The Corporeal Experience of Rock Cover Remix / Magdalena Rozenberg

When I write this text the installation Rock cover remix is under construction and not yet finished, so my main references for interpretation and involvement with the installation are the drafts and pictures that’s been sent to me. In other words, an experience that is completely based on thoughts that occur as I observe the material through the computer screen: feelings developed from only looking at the installation from an outside perspective, instead of truly within. 

If you follow philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, our recognition of the world can never be independent from our body. Merleau-Ponty develops a phenomenology which is based on the idea that the world appears through a corporeal experience of it, when body, mind, and all our senses are at work together as one. A subject’s meeting with a thing is a fundamental and primary corporeal experience, which he calls pre-reflective: before our thoughts about our meeting with the world occur, there is a corporeal encounter with this world. Our consciousness is established in our body, and it is from this point that the human being has access to the surrounding world. Sensing, in contrast to knowing, is a “living communication with the world that makes it present to us as the familiar place of our life”. The unconscious has, through the body, apprehended the world before thought or consciousness has had the time to. A subject inhabits a space with all the senses working composed as one. This could also be the case with the involvement with an artwork. To truly experience an art installation, we essentially have to experience it with all our senses. A way of doing so, is to walk in to it. 

Since Rock cover remix isn’t ready yet, I decide that I need to bring myself down to Spacegirls studio in Vesterbro, Copenhagen, where they cast the concrete panels, which ultimately will become the installation. At the studio I have the possibility to step inside the work of the artist, together with the artist. To apprehend and be a part of the process and progress of the installation. 

To understand and perceive the world Merleau-Ponty thinks that the body works as a totality instead of different parts. The world opens up to us through us becoming a part of it, the senses communicate with each other just like the body’s arms and legs work together. The different senses’ description of the world collectively shapes a complex image of reality. There is no such thing as an objective picture of the world, since alone “experience” implicates that the experience that we have as a subject in the world,
is just that, in the world, and can’t be acquired from an outside position, but rather we have to be a part of it ourselves. We are not looking down on the world from a space station in cosmos, no we perceive and feel it from within. The same goes for experiencing art. 

When looking at the drawings for The Rock cover remix, what comes to mind is that the sculptural installation welcomes you as a spectator inside the work of art itself. It says “be my guest, welcome in.” It welcomes you to move, to touch, to feel, to be a part of the artwork. It welcomes you into a room that usually is excluded for the artists themselves: in Rock cover remix this room inside the artwork, becomes an open room for the viewer to corporeally experience the work. Since the viewer steps inside the artwork, you are forced to feel with all your senses. Eyesight, hearing, tactility is at work combined with your bone structure that moves your body up the staircase and to the “roof” of the installation. The movement, making the body work closely with the mind in a procedure throughout the installation, unables the observation to be static. Through active motion, mind and body enables the experience to become not only an intellectual observation, but an interactive one. 

In the studio. I step into Spacegirls studio, located just behind Jolene, a club in the Copenhagen meatpacking district, ready to use my body and consciousness by working with the production of the concrete panels. The heavy process of making concrete panels, where you truly are forced to use your muscles, almost makes you step out of your mind and become body alone. But just almost. Soon it becomes clear that this production is a work where your thoughts and brain need to be activated as well, to simultaneously with the physical work, count and then measure the water, cement, rocks and so on. 

For Merleau-Ponty art is about visibility. The artist has the unique capability to make things and phenomena visible, that had previously been invisible to the observer. Spacegirls’ praxis achieves this in a curious way. Merleau-Ponty’s aesthetics is mainly based on arguments about painting, and that the painter has a trained eye to see the pre-reflective world and transform this into the painting. What Spacegirls do is to guide the viewer in to the art installation, and if the viewer is lucky, Spacegirls guidance will enable you to see new or different spatiality’s, as well as objects. There is a hands-on approach to the work. All art is dependent on the viewer, but Rock cover remix also becomes dependent on the viewers moving through the work. The activation of mind and body together with all the senses, allows feelings to become closer to the viewer. Because the aesthetic experience is not only what appears in front of you, but how, which feelings it appeals to. When you are allowed to step inside, and take part, instead of viewing from an outside position, an overturn of emotions is allowed to truly affect you. Sven Lindqvist’s book A myth about Wu Tao-tzu begins with a scene where the artist finishes his painting and steps inside the artwork. It symbolises the need for all senses to be activated together with the body in the understanding and interpretation of an artwork. 

Rock cover remix is an open installation, but when you first look at it you may see the opposite. The huge installation is built out of concrete panels hanging on scaffolding. The panels have a heavy look on the outside, that with the rough surface containing broken rocks, can look hard yet playful. When you walk inside you will come close to the other side of the concrete: which plays with the actual concrete material. Concrete, that can come across as a bit heavy, brutal and massive, is here also smooth and friendly by means of the soft surface on the inside. The hard material gets a sensual, gentle inside that helps the visitor to break the preconceptions about the composition and the experience and use of it, and therefore provoke other feelings than the preconceived. Through this treatment of material, Spacegirls’ installation breaks the dichotomy of an artwork having a frontside and a backside, instead is there an inside and an outside that communicate with each other, as well as with the visitor. The inside and the outside are equal. The installation and the movement in and out it makes it in some fashion hopeless to label the installation with words such as frontside and backside, loaded with positive and negative meaning. 

Outside the studio the production of the panels makes my body and mind work collectively. To stir the concrete mix, to feel it with my hands and see it my eyes, to smell the mix and hear the noise of the cement blender, makes me feel closer to the installation, actually makes me closer to the installation. When the mix is ready, it’s being poured into the frames, it’s a precise yet vague procedure, heavy yet gentle. Pairs of opposition are combined. 

For Merleau-Ponty a subject is always a body-subject, there is a bodily permanence which is unavoidable. Merleau-Ponty looks beyond the subject-object divide to try to gain insight into the concrete structures of worldly experience. Humans and the world are connected with each other, in an intertwining with the world, a sort of labyrinth. In Inger Christensens’ books the labyrinth is a metaphor for the world, its mobility and changeability, its ambiguity, the labyrinth shows that the human always has a position within the world and therefore their impossibility to overlook the whole world (labyrinth) and interpret and comprehend it to its fullest. This symbiosis or call-and-response between the body and the world is in a way an image of the viewers experiences of Rock cover remix. 

The body is a thing among other things, but since it moves and views, it keeps stuff in a circle around oneself. Since perception is a fundamental corporeal experience, a person can only have the possibility to see things from one specific perspective at a time. If you throw a dice, you know that there are always more sides than you can see, you get one perspective at a time. What the artist can do is to arouse what in this perspective isn’t visible to become visible. Rock cover remix invites the viewer to see new perspectives and show perceptions we haven’t been able to see or feel. 

After the production of one batch of concrete panels, I feel that I’m able to picture the installation on another level then from just looking at the drawings. Since the installation isn’t ready when I write this, my way of stepping in to Rock cover remix is by working with a casting of the panels, together with the artists themselves. And it seems like it’s been a golden way to be able to come under the skin of the installation and to float with it.

References: Inger Christensen “Hemmelighedstilstandet”, Inger Christensen “Del af labyrenten”, Sven Lindqvist “Myten om Wu Tao-tzu”, Maurice Merleau-Ponty “The visible and the Invisible”, Maurice Merleau-Ponty “Phenomenology og Perception”.