Erin Manning


On her book Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy

Cover Interview of April 13, 2010

In a nutshell

Relationscapes attempts to develop a theory of the incipiency of movement.  Initially, my main concern was to continue a line of questioning developed in my previous book, Politics of Touch, which already aimed to explore the amodality of sensation and how sensation is always linked to movement.

The focus of Politics of Touch was on the sensing body in movement’s relation to the political; emphasis being on how the sensing body in movement is distinct from the ubiquitous concept of the body-politic.  Upon finishing Politics of Touch, I wanted to delve deeper into the microperceptual fissures opened up by my work on touch/sensation.  This allowed me to engage more thoroughly within dance and movement studies (which have tended to focus on semiotic inquiry or movement in its phase of displacement) as well as on artistic and protopolitical practices that focus on movement.

A key concept in Relationscapes is preacceleration.  I developed this concept to get to the idea of a movement in its very primary phases of initiation, before it actualizes as such.  Preacceleration allows us to begin to develop a modality of thought for the virtual intensity of movement in its incipiency.  To explore movement in its incipiency allows for a different stance as regards movement.  It enables a focus on potential by exploring in detail the micromovements (including rhythm and duration) that are alive at the phase where a particular shape has not yet taken hold.  Once the movement is actualized (once a step is taken, for instance), movement is reduced to very specific conditions and is acted upon by its co-constitutive surroundings (including gravity).

Taking the thought of preacceleration across various fields, Relationscapes aims to develop a transversal vocabulary for how movement functions in areas as different as Leni Riefenstahl’s films, Étienne-Jules Marey’s’s chronophotographs, Dorothy Napangardi’s paintings, Shusaka Arakawa and Madeline Gins’s architectural concepts, and William Forsythe’s choreography.  The book crosses these fields (and more) with a continuous concern for the development of a politics of touch—a sustained engagement with the sensing body in movement.

Relationscapes draws to a close with an emphasis on language. Recent work by so-called low-functioning (non-speaking) autists suggests that language plays a large part in the thought of how movement moves.  With Amanda Baggs’s extraordinary short video, In My Language, I attempt to open the way for a reading of preacceleration (here called prearticulation) that allows for an engagement with the affective relational milieu a protolanguage (of gesture and sensation) calls forth.  Language in Baggs’s work is not conveyed solely through words, but through the creation of a responsive environment that facilitates complex communication beyond the limited notion of language-as-spoken.

Relationscapes seeks to make a philosophical contribution to art practices of various kinds, taking seriously the notion that an art practice—be it painting, dancing, filmmaking—develops concepts in germ and activates them in the language of its technicity.  Rather than speaking “about” art, from the outside of its incipient movement, Relationscapes aims to intercept concepts in the making, activating various modes of articulation in tandem with their emergence as artworks in their own right.  This is not a book that explains movement or stands outside a practice to articulate it. It is a book that attempts to dance in the writing, looking for a way to articulate what is perhaps most ineffable about art: how it moves us.