Tedious repetition, temporary liberation
Article for Rekto:Verso (N°89 December-January-February 2021. MET PLEZIER). Link to the article in dutch: https://www.rektoverso.be/artikel/het-ambigue-plezier-van-toewijding
My practice is circus, my specialty aerial straps. Straps are a pair of long, thin strips made out of cotton and polyester. They hang from the ceiling with a loop at the end through which I can pass my wrists. So, I hang above the floor (mostly) on one arm. My wrist carries the weight of my entire body. This creates pressure and friction between my skin and the straps, which hurts. Aerial straps are therefore considered as a rather painful circus discipline.
I hang in the straps and I move above the floor. I repeat specific sets of motions, which allows me to tackle the world through my body. The scope of my mind widens temporarily and can encompass my surroundings through my body. It is precisely this feeling of extreme awareness, however brief or illusory, that provokes an intense feeling of pleasure. A repetition, which might seem very limiting and painful, is actually used as a magnifying glass. Through it, everything becomes palpable: a slight inclination of the floor, the many small adjustments my shoulders make while I take a breath hanging upside down, the way the air circulates in the room.
I do not find pleasure in repeating something painful. I find pleasure in the constant adjustments my body makes to be in harmony with my surroundings. Instead of being an adversary, pain is one source of those adjustments and thus equally adds to the feeling of extended awareness. Just like air circulates in the room or like the way I breathe upside down, pain extends my agency rather than limiting it. That is, if it is sufficiently acknowledged through time and intense concentration. I paradoxically lose myself in the repetition and the dilution of time. I became aware of it only recently in spite of 25 years of intense and regular physical practice. This length of time is necessary to enter this never ending process involving - not static elements - but mind, body and surroundings in constant transformation and that is precisely what nurtures the pleasure.
Pleasure comes from this feeling of being part of the world, from the illusion of harmony. Pleasure comes from tediousness as temporary liberation. That tedious repetition slows time down, a time not compatible with today's capitalist schedules. The very fact of taking into account all the components of the repetitive process in constant movement and transformation goes against all notions of efficiency and profitability. Pleasure comes not only from the feeling of being part of the world but also from the feeling of escaping it.
Making Space, Space, Space
Article co-written with Bauke Lievens in the book Thinking Through Circus from The Circus Dialogues: Bauke Lievens, Sebastian Kann, Quintijn Ketels and Vincent Focquet. Art Paper Edition and Circus Dialogues.