- Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy
Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy continues a project that began with Erin Manning's 2007 book, Politics of Touch: Sense, Movement, Sovereignty. In Politics of Touch, Manning used the relationship between sensation and the body in Tango as a site for re-articulating the body-politic, analyzing the coexistence between states and bodies, and conceptualizing a democracy that implies a flexible and unpredictable politics (Manning 2007, xxi). Just two years later, Relationscapes addresses relations in movement more generally. It lends a certain ubiquity to movement, which Manning defines broadly to include everyday movement, movement of thought, scientific experiments measuring motion, paintings that map movement, choreographed body movement, and choreography as it is represented on film. In each instance, emergent experience provides a framework for considering relation in terms of time and space. Manning discusses characteristics and qualities of various artistic practices, ranging from Étienne-Jules Marey's nineteenth century movement studies to Norman McLaren's contemporary animations; David Spriggs's animate sculptures to Aboriginal paintings by Dorothy Napangardi, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, and Clifford Possum; and Leni Riefenstahl's films to Thierry de Mey's film of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's choreography. Manning uses these practices to exemplify her articulation of movement as "relationscapes."
Manning spends the first half of Relationscapes building the philosophical premise for her more comprehensive discussion of relationscapes that culminates in Chapter 7, "Relationscapes: How Contemporary Aboriginal Art Moves Beyond the Map." A relationscape is a topological experience relating to non-representational, non-narrative, and non-illustrative movement diagrams such as Aboriginal painter Dorothy Napangardi's Mina Mina. This painting, one of several discussed in Relationscapes, consists of white dots that map salt lines on a black ground. The movement that Manning identifies in Napangardi's work begins with the artist's painting technique. Napangardi moves her paintbrush with the same digging motion that she would use to dig with Karlangu, which are digging sticks associated with Warlpiri women in Aboriginal culture (189). Manning explains how Napangardi puts herself in the digging movement rather than merely representing it.
The movement in Napangardi's work does not stop with her painting technique. Unlike a representational, narrative, or illustrative map, Mina Mina is a diagram "not of a territory but its passages, the trace it leaves in the landscapes it uncovers" (155). Manning suggests that this mapping "encourages us to look-across, to move-with the fragile dotted lines that compose its labyrinths" (153) and directs a viewing body to move in relation to the liveliness of an emergent location (155). I would argue, though, that most visual artworks beckon a viewer to "look-across" or scan with the eyes. How is Mina Mina different? Earlier in her argument, Manning explains how relational movement assumes a connection between a moving body, for example, and the environment that it creates. She relies heavily on the work of philosophers Henri Bergson, Alfred North Whitehead, Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guatarri to conceptualize movements as events that create time and space (7), as opposed to a situation in which a body enters a preexisting environment (15). Of course any artwork requires scanning to some extent, and Manning is not the first scholar to suggest that bodies move to create time and space. What is distinctive about her argument is that Manning ultimately uses a philosophical groundwork to suggest movement practice as a different approach to relating to artworks. In the case of a viewer moving in relation to Mina Mina, the viewer and painting are two bodies moving together to create a relation-scape. This approach leaves more room for [End Page 101] alternate perspectives such as Mina Mina's non-Cartesian mapping.
"Relation" has been a buzzword in the art world for some time now. Neo-concretist Lygia Clark, for example, used "relational objects" in her 1960s performance art to incorporate viewers in her practice of experiencing sensation. Like Clark, Manning places an emphasis on the sensorial (226, 244n123). She uses her work on sense and experience to foreground...