BEING HERE, IN WHAT WILL NO LONGER BE
by Alessandro Carboni
The performance is a composition of series of situations that I collected with my body in Hong Kong during the clashes and protests in November 2014. The performance is an attempt to rethink the body as cartographic and mapping tool able to physically relate with situations that occur in urban space and reconfigure them with a choreographic thinking. The performer’ actions are based on the application of EM, a tool for urban mapping tool for performance developed and systematised by Alessandro Carboni.
Performance by: Alessandro Carboni
Interactive media: Emanuele Lomello
Production: Formati Sensibili – art&science mashups, 2015
The project is part of Alessandro Carboni’s PhD research Performing Urban Complexity, School of Creative Media, City University, Hong Kong.
I visited the location of the protest over the course of several days. During the clashes of September 29, 2014, I analysed the protesters body and interventions during the clashes in Mong Kong and the confrontational encounters (bloc formations, clashes with police officers, barricades), I looked at the affective tactics through which bodies in movement contest economic and political arrangements by appropriating, re-configuring and re-signifying sections of urban spaces.
I took some field notes, here are some excerpts:
“The situation of urban chaos, disruption of the everyday urban space activities, has given rise to new forms of protest in Hong Kong never experienced before. The bodies occupying the urban space become living extensions of the architectural space. In this case the body doesn’t come in the form of a militarised collective marching in-sync through the streets. Instead, bodies are settled as [a] performative medium of protest: immobile multiple entities that add a new layer in urban space. Occupying bodies generate collective and embodied activity able to block streams of urban space circulation. … Two days ago the streets had been cleared out. I have been back to Admiralty and Mong Kong. I could feel the ghosts of that crowd. It has slowly melted and disappeared into the everyday crowd that circulates and makes the urban space working. What remains are images, video and people’s memories. It also remains in my ‘captures’ that I stored in my body as one the many that occupied for some time the urban spaces of Hong Kong”.
I applied the EM Toolkit to capture, extract, and collect with my body the events that transpired in the urban space. The goal was to transfer the extractions made with my body during the protest and to put them into the score of a performance piece: the corporeal map. In the final process of composition, the event was explored from several angles. Transmission — the final step of the toolkit — became a hybrid, multi-layered spatial practice, in which each layer of the event, including the political, social, geographical, visual, and choreographic elements, were brought into the making of the corporeal maps. By applying the toolkit, I was able to capture people’s actions in the street, extract body positions, and reformulate them into a choreographic score. In the beginning, my intention was to focus not on the political motives of the protests but rather my mapping process of events and peoples’ actions on the urban street.
In reflecting on the creative process of performance, I came across some interesting thoughts on dance and protest. Oliver Marchart analysed the conditions that allow street protest and antagonism to block urban space and the circulation of people and traffic and suggests that, “the human body [is] the most important medium through which a public space is carved out of the social”(2004). The Hong Kong protest was, at its most elemental, comprised of human bodies occupying urban space. Their collective and embodied activity blocked streams of circulation. For more than two months, protesters created a physical line of conflict (using also objects such as barricades and tents), through social space. It is only along such a line of conflict that people in Hong Kong became more aware of the true sense of ‘public’.
In the Arab Spring, with Occupy Wall Street, and during the Umbrella Movement, the human body was a living entity capable of defining and creating a space as much as it was defined and created by that space; the individual body and the body among other bodies; the dynamic body and the static body; the body as something palpable and fleeting. Body is a geographical element in urban space. It moves, creates flows, and blocks circulations. How does the permanence of urban space relate to the transient materiality of the living body? Consonant with my interest of mapping events in urban space, I have decided to focus not on the political content or reasons for the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement protest, nor on the choreographic aspect of the protesters’ actions by which urban space is reconfigured through demonstration practices, nor on the political aspect of the protest incorporated by individuals and inscribed into their bodies. My interest was specifically on how the permanence of urban space related to the transient materiality of the living body. The best way to interrogate this was to consider this relation not as fixed option, but as a mutable and in continuum transformation.
I collected captures and extractions; then, in September 2015, I began a second phase of mapping. At this stage, I decided to explore other perspectives of the same event, using the video materials posted on YouTube by protesters and people who, like me, were in the urban space during clashes that began on September 29, 2014. This idea acknowledged the fact that the Hong Kong protest, and in general the Occupy Movement in the city, was the most visually documented protest in Hong Kong’s history. During the clashes, I had noticed that almost every participant used their phone to take pictures and create video documenting the events that took place in the street.
The most interesting aspect of Being Here is the tension between choreography as practice and the representation of the real. Starting from real documents and raw footage to build choreographic pieces, they create embodiment processes from different perspectives and modalities in which the body becomes the tool to embody the space. If the body is the element by which the real and representational are projected, I recognise this works as applying a process similar to the cartographic approach. The body is the tool of measurement by which the real is rescaled and de-constructed. It is the tool for collecting data, extracting material, measuring, and representing reality.