[-empyre-] introducing Sarah Drury on Empyre for Week 4 of Critical Motion

sarah drury sdrury at temple.edu
Wed May 27 07:19:36 EST 2009

Here is a second post (launched into the still waters of a quiet list):

Cycling back to the discussion of the political in
interdisciplinary/critical motion practice, introduced by Laura Cull and
developed by other contributors, I would like to present one aspect of my
recent performance piece, The Walking Project.  I framed The Walking Project
as a collaboration, in which I worked closely with a programmer and with
three different performers, each of whom ³inhabit the body with
dis/abilities².  The three collaborations were distinct and separate from
each other.  I specifically chose people with an existing movement practice,
but with very different practices as artists.  My aim was not simply to
present a set of tools for each mover to use, but to share my desire use the
tools to explore embodied narrative as a way to move across various
In Volatile Bodies, Elizabeth Grosz clarifies certain aspects of Deleuze and
Guattari¹s theories of the body and subjectivity from a specifically
political standpoint:
³ŠDeleuzian framework de-massifies the entities that binary thought
counterposes against each other: the subject, the social order, even the
natural world are theorized in terms of the microprocesses, a myriad of
intensities and flows, with unaligned or unalignable components which refuse
to conform to the requirements of order and organization.  In this sense,
their understanding of the body and subjectivity as excessive to
hierarchical control implies that the body, as the realm of affectivity, is
the site or sites of multiple struggles, ambiguously positioned in the
reproduction of social habits, requirements, and regulations and in all
sorts of production of unexpected and unpredictable linkages.²
In collaborating with spoken word artist, dancer and dis/abilities scholar
Lezlie Frye, I experienced her understanding of the body with dis/ability,
in performance and in everyday life, to be just such an intensity or flow
³with unaligned and unalignable components which refuse to conform to the
requirements of order and organization²Šand that operate ³as excessive to
hierarchical control². While the work experimented with wearable sensors
controlling animation, Lezlie worked with the existential fact of her
non-normative body, informing the work at every level.   The body itself,
not only its movement, functions to question normative assumptions at a
deeply experienced level, for all present. Lezlie, myself and Processing
programmer Seth Erickson, worked to develop a performance language of
movement and responsive images, built associatively on this ³action² of the
body as a de-organizing process, a challenge to normative embodiment.
Accelerometers at her wrists sensed the unequal ranges of her two arms.
Starting from a critique of the medicalization of dis/abilities and the
image of the heart monitor signal, she devised an image repertoire with a
set of constantly spooling graphic lines, using these to draw her gestures,
like the children¹s book Harold and the Purple Crayon, to explore the
standardization of bodies, the asymmetry of differently-formed bodies, and
how the intimate gesture retraces the image of the body.
One of the texts of her performance is a layering of ways in which she is
subject to separation from her body, through the medicalization of the body
with dis/abilities both literally, through surgical reconstruction, and
through the layering of narratives of weakness and mortality that
circumscribe dis/ability socially and culturally.  The wearing of sensors
and the disjunctive, counterintuitive action/reaction between gesture and
image production also provide another layer of the experience of
displacement: a foreign, technological mode of behavior to be learned.
Iconographies include images of the built environment that standardizes,
speeds up, regulates and denies movement and access and standardization of
the female body.  In this performance, Lezlie embraces these various
alienations of the body with dis/abilities, including the sometimes
alienating operations of the technology she wears, as ways to address and
subvert standardization and also enacting irregularity, asymmetry, and
So I¹m interested in some idea about particular bodies having particular
narratives, a ³body narrative², and the ³amplification² of this narrative
with sensor-media performance practices.  Would love to hear any thoughts,
critical, associative, otherwise.

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