Performance Research 1 Jan 2006English

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GESTURE Gestures are not just physical movements. They are meaningful, they make sense, they inform. But the gestured message is often unclear, vague, underdetermined. The context may help to clarify the meaning, yet the gesture also punctuates the context by the sheer weight of its opaque physicality. Gestures are not symbolic enigmas but bodily miracles, not the least because they stem from a region that escapes conscious control. Gestures are made, impersonally, without subjectivity: they use the body as an anonymous medium. On rather, in a gesture the body enjoys itself as a medium of communication that is freed from intentions and consciousness as well as from the pressure to be articulate. The gesture shows the body in a state of pure communicability: as a 'means without ends' (Giorgio Agamben). The gesture speaks, usually according to a particular cultural grammar or code - but it enacts that grammar or code as such and does not deploy it as a vehicle of individual speech. In every gesture, a culture shows its imprint as pure 'form' and becomes observable as the vast collection of anonymous signifiers it always is. Gestures show a culture in its state of pure performativity.
The gesture is made, and its enactment is an event, an affirmation of life that points to an excess of expressivity which cannot be articulated within the realm of 'the symbolic' or of language, in the broadest sense. The gesture-event is 'line of flight' (Gilles Deleuze), a micro-movement that most of the times passes unnoticed and does not produce a significant difference in communication or interaction. Gestures are usually background noise, except when they are intentionally made, with the emphasis we know from traditional theatre or dance. But the 'theatricalized' gesture is no longer a gesture, only the instrumental staging of a gesture-event in view of a particular rhetorical effect. It's a gesture-simulacrum, a constructed performance of pure performativity that cancels itself out.
Gestures exceed language, but they abound in it, varying from 'ooh' or 'aah!' to the silences during an intimate conversation. We fall back on verbal and non-verbal gestures - or written gestures, such as '...'- in situations in which we are unable to continue communication in an articulated way. We are knowledgeable language users, but when we lose control, gestures take over. They show that our potential to speak, to communicate always supposes its negation: 'not being able to". Gestures acquire a liberating truth-value when they position a subject as a non-subject that is simultaneously able and not-able. These gestures show our subjectivity as well as language in a state of 'pure potentiality' (Giorgio Agamben), as the unity of the difference of the possibility and the impossibility 'to speak'. Contemporary performance art is in need of non-theatrical gestures.