Looking at two representations: one of the body, a set of drawings by Domenico Tintoretto, and one by the body, a film of a performance by Camille Mutel ,  “Effraction de l’Oubli”.


Jacopo Tintoretto’s son Domenico (Domenico Robusti) lived in Venice between 1560 and 1630, (where he would have been a contemporary of Claudio Monteverdi).

This set of studies from life in black chalk with white highlights appear to have made in one sitting. As for their function, in a busy studio they could have been used as an aid for preparatory designs of paintings (see here for a drawing by him from the Louvre with squaring-up lines).

There is one characteristic which is immediately apparent: parts of the body don’t diminish in size as they recede. This is by no means unique in the Renaissance: paintings by Luca Signorelli, Mantegna’s Christ, and plenty more are constructed in the same way. Though in this set, there is little evidence of deliberate construction, these are studies done swiftly from life.

[ In the perspective obsessed Renaissance, the mixing together this way of approaching extreme foreshortening in isometric projection  and explicit architectural one or two point perspective is usually avoided.]

So where are these viewed from?

In our daily almost constant contact with photographic images, the certainty of the fixity of the view-point dominates, so does the identification with the eye/mind of the photographer, which becomes completely taken for granted.

So for us, images like these drawings are strange, true but strange.

Where are these viewed from? one could say very far away (as if taken with a telephoto-lens from a long distance), but also very close : if the person depicted was going to take measurements of her foot, her hand and her head, and read those to Domenico as he sketched (I am not suggesting this is what was happening!) , and he marked these, it would be about right size-wise!

The preponderance of sculpture at the time, the Vitruvian ideas about proportion, and the obsession with harmonic division went with a love of measurement, and this may well have had a bearing on seeing, even as late as during the so-called mannerist period.

So where am I, the viewer? there is no coherent illusion of space which I can envisage myself a part of, assuming a fixed distance view-point: I am both miles away, and also have become the body drawn.

What is this drawn body: marks suggesting convexity, solidity (softness, but that’s solid too). Yet it isn’t a drawing of sculpture like so many. The figure is its own space, on the page, with or without a viewer, in fact it can be viewed from anywhere.

Repeated linear gestures can serve (as is common ) a dual function as part of a process of refining of the form and enactment of shadows , I also think that they may well be a sign of using two eyes, (there is a breadth, a seeing-around which one-eyed vision doesn’t give, and as in the rest of life, with two eyes wide open, the  passage back and forth  from the visible to the hidden ( one could also say to the imaginary ) needs a lot of care, which may not result in a single delineation. Cezanne knew that more than anyone else ).

[the cone of light reveals the fact of concealment, of an other side, which faces in the same direction as the gaze]

It is of this particular living body, marks  made in time, of a time bound ephemeral body, drawn in a manner which is masterful, with abandon and naivety.

Every mark is a thought about time, about the nature of proportion, the articulation of parts, the viewer and the viewed, and on a more personal note also reflects my own corporeality, the image of woman in the mind of man, ageing, and love of what one is doing.

These drawing reproductions come from  an exhibition catalogue of the Lehmann collection published in 1979 by the New York Met. Museum.



The videoed performance of  Camille Mutel’s “Effraction de l Oubli” is available on the links below:

a 40mn version, largely unedited video by Marie Drach of a live performance  (which gives an idea of the single breath feel of the piece) here

a 15mn one, of excerpts, with slightly better image quality. here

The sound track by Gilles Gobeil starts on a very resonant, spacious and filmic mode, rapidly alternates with arrays of intimate sounds, also occasional reminders of an absent outdoors, and when there is no music, actual breath sounds from the dancer (noticeably amplified for the purpose of the video film).

What are we looking at?

A single figure, and as the piece unfolds, transformations within its elastic limits.

Apart from a few reflections on the black floor, all light comes from the figure. Space around is black, empty.

Body: there isn’t a centre as such, the sense of a single centre of volition from which all movement starts, but many, and sometimes none at all.

What of the substance one might expect of body? Here, a single piece of metamorphosing skin-clad flesh, at times leaf, insect, dip , dune, bird, erect penis even…,  and myriads of  things with no name, and just about perceptible changes from one to the other. At times bones seeming to float in liquid, a small area magnified by the attention it comes alive through, or creates on its own.

Nobody in sight?


Presence derived from absence, returning to absence, a gruelling endless training tricking the dancer’s mind-body away from its propensities, but where to?

And this to be under the gaze of onlookers: we are not talking of a meditative practice away from the world: this is show-biz!

What is being given, shared?

These are some of the many aspects, paradoxes, contradictions of the Butoh process of investigation, an uncomfortable territory which Camille Mutel treads with courage and grace.

I was reminded of the way Francis Bacon puts his works behind glass and inside gold frames: at the beginning, paparazzi’s flashes and Hollywoodian sounds accompany and disturb the exposure, a powerful and necessary distance is created.

Near the end, after what seems like a visual pun, in a strangely simple anticlimax, a “Sheela-Na-Gig”- like  theatre-within-theatre-within-theatre is highlighted from the front, revealing what?

Itself as Origine du Monde and also Fin du Monde . Maybe.

There is a certain  humour  and teasing quality in the whole piece Garance in her well, offering only a mirror to the gaze of the viewer, in Marcel Carne’s “Les Enfants du paradis” comes to mind -.

An allusion to Orpheus and Eurydice in the notes for a performance is clearly perceptible at the moment when the blind mask -which the figure wore all along- becomes more visible, then is removed, the slowly fading light making the figure vanish.  “Orpheus”, is he/she the viewer?

A reflection that came a few days after watching it, was that desire is concave, concave in a world of convex forms. Just  looking at the movements of the mind towards that small square of chocolate on the table-cloth today.

[the cone of light reveals the fact of concealment, of an other side, which faces in the same direction as the gaze]
The delicacy of the lighting by Mathieu Ferry is breathtaking , barely affording visibility at times, tender and subtle variations on a ground of chiaroscuro, eerie outlines, always with  sensitivity in real-time, he is a true collaborator of the dancer. Filming and editing by Marie Drach is skilful and unobtrusive.

What I find quite unique, is the use Camille Mutel makes of awareness and sensory perception: the extreme fineness of movement, and the seemingly continuous changes in scale – often creating transformations within a spiral motion – are never divorced from what I assume to be a shifting awareness with many levels of intention and attention, unwavering in its intensity, (allied with her metier, and skill at articulating large chunks of time )

The energy and the joy in what she does lie in the trust in the endless sensitivity of the body-mind, this is what makes the times in between, these delicate passages between the more deliberate moments of choreography, seem like life continuously giving birth to itself.

link to the website of her dance company: Compagnie Li Luo. where there is now a substantial text she wrote about her piece.

[10th feb. email correspondence with the choreographer: she has sent me a text by Maurice Blanchot “le regard d’Orphee”, which is at the source of her piece. An initial reflection on reading  the text is the feeling of its instability, like an evolving  Moebius strip if it were possible, and this dance has  qualities which are not dissimilar. ]

She writes about her own piece  : “La possibilite d une conscience simultanee de l’ interiorite et de son image a travers l’ elaboration d’un langage choregraphique du desir est l’ interrogation majeure de cette creation. Il semblerai, entre autre, que l’oubli permette cette rencontre dans la brievete de l’instant. En ouvrant la notion de temps, peut on percevoir l’endroit de la rupture entre l’ etre et son langage? Est il possible que la danse se deroule sur ce fil entre l’etre interieur et sa representation exterieure; et enfin de donner a voir ce fragile funambulisme? Le dialogue entre lumiere et corps est la base de l’ ecriture de ce travail. (…)”

( draft)

please feel free to comment.

2 thoughts on “REPRESENTATIONS”

  1. First and foremost very good to see work(s) by Domenico taken seriously, given that the convention always used to be that he and his brother Marco and sister Marietta were little more than dogsbodies in their father’s studio.

    You refer to measurement and harmony and strange but true/true but strange. Think Adrian Stokes is an essay on Venice suggested that Jacopo T and his studio artists would always have been looking up from the water with the light flying from above and shaping the shadows beneath, in which the corporeal is both solid and floating/ephemeral.Suspect Stokes had in mind the wall and ceiling frescoes at San Rocco and, even more, The Martyrdom of St.Catherine and The Last Supper, both of which Domnenico would have worked on.

    However, your intimate engagement here is much more supple and subtle than plodding art history (me, not you!!).
    Very many thanks.

    Nor do I have anything to add to your understanding(s) of Camille Mutel’s “Effraction de l’Oubli’ .Seem to remember Blanchot said amongst many things that Orpheus in his impatience “exhausted the infinite”. In CM’s choreography there is a stillness of intensity and intensity of stillness which could at any moment give way to Blanchot’s impatience, so a struggle not to look back but where to look otherwise. Rilke got this tension, a sort of antikinetic kinesis, powerfully in his ‘Sonnets to Orpheus. The infinite cannot be measured but Orpheus is both singer and listener and confuses the latter for the former. Your mobius strip captures this perfectly. “Orphee est le signe mysterieux pointe vers l’origine” (my ancient computer no longer does accents).

    So many thanks for both the Domenico Tintoretto and the Camille Mutel, the works and your sinuous comments.

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