[-empyre-] Narrative, and speaking traces

sarah drury sdrury at temple.edu
Fri May 29 03:10:41 EST 2009

Thanks for these great questions regarding the specifics of my comments and
documentation (sorry my online documentation isn't better/longer, I can't do
much about it at the moment, but will).

The "challenge to normative embodiment" may rest in Lezlie's body presence
and movement themselves, in terms of the role of the gaze in the social
construction of the body with dis/abilities, paralleling postmodern theories
of the gaze in the construction of the female body.  Lezlie's performance
presumes what theorist Jim Ferris identifies as two kinds of anxiety in the
non-disabled gaze at the body with dis/abilities: "existential anxiety"
about the functioning of the body being seen, and by extension, the body of
the viewer, and "aesthetic anxiety" generated by fears of bodily difference
in a society "with a quest for 'supernormal bodily perfection'."  The image
of dis/abilities tends to bring into play this set of anxieties in the body
of the viewer.   Performance artist Lisa Bufano's <http://lbufano.com/>
artist statement refers to using this as a strength: " Despite my own terror
and discomfort in being watched (or, maybe, because of it), I am finding
that being in front of viewers as a performer with deformity can produce a
magnetic tension that could be developed into strength. I attempt to channel
this tension by exaggerating the mode of physical difference (for example,
presenting myself on stilts)."
So in some sense, Lezlie¹s sensors ³exaggerate the mode of physical
difference²‹potentially, by drawing attention to Lezlie¹s arms, ³arming²
them, and by creating their relationship to the screen.

Lezlie's desire in this performance was both to acknowledge and confound
this confrontation with difference, layering discourses of dis/abilities and
female embodiment.  She both generated it in the toughness of banging out
the image of a city, a production line of female bodies, a medical monitor
signal,  with her prosthetically-armed hands, and re-worked it in fluid,
flapping or spinning parts of the performance.  She wanted to both move like
a machine and move/draw ³off the grid.²

Her movement was counterintuitive in the degree of learning and control
required to manipulate her wearable accelerometers to achieve a specific
graphic quality.  Practicing was about finding the movement that is both
expressive in itself and also "draws". Lezlie's performance was highly
controlled, highly choreographed, and was about control in some sense.

On the other hand, another Walking Project participant, Cathy Weis, used the
sensor-media configuration to make a performance about not being in control,
about the disjunction between the internal experience of moving and the
external movement that¹s seen by others, i.e., a performance about her body
being out of control.  Her sensor-media concept was based on
pressure-sensitive shoes that corresponded with an animated bunch of sticks
that threatened to spill as she stepped. Cathy didn¹t so much practice the
manipulation of the image as move with it, looking for a narrative of the
disjunctive partner/disjunctive part of herself that eludes her control in

I am reminded of Ashley¹s early discussion of a Œfear of ephemerality¹ in
regard to the trace, in these examples above of putting the trace to use in
the service of a narrative.  At the same time, it¹s a narrative in which the
trace enables or adds an intimate and visceral reading of the body.  I hope
this clarifies what¹s going on, and the bundle of intentions in the piece,

> Hi Sarah, really interesting posts, I just watched Lezlie's
> performance and I wanted to know more from you (and Lezlie and Seth?)
> about it if possible.
>   you write,
>> 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.
> I just wondered if you could be more concrete about 'a challenge to
> normative embodiment.' I sort of get the idea _at least from what
> follows, too-- that there's kind of an anti=movement going on with
> Lezlie's
> drawings via her explosive repetitive winglike movements with her arms.
> you mention also that these are 'counterintuitive"  (see below)
> when you talk about normative, or against some kind of norm , are you
> referring to medical physical therapy methods and visualizations?
> what or how  is Lezlie working against something?   Could you be more
> descriptive and literal?  It's hard to tell from the video.
>> 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.  I
> is this true just for the female 'handicapped' body somehow?  is this
> an important part of the narrative of her piece, or  are you
> mentioning this by way of context?
> just trying to get a feelling for the 'story' with /against dis-
> ability using this 'purple crayon' method.  maybe a longer video or
> one with a larger resolution would be super helpful.
> thanks Sarah!
> Christina
> On May 27, 2009, at 8:54 PM, sarah drury wrote:
>> I heard from Hana Iverson, who tried to post to the list but
>> couldn¹t, making me wonder if there¹s still something up with the
>> server.  Her questions are below, followed by my answer.
>> Hi Sarah,
>> I am curious in the idea of counterposing social orders, and if
>> Leslie Frye actually felt that the media traces created by The
>> Walking Project actually "spoke" of a social reframing of her body/
>> self/identity?  Is there a link somewhere on-line where this can be
>> seen?  And if these media traces "speak," is that what you are
>> referring to by narrative?  It seems to me that narrative within the
>> context of movement, often means "story" as opposed to say, code or
>> coded languages, even in the spirit of bread crumb trails.  And how,
>> and in what way, these trails/traces become political?  In what way
>> are these traces paralleled to Deluezian processes/actions?
>> Would love to hear more.
>> Hana
>> Hi Hana,
>> Thanks for your thoughtful questions.  I think that, yes, Lezlie
>> experienced the relationship between her movement and the media
>> traces as a changing figure/ground relationship that spoke of a
>> successive reframing of her body/self against the environment. Her
>> movement at the beginning of the performance built a relationship
>> with interactive iconography (media traces) that explores force,
>> linearity, control, consistency, symmetry. In some sense, her
>> performance enacts the cultural dynamics that produce the ³normal²:
>> strength, speed, repetition, health, etc.  You can see video of the
>> performance here:
>> http://astro.temple.edu/~sdrury/TheWalkingProject/#
>> <http://astro.temple.edu/~sdrury/TheWalkingProject/
>> Athletic and rhythmic, this movement produces a line that traces a
>> right-angled, repetitive urban iconography. Within the linearity of
>> her movement also, at times, is emphasized the snag, asymmetry, the
>> glitch, picked up by sensors in the uneven movements of her arms.
>> What I am calling narrative is, as you say, the engagement of coded
>> language (rather than storytelling) in the combination of body,
>> movement and responding image/traces, in that there is a three-
>> layered narrative of the body itself, movement and its responding
>> traces/trails.  Lezlie enacts the production of normalcy even as her
>> sensor-amplified body enacts live and mediated asymmetry.  I suppose
>> it is the non-standard aspects of Lezlie¹s physical form that are
>> ³unaligned or unalignable components which refuse to conform to the
>> requirements of order and organization², but more, it is her
>> presentation of an ambivalent embracing/enacting of normative
>> embodiment and simultaneously engaging difference outside the
>> categories assigned to it, engaging difference intimately and
>> playfully.  The media traces simply accentuate this aspect of form
>> and performance, as a third layer.
>> To grab a fragment of Laura¹s May 21 post:
>> ³However, I guess part of my interest is in how to make encounters
>> with difference more sustainable (or less painful) and/or to
>> emphasise less extreme and more apparently banal examples of how we
>> might jump onto new planes of perception.²
>> I like to think this performance functions this way.  While Lezlie¹s
>> charged performance is not banal, it is Œless extreme¹, and I think
>> conditions perception in new ways, on some level through the relay
>> of various planes of narrative: the body and its narrative,
>> performative gesture and live animation.  But I would welcome more
>> questioning and discussion about ideas of narrative in the context
>> of movement.
>> Sarah
>> _______________________________________________
>> empyre forum
>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: https://mail.cofa.unsw.edu.au/pipermail/empyre/attachments/20090528/c3942945/attachment.html 

More information about the empyre mailing list