A first movement. Or stepping into History

Chiara Cartuccia

© Sonia Ricci

In the beginning was an uncertain movement, a first affirmation, a refusal of stasis.

 

Before the invention of militarised borders there were only continuous spaces, and the desire to move, to cover distances, to see and touch, to come back and to go further. Before it became migration, movement was already a necessity. Human experience –or the experience of being human– takes shape in transformative actions and processes. To be able to delve in a ­­–momentary or perpetual– state of displacement means to accept the very core of our human condition. The choice of movement is a taking of responsibility, a declaration of humanity that already contains the emergence of an original knowledge, arising from this primitive encounter with the world and with its other(s).

A child, who starts exploring its room by taking first uncertain steps, separates itself from the world of objects to become a subject involved in existence [1]. Through movement the child not only recognises its own essence as subject, but also becomes aware of the presence –or absence– of other and different subjects. The dynamic experience of distance allows the newly discovered subject to seize its own scenario of possibilities, to conquer the space where its desire for action, presence and recognisability will be released:

 

 

As soon as I desire I am asking to be considered. I am not merely here-and-now, sealed into thingness.

I am for somewhere else and for something else. […]

I should constantly remind myself that the real leap consists in introducing invention into existence.

In the world in which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself. [2]

 

 

Movement is a natural condition, a creative condition. Movement’s socio-political version may be called migration, and it involves more people than one can count. When we talk about migration we talk about borders and boundaries, but there is nothing natural in borders; they are, indeed, a dull invention, unable to evoke or channel any creative force. For this reason, we need to operate a change in perspective and terminology.

 

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In his unfinished work Passagen-Werk Benjamin defines the central difference between boundaries and thresholds, stating that whereas a boundary is a line that separates –an anti-creative limit, we could say– a threshold is a zone, and more precisely a zone of transition [3]. For Benjamin, the threshold is the place where a transformative movement can, and must, take place: the awakening of historical consciousness is, in fact, a passage across a threshold. In the liminal zone of the threshold the past, re-presented [presented again] by memory, encounters the current time of action, provoking the clash and merging between the two states of being and becoming. The passage experience implies a transformative gesture that is also an historical gesture, insofar as it lies on a moment of collision of temporalities. The walking wo/man who decides to cross the threshold of newness, who leaves stasis for dynamism, is already stepping into the waves of History, and histories. The conscious subject, active in what Benjamin calls the Jetzt-Zeit <now-time>, forges the future by allowing the past to intervene into the living present. ‘Historical time is not just the time of great and collective destinies. It is the time where anyone and anything at all makes history and bears witness to history’ [4], writes Jacques Ranciere; to take part in historical time means to make the events, forms and images of the past visible and possible ­–again or for the first time. The filaments of past survive as subterranean forces in the present, and we could affirm that the mover – the wanderer, the flâneur, the explorer, the migrant, the decentred and deterritorialised subject [5]– is the privileged witness/bearer of these submerged histories. The moving subject inhabits a liminal creative dimension, where times and spaces interweave in the most evident way; the experience of the threshold allows the mover to grasp the forms of history, while delving into its vortexes.

 

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As the mover is the bearer of a more complete experience of history, the artist who wants to stay loyal to her role has to be a wanderer or, at least, has to deal with wandering material. In the Aesthetic Theory Adorno states that ‘art can be understood only by its laws of movement, not according to any set of invariants. It is defined by its relation to what it is not’ [6]; art must refuse stillness, in order to act in the world. The artwork itself undergoes a constant process of change and transformation, which allows it to keep on showing/presenting its always renovating, but never complete, truth-content –a content coming from the world, which in the world remained silent. The artist who uses the fabric of history in the construction of her own temporary products, is accomplishing a political gesture, since she is giving visible forms to the non-identical, the other(s) of the world. The other of the world resists, as the past, and in the past, within the structure of present times, still it only survives as a weak shadow, or a hidden force, which the artwork has to re-actualise. Through this mechanism of ­­–artistic– remembrance, the silenced voices of lost and forgotten histories find a way to renew their effects on contemporaneity:

 

 

Remembrance restores possibility to the past, making what happened incomplete and completing what never was. Remembrance is neither what happened nor what did not happen but, rather,

their potentialization, their becoming possible once again. [7]

 

 

The wandering artist, an artist of movement, walks with and within histories and times, as s/he embodies the living continuity of the past in the present.

 

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In the beginning was a desire, an urgency to leap into the stream of things, by crossing a threshold.  The walking wo/man abandons a well-known environment, shaped by habit, to chase a yet unformed conglomerate of possibilities. While walking, the space becomes time, and the time becomes experience. Experience creates new habits, and these new habits create new homes. But what has been left behind is never lost, neither in time nor in space; it lives on in the movement itself, which cannot be limited or arrested.

 

 

 

 

                 [1] See Merleau-Ponty, M, Phenomenology of Perception (1974), London: Routledge, 2012

 

[2] Fanon, F, Black Skin, White Mask (1952), London: Pluto, 1986. pp. 229, p.231

 

[3] See Benjamin,W, Arcades Project (Das Passagen-Werk, written between 1927-1940), Cambridge: University of Harvard Press, 2002. p. 856

 

[4] Ranciere, J, Figures of History, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2014. p.69

 

[5] See Fisher, J, Mosqueta, G, Over Here: International Perspectives on Art and Culture, New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 2002

 

[6] Adorno, T, Aesthetic Theory (1970), London: Continuum, 1997. p. 3

 

[7] Agamben, G, Heller-Roazen, D, Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy , Stanford University Press, 1999. p. 267