Documentation Philosophy On Stage #4

The Sea, Lies Open // Performance-Texts

Walking Performance & Installation by Laura Cull Ó Maoilearca [CV] and Tess Denman-Cleaver [CV]

WALKS


[please scroll down for letters]

For Philosophy on Stage #4, The Sea, Lies Open took the form of a performative installation and a series of three programmed walks – at dusk, midday and dawn – manifesting a consideration of the relationships between walking and thinking, landscape and health, horizons and aphorisms in Nietzsche’s life, work and influence. Festival participants were invited to accompany Laura and Tess in order to attend to peripheries, relations, depth and non-human scale whilst walking together through Vienna city centre. Nietzsche is well known for the value he placed on walking for inducing creative thought; but we also walked with Allan Kaprow, Nan Shepherd, Roger Deakin and Robert McFarlane to attend to place beyond the habitual.

In particular, The Sea, Lies Open – which also included an installation in Studio 3 of Tanzquartier – considered the significance of the sea for Nietzsche and its continued effect on how we understand our cultural, physiological and philosophical horizons.

Can we walk at the periphery of the human and the nonhuman? Can we think at the threshold of the unknown? How does landscape think? And how can we think alongside landscape in our practices of walking, writing, attending?


The first walk took place at dusk on Friday.

Once the walkers had assembled, Laura and Tess read them a letter:

L: MY DEAR STRANGER,

T: MY DEAR STRANGER,

L: We are about to take an excursion. What you will walk, we have walked, and others will walk again, tomorrow.

T: We are about to take an excursion. What you will walk, we have walked, and others will walk again. We walk at dusk, noon, dawn.

L: noon, dusk.

T: I read his letters in order to write my own whilst she meandered through books, poems, wikipedia perhaps, keeping him all the while in her pocket.

L: She read his letters in order to write her own whilst I meandered through books, poems, wikipedia sometimes, keeping him all the while in my pocket. And as we have written to you, you will write to those who follow our route…

T: who write to those who follow their route

L: who write to those who follow…  They called him “our luminous and transporting guide”. We repeat, differently, the old phrases we can think with now.

T: All deep knowledge flows cold and will seem inaccessible to us here, buried underground on its way to a distant sea. If you cannot follow the river to the sea then streams and bathtubs can be made to produce the requisite depths… We will hear the bells again as we write, a dozen chimes repeating as the seagulls above remind us of the proximity of the water… The bells define the parish according to who can hear them; traditionally the parish is defined by the auditory range of the church bell. We are a congregation.

L: Or, we are a circle. In the dark country, midday was drawn out by the bells, which chimed twelve around an expanded 360 degree horizon line, each steeple prolonging the noon, bleeding into one another to extend a point in time. But now my eyes say: enoug

T: We are about to take an excursion. I ask that when we walk together we do not speak, or not, at least, until we stop to reply to this letter.

L: In case we lose our way in the idle babble of the marketplace, dissolve into Black Friday, I ask that when we walk together we do not speak, or not, at least, until we stop to reply to this letter.

T: When we do stop, throw down your walking on the paper quickly, and with complete certainty.

In gratitude, your T & L.

Once the letter had been read, each walker was given a torch and invited to use it as they wished during the walk. It was proposed that we walk in silence.

Tess then led the walk: out of the Museumsquartier, down into the subway station, back up to the street, joining with the Ringstrasse, exploring a public garden before sitting down on benches facing a small pond.

Once seated, each walker was invited to write a letter to those who would walk the same route the following day. Letters could be written in German or English.

Lieber Wanderer, Dear future walker,

I was able to enjoy my solitude and to enjoy being around other people, my fellow quiet

walkers… Take this opportunity to reflect and to take a step back from reflecting.

I will hope for you that you don’t have to suffer the pain of a cold November evening, with

nothing on your hands, head or ears.

The second walk took place at midday on Saturday.

Once the walkers had assembled, each one was given an envelope containing a letter written by one of the walkers from the dusk walk the previous day, which they were invited to read.

Once the letters were read, each walker was given a small square compact mirror – comprising two mirrors of different degrees of magnification hinged together – and invited to use it as they wished during the walk. It was proposed that we walk in silence.

Tess then led the walk: out of the Museumsquartier, down into the subway station, back up to the street, joining the Ringstrasse, exploring a public garden before sitting down on benches facing a small pond.

Once seated, each walker was invited to write a letter to those who would walk the same route the following day.

Dear unknown friend,

I arrived at this letter in tiny fragments. Parts of the upside downs of ornate roofs framed

next to green, twigs, a triangle of pavement and a small section of my cheek. The glance at

the city was crystal bright – a torchlight of the bright day and it has led me back to the lake

of a stranger’s yesterday evening. They wrote to me too, and now I to you…

The third walk took place at dawn on Sunday.

Once the walkers had assembled, each one was given an envelope containing a letter written by one of the walkers from the midday walk the previous day, which they were invited to read.

Once the letters were read, each walker was given a pair of wax earplugs, which they were invited to wear.

Tess then led the walk: out of the Museumsquartier, down into the subway station, back up to the street, joining the Ringstrasse, exploring a public garden before sitting down on benches facing a small pond.

Once seated, each walker was invited to write a letter to those who did not walk, with the knowledge that these letters would be handed out to festival participants during the remainder of the day.

To those who did not walk,

We meandered at a slow pace feeling different surfaces and watching the city arise. The sun appeared through the gaps – almost self-consciously or according to a well-rehearsed script.

Did you miss something because you have not been with us?

What have you done instead?

Probably something inside… what about the outside? It may be less comfortable, maybe even painful, but as soon as you do something – crossing line, that you usually maintain as some kind of border – a process may start to evolve, that we may understand a long time later.

The Sea, Lies Open is an on-going collaborative process through which Laura and Tess are continuing to consider the relationships between walking and thinking, landscape and health, horizons and aphorisms.

LETTERS

by Laura Cull O’Maoilearca & Tess Denman-Cleaver

Dear T.

As a consequence of my condition, I am only able to walk for short distances and slowly, taking regular breaks and avoiding sharp inclines. Whilst I might hitherto have been inclined to see this as a limit, I now remind myself that such physical states in fact signal new styles of thought. As a philosopher who has traversed many kinds of health, and keeps traversing them, I have passed through an equal number of philosophies; when I walk, I simply cannot keep from transposing my states every time into the most spiritual form and distance: this art of transfiguration is philosophy. We philosophers are not free to divide body from soul, inside from outside…

And yet what an error it would be to refuse limits altogether, to lose ourselves in the pretensions of ceaseless overcoming! This is where the real challenge lies: to overcoming the temptation to respond to limitation as a challenge to be overcome! I know of no other way for now, but to describe it as a kind of openness that does not enclose. Once all I wanted was to swim to the horizon. Fooling myself like so many ancient philosophers, that I could hurl my javelin off the edge of the world and come to know the space beyond, one way or another. In my middle age, I no longer imagine such capture as the purpose of thought, nor of my writing for that matter. There too, where once I cursed the flagging body of language that could not keep up with the pace of my experience, the weakness of words to grasp the wondrous horror of the unlimited, my present self delights in finding new words to help me pay attention to the world once more, and takes pleasure in the failure of my descriptions to exhaust the landscapes before me, within me. The sea is in my blood, I told them – these poor land-locked creatures. But perhaps I said as much with my endless slide show – a never-ending catalogue of the sea, which can always be looked at from another angle, a new perspective.

Forgive me! I have already diverted from the task at hand, to share with you my latest urgent thought, namely:

we must find ways to stop them from focussing on seeing all the time

Already it is too much the way of things to settle for philosophy as the practice of good housekeeping: tidying spaces, mending fences, defining boundaries. When one speaks of limits, all they see is a line in the sand. I know that I have been a victim of this mapping too – but now, my friend, it is up to us to locate the boundaries of time as well as space, to walk such that we might at least sense – without seeking to overcome – the thresholds of our hearing, our touch, the peripheries of all our senses, not as walls between spaces but as other kinds of horizon altogether. There is a kingdom of wisdom from which the logician is banished. As I know you understand, I am not saying that we should think of ourselves as entering it by other means. It is rather that to swim to the edge now must mean something other than trying to capture foreign lands to make them our own.

I must stop now…

Yours, L


Dear L,

From soft deep blue, here seagulls are the first sound, calling of the sea, not so much singing, towards slight violet.

For fear of scalding myself there is too much cold water. As we know, all deep knowledge flows cold, but this feels decidedly surface upon entering. I suspect I have failed to achieve your dissolving-of-self due to a lack of extremity. Or maybe this is an imaginative failure on my part.

Each time, upon immersion, I anticipate the blurring of inside and out, expect my skin into only a figure of my imagination, and each time, instead, I picture your calves as my calves dip into the milk-soft pool, and I sink up to my neck.

I’m writing this letter, I realise, not to you, but from and within your words, attending all the time, also, to the movement of my world… Enveloped now in the rose glow of Northumbrian sands… Swimming, drifting through body and bathwater, between his water cycles and the changing of light against the window, wandering amongst your thoughts I sense that we have learned this movement from him. And I, at least, have begun…

… Pigeons next, the beating of wings imitated by the ratching of shutters… in the gentle green or aquamarine my Dunnock friend calls patiently as the wash of the city’s hum floods in. I know his company well, though he is likely unaware of my listening from the water…

… to live with you, in this way, upon entering the water and attending to the fluidity of writing.

Man may be a disagreeable creature at this early hour, but certainly woman-immersed-in-water is a softer being all together if this letter is anything to go by. Maybe its her surface nature, her changeable stormy film that is inclined to this gentle time of day when one can hang between surfaces and drift, with just a glimmer of the depth, in a domestic simulacrum. From here the sky is in formation on the bricks of the buildings and in the glass of the windows and I push myself to imagine the deeper change this suggests, push out beyond the reflection and the visual phenomena, reaching deep into the body itself, to feel the soft-deep-blue-slight-violet-rose-glow-sea-glass-blue within the movement of her.

Tomorrow dawn will be a very different matter all-together as I will travel to a land famed for its lack of light; I don’t imagine I will feel at home there but look forward to reporting back on its effect.

Yours,

T.

My Dear Friend

Forgive the delay in replying to your last letter. I have no reasonable excuse other than my own vanity, which compels me to withhold from response in the hope that I might eventually have something worthy to say.

If it is any consolation, you should know that I write to you all the time in my mind. I compose letters to you in the midst of doing – a correspondence that is all the more seductive since it does not insist that I withdraw from the very experience I am struggling to communicate, in order to communicate it. If only you could hear me then! For when I return to my desk and attempt the necessary transcription, I cannot escape an overwhelming sense of failure and fraudulence – that with each word comes betrayal and compromise.

Of course, I am only saying this now because night has fallen and my mood is just as black. Come the morning, I would no doubt write to you of the delights of inventing experience in language, as well as of all the cunning tricks I have devised to capture the thinking that comes from doing – from my walking, and bathing. These days I walk six to eight hours a day on trails I have learnt by heart, and think out the material, which I afterwards throw down on paper, quickly and with complete certainty. Anywhere but the desk! How quickly we guess how someone has come by her ideas; whether it was sitting in front of her inkwell, with a pinched belly, her head bowed low over the paper – in which case we are quickly finished with her letter too! Cramped intestines betray themselves – you can bet on that – no less than closet air, closet ceilings, closet narrowness. I want to write letters that are borne of my shuddering body as it is immersed in hot water. I want only thoughts borne of the terrible indifference of darkness.

I say terrible, but it is a terror I seek out for its power to immediately force upon me a sense of scale. A mantra of measurements to ward off vanity: The sea contains 330 million cubic miles of water. The volume of all land above sea level is only one-eighteenth as great. Land’s tallest peak, 29,028 foot high Mount Everest, could be sunk without a trace in the ocean’s greatest abyss, the 35,800-foot-deep Mariana Trench in the western Pacific. How much more gloriously frightening to measure the world by these inhuman horizons than by the habits of our senses, which would have us believe that what we call large and small, near or far-distant, hard or soft is how things really are!

As I drove home this evening I imagined myself at the bottom of the sea, that the sky was the ocean and the lights of the cars so many iridescent fish. Larger creatures lurk in the gathering darkness. And as we drive on, still farther down, life gradually thins out. No light whatsoever and no sound. The ooze at the bottom of the ocean is the quietest place in the world.

This is where I need to be to hear all the voices of thought, rather than the perpetual babble of the ego that drowns out the rest as soon as the sun rises.

But what kind of letter has this been – another one of my monologues. I have not even asked after your trip to the dark country (by the by, I hear they are also the happiest of peoples in the world – do you think it a coincidence?).

Good night for now, L


Dear T.

I walked again today, departing at noon and only just returning to my quarters by nightfall. Out in the forest, I admit, the onset of twilight, it brings with it a rush of panic. Will I make it back on to familiar roads before I lose my bearings? But when the sky is cloudy and un-coloured, as it was today, there is also the pleasure of the dusk as a barely perceptible dimming.

This is where the shadows come to play
‘Twixt the day
And night
Dancing and skipping
Along a chink of light
Somewhere in between
The waxing and the waning wave
Somewhere in between
What the song and silence say
Somewhere in between
The ticking and the tocking clock
Somewhere in a dream between
Sleep and waking up
Somewhere in between
Breathing out and breathing in
Like twilight is neither night nor morning

Of course, there are those legislators who will claim to know exactly what dusk is and when it happens, who never cease trying to pin down that lovely liminal time where light and dark are hinged against each other. Officially – let me instruct you – dusk is the darkest stage of twilight in the evening, and twilight is the light from the sky when the sun is below the horizon. When the sun reaches 18 degrees below the horizon, it is nighttime. Dawn twilight sunrise sunset twilight dusk.

I take a rest from walking, sit and read until it is no longer possible to make out the words on the page, and the horizon too has disappeared.

In the gathering dark I dream not of the twilight of philosophy, but of the end of the twilight of philosophy itself! Enough of this lamenting of our own demise. Or is the greater fear now that philosophy is everywhere (and hence nowhere), sprawling beyond its historic confines, such that it has lost sight of its true identity? I myself have no such fears. Philosophy always was a matter of walking together outside the city walls. Always also a matter of ascetic experiment: a strict diet and no more than four hours sleep. Always also living in the balance of the ebb and flow: the desire to know where one is going and the desire to get lost. If the end comes at all, it is only when one of these assumes complete control at the expense of the other.

Let the twilight then possess us! Who knows what kind of you and I might arise from it!

Yours, L.

Sitting in front of a stack of books, pinched belly, head bowed low over the keyboard, I was composing myself to write, when you reminded me….

Bear with me while I find somewhere, anywhere, anywhere but the desk…


Dearest L.

Last week at this time it was all milky greens and seabirds swirling iridescent in the delights of the morning. Today I peer into unknown depths, seeking an absolute to still this shuddering body; reflected in the decades old windowpane that separates me from the deep blue outside.

But maybe the sky is beginning to glow now…

I’ve been waiting for what feels like a long time for your letter. I began keeping a small notebook with me – just the right size for a back pocket – so as to keep track of the thoughts I have had with you since we last spoke… In reality only a few days have past of course, but the dawns, middays and dusks have become so very important. And are all, now, spent with you.

At dawn here, the seagulls are up-lit and beneath their white wings we could be anywhere, adrift upon the water or still further down below… midnight blue but the white of the garden walls offer some reassurance that our submergence will not last forever this time.

I considered dividing things up, cutting apart the dawns, middays and dusks, isolating the tales of the dark country I want to share with you. But what’s past is past and I should speak from now, for that will already, anyway, be lost by the time it reaches you.

Dawn, midday and dusk have begun to merge – maybe it’s the time of year, or maybe it’s the being with you that has done it, but I’m worried about the bits in between – you missed out the midday yesterday. I’m not sure I feel as comfortable as I had envisaged existing most acutely in these liminal absolutes.

In the dark country midday was drawn out by the bells, which chimed twelve around an expanded 360 degree horizon line, each steeple prolonging the noon, bleeding into one another to extend a point in time.

Could this flexibility be the source of their happiness do you think? I can’t believe it is the darkness that keeps them so happy and civilised.

- I can hear the bells again as I write to you, a dozen chimes repeating as the seagulls above remind us of the proximity of the water -

Immersion in darkness results in negative pressure breathing, a consequence of water being denser than air and thus submitting the thorax to greater pressure. This breathing causes one to become hyper vigilant.

The turning of the light signals that we are coming to the surface again, re-entering the world of activity, gasping, leaving these feelings below.

I have learnt a love of shadows, which signal the presence of the sun; Though at this time of year there remains a chill, the angle of the earth’s axis doesn’t privilege us with direct sunlight in this place.

I overheard someone proclaim that “the lights have gone and we have all lost our minds”, and I can’t see how it could be otherwise; In the dark there is nothing but questions and feelings.

I walked along the sea at twilight recently and felt its impassable difference to me, to my body – it is certainly not like our bath as far as I can sense – as the light faded, it shed its reflective quality to become something other, finally asserting its muscular presence in the twilight. I need the shadows to know first where my body is before I can attend to the world beyond it.

I will walk today. I will try and fail to leave the furrows of well-trodden paths, and in doing so bring memory into contact with the present, as we have brought the dawn into contact with dusk. The pleasure of moving through unthinking, familiar veins is too much to resist sadly – maybe walking in darkness is the way to break the habit, to really stop seeing all the time, but as I don’t have the constitution to do so, I shall rely upon his assertion that repetition dissolves, and in dissolving presents the world, each time, anew.

At dusk, the skies are massive here, ostentatious compared to your barely perceptible dimming, but that is for another letter. The milk soft blue of the day has arrived, smaller birds are casting smaller shadows and we can finally go walking…

Yours
T.

IMPRESSUM

Led by Arno Böhler, the PEEK-Projekt „Artist Philosophers. Philosophy AS Arts-Based-Research“ [AR275-G21] is funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) as part of the programme for artistic development and investigation (PEEK). Research location: University of Applied Arts Vienna. Brought about in national and international cooperation with: Jens Badura (HdK Zürich), Laura Cull (University of Surrey), Susanne Valerie Granzer (Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien/Max Reinhardt Seminar), Walter Heun (Tanzquartier Wien), Alice Lagaay (Zeppelin Universität Friedrichshafen). Postdoc: Elisabeth Schäfer (University of Applied Arts Vienna). The lecture series was produced in collaboration with: Institut für Philosophie Universität Wien, University of Applied Arts Vienna [Arno Böhler] and Institut für Theater- Film- und Medienwissenschaft der Universität Wien [Krassimira Kruschkova].

Our mailing address is:
FWF PEEK-Project “Artist-Philosophers. Philosophy AS Arts-Based-Research” [AR 275-G21]
Universität für angewandte Kunst
Oskar-Kokoschka-Platz 2
A-1010 Wien

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