Nika Timashkova: "How to exhaust symbols?"

Nika's 20 minute presentation for Maelstrom Slow Dance - DAI's 3 day graduation lectures marathon, June 2017



Nika Timashkova has orchestrated what appears to be a ritualistic purification involving four people on the stage. Water is a central element of the performance. In this slow and deliberate work, the central figure keeps her back to the audience throughout the duration of the piece. Through the spoken texts and projected images on the screen, the artist’s relationship to the blank page is carefully brought to the fore through a careful framing of stillness and silence. Towards the end of the performance, the three performers carry out the ritual of washing the central figure’s long hair, symbolically evoking the transformative and purifying potential of water.

Thinking over the components of the lecture performance, Ray Brassier recalled the role of symbolization, the use of the screen, the projection of silhouette against the screen as the text is read, the image of what seemed to be fingers playing in water, and the invocation of the contrast between water and earth. Wondering about the opening definition of bezkraina - invoked in order to change the language of symbols - to let them wander, he asked, “is it how to exhaust the meanings that can be communicated by a finite combination of symbols or is it about the exhaustion of symbolization as such - a condition where one is liberated from the injunction to symbolize?” For Brassier, this lecture performance struck him as “a poetic performance, the enacting of some kind of ceremony [which] seemed to have some kind of symbolic import.” As a viewer, he found he could identify resonances, and found it to be a very rich and compelling piece of work, “like a 3D poem of language, light and performance.”

Gabi Ngcobo began by saying that she didn’t trust herself to answer the question Nika posed. “I don’t trust myself to respond to what I just saw. You can exhaust symbols by making them into icons, a kind of space of consensus.” In regards to the question of the white space, she proposed that that space is a space of warped agreement. Needing more time to process the lecture performance, she conceded, “I struggle to connect that idea to the image that I see on stage.”

Echoing the previous respondents, Bassam el Baroni echo previous struggled a bit with the question, wanting to know why Nika wants to exhaust symbols, and asking, “in which directions would that head?” El Baroni proposed that since most symbols are exhausted, “this turns around full circle in the final part of presentation when we seem to getting a kind of religious ceremony.”  For him, this ambiguous spiritual ceremony created a poetic formulation. “How can I ask that and have this allusion to a baptism (such a heavily loaded symbology)?” Elaborating on this, he mentioned that “in the 1980s, there was the idea that everything has been done with the image and historic symbologies started to re-emerge.” Although he appreciated the affective qualities of the piece, he thought that the “question hadn’t been seen through because it can only been seen with the why, which was not there.”

Rachel O’Reilly responded with a comment on the choice of media, because for her, asking this question and using water as a medium would have been a tough choice. Giving a rather personal reaction, she said, “I feel out of depth responding to this because I was raised outside of the church and western art history. To consider water as something that is exhausting a symbolic or semiotic system is already very caught in western art history.” Elaborating on this and making reference to Adorno’s essay “Language without soil”, O’Reilly remarked that “the context of the question was absented through the choice of medium.”