Ephemeral Movements

By Camilla Eeg - Tverbakk

Hands sensually moving across white sheets, shapes and colours in ever shifting jumps, flickering patterns of paper or facades nervously run across the screen. A sudden stop, an installation of miniature sheep on a green pasture and that same image broken into abstract digital imagery upon the walls – moving between micro and macro. Movements of a handkerchief climbing up a dancer’s body and into his pocket, meanwhile a young woman gradually disappears in a distant cornfield. An ashtray moves by itself along a solitary sofa, while the dancer repeatedly follows his own steps. An angel figure running through nature, mysteriously swallowed up into a stony hillside or a woman hanging from a tree – an image contrasted by floating staircases in the sky dancing to the sounds of the musicians on stage.

Tone Myskja’s video images are seductive in their sensual treatment of the body. They are stringent carrying a precise sense of rhythm. I ask myself what it is in her art that draws me to it, what was that echo I heard inside myself as I was watching? Perhaps it was my own body responding to her(s) calling?

In essence, Tone Myskja’s body of work contends with movement experienced through the physical as a way of grasping the life force in an encounter between the spiritual and the material. The choice of medium – video – reflects an interest in the exploration of rhythmic movement of form. Characteristic to Myskja’s video-works, are the clear cuts between contrasting images, from the still to the moving, from concrete to abstract and between colours. Myskja’s videos can be seen both in galleries and museums, as well as they can be part of a dance, or music performance. Through these different contexts, she has a possibility to investigate the body and its life rhythm from different viewpoints, either dealing directly with a two-dimensional representation, or entering into dialogue with the live, moving body on stage. Through the use of video, she looks for the meeting point between the real and the represented body. It is an effort that exposes the vulnerable edge between life and death, grasping for the moments between the shifts – or that which escapes the representational: the ruptures and gaps within the represented image, that place where the image leaks. This is reminiscent of Roland Barthe’s project in his book Camera Lucida, where themes of presence and absence are explored. This is a project searching for an expression for that something that punctuates the viewer, disturbs, challenges and seduces. That punctum where life escapes death, where life-energy leaks out of the (dead) representation on the video film or the printed photograph.

In her pieces White Out and Sjikt, Myskja has filmed her own body. Through the ephemeral quality of the slow moving images, ice-covered mountains and dreamlike landscapes from another time and place appear before the viewer. Landscape is another encounter that the urban body struggles to comprehend. These works reflect how the body absorbs the landscape and how the inner and outer realms dissolve into each other, escaping realism to create other dimensions. This process is reversed in a number of her other pieces. Scenes from nature are filmed and digitally abstracted, creating seemingly tactile images appearing as magnifications of the skin, or moving body parts. Like when sunrays play upon the surface of the ocean – filmed from a thousand meters distance in the piece Dal – Dale. In the work Ning there is a similar process but the tempo is quicker and the images create a seemingly moving shoal of fish: the movements are restless and one becomes aware of limited time and the passing of each moment.

A constant flux between the concrete and the abstract, between the inner and the outer space, between public and private also permeates Myskja’s work. She is interested in the movements and still points of bodies, expressed through experiences of colours, sounds, and abstract forms in motion. In Blendverk, we see facades of houses rapidly changing colours, images are flickering as if describing the activities of people inside the building, as if there is a constant flow of faces passing behind the curtains. The original images of facades have been layered with other images of lines of clothes out to dry, streets and other buildings. In this way the private and the public space merge, both metaphorically and literally. The focus is both on the inner spaces of private rooms, as well as upon the public space of the city where bodies move.

In spite of all this frantic movement, the moments Myskja tries to catch, that punctum, has a base tone of silence. It is the stillness in-between she searches for. It is a stillness that opens up space for the audience’s participation through their own bodies. The artworks are not packed with information, they rather leave room for the viewer to enter into a dialogue, to look for those moments through a reciprocal gaze. The punctum has the power of expansion, says Barthes, an expansion of meaning and association. It is that silence that allows me to hear her call. Sometimes this space is concrete, as in Still Point where the projection covers the floor of the gallery and part of the experience is to step upon it. Other times this space is given through the sensuality and sensitive awareness within the images.

The Greek anthropologist Nadia Seremetakis writes in her book Still Acts; «There are islands of historicity, discontinuous punctures, that render the imperceptible perceptible as they produce marked moments – tidal pools – where an experiential cosmos can be mapped out in miniature. These islands may emancipate sensory experience from the social structure of silence». The tidal pools, still points, or still acts make it possible to sense memories stored in our bodies, triggered by the encounter with our surrounding environment. It is at these moments that the buried and forgotten surfaces. These moments allow us to hear stories that connect us to social structures so important in building cultural consciousness relating to the past, present and future. In contemporary society these moments are to a large extent drowned, and the senses numbed by the noise from mass produced music and advertising constantly calling for our attention to buy and discard in order to buy again.

Tone Myskja fights for the silent moments and tidal pools, for the privilege of actively relating both to an inner (still) space, as well as an external reality full of sounds and impressions. Her work is a celebration of the duality between them. She expresses a fascination for the movement between extremes, between meditative silence and a colourful outburst of energy. For her, the way to connect the two goes through the physical experience. The challenge lies in finding and extending those connecting moments. To be able to live with the wish of being at both places simultaneously, to be able to carry one state of being within the other. It becomes a struggle of placing oneself in the world through the mapping of movements, still points and shifts. Within it lies a hope to make a difference – to be part of a historical mapping, building cultural and political consciousness, and rendering oneself visible in the flux of the moment.

When encountering live bodies on stage, Myskja’s subject matter becomes highlighted by the fact that the very being of live performance is manifest through its disappearance. The dancer is in the moment, and his or her movements will always be lost and escape reproduction. In pieces like A Sudden unexpected faint or Subjects of Icons, the continuously appearing and disappearing live bodies interestingly contrast the represented bodies in the video images. The dialogue between the images on the screen and the bodies on stage becomes another way of catching the breath, extending those moments of flux while emphasising the gap between the representational and the real.

Performance exists in its absence, generating presence in the viewer’s mind. Peggy Phelan, professor in Performance Studies, says in her book Unmarked «…live performance plunges into visibility – in a maniacally charged present – and disappears into memory». And she continues «The promise evoked by [this] performance [then] is to learn to value what is lost, to learn not the meaning but the value of what cannot be reproduced or seen.» Not trying to understand but rather to experience, listen and value what escapes or evaporates from the screen, I believe to be a crucial point in the reading of Tone Myskja’s video art. Grasping for the moments of flux, becomes a dance with the ephemeral, energising that breath appearing and disappearing in the same moment.

Tone Myskja is sensitive towards the fragile material carrying our souls between cradle and grave, body and movement become a manifestation of life. It is as if Myskja wants to bring wonder and mystique back to the body having been treated all too concretely and dissected by science, the sexual revolution and the body-building focus of our time. Her approach is phenomenological, believing that our conception of being is experienced through our physical being in the world. In one of her latest works the body is absent, but becoming even more present in its absence. The empty room carries marks and traces of the body that is living, or has lived, there and Myskja literally carries those traces into the universe.

Postscript: The writer keeps running in circles, hitting walls, wearing a green dress. Maybe she is looking for a way out, maybe she is facing the repetitive reality of existence, or maybe she is discovering herself being alive in every breath between each step? Experiencing the body repeatedly appearing and disappearing as she recreates herself in every moment, feeling alive in the constant flux between floating in the air and hitting the floor. A constant shift between the spiritual and the material, between inspiring and expiring on her travel between life and death.