Performance and the spirit of place

I was delighted to be invited as a respondent for a performance by Fabrizio Manco, an artist who works with sound, place and embodiment. My response focused on the power of the genius loci – the spirit of place – which seems to me to be a key strand of his work.

Fabrizio presented his video How to Explain a Field to a Dead Magpie (?) as part of the performance. In this haunting piece the camera moves across a lonely field in rural Italy where magpies hang on trees as ‘scaremagpies’.

A dead magpie hanging from a tree

How to Explain a Field to a Dead Magpie (?). (Photo: Fausta Muci)

Magpies are often considered birds of ill-omen and the species is plagued by superstition. Ironically, although the farmer was trying to exorcise the magpie spirit, the dead magpies now haunt the field.

At one moment it seemed that the magpie spirit haunted the room we were in too: Fabrizio, wearing a magpie mask, danced slowly across the wooden floor as the video played, and then the sound of a bird screeching echoed around the room. It was not the soundtrack, but the artists shoes squealing on the parquet floor. How appropriate for an artist who references  John Cage’s aleatory music of chance!

Questions remain about what is chance and what is synchronicity – Jung’s “acausal connecting principle”. Classical Western thought is founded on notions of causality grounded in the strict division of ‘subject’ and ‘object’, but an animist viewpoint blurs such distinctions. An animist might well hear the squealing shoes as an echo of the magpie’s cry, especially as it came from a figure wearing a magpie mask.

Animism has long been considered as a primitive notion we can ignore, but it can take us beyond subject/object duality. Merleau-Ponty, for example, refers to “that primordial being which is not yet the subject-being nor the object-being” (1970). Perhaps the genius loci is neither subject nor object, but emerges from the way we are enmeshed in place. As David Abram explains, the human body is “a sort of open circuit that completes itself only in things, in others, in the encompassing earth” (Abram, 1996). Fabrizio explains that in his work place “is posited as process, a simultaneous unfolding before and within us”. He seeks to explore “[h]ow is it possible to co/in-habit through the aural with an environment”. Such explorations can lead us into an animist reality where spirits of place can be heard in a slip of the foot.



This entry was posted in Embodiment and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Performance and the spirit of place

  1. Sparks struck in my bodymind by Fabrizio’s piece and Adrian’s re-presentation of it:

    * Echoes of the photographer Shomei Tomatsu’s great work on/ with crows

    * Merleau-Ponty, The Visible & the Invisible, p.185: “The world is a field, and as such is always open.”

    * The issue is not subject/object but present/absent.

    • Administrator says:

      Hi Patrick,
      Good to read you here!

      Shomei Tomatsu’s work reminds me of Minor White – especially his “equivalents”.

      I’m intrigued by your comment, “The issue is not subject/object but present/absent”. Can you say more?

  2. Fabrizio Manco says:

    Thanks very much for your post Adrian, you really capture my work and are perfectly in tune with it, it’s a real privilege to read your words of such a perception and sensitivity, and thanks also to you Patrick.
    Particularly resounding are Adrian’s words on the genius loci connected to the performance, as well as Patrick’s points; the great Merleau-Ponty quote and Tomatsu’s depiction of crows and Butoh body of work.
    The concept of field really intrigues me. I have specifically explored the visual, performative and auditory aspect of delimiting a space and in general through my interest in agricultural work, the specific ways that farmers (including my parents) had to create their own arte povera, where plants were germinating and happenings were taking place. The site and field which is framed (yet open) is for life and its living spirit, the genius loci, the one that you Adrian talk about and connect to the ever so alive and present animism. As you say, it “emerges from the way we are enmeshed in place”. Thanks again for your enlightening insights.


    • Administrator says:

      Hi Fabrizio, great to hear I’ve grasped some of the subtly of your work. Let’s hope we can pursue this – perhaps a workshop drawing on ecophenomenology. ecopsychology and Animism?

      I like your thoughts on site and field: How the genius loci emerges from a place and the question of where the boundaries (if any!) are, is a live question for me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *