Excerpt from Hu's 20 minute presentation for Speaking Without Thumbs - DAI's 3 day graduation lectures marathon, July 2016
Hu Wei’s performance lecture unfolded in three distinct parts: a dance of mirrored gestures with a dancer; a handheld experimental video piece; and the reading of an original text with the dancer. In the first part, Hu Wei attempted to mimic the more capable dancer’s every move, following her with full concentration and close attention. They loosely followed the white lines taped to the ground in a kind of labyrinthine map. One agent directs the other as they mirror each other’s language, but it soon becomes clear who is leading.
In the second part, a video work showing Hu Wei and the dancer curiously encountering an unknown (to-them) living organism was screened, suggesting alternative subject-object relations. And in the final part, both speakers make commands, and speak out comments, thoughts, buzzwords, questions, and phrases such as, “a loop outputs program its inputs” or “I am a rational animal”. The text (which is read continuously and rhythmically without pause) is clearly related to objecthood/subjecthood, and agency, asking: What is agency? When does divergence lead to opposition? How does circuitry develop the “capacity to be the other”?
Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung remarked how in the first part, the bodies impact space. “Looking at you moving around in a dance, I was thinking [about how I am] watching this in space in a particular time and how different bodies impact those spaces – the impossibility of imitation!” This also made him think about Henri Lefebvre – how space is impacted differently and how one acts within spaces. In the second part of the performance he was thinking about the object and the idea of discovery in itself – “what we read and do not read in spaces,” asking, “what is the relationship between the objects we find and us? Do the objects find us?” Also questioning how we rationalize things to form beliefs, he asks how what we believe fits within out frames: “How do we shift the geography of the rational?” In the third part, he said, addressing Hu Wei and his collaborator, “even in the cases where you were synchronized, I was interested in the aspects of sound – accent, and the physicality of that sound and how it came to me.”
Ekaterina Degot remarked that in the first part there was a clear dialectical relation – “all art has this representational character and we still deal with representation in art.” In the second part, which consisted of a film, Degot said that the surrealistic image of the “potato with holes” will haunt her, but the third part made it all understandable, especially in this most important, “meta-critical, self-conscious” moment when the repetition was broken because it shows imitation’s relation to cause and effect. Degot noted that recent discussions of imitation in art (which were fashionable topics in the 80s) and address mimesis, mimicry and representation, are not popular topics now.
Bassam el Baroni thought that the interesting aspect of Hu Wei’s work was not the idea of imitation in the work but rather the subtle opening up of neglected questions about comparative cultures. He saw this performance lecture work as a tool to unravel something and let us begin to talk about important questions without the idea of an “absolute other”. “Imitation is the tool, not the project,” he clarified. “How do I think comparatively in an interesting and challenging way that leads to self understanding about what I am doing [in this specific place]?” El Baroni linked Hu Wei’s methodology to childhood and play, along with some elements of horror and self-discovery in order to get to that “comparative moment”. Considering the sinologist and philosopher François Jullien could help with rethinking comparison. “The meeting of Chinese and Western modes of thought should at least facilitate the following reflection: alongside human nature the universal is perhaps less than immediately given. Instead it is a horizon[…]that is never completely reached or known…”
Marina Vishmidt saw Hu Wei’s performance lecture as a philosophical fairy tale – a dramatization of a process of learning. The film created a “psychedelic primal scene of pedagogy.” Vishmidt read this as an allegory for education and colonial relations. She offered the idea that if mimesis is a non-human dynamic there might be ways to escape the subject-object relationship. In the film, this relationship is “played out as a comic-horror scene of domination…and establishes and breaks the subject-object relation through mirroring.” For Vishmidt, this is a way of acting out “drama of education and the way this creates the human”. She considered the spatial markers on the floor as a “diagram of learning and also a diagram of consciousness” and found the work materially convincing.
About: Speaking Without Thumbs
Hu Wei's website