Monday, July 7, 2008
Gravity. Published in Hue and Cry Journal.
A cat knows what gravity is, much more than you and I do, or can ever hope to. When on the prowl – when a cat is quintessentially a cat – a cat understands gravity well enough to pretend to be water, that to remain innocuous to perception, you must flow silently over the rocks, that the bird will escape if it perceives you as something alien to its surroundings, something unnatural. And water is natural – it obeys gravity, it is constantly moving in two directions, down and forward, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly. Water always seeks the least prominent place available. A cat knows this, as much as a cat can know anything, so a cat mimics water – it flows quietly and unassumingly until it is as close as it can get, and then WHAM it explodes back into cat form again, and the bird sees that it isn’t water but a cat, but by then it is too late.
So a cat knows what gravity is – much more than I do, and much more than a rocket scientist can do. If you throw a cat up in the air it will land on its feet, because it knows gravity, knows where down is.
I’ve never been to a ballet, but I like to think about dancing. I think all movement is just controlled falling. In fact, I think even staying still is controlled falling. A concrete brick on a concrete floor is controlled falling. All the structure of the brick is working against falling – all the grains or fibres or trace elements or whatever – they all are saying ‘UP!’ Staying together, staying upright or multi-dimensional is all about working against gravity, attempting to stay up when everything falls down. I think just staying upright is for all the elements of some thing to move upwards at the exact same pace as they are being pulled down.
It is in this light that I like to think about dancing. For me dancing isn’t an embodiment of emotion or snow or anything interpretive like that, but a basic expression of our desire to stay upright in existence. I think dancing is beautiful – not because it contains beauty, but because to dance is to be joyful while vertical. To express ‘UP!’ in any way is to enjoy what we can, while we can.
There is a scene near the end of the Jean-Luc Goddard film Hail Mary where the frame is fixed on the agitated surface of a swimming pool. The frame shows little but reflected blues and whites until the character Mary emerges, in a slow and languid half-twirl, holding her baby, Jesus, in her arms. The water parts without heroism for the simple upwards movement. It is plain, entirely ordinary, and yet somehow remains one of the more arresting and compelling things I have seen. While the figures moved upwards, the water moved down.
When I think about dancing, I don’t think about Swan Lake or Nutcracking, I think about dance as something to do. I think about dancing as one of the happiest and most natural ways to enjoy being human. When I go dancing I put on shoes with slippery soles, soles that make contact with the ground as fleeting and unstable as possible. and in this way I am always finding myself unbalanced in unexpected ways, and needing to invent new ways to make myself vertical. It is like this with sculpture. I like sculpture like I like music. The songs/sculptures are tangible abstractions of things too large, too small or complex or simple to understand in their entirety at any one time. They have hooks and progressions and drops and movements; they are finite and you can dance to them. What they suggest is a new way of being upright. Once you learn the brick dance from a sculpture, the gangster lean from a pop song, then you can see the brick dance everywhere, and dance the human dance alongside the dancing buildings in the dancing streets.
There was this young Polynesian girl leaning against a downtown bus stop sign as I walked past the other day. She was wearing a very large tee-shirt that covered her from her neck to her shins. It was white and in the sunlight reminded me instantly of Greek sculpture.
Hip-hop and rap culture is essentially a celebration of the body. Previously I had thought it to be a celebration of the word, but now I think quite otherwise. You can see it in the dancing, in the lyrics, in the mannerisms and foibles that make up the culture. I think that despite its insertion onto the realm of commodity, in its inception ‘urban’ culture was antithetical to consumer culture because it was all about aggressively inhabiting your own body. Inhabiting, not just using it as a vehicle to transport your head around, but as a home to live in. The massively oversize shirts act as an awareness of form, as an awareness that clothes are a social function, primarily designed as a signifier. The real form is always the body underneath the clothes.
What this girl knew, like a cat knows to be water, is something akin to what the Greeks must have known: that a loose cover is more celebratory of the form underneath than a tight cover. Her covering herself in the massively oversize shirt is a sign, a taunt that announces that she has a body and she has clothes, that the two are separate though intertwined. This is a taunt to those whose clothes mimic the shape of their body, whose clothes are so confused as to their role that what they cover is not the flesh, but the personality.
I think the Greeks understood that when covered, a form is most beautiful when it reveals itself in little moments – the intense beauty when a thigh or buttock impresses its form into the surrounding fabric, only to fall away again, mid stride. It is like a comment from a moving car: ‘You’re gay!’ or ‘I love you!’ or ‘Wooo!’ It is said and done and gone in an instant, but its impression is almost indelible. ‘I am not gay, dick!’ or ‘Wait! Who are you?’ or ‘Wooo what?’.It is these fleeting impressions that let the mind do what the mind does – fill the gaps. It is the space between the flesh and the fabric that the mind slips into, occupies briefly before it is pushed out again at the next step.
This is why it knocks my socks off when girls wear dresses. Sexy, to me is not having everything bare, revealed - that’s porn and science (the two are synonymous). Sexy is letting the mind explore the potentials of the body. Sexy is not just having clothes that mimic the skin – replacing the form with façade, like a hollow computer animation – but in knowing what you’ve got, and then being coy enough to keep it just that far from reach. Close, certainly, almost touching, but not quite. It’s like catching a glimpse of the ocean through the trees.
Sexy is about gravity, when the clothes literally hang on or off a form. Sexy is about up(form) and down(cover), about a leap and a landing, about dancing.
Essay by John Ward Knox