Saturday, September 24, 2011

Rosiland Krauss "Notes on the Index: Seventies Art in America." Part 2 (quote)

trying to demonstrate how this is at work I wish to begin with an example
drawn not from
painting or sculpture, but rather from dance. The instance
concerns a
performance that Deborah. Hay gave last fall in which she explained to
her audience that instead of
dancing, she wished to talk. For well over an hour
Hay directed a quiet but insistent monologue at her spectators, the substance of
which was that she was there,
presenting herself to them, but not through the
routines of movement, because these were routines for which she could no
find any particular justification. The aspiration for dance to which she had come,
she said, was to be in touch with the movement of every cell in her
body; that, and
the one her audience was
witnessing: as a dancer, to have recourse to speech.
The event I am
describing divides into three components. The first is a
refusal to dance, or what might be characterized more
generally as a flight from the
terms of aesthetic convention. The second is a
fantasy of total self-presence: to be
in touch with the movement of
every cell in one's body. The third is a verbal
through which the subject repeats the simple fact that she is present-
thereby duplicating through speech the content of the second component. If it is
interesting or important to list the features of the Hay performance, it is becausethere seems to be a logical relationship between them, and further, that logic
seems to be operative in a great deal of the art that is being produced at present.
logic involves the reduction of the conventional sign to a trace, which then
produces the need for a supplemental discourse.
Within the convention of dance,
signs are produced by movement. Through
the space of the dance these signs are able to be coded both with relation to one
another, and in correlation to a tradition of other possible signs. But once
movement is understood as something the body does not produce and is, instead, a
circumstance that is registered on it (or, invisibly, within it), there is a fundamen-
tal alteration in the nature of the sign. Movement ceases to function symbolically,
and takes on the character of an index.
By index I mean that type of sign which
arises as the
physical manifestation of a cause, of which traces, imprints, and clues
examples. The movement to which Hay turns-a kind of Brownian motion of
the self-has about it this
quality of trace. It speaks of a literal manifestation of
presence in a way that is like a weather vane's registration of the wind. But unlike
the weather vane, which acts
culturally to code a natural phenomenon, this
cellular motion of which
Hay speaks is specifically uncoded. It is out of reach of
the dance convention that
might provide a code. And thus, although there is a
message which can be read or inferred from this trace of the body's life-a message
that translates into the statement "I am here"-this
message is disengaged from
the codes of dance. In the context of Hay's performance it is, then, a
without a code. And because it is uncoded-or rather uncodable-it must be
supplemented by a spoken text, one that repeats the message of pure presence in
an articulated

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