From Sunrise to Sunset
Gestures, time, and environment in the performances of Sophie Dupont
Our best machines are made of sunshine; they are all light and clean because they are nothing but signals, electromagnetic waves, a section of a spectrum, and these machines are eminently portable, mobile – a matter of immense human pain in Detroit and Singapore. People are nowhere near so fluid, being both material and opaque.1
Breathing. Observing. Wandering. Extending her limbs in an artificial way. Carrying the equivalent of her body at arm’s length. Relieving herself of her own weight. Leaving only marks. Through performances that adopt a vocabulary from dance, meditation, and multiple rituals, relying on a series of objects and devices which are, at the same time, decorative elements and symbolic extensions of her own body, Sophie Dupont produces a definition of humanity whose essence deals with hybridity and fluidity. A humanity no longer defined by and for itself as an entity set on a predefined trajectory, contemplating a world alien to it, but, on the contrary, placed on equal terms with all the elements of the living, traversed and animated by forces in perpetual interaction with each other. A humanity whose body is flexible, fragmented, dismembered, and disposed in unlimited possibilities to better revert to what constitutes it and to what it shares with other beings: the vital mechanisms of the body, the desire to exchange, to connect, and to dispose one’s own place in an environment according to established dialogues. Through these performances – shown just once or, more often, enacted in multiple cities and contexts whether in an institutional interior or in an urban or natural exterior – it is a matter of managing the space and time of transformation, even if minor and internal, and disclosing the tensions allowing the operation. By means of gestures and a syncretism of produced images, to create, to give rhythm to, and to maintain new bodily and symbolic relations, which interact with the world around, a world that has become a network of connections and mutations. All the attention is focused on a gesture applied in the fields of art and performance, more so on the movement than on the effect, on an ongoing but never accomplished action. A feature highlighted in Sophie Dupont’s performances since 2011 – first enacted by an androgynous double using mirrors, and then by herself – evoking physiological or physical body movements, whose spiritual meanings and visual memoirs remain contained in a kind of metonymic denouement.
breathing – marking
The performance Marking Breath, enacted on many occasions since 2011, accounts for an experience accomplished through a single gesture, the most essential, immaterial, and vital, namely respiration. The marks carved and repeated in a ritual and mechanical way in different materials (a wall, copper, brass, gold, silver, or zinc plates depending on the available resources on site), translate the passage of time by marking breaths and sighs from sunrise till sunset. A temporality of an aleatory and singular nature, the meaning of which is acquired in its individuality, but also in the multiplicity of sensations, observations, and discussions that it generates. Conscious and documented repetition of this gesture becomes a meditative process, an act that is both solitary and common, like the thoughts recorded by the artist during her latest performance in Constitution Square in Guatemala City, February 2017, “I do nothing. Trapped imagination. My eternity. I breathe. Celeste’s eyes meet mine. Church bells. Time is passing by. Late darkness comes from behind. I smell chocolate. I face east like the temple”.Performed in solitude, this act is a way to feel and pay attention to the movements of the world. Performed with a multitude, by integrating potential participants who are just curious about the situation or willing to contribute to it, the performance is a collective ascetic exercise and not a withdrawal. It allows its own existence to be felt, as well as that of the elements surrounding it, communally centered on subjective, divided, and dissolved time, which is only measured by sensation.
A sense of presence akin to the statement in the series of performances Nightsea Crossing performed by Marina Abramović and Ulay: “Presence. Being present, over long stretches of time, until presence rises and falls, from material to immaterial, from form to formless, from instrumental to mental, from time to timeless.” First performed in Australia in 1981, then in different locations lasting ninety non-consecutive days until 1987. With their rigorous face-to-face posture, the emblematic “Relation Work” series marks the passage of time through mutual, hieratic, and silent contemplation. An experience of simultaneous presence that takes the form of “breath-sharing” in the Marking Breath performance. Not to align them in the same cadence, but to observe their irregular, informal, and singular qualities from person to person. An idea of arbitrary time irreducible to any scientific rational measure, experienced in the steadiness of the performed breaths, of all the breaths shared and collected at the end of a day.
This irregularity of breath and time is also found in the marking of another imprint, made in public by a seismograph in Breathing Seismograph (2016). The hand-marking gesture is replaced by machine registration, a real prosthesis and mechanical extension of the artist, a means of transfer and transcription of breath to a drawing, comprising multiple variations and uncontrollable curves. Unless these three performances attempt, beyond the marking and the staging, to evoke the pneuma, vital energy in the Greek sense, fluid animating every creature and divine spirit. Transferring it from oneself to another ‘support’.
supporting – transferring
A process of displacement and duplicating is what we find in symbolic form in the performances We Always Carry Our Body and Gravity, inverted gestures from the artist’s body weight. In the first one, Sophie Dupont wanders for a day among the passers-by, brandishing brass fragments modeled on her own body, like human-size Mexican ex-votos and milagros, which are then set down on the ground, one by one, by members of the public in order to form an ultramarine blue imprint. In the second performance, the artist formalizes another moment of body removal, this time by lifting, relieving the body of weights and obstacles, in a collective gesture recalling a funerary ritual. Combining gestures of addition and removal, elevation and pressure, transposition and transformation, these two performances play with every possibility and the sense of verticality: from the body “inking” on the ground and soil, to body elevation by the removal of elements. From the votive procession to the uncovering, the body either melts into its imprints or reappears in the substituting images, and a transfer operation occurs: from physical body to its symbolic models, from their weights to their imprints. Imprints whose color and process recall those of Yves Klein’s Anthropométrie de l’époque bleu, realized for the first time in 1960 with the famous International Klein Blue (IKB) comprising ultramarine no. 1311. However, from the very first sessions with “living paintbrushes” a few months before where the presence of the body appears dissolved and unified by direct impregnation of a support to the saturation by naked models covered in paint, Sophie Dupont mediatizes this experience by means of an object. The silhouette reappears fragmented by the impression of the milagros on a canvas on the ground. Through a deletion of body markers, Yves Klein’s Anthropométries render “abstract”2, they do “pull-outs”3 from sensibility, they “do not figure, they transform”4, they choose incarnation over representation. Akin to this process, Sophie Dupont’s imprints generate new analogies. Both share the staging of a transubstantiation process, a change of body state, a transmutation of matter. The body is incarnated into a symbol, weight, mark, equivalent, rather than represented. And, in a more taut and minimalistic way, in the performances Heavy Light (2015, 2016) and My Weight In Matter Materialized In The Wheel Of Life (2013) the body is even subjected to a system of holistic equivalences whose correspondence with different natural and chemical elements – minerals, vegetables and metals – is established by imitating the weight.
constraining – joining
In another element of the ritual, the dress materializes, with a certain claimed evidence, the perpetual tension between an abstraction of the figure and a symbolic incarnation of the body in Sophie Dupont’s performances. Referring both to the geometric dress-sculptures in Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet and to the mystical and expressionist plays of Lothar Schreyer, Schlemmer’s predecessor as a Bauhaus “master of forms” from 1921 to 1923, the costumes and objects in Sophie Dupont’s performances accomplish both a detachment of the representation and a humorous reconciliation. As elements in a strategy of disguise and detachment, they propose a modular, schematic and abstract version of the human being. A being with a body – shaped, prolonged and constrained – whose assumed artificiality tends towards the absurd, the fantastic, even the futuristic. The dress is the operator of new relations with the body and its movements, the space, and the ensemble of the established relations. By means of hampered forms, it suggests a rethinking of the displacements as well as the nature of the interactions. During Reaching, performed in February 2017 in Guatemala City, Sophie Dupont tried to create a connecting space and establish physical contact with the public by means of long hollow tubes, extensions of her arms, while she was wearing a modular mask-helmet. While these prostheses restrain her arm movements and constrain her gait, they allow, when sitting face-to-face, for the linking and merging of two bodies. Using this kind of attire tends to “delete” the character, not its creation; it tends to provide for the exchange conditions rather than for setting up an apparitional context. Close to form and tone, Daria Martin’s film, Birds (2001), proposes another homage to creative possibilities as a result of the geometric constraint: performer-dancers dressed in white dresses quickly thrown together, wearing hats with multicolored Perspex peaks and manual extensions manage, using a minimum of artistic requisites, to achieve parodic and fantastic overtones. Celebrating the artificial as a matrix of new situations, the dresses blur the boundaries between sculpture and performance, dress and prosthesis, painting and object. A dilution and a blend which is also a break-up of biological and genre categories in favor of a relational system.
fixing – embracing
The performance, Heaven to Earth (2014), extends the logic of the dress – making the body dissolve into its environment – a logic that, by association, evokes a similar act, The Death of James Lee Byars, performed in 1994 by James Lee Byars at Galerie Marie-Puck Broodthaers in Brussels.
These performances show two strategies of disappearance by means of ornamental clothing and accessories. James Lee Byars is dressed in, and surrounded by, gold leaves, his costume matching the features of his immediate environment in a staging of a bodily dissolution. An erasure below the surface. A fusion of the material and immaterial. He disappears into an infinite and essential totality of glare. Sophie Dupont wears a series of mirrors hiding her hands and her face, reflecting the sky and the surrounding nature. By this process of fading and due to the reflection from the mirrors, the body dissolves into the surrounding landscape and merges with its reflections. In this virtual disappearance, a notion of the transitory arises. A body that is temporarily borrowed, as Sophie Dupont has stated time and again; or a poetics of the ephemeral and the annulated in James Lee Byars, organized and created by the intuition of his own coming death. The vegetal and celestial world facing an idea of eternity.
These two gestures simulate a situation of transition from one world to another in a metaphorical or prophetic way, imagining a context or immersing themselves in it. An experience that Sophie Dupont achieves physically in the performance Watching the night (2015, 2016). Lying at the bottom of an excavation that she herself has dug in the ground, recapturing funerary ritual gestures, she looks into the night from dusk to dawn. At dawn, only her body imprint remains on the ground, a mark representing, in a way, the nocturnal counterpart of the repeated marks in the performance Marking Breath, in order to translate the passage from one state to another.
feeling – projecting
In her last performance installation, Sophie Dupont materializes a variety of emotions reunited in an anthropomorphic shape in The Carrousel of Mind (2017). No more imprints, marks or body traces, but projections of sensations in which the artist can circulate. Fear, Joy, Anger, and Lust are schematized by means of metallic sculptures, ornaments, and arrays of cheap and precious materials in a ludic synthesis of multiple references, like allegories resembling syncretic deities. The Carrousel of Mind can be compared to the Buddhist wheel-of-life symbol, often summoned by Sophie Dupont to describe the network of equivalences on which her artistic practice is built. Both the carrousel and the wheel function as a system of balance and measurement of existence by displacement of a space, a body, a sensation. These two images – the carrousel and the wheel – create a circular dynamic of incarnations, relations, and exchanges. A sublimation of various everyday emotional states worthy of formalization.
Sophie Dupont thus provides a space and time proper to incarnate an infinity of modes of existence, either physical, mental, or emotional. By means of ordinary or ritual gestures transposed into the field of art, through the relations they keep with other gestures or their representations, but also due to the reactions and rapport they generate with the elements of surrounding life, she accomplishes a holistic conception of the body.
The performed acts create a personal cosmogony and cosmology. A world order which can be nothing more than correlations and mutations where the constant imprints – those of passing time, rays from dead stars – become a simple celebration of the transitory.
1. Donna J. Haraway, Manifeste cyborg et autres essais: sciences, fictions, féminismes, Exils,
2007, page 36.
2. Camille Moriceau, “De l’imprégnation à l’empreinte, de l’artiste au modèle, de la couleur à son incarnation”, in: Yves Klein. Corps, couleur, immatériel, Centre Pompidou, 2006, page 124.
3. Ibid., page 122.
4. Ibid., page 127.