Saturday, 8 December 2007

Video Notes 1: Shirtology by Jerome Bel

Taking a lead from Christine Evans, I'm going to post in installments my notes on a series of performance documentations I watched in the Live Art Development Agency's study room whilst in London recently. Not quite reviews, these notes are largely my own labour of thinking through these works, an interest triggered by the recent performance The Show Must Go On for MIAF.

Shirtologie
Recorded July 1999, Montpellier Danse Festival. Dancer Frederic Seguette. Direction and choreography Jerome Bel.

Part 1: Shirtologie: the subject as interpellated by clothing, external forces operating upon the human. The action is simple: a single male dancer stands onstage, head bowed. He wears a large number of T shirts, layered found objects whose bulk sits unevenly upon his body. One by one, he removes the shirts, pausing each time to enact in response to the message or instruction contained upon the shirt. Steadily, the dancer completes his task, to be acted upon by the detritus of fashion.

The dancer is constantly framed as the the logo,the number. 5, Michigan final 4. Back or front, the performer orientation is dictated by the decoration of the shirt.Counting down 3, 2 facing upstage. A turn in the last shirt 'One T shirt for the life'. The dancer still head down, barechested. Bare flesh is seemingly insufficent to produce action, the human apparently enough in itself to take on the status of a signifier, at least not in this context. As if recognising this fact he puts a shirt back on, a diagram of a rib cage, a simulacra taking the place of the real. The camera fades to black.

Part 2: Camera resumes with the dancer weighed down by a new collection of shirts. NEXT, NEW STYLE, GIRL, BEST GIRL, ELLE - the shirts seem to mock the body of the male dancer. Continuing, he must now read all of the words scattered across the shirt's surface - SUMMER, SUN, WATER, MUSIC, FUN. His dry delivery suggests that this activity is very far from fun, but he is compelled to continue. The next shirt contains a musical score, and the dancer must sing along, a ridiculous demonstration of reading ability. Next he must imitate the poses on the shirts - a girl in a bikini, arms raised on one leg. He awkwardly executes the pose. The next shirt has two figures, and he is moved to quickly remove that shirt. The next shirt, with four figures, is even more impossible.

The next reads: DANCE OR DIE. And so he does, with great energy in a confined space, singing the score from the previous shirt. Dance complete, he moves to the next shirt: REPLAY. He does. The next shirt: SHUT UP AND DANCE. He dances again, but without the song. STAY COOL. He stands and waits. The section ends, and the lights fade to black.

Part 3: With glorious redundency, the first shirt this time informs us that this is THE TOP. He removes this to reveal a blank shirt, which produces no action. Blank again. still no action. A third blank shirt, expressive potential flattened out by monochrome. More blankness, but a darker shade this time. Still no action. More monchrome. It's becoming a study in faded blue/grey, now getting steadily lighter, now getting darker again. On about the tenth shirt, it greys out. Finally: THE UNITED COLOURS OF BENNETTON. All united in blankness. The camera fades to black and the credits begin.

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