user avatarDefne Erdur Eligible Member // Teacher
user avatarRomain Bige // Teacher
IDOCs » Unnecessary Attention
Here you can find the revised version of Romain Bige's lecture; "The Artist's Privilege to Displace the Borders Between What Should be Noticed and What Should Not" that took place as the closing lecture of the 4th IDOCDE Symposium.
2016.08.18

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NB. The text you will read is the text as I have re-written it after the lecture: some ideas have changed shape, but most of them remained the same. More importantly, they are interspersed with "moving images" that were not part of the lecture, and that I only thought of afterwards as what could have been part of my talk. Reflecting post hoc on the conditions in which I gave the lecture, I thought it would have made more sense to include some movement on the part of the audience - that would have been at least more consequent with the ideas I defend in it. Sitting still in front of a screen where words and images are projected is a classical mode of transmission in academia: it has some advantages, including that of allowing a specific mind and attention to the details of the wording; but it has the inconvenient to cut both speaker and audience from their own motoring experience. The "moving images" here described could have been antidotes to that default, that I hope can be at least imagined by the readers.

 

[UN]NECESSARY ATTENTION

To begin with, I'd like to state two simple principles:

(1) There's no wrong way of listening. Sitting, looking at my face or at the screen is good, but lying on the floor, moving, stretching are also very good way to attend to yourself as well as to what I am saying.

(2) At any moment, you may leave the conversation if you feel uncomfortable. Hopefully, you won't, but this “lecture” format is strongly authoritative, and I want to make sure that I am not taking any prisoners.

And now, moving on, I'd like to propose to those of you would like to follow me, a moving image.

[Moving image: a slow walk in a line, crossing the studio, with this simple proposition: moving at the speed of your ability to attend to what I am saying: how can you at the same time pay attention to my voice and wordsto and to what you are experiencing in your movement, maybe you will need to adjust the speed depending on your understanding of what I am saying, maybe you will want to stop and ponder, test it..]

And now, let's begin from where we are. As movers, right now, we are far from being only situated on our feet: we are in-between, in between here, where we depart from, and there, where we go. Our movements stretch out our bodyminds into that space of in-between.

Movement is, from that point of view, like a string that unites two or more poles. It's less something that I do, than something that bring me together with something, someplace or someone else. In our case, movement is bringing us to the wall.

The idea that movement is a string bringing together two poles is, etymologically exactly what is meant by the word dance in most European languages: Tanz in German, danser in French, danza in Italian, tanec in Slovenian, all those words come from the same Indo-European root *tan, which means, precisely, tension. In Greek, *tan gave us the word tonos, which translates into tone: muscle tone, or musical tone, by which we mean a way of tensing.

The other word that derives from the Indo-European *tan is the word “attention”: literaly, attention means “a tension addressed to”. Attention is our ability to distribute the tensions into our internal and external spaces. It is grasped by objects, by parts of our bodies when we're ill; but it can also be directed on purpose, in the cases of meditation practices and, of course, dance itself.

In the practice of dance improviser Lisa Nelson, this strategy has received the name of attentionography: dance, for Lisa Nelson, is the tracing of the travels of attention.

But as you know, there is usually another term that is used to describe dance as a theater art: it's the term choreography. Again, literaly, the term choreography means: the tracing of togetherness (from the Greek choros which means chorus, being initially the dancers-singers that were accompanying the tragedian soloist). Choreographing therefore means: shaping, writing, scribing, tracing the ways we get together.

Why does that have to do with dance and attention? Because attention is our most primordial way of sharing the world with other beings: human, animal, vegetal, mineral or stellar, our ways to reach out to them, to exist together with them is to attend to them. To be together with is, first and foremost, to attend to. Being together doesn't mean to be in the same room: I can be next to you in the metro and at the same time be closer to a friend at the other side of the world if she popped into my mind. It doesn't even necessarily mean to move together: right now, you probably feel closer to the wall (or to me as the speaker) than to your fellow movers. Together means to be with, to be on the side of, to be stretched out of oneself by, that is: to attend to, as you are attending to your sensations, or to the wall, or to any other thought, feeling, object, reality that comes into your field of attention.

 

Now, I'd like to introduce you to the idea that dance is not the only form of art that we can consider as an attentionography. I would like to consider the idea that every art forms is, at least potentially, an attentionography, that is: a way of tracing the travels of attention.

This requires that we make a detour, to understand what kind of institutions allow for such an understanding of art. At least since the Renaissance, the Western civilization has instituted a specific relationship to art spaces, which consists in separating sensation from movement. This separation is what I will call THE SOCIAL DIVISION OF MOVEMENT.

By that, I simply mean that we live in societies that have dissociated the activity of witnessing art from action. A good example of this division is the double invention, in the 16th century of the perspectiva artificialis on one hand and of our modern anatomy on the other hand [see Hubert Godard, "Fond / figure" on http://pourunatlasdesfigures.net]. Perspectiva artificialis on the one hand contrasted with the idea that we witness art in order to be moved by the image: that's the function, as you know, of the medieval icons; they are not representations of saints, they are ways of communicating with God (they are enthusiasming: which means putting God into the viewer). On the other hand, modern anatomy is the idea that our body can move by itself: it rests on the model of a body as a system of levers, pulled by the muscles. For modern anatomy, you don't care about what is moving you, you care about how the movement functions. In other terms, moving is no longer “being moved”, it is separated from sensorial receptivity.

The black box theater of the 20th century is the aesthetical accomplishment of this tendency to dissociate movement and perception. In our 20th century theaters, the light goes down, the seats are comfortable, and the audience is mute – which again contrasts with earlier art landscapes, where instead of the religious silence of today the house lights were always on, and where the audience was talking and eating.

All of that contributes to a definition of aesthetic contemplation as inaction. In other terms, we live in societies where we consider that paying attention to what is sensed requires to suspend our moving abilities.

 

[Moving image: small dance]

I propose now that we stop moving, and remain standing for a moment. Of course, it doesn't mean that we're not moving: on the contrary, we're given an opportunity to observe the minute movements of adjustment of our bodies with gravity, as we stand, together, relaxed, examining when tensions arise, easing into the vertical offered by the pull of our weight into the ground.

 

And now, let us return to our social division of movement. Western aesthetics have instituted the idea to perceive art, you need to stop moving: that's where we had stopped. We can now go further: we could say that for us, art spaces are spaces where we can deal with our perceptions without having to for survival necessities.

 

This is, of course, a paradox, because, like every living beings, what we usually perceive is what we need and can act upon. A good example of that is my cat: my cat perceives sounds that make sense to her, for instance the scratching on the floor that resemble the footsteps of a mouse; but she doesn't perceive loud noises such as a loud clapping, because she couldn't do anything about them. Physically, she has the ability to perceive them, but they just don't make sense to her, and that means two things: they don't have meaning for her life, and henceforth they are not perceivable. This structure of our cognition is what French philosopher Henri Bergson calls “attention to life”: we primarily pay attention to what is useful for our survival.

In our adult and neurotypical worlds, a good example of that is the way we hear foreign languages: you may have noticed, when you're in a foreign country, that people don't seem to use words; their sentences appear a very long series of uninterrupted melodies, like a big chunk of sound, rather than a succession of small chunks. Conversely, it is very difficult to hear your mother tongue as a pure melody: irresistibly, the sounds “make sense”, which means, for us, that they can be separated into semantic units.

In the same way, we tend to perceive a chunky reality, because we immediately see in it the objects that we can act upon: table, chair, floor, people. Instead of seeing planes of colours, or melodic continuities of sounds, we tend to perceive objects.

 

[Still image: Turner, Yacth approaching the sea.]

Let us now return to the experience of art. What do we witness in front of a work of art? In the vocabulary I just used, we could say that we experience “new chunks”, meaning we perceive the world's associations in new ways. Take for instance this Turner painting: in his incredible skies, what you can experience is the unseen parenthood between gold and blue and rose. After having seen a Turner painting, you possess this very specific knowledge that a gold-blue-rose color exists in the skies, and henceforth, you may in your turn discover it in the world when confronted to a sunset. This is what Gilles Deleuze calls a “percept”, that is: a condensed perception, a sharable way of seeing the world.

So let's say this is our general framework. Works of art are mediums for percepts, that is: ways of unifying reality, ways of dismembering and remembering reality.

 

[Still image: multistable hallway from Don Ihde Experimental Phenomenology.]

 

Let me present an analogy for this idea. It concerns what is known in experimental psychology as MULTISTABLE PHENOMENA.

Look at this image, I will direct your attention to perceive it in different ways. Whatever meaning you already ascribed to it, I propose you to see that it is a hallway, a corridor: the grey area in the aid picture is to be considered as the back wall of this hallway, and the other surfaces are two walls and the floor. Now, without changing anything, I propose you to envisage that it is truncated pyramid: the grey area in the aid picture being the plane where the cut occurred. Obviously, you're not seeing something else, these are still the same lines as before, and yet, they are organizing themselves into new relationships.

Analogically, we're now in the situation of having seen a Turner painting and maybe a Manet painting: we have enriched the world of new interpretations, and we can chunk it in those new ways ad libitum.

 

But I will propose a third perception to you. I propose that what you see is a headless robot: the grey area in the aid picture is the torso, his arms and legs are extended, he is holding canes and standing on a floor.

There are countless biases in this little experiment of ours, including the fact that I am using a narrative to direct your perceptions, but let us imagine that the function of a work of art is closer to this third shift, than to the second. What happened in this third shift? You didn't only change your perception, you changed the nature of the space according to which you were perceiving. It is not only what you were perceiving that changed, it is the overall context in which this made sense. To be able to see the headless robot, you transformed what was an (imaginary) three-dimensional space into the (physical) two-dimensional plane of the wall it is projected on.

 

[Moving image: let us resume our standing position. We're just going to stand, relaxed in this space; and the proposal is to stand in spaces in-between. You can choose what this means: it can be two people, it can be two walls, it can be two particles of air, it can be two cities, two planets. You choose, and vary your referent points.]

And don't be too greedy. Maybe choose first two things, or places, or bodies, and take the time to discover them, to attend to them in your standing, before and if ever you change.

 

And while, we're dealing with this new puzzle, I will continue my rambling. I was saying that an art work consists in producing a topological shift. Of course, this is not proper to art works, it can happen with a living being, with a landscape, with any object, but art works are mediators of this. And of course this is very subjective, and I can only give you my own examples.

I will give you one example, it's a work by Pierre Huyghes, a French contemporary artist, the title is Partition du silence: it is the score he notated from the recording of John Cage's famous piece, Four minutes and thirty-three seconds. In this piece, as you may already know, a pianist sits at a piano, doesn't play for Four minutes and thirty-three seconds, and exits. What Huyghes did, is that he scribed everything he could perceive when augmenting the volume of the recording to a maximum. So in his scores: it says: “rain”, “birds churming”, “wooden floor cracking”, “audience caughing”. These unnecessary sounds, these details were suddenly coming to the fore. He, Pierre Huyghes, was using these Four minutes and thirty-three seconds to observe silence and detect its inevitable noisiness.

This work, for me, became an attentionography. It became a frame offered by the object, to pay attention to what I was experiencing in the museum: I became the scribe of my own attention for a few minutes, and furthermore, it remains with me, and I can invoke it each time I am “listening to the silence”.

 

The structure of an aesthetical experience is thus such that instead of looking at an object (an art work, a landscape, a being in front), it is as if you were looking “through” it-them, as if you had learned to perceive according to them, rather than according to your own preconceptions.

From that point of view, an aesthetical experience is an experience that consists in finding a “mediator”: some body, some place, some thing that initiates us to a realm of existence that was unknown.

 

In that sense, and this will be my conclusion, the aesthetical experience has something to do with the event of encountering the loved one (or two or three – I mean it can happen many times). If indeed we say that we fall in love, if our legs start to shake, if our head is spinning when we encounter love, it is because the romantic encounter is governed by the dissolution of the very ground of our system of representation. In French, we even talk about a “love vertigo” (un vertige amoureux): and a similar vertigo presides in the encounter of an attentionography. It is not only that we see or hear something new, it is that, to experience this novelty, we witness the shaking of our world. From that point of view, an attentionography is, before anything, a rewritting of necessity, as long as we understand necessity as the law and order of the world. Encountering a work of art, and this will be my final world, entering into the attentionographical mode, is to be, for a few instants, rewritting the laws of our perceptive world.

 

Thank you for your attention.


Comments:
user avatar
Laura Rios // Teacher
2016.09.03
Beautiful, thank u.


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