Les 12 heures de Rachel Echenberg | esse arts + opinions

Les 12 heures de Rachel Echenberg


She stands at a busy intersection. She is still and her eyes are closed. She stands from sunset to sundown. It is winter. She is bundled against the cold: mittens, coat, a toque, and a scarf.

Rachel Echenberg is performing. It is Tuesday February the 27th, 2001. It is a freezing winter day. She stands at the corner of Casgrain and St. Viatuer Est in Mile End, Montréal. She is rooted to this spot from 6 am to 6 p.m. The performance is recorded via a small camera hidden in the car across the street. This recording is fast-forwarded to collapse the twelve hours into twelve minutes and later this is projected against a transparent glass doorway as part of Projet Projo. (Presented by studio 303 at the mai from March 30 to 31.) It is a performance that I do not see. I learn of the performance after the fact through a phone conversation with Rachel, and later I view the video projection "12 hours". And yet I cannot let go of the idea and image of the physical performance that led up to the video. The image of Rachel Echenberg standing still, eyes closed, for twelve hours in the middle of winter is burned into the back of my eyes and I am quite literally haunted and seduced. Seduced by the image of Rachel standing still with her eyes closed.

Rachel closes her eyes. Deliberately choosing to blind herself. She maintains this willful blindness for the duration of her performance, sunset to sundown. To not see. To be like the child who places her hands over her eyes, believing that we can no longer see her. There is no visual exchange. A loss of an established transaction that interrogates the value of that which cannot be seen and poses this against the visual. Rachel enacts a corporeal transfiguration in public space, from eyes open to eyes closed. A transfiguration that images an already pre-existing blindness, an acknowledgment of that which we cannot see, or that which we cannot bear to see.

By refusing sight the neglected senses are made dominant over the all-consuming reign of the visual. Touch, smell, sound and taste are invited to unfold and envelop the body. I imagine Rachel attending to the feel of cold winter air on her exposed skin, the smell of exhaust fumes from the traffic, the sounds of voices and cars moving past and the taste of outside air in her throat. A sensual connection is made with the surrounding space. As a lover will close her eyes while caressing the skin of her beloved, losing the sense of her closed contained body as the two fleshes touch. Where inside and outside confuse boundaries. Interior space caressed by an exterior. Where the eyes of the body are opened to reveal a different order that is not based on exchange, but rather echoes the maternal space of unindivuated fusion.

Closing eyes. Faith. Faith as blind belief, as cleaving self to some ’other’, holding on firmly, with conviction, and confidence. To act as though those things that are not; are. Faith as a present act; the lame man walks not because of his faith, but because walking is an act of faith. A subtle yet important distinction that collapses any temporal passage between a now and a then. A faith in the present moment, in the continual displacement of this present into the past to be met anew by the next moment. So that faith is always this gravity which keeps her feet on the ground, this breath in her lungs.

Rachel lives again and again a sensual connection to the present moment. She privileges her body to place herself in a continual state of corporeal awareness. An awareness that differentiates itself from sight, that speaks a different language before division of self into an I and an other. She cleaves herself into this space where body and time merge under the exegesis of a natural order.

Rachel is immersed in the gravity of nature. She submerges herself in a sea of time. She bathes herself in each successive moment, surrendering to the full gravity of a cycle that she can not control. She surrenders to the weight of her body experiencing earth time, sun time, moving over her body. She aligns herself with the natural in the urban space of the city. Her body submits to and endures the frozen atmosphere, while those who pass by move through and struggle against nature, against time.

Rachel’s body is vulnerable and exposed through loss of sight in a way that leaves her open. She cannot apprehend the approach, nor the gaze of the other and so her blindness is made visible for the other as a sign. A sign of the terrible burden and weight that sight calls us to carry, a sign of our continual and perpetual failure in being responsible for this gift. Rachel’s blindness calls us to be accountable to our sight, we can see. We can see and the sight disturbs causing one woman to stop and ask Rachel if she is o.k. Another calls the police who arrive and place a hand in a firm grip on Rachel’s shoulder. Closing eyes in public confronts an unspoken protocol.

She stands in one place. All is moving around her. You pass by her body and do not register her deliberate stillness. You mistake her stillness for waiting maybe. Waiting for someone, for the chance to cross the street, for the appropriate time. In moving our bodies along any given trajectory the stillness of others passes us by. We do not perceive the motionless gesture; it is lost to us. Only through a return and finding her still there can we assume that she has not moved. It is only by taking up a similar posture that we can perceive someone else’s rootedness. In order to take in the meaning of her gesture we too must assume the same gesture. We too must be still.

For who does Rachel stand? Herself, some other, or some unknown? Why is her body fixed at this point, on this day for this many hours? I get the feeling that there is a particularity in her gesture. That is must be this particular spot on this particular day for this exact amount of time. Her gesture holds all the intentionallity of a private symbolic act. An act that she may indeed not know, that she may be blind to, the meaning of. And yet it carries within it a sense of deeply rooted meaning and significance that calls us to honor.

It reminds me of death. This refusal to move. This other side of movement. This becoming stationary, like the sidewalk that she stands on, like the post that she stands next to. Rachel is fixed in space like an object, a piece of architecture. And yet it is impossible for the body to remain motionless. The whole body sways while standing still. A figure eight movement is initiated, centre, forward, right side, backward, centre, forward, left side, backward, centre. All this to maintain a balance, so that even as Rachel stands subtle fluctuations of her body moves her. And she breathes. Air passes through her inner cavities. She breathes in, the air circulates within her, she breathes out. Each breath a continual enactment of life.

It is a busy corner. Borders define appropriate placement, sidewalk for humans, road for cars. It is a space constructed to move bodies and machines through. A space split between residential and manufacturer. During the day workers, business people and people who live in the area pass by. It is a space of passage. Rachel places her body within this active moving lieu of life. Hundreds of people pass by her stationary body. Her silent gesture is produced in public view.

Rachel does not close herself off, nor stand with her back to the wall. A passage is created around her. And yet no want propels her body into locomotion. She is exactly where she is. No thing calls her forward or pushes her back. The placement of her body is in perfect accord with this place. She is home. She dwells in herself.

And likewise she does not position herself as the lure of desire for the other. No passage leads to her as the desirable that launches the other towards her. She is sufficient unto herself, without lack, without need for completion. There is no space made for the other here. Which is not to say that the other is not welcomed alongside as companion; but rather that no bid of ownership is entertained.

In this gesture that opposes established function a space of resistance is opened up. The simplest of actions here has far-reaching and complex consequences. She does no thing. She produces no thing. She consumes no thing. She does not move, she does not see, she does not speak. Her presence is all. What if one or two others joined Rachel? What if one hundred or two hundred others joined Rachel? What if one thousand or two thousand others joined Rachel? We do no thing. We produce no thing. We consume no thing. We close our eyes, we stand still. We attend to the sensation of earth time passing over our bodies. Our presence is all.


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