Staying with the planet
It’s too hot. Hard to tell if this is ‘because of’ the orange down jacket designed for optimal thermoregulation that Karin Pauer wears or ‘despite’ the attempt to counteract, by technical means such as high-tech fibers, the disasters the blue planet is exposed to as a consequence of the Capitalocene. As to the orange sleeveless jacket: it’s too big for this body that initially rotates around itself, then begins to stagger, gets into a rage, becomes very still, only to find its way back to its rotary movement in the end. It’s also a high-visibility jacket, as worn by the protesters in France; sometimes it looks like Joseph Beuys’ fishing jacket, then it forms a makeshift shelter, a tent for the displaced. The inserted statements about the properties of this (heavenly) body are diverse and contradictory – it’s strong and fragile, constant and close to collapse, a home and itself a wanderer – yet Karin Pauer’s movements are carried by sounds from Christian Fennesz, eschatologically grave and at the same time promising ‘sounds’ that resonate from the movie Blade Runner. While Blade Runner in the 1980s was still about the relationship between humans and the work machines they had created, something else is at stake in 2021: what are the chances of building a good relationship with the planet earth after all this time, in view of the fact that we, the operators and beneficiaries of the Capitalocene, have overtaxed it for centuries?
As a cultural technique, dance has a long history of symbolic intervention in cosmological processes. You don’t even have to look towards non-European cultures to grasp the wealth of the cosmological mimeticism of dance. You may start with bacchanalian ecstasies and Greek temple dancers and inevitably arrive at Louis XIV, the ballet-dancing sun around which everything else was obliged to revolve. Jumping forward another few centuries, the Ballets Russes celebrated a new, modern, anachronistic sensitivity to natural processes in response to the Life Reform Movement in Igor Stravinsky’s ‘Le sacre du printemps’ from 1913.
When Karin Pauer embodies the planet earth in a solo, this differs from the abovementioned dance cosmologies in that they were always designed as a collective movement: in dance, cosmological order was mapped onto social order and, conversely, social disorder was associated with cosmological crises and catastrophes. The fact that a single, vulnerable, finite body dares to perform a planetary entity shows that, unlike in the Life Reform Movement 100 years ago, there is little hope of being able to bring any substantial changes about through collective action. That is sad, yes. And yes, the whole piece exudes star-distant loneliness. Yet the matter-of-fact rationality of the lonely rotating planet has a liberating quality to it as well. This body will keep turning no matter what nonsense the homo-not-so-sapiens gets up to. But perhaps the most important point is that the piece doesn’t propose a return to geocentrism but rather aims to overcome heliocentrism and move towards gaiapolycentricity: towards an improved understanding of the diverse, ambiguous, multidirectional earthly dynamics with which we are nolens volens interwoven. A lot would be gained by that, more than by technical solutions à la down jacket.
Karin Harrasser is a professor of Cultural Studies and Vice Rector for Research at the University of Art and Design Linz. Degrees in History and German Philology, followed by a doctorate at the University of Vienna. Habilitation at the Humboldt-Universität in Berlin. In addition to academic activities, she has developed various curatorial projects, e.g. at NGBK Berlin, Kampnagel Hamburg, Tanzquartier Wien, HKW Berlin, Mobile Akademie Berlin. Co-editor of Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften with Elisabeth Timm. Recent publications: (Ed.) Auf Tuchfühlung. Eine Wissensgeschichte des Tastsinns, Frankfurt a. M. 2018; Prothesen. Figuren einer lädierten Moderne, Berlin 2016; Translation into German: Donna J. Haraway: Unruhig bleiben. Die Verwandtschaft der Arten im Chthuluzän, Frankfurt 2018.