On the dance performance O. by Elisabete Finger (Brazil / Germany) shown at the 5th International Festival for Contemporary Dance and Performance Antistatic 2012 in Sofia. Written by Tessa Theisen (Germany).

I would like to take the piece O. by Elisabete Finger as an occasion to think about the monstrous in artistic creation and furthermore about the status of the object in relation to the subject. This text shall be a short meditation in the form of an essay about questions that might be as old as artistic creation itself and might be thought through more severe and consequently elsewhere. Nevertheless I will try to think along with it and share some initial sparks, that came to me while watching the piece.

 “Something hairy, something black, something red. Something dropping something flying, something turning, something living, something dying.”[1]

 All of the above-mentioned qualities are assembled on the stage in the form of several objects: There is among others a piece of furry cloth, a red plastic bag, golden balloons filled with helium, a string of hair and from the ceiling there is constantly dripping water onto the black plastic foil the stage and the back wall are covered with. Most of the things are hidden in the first place and they only appear from under the plastic foil or they emerge out of something else. Most of the time through holes. There is a constant movement of appearing and disappearing in the piece – a constant transformation. (It is difficult to describe what is exactly happening but this aspect of transformation stayed with me as a spectator. And I would like to try to build my meditation on that although the reader can not but believe me, that this was actually given in the piece.)

In the middle of all the mentioned non-living objects there is the body of the performer, the living object let’s say.[2] This body is the one that is manipulating the things, bringing them to live, making them move. For example when the performer crawls under the furry cloth and moves with it on her head – but then it looks like the fur is moving by itself. As if it has it’s own life, it’s own way of moving and a certain range of habit, connected to its very specific materiality.

And at the same time the objects seem to come alive; the human body is getting in line with them. The human body approaches a state of an object itself. With its own specific materiality. Also the way of interaction between the objects and the performer is putting forward the impression that living and non-living objects treat each other as equals. The body and the objects merge; in the sense that for example in the moment when the performer puts a round piece of fur onto her head, that piece of fur would belong to her body. The human body transforms into something else that is neither the human body turning into fur nor the fur turning into something human. And it is also not just adding elements on top of each other – in this piece there is a merge happening from different elements that can be clearly distinguished from each other while separate but the moment they meet they are transformed into something not so easy to distinguish anymore. 

So it becomes a twofold movement: the formerly considered inanimate objects turn into living ones and the human body at the same time, that is normally considered as being the only thing living, looses it’s former prominent position. And out of it emerges something new.

A monster?

Following Derrida, the Monster consists of many elements put together by juxtaposition. But it is not only the sum of all it’s elements but something new, unknown, unnamed. It leads it’s own life. But it is something resistant to description or to the grasp of language:

 “A monster may obviously be a composite figure of heterogeneous organisms that are grafted on to each other. This graft, this hybridization, this composition that puts heterogeneous bodies together may be called a monster. […]But a monster is not just that, it is not just this chimerical figure that in some way grafts one animal onto another, one living being onto another. A monster is always alive, let us not forget. Monsters are living beings. The monster is also that which appears for the first time and, consequently, is not yet recognized. A monster is a species for which we do not yet have a name, which does not mean that the species is abnormal, namely the composition or hybridization of already known species.”[3]

 So far, nothing exciting. But I would like to go deeper into the material aspect of the monster. The monster only consists of matter. It is only body. A moving, evaporating, morphing body. Right the opposite of its rather spiritual companion the ghost that is only thought, dream, and hallucination – the bodiless.

Choreography most of the time is something that is mainly working against the monstrous. Choreography is trying to give a rule to the body, to control it. Maybe choreography itself is something that is made to control, a concept that tries to give the body a task in order to lead it and to make it differ from day-to-day movement and by this turning the moving body into an aesthetic experience. In contemporary choreography there is a strong tendency to follow the choreography into the world of concepts to its ghostly spheres. That’s where a lot of talking comes in and the disappearance of the body on stage.[4] Choreography and philosophy seem to be more alike qua materiality than choreography and the body. They are seeking to retreat in the sphere of mind.

So the chance to create (a monster), and maybe that’s what I’m talking about here, within the field of choreography may lie in the appreciation of the materiality of objects, the quality of matter (and here I would also consider the human body as an object with own specific material qualities). To go for the try to go around the fully graspable when the matter has the chance to speak for itself. When it is allowed to be accepted through it’s very materiality rather that being used for representation or in order to be read. Matter can unfold via its quality of resisting to the concept by its very materiality.

That’s exactly what triggered my thought in the piece by Elisabete Finger. I don’t relate to the topic of the monstrous in the work I rather relate to the technique, how the piece is built, as a monstrous one: The frame of choreography gives rise to the objects, the material to speak and it produces a piece of art, that is not readable by the means of language (and especially the very abstract language of the philosopher) rather than by the means of experience and, maybe, affects.

For me the most striking moment concerning the detachment of readability to the benefits of a rather material experience occurred, when the performer is naked on stage besides a golden top and the above-mentioned piece of fur on the head. In that moment the nakedness becomes a vital part of the creature that is moving there on stage. It is a creature in the sense of a distinct entity without me, the spectator, being able to exactly specify what kind. I cannot give it a name. It is not human, but also not more that this…or less. I just know that I perceive something that is very real, but at the same time it eludes concrete description. And most of all, it deviates from being read as a symbol: the furry vagina of the performer is no longer a symbol, for example for a specific female discourse or the special relation to holes of the female body, or whatever one can imagine. It becomes a natural part of this species that is revealed to me on stage and that has its very own quality, slipping my grasp.

 “A monster is a species for which we do not yet have a name, which does not mean that the species is abnormal, namely the composition or hybridization of already known species. Simply, it shows itself [elle se montre] – that is what the word monster means – it shows itself in something that is not yet shown and that therefore looks like a hallucination, it strikes the eye, it frightens precisely because no anticipation had prepared one to identify this figure.“[5]

 Tessa Theisen (Germany) graduated from Theater and Media Studies, Art History and Philosophy in Erlangen and Bern. At present she is organizing “exkurs zwischenraum”, an extended version of the Diskurs-Festival for young performing arts in Giessen. She studies Choreography and Performance MA at Institute for Applied Theatre Studies in Gießen.

Photo: Hologani

The rubric Independent Scene in Focus is maintained with the support of National Cultural Fund


[1] See description of the piece O. by Elisabete Finger in the program for Antistatic-Festival, Sofia, 2012.

[2] I am well aware that a good distinction between objects and humans, living and non-living objects is a rather difficult one. Especially the distinction between body and object. For now I would like to keep the distinction close to everyday language where we can rather easily differentiate between non-living and living objects. The human body would be considered a living object in opposition to the fur that would be a non-living object.

[3] Jacques Derrida: Passages – From Traumatism to Promise (Interview with Elisabeth Weber). In: Jacques Derrida, Elisabeth Weber, Peggy Kamuf: Points .. Interviews, 1974-1994, Stanford, 1995. P. 372-395, here p. 385-386.

[4] My judgment on the field of contemporary choreography is rather vague. But nevertheless it seems that there is something pushing to come back on stage after the times of highly conceptualized art.

[5] Jacques Derrida: Passages. P. 386.