Transcription of the experimental research paper "Rites of Passage in the Abyss of Contemporary Liminality," which was presented at the "Motherboard" CADN 2021 Graduate Conference at OCAD University in April 2021.
My name is Nava, and I’m a recent graduate student from York University. My presentation, titled "Rites of Passage in the Abyss of Contemporary Liminality," is an attempt to reflect on how the notions of real space and time in performance have been challenged by the current complexity of virtual mediation.In this experimental presentation, I will try to draw attention to how the mediated liveness during the pandemic have shifted the forms, mediums, and contexts in which we can artistically work and create. My investigation aims to call attention to what we know about liveness and presence in performance. I’m going to begin with a brief introduction so I can provide you with a bit of context to understand the topic of my research, and then we will move into screening A short screendance, comprising collaborative and solo improvisational performance recordings, was created remotely through the webcam during a time of isolation. These performative recordings are rituals happening at the threshold of action and image, time and space.Experiences of cosmic corporeality, where bodies are seizing multiple selves, malleable self as a form of language, a quest to be engaged in a performative practice even though it did not yet have a clearly articulated understanding of the transformative, creative power of the performance.
In this liminal space, we are gesturing to other places, other forms of interconnection, and at the same time, calling into question visibility, gender, movement, liveness, present, simultaneity, and materiality of artistic expressions.
Rites of Passage in the Abyss of contemporary liminality
In this current pandemic, we are experiencing an immense loss of real space-time where most of our lived experience has suddenly become mediated through the virtual and digital realms.
In this paper, I will try to reflect on how the notions of real space and time in performance art have been challenged by the current complexity of virtual mediation and to draw attention to how this overwhelming experience of mediation in the pandemic has radically shifted the forms, mediums, and contexts in which we can artistically work and create. I’m going to begin with a brief introduction so I can provide you with a bit of context to understand the topic of my research. Then we will move into screening. A short virtual assemblage, comprising collaborative and solo improvisational and performative recordings, was created remotely through the web camera during a time of isolation.
My research at York University focused on the interrelations between performance and its documentation and the challenges of preserving the liveness and embodied experiences in performance art. I was interested in examining historical, methodological, and conceptual ways to consider intermediate phases of gesture , and it’s relationship with notions of liminality, a state of being in between where physical and emotional borders are constantly shifting, changing, replacing, and relocating, constructing and reconstructing body, identity, memories, materials, time, space, and place.Reflecting on liminality, I first examined classical models by anthropologists Arnold Van Gennep and Victor Turner. Then, to establish this concept in the context of embodied creative practices, I explored how the liminal reveals itself in feminist theories and models, such as the concept of paradoxical space by the feminist geographer Gillian Rose and the Mobiùs metaphor by the feminist philosopher Elizabeth Grosz. Recognizing myself as a liminal subject, I considered gestures by affirming a relationship with liminal subjectivity, a state of being in which the boundaries of past and present identities constantly shift back and forth, constructing and reconstructing memories, the body, time, space, and place. After revisiting the archives of several Jewish female artists and choreographers from the 1930s to the 1970s, I encountered concepts of archival return. I was inspired to revitalize their work by enlivening traces of their embodied knowledge—otherwise frozen in archives, erased, or never documented—because they embodied fluidity, traversing personal and sociocultural space. Through the reconstruction of these archives, I speculated on various creative practices to return to the transformative, lived temporality of gesture. I also thought about how dance writes on and through the body, how dance has been translated on-screen, and how historical documentation can serve as forms of inscription.
I often think of performance as liminal. The term "liminal" (from the Latin limen, meaning "threshold") was coined by anthropologist Arnold van Gennep in the early twentieth century to describe the changes people go through when performing the rituals that accompany social changes in tribal societies. Rites of passage (1909) are a type of transition that expresses the dichotomy between stable and transitory structures and is concerned with the experience of transition and transformation during various ceremonies or rituals. Other scholars, such as anthropologist Victor Turner and Paul Stenner, incorporated liminality into general and broader theories of rituals and performance studies, and extended the experiences to contemporary rituals that can be profane, subjective, performative activities that can result in social, cultural, and personal transformations.Because they share essential features with rituals, such as marginality, uncertainty, ambiguity, in-betweenness, transformative, transitory, and vulnerability, digital and virtual platforms have become "liminal technologies," according to Paul Steiner. These liminal experiences and conditions generate new modes of being, spiritual experiences, ritualistic practise, and philosophical systems. In the digital world, it's an ongoing act of dwelling beyond borders, frames, time, physical and metaphysical places, as well as emotional and virtual places, all of which are defined by movement, transformation, and mediation.
Presence, as most people understand it, is a state of being unmediated in time and space. "Performance's only life is in the present; performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representations of representations: once it does so, it becomes something other than performance," Peggy Phelan argues in her book unmarked from (1993). Other scholars, such as Amelia Jones, Philip Auslander, and André Lepecki, have written extensively on the interrelationships between live performance and documentation. Questions about the documentation's ability to preserve and convey the embodied and time-based media experience of performance are at the heart of these debates, as is the assumption that live performance is distinct from other mediated performances. Considerations of the body, identity, materiality, time, space, and place arose as a result of thinking about these ideas in the context of performance studies. So, Returning to these scholarly debates at this point in time raises concerns about their relevance. In our current era, how does the term "live" inquire or perceive if performance is perceived and understood as "live" and "ephemeral"? Are the current positions on the repeatability of the present moment and ephemerality in the context of virtual mediation?
Is live performance a fleeting, once-in-a-lifetime experience in which "all there is to life is now"? Is it possible to apply this statement to digital life? Or are there other forms that are becoming mediatized? When it comes to the history of performance, The artistic practices that referenced my ideas in the research before the pandemic and have an important place in the development of mediated liveness, situated in the historical art movement of the 1960s and 1970s in New York City, and the Fluxus activities of the Judson theater, with artists such as Joan Jonas, Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer, Simone Forti, and others.
Digital liveness becomes an artistic material. The definition of what it means to be present has been reconfigured beyond preconceived notions of presence, radically shifting from having a temporal significance to having multiple temporalities, whereby presence is felt within and in-between frames, a body in a confined space, virtually entangled with other bodies and other places, existential space, and technological epiphanies. We recalibrate our relationships with others and interrogate our understanding of intimacy despite the physical distance. Documentation becomes a process of archiving a new record of live events and the archiving process of becoming. We can see how the pandemic made it clear that recording technology was needed at all stages of performance, especially when people used improvisational methods of practice and did research that was done on the spot. While "live" presence in performance differs from mediated presence, the mediated technologies and virtual infrastructure respond and render to us in real-time, and as such, they feel present. The performative exploration during the pandemic revealed to me that mediated life is full of sensory richness; it holds within it unique real-time connectivity through which we experience each other, create and connect.
The lockdown began concurrently with the preparations for the exhibition of my thesis installation, "variations on broken lines." A multimedia installation that represents the culmination of my research on this subject. Due to the physical constraints, I attempted to subvert the performative experience by creating a mediated version of the installation. Throughout the pandemic, this experience became a material and subject of investigation—notions of liveness in performative art. Through numerous collaborations, improvisational encounters, virtual teaching, and other digital ritualistic gatherings, I have been engaged in performative research throughout the duration of this pandemic. My goal was to keep looking into digital liveness and to work with others to look into different ways to record digital performances.
This digital assemblage is made up of rituals that happen at the edge of action and image, time and space, where bodies are grabbing multiple selves, which can be changed, as a form of language.
In the digital space, we use multiple cameras to abstract the present and engage in performative action, despite the fact that we do not fully comprehend the transformative and creative power of performance.We explore the images and qualities of movement that this time invokes while recognizing that our rituals, bodies, and places are becoming displaced, intermediated, and impalpable. In this way, these rituals help us not only to negotiate the fraught passage from a random act to a meaningful event but, in the process, they also enable us to reconnect with our emotional, social, and spiritual lives in ways that are vital to the individual and collective (Ronald L. Grimes). This perspective encourages individuals to practice rites of passage that would address their existential realm, to discover personal meanings and connections. In this way, liminality in creative practice is subverting the normative ways of being and making—it can allow for the trying-out of unusual, atypical, and non-formal artistic activities.
- Rosenberg, Douglas. “Mediated Bodies: From Photography to Cine-Dance.” In Screendance: Inscribing the Ephemeral Image. Oxford University Press (2012)
- Phelan, Peggy. Unmarked: the politics of performance. London: New York, Routledge (1993). - - Lepecki, André: Of the Presence of the Body: Essays on Dance and Performance Theory. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press (2004)
- Turner, Victor. “Liminal to Liminoid, in Play, Flow, and Ritual: An Essay in Comparative Symbology.” RiceInstitute Pamphlet - Rice University Studies, Vol. 60, No. 3 (1974)
- Stenner, P. Liminality and experience. A transdisciplinary approach to the psychosocial. London (2017).
- Auslander, Philip, The Performativity of performance documentation(2006)
- Auslander Philip, Liveness: Performance in a mediatized culture, 2008 by Routledge - - Grimes, Ronald L. Deeply into the Bone. University of California Press(2000)
- Rose, Gillian. Feminism and Geography: the Limits of Geographical Knowledge. University of Minnesota Press (1993).
- Grosz, Elizabeth. Volatile Bodies: toward a Corporeal Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press (1994).