by Clarinda Mac Low Today, we wander. Ludwig Wittgenstein, an Austrian philosopher from the early twentieth century, wrote a series of “Remarks on Colour,” some of his last writings before death. In these fragments of text, he engages in a deep questioning of color perception, seeing it as a language game, as somewhere between logic and empirical observation. The questions about perception and definition that he raises are universally relevant. How we define the idea of “color,” a seemingly self-evident phenomena, is actually highly complex. On the other hand, there are agreed-upon conventions that are learned and passed on. Do these constitute truth? “In every serious philosophical question uncertainty extends to the very root of the problem. We must always be ready to learn something totally new.” (Wittgenstein) In the previous entry, I asked, “Is it possible for something—an action, a situation, a choreography, a set of events—that barely exists for one person to be strikingly visible and vital to another person?” One way to communicate is to rely on signs and actions that are part of an agreed-upon reality—employ conventions that appeal through habit of culture, or through some pull on a rooted human response. The ephemeral nature of performance acts render them vulnerable to invisibility. If something is not familiar it can be literally invisible. Then again, a body is a body, and a body is always visible if there is light that shines on it. What becomes invisible is the significance of the action or words that the body evinces. When I think about it all like this, it seems absolutely impossible to do something new and be seen. And yet—to do something new, or at least investigative, is inevitable, not matter how “conventional” or “traditional” the form you present may be. In our living, time-bound bodies we can’t help but change the traditions. Each day brings a new context, so each convention changes willy-nilly. When people view something familiar, they see echoes of the past, but, living in the present, are still seeing something new. I have noticed how my reaction to certain forms of performance changes over time—forms that riveted me in the past start leaving me cold, while other types of performance that I might have ignored start to intrigue me. It is not just the form that is changing, but me. I am a representative audience member. Or am I? My experience is wrapped up with watching live performance, making me exceptional—but doesn’t everybody watch performance constantly these days? Yes, it is filmed performance, a different animal, but our current narrative life is composed of performed acts, on television, in film, in video and computer games. We are creating a new oral, pictorial tradition, and, in this, our thoughts, hopes, dreams and conflicts become embodied by actors of all sorts, whether dramatic or (as in “reality shows”) dramatized. In the essay I mentioned last week by Rosalyn Deutsche (“Reasonable Urbanisms”), she outlines an argument prevalent in some critical urban theory that “concrete, material or real – that is, social – spaces are proper objects of political struggle; metaphorical, discursive or unreal – that is, non-social – spaces divert attention from politics.” As artists of performance, we are intensely involved in metaphorical and “unreal” spaces. This is relevant--performance is actually firmly rooted in space and place, and even in creating the picture of what a space is within an urban geography. As Fiona Templeton, a theater artist and poet who works in theaters and out, said to me recently, performance is the art most bound up with real estate—we need space, some kind of space, to present, to be present. “Space is socially produced…” The boundaries of space determine the boundaries of perception. The boundaries of perception are—up for grabs? Wittgenstein again: The color we name “brown” could be described as a “reddish-green.” How does this affect our perception of the color? When you think of “brown,” is it a different color from “reddish-green,” which, as mixed pigments would most likely look “brown?” And, here we are, in the age of the glowing computer screen, and Wittgenstein’s ideas of color take on a new dimension as we try to recreate pigment with the vagaries of light. “When dealing with logic, ‘One cannot imagine that’ means: one doesn’t know what one should imagine here.” (Wittgenstein) Perhaps what I’m trying to ask is, “How and by whom are the boundaries of reality established?” (Deutsche) We (performance artists) create in a metaphorical space, we communicate through intangible means, and we wait for the weight of our messages, both articulated and subterranean, to reach the interlocutor (audience). We offer a new view of color (pigment, race, tone, light) in an old hat and hope that the clown-face we’ve painted transcends the gap in understanding, finds a new vista beyond material space to open a door into.
Clarinda Mac Low, Rosalyn Deutsche, urban theory, Wittgenstein