Dancing is about bodies, of course, but when I watch Michael Clark Company dancers, I think as much about the brain. I think about the brain and the body. I think about muscles and how they work, and the way the body deals with things like confusion or pain. I don't think in the transcendent terms often ascribed to contemporary dance, terms like "abandon." This dancing isn't quite free. I think about precision and control. I recognise the body through the brain. Dancers move like toys, jitter like ghosts in the machine. There are times when they take the music literally, indulging a moment, a riff, a beat, like on the dance floor. This literalness evokes a kind of musical anticipation and spontaneity. That feeling when your body knows what will come next. Michael Clark is post, working within the best implications of postmodern and post-punk — debasement, critique, deconstruction; a restless questioning. At his current series at the Barbican, costumes are close to the body. Colour fields are lightest at the torso, suggesting nudity, drawing attention to the physique. But they are still costume costumes, deliberate and spiky. Black and white stripes on rolling bodies, set against mirrored stools, are a seductive new take on a familiar motif. We've had a century and then some to absorb jazz and op art and then industrial music and gay liberation and all sorts of things. How do these converge, fall apart? Michael Clark dances over the fragments of broken shackles; he seems burdened to find relief.
Monday, November 25, 2013
I hear the first announcement of the winter for a person under a train. The delivery is almost congenial as it is given as the reason one of the lines is experiencing severe delays. I recall the word "earlier" being used, to qualify the situation, perhaps with the intent of softening. It's all in the past now.
I generally hear several of these announcements per London winter. Londoners start to feel collectively unhappy as the Christmas decorations go up. People in tube stations seem harsher when they're coming in from the cold. They take up more space in their fur collared coats. They push — literally push or passive-aggressively trundle. Beware the ones wearing black nylon coats, those kinds that are stuffed and quilted; they seem especially confident in plowing through the crowd, as if their sleeping bag-style outerwear make them impervious.
The best option, if you don't have a bike and it's too long to walk: Take the bus. See London through its windows. On the tube, I'm packed in, everyone's bodies touching, and I try to fix my gaze in the middle distance so as not to look at other people's very close faces. But you can look from the bus. Look at people behaving on the sidewalk, at the lights of businesses you never knew. On one of my routes, I pass a blank billboard, a washed-out black haunted by the ghost of some previous advertisement's paste. And across the bottom, someone has sprayed, VINNIE ♥'s BOYS, XXX.
Boots on now and thicker socks. The trees have taken off their leaves so I can see the mighty towers of the Barbican from my window. The music that wants listening to is glassy: Kate Bush, New Order ("Your Silent Face"), Cocteau Twins, the Juan Maclean. In the grey, the trick is finding colour. Jamie texts me from Bristol; he has found some orange in the sky there.
We're colour detectives. As signs and symbols have become meaningless, vague or redundant, we look for meaning in light and shade. We joyfully re-watch Patrick Keiller's London and Robinson in Space. I get on a bus and I'm wearing black, blue-black, blue, brown, brown-blue. People walk past saying it's so cold and I'm thinking, it's really not that cold yet. But rooibus tea tastes redder. Nights are brilliantly darker, earlier. I've brought down the pink wool blanket. I've got two lyrics in my head: Jonathan Richman's "how do they make that sound, the Velvet Underground," and Vashti Bunyan's "winter is blue."
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
The word discursive is used all the time in college. If you're looking for it, it's in the arts and humanities building. To me, it implies a kind of stream of consciousness. It was only in the past year that I discovered it is a contronym, or auto-antonym — my favourite type of word, that rare instance in which a word can mean its own opposite. It's like self-flagellation, or having an argument with itself. I try to get people to think about contronyms but generally the conversation drifts. Speaking of which, the thing with discursive is that it can mean both "moving in an orderly fashion among topics" or "proceeding aimlessly in a discussion."
Perhaps the delineation here is not quite oppositional, more implicational. Another website describes its difference as boiling down to an adverb: "proceeding coherently from topic to topic" versus "moving aimlessly from topic to topic." It makes me think of writing in a digressive, associative, tangential way. It's a concept I thought totally applied to me! And I suppose the coherence or aimlessness is a matter to be taken subjectively. Isn't everything a matter of perspective? For instance, the word tasteful could merit different qualifiers, say "stiflingly" or "refreshingly." I got the chance to meet a Senior Editor at the Oxford English Dictionary (she put jazz hands into the dictionary), and she hadn't previously considered the word's contronymity. So perhaps its a rather obscure claim. Its Latin root, discurs, almost suggests a whole new variation, as it means "gone hastily to and fro." It is maybe most oppositional when considered as an archaic term from philosophy, "proceeding by argument or reasoning rather than by intuition." This implies one definitely has a point. I reckon a lot of students use the word to mean discourse-ively.
This makes me realise how meaninglessly employed the word discursive can be, just dropped into a sentence like elegant gibberish, its sibilant three syllables adding a kind of weight or validity. But what is one actually saying? As a contronym, discursive could mean "reasoned" as much as "woolly." According to the graph above, the word's usage has skyrocketed lately. Perhaps one could posit that it suits a society where language has become more vague. But that final dip suggests discursive has peaked. And its rise has nothing on the OED's word of the year, just announced today, which has gone up in usage 17,000% — selfie.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
I began making notes of autumn colours worn by men on the London Underground.
Navy and black like a bruise, roughing up a tall preppy blonde.
Coral and cherry-flavour and Dijon mustard on a sandy lad who looks like he makes things on computers.
Mustard (again) trousers, but more yellowy, leaf green rucksack and pebble grey suede shoes. Sky blue chambray shirt over a marl grey t-shirt. Under a pewter anorak. Accidental harmony.
Pale lavender, darkest navy (midnight, ink), army green, dark marl grey, peanut butter brown: the colours which seem to suit me.
Almost black and almost black and almost black (in hues of purple, blue and grey) on a skinny thing in plimsolls at South Kensington.
This was meant to be a study of colour on men's clothes. But yesterday evening I saw Emma. She was wearing a pleated skirt in paste white (surprising!) which she offset with an earth toned sweater (again, Dijon) and flint grey tights and brown boots. She calmed the potential severity of white, prevented that harshness, and yet gave the white a weight. Somehow, a kind of sense of picture framing. Or of working with clay. You clever girl, was all I could think of to say. Which went over well enough. She said thanks. And then the "bouquet." She had built a tangle of twisted willow branches, reaching up from a single matte brown vase. The branches were so tall that the tallest almost touched the ceiling. It looked brilliant. We joked that Emma should stand in front of it all night. Her "bouquet" is colourless compared to a bouquet in the traditional sense; she created a snapshot of nature's lines, a stolen glimpse, like stuffs for the nest, and invited a winter palette of the imaginary.
Monday, November 11, 2013
Ian White died, and though I had barely been introduced to him, I know this has devastated many friends and friends of friends.
I read this news (specifically, Emily Roysdon's stunning passage in Artforum) in the middle night. I was awake with pain. There was shouting upstairs. It wasn't helping.
Last week, I read Laurie Anderson's beautiful tribute to Lou Reed, which begins, "What a beautiful fall! Everything shimmering and golden and all that incredible soft light. Water surrounding us." A season of healing, that's what it is beginning to feel like.
The shouting continued upstairs; it felt so full of hate. I negotiated with the night. I slipped my palm onto Jamie's thigh. His body on its side feels to me like an upside down letter F.
My pains landed me in hospital on Sunday morning. No big deal at all, don't worry. But I was in there and it was cruel what a beautiful day was outside. A beautiful autumn day. I was hoping I would be called by the handsome doctor and I was. I knew I was going to have the handsome doctor. I'm going to have to give you a digital exploration, he said eventually. I thought, digital? Like, electronic? Don't worry, he said, I've got very small fingers. Oh right, those digits. It was the second time I'd been fingered by a hot doctor since September. I said, well, here we are on a lovely Sunday afternoon. He laughed and I could feel his breath on my ass.
Worse for him than me. He's trapped inside all day on this beautiful Sunday, being kind to strangers, with his face in ass and all kinds of other urgent things.
I was released into the bright, crisp day. All of the people on the streets and buses felt ridiculous. Like, ridiculously beautiful and autumnal and relaxed. Healthy, obviously. The picture of health. Popular accessories were coffee cups and flower bouquets. Groups of young friends trundled up to the top deck of the bus in big coats and tight jeans, brandishing Sunday accessories. Flower bouquets. People outside of places waiting for brunch. One of the bus stops is a hospice.
My adult life often seems to be a string of getting some sort of relief from doctors. Like you've got this, don't worry it's nothing too bad. But there is going to be a bad day. Don't you always think about that. There is going to be a day when the news is not innocuous. In the evening, Jamie wanted to watch a blockbuster adventure, and I was up on the couch turning on the projector equipment and I called to him, you know, you get older and you start just waiting for that day. I hate to be fatalistic, I said. But, you know, life is fatal.
And of course I think of Ian White and I know his death has devastated many friends and friends of friends.
And it was a bright and crisply cold and beautiful autumn day. And looking out the bus window at yellow leaves on park trees had felt like a descending scale from Erik Satie.
There is this juxtaposition; the beautiful day and the hospital. And it makes me think for some reason of the juxtaposition of the double bill show at Blain Southern: showing candy pieces by Damien Hirst, master of the churned out and rote, and the poignant and meaningful candy pieces by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Heartbroken (I've been waiting to see the FGT candy pieces for years and years), this exhibition seems to linger in the back of my mind like a thundercloud. I just want the show to go away. I want it to stop existing in London. It peers from guide pages contemptuously.
Oh, London, you're a dazzler. You're a dazzle ship. You dazzle the senses when one is trying to get oneself together, to heal, to grieve. You're a distraction. You shake leaves teasingly from tall, handsome trees. London, you seem to escape down slippery side streets and you keep offering me back stories and back alleys. You are hard to get. London, you are benevolent (in your lawns and buildings and beautiful boys), but London, you do not care.