A small room in Dumbo underneath the Manhattan Bridge, June 25, 2009
On June 26th at a Chelsea bar called The Park, I was among a group of listeners as poet Jeremy Sigler described the inauguration of an ongoing intermedia event entitled Sculpture, in which a person (or persons) is invited by Sigler’s secretary to occupy a darkened room, naked and silent, with Sigler, also naked and silent, for one hour. Sigler described Sculpture as an exploration of what can be considered a poem. His description of Sculpture inspired this review.
For Sculpture, the room was Sigler’s Dumbo office, a 10-by-10-foot white-painted brick room on the seventh floor of an old warehouse, with a twenty-inch porthole-like window and a single bentwood chair. The porthole is a corrugated steel duct rammed through the wall offering a circular view of the East River just under the Manhattan Bridge. The room’s former occupant, one Scott Fulmer, contrived this porthole as a window without glass so that the city’s sounds and those of the trains passing in 10-minute intervals on the bridge above create a hypnotic drone in the room. As Sigler describes it:
The portal is both a sound and light feature. It lets a bluish light into the space almost like a projected film beam hitting the opposite wall and spreading. While the room is too dark to reveal facial features, it does light the bodies in flat shades of gray, and as the eye adjusts one feels less the cover of darkness and more the erotic tension coming from the feeling of being inside a theatrically lit, noir-ish stage set.
For Sculpture, the bodies in question were three: Sigler’s and two anonymous women who were brought to the room by Sigler’s secretary for the purpose of completing the performance. The secretary did her job exceptionally well, apparently intuiting the precise level of control she was to exert over the performance and the performers. She found the women (though the number did not have to be two, nor did they have to be women; the screening of performers was entirely in the secretary’s hands) and directed them to come to the room naked at a precise time. There was no script, no definite plan of action beyond that point. They would know in advance that Sigler would be there. Or rather that someone would who would also be naked, and that the three of them would share the dark room for an hour, no more, at the end of which a firm knock on the door would signal the end of the performance.
It started with psychoanalysis, Sigler says. His 3-year involvement with Lacanian psychoanalysis gave rise to Sculpture. Personally, I think of psychoanalysis as a journey into the self, with no one at the reins because the person who usually holds the reins has become the terrain to be traversed, and since this terrain is the object of the journey, one experiences the simultaneous impression of having already arrived and having just set out. Where does this road lead?
Sculpture makes me think of my fear of never getting a handle on my own identity. This is why I believe the performers in Sculpture had to be naked. Though the nudity in Sigler’s Sculpture surely involves eroticism, it made me think more of existentialism (though in truth I cannot recall if it was me who associated Sculpture with existentialism or Sigler in the course of our conversation or Craig Olson, who mentioned the Marquis de Sade). With Sade, all existence is corporeal and the body becomes the final frontier of experience. But existentialism was not about carnal experience for its own sake. Despite their bodily broodings, many existentialists were tormented by uncertainty as they struggled to piece together their respective ontologies. Doubt about how to think about existence was key to their philosophies.
Sculpture seems to use nudity to symbolize doubt. Our clothing presents an artificial face to the public and covers our nakedness, which has been condemned as sinful in the past and is now, at the very least, considered distasteful almost everywhere but a few circumscribed and exclusive areas. And yet this flesh, with its manifold blemishes and irregularities, known so well to ourselves but not to others, when we are left with nothing covering it among strangers, this flesh afflicts us with the most powerful feelings of vulnerability and self-consciousness. Although it may not define us, it seems that when our flesh is exposed we are unable to cling to the illusions that we maintain about who we are. The painters Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud definitely have a point. Nudity can symbolize vulnerability and doubt at the same time as it embodies carnality and desire. In Sculpture the room’s half-light softens the nakedness, mystifying the exposed flesh in semi-obscurity.
In the small room, Sigler and the two women triangulate. They do not touch but move around one another, reinforcing as they do a sense of evolving geometry and physical precision. Each gesture by a performer precipitates a response from the other two. The absence of a script turns out to have been itself a kind of script. A tentative, almost childlike beginning gives way to an increasing feeling of intimacy. Sigler describes his own suspense and insecurity sitting naked in the room before the two performers’ entry and how these feelings gradually decreased as the performance progressed. He describes the experience in terms of dance and mentions Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. Something about Sculpture’s formality reminds me of Balanchine whose neo-classical poise makes for delicious suspense. Sigler also mentions Rodin as an inspiration. If any sculptor had a sense of the terror and ecstasy to be found in corporeality, it was Rodin.
Only at the very end do Sigler and one of the models touch. They are sitting opposite each other, legs outstretched in front. Not a word has been exchanged the whole time. The dance takes place in silence until the point that Sigler’s toe makes contact with another toe. There is a firm knock on the door. The two women rise and exit as instructed, leaving Sigler alone, naked in the dark room.
The next day Sigler fired his analyst. He intends to answer for himself the question of whether Sculpture can replace psychoanalytic sessions and possibly go beyond them. The answer to this question would seem to be different for each of us. One of the goals of therapy is to eventually leave therapy. But hasn’t Sculpture transplanted therapy’s ethos of analysis and self-examination to Sigler’s life at large? At that point, has one left analysis, or finally entered fully into it?
ContributorBen La Rocco