Artur Tajber’s TORONTO TABLEABLE
I think that ‘physical space’ is a reflection of state of soul; physics and psyche influence each other… physics changes into psyche through a succession of facts. The physics of geometry versus the psyche of memory.—Artur Tajber
Though the concept of the psyche is an accepted signifier of non-somatic experience in 21st century western culture, the concept of physics, from simple to quantum mechanics, functions as a scientific reality that refutes any relationship with the psyche. Only in the works of artists and very alternative thinkers do we find a meeting place for these concepts, a plane where both function.(1) TORONTO TABLEABLE, the performance piece from the WALK’MAN series that Artur Tajber presented on March 14, 2005 at Gallery 1313, conceptually closes the gap between physics and psyche, science and the soul.
During Artur Tajber’s performance, at any given moment, we observe TABLEABLE multiple times: as an immediate performance, as a shadow performance, and layered over and responsive to a videotape of previous “TABLEABLE” performances projected on the wall behind Tajber. His multiple pasts in motion function as the set and the scenery– a physical and psychic environment where geometry and memory are ever present. The video projection is composed of at least two different time frames superimposed, edited so that simultaneous actions feed or respond to each other. At the same time, present action is in the process of becoming past action, as the performance is being documented.
In TABLEABLE, Performer-Tajber engages in a virtually continuous motion using the hooked handle of an umbrella to manipulate a table and a chair in interaction with the Video-Tajber, thus continuously constructing the Shadow-Tajber. The Performer-Tajber is the only conscious player, capable of changing the course of events mirrored by the Shadow-Performer, but not able to change (at least in real time) the past, the video projection of other performances out of which this investigation emerges. The Butterfly Effect comes to mind, a physics theory suggesting that the flapping of butterfly wings in one continent can be the contributing factor that causes a tornado in another continent. Perhaps Tajber’s TABLEABLE is similarly responsive to initial conditions of the WALK’MAN series, influenced by chaos rather than the ’domino effect’ of linear responsibility.
The Shadow-Performer cannot be manipulated; he will always appear along the floor and wall as a flat black reproduction of Tajber’s actions, but his performance can be distorted by lighting techniques. This elongated specter is a slave to Tajber’s engagement with the table, chair and umbrella. Rhythmically, his silhouette blocks out sections of the projection like a Lautrec poster of Valentine dancing at the Moulin Rouge, in a most imaginative transformation using the physics of light. Actions on film precede actions on the gallery floor, and the shadow intercepts their relationship.
We accept psyche and physics to be ’real‘ things, but they are just names we give to two different categories of experience and observation. Physics describes the plane of visible movement and placement of matter that is physically readable and repeatable. In order for the planes of physics and psyche to meet, semiosis must be suspended. Though it is impossible to restrict signifiers, one can try to approach the work, at least initially, without imposing or extracting meanings inherent in the symbolic nature of the materials by observing through the eyes of a scientist, a so-called ‘objective’ observer. We can pretend to remove ourselves from the role of ’critic‘ – the cultural super-ego.(2) We can consider the object we name “the umbrella” not for its function as an object that protects us from the elements, but for how it is used in the piece, as an extension of the artist’s arm and a hook that assists the artist to move a table around… and around and around… the mediator between the performer and the resistance of gravity and friction that the laws of physics impose on the table.
Throughout TABLEABLE, I find it impossible to avoid recognizing ’scenes‘ evoked by Tajber, such as the image of ’an elegant man seated on a chair atop a table holding an open umbrella’ — only one of the explorations the artist encounters among many less personally rich signifying explorations. For me, this scene captures a sense of daily human experience, reverberating outward into a relationship with its audience in the same way that the piece consistently reverberates in space and time with its multiple selves. Yet the ‘scenes’ are not a destination. In this work the recognizable appears to have equal value with the incomprehensible, Both are equalized in that they are constructed by associations, by relationships, by congruencies with anything they happen to be in association, relationship or congruent with or to, with things in space and time. The relationship of TABLEABLE to space and time is to itself. Order is not Tajber’s goal. This is immediately and a little distractingly apparent in simple visual cues. For example, the table used in the videos is strikingly different from the one Tajber pushes around the gallery floor. Present action, though superimposed on past action, is not a duplication, but a response in present time with present materials. New choreography is being created out of different events in another time, at the same time.
This is a mirror of the psyche, as our thinking and emotional response processes in the present are wedded and maybe welded to past associations. At any moment the conscious artist can deflect but not totally control the projectory into a different reality composed of our moment-to-moment emergence from the backward-in-time continuum. Physics and psyche meet through the superimposition of time finessed by the performance. Quantum physics’ concepts of time dilation occur naturally in the psyche and in outer space. Only when the clock ticks on earth do we have artificial time, created by man to give an impression of measured order, even as human experience tells us that time is abstract and its duration is created by our response to events. A series of events such as changing seasons is a sequence of events, not a measurement of time.
After the performance, Tajber was asked questions regarding the symbolic meaning of the table, and the significance of that particular table. He asserted that the table has no symbolic value – what is important is the relationship that is developed and explored between him and the table during performance. Thus, the table comes into the piece lifeless (arbitrarily purchased we learned from the Sally Ann, a discard), with intention by the artist not to exploit its history. Therefore, the table begins as a dead, inanimate physical structure, is externally animated for the duration and ends as a completed exploration, again a physically dead structure ready to be returned to the Salvation Army! The reproduction created by technology is inorganic, therefore lifeless. Though animation can be seen, the ultimate goal of return to stasis is maintained. Approaching TABLEABLE psychoanalytically, I was interested in applying Freud’s controversial theory of the Death Drive in response to the turning in on itself and repetition in and of the piece. Freud considered himself a man of science; no soul came forth out of this death. The Death drive is constructed on a theory of desire for stasis, as all life progresses intentionally toward death, a return to an original pre-organic state; in TABLEABLE process is the exhaustion of exploration, when the table returns to its original unsymbolic stasis.
The other side of the psychoanalytic coin is transformation, a Jungian construct that involves new life emerging from the old, within the psyche. Jung’s work is concerned with transformation and individuation, psyche/soul during and after life. “Physical space is a reflection of state of soul,” says Tajber. TABLEABLE evolving out of the WALK’MAN series is about relatedness in all its variants and richness. Tajber describes his initiation into an altered attitude of walking upon witnessing thousands of singing birds flying in structurally complex forms in many planes while he stood on the Lagan River Bridge in Belfast. This experience affected his consciousness and relatedness, not his soma, but the experience has been transformed into a different way of being in the concrete world. He now walks freely, “hangs about”, does not walk toward. In physics terms WALK’MAN can only be measured in scalar terms, absence of direction, not as a vector measurement that includes direction. This factor alone creates scientific chaos, due to the element of time. In Jungian terms, the giving up of direction, the sacrifice of controlling the destination of the situation, allows the possibility of ’being‘ in the situation. This is what leads to transformation. Tajber talks of the layers of his experience, of always doing many things at the same time and valuing them as chaos that “has a common and harmonious denominator.” Abandoning direction but including time as the third dimension, Tajber uses performance as another layer in the chaos of the writing, drawings, photographs, and film work that he has done since 1995, and trusts that this compilation of chaos, particularly through performance, will “maintain my independence from what I do not like – circumstances, offices and establishment; to keep the distance; to have an alternative.” Psychoanalytically, it maintains his capacity to be becoming all the time.
For me, the elegance and eloquence of the piece and the performer were and continue to be an enriching experience. My experience was enlivened, of course, by my initiation into the performance art community of Toronto – I will never again have that intriguing sense of the unfamiliar that was present for me attending the performance at Gallery 1313. Having the persona of the ‘outsider’ in that intimate space contributed to the dance of subjectivity/objectivity that gave me an arena of play in response to the experience. As the second person to enter the gallery, I made ‘an entrance’ for the artist as he spoke with the organizer and the ticket taker. I seemed to be the only person who knew no one else in the space, and I was bemused that, curiously, I was the only blonde woman in the room. A pleasant self-consciousness made me performative, a very slight disturbance, like the butterfly wings affecting initial conditions. Psyche and soma. I found Tajber very attractive, particularly during the discussion period after the piece and film, when I egocentrically perceived (or misperceived) that he directed many of his answers toward me, looking into the eyes of my ‘mystery woman’ persona. Twenty-five years ago I would have intuitively known whether it was OK to go home with the artist. Ah, transformation and the strangeness of being middle aged, single and new to this state. I slipped out quickly, and left it a mystery whether my flapping butterfly wings could start a little tornado.
(1) A recent exception to this is the film “What the Bleep do We Know”. The science of physics is slowly incorporating concepts that art has always contained.
(2) Tajber’s life as an artist began within a political regime that censored art. His work became performance, in order to be to be ’outside‘ the line of vision and control of an ordering social element.
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