Wild Geese

via the New York Times
image via the New York Times

Tonight I saw Jennifer Monson’s Live Dancing Archive at The Kitchen. The piece began in pitch-black silence (our human noises the only things reminding us that we had bodies), an almost-devastating quiet that permeated the ears and the sinuses. When the light rose, like the morning, the shift was so slow and so barely perceptible that I almost thought my eyes were inventing it for something to see.
Throughout the piece, I kept drifting back to the line from Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese: “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” Monson wore nude fishnets and a furry hide-like chest piece—her body revealed itself in increments as she dressed and undressed until she finally stood naked in front of us. Her body seemed animal to me, and the nature of her archival project recalled to me the animal death; according to Leibniz as articulated by Akira Lippit, “death requires a certain calculation toward finitude, toward ‘infallible consequences,’ and without such reflective faculties animals remain in the world undying. Animals, like souls, are those creatures thus destined to survive, or at least to remain: their apparent lack of language commits them to a perpetual and protean evolution toward eternity” (36). Monson’s body became its animal self; it loved what it loved and moved how it moved, without the burdens of language or philosophy, destined for some kind of eternal survival. We looked at it not because it had mastered a technique but because we could, and because we were fascinated by its bodily-ness, its unabashed fact. We may even have envied its undeniable existence, and laughed because it became almost too much to bear.
Or we might have laughed at those animal movements that we recognized—contortions or gestures seemingly born out of instinct rather than predetermination. How often do we let ourselves move like that? I think some part of us must long for the mammals of our bodies to take over the space as Monson’s seemed to.
I found myself on the verge of tears as, under two bright lights in a cacophony of sound (was I really hearing or just imagining it?), she folded into herself, her lines and curves collapsing and enveloping, the shadows devouring her as the space gathered her up and pulled her across itself.
At the end, my friend and I agreed that we had just seen Art.

Akira Mizura Lippit. Electric Animal: Toward a Rhetoric of Wildlife
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