STILL LIFE Issue 4
76 Pages, 14.5 x 21 cm, Paperback, Edition of 90
Chisenhale Dance Space, London
NewBridge Books, Newcastle
Tate Modern Turbine Shop, London
Unbound, online and London
Athenaeum Boekhandel, Amsterdam
Ultimate Dancer, artist
“a small gem of a magazine”
Maartje Nevejan, filmmaker
Featuring: Do It Yourself, an interview with Emma-cecilia Ajanki about passivity, patriarchy and punk; 10 ways to disappear with Channing Tatum, Figs In Wigs, Hamish Macpherson, Igor & Moreno, Rowland Hill, Rukeya, Samir Kennedy, Theo Clinkard & Leah Marojevic, Trajal Harell, Ultimate Dancer & Robbie Thomson; The Vanishing Lady by Augusto Corrieri; A Thing Unseen, an interview with Rowland Hill about her performance, The Show; Istanbul 2013 by Hamish MacPherson; Post-Dollification, an interview with Marica Innocente about dolls, robots and gender roles; and Where Did You Go? an interview with Maartje Nevejan about the inner worlds of absence seizures.
STILL LIFE is an online and printed zine about relationships and configurations in which one person is still, while others are moving. Or where one person is passive and the others are active. It looks at how people cultivate complex bodily knowledge through different professional and personal experiences.
The focus on active-passive relations brings particular attention to things like care, vulnerability and power. As I say to artist Rowland Hill in my interview with her, sometimes this feels like a very niche topic, but at other times it feels very broad (page 35). This is the first issue of STILL LIFE with a theme. I didn’t set out with one in mind but as I gathered content for the issue I started to think about more specific threads that ran between the different material and wondered how these might offer a more particular focus for readers.
From the content in this issue, I started to think about disappearance; how in any relationship between two or more people each person might not be present or recognised as present in their ‘full sense’. Maybe we are never fully present, even to ourselves either. Will Dickie touched on this in his interview ‘Will Dickie’ in STILL LIFE Issue 1 (this is a thread that runs through previous issues too).
For this current issue, I thought there was something interesting in some of the content that referred to people becoming passive or inert, either deliberately and unwillingly. How do we understand interpersonal relations when a ‘person’ is a fluctuating presence, fading in and out of someone else’s perception? When is a person ‘present but not present’?
I’ve previously interviewed and an undertaker (Issue 1) and a nurse (Issue 2) who talked about dead people and how something of their personhood and dignity remain. I’ve also interviewed Danny (Issue 1) who liked being used as human furniture; when a woman puts her feet on him, treating him as a footstool, he’s still there but he chooses to hide or dial down those things that distinguish him from an object, such as movement or speech. There is pleasure to be felt playing such games with psychological states and social categories but to become a thing is also to abrogate responsibilities for oneself. Inanimate things like foot stools and dead bodies cannot look after themselves and so to become one often involves relinquishing responsibility to someone else. Such responsibility can become a burden as long as we are in a situation where care is, at least nominally, valued. In their work POGO MOB, The Mob (Emma-Cecilia Ajanki and Julia Giertz) perform a passive vulnerability in which the effort of Poul Laursen to toss around their limp bodies (which are actually using a great deal of effort and concentration) becomes an unsustainable exertion (page 3).
Therefore to disappear can be form of resistance. Passive resistance. In Istanbul in 2013, Erdem Gündüz, ‘The Standing Man’ remained immobile for hours, becoming something of an abstraction of a man to make a political gesture beyond himself (page 48). Similarly, die-in protests, against antigay and anti-black violence in the 1980s and 2010s respectively, involved people revealing their vulnerability in a public space, out from the dry abstraction of a healthcare policy or the dark privacy of a police encounter (pages 73 & 54).
Although Black Lives Matter protests have been joined by white allies, there is something quite different going on when a black person lies down in the street to when a white person does. It is quite different when a person who is already expected (by the white-hetero-patriarchal power structures) to be less visible, then puts the reality of this disappearance under people’s noses, as if to say “See: we are the ones dying as you are living.” In my interview with Simon Ellis (a white choreographer) and Colin Poole (a black choreographer) in Issue 1, Colin describes how they have been addressing this in their work together:
“We’ve been playing with this idea for a while now that somehow I would disappear in order for him to appear. And I think that’s how we got to that role, why I say this thing about the role; I would disappear as a gesture really, as a neighbourly gesture for the other person to fully appear. (…) What do black people do anyway in relation to white people? What is our role in many things when it comes to preserving some kind of normality?”
And in this current issue, Marica Innocente makes very clear how patriarchy expects women to not be fully visible (page 55):
“I met a lot of women, who were purposefully not displaying their intelligence. I could tell that they were really cultured, but they were pretending that they weren’t smart because that way it was easier to get on with colleagues or a partner”.
Another form of disappearance is where the body is not present entirely, but leaves behind traces like sound. For example, in Roland Hill’s piece The Show, she stands behind a curtain discernible through a glimpse of her shoes and the sound of her footsteps and breath, creating a mysterious absence that is both seductive and menacing. Or in the orchestra of pots and pans, a protest (contemporaneous with Gündüz’s) in which people remain hidden in the privacy of their homes but fill the public space with a cacophony that suggests togetherness and omnipresence (p48).
But as we see, the state of disappearance only makes sense for those left behind. The limp protester is still fully cognisant (page 52), a child experiencing an absence seizure is in a vivid mental space (page 65), and the magician’s assistant is just under the stage (page 32). If someone is not ‘there’ they are still somewhere.