go of … the word disassociation, this was used. Dis-association, dis-tinction, dis-tinguish. There is a decision also. A split of some sort … it is a way of cutting also. It needs a certain time. You cannot really speed it up. The figure of spiralling momentum is also a way of clearing and emptying out but a much faster way of going somewhere else. It was more … as you say like the fire-breath, it is more burning things. It goes fast. (W)ith the idea of the dis- and the cut, I imagine it like the production of parenthesis or brackets where you make a space through the establishing of a bracket but you don't yet know what is going to be in it. So it is brushing things aside in order to make this physical and conceptual space […] These empty brackets. An opening. Actually, opening is really central. The prefix dis- : this notion of apart, apartness. And also a sense of release. Rearranging. A cleavingSomething to do with the cut, but the cut is not one of violence it is to do with a release, a space-making. There is something about space-making or allowing the possibility, the making of a space in order to give rise to a new emergence. In German, Lichtunga clearing in the woodsLicht is the German word for light, as lighting. For Heidegger, the necessity of a clearing in which anything at all can appear. The clearing in which something can show itself or be unconcealed. So in relation to disclosureThings show up in the light of our understanding of beingThis sense of making a space in order for things to show up … it is not just a utilitarian making space, but there is something that has this sense of preparing a space for the thing that is not yet arrived, even for the unexpected. There is something anticipatory in this clearing  you don't know what will come. So it is not like you are clearing a space to fit this specific thing in. A specific thing. The anticipatory feels important. Clearing for the not yet arisen. Or the new even. There is something about disclosure again, this dis-Disclosure. In terms of playing with that I think of the relation between the figure of temporary closing and disclosure. Disclosure as the opposite of closure. Not just to do with exposing or revelation, but actually an unclosinglike an opening, an unclosing of something. I mean this not what disclosure means, but. The opposite of closing … it has the open-ness in there. To reveal something […] this figure as disclosure, an undoing of closure, really emphasises the cyclical nature of it, this is something that we are doing all the time. It is not like you begin and then you finish the thing  there are these micro circles or circuits of beginning, of generating momentum, of closing that are happening all the time on a micro and a more macro level […] The emptying out  in the etymology, empty can be that which is not yet employed in useful activity, so it has a sense of idleness about it, or waiting. So it is like ... the not yet brought into production. It has not only a negative connotation. Negative and positive connotations - emptiness as a positive attribute. But the etymology of empty is to do with a lack or absence, and these things are also perceived as having a negative connotation. We use it positively, but in general emptiness is seen as negative. In Buddhist ideology  emptiness … empty is empty. In the Western, empty is … without meaning. Here there are qualities of destitution, destitute. Destitute of quality or qualities, without force, effect or significance. Hollow. Destitution. Empty also has the connotation of not saying anything, it is mute. Do you take nothing as something that has potential or whether nothing is always a lack of something? So if you take this as the centre  to build on nothingness and attribute potential to this gesture, or whether you think you always have to have something to build from. Vacant, lacking content, content. Void. Devoid of thought or reflection. To empty out, a sense of removal of content, emptying out of content […] also the sense of zero, this neutral point in relation to that. This idea of ground zero […] Vacant is used often as the opposite of occupied. Vacant and occupied as opposites. It seems that vacancy is a precondition of being available. If you are occupied with something, then maybe you are not really available. We have talked about this idea of availability, of being available, whether than is to do with materials being available or the self being available. I wonder whether clearing and emptying out is a pre-condition of making things available through not being occupied. Being unoccupied as a precondition of availability. This is a question throughout the process  what do you bring to it, and what do we start from? Do I bring all my aesthetic likes and dislikes or do I clear and empty out before we enter the process? It never works 100% but … it is also de-charging in terms of energy and batteries. Taking the energy out. In a way, the clearing and emptying out and then rising momentum re-occupies the space, re-energises the battery. This dis- and the de- and the undoing seems as if it is really within this figure … and also the re- as in re-charging, a possibility to recharge. To refuel somehow. In the sense of availability. The figure is really about how to let go […] increase availability and this could be an act of recharging availability.


Above: Textual-visual description of the ‘Figure of Clearing and Emptying Out’, in Choreo-graphic Figures: Deviations from the Line, pp.85 - 86.

Text: Distilled/reworked transcription by Emma Cocker, based on recorded conversation between Emma Cocker, Nikolaus Gansterer, Mariella Greil. 

Drawing: Nikolaus Gansterer

Design: Simona Koch


See ‘Figure of Clearing and Emptying Out’, in Choreo-graphic Figures: Scoring Aesthetic Encounters, Journal of Artistic Research, Issue 18, 2019 [link here] for an assemblage of audio-visual ‘documents’ showing some of the singular examples of this figure in action, the live(d) experiences that the practice of conversation-as-material attempts to reengage, distil and enliven through language.

Below: The video below is a screen recording of an exploration the 'Figure of Clearing and Emptying Out' within the online exposition Choreo-graphic Figures: Scoring Aesthetic Encounters, in particular to show how the textual distillation generated through the process of conversation-as-material becomes presented as part of a wider assemblage of research documents. Click on the image below to play the video, and in the bottom right corner to enlarge the view.