Since a couple of years the theatre stage changed: Or rather, the things being presented there changed. Suddenly the stage does not portray people anymore, their quarrels, love or despair, it is not about stories. Or it is, but in a strange way: Actors, performers and dancers, it seems, lost their place on centre stage; they step back, fade into the background or else don’t appear on stage at all! Instead, a donkey shows up. A tree started to talk. Stones rolled around, a group of huge moles performed a concert and the glitter of a trillion plastic shreds created every-new images. The stage does not belong to the human alone.
All that was unseen, but somewhere there, in the background, underneath the stage, or high above fluttered down and occupied the stage; as the fly sitting in the heavy curtain now being in the spotlight. What does that mean for the stage? How to understand performances that do not deal with plot, not with emotions, not with action even, but - apparently - just with bodies in motion? With bodies, furthermore, that are not human, but animal, vegetal, mineral? And most important: What world does the stage depict? What strange time is this, where animals walk the stage while Sahara-sands cloud the summer-sky of Berlin and the Siberian Permafrost thaws? Climatologists, geologists but also researchers from the humanities and the well-informed public will have an answer: The world didn’t change, but the times did. Why? Because we’re in the Anthropocene now!
The age of mankind. The geological epoch that is more than just a name: It signifies the moment when mankind’s destructive force became so powerful that its impact on the planet earth will be recognizable in the distant future. The concept originated in the earth-system science, a research area that studies the effects of interrelated biogeochemical cycles: The moving of the tectonic plates, the cycle of water in the seas, the freshwater and rain, the output and the intake of chemical compounds. The Anthropocene represents a shift in the quality of those cycles, brought about by humankind. Those changes are usually expressed by the raise in C02 in the atmosphere, a drastic decline in biodiversity, the change of the biogeochemical cycles and the enormous transformation of land; all are directly connected to the history of industrial capitalism: with the global movement of natural resources, goods, waste and people that was made possible by the steam engine, the 'prime mover'!
The historical reasons for the 'Anthropocene' as well as and its characteristics as presented by earth-system-science employ notions of movement. Tracing and describing historical and current patterns of (non-)human movement from a global(ized) perspective helps to understand the anthropocene not only as a scientific concept but as the accumulated stories of social, economic and political movement in and with nature around the globe.
But the anthropocene is not only is a concept to describe in what ways capitalist production and consumption continues to destroy the world we are living in; the Anthropocene is for many scholars and activists a paradigm that allows for a different way of thinking about humanity, nature and its relation. If the Anthropocene is the ‚age‘ in which humanity works as a ‚earth-like force‘, and inscribes itself in the seemingly unchangeable face of the planet, the notion of a stable ‚nature‘ totally distinct from (human) culture seems to be untenable. Nature and culture, human and non-human actors, animals and the animal called ‚human‘ interact, collaborate and evolve within and throughout each other. As the Anthropocene unfolds more and more connections and interrelations between so-called ‚culture‘ (human) and ‚nature‘ (animals, plants, non-living nature) become apparent. To retrace and retell about the ways how human and non-human relate and interact, means to track not human or natural action, but movement: The physical and also metaphorical ways in which bodies relate to each other in space and time by constantly co-creating the worlds, they are inhabiting. As every human action starts with, ends and is manifested in and as movement, so does the non-human. In describing the interrelatedness of non-human and human movement gives account to the creation of a common anthropocene habitat.
Finally, the anthropocene is a topic within the arts, be it theatre, visual arts, performance, literature or dance. Here, it does not only gains artistic representation that may differ from the scientific discourse. The aesthetic field opens possibilities of new ways of looking, listening, feeling, experiencing and telling stories about the earth, humanity or the non-human others. In writing about artistic movement in the anthropocene, I want to describe aesthetic forms of movement and human/non-human interactions. Also, I want to argue for the importance of theatre, the arts and the aesthetic for our perception of human/non-human relations in the anthropocene.
This blog is a logbook of a loose research on the relation between the ‚anthropocene‘ - the suggested name for the recent epoch in earth history, that acknowledges the stratigraphic effect of humanity - and (artistic) movement. In the following posts I want to write, think and discuss in what ways the anthropocene and movement are interlinked. How can we rethink the history of the anthropocene through the lense of movement, be it the movement of melting ice, of Jumbo jets or the earth crust itself? How does movement constitute the spaces we inhabit and share with other beings? How do we perceive and experience movement - be it our own or the movement of plants, of animals, of minerals or the elements? What strategies finally do artists employ to emphasize, question or criticize the relation of bodies, space and movement on stage? And how does the stage relate to what is going on outside, to the space or rather: the time we’re in?
The following posts will thus in one way or another be connected to the above-mentioned intersections of the anthropocene and movement: the historical and present interconnectedness of the movement and the anthropocene; the interrelatedness of human and non-human movement and finally artistic notions of (non-human) movement. The posts do not follow any distinct order. They do not build on each other. They may complement each other, they may also contradict in some cases. They may venture into academic discourse or pop culture. They represent an ongoing process, partly research into the anthropocene itself, partly research into a yet different plain of movement: the movement of writing.
Towards a transscalar analysis of motion
Prophetic Affect: Anthropocene Aviophobia (I/II)
On my way back from Dublin to Berlin:
Flight Numer EL330, departing from Dublin Airport - Aerfort Bhaile Átha Cliath - to Berlin Tegel at 6:45. Seat numer 28F, window, back of the Airplane. Nose squeezed to the plastic window at takeoff, watching the ground depart, spotting flocks of sheep between old stone walls as a strange reminder of the incongruency of time. Dreaming of walking with the sheep, merging with the flock, mouth full of grass, strolling solemly towards the sea or resting on each others necks hidden behind the ancient stone. Instead: Flipping through the board magazine, checking the in-flight-menu and the feature on slow-brew-coffeehouses in Lisbon. Dozing off.
Waken up by some turbulences, somewhere around the Frisian Islands.
20, 21, 22... the turbulences continue. Longer then I've ever experienced before. I look around. The seat beside me is empty, at the aisle, though, sits a man, around 50years old, white shirt, chinos, apple-watch. Up and down the plain goes. He is leaned forward, His forehead rests on the back of the front chair. Can he still be sleeping?I see his mouth twitching nervously. His hands clenched tightly, his fingers cramped.
I gasp and realize suddenly:
Fear. He is afraid. Of falling, of crashing, of dying.
But is it the fear of falling? Or maybe: the fear of flying?
I recall the descriptions of the very first passengers going by locomotive - speed over 30km/h were said to cause concussions, the velocity seemed just not right, as if the soul could'nt keep up with the body. Technological progress is a principle of locomotion. 'Speed' is not only a indicator of the relation between time and distance, but mainly a sing of the connection of one's body and one's closest environment. It is a matter of kinesthesia as well as ecology: of being 'in/out of sync' with the world around you. To fear the velocity of the train-ride was thus not only a matter of a 'techno-phobia' but rather a intricate historic relation of the body occupying and shaping space. As every epoch has a paradigmatic technology, every epoch also seems to be goverend by a specific kinesthetic understanding: An affective relation to the way the body is interlinked to the sourrounding via movement.
Who is afraid of flying, nowadays? Since the opening of the airspace for budget-airlines at the end of the 90's, flying became the new railways. As the ticket prices dropped, space shrunk. The time it takes to go from Berlin to Barcelona equals the time to go to Berlin airport by public transport and to do your check in. If you go from Berlin to Frankfurt, it takes longer to reach the scheduled flight altitude and to proceed to landing than to stay on that altitude altogether. In other words: as soon as you depart, you're already landing.
With space not being an issue, our habits change. We spend the weekends in London. We attend gallery-openings in Warsaw. We rather think of Paris than of Leipzig. We wake up in Berlin, work in Stuttgart and go to sleep in Vienna. Our lives are on the move, we are 'in-flight'.
To fear flying?
That means to fear modern life altogether!
My seatmate's head is still resting against the front seat. His fingers though are moving and twitching, as if turning invisible prayer beads.
But what if his fear is no anachronism, not the symptoms of someone who is behind, who just didn't get what contemporaneity is about? What if, instead, his thoughts did not stay behind, linger in the past, but convey a sense of future instead? A strange almost prophetic sense, not linked to a past desynchronisation of body and place, neither linked to the possibility of a plane crash. Instead: to the very certain knowledge of how flying is contributing to the global climate change and thus not to an individual, but a grand and very collective extinction of human and non-human species.
Given that, one might reconsider if 'shame' (as in 'flight shaming'/ 'flygskam') is the adequate affective stance towards air-travel: 'Shame' is the feeling of guilt regarding the normative and moral acceptance of an action. It is bound to a certain social norm, that may or may not change. 'Fear' however, depicts one's affective stance towards an imminent, potentially life-threatening danger.
The facts: Flying produces 5% of the global emission of CO2. With a emission of ca. 0,6t C02, a roundtrip flight Berlin-Dublin makes around 1/4 of the annual 'climate-friendly' C02-budget per person, having the 'average' German spending 12,5t, the 'average' Kenian 0,3t a year. And although passengers comprise only around 3% of the world population, the harmful effects of air travel on climate change are tremendous: With passengers doubling in the last two decades and the estimate total number of passengers rising to over 170mio a year in 2030, air travel is a major factor in climate change. That seems absurd, considering the fact that it is a form of emission that - in comparison to food - can mostly be avoided.
Flying is not simply harmful for the environment. It is the paradigm of 21th century locomotion - a historic relation between body and place that is deeply determined by categories of class and race. Anthropocene aviophobia - the fear of flying in the anthropocene - is not a sign of a reactionary conservatism. It is the neccessary of an ecological affect that is grounded not in the past, but in a very realistic notion of a disastrous future.
Freedom (not) to move: Anthropocene Aviophobia (II/II)
In preparation for his new production 'Isadora Duncan', French choreographer Jerôme Bel created a stir in the dance world by declaring he would not travel by plane anymore because of ecological reasons. "I decided that my work can not continue to destroy the planet and I made the decision that neither I nor the company will use planes anymore", Bel stated in an interview with DER TAGESSPIEGEL. The performance consequently was produced in two versions: One version of the show, created and rehearsed with dancer Elisabeth Schwartz in Paris with Bel present, is touring Europe. The other one was rehearsed via Skype with Catherine Gallant, a fellow friend of Schwartz and a 'Duncanian' based in New York.
Now it may be a sheer coincidence that Bel decided not to travel by plane anymore while rehearsing "Isadora Duncan", a performance on the life of one of the leading figures of modern "Ausdruckstanz". Against the rigid corset of ballet, 'Ausdruckstanz'- 'expressionist dance' or 'New German Dance' did search for an expression of the body that is closer to nature: Duncan but also other 'expressionist' dancers as Martha Graham or Mary Wigman were strongly influenced by the reform-movement of Rudolf von Laban at Monte Verità: a community in Switzerland that combined bodywork and artistic expression with ecological, communal and spiritual thinking. At the historical core of 'Ausdruckstanz' lies the quest for a 'moving authentic self' in connection to nature. Working on the life of Duncan, one could claim, naturally leads to a confrontation with values that inherently link dance to ecology.
Paradoxically, though, that relation is more complex: As philosopher Bojana Kunst describes, the movement language established by Duncan and her successors did not only strongly influence how 'modern dance' in general is perceived. It also portrays a paradigmatic relation to post-Fordist and neoliberal modes of capitalist production. 'Freedom of individual movement' delineates the freedom of individual expression in dance as well as in the freedom "outside the factory doors", the realm of leisure, sociality, and the arts (B.Kunst, 2008, pp. 50).
With the difference between work and 'life' vanishing nowadays more and more in the wake of neoliberals capitalism, though, it is exactly that quality of 'freedom of movement' that becomes crucial for the global markets working. Being 'free to move', agile and creative, depicts not only highly demanded qualities of neoliberal management. Being 'free to move' from city to city, from country to country, and even from job to job designates the demands, the neoliberal, often precarious subject has to meet. Expressive and creative, constantly in motion, working often in different contexts on different projects around the globe at once, the dancer, in other words, becomes the avant-garde of the modern workforce. Having to travel fast and cheap, the freedom of movement of the contemporary freelance dancer paradoxically thus inverts the ecological foundation of 'Ausdruckstanz': to massively pollute via plane equals nowadays with the expression of personal freedom in motion. 'Free natural movement' became the freedom to destroy nature through movement.
Bel's declaration was met with understanding and admiration; however, Bel is one of the leading choreographers worldwide, not only in regards to market value but to the impact created on the discourse of dance in the performative arts. Although Bel has decided not to fly anymore, he still can perform and tour but also create and rehearse new productions worldwide. His established position in the dance field gives him the institutional support to perform shows that were rehearsed only via skype. Besides, it provides him with the necessary global network of colleagues, dancers, programmers, supporters, and friends that make his work possible in the first place.
Instead of limiting himself to working in a 'train-range' locality, Bel's decision not to fly influenced the modes of production and presentation of dance performances: representing what seems closer to a global brand, recognized and acclaimed for his dance language that became 'style', Bel manages to uphold his pace of work; potentially he can expand and accelerate it even further via a decentralized and immaterial mode of work.
Bel, in other words, manages easily to uphold his status and to even establish what is known mainly from the visual arts field: a hypermobile system of franchising - yet another globally working (dance/art) factory. The freedom to move turns in Bel's case into a 'freedom not to move'; a privilege that is not accessible to a global workforce of precarious dancers and culture workers who nowadays depend on budget airlines to make a living in the first place.
The use of his position in the field as a role model for spreading ecological consciousness can contribute to change. But - as he and other highly influential figures as Tino Seghal mention rightfully - that works has to work through political pressure on cultural and political institutions. Not funding or supporting air travel can be a way from within the institution - as Swedish Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra is doing. One has to keep in mind, though, that as long as that stays a 'freedom of the few', the regime of global mobility will not change. The double-bind of 'cheap labor' and 'cheap nature' - precarious freelancers on budget planes contributing to the constant rise of C02 and the further exploitation of the creative workforce - will prevail. Instead, we have not only to think of other ways of mobility but also of how our notion of mobility is interlinked with the ecological and economical distribution of material and immaterial goods and their use.