> The body of the city, a text by Béatrice Huret
This dirty, stinking, brutal body
I had the great fortune to be present in Havana, for the elaboration, in the Calle della Obrapia, of the piece that bears the same name. Two sidewalks, two opposite facades and the alley: a surgical cut of the urban fabric, here in Cuba, there in Warsaw, Genoa, Beirut, Seville or elsewhere… an anatomy of our daily life dissected under the lens of dance. Small radio sets with antennas bristling brazenly, broadcasting the local “voice”, the games and accidents of bodies that confront the body of the city. Walking on the walls as if to bring down the plane, crossing it, caracoling on the sharp edges of the sidewalks, embracing, pushing, holding back, losing oneself and finding oneself in the middle of the asphalt as in a field of flowers. The dancers of ex nihilo are not afraid of this dirty, stinking, brutal body that is the street, this street that sometimes welcomes us, pushes us away, violates us, invites us, but always puts us in contact with each other.
Urbanism has a thousand-year-old history and yet the question of the appropriation of urban space is still relevant. What is the meaning of this bench on which we can no longer lie down for a few minutes under the sun, as we used to, before returning to the university lecture hall to learn how to become a prominent person? What sense does this bench make to the dirty, stinking, brutal body of the tramp who helped reform the urban furniture to deny him access! Which place can the individual still grant himself in his relations to the body of the city? No parking. Prohibition. Interdiction. To forbid – to defend, to defend oneself, to protect oneself. The social body, the urban body defined as dangerous and liberticides. Ex nihilo questions the danger, the fear of danger, its overcoming, in each of us and collectively. Ex nihilo questions the status of the urban man in his capacity or his incapacity to be subject-actor of the citizenship or object-victim.
The dance, in Calle Obrapia, can defy the forbidden, stop defending itself, venture to be less protected, to dare. It can dare to live the street in its physiological function of communication, while integrating the architectural and urban language. In Passants the language is enriched by that of the living. The dance arouses, collects the words, the sayings of those called “people”, collects the traces, the testimonies of the passages and restores that which otherwise remains unseen, unsaid, to share it between all.
They are there to question with their bodies the space of the city, the impact that this great machinery has on themselves and on all of us: first- or second-class passengers, stowaways? included, excluded? known, unknown? And with their bodies, they redesign the contacts and the ruptures, re-dimension the architectural space, accumulate the graphic materials, sounds, objects…
There is in your process a thread with that of Marcel Duchamp: for him, very quickly the painting moves away from the spatial problem and is attached to the decomposition of the movement (“the bicycle wheel”). Then he claims in the art, the “pure visual indifference” as in “the bottle rack” that he defines as “usual object promoted to the dignity of work of art by the simple choice of the artist”. The work of the company Ex nihilo in the city is Duchamp’s bottle rack: the street object promoted to the dignity of a stage, “pure visual indifference” which serves to send the spectator back to autonomy, to the freedom to see, to feel, to enjoy. To divert the dance from its gestural problem to make it “traverse” the world in movement.
Calle Obrapia, Passants, Trajets de vie, Trajets de ville, are so many “crossings” of the contemporary space, embarking without hierarchy human and societal materials to reveal a whole archaeology of the immediate, ethical but not moralising. These crossings exhume all the poetry buried in the traces, the waste, the scraps, the meetings, the unforeseen, the discovery: “poetic archaeology” of the living. To finish, I must speak about Loin de là that I had the chance to see for the first time (finally!) on the beach of the Prophet in Marseille. A moment of pure poetry where the seventh dancer is the seascape, the material of water and sand, of the setting sun and wind. A sort of primitive matrix that gives birth to the human community, tiny humans, majuscule humanity. Continue to make us dance!
Béatrice Huret, October 2007
Béatrice Huret, architect, is now a doctor in Chinese medicine.