– Autumn/Winter 2014

Boris Charmatz: An Architecture of Attention

Catherine Wood

Boris Charmatz, Levée des conflits, 2010, performance, still. Photograph: Caroline Ablain. Courtesy Musée de la danse, Rennes

Immensity is the movement of motionless man.
— Gaston Bachelard1

In a two-page text titled ‘Personal Meltdown’ (1999), Boris Charmatz proposes a movement exercise: ‘Starting from the upright position ... let yourself “melt down” to the heaviest spread-out position — effecting the habitual passage from the vertical to the horizontal then, only this time with no habitus and in an exceptionally drawn-out way.’2 ‘The aim’, he continues, is to allow ‘unplanned circulations to occur...’

This apparently simple ten-minute exercise touches — in sketch form — upon the fundamental elements that Charmatz’s practice explores: one’s experience of one’s own body; the space-time coordinates that determine movement (temporal duration and the horizontal and vertical axes of the body); and dance’s institutional frames. Against the notion of the figure’s typical verticality, this is an experiment in ‘lateral thinking’ as doing: a letting-go of the constructed self to allow other strata of education, knowledge, tensions, fragilities or repressions to emerge.3 And even if the exercise is a physical one, its title — ‘Personal Meltdown’ — perversely connotes emotional excess. This idea of ‘losing it’ implies a state in which all norms of social behaviour might be temporarily, involuntarily,

  1. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (1964, trans. Maria Jolas), Boston: Beacon Press, 1994, p.184.

  2. Boris Charmatz, Ec/arts (trans. A. Preger), no.1, 1999; reprinted in B. Charmatz and Isabelle Launay, Undertraining — On a Contemporary Dance, Paris: Les Presses du réel, 2011, p.64.

  3. Charmatz writes: ‘As an example, the belly may become bigger; as a child one would never “hold” the belly as adults do to look thin. This could really change the way one moves afterward — not by inventing some new movement, but from this research that I see as archeological/cultural digging. It’s also important in the sense that through the melting you find your own body, but [also] many layers of society, social constructs, etc. ... so from the body you touch upon politics.’ Email from the artist, May 2014.

  4. Yvonne Rainer, programme notes for The Mind is a Muscle, 1968; reprinted in Yvonne Rainer: Work 1962—73, Halifax: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1974, p.71.

  5. Erin Brannigan, Dancefilm: Choreography and the Moving Image, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, p.29.

  6. Aatt enen tionon premiered on 9 February 1996 at La Halle aux Grains — Scène Nationale de Blois at Festival Dansez Maintenant.

  7. B. Charmatz, ‘Masterclass. Piece for Raimund Hoghe’, Je suis une école, Paris: Éditions Les Prairies ordinaires, 2009, pp.332—36.

  8. As part of a research residency at the National Centre for Dance in France, Charmatz ran a school titled ‘Bocal’ for a year between July 2003 and July 2004, with a group of fifteen students from different backgrounds and moving between different locations. On his website he describes the school as ‘nomadic’ and ‘provisional’, see www.borischarmatz.org/en/faire/bocal (last accessed on 24 July 2014). He has also written extensively about the experience in his book Je suis une école, op. cit.

  9. Shannon Jackson, Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics, London: Routledge, 2011, p.9.

  10. B. Charmatz, ‘Manifeste pour un Musée de la danse’ (‘Manifesto for a Dancing Museum’ 2009), available at http://www.museedeladanse.org/fr/articles/manifeste-pour-un-musee-de-la-danse (last accessed on 26 June 2014). Translation the author’s.

  11. Geoffrey Hodgson, ‘What Are Institutions?’, Journal of Economic Issues, vol.XL, no.1, March 2006, p.8. The author would like to thank Vanessa Desclaux for alerting her to this text.

  12. Indeed, visual artists have explored this territory in recent works by, for example, Sehgal, Roman Ondák, Elmgreen and Dragset, Tania Bruguera and Paweł Althamer, who have all intervened in the human infrastructure of the museum. This line of enquiry stretches back to Allan Kaprow’s 1977 proposition for the Hamburger Kunsthalle, in which he requested that the museum staff be presented within the galleries doing their ordinary office work, as a displayed ‘portrait’. See A. Kaprow, ‘Museum Portraits, Activity, March 1977, Kunsthalle Hamburg’, in Eva Meyer-Hermann, Andrew Perchuk and Stephanie Rosenthal (ed.), Kaprow: Art as Life (exh. cat.), Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2008, p.270.

  13. G. Hodgson, 'What Are Institutions?', op. cit.

  14. Catherine Wood, ‘Boris Charmatz: 1000 Words’, Artforum, vol.50, no.7, March 2012, pp.254—57.

  15. The author would like to thank Capucine Perrot for this observation.

  16. David Bohm, On Dialogue, London: Routledge, 2014, pp.106—07.

  17. Interview with Gilles Amalvi, in the dossier on the work prepared by Musée de la danse.

  18. B. Charmatz in conversation with G. Amalvi, Musée de la danse, in the Musée de la danse dossier op.cit. This dossier is sent to the various theatres and festivals who present the piece and has been published in excerpts in various theatre programmes, in part or in full.

  19. Ibid.

  20. B. Charmatz and I. Launay, Undertraining, op. cit., p.212.

  21. D. Bohm, On Dialogue, op. cit., p.100.

  22. Both Martin Creed and Mårten Spångberg, for example, have been known to invite viewers to use their phones and tablets, or to eat and drink, during the performance of each artist’s work.

  23. G. Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, op. cit., p.183.