Lessons in Desire

Daniela Finzi on 41 by Anne Juren
© Elodie Grethen
Daniela Finzi on 41 by Anne Juren

On entering Hall G at Tanzquartier Wien in the pre-Christmas period, one cannot help but notice the large-scale lighting on the former royal stables’ façade: E N J O Y. Those attending Anne Juren’s most recent piece should also keep this invitation in mind when watching her latest study of the body and its expanses. That this “Enjoy” is placed so prominently at a busy location in Vienna, is not surprising. After all, it’s a command that has become ubiquitous in our society. According to cultural critic Slavoj Žižek, the spell it casts paradoxically results in our enjoyment being more disrupted than ever before and/or having to be disentangled from its (dangerous) substance.[1] Psychoanalysis is perhaps “the only discourse within which one is allowed not to enjoy”[2], Žižek writes in an entertaining book, in which he introduces readers to French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s thinking and basic concepts. It may be taken for granted that Anne Juren – a choreographer, dancer and performer known for her affinity to theory in her attitude towards and approach to dance – is familiar with these basic concepts. It does not follow, however, that Juren’s work is therefore accessible only to those familiar with psychoanalytic theory. Instead, it serves to designate a certain place and a certain position from which she examines the self and the other(s) in an attempt to take a stand against society’s hold on the body and its desires in an imaginative and authentic manner.

The body’s imminent potential for resistance and unmanageability, and ways to express it, is, in fact, a recurrent theme in Anne Juren’s entire choreographic work. Accordingly, 41 presents itself as a complex undertaking to confront the imagined (social) external view of the body with the experiences and explorations of one’s own (mysterious) physique. Where am I in my knee, in my earlobe, in my buttock? Nothing about one’s own body is self-explanatory, nothing corresponds to an absolute wholeness – and yet everything strives for such completeness. An aspiration which, in line with one of Lacan’s central insights, necessarily involves blinding, delusion, illusion.

“Desire for symmetry” is how Anne Juren announces her first “lesson” in 41. Her voice, which is perhaps even more of (or than) a voice on account of its slight accent, fills the entire stage space. On a platform in the auditorium we see another young woman, Linda Samaraweerová, handling various props. Each of the movements of what the programme leaflet refers to as a “performing model” makes materiality visible. Her calm movements present everyday actions in a different light. If shoes can be laced, they can also be de-laced, no doubt about that. Later, Samaraweerová will have stripped completely, thereby exhibiting the natural symmetry of the human body. However,  this evening, a different body image is up for consideration. Juren does not take the body as given in any shape or form but understands it as the processual result of an “orthopaedic” construction, as Lacan would put it. And so, Linda Samaraweerová dips plaster bandages, which she will place on individual parts of her body, in hot water, so that the lower leg, the forearm, the thigh and the shoulder are cast or reproduced in the course of the performance. The phantasm of fragmentation and the phantasm of wholeness are mutually dependent. As soon as Anne Juren enters the stage – moments of utmost intensity and authority – this mutual dependence is demonstrated once again most impressively: while Linda Samaraweerová indicates the limits and confinements of the body, Anne Juren explores its potential for distortion and the dissolution of boundaries. How can I relax the body, how can I poke it? What kind of independent existence do the organs in the body lead? And how can I prick my body with my own tongue?

Like the English word “tongue”, the French term “langue” means both the organ in the mouth and language. In one of the other “lessons”, Anne Juren addresses this desire as well: “The tongue, desire for language.” What language and the body have in common is the voice – an observation that is suddenly present in the room, virtually tangible. And that prompts various thought experiments. Since Juren uses the feet as a visual organ at one point in 41, one may ask, along with her: which other physicality of language would be the result if, due to a whim of evolution, not the mouth but the feet had become the organ of communication? What would a declaration of love sound like then?

Maybe Anne Juren will answer these questions in one of her works to come. While 41 is structured into “lessons”, it is, nonetheless, based on “desire”. The declaration of love, which the final articulation of her voice is to be taken as, is formulated as a delicate question: “Are you here, my love?”


[1]  Just think of the changes in our consumption habits: nicotine-free cigarettes, beer without alcohol, decaffeinated coffee, etc.
[2] Slavoj Žižek, Lacan. Eine Einführung, Frankfurt am Main 2011, p. 137.


Daniela Finzi develops the academic programme and exhibitions at the Sigmund Freud Museum in Vienna, works for aka – Arbeitskreis Kulturanalyse and conducts research on psychoanalysis, gender studies and Balkan studies.


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