Seminar XIII - Jaelee Kim
Eugene Hannah Park (DCW 2021)
For the 13th installment of the seminar, we met with dramaturg Jaelee Kim to discuss a constellation of topics centered on choreography together, including temporality, strategies of queering, and relationships with the audience. The title of this piece, “Queering Choreography,” is borrowed from Kim’s own phrasing. As we began the workshop, Kim told us that she hoped to discuss choreography rather than dance, because choreography could in fact be linked to curatorial practice.
According to Kim, choreography and dance must be distinguished from each other. Choreography is a linguistic event that grammatizes dance through the concurrent consideration of various temporalities. Whereas dance occurs in the present moment, choreography also takes into account the past, the immediate aftermath of its occurrence, and the record that remains. Therefore, choreography is not simply a phenomenon or a result, but rather a structure with many registers. Without an eye to such differences, it is easy to think of all performances as ‘dance-like.’ Kim criticizes the ways in which white-cube galleries or art museums exhibit bodies only for the purpose of eliciting certain emotions or highlighting particular kinds of narratives, and explains why she puts an emphasis on choreography. Choreography expands our potential for contemplating rules, norms, and individualized languages.
Kim has recently paid much attention to methods of queer relations. The roots of choreography lie in the making of rules, and new ways of creating the senses, temporality, and motility emanating from individual bodies arise according to how such rules are handled. In relation to this, the strategy of queering is a political act of deconstructing the operations of norms, and of critically assessing how we can become free of them. That is, a focus on choreography allows us not only to delve deeply into the conditions that have created our current states, but also to choose queering strategies through the activation of new conditions.
Inside social orders and institutions that define normativity, the individual can easily become vulnerable and unstable. When we become vulnerable, we build solidarity and begin to move our bodies within formulations such as demonstrations, and this is where queer and political bodily motions begin. Kim remarked that she sometimes encounters choreographic structures not in museums, but at the scene or location of activism and demonstrations. Instability and vulnerability lie close to the heart of dance. In that it always changes, disappears, and loses power, dance has always been queer.
Kim introduced us to many perspectives and strategies of queering. One important perspective in queering is the body as raw material. As Andre Lepecki has exemplified through the idea of corporeality, or the body as substance, there are many approaches that attempt to escape entrenched ideas about the body. Unlike the modernist position which emphasizes the neutral body, the treatment of the body as matter takes the body as an entity that is open and full of potentiality. Kim pointed to Xavier Le Roy’s Self Unfinished (1998) and Mette Ingvartsen’s Manual Focus (2003) as examples of works that foreground this aspect. The common ground of these two works is that they change the conditions in which bodies are dealt with, and develop different forms of choreography accordingly.
Kim also mentioned, “soft choreography” as another strategy. Ingvartsen carries out archival work on nudity through 69 Positions (2014), and critically illuminates how the body is exhibited under the collusion of pornography and capital. The work explores how movements of resistance are converted into neoliberalist performance. Ingvartsen invites the intervention of the audience by making the overall choreography somewhat slack, soft, and flexible. A soft choreography that designs mechanisms that audiences can transgress takes a democratic and political approach in which everyone can become the object, militating against apprenticeship-based choreographic structures. According to Kim, this is to be distinguished from more simple forms of performance that invite audience participation. Performances involving audience participation are often informed by manuals and by the pressures of capital, but soft choreography concentrates on actively creating vulnerability, taking into account the possibility of its own failure.
Temporality is yet another strategy of queering that can be made manifest through choreography. Choreography is fundamentally connected to temporality. Choreography shifts and constantly moves according to the flow of time. Differences of temporality, such as slowness, delay, and semblances of lethargy, produce different politics. This can lead to a critique of the modern logic of temporal segmentation into minutes and seconds. Dan Daw’s lecture performance in On One Condition (2017) introduces mundane but different sensations that emanate from the performer’s own body, showing the work of painstakingly putting on a sock across a long span of time as a person with cerebral palsy. As the act of putting on a sock is drawn out over time, it provides the audience with the temporality and sensations of a different body.
As we discussed strategies of queering, the participants asked Kim about managing relationships with the audience. Kim mentioned that choreography and curatorial work resonate with each other in that they both examine the conditions of the production of structures. That is, both choreographers and curators are interested in different ways and conditions for promoting the imagination. How should we regard the audience in this process? What relation do we bear with the audience? According to Kim, what the audience needs is not the transmission of an event, or the explanation of a phenomenon. Before seeking to build a relation with the audience, the planner or the choreographer must track down the body one seeks to see, and also one’s own desires. It is only after this that the body moves.
Jeremy Wade’s “Future Clinic for Clinical Care” (FCCC) is a good example of a deep consideration of the relationship with the audience. This project carries out performances, curations, conferences, and parties in locations as varied as visa issuing booths and aquariums. Wade makes a sharp critique of contemporary social issues through the fictional frame and voice of a female nurse who has arrived from the future. It is worth paying attention to the ways in which Wade establishes a relation with the audience through pinpointed targeting. The people invited to a charity fundraising party sometimes become the object of upfront critique, and the people who stay behind at a disco party become people who dance together. This is a result of Wade’s own rigorous self-analysis to build on points of conflict between sociopolitical elements such as class, social strata, and sexual orientation.
Kim remarks that we still suffer from a dearth of language. Within the wider purview of queerness, there is a need for more language to be excavated. When asked about why he chooses to perform undressed, Wade once answered that he must become vulnerable so that the things around him can become strong; as this comment suggests, choreography is not simply a matter of observing and waiting, but rather a run-in encounter. Choreography is a temporal project that does not settle in the present, and instead reveals complexity within the moment.