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Between Ecstasy and Harmony. Choreography and Video of Beatrice

Ondertusschen so wert minne so ongehmate ende so ouerbrekende in der sielen alse har seluen so starkeleke ende so verwoedelike berurt int herte, dat hare dunct, dat har herte menichfoudeleke wert seere gewont ende dat die wonden dagelix veruerschet werden ende verseert, in smerteliker weelichheiden en de in nuer iegenwordicheiden. Ende so dunct hare dat har adren ontpluken ende hare bloet verwalt ende hare march verswijnt ende hare been vercrencken ende hare borst verbernt ende hare kele verdroget, so dat hare anscijn ende al hare leden gevuelen der hitten van binnen en de des orwoeds van minnen.

In the fifth manner, Beatrice of Narareth – the writer of the short Middle Dutch mystical treatise On the Seven Manners of Holy Love – describes her psychosomatic response to the presence of Divine Love/God. Love rages through her body while her soul is captured in holy ecstasy. Throughout her treatise, Beatrice contemplates the nature of Love using seven manners to capture Her movement, alternating between presence and absence, ecstatic union and agonizing loneliness. In a way, the cycle of presence and absence is harmoniously repetitive, like ebb and flow, like seasons, like holy rituals.This tension between ecstasy and harmony was the main inspiration for both the video and the choreography. 

Jelle Wildiers, Sander Vloebergs – Beatrice

This video was a close collaboration between the video artist, Jelle Wildiers and dancers Sander Vloebergs and Ina Wellens. Therefore, it is suitable to produce one blog post covering both perspectives. The rhythmic alternation between ecstasy and harmony are repeated in both cinematic and choreographic motions. The tension between Apollonial harmony and Dionysiac ecstasy is a theme in the music as well. In order to capture the ecstatic nature of the text, the dancers decided to focus on improvisation, while repeating certain pas de deux phrases which were choreographed and rehearsed in advance to resonate with the harmonic and ordered side of the text. 

The video artist used fragments of the improvisation, fragments that illustrate harmonious repetition that occurseven during moments of ecstatic dance movements. After all, every dancer is bound to his embodied state and his own bodily memory. During improvisation, the dancer plays with familiar bodily patterns and unknown movements which are conjured up by the mood and the environment where the dance takes place. Furthermore, the artists decided to play with repetitive bodily functions such as breathing and blinkingto stress the repetitive nature of human-embodied life. The same use of patterns could be found in human love relationships when two people start to trust their harmonious exchange. These patterns are then again disturbed by moments of rapture, of intense breathing after physical exhaustion or increased heart rate when Love’s arrow strikes.

The artists decided together upon the location for the recording, namely a forest during autumn in order tostrengthen the relation between the video and the repetitive patterns which are beautifully shown by Nature herself. This location allowed for some great colorful contrast between the dark, but warm, tones of the fallen leaves (representing death and harmony) and the white skins of the dancers’ bodies(representing life and movement). In some shots, the whiteness of the body even recalls angelic light while the breathing and the sound of leaves evoke moments of heavenly bliss and harmony. These moments alternate with ecstatic movement, moments that are often presented hyperrealistically by placing the original sound of the recording over the music.

The excessive bodily phenomena, described by Beatrice in her fifth manner and accompanying the ecstatic experience of Love, are projected on Mother Nature’s body. The roots represent the veins which are about to be broken. The dancers’ bodies flash between Nature’s scars, finding love andrepetitively losing it. The images flash by on the vast speed of a beating heart, causing glimpses of ecstasis within the viewer. It is these moments of ecstatic rapture that make us feel alive;these moments of excessive Love keep the heart beating. However, dark tones were kept in the video to accentuate the darkness found within the text and to counter the romantic expectations of the viewer. After all, Love seems to escape our grasp and the threat of loneliness remains. Like Beatrice, the video artist plays with this friction between expectation and his rough visual language to deconstruct harmony and conjure rapture. 

Pleasure and Pain in Art and Music – Beatrice by Surfing Dino

The Gods, however, took pity on the human race, born to suffer as it was, and gave it relief in the form of religious festivals to serve as periods of rest from its labors. They gave us the Muses, with Apollo their leader, and Dionysus; by having these gods to share their holidays, men were to be made whole again . . .
—Plato, Laws 653c

Great music was made under the guidance of Greek Muses and Christian Saints. This blog post explores order and chaos, pleasure and pain, and the role of the divine in the making of contemporary music. The ancient art of music has greatly influenced Western culture. Its roots can be tracked from Plato via Roman Catholic Christianity to contemporary society. Music producer Surfing Dino (Benoit Dequick) was inspired by Christian writer Beatrice of Nazareth to create music that pursues the heavenly joys and the hellish pains that Love afflicts on the lover. While hearing ideal heavenly music in his mind, Surfing Dino struggled with translating it into concrete everyday reality which is limited in time and space. By analyzing Plato’s views on musicial pleasure, I will reflect on the painful nature of art and music to describe Benoit’s artistic process that led up to the creation of his song called Beatrice.

Pleasure in Music (Order and Law)  

In her article Music and Pedagogy in the Platonic City, Sophie Bourgault states that Plato believes that music can strengthen the education of children by shaping them be ideal citizens. She argues against an excessive scholarly focus on Plato’s metaphysics (his world of ideas) at the expense of his practical interest in the working of the city and his (cautious) approval of sensuous pleasure. Human beings are musical animals and therefore music is naturally perceived as pleasurable, especially when movement and sounds are given a certain order and harmony. According to Bourgault, music matters to Plato because it could be used in education, combining natural pleasure children experience in music with necessary understanding of conventions/principles and of order/structure which are inherent to music. When learned well and practiced in the orderly manner, children can develop moral qualitiesand habits that will assist their philosophical reflections later in life.

Music is an art based on measure, ratio and order. It has enormous power and therefore enormous potential to be good or bad. One should not make pleasure the standard by which music ought to be judged – it is only a secondary effect, according to Plato. Its virtue lies in expertise, tradition and social coherence.

He says: “no one shall sing a note or perform a dancemovement that is not in the canon of public songs” – Plato Repblic 800a

Public song create harmonic patters in the city. Harmonic patters which could also be found in the heavens: the ideal city made after divine proportions. Good music mimics these proportions, and this gives pleasure. Through music, the eternal could be made present in the space and time continuum, and, through music’s structure, we could mimic the divine proportions. 

Plato’s structured city resembles Benoit’s artistic process. Benoit was working on a PhD in engineering, and experimenting with sound technology brought him closer to music. Due to his studies, he was quick to pick up this technology and create his music without any former musical training. He noted that music unlocked the creative parts of his brain, allowing him to tap into the ordered harmonious cosmos that Plato philosophized about. According to Benoit, contemporary pop music follows clear structures. While drawing on these clearly defined structures, Benoit still allowed for his own, less regimented style, challenging the clear structures of pop music He argued that creating music is a natural process, like cooking. Moreover, he stated that “Creativity challenges logics”. Benoit wanted to create new music and propose an improved order that approaches – what Plato referred to as – Beauty, heavenly harmony.  

Pain in Music

Nevertheless, the translation from heavenly harmony to earthly music does not happen overnight. Often it is the a process of trial and error; a painful process of numerous frustrations. It is in the dark of night that many artists find their Muse. Benoit often felt inspired when he entered a dreamlike state. In this curious state of unconsciousness, he heard new music yet to be written down and produced. According to him, the brain is a bottomless container of musical ideas and a world of endless possibilities. Benoit, together with many artists, experienced this platonic world of Beauty and Order during translucid consciousness. Art theorist Jacques Maritain described this as: 

Thus a place is prepared in the highest parts of the soul, in the primeval translucid night where intelligence stirs the images under the light of the Illuminating Intellect, for the separate Muse of Plato to descend into man, and dwell within him, and become a part of our spiritual organism. – Maritain, Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry

Plato’s Muse incarnated in the human soul. For Maritain, divine inspiration becomes human illumination. According to him, the artist creates Art without any divine intervention, if he/she is willing to turn inwards and to explore the depths of the human soul. These depths are often experienced, not as a heavenly order, but as a hellish anxiety. Bataille described his encounter with the abys of existence – an artistic night of the soul – as follows:

Trembling. To remain immobile, standing, in a solitary darkness, in an attitude without the gesture of a supplicant: supplication, but without gesture and above all without hope. Lost and pleading, blind, half dead. Like Job on the dung heap, in the darkness of night, but imagining nothing – defenseless, knowing that all is lost. – George Bataille, Inner Experience

Although Benoit does not use these dramatic expressions when describing his inner experience and artistic process, the artist still acknowledged another painful experience that is related to the eternal Beauty he pursued. Pain and frustration appear when he exited the orderly world of ideas and when he tried to shape the eternal music in the here and now. To struggle with the limitations of reality is an intrinsic part of the artistic process. When leaving the world of sounds, he was trapped again in the imperfect world, which left him with a dangerous desire and an erotic craving for Beauty that cannot be grasped. Both artists and mystics call this experience exile. Although music and dance could have healing properties (a relief for the people, Plato argues), for the musician music is also painful – because he/she is not capable of capturing its perfect harmonies.

Poppies and Electrodes 

Benoit used the metaphor of the poppy, noting that it resembled the melodies he received in this translucid state. When he woke up and captured the melody with his audio recorder, one petal fell down. When he then searched for musicians and singers who could perform these melodies, other petals got lost because the original music was corrupted due to technical or artistic shortcomings. At the end of the production process one petal remained, only a mere reflection of its original Beauty. He also referred to the metaphor of an electrode, which can only be seen when disturbed. Original Beauty cannot be observed, there is always corruption due to the need for mediation. Most of all, Benoit longed for an artistic process without intermediacy, a direct connection between his mind and the speakers, a well-ordered and harmonious transfer of Beauty. 

Beatrice – Sander Vloebergs

BEATRICE – Project 2 

A prayer to Dionysius 

Benoit’s art process was very structured. He enjoyed working on a well-defined project with a limited scope. Within these parameters, he explored his creativity and searched for inspiration. Then he proceeded in a forward manner, creating a piece informed by analysis that was extracted by an inspirational idea. For the Beatrice Project Benoit was given carte blanche. He was asked to read Beatrice of Nazareth’s Seven manieren der heiliger minne and to make his own interpretation of this mystical treatise on the nature of the love relationship between God and the believer. Beatrice told an orderly yet disturbing story of a God who wounds and heals his beloved. Like Love, He is mercilessly cruel and wondrously kind at the same time. It is hard to neglect Beatrice passionate lines and her erotic desire that ran through her complete work. 

Left without restrictions Benoit decided to let go of his structured approach and focus on the text’s erotic play. According to Gerardus van der Leeuw, art is both Apollonial and Dionysiac (following Nietzsche’s distinction). The art process we have talked about so far is mainly Apollonial, the structured and harmonious art Plato favored. Beatrice’s text about Love forces us to embrace the ecstatic movement of Dionysiac music. Van der Leeuw says :

Dionysiac rhythm lives ecstatically in raving dance of the dervishes and maenads. In mysticism it becomes the symbol of dissolution, of the complete loss of self in the god.

Benoit decided to deconstruct pop music’s clear structure and tell a story about Love’s fickleness through increasing musical tensions. Benoit first looked for musical textures that suited medieval mysticism: dark but not sad. He wanted to create a sphere that conjured awe. After setting the tone and opening with a mystical atmosphere, Benoit increased the tempo, like a heart beat that runs faster and faster, mimicking the increase in desire expressed in the text. He decided to follow the Dionysiac movement of music, following the heart beat that brought him further along the path of loving union. 

Arriving at the end of the song, Benoit experienced a need for a drastic fracture, disrupting the logical structure of the music even further. According to Benoit the text and the music focus too strongly on the painful side of love. He argues that Love is joyful too. That is why he interrupted the music with a playful twist. He created a small intro based on an Italian translation of the lyrics. Like Beatrice’s sixth manner, this part celebrates the joyous presence of love which Benoit associated with travel, adventure and freedom shared by two lovers.

Beatrice – Sander Vloebergs

Here you can find the lyrics of Surfing Dino – Beatrice. The lyrics are inspired on the original lyrics written by dancer and writer Sheila Van den Broeck. The music was used to create the dance video called BEARTICE – Project 2. One can find a blog about the choreography and video here.

Short Bibliography

Sophie Bourgault, Music and Pedagogy in the Platonic City, in The Journal of Aesthetic Education 46 (2012) 59-72.

Jacques Maritain, Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry, London, The Harvill Press, 1954.

George Bataille, Inner Experience (trans. Leslie Anne Boldt), New York, State University of New York Press, 1988.

Gerardus van der Leeuw, Sacred and Profane Beauty. The Holy in Art (trans. David E. Green), Londen, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1963.



Part 3. Vision 4 : Cosmic Unity – Two Worlds, One Vision

The fourth vision is a complex text which brings a lot of different characters upon the stage. The spectacle is not that well defined as the scenes, the characters, spectators and performers start to blend. What struck me most was the overall performative character of this vision. Hadewijch is violently interrupted by the spirit that draws her inwardly, to the center of the cosmos. Suddenly she is the protagonist of a cosmic event that is paradoxically dynamic and static at the same time. An angel comes forth and bows over Hadewijch. At the same time he orders the cosmic movement and the salvific history to come to a sudden stop in order to draw attention to the revelation that takes place. Nevertheless, the revelation is about a process of growth, a spiritual growth, that is enacted in the temporal world: it’s about growing in likeness with the humanity of Christ.

The angel presents two different worlds to Hadewijch and she is ordered to choose the most graceful one. In the next passage, Hadewijch deliberately confuses the spectator/reader. There seems to be a distinction between both words, between the angel and Hadewijch, between the angel and Christ, and finally between Christ and Hadewijch. These distinctions collapse and at the cosmic center a union takes place, between Hadewijch and Christ, between humanity and divinity. Love is the divine force that drives everything towards it, yet it is static as it is eternal and perfect.

The vision ends with four tasks that Hadewijch needs to fulfil in order to grow in likeness with Christ, to reach the perfect union that she experienced during this revelation. This path contains suffering and torture. She has to learn how to love even when her Divine Lover is most absent. When she can face the darkness of Love’s abyss, she is ready to experience what it is to be truly human like Christ.

The idea of the cosmic spectacle inspired me the most in this vision. I decided to depict a female figure (Hadewijch) in the center. Her body has taken the shape of the crucified body; it also reminds me of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, who resembles man at the center of the universe. After that, I added the angel whose wings blend with the woman’s hair and whose body touches hers as in a perfect choreography. His tears mingle with the blood of the wounds on the cross and penetrate the soil of the cosmos.

The depiction of the two worlds was the most difficult part of the drawing. I wanted to work with gothic architecture to resemble the world of the Church, Christ’s Body. The final composition where this gothic cathedral is contrasted with the trees was the result of many sketches, every sketch revealing a new and interesting image, every image demanding further reflection. This is how the world of the intellect grows in likeness with the world of artistic inspiration. The trees grew in the drawing as a result of contemplative seeing, a moment of inspiration, that can only be achieved during a dialogue between the artist and the work in process. 

Finally, I added the dynamic movement that blows through the drawing like a breeze, by opening the background and showing a sky full of eyes/stars, giving the image depth. The rosette of the cathedral is placed on the female figure, drawing attention to it. I broke one of the windows, making it a site of wounds, a threshold to another world.

This blog was originally posted on the Theological Anthropology Blog (Research Group Anthropos).

Part 2. Vision 9: Breaking Reason, Breaking Glass – Who Do You Think I Am?

It was only the day after writing the first part that I figured out that another drawing that I developed some time ago, is an answer to the intellectualism that I faced at the beginning of my project. Hadewijch herself assigns a character and a body to her own reason, so she can fight with her. The vision takes place during the night of the liturgical celebration of Mary’s Nativity. Hadewijch is very conscious of the liturgical time and allows it to penetrate the content of her visionary experience. Already at the start of her vision, she encounters a majestic queen, dressed in gold.  It is a dress, moreover, covered in flaming eyes. She is assisted by three maidens. I decided to leave the maidens out of the picture because I wanted to concentrate exclusively and intensively on the relation between Hadewijch and this imposing queen. With the liturgical time in mind, could this be Mary whom Hadewijch is talking too?

Soon the vision takes a violent turn as the queen attacks Hadewijch and puts her foot on Hadewijch’s neck, screaming: “Do you know who I am?” I was rather shocked at first sight, Hadewijch was not. She knew. Hadewijch was battling her own reason. It tortured and grieved her during her whole life by holding her back from a complete (and naïve) union with God and by pointing out the difference between the eternal God of Love and the weak creature that she was (defectus amoris). But this time, queen Reason is not there to hurt Hadewijch only to reveal her majesty, or only to show the precious clothes with the thousands of eyes that shine with bright flames, and the thousands of tiaras that she is wearing. Rather, it was Hadewijch’s own suffering and pain that clothed reason, that made her a queen. In the last part of the vision this Enlighted Reason unveiled her true identity. She was Hadewijch and Hadewijch was the Queen. After that she surrendered herself.  

In the ninth vision there is surprising amount of violence which influenced the dynamics of my drawing intensively. As a dancer and choreographer I draw inspiration from body language. I wanted to capture the sadomasochistic relationship between Hadewijch and the mysterious figure. I was fortunate to have revealed to me an image while I was just wandering around before starting the art process. I believe this revelation to be part of contemplative seeing. I decided to work with the broken mirror and the shattered glass, the intellectual insight to correlate the drawing and the vision were unveiled only after the drawing took shape.

There are two protagonist in my drawing, Hadewijch who is held captive under Reason’s foot. I chose to picture the two figures as living dolls (to refer to the female art of the Middle Ages and its naïve and childish style). Hadewijch cannot do anything, except to see, to stare at Reason. I placed a layer of glass on Reason and broke it where her face used to be. The mysterious figure who Hadewijch artfully hid under many layers of interpretation (Mary – Reason – Herself, it even reminds me of the story of Jacob and the angel) allows Hadewijch and the reader to wonder about her identity. Hadewijch tells her correspondent that she has to see for herself how many tiaras the queen is wearing, implying that looking is not only related to observing but to experiencing as well. Later I understood that I was not drawing shattered glass but that I was drawing a mirror, allowing Hadewijch to look into her own reflection. The many eyes and tiaras are reflected on all the broken pieces. They are scars of the many painful encounters she experienced with the sharp edges of human finite reason. Only when she completely surrendered she conquered and became queen herself. 

At this point I see the many layers in my own art/thought process. The curious choice to put both of these drawings (in this and and the previous blog post) together, demanded me to reflect on the process I went through. By reading the ninth vision again, I discovered that Hadewijch herself was fighting with human finite reason and the intellectualism that suppresses art and mysticism. She made me look in the mirror and answer the question: “Who do you think I am?”

This blog was originally posted on the Theological Anthropology Blog (Research Group Anthropos).

Part 1. Vision 1: The Heart of the Matter

Matterofheart.jpg

Hadewijch’s visions started when she was still young, young in years and young in spiritual growth. At the end of the visionary cycle she claims to have reached spiritual maturity. At this point she is capable of teaching others the mystical path. The fourteen visions that she presents were written to her friend who sought her spiritual guidance. In the first vision Hadewijch gives a general introduction to the imagery and the themes that will reappear in the remaining texts. In it she is guided by an angel through different landscapes where she sees different trees. At the end the angel shows her the way to a throne where she meets Christ who reveals to her his humanity.

It is safe to say that Hadewijch sums up an excessive amount of images, making it difficult for the visual artist to embrace all of them. For me, the text is very noisy, very intellectual because Hadewijch was explaining and interpreting all the visual stimuli herself. It was nearly impossible at that time to cancel out all the noise and the constant flood of ideas. Her own moment of divine inspiration was well hidden behind a multiplicity of allegorical imagery. The first feeling after reading this text was to tone it down, to start looking for the essence, the heart of the matter.

I related immediately to the contrast between the natural organic imagery and the semi-eternal material of the throne (precious stones). I don’t believe that this contrast is the theological core of Hadewijch’s visionary experience, but these images resonated in me and clung to me. I experienced a kind of dissonance: the inner discussion between my own rationality (my knowledge about the theology of Hadewijch) and the aesthetic images that demand attention and speak to me from an unconscious level. In this drawing I tried to compensate and use both, and in the process let reason dominate the process.

I decide to work with the heart, which appeared on the leaves of the last tree, but I made it less corny, more dramatic and material in order to contrast our emotional interpretation of the heart shape and in order to stress the materiality and the embodied reality of the vision. The veins I turned into roots which grow upwards like the tree which stands upside down, rooted in heaven. These organic vertical lines are interrupted by a horizontal line, the wood of the cross. With this image I recall the medieval topological relation between the tree of life and the wood of the cross. Both lines cross at five points, which refer to the five wounds of Christ on the cross. At the crossing points I placed stones, referring to the materials of the throne.

At the bottom we find one rose. This rose is the point of gravity. It is the only point which has a fixed place – next to heaven (where the roots are going) and the wood of the cross – marking a cosmic event. The roots flow between heaven and the heart, which is closest to the rose. Hadewijch uses the image of the rose in the last lines of the vision but also refers to it in her poems. The rose is Love itself, given by Christ (through his humanity). The last thing Christ says to Hadewijch is : “Love will give you the power (the rose), give all cause all is yours”.  Following the dynamics of the drawing and the vision, we can detect a kenotic movement, the incarnation. This is the theological core, the essence of her mystical thinking and the keystone in the wish Hadewijch expresses at the beginning of the visionary cycle: She wants to become human like Christ and to be taken up into the love relation of the Trinity. In this drawing the most important element is the space between the heart and the rose which marks the distance between the human heart and Christ’s humanity. It enacts a dynamic of desire.


When the drawing took its final shape, I realized that both the process and the product of my work were very intellectual. It reminded me of a theoretical discourse were words are replaced by images, but which is rational nonetheless. I was not really pleased with the end result because there is no spontaneity that breaks the rational control of the intellect. I felt the colors (which the drawing on paper demanded, but which I was not really comfortable with) were needed. They partially regained this playful character that is intrinsic to good art work.

It was only the day after writing the first part that I figured out that the second drawing that I developed some time ago, is an answer to the intellectualism that I faced at the beginning of my project…

This blog was originally posted on the Theological Anthropology Blog (Research Group Antropos).

Music Floating on Movement: An Exercise in transdisciplinary Interpretations of Christina

PETER DEBOI

THE INNER VOICE OF MUSIC

To Peter Duboi, music is an extension of one’s own identity, mediated by the instrument. Peter has always felt the need to create and externalize his inner harmony, and above all, to touch people with his creations. To him, learning music is not just mastering a kind of craft, but goes even further. It is about searching for one’s identity and one’s inner voice and learning how to communicate that message towards an audience in an auditory way.

MUSIC AND ITS CONTEXT

Peter received a classical training at the Conservatorium of Antwerp where he studied harmony and composition. Academically, he was particularly fascinated by contextuality, by the different contexts of composers throughout history, during different eras of music and how these contexts influenced the expression of the musician. The interconnection between the history of music and the history of ideas interests Peter, and he acknowledges that religion played a big part in the evolution of music and that this history of ideas that should not be overlooked. This evolution in history of music and ideas is intrinsically intertwined with the evolution of technology. The musician creates, using instruments – artifacts – that help him express his inner world and identity.

INTIMACY

Sometimes the basic use of just one instrument (and one voice) can express the composer’s identity more accurately than relying on a complete orchestra. The solo performance of a musician or a singer-songwriter can be extremely intimate when he/she tells a story using a limited amount of resources. Peter especially enjoys the work of Tori Amos, Sarah Bareilles and Anne Pierlé. In their works the listener experiences a profound sense of honesty and reality, due to the minimal musical arrangement and the strength and depth of the lyrics. According to Peter, this intimate self-expression invokes musical excitement.

THE LANGUAGE OF MUSIC

Peter was raised in a family of scientists. His brother and father are both engineers and Peter too studied mathematics and sciences in high school. He was trained in the rational methods of a scientific perspective. However, Peter discovered that science does not have a monopoly when it comes to studying and exploring the world. When he was 18 he decided to study the language of music and its artistic methods, expecting to find new tools for self-reflection and self-expression. Peter is convinced that the scientific lens often reduces the complexity of reality to a simplistic mathematical worldview, stripped away from its unique chaos and beauty. It cannot hold all the answers because beauty and art are multivalent. Through the language of art and music, Peter has learned that reality cannot be pinned down; it can only be explored, in a quest for ever new connections and curiosities.

To me knowledge is not about the ability to define, but about the ability to explore, like looking at an art piece – the product of artistic inspiration within a historical context. (Peter Deboi)

Through art, one learns to look at the world from a different perspective; one learns to stare and wonder with the eyes of a child. In neglecting the urge to define, one experiences the world as a web of interconnected curiosities. Although this experience of interconnectedness suggests a kind of spiritual relationship to the world, Peter does not define his spirituality as religious – precisely because he does not want to define things. Peter chooses to be inspired by this artistic/spiritual connection to the world.

CHRISTINA

When she had whirled around for a long time in this manner, it seemed as if she became weakened by the violence of the rolling and all her limbs grew quiet. Then there sounded between her throat and her breast a wondrous harmony that no mortal man could understand, nor could it be imitated by any artificial instrument. That song of hers had only the pliancy and the tones of music. But the words of the melody, so to speak – if they could even be called words – sounded together incomprehensibly. (Christina 35, p. 145-146)

THE MUSICIAN IS THE INTERPRETER

For this project, Peter was inspired by movement itself. To him, using movement as the main source of inspiration was new. His previous work flirted with words, even images, but never movement. Writing music based on a text is not a far stretch. Using images though, is a different story. One needs to interpret the image and decide how to make the image resonate with the music so both art forms become mutually enriching. Peter is interested in this use of imagery when he teaches music. The image could help students understand the atmosphere music creates. During this project, movement (moving images) is a priori. This is an unusual collaboration between dance and music because often dance is the interpretation of music and not the other way around. Here, movement sets the tone; the musician is the interpreter.

PLAYING PLAYFUL MUSIC

Art does not allow for one simple interpretation and this particular choreography does not express one systematically defined idea. Instead it offers a foreign reality captured in inexplicable movement. The only way to work with this movement is to observe it with the eyes of a child and to feel, and explore the way it touches oneself on an inner level. Banning all external influences, the musician watched and listened to the music within. Using the piano as his instrument, Peter externalizes his inner exploration of movement with a playful improvisation, a joyful adaptation from choreographed movement to musical flow. Phrase by phrase, Peter played and recorded his music while he was watching soundless movement, only to search for an overarching theme to give structure and direction to the music as a whole. Peter stresses the importance of avoiding a literal (Mickey Mouse-like) interpretation of the dance, by translating freely, by feeling the movement and answering to it with music, thus allowing the process of artistic inspiration to take place. This can only be done if one transcends the linear and rational approach to reality and allows the childish intuition to talk to us.

FROM DANCE TO MUSIC

The choreography starts with a soft flowing movement. The musician interprets this as a light summer breeze that gains in strength and energy. He answers this movement with a swirling motif and adds the soft texture of a sparkling melody. When the tessitura slowly embraces the lower register, the airy openness at the beginning is filled with an excitement that leads to the next phrase in the music.

By repeating the harmonic scheme and by elaborating on the melody and rhythm, tension is created. The intensity increases, following the dynamics of the movements that lead towards a first climax. Next, Peter invokes an experience of trance by the use of repetition and outspoken accent in the cadence. The harmony is rather simple, using only two chords, in order to mimic the trancelike movements in the choreography.

The next phrase in the music introduces a contrast; musical tension softens and fluid movements are reintroduced that recall the beginning of the piece, although more wavy in their essence. At the end, the music thins out and ends with an experience of openness: the tension of a twisted tune dissolves and finds stability in an open chord that lacks the terce and the quint, leaving us with a feeling of openness.

This blog was originally posted on the Theological Anthropology Blog (Research Group Antropos)

Also see the plog posts on the video and the dance of CHRISTINA – Project 1


A Story about Light and Space: Christina from the Perspective of a Video Artist

CRISTIANO FERRI

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (KJV John 1:1-5)

The story begins with light, forcing its way through the darkness, through created matter becoming God-in-Man. When the Eternal Word was said eternally, matter was reshaped creating spheres and shapes, spaces and sounds of ineffability, building a majestic cathedral of light, an architectural art piece.

CITY OF LIGHT

Cristiano Ferri is inspired by the story of light, the way it slides over buildings and spheres, the way it is interwoven with air and space, giving air its different textures, creating atmospheres. The artist explores this landscape of textures and spheres and observes; he touches the surfaces with his eyes, trying to grab the interconnectedness of shapes and composing a melody of heavenly movement. Cristiano finds these spaces in cities, playgrounds of light and shapes. Cristiano is drawn towards this urban reality and how it displays a range of emotions. He finds profound beauty in its simplicity: in the interactions between people, in the mini dramas that take place every day, on every locations, in different shades of light. He likes to discover the untold stories, buried in the urban landscape. Ugly or beautiful, cities always tell a story. It is not about aesthetics; the story is about light, and how it touches us, passengers wandering through these mysterious landscapes.

Light changes things, it is everything. It is obvious, concrete, it is the basis. Light can give ideas, it can give you the need to tell a story. Seeing light and what it touches, this is the start of the story. Light is matter, it is the basic material, like the painter has his canvas. (Cristiano Ferri)

light and space.jpeg

CONNECTING THE NARRATIVES

The subject, the passenger, is only part of the story. Cristiano gives priority to the atmosphere which dominates the world of feelings, conjured by light and spheres. The cinematic artist is the bridge figure, connecting the narrative of the passenger subject to the story of light and space. He therefore explores his memory, searching for the right decor to support the story of the subject and he wanders through the atmospheres that impressed him in the past. It is the responsibilities of the artist to give the subject its proper location and its proper light.

THE UNPREDICTABLE DANCE OF LIGHT

Nevertheless, the video artist is only a medium, a vessel. In the end, it is up to the subject and the light to tell the story. At the moment of recording, the artist can only register what happens in front of his eyes/lens. He has to give way to reality unfolding on a made up set; he has to surrender to its will. Reality always brings the element of surprise, of unpredictability. Cristiano says that he never receives the image he initially intended. A writer controls his narrative through words, a painter through carefully attaching layers of paint, but a video artist needs to witness the flux of images flashing before his eyes. According to Cristiano, the video artist needs to be courageous, eager to risk it all and to hunt for images that are present but could disappear in a blink of an eye. It feels like hunting for fragments of eternity in a spacio-temporal continuum.

During the postproduction phase, the video artist can take different directions, every choice determining the final product. Some artists like to manipulate the material (the collected shots) with special effects, giving their own interpretation to reality in a drastic way. Cristiano likes to respect reality’s unpredictability and roughness. He stresses this harshness by using dirty images, dirty movements, noise and contrasts. Images do not have to fit because reality does not fit.

CHRISTINA

Then Christina fled the presence of men with wondrous horror into deserted places, to trees, or the tops of castle or church towers, or any lofty structure. Thinking her to be filled with demons, the people finally managed to capture her with great effort and to bind her with iron chains, and although she endured much suffering and privation, yet she suffered even more from the stench of them. (Christina 9, p. 132)

CHRISTINA’S BODY VS THE CITY OF MEN

When Cristiano read the story of Christina, he was immediately drawn to the strong and graphic imagery in the saint’s vita. He noticed a very strong disconnect between Christina and the outer world, between her and the city where she lived as an outcast. She created a physical and mental distance between her and the villagers, always looking for places where humanity could not reach her, where she could only be touched by God. The vita focuses primarily on Christina and in a lesser extent on her interactions with the outer world. Nevertheless, it says very little about the saint’s inner struggles. Cristiano noticed that the vita does not allow the reader to know Christina on a personal and intimate level. This made the task of interpreting her vita firsthand very difficult.

She whirled around with such extreme violence that the individual limbs of her body could not be distinguished. (Christina 35, p. 145)

The artist was inspired to use the shock, the experience of alienation, to enter Christina’s world. He searches for the disruption in the image created by the tension between the choreography with its drama and the body and mind of Christina. By using a close-up, the story of the choreography is interrupted and a vagueness is created that does not allow the viewer to perceive the dancer’s body and predict its movements. To get to know the character Christina, one needs to engage in the constant switch between close-up and wide shot, a choreography orchestrated by the camera, representing Christina’s extravagant bodily presence. This switch introduces its own movement that contradicts the static and perfect view point of the camera. Cristiano opted for a change of camera perspective, and not a change of locations. This was also a possibility, but it did not work on screen. Sometimes reality dictates what one must do.

LIGHT AND DARK

The artist chose to record Christina at sunrise. We would start the recording one hour before the sun reached the surface of the body. The sunrise created the right atmosphere, it embraces the space with joy and warmth. Cristiano decided to show the joyful side of Christina’s live, her strange but weirdly peaceful relation to the world. The sunset would have introduced a dark element in the art piece, a darkness which is already very present in the life of Christina.

The dark element of Christina’s suffering body is introduced by the drama of the dance itself, which takes place on the hard and cold surface of the city’s concrete. Although the dance takes place at the beautiful spacious location of the terrace of the Brussels’ Palace of Justice, its rough circumstances make suffering and bodily pain inevitable The body’s relation to the city is made painfully present in the video. A harsh confrontation between the two is orchestrated on scene during which Christina’s body is invoked. Nevertheless, the openness of the view excludes the feeling of oppression and limitation a city often creates. In this video, the city and its history creates a nostalgic atmosphere, it makes the past present in the here and now. This contextualization of the body in its history smoothens the harsh contrast created between stone and flesh. The last ailment of the wounded dancing body is the light coming in when the movements slow down towards the end. This unexpected ray of light surprised us and lighted up the dance and the video. In a way the simple ray of light that caressing the dancer’s hand even feels mystical. The story ends where it began, with light.

This blog was originally posted on the Theological Anthropology Blog (Research Group Antropos).

Also see the blog posts on the dance and music of CHRISTINA – Project 1