A Talk / A Performance / A Surreal Meal
with Florence Benichou, Marija Krtolica and Despina Stamos
“[C]ritical art is a type of art that sets out to build awareness of the mechanisms of domination to turn the spectator into a conscious agent of world transformation,” writes philosopher Jacques Rancière in Aesthetics and its Discontents (2004). When as dance artists we decide to work critically with and through the body, and at the same time enter the contested field of the history of psychiatric diagnosis, our aim is to initiate spectator’s transformation. The intention is to make him/her into an active observer of the world outside a given theatrical event. For this to occur, the spectator is asked to remain attentive during a relatively short time of a theatrical event. As artists we incite spectators to interpret, and construct meanings out of the puzzles and expressive tropes we present in front of their eyes. The dancers find themselves in a unique position, as their art has traditionally been linked with ephemerality, poetics and abstraction. Paradoxically, their medium of expression is the most material in a visceral sense. The medium is the body, with its acquired skills, aesthetic values attached to it, pre-verbal histories, but mainly its skeletal and muscular structure, organs, feelings, drives, and sensations. By researching the boundary that separates the avant garde artistic expression from the symptoms diagnosed as mental illnesses, the dance makers become both provocateurs and witnesses who reproduce the visible bodily manifestations, and give form to hidden realities of everyday encounters. However, it is not the dancers who are “responsible” for making the theatrical encounter real. As the philosopher Alain Badiou points out, the Spectator who enters the theater space is the one who presents “point of the real by which a spectacle comes into being.”—Rhapsody for the Theater: A Short Philosophical Treatise, 1990. Badiou’s Spectator pays for his/her ticket, but instead of being lulled into a state of pleasant passivity he/she is forced to “perform” the “real” work. That is, he/she becomes responsible for developing meaning. In this way, the spectator gradually gains an ability to transform the “real” world outside the theater.
An introductory talk will be given by dance scholar, choreographer and dancer MARIJA KRTOLICA, Ph.D in dance Temple University, and faculty in dance at Bloomsburg University. Her paper “Expression and Symptom” (published in Fall 2019 by Documenta, Ghent University) examines the relationship between expression in modern dance, psychiatric diagnosis, and critico-theoretical re-interpretation of symptoms of mental illness. Her line of research starts with the nineteenth century hysteria and expands into the questions of dance labor, artistic production, and spectatorship in today’s society. As is part of each year’s presentation, dance will be followed by a meal of the surreal.
FLORENCE BENICHOU’s expansive repertoire includes site-specific performance – both as dancer and choreographer and voice over as well as acting work. She sees dance as a language and aims to use movement within various media to express individual and social relationships, limitations, conflicts and connections. She has worked with a variety of underground New York art and dance companies including Modern Dance Awareness Society, Human Kinetics Movement Art, and the Sanctuary of Hope before creating her own projects which were featured at Gallery138 in Chelsea, New York, France.
DESPINA STAMOS is a dancer/choreographer in NYC since 1989. Her work has been presented throughout New York City at such venues as Dance Theater Workshop, PS122, PS1, as well as internationally in Greece, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Puerto Rico. In 2006, she initiated and collaborated on the community project, passTRESpass, a multimedia performance installation in a former community market place addressing immigration, in Athens, with the United African Women’s Organization of Greece. Stamos is founding member of the Modern Dance Awareness Society.