The Embodied Archive as Utopian Performance: Mette Ingvartsen’s 69 Positions

“Utopian performativity is often fueled by the past. The past, or at least narratives of the past, enable utopian imaginings of another time and place that is not yet here but nonetheless functions as a doing for futurity, a conjuring of both future and past to critique presentness.”

—-José Esteban Muñoz (Muñoz 2009, 128).

In just under forty-five minutes, Danish Choreographer Mette Ingvartsen transforms her body from tour guide to herself as performer to Carolee Schneeman to interview reader to Anna Halprin back over to archive curator over to museum docent to Richard Schechter to Yayoi Kusama to Jack Smith to video technician and finally into her naked self.

This slippage between self as performer and self as embodied archive allows the piece to function on multiple levels, enabling Lena Hammergren’s proposal for privileging pluralistic perspectives through the enactment of multiple personas. Hammergren tells us that, “In accepting this elusiveness and the multiplicity of our personas, we can also get a different sense of context-oriented studies, where it becomes not only a question of which context we chose to examine, but also of how we change together with the context.” (Hammergren 186). Hammergren argues against the binary opposition between objective and subjective perspectives; proposing the audiences ability to shift between the two and allowing space for ambiguity to emerge. As Invgartsen swiftly navigates between tour-guide, performer, and embodied archive, she renders a future wherein the archived body is able to be simultaneously enlivened and commented on.

What I offer here are three distinct readings— Mette Ingvartsen’s own voice while performing 69 Positions in 2014,  Ingvartsen’s responses to an interview with Bojana Cvejić in 2014 , and my description of the piece watched in Germany in 2017. These three voices are interrupted by my own distracted thoughts, urges, and desires. I wonder if with my interruptions I can infiltrate this performance.

Borrowing from Lepecki’s notion of the will to archive, I read Ingvartsen’s embodied archive as a living breathing thing, and not a closed circuit. An entity which anyone is able to continuously and endlessly revisit and intervene in. Lepecki explains that the archive does not disappear into the past, but zooms into the all-encompassing field of the possible, “like the body, like subjectivity, the archive is dispersion, expelling, spilling, differentiating; a foaming and a forming and a transforming of statements into events of things into words, and of virtual into actuals” (Lepecki 37).  In inscribing the past onto her own body in the present, Ingvartsen is able to enact utopian performativity in the liminal space between past, present, and future, which José Esteban Muñoz privileges in Cruising Utopia. Muñoz advocates for a “backward glance that enacts a future vision”, thus rejecting the fixity of the here and now. Rather, he privileges the potentiality of another way of viewing time and space; one that circumvents the concreteness of this moment. Ingvartsen’s performance lives in this blurry space, borrowing from the past, not quite in the present, and dreaming into the future. As she performs these past performances with her body in the present, the performance is immediately lost. Ingvartsen is able to, in her one body, speak as herself about Schneeman’s work, embody the past performer(s) in MeatJoy, direct the audience to participate in embodying the past work, and offer her own reading on the piece. In this, she allows at one point in time and space for Schneeman, the performers from the 1964 performance, herself as embodied archive, and the present audience members in the performance to all to exist and have agency together. In doing so, she renders a new performance; referencing the past, enacted in the present, and an entity in its own right to now be archived and re-embodied. 

In these pages, I hope to disperse a sensuality beyond myself and into this shared space. To blur the edges of where my own yearning stops and your’s as the reader, starts. I wonder if in the rendering of this new archive, I can make the erotic central, rather than a peripheral reference. With these four intertextual voices, I offer a fragmented reading of the piece in order to mirror what Ingvartsen accomplishes in 69 positions—moving seamlessly in the slippage between author, performer, vessel, and critic—suspended across temporalities and space. I am writing a new body into the archive—my body—so that I may further open up Ingvartsen’s archive, in order to continue cruising for an unattainable utopia.

Hello and welcome to 69 Positions. All the videos, images, and texts that we’re going to have a look at over the next hour and forty five minutes have been selected for how they expose an explicit relationship between sexuality and the public sphere. How sexuality is not something personal, private, and intimate that should be kept behind closed doors, but rather something that participates in how society is built and also in how it affects our functioning.

It was in fact exactly as I say it in the performance: it all began with the email I wrote to Carolee Schneeman. But the letter I addressed to her was prompted by the interest I had developed in sexuality and nudity in performance beforehand.

After calmly and gently welcoming the viewers into the space—a space which she hopes to infiltrate with past, present, and future excessive female desire and sexual liberation through her own embodied archival project— Mette Ingvartsen explains that this project initially set out to recreate Carolee Schneeman’s MeatJoy.

The tour starts back in the 1960s, in utopia and it ends somewhere out in the future. The tour is divided into three sections and throughout I would also invite you to look at what is on the walls.

The 50th anniversary of MeatJoy was approaching, and I thought that if I wrote Schneeman in January 2013, we would have enough time to prepare and reinterpret MeatJoy in Paris on the 29th of May, 2014.

Her thin figure, wearing jeans and an orange sweater walks over to a wall and untacks a piece of white paper. As her blonde ponytail bounces, she looks up from her piece of paper, and in a flat delivery reads her email correspondence with Schneeman.

I wrote her on the 25th of January last year to ask her if she would be interested in redoing one of her old pieces called MeatJoy from 1964. I was interested in redoing this piece not only with her but with the original cast from 50 years ago. To see what would happen with performers who would have aged. Four days later she answered me this.

My letter to Schneeman dates from the 25th of January 2013. When Schneeman declined my invitation, I sent her another proposal, but I never heard back from her. Then I thought: does it mean I should let go of this idea? After a while, I decided that I would pursue my interest in examining the interaction between the dead and the living, and see where it would take me.

The audience stands surrounding her in shared space. There is no stage. Or chairs. Or curtains. The large room is perfectly curated, with neatly placed archival images, texts, and videos on flat screen plasma TV screens mounted to the walls. The room is engulfed by the visual archival material, which Ingvartsen will put onto her own body.

(Reads Email).

Over here there are four bodies lying on the ground. They’re kind of with their asses very tightly placed together and their legs pointed up in a kind of flower. They look like they’re having a beautiful time, they’re kind of biking their legs. It creates an almost erotic flower thats kind of opening its petals and they’re kind of rolling their heads on the floor.

Furthermore, I started looking for other works that would be dealing with nudity, with sexual representation, as well as questions of participation in terms of direct political engagement in the 1960’s.

She lunges to the floor landing on her back, knees and shins suspended in the air in a table top position. Her hands remain at her sides and her legs start to move in a bicycle motion.

Now the four men fold out of this constellation and they’re now hanging. Imagine they’re kind of hanging with their backs forward carrying the women who look almost dead. But almost in a position of total devotion or submission.

What began to preoccupy me was how to think of my own body becoming multiple, being multiplied by various perspectives. 

A brief Interruption—-

I am overcome by my desire for her

To know her

To taste her again

To understand her and her complexity

I am entrenched in this

I cannot focus

My want for knowing and to be known is suffocating me

And keeping me going all at once

Idon’tknowherbutIneedtoandIknowit’sallaprojectionofmyowndesire

I want to hold her hand again

and

Have her lick my salt drenched fingers

and

Have her caress my jean covered shin.

Am I so cut open—bleeding from the seams that one encounter can unravel me like this?

Am I too emotional? Too hysteric?

Too overcome by desire, that my flesh is burned by the very touch of another?

In writing this for you here, these thoughts leave me and become public knowledge. They are no longer locked up inside my flesh, like traces of desire palpating in my sweaty palms. As I type these thoughts onto my computer, they leave me, and as they are read by you, they become yours. This desire is now shared between us, and exists in this collective space and time between writer and reader, performer and spectator, speaker and listener. Do you feel the weight of these words in your own body now? I wonder if in sharing these thoughts with you, and making them public, they lose there consumptive power over me. Is this what Freud meant when he proposed the Talking Cure?

She quickly stands up rolling her shoulders back leaving her arms extended behind her back, solar plexus arched up to the ceiling. Her arms are bent at the elbows which are extended from her torso, palms facing up.

It only lasts for a short moment and then the men re-grab the women, lift them off the floor—and the women—they’re kind of kicking into the air in front of them until finally the men put the four women down. Sort of like this.

It should be said that in the early version of this piece the historical and political context was missing. I deliberately evacuated it so the description seemed as if I was inventing something on the spot. It was conceived as an imaginative choreography.

She walks backwards on her tip-toes before swiftly turning around, wrapping her arms around herself as if to give herself a hug. She juts forward abruptly, kicking her legs into the air in sequential parallel battement developés and slaps each leg down to the floor between each kick. Moving directly into the pathway of the surrounding audience, her incoming body evokes the dispersal of the audiences’ bodies further into the space.

Your hands go up in the air and the men are coming around them, moving them from the outside. So basically your arms are kind of like branches. Moving, swaying in the wind.

I’m lost in my own thoughts and

forget about the performance going on around me.

I remember.

Gasping and flushed between latex and pussy soaked sheets

I hear , “I’m here”

The six-year old in me has been waiting to hear those words.

Hoping the semen will provide some sort of clarity in its secretion

We fuck through the ambiguity.

I cry.

Bodily fluids pour out of every part of me

and I wonder if

I will deflate like a used blow up toy.

After our conversation, I realized that my actual interest was in the relationship between these works and the sexual liberation movement in the context of the Vietnam War.

Ingvartsen walks over to three female marked bodies in the audience, reaching for their backs and gently pushes them together. The audience moves out of the way for this new quartet to emerge. She has not stopped talking once, since the initial welcome. The women are now pressed into one another in a small circular clump and Ingvartsen (or is it Schneeman or the tour-guide of this archive—who knows anymore?) raises the three women’s arms into the air and then puts her hands on the smalls of their backs. From a a deep second plié she begins swaying the three women from side to side. She raises her hands in the air to join them, in a swift transition from body manipulator/director to performer in this re-imagined quartet. All four of them now sway side to side in what is reminiscent of jelly fish legs.

Then all eight of them they fall on the floor in a kind of orgasmic release.

(Silence). (Silence). (Silence).

So removing the historical and political context also weakened the operation of the works that I was referencing.

She clunks down to the ground in a fumble to the floor, landing on her back in a splayed out position. The three female audience members, turned performers, follow suit. The four of them lay on their backs and remain there for at least thirty seconds. The audience looks on with their gaze appearing to be equal parts excitement and terror that they will be implicated next.

This joyful sensation is very quickly replaced by a much more morbid image. All the bodies are now staring into the void around them. And they’re all wearing these little bikinis so the women with fur on them and the men have these black underwear and there’s a woman who comes in who’s holding a tray in her hand.

As Ingvartsen states,

she is interested in re-situating sexuality as something that is publicly shared,

rather than locked up in our own one-on-one encounters and intimacies.

I crave for her explosive wildness to overcome me.

To take visceral hold of the space and infect it with her uncontrollable pleasure.

For her nakedness to be erotic, rather than a costume

worn in service to the embodiment of the works, which she is referencing.

I watch her slip in and out of her various performance roles

and I wonder if,

in the over-rehearsing of the archive, the liveness of the sexual content is lost.

My thoughts wander and I can’t stop thinking about this performance

as a product of  a

Western and well-funded aesthetic.

I feel my chest tighten as I watch her repeatedly take her clothes off

like she’s getting a pap smear at the gynecologist.

It’s all so mechanical and sterile.

That led me to the idea of producing the frame of an exhibition, where the referential works wouldn’t only be identified, but would also interact with my imaginary transposition of them today. 

She is fully clothed, appearing to have complete control over her body. Still lying on the ground, she strains her neck up to speak, gesturing with her hand and gaze to her breasts and then pubic region. Her gaze extends outward and she lifts her shoulders up to point to an empty imagined performance happening; tracking her finger and gaze across the space as the imagined performers move through the audience.

She has a black dress and a white apron and she walks through the space. On the tray she has dead fish but also dead chickens and some sausages. As she starts throwing these dead meats onto the naked bodies they react in an almost spasmatic contraction.

Conceptual ideas of course never translate directly into choreography, as nonverbal movement expression communicates in other ways than language.

The three audience members turned performers remain lying down. Ingvartsen’s entire body begins to spasm in what appears to be a mix of orgasm and repulsion. She has yet ceased to speak and is now looking directly at the audience members who are standing around her. The spasms become more embodied and intense.

So you have to imagine this cold slimy meat that has been in the fridge for two days is now encountering their warm bodies. It makes a kind of spasmatic contraction that very quickly is replaced by joyful interaction with the dead meat.

She begins sliding backwards through the space and rolls onto her stomach. She pushes herself onto all fours and begins crawling through the viewers. The three women dissolve back into the audience, returning to their roles as spectators.

There’s a woman who’s being dragged through the space. She’s with two fish in her hands.

I was trying to disconnect pleasure and desire from the individual body against the idea that your desire belongs to you.

I can’t stop getting distracted by my own wandering mind

or maybe it’s my wandering uterus.

I think about the content of Ingvartsen’s project and the deep history and social construction of systemic power and control over the sexed body.

I wonder if

When Plato said the uterus was a wild animal wandering around the female body, he knew we were coming?

 

When Charcot hypnotized us for his lectures, he knew we were just performing choreography to a room full of masturbatory White men?

 

How much cocaine did Freud have to do to feel better about Dora not wanting to fuck him?

 

Did Irigaray and Cixous know the regime of the gender binary would be dismantled altogether?

I think about my own research and project

and I

Re-read the description from my last performance in Germany.

“This is a utopia of heightened expressivity where desire is of the highest value.  

Hysteria is fleeting. It is ephemeral. It is here and now. 

We can never live in hysteria, but we can almost touch it. 

 Hysterical Realness is an embodied archive exploring a fragmented history and dreaming a utopian future.”

Maybe we’re all archiving each other.

She moves backward on her knees as if she is being dragged by the belt hoop of her jeans, arms extended in front of her, hands clasped in fists.

There’s also another woman who’s putting a fish into her bra and down on the floor there’s a man who’s placing a chicken into his underwear. In the back corner there’s another guy who’s kind of holding a chicken, it still has its head. He’s kind of holding it as if it’s a little child.

(Silence Silence Silence).

I argue that desire belongs to the social structures whose power is to produce and control our behavior.

She abruptly comes up to standing and as if she is giving an anatomy presentation. She digs her hand into her shirt and pulls her left breast out. After tucking her breast back into her shirt she unbuttons her jeans, pulls her underwear down to reveal her genitals, and swiftly buttons her pants back up. This all lasts about ten seconds and the reveal of her naked body is too fast to transmit any level of shock factor.

This is a couple rolling around on the floor. They have a chicken between them and the guy has his teeth placed really deeply into the flesh. You can almost feel the blood in your mouth and the taste the iron just from looking at it. There’s also a woman sitting here. She’s putting her hair up with a piece of plastic.

I was concerned with thinking of desire in relation to capitalism. For instance, how commercials sexualize products: you eat an ice-cream but you actually have an orgasm. You know what I mean? What you buy is the orgasm and not the ice-cream. If you could just buy an orgasm without having ice-cream, they would probably prefer that, it would be cheaper.

She crouches on the ground and sucks her thumb evoking what can only be described as a sexy baby. She slowly fingers her mouth, making eye contact with the audience, letting them know that this is indeed pleasurable for her. The sucking moves to her wrist and then her arm and she is now fully engaged in making out with her forearm. She slides back onto her back and slithers back through the swarm of audience members standing above her.

Out on the entire floor you have a huge piece of plastic that is covering the entire space. The woman with the black dress and the white apron, she’s now coming in with two buckets  in her hands. She gives these buckets to two of the men in the room, and they start to paint the women. So first they put on the paint very carefully and they do it very slowly. And after a little while the women start to get annoyed that they’re constantly getting pulled around, manipulated, and carried, and they take the buckets and pour it onto the men in space. So now you have to see that the black and red paint is starting to flow and invade the entire space. You have to also imagine the dead chickens, the fish, the sausages. There’s also ropes and pieces of paper and all that material is starting to mingle with the living bodies. The people seem to be enjoying it tremendously but it looks a little bit more like a battlefield. The women are covered in paint. The men are dragging them toward the corner of the room. In the corner there is a pile of paper it almost looks like trash. And it evokes this kind of torture experiments that were made in the Middle Ages where they would roll people in tar and then cover them in feathers and then force them to walk through the city as a way of ridiculing them. The people are now all in this corner throwing around the tape. You can also see on these images these ropes and the bodies being painted. and this is in fact the score of the whole performance that lasts about sixty to eighty minutes.

She pops up onto her knees, transforming back into tour guide, gesturing the audience over to images of the original 1964 piece mounted on the wall.

If we view the archive as a spiral, rather than a circle, it allows us to see that it never stops. Ingvertson is not merely re-enacting Schneeman’s work, attempting to re-create a missed or forgotten moment in time, which Lepecki warns us of. Rather, in putting the work of the past onto her own body in the present, she re-invigorates the work, propelling it into a utopian future that has yet to be lived. Lepecki urges for “pushing the body into the archive, pushing the archive into the body— a mutual metamorphosis conjuring up, creating, secreting, excreting, inflecting critical points where virtual and actuals exchange place” (Lepecki 38). In Ingvartsen’s body as archive and archive as body, she allows the reflexive relationship to emerge between living and dead, past and present; opening up a chasm between the two and examining the infinite space between them.  In my own fractured reading of this piece, I borrow from Muñoz, Hammergren, and Lepecki in order to write multiple voices onto the page to further complicate our understanding of the linearity and straightness of time and its existence in space. As I write this, I choreograph a new fractal performance into the present, and in my own intervention into Ingvartsen’s work, I am opening the archive back up, where-in it is never fully complete, and “not yet here”.

References

“69 Positions” Vimeo, 0:00-30:00. Posted by Mette Ingvartsen, 2014.

https://vimeo.com/156562935 Password: metteingvartsen

Esteban Muñoz, José. Cruising Utopia The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: NYU Press, 2009.

Ingvartsen, Mette. “69 Positions.” Interview by Bojana Cvejić. Bergen, Norway: 2014. Accessed on 11/30/18. http://www.metteingvartsen.net/texts_interviews/69-positions-interview-with- mette-ingvartsen-by-bojana-cvejic/

Lena Hammergren, “Different Personas, A History of One’s Own” in Choreographing History, Susan Leigh Foster, ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.  pp. 185-192.

Lepecki, André. “The Body as Archive: Will to Re-enact and the Afterlives of Dance” Dance Research Journal 42/2 Winter 2010: 28-48.

 

 

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