Mette Ingvartsen

This self interview was published in the magazine Etcetera in Belgium in 2007.

Can you explain what you consider a cinematic body to be?

Cinema functions through doubling, the doubling of reality, of narratives, of characters, of bodies and of image and sound. In those terms a cinematic body is a representational body – a body that fills a position in a respective narrative, but at the same time also a specific position within the image. I also understand the cinematic body as a vehicle being used to transfer sensations, a catalyst of expression which in certain cases manipulates the spectator in other cases not, depending on the genre of cinema we are considering. In any case the cinematic body produces an effect, change or influence on the spectator’s body which is the mechanism I find particularly interesting.


Because it operates on the level of recognition which in itself is un-interesting, but when what is recognized and what is physically sensed is no longer synchronous something else happens. It is for instance when the editing of a film becomes more important than what is represented within a single shoot that such a shift can take place, one could probably think of other examples as well, but it has to do with shifting from a language based understanding to a bodily sensation-based transfer. From a effective to a affective mode of experiencing. It is that in between the images, the gaps, the cuts and connections that makes it possible for a movie to become about something else than what is represented. It’s interesting to think about this in relation to how form and content is connected also in relation to theater.

Could you maybe specify what you mean with a shift from effect to affect?

First we probably need to define the words in order to detect their difference. It is clear that the two concepts are basically each others opposites, still we can attempt to produce a relation.

An effect is something which produces a change, something which is visible to an outside. In this sense it operates through language and what we can perceive as a change within recognition. The effective is the outcome of different elements working together in order to produce a result we in some sense already know how to experience. It is based on past experiences and an inherent knowledge of how a certain media functions say cinema, concert, opera or theater. Naturally this does not mean that new forms cannot emerge as a hybrid of these functions and still have an “effect”.

Think about how in cinema “special effects” are exactly the hyper reality of an expression. It is the production of intensification and excess which induces the effect/change in perception.

That indeed sounds like quite the opposite of affect?

Yes, affect is something else. Affect is the not yet nameable, the movement of becoming before a sensation solidifies as feeling or emotion. It is a preconscious state of experiencing and has no externalized relation to social structures which is exactly why it is so hard to talk about producing. I don’t know if it helps us to think about how affects can be produced, because they cannot. They work on you when you least expect it and once you realize you are experiencing “an affect” it no longer is one. The moment experience is solidified, concretized and manifested it is no longer an affective.

Why are you then thinking about this idea in relation to performance and spectatorship, if the spectator can never experience it?

First because it is an idea that forces thinking out of rational clarification and which resist simplification. It somehow forces us to reconsider what contemporary experience can be understood to be.

Second because it’s the mode of functioning the world is following for the moment, whether we think about entertainment, commercialism, capitalism or politics. This also relates to notions of fear-and how it is produced though speculation and in-actuality, like for instance the speculation around terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and so on. The factual or the actual has stopped to govern bodies and the fictional, imaginary, even virtual is what produces the affective state of the time we are living in.

But why are you interested in reproducing such manipulative mechanisms?

I guess I am not.

But I think the idea of resistance need to be rethought also in relation to theater. I don’t think that a “no to spectacle” necessarily resists the spectacle-but rather reinforces the marginalization of resistance.

It is interesting to think about how a system can only be subverted from within it’s own rules, so when the top negotiator all of a sudden is the hostage taker the police force has a problem – how do you talk down the master of down talks.

It is only through producing navigation within the sea of spectacular/affective states of manipulation that a real resistance can be articulated. It has to work through the senses and somehow induce a forced or even forcing navigation that might lead us to new places. There is no way to be outside, so what can be done is to move faster and smoother and operate from within the system.

It is interesting that you address the relation between reduction and theatricality also from the perspective of the last 10 years of theater, but what is the alternative?

Lets for a moment think about reduction as a system of subtraction. Removing parts until the moment something becomes visible within “what’s missing”. But what if we consider the same effect but through opposite means: through multiplication or overproduction. If for instance an image is multiplied, what arises is a relation. The relation in between one image and another, between one version of something and another-this relation can be understood as an access point to “the virtual”, the imaginary or the speculative-but as it is produced in front of your eyes you cannot not sense it and at the same time register or reflect it. It is in this double bind of multiplying that the invisible becomes visible and that the virtual can be experienced although only in it’s effects. I like very much this sentence from Brian Massumi where he says: The virtual that cannot be felt cannot but be felt, in it’s effects.

This explain your interest in working on the effective-but still don’t you think you risk to fall into the trap of conventional effectivity of theater performance?

For the moment I am thinking a lot about formats of performance and also how the notion of audience participation can be rethought. As I am not entirely convinced about the oppositional thinking that arises from separating material from immaterial performance, I am trying to think the relation in between. For this reason I think that one frame alone cannot produce activation. I don’t think that participation or activation can only take place by removing the object of performance but it can neither be produce if the frames of theater remains the same.

How do you imagine this?

Perhaps this could be done by connecting different formats of performance. By not accepting the conventional set up of an 60 to 90 minutes long performance on a frontal stage. What would for instance happen if a frontal stage performances’ second part would be a triple screening in the foyer, continued by a DVD performance (given to the audience before leaving) that only takes place once they come home and plug the DVD into their computer. It is interesting to think about how the understanding of performance-duration changes in this way. Each media proposes and allows for a different form of expression and communication to take place and at the same time different forms of circulation and participation/access can be produced. I mean this in the sense of what kind of performance experience someone would have if they would only get the DVD from a friend or find it back 3 years after they actually saw the show? It is in the multiplication of formats that the complexity of theatricality can be navigated or manipulated.

You don’t seem to have much resistance toward manipulation of the senses?

It is a question of what kind of manipulation for what kind of reason-there is never a simple answer to good and bad-especially not when it comes to performance and theatricality.

But how does all this relate back to the notion of the cinematic body?

Maybe the cinematic body is too narrow a definition of what the interest contains. Cinema is only one of many different forms of mediatization, which is probably a more accurate topic. Or how the connection between the body and media is what produces a new understanding of subjectivity though affectivity.

Are you sure this is a more accurate explanation, it sounds rather general?

Maybe the center of the investigation is still cinema if we go back to this idea of doubling. But all the other forms of media, television, radio, internet, ipods and so on are part of this transformation of reality. It is in the relationship between these devises and the live body that we can get to understand something about contemporary subjectivity.

So you are interested in different media’s of expression?

Yes, different media or maybe even different genres of expression.

Or actually no, I am rather interested in the relations that arises in between them, in their connections and in how the body inhabits and functions within many different kinds of media. In Second Life you can literally teleport yourself from one location to another within seconds-and this changes the understanding of mobility and movement. It is an extreme version of what people who travel a lot experience on their own bodies, in terms of non-belonging and flexibility.

The interest in connecting genres of expression is more related to topology/territory and belonging rather than to an eclectic collection of different media expressions. It is in the passages form one field to another, from one format to another that a new theatricality can arise. It is in the loss of place of belonging that the body can start to be in many places at once. In the multitasking of skyping, while writing, while watching a movie, while having a conversation, while showering, while making love, while arguing about what the body can do.

Maybe I can just bring you back to the track of doubling-why is this such an important notion for you to address in relation to theatricality?

It has to do with accepting the fact that expression is never original, yet believing that it is possible to rethink expression in a way that makes something relevant appear. As times are constantly changing so is the expression of the body. Doubling is a way of de-authenticating the spontaneity of expression-something I have tried to define as the authentically inauthentic. The authentically inauthentic is a representational model which does not pretend to be “true”. As it does not pretend to be universal it also does not suffer from not fulfilling that exact theatrical expectation. It is simply about constructing another form of staged reality. Not representing or mirroring how expressions functions in the world but trying to produce an entirely new functioning. Trying to twist those recognizable forms into a virtual reality construction, where logic do not function like they do in “real life”.

I know you have been working with doubling as a procedure-especially relating to the voice, why?

Actually the idea of doubling came from thinking about stunt doubles-and how the stunt double is always the invisible character acting within spectacular expressions. First I thought about how a performance could be based on this principle of making the invisible visible. Making the margin into the center of attention. While working with these stunt ideas I realized that so much of their effectivity is based on the contrast to the narrative, the psychological motivation and conventional dramaturgical tension. But as I am not at all interested in that part of cinematic expression, like the motivation behind the jumping out from a building in order for it to be exciting, it was necessary to come up with a different approach. What came was the idea of “effects without a cause” and working on the effectivity of effects while not allowing them to function as they usually do. Approaching the body from the perspective of choreography rather than from theater and narration. The idea has more to do with how “effects” can be understood as movement that influence and affect us even without the entire narrative build up or psychological motivation. The interest lies within the mechanism of spectacular effectivity in relation to the mechanism of the authentically inauthentic of doubling.

But did you already do more concrete experiments relating to this?

One of the ideas we worked quite a lot on was the idea of ‘doubling’ the voice.

Working on the voice in cinema and the way the characters speak within verbal language, and how this leads to theatricality, was actually the least interesting. It was more the choreographic/expressive qualities of the voice that opened up the possibilities of doubling.

We tried to find out what the voice could be if not speech and made a definition connected to how oral expressions are still coded even when they are not within a verbal language. Here crying and screaming, singing and humming, came up as elements we could actually work on. The idea of reproducing or doubling at that point became interesting to use as a way of transposing expression form one media into another: we took all kinds of crying scenes out of actual films, edited them together and subtracted the sound from the image. With this soundtrack we performed the sound by all performers hearing it through head phones at the same time trying to reproduce it simultaneously within the group.

What you get is a double ‘doubling’: we double the film itself, but also the sound pattern that everyone’s producing. This constructs a kind of multiplication of the expression that somehow undermines it. Crying is such a strong and clear expression, which in film of course is systematically produced. Not only by the actor, but also by the whole post sync-production and editing.

There’s an interesting thing that happens when you make the crying sound with more people: the impact is kind of similar to the mechanism of cinema, but it’s done through completely different means, since we don’t have the possibility of recording, retaking and post-syncing ourselves. This live doubling was a research on trying to recreate the impact of the movie sound/image design but with completely other means, totally undermining the authenticity of the expression, by omitting the character reference.

Another thing we started speaking about while doing it, was how the green space in this context can become a fictional space, that through what is happening in it, can reflect different kinds of locations in the spectator’s imagination. Not as concretely as them imagining the performer sitting in a bus or lying on a bed, but realizing that the space is changing quality through the changes in the voice.

One performer’s crying interpretation is different from another, and out of these multiple interpretations a multiple space is constructed: like the scene is happening in the kitchen, the bathroom, the bedroom and the bus at the same time. Except there are no real locations.

What kind of location is this then?

For me it a virtual space: a space that is nothing and at the same time full of everything. I don’t think it’s confusing, because the multiplication is itself very clear and recognizable. My question would be how far one can distance oneself from this recognizability before losing every trace of the intention or the meaning of the expression. For me it is important to make a distinction between the meaning of the representation we’re performing and what the thing produces in the space and in between the bodies which is something more than the representation. It should cancel out authenticity, but still express and displace a strong sensation that relates to the effectiveness of cinema. Everything that is in- between the actual representations, is not in itself confusing but hopefully open enough to produce different imaginations. Somehow by delaying understanding.

So delaying the reading of the expression?

Yes something like that.

Sometimes I think one has to be careful in using language to narrow down possibilities. If we are speaking about the functioning of material expressions it is important to work out the representations in the doing which then also produces a “material understanding”. The deformation of cinematic expression-like crying, fighting, searching, screaming, dying and so on can only be banal when done within language. The functioning of this fictional world needs to come through doing, testing and trying out the twisting of experience. Material experience cannot be though out beforehand-it has to be done.

As far as I know the senses cannot smell a thought or touch a logic or can they?