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First Person

First Person: Agnes Nedregard

First Person: Agnes Nedregard

She crouches down covering her eyes with her hands; stands up, takes off her boots, and removes her characteristic, thick glasses. It is difficult to tell whether she is aggressive or sensual. She looks, in any case, like she is spotting her prey.
Agnes Nedregard Photo Agnes Nedregard
With limited vision but harnessing all her other senses, Agnes Nedregard approaches a member of the public and gets very close. She holds her hand and then, tenderly, caresses her right cheek. She walks slowly toward a man, sits on his lap and then embraces him. She moves to another and leads him to the other end of the room; stops, and abruptly bumps into his shoulder. She then stands behind a third man and covers his eyes with her hands. For almost half an hour, Nedregard approaches about thirty members of the public, weaving different interactions with them. The public, often shy to audience-participatory performances, looks at the artist with a soliciting gaze, seemingly unafraid of the unknown exchanges Nedregard will propose to them: tenderness, abruptness, aggression, or play.

Vertigo of the Mind advocates for a stimulation of the senses other than vision, engaging audience participation and emphasizing the strength of performance art as immediacy.

An experienced mountain climber, Norwegian performance and visual artist Agnes Nedregard presented Vertigo of the Mind in Paris, France, at the event series Dimanche Rouge: Focus on Norway, a performance that she had also recently shown in Switzerland and the USA. In March 2014, five Norwegian artists, jointly selected by Dimanche Rouge and PAB (Performance Art Bergen), presented their work through talks, a gallery exhibit and performances at several venues including the Maison de Norvege, Plateforme Gallery, Paris 8 University, and Le Generateur. Nedregard performed Vertigo of the Mind at Le Generateur on March 23rd, as part of a program with the four other Norwegian artists. Throughout these events, Nedregard witnessed other performances and presentations covering her eyes, usually crouching down. Nedregard deprives herself from vision in order to experience performances with the rest of her senses.

Agnes Nedregard. Dimanche Rouge: Focus on Norway, Le Generateur. Photo: Lubomira Valcheva.

Similarly, in Vertigo of the Mind, she starts by crouching down with her eyes covered, using her other senses to map both space and public. With animal-like movements, she regularly turns her head from side to side as if she was letting her nose and ears guide her through space. When she interacts with members of the public, she proceeds unpredictably and changing the pace, swift-slow. Nedregard’s eyes look expressive but rather empty partly due to her own short-sightedness and partly to the closeness she installs between herself and members of the public, when focusing is no longer possible. Nedregard stimulates a sensorial multiplicity in her exchanges by often covering the eyes of the members of the public and turning them around so that they face the walls. Would Nedregard’s dream be that the public cover their eyes or face the wall, casting away their gazes during her performances?

As Tiresias and Homer, blind seers and poets are a commonplace in ancient Greek civilization. The enlightened are in darkness and see, not through their eyes, but through other senses. Perhaps, not even through the scientifically acknowledged human senses like vision and touch, but unexplored ones that provide seers and poets with divinatory and artistic power. Underplaying vision, Nedregard explores those other senses and, most importantly, pushes that perspective on to the public. Blindness brings the mind to a vertiginous state where other senses take over and other realities could become apparent.

AgnesNedregardPhotoEricMerour3In On the Soul, Aristotle states that “the primary form of sense is touch.” He differentiates the sense of touch from the others as being multiple–instead of binary–and linked to action and movement to fulfill a primary need: nutrition. In spotting her prey, Nedregard fully conveys that primordial meaning of touch. Driven, in part, by impaired vision, Vertigo of the Mind stimulates deep reflection into haptic, kinesthetic and spatial responses.
Aristotle further observes that touch is also multiple in the sense that it is attached to the skin, a varied and the largest organ of the human body. Vertigo of the Mind feeds from the body of both the artist and the public, collapsing and receding, with the aim not to spare the sensorial capacities of the flesh.
In distinguishing touch from the other senses, Aristotle notes that the stimulus and the organ (the flesh) must collapse for the flesh to be stimulated. There is, then, an immediacy in touch whereas other senses, like vision, need for the stimulus to travel through a medium–air–for stimulation to occur. As defined by Aristotle, touch is “the absence of any intervening body.” In her public presentations in Paris, Nedregard expressed that she deeply values performance art’s potential to create immediacy in an increasingly mediatized world.
In Sense and Sensibilia, Aristotle states, “The organ of touch proper consists of earth, and the faculty of taste is a particular form of touch. This explains why the sensory organ of both touch and taste is closely related to the heart. For the heart as being the hottest of all the bodily parts, is the counterpoise of the brain.” Vertigo of the Mind proposes, then, a sensorial experience that appeals to emotions, rather than the intellect, opening a vast spectrum of feelings and insights. Nedregard challenges the conventional arrangement of low and high senses, inspired by Aristotle, with touch, smell and taste belonging to the lower rank and vision and hearing to the higher.

AgnesNedregardPhotoEricMerourHailed by some as one of the most relevant books by Jacques Derrida, Le Toucher or On Touching Jean-Luc Nancy argues that touch is the way to transcendentality. In Le Toucher, Derrida converses with philosophers about touch. When he talks to his friend Nancy, whom he considers the most learned man in matters of touch, Derrida asks how he could touch him.
“Nothing to teach Jean-Luc Nancy, of course, and nothing to make known to him. How could I pretend to give, and give to think anything, to one of those thinkers in whose proximity it is always better to hold one’s tongue and lend an ear? I wanted, without telling him anything, at least to touch him. But not without tact, from a respectful distance.
And, if it was still necessary to tell him something, that it be a sort of secret: something confided or confessed that, without teaching him anything, without bringing anything to his awareness, especially not the truth, would have had as effect to touch him.”
This quote summarizes Nedregard’s proposal to the public that Sunday afternoon within the white and clean walls of that large venue called Le Generateur. She used touch to fill that space, which bears a provoking history.
AgnesNedregardPhotoEricMerour2Built as a cinema theater, Le Generateur, was transformed in what is currently the only venue dedicated to experimental performances in Paris, keeping the theater’s empty walls with its seats having been removed. Le Generateur is located in Paris’ outskirts, only a few meters from “le Peripherique” (the beltway), being in the threshold makes the space even more compelling. Nedregard seized the opportunity to transform that liminal former temple of vision into a nonhierarchical kingdom of Touch. Toward the end of Le Toucher, Derrida notes, “Like any good blind man, I have originated myself by touch.” Through touch, then, Nedregard, performs the Greek seer as well as the Irigarayan angel, the in-betweener heralding a message from another world. What is touch other than the awareness of liminality, the beginning and end of ourselves and the Other, the very origin of knowledge?
It is interesting that Derrida’s Le Toucher, a book about men touching men, in a way, with a male philosopher acknowledging that it is only by touching that he can touch another male philosopher, was published only after Derrida’s death. In Marine Lover, Luce Irigaray asks: “Can she alone feel the music of the air trembling between the wings of the angels, and make or remake a body from it?“
Irigaray has elaborated a whole theory of touch challenging the objectifying power of vision that she later reviewed, conciliating touch and vision by proposing a renewed approach of a tactile look.
In Vertigo of the Mind, as well as in many of her other pieces, Nedregard dialogs with Irigaray in numerous ways.
Vertigo of the Mind is an exploration of the tactile look, a look that plays with touch and vision, in movement, asserting Nedregard’s own identity without fixating the Other. Nedregard performs the Irigarayan angel, circulating among the public, carrying her own message, her own message repeatedly impregnated by the messages of the Other, from one member of the public to another, destroying the monstrous but keeping the wonder. Just like angels, Nedregard is inapprehensible, unfixated, unfixable and unfixing. Vertigo of the Mind is an exercise with a new language where every new interaction with members of the public opens up to multiplicity, just like the sensible transcendental.

FredericLeightonTheReturnofPerspephoneCCHow does this earthly and tactile work relate to her project Suspended, where Nedregard explores different sorts of heights through airy acrobatics? Nedregard defines her work as physical performances, stating that they stem from her training as a climber. Climbing involves both an intense haptic experience engaging all senses but also an obsession with summits and heights. From a theoretical viewpoint, namely from an Irigarayan perspective, touch and heights, earth and ether are opposites and rather inconciliable. Could Nedregard climb the depths of the underground instead of erect summits? Vertigo of the Mind has much potential that Nedregard could further exploit, becoming a Ἁγνὴ Περσεφόνη (Agnes Persephone, Agnes or Hagnes being a common epithet of Persephone), an angel between the above and the underworld, without ever tasting pomegranate seeds.

Also published on Dimanche Rouge Magazine www.dimancherougemag.org

 

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Photo Credits:
Agnes Nedregard. Photo: Agnes Nedregard.
Agnes Nedregard. Dimanche Rouge: Focus on Norway, Le Generateur. Photo: Lubomira Valcheva.
Agnes Nedregard. Dimanche Rouge: Focus on Norway, Le Generateur. Photo: Eric Merour.
Agnes Nedregard. Dimanche Rouge: Focus on Norway, Le Generateur. Photo: Eric Merour.
Agnes Nedregard. Dimanche Rouge: Focus on Norway, Le Generateur. Photo: Eric Merour.
Frederic Leighton, The Return of Persephone (CC).

Agnes Nedregard’s Website: www.agnesnedregard.com

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Opie Boero Imwinkelried’s work explores language and technology with a focus on the ancient Roman and Greek worlds in connection with contemporary society. Imwinkelried organizes Dimanche Rouge, an experimental performance art event taking place monthly in Paris, France. www.dimancherouge.org

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