Daniel Blanga-Gubbay
Portrait of Mette Ingvartsen

Shifting positions

(Entering the Archive). While we, the audience, enter the space of 69 positions, a 2014 production of Mette Ingvartsen, Mette herself is already there to welcome us. The space is surrounded by a structure on which museum-like panels and monitors host images and traces of performances of the 1960’s — from Richard Schechner to Yayoi Kusama — that have played a crucial role in challenging sexuality, politics of the body and social structure. After guiding the audience to it, Mette tells the story of a first object: a letter of Carolee Schneemann, responding to Mette, suggesting that she should to suggest her to not try to re-stage Meat Joy with the original dancers. Meat Joy was made in 1964 by Carolee Schneemann and involved eight, partially nude dancers who moved and played with various objects. While discussing this refusal, Mette starts to embody fragments of it, suddenly shifting away from the notion of the “archive of performance” in which we thought we were. These performances are no longer historical objects to be awakened or reconstructed but forces that are still present, remerging in Mette’s body.

While following Mette’s guided tour, the archive shifts and, in the second part, we find ourselves in front of images of Mette’s previous performances: Manual Focus (2003) for example, that was createdstill in her dance training at PARTS,she was  while  in collaboration with Manon Santkin and Kajsa Sandström while she was still in her dance training at PARTS, where three female performers wear masks of an old man’s face on the back of their heads, and swap, through movements, the front and the back of the body. Or the video and audio traces of to come (2005) with the five dancers cradled in blue cloth, engaging in positions of a possible erotic voyage.

Hence, in presenting both traces of past-performances that were influential to her work, combined with the presence of previous works of her own, 69 positions seems to act as the ideal, privileged entry-point to portrait Mette Ingvartsen. Moreover, only by noticing the sharp position that she gives her body — the middle of the space — this performance gains its centrality and opens a discourse on Mette’s practice.

(Sliding Positions). If initially Mette is like a museum guide who explains the objects that surround the spectator within this archive while simultaneously embodying these same performances, she later embodies these same performances and slides in front of us as part of the exhibition itself. It is an estrangement similar to Tino Sehgal’s This is so contemporary. She talks, but she is part of what she is talking about and by assuming this edgy position — partially explored in her previous work Speculation (2011) — the line between the experimenting subject and the experimented object disappears in front of the audience.

What is openedquestioned up here is a broader Cartesian construction of modernity: while speaking about our body, we are not neutral subjects theorising about objects, since we are at the same time both the subject and the objet of investigation. Mette — who is doing a PhD in choreography at UNIARTS in Sweden — questions the same scientific production of knowledge, recalling how the subject is not an independent or autonomous being who analyses the world from an immune, dominant position; she is part of the same world that she is researching and therefore is affected by it.

As a second consequence, the object slips away from its modern position as something we dominate through knowledge, gaining its autonomous force. At a closer look, this second aspect appears to be present from the beginning of Mette’s research. If we go back to the monstrous element in Manual Focus, Mette did not focus on “monsters” as “strange bodies recognisable as others” (and then as domesticable objects), but rather the coexistence of opposite elements (male/female, artificial/real, young/old) within the same body. Through the combination of disarticulated movements on familiar bodies, monsters slip away from the possibility of being neutralised as “others”, and what is “out of focus” is nothing more than the reassuring line between the dominant subject of the object to be dominated.

Here is the double movement that appears throughout Mette’s productions: the body loses its dominant position and turns into an object, into a field of physical experimentation; while, at the same time, objects (monster, past performances, sex, theory) become ungraspable and no longer domesticated, gaining a new autonomous force.

We can now understand the centrality of the last part of 69 positions, which, incorporating a reading of Paul B. Preciado’s Testo Junkie, becomes almost a manifesto, suggesting the imagination of non-human desire: no longer simply instruments serving human desire, do furnitures and objects have desire that we can fulfil?

Suddenly the title 69 positions, while alluding to the sexual imaginary that this number implies, declares a different inter-changeability, namely the one between the object and the body. In Mette’s work emerges part of the research that in the last years, through Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory and Graham Harman’s OOP, has shed light on objects as having agency by which we are affected; objects are as parts of social networks within a post-anthropocentric landscape.

(Expanded Choreography). It is within the details of this landscape that a question about choreography finds crucial meaning: what does it signify to make a choreography for materials where human movement is no longer the centre of attention?

Starting from 2009 with GIANT CITY, movement is used in Mette’s practice to design urban spaces. Withdrawing from the subjectivity of the body, a landscape made out of rhythm appears, recalling the spontaneous auto-choreography of a city as a whole, captured in its chaotic simplicity, as in the 1920’s cinematographic experiments of “urban symphonies”. The same year, and specular to it, Mette creates evaporated landscape, a production for ephemeral material suggesting atmospheric elements becoming visible in front of us, like a poème de la matièrel with no human presence.
Through it, it is clear how choreography no longer belongs to the organisation of bodies and their movement in space, rather it is understood as the relationship that operates between ephemeral elements. From this moment on, Mette contributes as central voice in defining — together with Xavier Le Roy, Mårten Spångberg, Estzer Salamon and others — the emergence of an “expanded choreography”, appearing from the second decade of 2000 to define a choreography emancipating itself from dance and opening toward a vibrant spatial organization. Hence, in eEvaporated lLandscape, clouds, wind and a rainbow all dance in front of us, and the juxtaposition of GIANT CITY and evaporating landscape, announces that, if the notion of choreography can be applied to a city, it can be appropriately present for nature as well. Yet, with this last sentence and through Mette’s practice, a crucial question emerges: can one speak about choreography without a choreographer?

(Choreographing Imagination). In evaporating landscape that which is evaporated seems to be the human presence. Looking closer however, a body is still there. Mette is at the edge of the space, managing the device that is choreographing the matter. Her presence discloses the image of the ultimate effort of our risk-control society, devoted to a total reduction of uncertainty, and in which weather represents the ultimate challenge for politics, the element that keeps itself ungraspable, out of control. Yet at the same time, her presence at  also underlines the possible position of the artist in the post-anthropocentric landscape, as the one who, while withdrawing from managing the outcome, is still responsible for ensuring the conditions for all possible outcomes to happen.

This emerges clearly in Mette’s following productions, where the research goes further, by raising a question of the possibility of choreographing imagination. If this question animates the aforementioned Speculation (2011), in which movement is produced through language while the spectator is invited to imagine a future performance, it emerges too in The Extra Sensorial Garden (2010), when visitors access a space where, once blindfolded, the changes in light, colour, temperature and sound create the texture of sensation in an artificial nature experience. The real landscape is completely evaporated, and still the imagination is choreographed by different impulses, creating a garden that, according to Mette, exists in the space between the imagination of the visitor and the offered sensory stimulation.

(Injecting Affects). We can then see how, from the beginning, sensation plays a central role in the work of Mette Ingvartsen, becoming a key element in her political reflection. In 2004, while finishing PARTS, Mette composed a Yes Manifesto for the performance 50/50 that mirrored Yvonne Rainer’s No Manifesto, whose first lines in 1965 argued for less spectacle as a possible form of resistance from its seductive use in a fully achieved society of spectacle.

While writing ‘Yes to conceptualising experience, affects, sensation,’ Mette suggested that if, through sensual advertisements and constant promises of experience, capitalism makes a large use of affect and sensation, dance is no longer to be conceived as a space impenetrable and immune to spectacle, but rather the possible instrument of its re-appropriation beyond and against its capitalistic use. The Yes manifesto therefore does not claim for more spectacle, but for a re-appropriation that would neutralise its selling-product-function: the influence of minimalism and Judson Church is acknowledged, absorbed but then turned toward a contemporary exigency. It The influence of sociologist Brian Massumi echoes here in Mette’s work, and in this shifting from the “effective” functionality of neo-liberalism to the “affective” non-functionality of dance, as does the influence of sociologist Brian Massumi. Affect appears as an excess beyond functionality, an injection of sensation without products; and the way of stopping the machine is a “procedure for overproduction” that would flood the system by inserting excesses of non-functionality.

(Post-post-dramatic). This reflection on the linearity of production is also challenged in the dramaturgy of Mette’s work, where an analysis of consequentiality appears from the beginning. Mette’s first productions pointed in the direction of deconstruction: if in 50/50 we are in front of an expression of affect without cause, in to come, the cause-consequence linearity of seduction, and the peak-oriented rhythms, are explicitly disrupted by presenting — in order — scenes alluding to a sexual act, an orgasm, and a courtship dance.

In more recent years, after a more post-dramatic deconstruction of the Aristotelian unity, the dramaturgy allows a more pars construens side to appear: something is reconstructed, and yet totally different from a narrative linearity.

In eEvaporated lLandscape the scene looked like a cloud shaped by the wind of different impulses; again, starting from GIANT CITY until the recent 7 pleasures (2015), the scene in its whole looks like a single organism that travels through time and space. We are in front of a narrative structure that is not pushed by rationality but is governed as if by desires and impulses, mirroring the status of the modern man, broken up and driven by different impulses.

The absence of narrative linearity does not lead us into a landscape of randomness; the dramaturgy proceeds with the same balance of predictability/unpredictability of a sexual exploration: we can no longer say that there is no reason, and still there is no reason but desire. It is not a sexual act oriented toward orgasmic peaks (that would follow the vertical dramaturgy of a then… then… then), but made of planes of intensity, of an exploration in different directions (that follow the horizontal dramaturgy of a and… and… and). As an exploration of the post-post-dramatic, the performance assumes the narrative of an orgy.

(Out from the Archive). While looking at these productions, and within this intensity, the body resigns from strong subjectivity, it loses its individuality or it appears — as in 7 Pleasures — as part of a viscous mass that invades the space.

Nevertheless, it is clear that nothing but the body is the creator of this intensity. This is something that remains central and is often manifest in Mette’s work. In this way, the 2008 production IT’S IN THE AIR, made in collaboration with Jefta van Dinther, was materialising the potential of the body in jumps and developments from the seed of the body itself. The body is that which produces this potentiality.

Specularly the body is that which archives this potentiality. We are back at the notion of archiving, something that, we can see now, was at the very beginning of Mette’s research and in her first work in PARTS, Solo Negative, conceived around the body as a container within which all kinds of different objects have been collected. 69 positions reappears in front of us reminding how, more than archiving the references to performances on the walls of the space, 69 positions archives them within the body.

While going out of the space, Mette salutes us as the guardian of the archive. Still she is not the kind of a guardian that has to preserve something in the space, but one that reminds us how not only films, but sculptures and video installations do not disappear the moment they are not being shown. Performances as well are still “present” while not being performed: what Mette seems to reminding us of is that even now, while reading these lines, the performances we quoted exist, present in latency within the body.

This portrait of Mette Ingvartsen was made for the 20 years of PARTS book: