Fabulous exit from Anthropocentrism (Ribbon dance and its ontological proposition)


Jan. 2017

As the millennial apocalyptic scenario has lost its reality, humans have no more time to waste before facing the enormous impact ‘we’ left on the environment of this planet. Dutch atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen has invented the term ‘Anthropocene’ to indicate the new geological epoch that follow the Holocene, a warm period continued for ten to twelve millennia. This term has strong influence on recent discourse of philosophy and art, as economical and political society seems to struggle to face the decline of human rationality. One of the leading thinker of this field Bruno Latour describes the Anthropocene: “a very disputed term that defines the time simultaneously as time in history, human history and the time in geology“[1]. In other words, the time in which the human history is clearly imprinted on the geological history. Many scholars are arguing on when Anthropocene has begun—some say it is around 1610, the reforestation of huge area of land caused by elimination of 50 million Native Americans through the Columbian exchange — some others say it is 1760s, a turn in the industrial evolution by the invention of steam engine — or 16 July 1945, the date that atomic markers are left on the earth triggered by the atomic bomb. The discussion has not yet seen any conclusion, as there clearly are various events that are equally catastrophic, leaving some scars on the earth. What is not disputed though is the problematics caused by Anthropocentrism: the idea that humans have autonomous ownership of resources on the earth, or more radically, the way humans place non-humans at binary opposition, as in nature/culture or subject/object. Anthropocentrism has been a subject of criticism by many of contemporary thinkers such as, Latour, Judith Butler, Gayatri Spivak and a group of philosophers called Speculative Realists. Speculative Realism is a relatively new philosophical movement started around 2007, which attempts to attack on Kantian Correlationism  —  Quantin Meillassoux’s term for for the view “disqualifying the claim that it is possible to consider the realms of subjectivity and objectivity independently of one another”[2]. Speculative Realism is getting more recognition under the urgency of reviewing the consequences we have left on the earth, as the human and nonhuman border becomes blurted not only from philosophical, but also from scientific perspective as in the quantum theory, artificial intelligence, or croning technology.

Graham Harman is an important figure in the branch of Speculative Realism called Object Oriented Ontology (OOO, sometimes also called Object Oriented Philosophy) who often discusses objects in art, as a thread for the way out from Correlationism. He explains Correlationism as the idea “that we cannot think of humans without world, nor world without humans, but only of a primal correlation or rapport between the two“[3]. Within such context, relationship of the object and art becomes hugely important as both beings are fundamentally ungraspable and undefinable. Harman talks of object’s ‘withdrawal’, the term for the fact that objects can never be in direct contact to each other. This is a characteristic claim of OOO, separating them from most other branches of Speculative Realism. For example, as fire burns cotton, fire is only in relation to certain qualities of cotton, such as flammability, shape and size, not its smell or colour. Objects are not reducible to its theoretical elements or its relation to others. There is always something hidden in object that can burst out to surprise others. For Harman (and other thinkers of OOO), this unknownness is what defines object, and under this view, humans, ideas, data, USB key, hay ball are all equally objects, existing as real and irreducible neither to its components or functions (Harman calls these reductions ‘undermining’ and ‘overmining’, respectively).

A Stockholm-based French choreographer Frederic Gies has created a work entitled Ribbon Dance. It is “a dance of the in-between (in-between bodies, objects and histories) and makes manifest the drives and forces that set off bodies or things in movement and the movement potential to self generate, like a motor activated by its own energy. Although it inevitably communicates something else, this dance doesn’t seek to communicate anything but itself and the subterraneous currents that traverse it”[4]. As in the title Ribbon dance, a gymnastic ribbon plays an important role in this dance work. Later in this essay, I will give more detailed analysis on the content of this piece, but here I would like to put emphasis on the work’s withdrawn quality mentioned in above quote, how the encounter of ‘in-betweens’ as such create an emerging object (piece) that has different withdrawn qualities apart from its components. This inter(in)dependency invite these seemingly different level objects on flat ontological field, hinting the possibility of coexistence, drawing a line of flight from the hegemony created through the lineage of time (history). Thinking this way resonates the question of non-linear causality as well. Dance being mainly body or human focused art form, the discourse of Anthropocentrism has a huge impact on the philosophy of dance. Objectivity of body has been an important topic for a long time, but since the rise of Speculative Realism, discource of objet and body in dance became more political than it has ever been. Now we have a background for discussion. In this short essay, I would like to discuss ontology of object in dance piece and how it creates propositions for the way out of Anthropocentrism, using the example of Frederic Gie’s work Ribbon Dance.

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