November 4th, 2013 · Noé Soulier
Noé Soulier: Idéographie
Noé Soulier’s new performance draws together seemingly disparate thoughts, arguments and lines of reasoning from various modes of understanding the world as movements. From cognitive science to his memories of classical ballet technique classes, Soulier employs musical structures and patterns—such as choruses and verses—to structure this material into a lecture-performance. In doing so, Soulier exposes the mechanics of movements by revealing the combination of thoughts that produced them. The audience is presented with both a physical and mental choreography in this "dance of ideas." Noé Soulier’s Idéographie is a Performa Project and premieres on November 7 at Danspace Project. Here, the artist describes this new piece:
The starting point of Idéographie was a question: what could be a choreography of ideas? The goal was not to create a dance that would express ideas through movements but to try to choreograph the ideas themselves: to organize ideas in a way that could be called choreographic. There has been a lot of theoretical writing on dance and performance and it seemed interesting to try to reverse the process. Not to write about dance and performance using theoretical tools, but to approach theoretical reflection choreographically. I was curious to see what it would do to theory and what it would do to performance.
It seems quite hard to isolate choreographic principles from dance itself. How to define what is specifically choreographic once choreography is detached from the composition of physical movements? The first thing that shifted when trying to conceive a choreography of ideas was the goal pursued by the argumentation. Contrary to usual forms of theory, the goal was not to convince someone, to defend my own theoretical position, or to give the most coherent account of an ensemble of facts, but to affect an audience. This is usually a side effect of theory: the thought experiments of philosophy can affect our experience of the world, of ourselves and of the context that surrounds us as we go through them. For example if I engage myself in methodical doubt following Descartes’s guidance, it will dramatically shift the way I experience myself and the objects that surround me. The experiences that an argument produces cannot be addressed by the argument itself. As soon as one starts to talk about the way he is affected by the line of reasoning, one has stepped outside that line of reasoning. So the affects triggered by the argument are a blind spot of that argument.
When two philosophers who support mutually exclusive ontological positions try to talk together they often reach a point where they cannot argue anymore because the premises of the philosophical traditions to which they belong are not compatible. If a phenomenalist and a realist try to find an agreement on the foundations of epistemology, they will reach a dead end, and this impasse cannot be overcome by theoretical means. The two positions are perspectives that one can take towards the world. One might feel more right, more elegant or more convincing, but neither can be grounded by theory itself. Here the way the arguments affect us is not only a side effect: on the contrary, it seems to be central to the foundation of the theories themselves. Since I am not trying to build a coherent theory, I can juxtapose these different ways of conceiving the world and play with the ways they affect our experience of the present situation. In one part of the piece, I intertwine a description by Jakob von Uexküll of the world seen from the point of view of a tick and an analysis of our daily experience of the things around us as networks of tools by Martin Heidegger. Both discourses are rephrased and re-contextualized in the space and time of the performance, so one can shift rapidly from the theater seen from the perspective of the tick to the theater as a network of tools that refer to one another.
The arguments I use come from heterogeneous fields: philosophy, linguistics, theology, ethology, cognitive sciences, music, personal history, etc. Since I do not use them to defend a thesis or to build a theory, I do not order them in a demonstrative way. I rather use what can be conceived as a choreographic approach: creating and breaking expectations, playing with rhythm, repetition, montage, and acceleration. By using contrasting theories as lenses through which one can observe the situation, I try to choreograph the spectator’s attention. There are many relationships between the lines of thought: correspondences, contradictions, similarities in structure, and influence. For example, an argument from the Arabic philosopher Averroes and an analysis by the French linguist Jacques Benveniste interrupt each other at an increasing rate. The first is a twelfth-century law decree on the compatibility of faith and science, and the second one comes from an article from the 1960s comparing the symbolism of language and the symbolism of the unconscious. These texts are temporally and culturally very far apart, but there is something common in their line of reasoning. Averroes argues that one has to overcome the apparent contradiction between science and the Qur’an by interpreting the holy text using the established figures of speech of the Arabic language, while Benveniste tries to shows that the link between the symbolism of language and the symbolism of the unconscious is figures of speech. In both cases, there are two realms that seem incompatible: science and religion, the symbolism of language and the symbolism of the unconscious; and in both cases this apparent incompatibility is overcome thanks to a poetical use of language. As more lines of reasoning add up, it creates a complex polyphony, and I cannot track all the relationships produced by this counterpoint. I have tried to construct a conceptual landscape by choreographing different theoretical positions towards aspects of the performance. I cannot control the underlying meaning of this landscape, on the contrary, it is open to multiple interpretations and explorations.
Photos by Paula Court.