Project Note: Faustin
(Pictured: Dr. Rizvana Bradly and Faustin Linyekula. RePLACEing Public Talk #1. University of the Arts. Philadelphia, PA. Photo: Lauren Bakst.)
Project Note: Faustin
Unknown Histories in the Body
by Kristel Baldoz
Faustin Linyekula is a Re-PLACE-ing Philadelphia Artist/Thinker. Project Notes document and articulate Faustin's process and engagement with Philadelphia as he develops new work that will be presented here in April 2016.
Kristel Baldoz responds to the RePLACEing Philadelphia Public Talk #1 between Faustin Linyekula and Dr. Rizvana Bradley.
On Saturday April 4th, 2015, in a School of Dance studio at the University of the Arts, the RePLACEing Philadelphia Public Talk #1 between Faustin Linyekula and Dr. Rizvana Bradley took place. During one of the most memorable moments in their conversation, Linyekula repeatedly tapped his chest with his fist, making contact just underneath his left collarbone. This tapping was an activation of his body and the history it bears. As a choreographer and storyteller, Linyekula uses the body to dig deep, as a vehicle toward understanding an unknown history—a history that is intertwined with personal and ancestral stories.
He seems not to seek answers that his body might hold, but rather, to find a historical imprint that transcends textual histories…to seek a visceral understanding.
Already familiar with the work of these two thinkers, I was excited to see them share a space of dialogue. I was introduced to Bradley when I found that her current scholarly work includes an analysis of Linyekula’s choreography. Much like Linyekula, Bradley also has a compelling ability to dig deep. Through the medium of scholarly writing, Bradley is carving out a poetics for thinking through and understanding performance. In The Haptic: Textures of Performance, a special guest issue of Women & Performance edited by Bradley, she looks at the relationship between haptic sense and performance. In “Other Sensualities,” her introduction to the issue, she explains that each author “attempts to theorize the haptic as a visceral register of experience and vital zone of experimentation, direct us to somatic forms of knowledge attuned not only to contemporary bodies and spaces, but also to the worlds and imaginations that have both conditioned and surpassed the body in and of performance.” For me, this attempt is materialized in Linyekula’s work; the repetitive tapping of his chest exemplifies his exploration of the haptic in performance.
I first encountered Linyekula’s work in 2013 at the Tanz im August festival in Berlin where I saw Drums and Digging. The text was spoken in French, but I didn’t find it necessary to know the language in order to grasp the context of the performance. A history inhabited the theater and exposed experiences of colonialism and loss. I was struck by the performance. My inability to understand the text heightened another way of understanding; seeing the performance without being able to comprehend the words activated my own visceral experience. I saw the performance with my good friend, Jeremy, who speaks some French. After the performance, I asked him to share something he remembered from the text. He didn’t know the direct translation and today I don’t remember Jeremy’s attempted translation, but here is what we remember: I left my home so I can share stories about my country. But I ran out of stories to tell. So I went back to my home. When I returned, there were no more stories.
After hearing this I recognized that even the text in the performance served to supplement embodied experimentation with poetic searching. It emphasized Linyekula’s interest in using the dance to uncover new understandings that surpass the material body. In turn, at the talk, the poetic speech that emerged when Linyekula and Bradley met allowed me to understand the somatic exploration of performance.
“Being a dancer creates another possibility,” says Linyekula. As a dancer, I’m interested in finding ways to allow my body to become available to new experiences and further attend to experiences that are familiar. It is through the material body and visceral experience that I may be able to uncover something similar to Linyekula.
When I look back on this public talk and reflect on my own identity, I align with Linyekula’s shifting identities and fluid sense of citizenship—the way he negotiates the politics of space and the body. By having to shift between different identities and citizenships, I also have to negotiate my body in different places to find a sense of belonging, to seek out alternative spaces where the body can feel accepted.
In the talk, Bradley questions, “What if the dance is the riot that can’t be arranged? What if the dance crosses through history and times?” Dance is a riot because it is constantly producing new ways of moving and understanding that cannot be arranged in advance by available forms, and the bodies that come together in this riot bear with them the traces, the imprints, of histories and times that they have experienced or that made their movements possible. As a Filipino-American born in Delano, California and a current resident of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I wonder how might I be able to dig deeper into my unknown history, and find a place of belonging—of what it means to simultaneously be a current-Philadelphian, past-Californian with an unknown Filipino history.
Kristel Faye Baldoz is a freelance performing artist based in Philadelphia and works at the University of the Arts, School of Dance.