When I was young, I imagined the inside of my brain looked like a library. Rows upon rows of tall bookshelves extended farther than the eye could see; where my memories, vocabulary, learned math equations, and everything else I knew were filed away. In this library, little workers ran around like mad to pull up the string of words I wanted to say, they sprinted to the shelf where my history class knowledge was, and they put away the things I learned that day in the correct location. When a word was on the tip of my tongue, I imagined it as misfiled and unavailable until the little workers located it and put it where it was readily accessible.
It saves us a lot of time to be able to file our knowledge into categories, and we construct language and rules to adopt this knowledge quickly and effectively. We develop ways of trusting things we are familiar with, ways of recognizing potential threats, ways of sharing what we know with others so we don’t all have to experience everything all the time to know it. To group our knowledge and identify our experiences is part of being human.
Yet sometimes assumptions are made that everyone will have the same definition or relationship to something, and these expectations reveal how our definitions can acutely limit our understanding. Even ‘universal’ emotions (love, hate, fear, sadness) are experienced in myriad ways, and by acknowledging someone else’s experience of said emotion we expand our own ideas of what is possible.
What if we explored an exercise in un-defining? Is it possible to strip away the associations, the cultural connotations, the assigned meaning to a certain object, action, or symbol? Can the relationship between what we experience and how we come to understand that experience be altered? What if the flexing of a muscle didn’t necessarily denote the expression of physical strength or if a smile didn’t signify happiness? Can we re-imagine our understanding of the world from a place of utmost possibility, or does doing so limit our ability to understand and communicate with one another?
Questions of this sort are the seeds from which artist Luis Garay cultivated his intellectually stirring and physically captivating work, Maneries. The title references a term from Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s 1993 book, The Coming Community. Interpreting Agamben’s theory, to Garay, “maneries” refers “to a sort of fountain from where all possible forms (tangible and imaginable) come from. Maneries is not the plural of ‘form,’ on the contrary, it is [one] place, and it refers to ‘an example.’ In one example, the universal and the particular are included… so maneries is a series of examples.” Garay also says that his “works try to ‘reduce’ or ‘elevate’ the body to its mere biological functions” – an attempt to unlearn those cultural and significations we have adopted. Using the body as source material in this way grounds it in the tangible and releases the imagination into pure potentiality.
With dancer Florencia Vecino, Garay created a pool of gestures, pictures, poses, and sculptures from which Vecino live mixes, like a DJ. The result is an ever-shifting and culturally evocative progression of movement and meaning. Archaic sculptural poses precede contemporary street dance moves, which are followed by indescribable yet specific movements reminiscent of something, somewhere, but Vecino moves through so quickly and with such confidence that this whirlpool of cultural connotations are scrambled. From this place of disassembled association, our knowledge waits, like a puzzle without a picture on the box, to be put together in an intentional way.
It is an impossible task, of course, since we ultimately cannot divorce what we know from the context in which we know it. However, we can engage in activities that reconfigure our relationship to certain objects, subjects, and information and that shed light on our own mental processes. The potential and the actual merge in Garay’s work as he utilizes tactics to elevate the state of the body, such as physical effort and meditation, and Vecino embodies these activities simultaneously. In a recent interview with FringeArts, Garay talks about the importance of Vecino’s energetic state for the performance.
We talked about it a lot, because this ‘state’ is very complex, it requires that she is very attentive, at the same time inside the piece and observing herself from the outside…. She has many rules to administrate at the same time. Many archives to execute. We talk about warriors all the time and what that could mean: she is a warrior of language.
Vecino serves as a sort of surrogate–representing and manifesting iconic symbols and ideas throughout history.
The vocabulary utilized in Maneries is at once extremely specific and intentionally ambiguous. Using movement as the medium of communication renders more possible ways of understanding the content being proposed. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, a movement in Maneries undermines words, excavating the very process by which we would have assigned meaning and definition onto it. The gestures, movements, photos, and energetic states that Vecino virtuosically crafts and executes are a real-time manifestation of the hypothetical. Maneries asks us–and allows us–to take the time to investigate everything, reconstruct our relationship to our own understanding, and it reveals the powerful impacts of such a process.
“The political task of humanity is to expose the innate potential in this zone of indistinguishability.” –Giorgio Agamben
Maneries by Luis Garay continues tonight, Saturday, April 23, 2016 at 8 pm in the Walker’s McGuire Theater.
Luis Garay will also participate in a public panel, Dance Now: Perception and Influence, at the Bryant Lake Bowl on Sunday the 24th at 12pm. Garay will be joined by BodyCartography Project (Olive Bieringa & Otto Ramstad) and Kenna Camara-Cottman, on a panel moderated by Justin Jones. Admission is free; reservations are not required.