Matthias Sperling’s Now That We Know moves within an imagined future of a body/mind singularity; an amplified and echoing voice tell us that the mysteries of the connections between body and mind have, more or less, been solved; not from any single genius discovery, but due to the persistent and humble efforts of artists and scientists. Now, these insights are not so humble or quiet: as the well-funded Institute of Neurochoreography furthers these studies, the discoveries are widely disseminated and instrumentalised. Corporations recognize their value, and politicians carefully choreograph themselves in order to communicate their promises and integrity to the voting public.
The lights slowly fade up. Matthias appears crouched within the tall and otherwise empty stage. His clothes are black, as is his long straight hair and sunglasses; he is well framed by the tall black stage curtains and the smooth matt black floor. He comes across as a kind of New Age guru, a herald of this futuristic era of connected movement and thought, speaking from either a well-funded laboratory or exclusive conference. He ‘massages his hypnotic organs’, as he puts it, undertaking a counterpoint of unhurried and finely balanced speech and movement; delivering a laudatory talk within an abstracted space. Alongside the dance studio, this spacious, clean and minimalist aesthetic speaks to the Apple store; except this future has figured out how to do away with even the clutter of the material object of the iPhone – now it’s all body/concept/thought/movement as one. Complimenting the figure of the guru, I wonder if he’s been flown in here by their most dedicated disciple and patron, the neoliberal entrepreneur. Matthias meanderingly muses freely in this space: an intellection freedom, a freedom of movement, Silicon Valley’s freedom of rampant technological development, the freedom of the free market. We know the restrictions, the suppressions, and the kinds of violence necessitated by this freedom.
Throughout all this, Matthias dances with an exquisite precision and care; his body is full of possibility, spaciousness and surprise. There’s an impossible smoothness to how he folds himself down onto one crouched leg, gently reaching out to touch the ground around him; as if placing his weight down on his hands is a gentle curiosity, rather than anything he ‘needs’ to do. Like all gurus once they’ve made it onto a big platform, this figure’s relaxed and open presence carries a creepy undertone of power; his moving/musing on the wonders on this neurochoreography are simultaneously ridiculous and aggressive. As a friend puts it: Matthias is in a unique position of being able to undertake this dancing so masterfully while pushing it to such an outrageous position.
What makes Now That We Know so powerful is that what it presents is entirely consistent with – and often directly quoting from – the practitioners of and discourses around somatic dance practice; following the line of these enquiries somewhere into the future’s vanishing point between body and mind. The aesthetic is shifted, the smugness is turned up; but otherwise, the language and delivery sits very uncomfortably close to the many classes or workshops dedicated to exploring mind, body, sensation, and gesture – their insistence on the possibilities and expansions of this research. A vital companion to Bojana Kunst’s recently published and deeply influential Artist at Work: Proximity of Art and Capitalism, this work makes overt how well somatic discourse sits within neoliberalism’s instance of the flexibility of thought and creativity, and endless experimentation in the production of subjectivity. The performance constitutes a significant critical reflection by Matthias, when considered in context of his ongoing commitment to research around neuroscience and choreography; a unflinching and understated representation of the dark political possibilities that lie within his artistic community, and his own work.
As he continues to massage his ‘hypnotic organs’, I become grateful that this mind/body singularity has not taken place on the audience’s side of the narrative divide. Whereas Matthias might, in his sci-fi world, be seductively conducting the audience’s rapt attention, I remain watching in a distanced mix of giggling and disgust: disgusted by this horrifying future, but also in recognition of my inarticulacy and inability to respond to this. I feel the need to find words to puncture this technobabble, to find ways to reject this figure, this sales pitch, this future. As our research in dance extends into exciting new domains, Matthias makes overt the need for artists and researchers to find the means to articulately questions private interests; at a moment in which the likes of Google, Uber, Airbnb, seem capable of creeping into every artistic, communal and private domain.
For more information about Now That We Know at Nottdance 2017, click here.