TheatreWorks' ongoing Curators Academy formally opened on Wednesday evening with the video installation Capture Practice by choreographer Arkadi Zaides (b. 1979, Belorussia, former USSR). It's a dual screen installation on an 18-minute loop; the left screen presents archival video material taken between 2007 and 2011, the right screen presents Zaides' performance of the movements enacted by Israeli occupiers and soldiers in the Palestinian occupied territories. I found it a riveting, harrowing work examining the body as an archive and site of trauma, resistance and occupation in a Gordian knot of a political conflict. Academy director Ong Keng Sen, former artistic director of the Singapore International Festival of Arts, has had a consistent interest in how dance is archived, and his Archive Box programme at SIFA, for instance, interrogated the memory of the body and how dance and movement is transferred and interpreted/translated from one practitioner to the next.
I've been thinking about the attempts to choreograph empathy in performance (influenced by the fact that I'm reading Susan Leigh Foster's Choreographing Empathy: Kinesthesia in Performance) and how we the viewer might trace different trajectories of movement when watching dance or performance, and "rehearse movement pathways that are specific to our history of moving". By that same notion, one could also choreograph movement that evokes visceral fear, anger and distrust.
In one scene in Capture Practice, we see an Israeli soldier on the left screen in full gear, his assault rifle an extension of his arm. He rocks forwards and backwards around the corner of a crumbling building, lifting and lowering his gun as he responds to a possible threat. On the right screen, against the blank, neutral walls of the dance studio, Zaides almost seems to be doing a box step as he imitates the soldier's stance. The authoritative walk, backwards and forwards, the firm grip on an invisible weapon, the hunch of the shoulders as the gun lifts, then lowers, the unquestioned ownership of the ground upon which he stands. The scene repeats, and we can see Zaides learning the soldier's choreography, and inheriting the power structures that come with inhabiting that body.
Andrew Hewitt inverts the conventional idea of choreography in his text Social Choreography, insisting that "choreography is not just another of the things we 'do' to bodies, but a reflection on – and enactment of – how bodies 'do' things". The choreographer is not only creating a pattern of gesture and movement that instructs the body on how and what it should dance; this dancing body is also the everyday body, drawing inspiration and instruction from how the body walks, eats, sleeps, stumbles, runs, skips, falls – shoots, kills, maims.
In displacing each body from its original context – shepherds being chased from their grazing fields, protestors being forcibly removed from a road – Zaides' re-enactments in the empty studio compel the viewer to isolate each gesture and what that gesture means. Which gestures are those of power and authority: the legs apart, the firm centre of gravity, the straight back? Which are those of disempowerment: the flailing arms, the prostrate body, the contorted torso? And which are gestures of protest and resistance: the bent knees pre-empting possible violence, the arm curling back to cast a stone? In embodying the movements of the Israeli occupiers and soldiers, Zaides is also examining complicity in conflict – there are echoes of the gestures we use from day to day in these re-enactments as our bodies respond to our environments and play different roles in different circumstances.
Because this isn't a live performance, there's a sense of the documentary about it and how a video might reconstruct or be proof of "what really happened". It's a permanent record, not a fleeting, unrepeatable movement. But even permanent records may be interpreted in wildly different ways. With the screens set at an angle to each other, there are some startling moments of juxtaposition, with the horizon lines of each screen either diverging or tapering to a point. Perspectives meet and veer away.
As I flicked between the left and right screens I found myself comparing each archive: the archive of the camera and the archive of the body. I think what guts me about this work is that what the camera records isn't what the body records; what we see is not what we feel. Susan Sontag argued in Regarding the Pain of Others that the brutal carnage of war photography isn't always straightforward: one photographer's call for peace may be another's call for war depending on the history and context of the conflict. We may never even begin to feel the pain of others, but I wonder if embodying and re-enacting the gestures of both the oppressed and the oppressor might give us a concrete sense of "what really happened". Zaides' own body remains trapped in this loop on tape, doomed to lift and lower the gun time and time again, to remove the protestor from the hood of the car, to give power and to take it away.
Capture Practice | 2014, video installation, 18 min loop
Archive materials (left screen): Volunteers for the "Camera Project" of B'Tselem The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories: Ahmad Jundiyeh, Issa 'Amro, Abd alKarim J'abri, Abu 'Ayesha, Raed Abu Ermeileh, Iman Sufan, Mu'ataz Sufan, Mustafa Elkam, Oren Yakobovich
Videography (right screen): Amir Borenstein
Video consultants: Effi & Amir
Artistic advisor: Katerina Bakatsak
Commissioned by: Petach Tikva Museum of Art, Israel