Venue: Café de Jahren, Amsterdam
Present: Dan Bodner, Tom McCarthy, Paul Perry, Jalal Toufic,
Frank van de Ven
Tom McCarthy: We're all here because we're participating in this programme that Paul has put together called 'Event Horizon'. We're each finding our own approaches towards theorising what an event might be and what an event horizon is. But what was your initial idea, Paul? Why that theme?
Paul Perry: There are a number of event horizons I was thinking about when I proposed the idea to DasArts. I was thinking about the singularity event horizon around the black hole (that's the astronomical meaning of 'event horizon', the field around a black hole); about black holes as heavenly unbodies, non-bodies, and the horizon around the black hole, the boundary from which no light escapes. I was thinking about the singularity from the perspective of technoculture, the notion that we are developing technologies which go beyond our ken: AI, nanotechnology, some aspects of genetic engineering. Werner von Jade wrote the essay 'The Coming Singularity', describing a point where structure continues but understanding breaks down. I was thinking about that. I was also thinking about death. So I was thinking about those three things as event horizons.
TMcC: When I approached this whole question I tried to look at a really straight-forward event structure like a game of football. There are some kinetic occurrences and relations, a ball being kicked and people running around, and then there's a space in which this happens, a certain structure that gives meaning to the kinetic occurrences: the rules, the painted lines and so on. And there are spectators and judges and reporters. And then there's a wider field around the event: you can go and bet on the result, even if you're in another part of the world, or if you're a child you can imagine that you'll be a great football player in the future, or if you're an old man you can remember that once you were a great football player, or once could have been one. So there's a billowing outwards. I don't know the exact point at which the event structure gives over to the event field, but the field is bigger than the structure. And then the event horizon must be somewhere where it sort of ends. Death could be an event horizon, but so could forgetting. Then if you replace the game of football with a bullfight, to which death is integral: death happens in it, but it's not an end. If the bull dies, that's the end for him, and if the matador dies that's the end for him, but neither of those is the end of the event. Then working outwards to the event that I chose to work with, the mafia shootout that Dan witnessed: death was at the centre of it. That's a horizon for the victim, the bodyguard who threw himself in front of the gangster Geert Roos, the other gangsters, intended victim...
Dan Bodner: But that was just the beginning.
TMcC: Right. I remember you, Paul, saying at one point that we should see event horizons as a) both expanding and contracting and b) being on the inside and the outside at the same time.
PP: You've added the event field to your mapping of events from a week ago.
TMcC: Yes. I'm a lot clearer about that now.
PP: The event field is interesting, as is the idea that it's expanding with history. You used the example of cricket, and all of this data, this extra information being added to the cricket game via websites that plot the path of every ball. That adds not to the structure but to the field. The rules are the structure. The viewing of cricket on television could add to the structure, but the history that's being added on the cricket data websites is adding to the field. But I'd still like to have a good definition of the event. Let's start with that.
TMcC: For me, that's where Maurice Blanchot really delivers with his theorising of the event as a disaster. He says: 'When everything has been said, what remains to be said is the disaster.' I feel you could substitute the word 'even' for 'disaster' and it would work.
PP: So give me a working definition of 'disaster'.
TMcC: Event. So when everything has been translated, the residue that refuses to be translated is the event. That un-redeemable kinesis, matter, whatever, which even though it facilitates this whole field of data and repetition and reenactment and reconstruction, will itself always elude that. I remember talking about Edward Ruscha's image of the museum on fire as a model of an event. You've got the museum, this place that stores data and records and maintains the possibility of public memory - and yet the event sets the museum itself on fire. The records are collapsing into this black hole of pure event.
Los Angeles County Museum on Fire, 1965-68, Ed Ruscha
PP: But Ruscha's painting depicts this. Is the painting on fire? No. The painting is depicting a museum on fire.
TMcC: Yes, true. Well, that opens up the whole question of representing an event. So we've got two issues here. One is that at the centre of the event is a sort of oblivion - for the bull, for the matador, even for the cricket player lost in pure motion, and certainly for the gangster who's killed, the bodyguard - but then you have the issue of how to represent an event. What did you think, Dan, of the ways in which people chose to represent the event that you'd witnessed, the shootout?
DB: They really abstracted, in some cases extremely, from the original event. There was a residual, something that was left over from my experience. A friend of mine was there for the evening of the public presentation of the project, a friend who I'd known for much of my life, and she recognised certain movements of mine, certain physical actions and mannerisms, in all these people, the dancers and actors they'd used to reconstruct it. So somehow something from me was stuck in there.
TMcC: But what of the event was stuck in there, carried over?
DB: That's the irony of this whole thing: you can't really recreate the event itself. You had this mission to create data around the event, to redescribe it, and that's the best you can do. But then you put it into the hands of people who are not really scientists, and whose main objective is not to recreate but to create something new, so that took it on another trajectory.
PP: Why say the word 'scientist'? What's the difference between an artist and a scientist? Can a scientist recreate or reinvent any better than an artist? No.
Frank van de Ven: Are you still thinking that the event was the factual shooting on that day, or is the event your telling of it to us?
DB: There are several layers to it. But I know what the event was; it's stored inside me. I know what the event was because I was there. I experienced it and it's stored inside me on many levels: as a story in my head, physically in my body (because when I hear a gunshot, as I did often during your reconstructions, I still judder). So I have a memory of that event. Now, I gave your students a story. It could, conceivably, have not ever happened to me - but it did. So what they were taking data from was me - and a lot of them deliberately took this path, to reenact my hand-gestures, my telling of the story.
TMcC: I think Paul's point is very true: essentially, in this respect, there's no difference between a scientist and an artist. They both have ways of telling an event. MacBeth kills a king, and a forensics expert could say: 'Well, he stuck the knife in and it hit such and such an artery which caused an embolism which caused death within seven minutes.' And Shakespeare writes 'He did look like my father as he slept' and 'These my hands would the multitudinous seas incarnadine' and so on. And both are stories which contain certain types of truth.
DB: Right: there's a schism. But one is a more abstract way of dealing with the event. One is a series of numbers and images and trajectories and drawings...
FvdV: The question I'm trying to get at is: if you're looking for a practical definition of an event, could you locate an event in time? So with this shooting history: where is the beginning and the end to it? When did the event start? How does it develop through time?
DB: It's completely linked to time and space. That's why you can't recreate it. It happened in a time and a place, and that was the event.
PP: One prioritises the moment when one first witnessed it. But I think the event is more a pattern than anything else. And that pattern has been recurring. The pattern recurred the evening of the public presentation. The pattern may be in the Walther P5 pistols that we used. The pattern is my recognition of Thomas beginning to really like putting clips into the gun and cocking it. The pattern is the affordance of the pistol, the grip that your hand goes around. One steps into a pattern that is recurring. This project began with Tom becoming interested in the moment Dan stepped into a pattern that was recurring: that pistol, that kind of situation...
learning to use the Walther P5 pistol
TMcC: Which itself was a repetition, a mutated repetition, of every other gangster shootout. That was my point with Agammemnon: every death is a tit-for-tat, a semi-quote, like every ball in cricket is a mutated repetition of the last one: you sacrificed my daughter so I'm going to kill you in the bath, just as so-and-so was in the bath when your father's father killed him. And you've got the chorus as the record of the past, and Cassandra as a record of the future. In that respect the film Last Year in Marienbad is very interesting. It all revolves around an event, but it's totally unclear whether the event has happened, will happen or never happened. There's this man saying: 'We were here last year; we were in love' and this woman saying: 'I've never been here before; I don't know you'. It's a kind of quantum physics logic whereby what they decide will determine the event itself. So maybe the event is something always available, which can happen, will happen, has always happened, has never stopped happening and yet is always yet to happen. Then the timescale: I try to imagine the man dying, the bodyguard who took the bullets, and his time. He probably lived an eternity in those final seconds - an eternity in which the facts of the event, 'Oh I've been shot, my life's in danger, I'm injured', became less and less relevant, and he was probably looking at a cluft of grass or a cigarette butt, and seeing all the holes in the filter, the whole geometry of it, and going further and further into it. That's what I imagine. I have no way of knowing if this is true. But I imagine the process of dying does astonishing things to time. Your twenty-four hour durational performance is interesting in this respect, Frank. You got the participants to repeat certain gestures again and again and again, this eternal repetition - or so it must have seemed when they were twelve hours in and still had twelve hours to go.
FvdV: I did call that an 'event', mainly to keep the working atmosphere going on for twenty-four hours. I was trying to have a number of singularities that kept repeating themselves, and trying to stop people getting clogged up with cliches or banalities. For me it had a lot to do with how you can learn your own boundaries by working with other people who are working in the same process. I'm a performer; I'm looking in performance for a way to get away from your own habits and patterns, and then together with an audience to lift it to a level where there is only singularities left. My way to look at dance is that it's not referring to something else.
twenty-four hour durational performance
TMcC: It is what it is...
FvdV: It is bodies moving in space, not an enactment of a theme in literature - although of course you can use it as a means that leads to certain intensities...
TMcC: You never repeat your dances, do you?
FvdV: In the last few years I've worked mainly with improvisation, yes.
TMcC: And what's the importance of an audience in this?
FvdV: It's the outside eye that can lift you out of yourself. The mirror, the witness. The first witness of one's work is yourself; the second witness is your fellow performers; the third witness is the onlookers.
TMcC: But in your twenty-four hour durational event you chose not to have any onlookers. It was conducted behind closed doors.
FvdV: Yes, although some of the DasArts staff could come and go. That was an important feature. Also the techicians who'd set the space up, Mark Jansen and Chris van der Veld.
TMcC: One thing really struck me, a complete revelation. When I came to this event, Dan's shooting, I initially thought: there's the event, and then there's language, reportage, analysis, and through this we'll get somewhere, create some sort of understanding, produce some set of truths, planes of consistency, whatever. But then working with dancers, who were using much less linguistic forms, specially the choreographer Sato Endo... I know it's a stylised, codified format, but the density of her dancers, gestures when they reenacted that half-second of Dan picking up his bicycle to run from the shootout and his friend falling over the bike was astonishing. It showed me a different approach to inhabiting an event field: you can become, in this quite Deleuzian way, become it rather than interpret it. Is that something you're conscious of in your dance practise, becoming?
FvdV: Yes. But becoming for me is a kind of eternal occurrence, or re-occurrence, an eternal transformation. So it's not to be a person and represent that person; it's how you can latch onto a plane of intensities - in which there's no single narrative possible. Another very important thing, of course, is the question of repetition. My event was set up so that every three hours each participant would pass the same station. So the first time it's a pure experience; during the second time you're aware of repeating it, and it also occurs to you that you're going to be there another five or six times. So how the content of each station influences your being in that station has a lot to do with past and future moments. It puts a mirror onto you yourself, enhances an awareness of what you're doing. There were some stations dedicated to documenting what you were doing, through a laptop or through a camera. There were also conversation stations, set conversations. Also reenactments of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. So it's not just about a physical language. I do realise that what Sato was doing on the night of the presentation of your project was rather pure, because she stayed away from performance. It was a very open work session, and had a very different atmosphere to it than other pieces which were announced, even if they were announced as experiments. Her dancers had a completely different relation between their inside and their outside space than the other pieces, performers. They weren't performing; they were just working on their matt. That's what I very much strove to do in my twenty-four hours. How can you keep up this intensity, this working atmosphere?
TMcC: 'Sustained enquiry', you called it.
FvdV: Sustained enquiry, yes.
TMcC: I find it really interesting that this figure of Orpheus comes up in relation to the event. You, Paul, chose to take the students into these caves deep underground and read Blanchot's 'The Gaze of Orpheus', which is ostensibly more about death and writing. But each of us has found it very useful in thinking through what it is to look towards an event, to turn your gaze towards an event which then, like Eurydice, disappears. How does Orpheus speak to you, Paul, in this whole theorising of the event?
PP: It's a good question, and I don't have an answer.
TMcC: But why did you choose that text?
PP: Because I wanted to read it underground in this grotty grotto.
FvdV: But did it change your reading of it to be in this space?
PP: It was a horrible space.
FvdV: You knew the story, but you went and reread it in that cave...
TMcC: Yes, it was a reenactment. You must have read it ten times already...
PP: Two chapters from Jalal's book Vampires were far more influential on that expedition to the caves: 'Who Will Warn Us of the Warning?' and 'Thresholds and Imaginary Lines'. I was thinking about 'Who Will Warn Us of the Warning?' a lot because of the warnings I was getting from the DasArts staff about how to manage the first week. The whole expedition was one big disaster from beginning to end...
TMcC: A disaster...
group at cave mouth
PP: We tried to do a Fitzcarraldo number of carrying all this gear to this cave mouth that we didn't even reach the first day because of downpours, thunderstorms, mud, walking with huge generators for this thirty-five thousand guilder video beam, people slipping and sliding, food collapsing down the mountainside, me going on ahead with one of the guides to find out how far we had to go, it getting dark... My god, what a mess! And then the second day, people were thinking 'The threshhold is here', but finding that the line was somewhere else. It was extrememly interesting. The whole programme couldn't have begun better or worse. A lot of people were profoundly influenced by what happened inside that cave.
Jalal Toufic: I'm going to make a small intervention here. I don't think you can take a cave as a stand-in for the underworld. When you do a trip with a number of people to a cave-as-underworld, that would mean that you are dying together. But dying is an experience that you cannot have as a community. You can have community in a different sense because in death, as I write somewhere else based on Nietzsche when he was going psychotic, every name in history is I. So there is this community that you can have in death, but only in that way. You can't go to the underworld in groups of ten. You can only go one by one. But in the underworld you are every name in history. The cave can be a model for the underworld only if you go alone, or if you go as ten but lose each other. You cannot be together in death, because death is ultimately a labyrinth.
PP: That point is also reflected in the two lovers in the spacecraft going into the black hole in another of your essays, Jalal, when they're separated.
TMcC: I wonder how that formulation of death as solitary changes when you bring sacrifice into play. In the gangster shooting that we chose to reconstruct the bodyguard had sacrificed himself. Five gangsters were trying to kill a rival gangster, but this gangster's bodyguard threw himself in front of his boss and gave his life. Sacrifice of oneself is surely experiencing death in relation to another.
JT: From outside. It's still from outside. You can die for another but not in his place.
TMcC: In Euripides's Alcestis, when Admetos should die but his wife Alcestis decides to go instead of him, to die for him, it's totally about her. All the descriptions of death are about her death, not his; his experience is not of death but of guilt - and rightly so.
DB: But that moment when the bodyguard throws himself in front of Roos - if that is indeed what happened (we,re not entirely sure) - that was his journey, his path. He lept into the hole or whatever you want to call it. Luckily, I ended up fine, but there was that moment when I felt that running out of this alley was going to get me killed. I was convinced of that. That was my own journey.
TMcC: I remember you saying: 'I saw two ways in which I could die, two deaths for myself; I saw my own death twice, each different. One was cowering behind some dustbins and getting shot in the head; the other was at least running, maybe into bullets.' So it was like 'Select an ending for this film'.
DB: Exactly. I remember it was going through my head that if I didn't know exactly when the moment would be then that would be better than watching somebody shoot me. I felt like if I was running then I could get it in the back. That was my logic.
TMcC: So it was about how you would experience your death? Not how others at your funeral would say 'He died running and we should be proud'?
DB: No, no: I had no concept of anybody else. I was only concerned with how to make this a less horible last moment for myself. Everything else melted away, like Jalal was just describing. There was no community on that threshhold.
TMcC: That concept of community is interesting. I don't know Levinas that well, but I understand that he says that community comes about through a common experience of death. I guess like how in Hamlet the whole social community is constructed on the guilty shared half-knowledge of the murder of the king. In Julius Caesar too. And MacBeth.
PP: Community is formed on complicity in death and fear of death, but not death.
DB: Right: that's a community of life.
TMcC: So death is a sort of scapegoat, driven out.
PP: Scapegoat... I'll have to think about that.
TMcC: Have your ideas of what an event horizon might be changed since Frank's twenty-four hour event and since my Shooting History project and Dan's reactions to it?
PP: No. I've been making lots of notes. It's richer, I'm more and more interested, but I don't know any more about it.
TMcC: Do you, Dan, feel more or less mortal or immortal after seeing your own near-death replayed so many times during this last week? It's said that if you see your own death then you're immortal.
DB: But I didn't die. And the reconstructions were abstracted away from my experience. I gave the event away. What I experienced hasn't changed. Maybe out there it has, for other people, but not for me.
PP: It's remained frozen?
BD: Yes. I might feel differently about it, but it's there, in the past, and that hasn't changed.
PP: One of the things I found fascinating about your first description of the shooting to us and the students was the fact that there were so many things you didn't want to know. You turned it into an event by your encapsulation, sealing it off like a spore or a seed. I found that quite beautiful. It wasn't trying to repress anything, just that you weren't interested. Tom was providing extra information he'd gleaned from newspapers and you were saying 'Oh really? I didn,t know that.' What I thought was transcendent about your experience was a number of the formal qualities of it. Nichola Unger came up with the 'horror horizon', the plot of the curved wall the gangster in the alleyway approached you along. Then the fact that you went into the blind alley and then the perpetrator followed you in; or the dishwasher from the restaurant opening the door, seeing you and thinking that you might be a gangster and slamming the door, the only escape hatch, tight again. Those formal aspects, together with your wanting to encapsulate it, seal it off, turned it into a myth - and therefor more event-like for me, oddly enough. The other thing that came up that was really interesting was this notion of authority through proximity. You were an eye witness, and you were just now claiming 'I was there'. I don't know what to think about that. Then there was that women in the audience during our public presentation who stood up and told us about being in the neighbourhood when the World Trade Centre towers had fallen. She needed to tell us about it.
DB: She was bearing witness. She needed to do that. But I needed to do that too after the shooting. Now I don't so much, but then it was really strong, this need.
PP: Could it be that bearing witness is also telling yourself 'I have been there'? Not just telling others.
DB: Yes: telling yourself: 'I survived it'.
PP: But that's not even what I mean. Sometimes things that I've been eyewitness to I also wonder if I really saw it, while being in full awareness of how much I was really there. So bearing witness is not only telling others but also talking to yourself.
TMcC: Maybe it's a more Burroughsian thing, like information is a virus and you need to pass it on. You, Dan, went to the police station to tell them there'd been a shooting and they were all rushing out there and didn't at that point realise how important you were and told you: 'We know, go away.' So you went all around finding somebody to tell. And in the year following that I'd tell anyone too. I'd even rehearse how to tell people: 'My friend Dan saw this shooting, right... and this guy in the alley had this big fucking gun... and he just blasted it!' It's this need to tell. Nancy Mauro-Flude, one of the students involved in the reconstruction, had this vector understanding of it. She worked out that leaving the alleyway, everyone on the left went into this zone of silence. 'We don,t talk about this.' And everyone on the right, i.e. Dan and Roos, told. Roos would have got back home to say: 'They came at me but I survived.' And you were telling everyone too. Then there's different types of bearing witness. In Waiting for Godot Vladimir says to the boy at the end: 'Tell Godot we were here! He must be told!' And a woman at the public presentation raised the issue of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee in South Africa, where they tell their stories in order to achieve some sort of catharsis: the torurers and the tortured sit down together, there's no punishment, they just have to tell. But your telling overspilled any practical need to do justice or help the police or whatever. It was just this need to tell. I wonder what we make of that. It's a quite Derridean thing: overload of the signifier, this compulsion to...
DB: ...to pass on the information...
TMcC: Not even just to pass it on from one carrier to another, but more like flowers when they dehisce. They dehisce a million spores, seeds, whatever, and only two of them are actually going to fertilise another flower. What motivates them is not a desire to procreate, but one just to spill. To disseminate. It's very christian in a way.
DB: They say that when you die you do... like a flower when it's about to die gives one last burst, blooms or whatever.
PP: You were about to say it but didn't: the Burroughs thing of ejaculating when you die.
DB: Right, exactly that. So that this experience, which was a near death experience for me: I needed to ejaculate that information, as a natural, animal instinct.
PP: How many people, when they heard the news of what was happening in New York, picked up the phone and called someone else to say: 'Have you been watching the television? Have you heard?' It's all forms of ejaculation.
TMcC: All around one massive ruined tower.
DB: Two, actually.
TMcC: The event repeating.
PP: Right, but I'd still like a good definition of the event.
Paul Perry is an artist whose work examines the relationship between memory, the body and technology. He was mentor of DasArts Block 15, Event Horizon.
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Dan Bodner is a painter whose work sets the human figure against allegorical and apocalyptic backgrounds. He lives in Amsterdam and has exhibited widely in Europe and America.
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Jalal Toufic is the author of four books (Distracted, (Vampires): An Uneasy Essay on the Undead in Film, Over-Sensitivity, Forthcoming), a film theorist and video artist. He has taught at California Institute of the Arts, University of California at Berkeley, and USC. He currently lives in Lebanon.
Frank van de Ven is a dancer and choreographer and co-founder of 'Body Weather Amsterdam', a platform for training and performance research. Since 1995 he has conducted (with Milos Sejn) the interdisciplinary Bohemia Rosa Project, connecting body and landscape with art, geology and architecture.
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Tom McCarthy is General Secretary of the INS
DasArts Homepage: http://www.dasarts.nl/