- Dancing the Return
To go away … I would arrive sleek and young in this land of mine and I would say to this land whose loam is part of my flesh: "I have wandered for a long time and I am coming back to the deserted hideousness of your sores."—Aime Cesaire, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land
"I am a storyteller … but I am not here to tell stories, I am here to dance." This strikingly elegant though somewhat cryptic assertion opens Faustin Linyekula's only solo performance to date. Titled Le Cargo, the work also marks the development of a multimedia practice dedicated to deciphering questions of cultural belonging and performative presence. Questions of time, geography, and cultural space become entangled in this work with notions of liveness and ephemerality, and Linyekula weaves these together into a rich meditation on aesthetic form that reflects upon the Congo's struggles for independence. Less an authentic document or portrayal of cultural survival and life in the Congo than an exercise in aesthetic retrieval, Le Cargo as a performance is an elegy for the lost and the found, the displaced and the exiled, the migrant and the refugee. Retracing their trajectories becomes the open score for this work.
The inclusion of a video featuring images and photographs of Faustin Linyekula's last visit to Obilo are shown on a loop as the performance draws to a close. Another recorded loop of Linyekula's live narration also opens the performance, linking up with the slide-show of images that play on the laptop computer he brings out on stage. Though the video sequence is incorporated briefly and only towards the end, the visual and sensual importance of video and media to the architecture of this performance ought not to be overlooked for a number of reasons. Firstly and significantly, the work asks us to think about the integration of digital media into the space of reflective, solo performance that has for so long valued the dancer's live, individual presence, particularly the way the dancer's live presence heightens and works to produce an aura of cultural authenticity that suffuses the performance. In Le Cargo, Linyekula offers a hybridized art form that upends our expectations about dance as a discipline and cultural document of survival, resistance, and loss. Secondly, while many critics hailed this performance as one that brings us into the bleak cultural fold of the Congo's ongoing political crisis, Linyekula's integration of [End Page 142] dance's form with video and digital imagery invites questions about the limits of cultural authenticity, precisely because the circulation of digital photographs as computer generated facsimiles—as images scanned and projected into the space of performance primarily for the purposes of their reproduction—places pressure on the assumed purity of the performance work as a singular, unique, and original document of the plight of the Congolese nation and the suffering of its people.
Linyekula's dance and media practice produces as an ever-expanding digital archive that has its roots in the photographic and in filmic presentation. Interestingly, Le Cargo offers us an opportunity to think in depth about choreography and performance's relationship to photography, film, and video. The entanglement of choreography with various mediums inevitably bring to mind the stakes of the debates over the aesthetic disqualification of video as a medium. Specifically, the inclusion of a photographic video loop asks us to think about the digital re-presentation and re-inscription of video as a medium as offering a self-enclosed and myopic view onto a culture for a Western audience, in ways that recall the argument about video's inherent narcissism, famously elaborated by Rosalind Krauss. But the piece also pushes back against this argument in ways that draw us closer to Anna Wagner's critique of the very notion of video's "self encapsulation." Specifically, Le Cargo breaks the narcissistic loop in which the video-image is cut off from other objects, histories, and the social sphere, entering a closed circuit that produces a "collapsed present" (Krauss 53; Elwes 444).
Dance's form is permitted to evolve in tandem with a...