Excerpts of Alkistis’ 40 minute solo for the Night of Radiant Darkness, closing event for the Metamorphic Earth exhibition by Gast Bouschet and Nadine Hilbert, at BPS22, Charleroi, Belgium on 21st January 2017.
Music Kevin Muhlen (guitar) and Angelo Mangini (hurdy-gurdy)
Choreography and danceAlkistis Dimech, Sabbatic Dance
Video Gast Bouschet, Bouschet-Hilbert
ON THE CREATION OF THE SKIRT
This is an ending which is also a beginning. A controlled unraveling.
One of the oldest instruments in the world, lur were Bronze era horns found in pairs deposited in bogs throughout Denmark. They were believed to have been crafted specifically for ritual purpose and were offered to the gods to secure fertility, a good harvest, and victory in battle for the Viking people. Bodies of water were considered holy places and were often used as sites of worship; bogs in particular represented liminality; seemingly endless, they encompassed both fluidity and solidity and were treated as a door to the underworld. Lur were believed to have been played in pairs during ceremony before being dedicated to the bogs and the gods; through these performances the horns and their music combined to become a single instrument utilized in communion with Other. As the products of time, craftsmanship, and resources, the horns were transformed – through their sacrifice – into vessels delivering both fulfilled and un-harvested potential.
In August 2016 at the Occult Conference in London Alkistis Dimech invited me to collaborate with her for her upcoming Butoh performance at the Metamorphic Earth exhibit in Charleroi, Belgium, in January 2017. Following conversations with Alkistis, the concept for the garment was born around the time of the Autumnal Equinox of 2016 in Italy, months before construction began. The project was initiated during a time of intense personal restructuring, and undertaken as an exercise in mindfully harvesting and redirecting that energy. Alkistis sent me Gast Bouschet’s Manifesto ‘To Sorcerors’ during the conceptualization period, and it served as a lantern in the dark throughout the design process.
How does one willingly submit to the intense process of massive structural change? How does one allow that change to affect all systems? To disrupt oneself in a fundamental way and still have the center hold? By channeling and funneling that energy into a new, uncharted shape, being both the agent of your own destruction and the silent, shaping hand that re-forms; author and subject; architect and midwife; sculptor and clay.
The development of the skirt became a meditation on the process of active dissolution and mindful reformation; to represent potential, transformation, and manifestation in a garment. After months of research, a handful of primary influences converged: Erte’s Egyptian costumes, the Japanese hakama, and deconstruction and subtraction as construction techniques. Within the design of the garment I wanted to include the formed and unformed, the structured and unraveled, in addition to referencing Alkistis’s ideas on the significance of embodiment; utilizing the process of creating art, along with the art itself, as tools to both enable change and catalyze further transformation otherwise inaccessible outside of mindful practice; doing so by utilizing the body – here, my hands – and the act of creating.
The garment was opened in New York City in December 2016. Construction took place over the course of the weeks covering the astrological Grand Cross that occurred in January 2017. A single piece of vintage linen, sourced while living in Italy, was torn into strips to compose the skirt panels – twelve in total – along with separate portions for the front waist panel and tie; they were separated into two sections – four for the front and eight for the back. The idea was that the front and back of the skirt would only resolve into a single garment when tied to the body of the dancer (the third). Each panel was stitched together with a heavy steel 1949 Pfaff sewing machine from Copenhagen. Since the voltage for the machine was not compatible with American specifications, the machine stitches on the skirt were walked entirely by hand. After connecting the panels, each strip was then ripped into four roughly equal portions from the hem to the machine stitches. From this point on the rest of the work on the skirt was done with either tweezers or a hand-sewing needle, under the light of a construction lamp clamped to a file cabinet, in three-to-five hour sessions between the hours of 9pm to 2am. The soundtrack consisted of Tibetan throat singing, crocodile vocalizations, audiobooks on Jung, Kevin Muhlen and Angelo Mangini’s preliminary recordings for the event, and silence. I thought a lot about caves as primal earthen wombs, and about sewing and weaving as the earliest of human vocations- as old as hunting, as old as moving, as old as scratching images on cave walls.
To create the lower portion, weft threads were removed one by one until the entire bottom third of the garment was only loose warp threads. The most challenging part was creating the transitional area between the loose threads and the composed panels – intruding with tiny cuts, just enough to create space without disrupting the whole. The middle – the most beautiful part – is where the magic happened. By dragging the needle across the fabric and following the shapes that opened, unexpected pathways and patterns emerged; tiny negotiations with individual threads. In one panel the phases of the moon were represented; another uncovered a cluster of eyes. Each panel’s final pattern was unknown at initiation and developed until it reached a point of correctness and completion.
The intricacy of the design was a response to Gast’s ideas on the value of work being in opposition to its visibility, and his utilizing the concept of the micro made macro for this exhibit. The patterns in the panels were nearly indistinguishable from a foot away and went largely unseen by the audience. Like the intricate patterns found in nature – spider webs or the veins of a leaf – they were delicate and temporary and not intended to survive the event but rather to exist as evidence of time, effort, and effect. In fact, throughout the dress rehearsals as well as on the evening of the performance, individual strips and threads detached themselves and were left in a puddle of moving images.
Read from the top down, the skirt speaks to the active and mindful dissolution of a structured state. From the ground up the skirt speaks to the process of formation – individuals finding one another, weaving together into chaotic, random patterns, and merging into separate but connected halves that require a third to be animate. The skirt is as circular as the process of transformation itself – what is structured will always unravel, and what is formless will always move towards coherence.
The skirt was carried to Belgium open and finished feverishly the morning of the dress rehearsal. To bind the skirt shut, a handful of phrases were converted into Morse code and the dots and dashes were used as a stitch guide; the words were spoken as they were sewn. One phrase was Gast’s, “Disequilibrium is necessary to the dynamic process of becoming”, while two others came from Alkistis, “Mara” – a proto-linguistic word meaning ‘womb’ – and the bone oracle symbol for ‘Bu’ (movement, dance), which was stitched in five places along the inside of the waistband and tie. Their words bent me towards them, and so were woven back into the work. My own words were included as well, but will remain on the black side of silence. It was a codification of ideas, a layering of experiences and philosophies. Like a funneling gyre, these influences narrowed down from concept to time and place to the very fibers of the skirt, stacking and collapsing on the night of the performance as each element bled into the other. Intention, person, place, and image folded into one enunciation: Kevin and Angelo’s music filling the space; Gast’s images covering every surface – skin, walls, cloth; Alkistis in the skirt, surrounded by and moving through the images, channeling; the skirt itself wrapped around a body, finally fulfilled and fully activated.
Throughout the process of creation, I thought often about the purpose of sacrifice; of the fate of the lur; of giving something up and by doing so making it sacred. The skirt is my lur – horn crafted into instrument. The result of many hours of work and love, it existed for and was given over entirely to the collaboration. The performance acted as a kind of punctuation, and Alkistis dancing in the garment was the playing of the lur – a single act that was simultaneously the only dance the skirt will ever have and at the same time all the dances it will not. The morning after the event, it returned to empty cloth.
Written in the shadow the Vernal Equinox, March 2017.