Composition: Invocation 1
by Isabel Lewis
Check out this immersive hour-long sound work by artist and choreographer Isabel Lewis, dovetailing from her Composition column published in our latest issue 148, “Body Language.” Best known for her lushly diffused gatherings that sensuously dismantle hard coded sociality to see how we might find each other anew under other conditions, she offers an invocation of something similar here. At once a meditation, performance transcription, and reflection on the unique intersubjective exchange inherent between performer and viewer, Lewis makes yet another case for the unbounded self: “The constancy of your movement renders you uncapturable as an image. You are many-headed, many-limbed, and monstrous, desperately attractive to the eye which must engage differently to see you at all.”
The following is meant to be read to another—human or other-than-human, perhaps more than-human—at a distance of approximately 60 cm.
Find this position in relation to them in space. Hold them in your peripheral vision, gently. Attune yourself to their materiality. What volume of space do they displace? What compression or expansion of your own body would be required to fill that volume? Can you sense their weight? What is the timbre of their vibration? Can you transpose this into audible tones? Do you pick up on the smell of them from this distance? Without touching, is there a discernment that can be made about their temperature in relation to your own?
You are moving. Dancing is happening. It’s slow. You’re horizontal to the floor and your limbs seem to move at an even, uninterrupted pace. A continuous effect of fluidity is produced—the fluidity of a viscous material in a steady and constant rate of change.
The body morphs from one shape or suggested image into another in a gradual process of transformation: an arched back, a twisted tree trunk, an animal (perhaps a puma), an ancient Greek statue (perhaps the figure thought to be Dionysus on the east pediment of the Parthenon), and many more strange reorganizations of limbs that continually suggest, but change before fully delivering an image, before concretizing.
You are in quiet concentration, sinking down, receding into the back of your consciousness. You are even slower now in your movements, in your state of being. There are no calculations happening, no verbal constructions sounding in your head. You are awake in another way. You feel the pleasing sensation of both slip and stability at once.
There seems to be very little resistance on the surface of the skin and within what it assembles. The joints give the impression of swimming and the muscles and tendons remain softly pliant, pulled along by the will of the bones.
The ground complies as well, allowing an effortless glide over its expanse. This dance changes the surfaces of the body and the surfaces of other things too. The sequence of forms as they emerge and disappear on your body is not the dance; rather, the dance is a conductive medium, a kind of mediating jelly that gathers and connects without binding the elements of the situation. After a while, the flesh of your outer thigh is colder and the ground beneath you slightly warmer.
You find yourself standing. The hips begin to sway, smoothly describing a figure eight in space. The spine writhes snake-like to the boom of a lazy bass beat. Has it been there the entire time? You hadn’t noticed it before but its steadiness belies a beginning or ending point. The dance is like club dancing now but dramatically decelerated—an unambitious and excruciatingly slow striptease, but the eyes are different. Rather than outward-oriented, your gaze is turned inward and the dance carries on without a demand for attention, without a goal, without an end; it just keeps moving, languidly, to the beat of that pervasive bass, dragged out at 60 beats per minute, like the human heart during rest.
Someone or something is watching now and you know it because you experience a combination of kinesthetic pleasure and generative stress that compels your movement. Stopping doesn’t occur to you at all. You are hosting the gaze of another upon your sensate surface and it is energizing, like the slightest touch perambulating over your skin. With your own eyes, you gaze down upon your torso, observing its undulations—an implicit offer to guide the other’s gaze. Offer accepted, it’s warmer there now. You continue.
The orientation of your spine indicates a warm vector of verticality around which your torso and hips wind. Spiralling, curvilinear movements course through you as effortlessly and smoothly as be- fore. Starting from your fingertips, the arms begin to engage as your hands travel over the rolling landscape that your body has become. Here, in perpendicular relation to the floor, your hips find mobility as the legs bend and spread and the dance coils and uncoils, furls and unfurls in infinite inscriptions, double helix after double helix in all directions. The constancy of your movement renders you uncapturable as an image.
You are many-headed, many-limbed, and monstrous, desperately attractive to the eye which must engage differently to see you at all. You welcome the other’s gaze which roves around the entirety of your surface. This form of seeing is active, almost muscular; it can neither identify with nor plunge into the depth of a single image and so surrenders to immersion. In lieu of the possibility for sharp focus, in the ambiguity of blur, other sensual pleasures emerge.
You expose your neck, looking upward toward your hand extended above your head and follow its trajectory down. It lands on your shoulder, then brushes over your chest and belly before coming to rest at the hip. You turn away from your observer and there is an instant of panic for the other, unmoored without your eyes. You experience this proprioceptively, as though your internal organs are for a moment more noticeably pressed upon by the air surrounding you. Your hand takes over as the guide, inviting the focus to drift down the lower back, ass, upper thigh, and side of your leg until you’re crouched down, grazing the gentle bulge of your ankle with your fingertips.
You pause, slowly lifting your eyes to meet the gaze of the other. Something far more nuanced than the usual shock of eye contact happens. You have borne a responsibility as a host, the other has been imprinted by gestural resonances, each of you has sought the other’s trust and risked being deemed unworthy of it. There is a fine-tuning of your mutually mediated corporealities.