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Recording: 2020-10-16 , Kunstquartier Bethanien (Video © Walter Bickmann)

I Jung Lim

An Historical Tracing and Reproduction of the Motion between the Human Body and Industrial Artefacts

Kunstquartier Bethanien

Production Details / Press Releases

Inspired by the post-industrial romanticism of the city of Berlin, An Historical Tracing and Reproduction of the Motion between the Human Body and Industrial Artefacts is a dance piece for one body and five industrial objects. Against the background of the increasing immateriality of work, choreographer I Jung Lim proposes a radical (re)consideration of the relationship between the body and industrial artefacts by undermining concepts of identity, function, mechanics and materiality.

Lim transforms studies and theories from industrial psychology into choreographic material, interwoven with Rudolf von Laban’s research on dance and industry and Donna Haraway’s visions of natural-technical evolutionary narratives.

As the first of a series of choreographic explorations in industrial contexts, the piece can be seen as an investigation between dance as art and dance as physical culture, questioning the dualism between organic and inorganic, between artificial and natural, between dance and work, and offering a contemplative and intense visual experience.

A conversation between I Jung Lim and Elena Basteri

Elena Basteri (EB): The work An Historical Tracing and Reproduction of the Motion between the Human Body and Industrial Artefacts follows the research residency Tanzrecherche NRW #28 in which you concentrated on the study of body movements of miners in the context of disappearing coal mines in the region of the North Rhine-Westphalia. In this new work you were inspired by the industrial traces of the city of Berlin. The movements of labour, especially from an historical perspective, seem to be an important aspect of your choreographic work, so far. Can you explain where this interest comes from?

I Jung Lim (IJL): I am interested in historical investigations because I see history as an accumulation of the residues of the cultures of previous generations. Following this vision, historical tracing is for me the beginning of an act of approaching issues of our present time. In the case of the research in the North Rhine-Westphalia region, it started with an interest in documenting labour movements of the workers of the mines that were bound to disappear as production ceased in the area. From there I soon expanded my interests into the sociocultural background of German industrial history and into the question of how movements of labour affect and at the same time are affected by the cultural and social identity of a society. Berlin, where I live, is a post-industrial city that is full of inspiring traces. So it was quite natural for me to continue the research here, where I feel surrounded in my daily life by ghosts of the industrial era. Following those traces brought me to the sociocultural background of the industrial time, which was dominated by materialist thinking, an ontological position that traces all processes and phenomena in the world back to matters and its laws and relationships. The interaction with objects is actually very central to the new piece, which is a physical exploration of that historical time, with its material and immaterial traces. I was interested in the possibility of expressing the culture of this period by transforming my own body into a symbolic working body.

EB: How did you collect the traces and how did you transpose and integrate them into the choreographic process?

IJL: I have been spending time visiting archives and reading texts as, for me, theoretical research is an important part of choreographic research. The books I read and the archive material I research got transformed and incorporated into movement material because I assimilate them through my body. I searched through a lot of materials on social and cultural movements, events, and trends during the modernist period, labor records of the GDR, analysis of ideology at the time, interesting theories about how to enhance the efficiency of labour by ‘choreographing’ the movements of the workers etc. For the choreography, some motion sources were found there and symbols were selected from all the documents I gathered. In general it is a collection of traces that follows neither a strict chronological nor an historiographical method. I am not interested in providing a theoretically unified or scientific perspective but rather in creating a personal mapping of that time, bringing together different sources and materials.

EB: What we see in the piece is a radical, physical confrontation with what you refer to as industrial artefacts. Can you speak specifically about the choice of the objects?

IJL: I chose those objects because they are representative of the industrial era. They were commonly found in factories and also have symbolic value. I am very interested in how a certain society shares an implicit agreement in relation to symbols. In this regard, the wheel, the winch, the conveyor belt, the engine and the ladder evoke and suggest images and metaphors connected to ideas like ‘being mobile’, ‘rising and falling’, ‘repetition or circulation’, and ‘ignition’. At the same time the work is about freeing the objects from their historical and everyday significance by deconstructing their functions, showing them as something else, in close relation to my own body.

EB: Throughout history work-related objects have generated opposing feelings, from luddism to technophilia, passing by Marx, who in a passage of his The Fragment on Machines compares machines to living organisms antagonistic to humans. Your piece reveals a sense of intimacy, of complicity and almost empathy between your body and the artefacts which seems to go beyond the mechanics of your movements. Is there an affective aspect at stake?

IJL: Definitely yes, and it can be explained in terms of understanding and relationships. When it comes to my process of understanding something, I’m in an emotional state from the beginning to the end of the project. An ‘affective aspect’ that cannot only be explained in the context of my relationship with the artefacts, but also in terms of my way of understanding something. Physical distance also matters in the process. Touching and feeling are processes of understanding, in general. Physical distancing can bring emotional state into the context of understanding and relationship. When we want to know or have a relationship with someone/-thing, there is certainly a possibility of an affective aspect occurring between the subject and the object, even if it’s not human. As I come into contact with objects (in various degrees of physical distance or proximity), my understanding of them remains as a physical feeling and, for example, it is related to feelings such as dread and longing. So, in this performance, the various distances between my body and artefacts are symbolic. The act is between me and artefacts, we cooperate with each other and at the same time we regulate each other. Therefore, my affective state is generated.

EB: You spoke about assimilating and understanding, with your body, the historical material you gathered during the process. How does the incorporation happen? What kind of methodologies or bodily techniques do you use to generate choreographic movement from that?

IJL: To fully immerse myself into the creative process I observe certain behaviours and habits like meditating, changing my way of eating and reducing drastically my contact to other people. Those are for me basic ways to prepare my body for any artistic project. It is about creating the conditions for me to enter a state that allows me to solidify my initial intuition and start a process of becoming ‘some-thing/body’, a character we could say.

Every time the process of transformation is different according to the theme and concept of the project and during the process I feel like I rebuild my body every time. It is in this special bodily state that images and visions for the show starts to emerge. The whole performance starts to take shape, including the space, the rhythm and the timing… For this project in particular I started with intensive muscle training to make my body look like a manual worker’s body. But what I felt in direct contact with the artefacts was the need to release the tension of my body. Artefacts were hard themselves, and if my body was also hard and tense, I thought the contrast between organic and inorganic seemed to disappear. So I did physical training as my normal routine, but concentrated on massaging the muscles of my body, deeply and for many hours. And I trained my body to find a quality of movement, I shifted the core of my body to my feet. This idea came from my interpretation that the labour activity is ‘grounded’.

EB: Talking about the contrast between organic and inorganic, between your body and the body of the artefacts, one of your initial motivations to engage into the process that brought you to this new work, was to challenge certain categories related to the human body and identity by entering into a special relationship with objects. A Cyborg Manifesto by Donna Haraway was an inspiration for you in this regard. Can you say a couple of final words about this?

IJL: During the research in the North Rhine-Westphalia region, I got to think about the tight coupling between the tool and the body. It led to thinking about the fact that the human body cannot be independent from non-human factors (environment, glasses, artificial joints, wearable things so on) and that ‘they’ are an integral part of human history. At the same time, it also evoked some kind of futuristic image of the body. This image is strictly connected with the feeling of anxiety that humans have been developing over the past few centuries, by witnessing the evolution of technology side by side with scientific progress. The image of the human body combined with inorganic elements will always be futuristic—even if it’s retrofuturistic—to humans. All these thoughts seem to fruitfully resonate with my personal discomfort about the current trend of endlessly dividing gender roles.

This project started from my sensuous perception that the relationship between the organic and inorganic can suggest a way out from these categorisations of the human body. At the same time, the physical confrontation between my human body and the artefacts allows me to open up imaginaries that ambivalently mix past and future scenarios.

[Source: PR-Info & play bill]

TFB Nr. 1479

Cast & Credits

Choreography and Artistic Director: I Jung Lim
Theoretical and Dramaturgical Support: Elena Basteri
Project Manager: Tammo Walter
Technical Operator: Paolo Combes
Technical Advice: Eitan Riegel, Christian Keilig
Poster & Brochure: Gregor Schreiter
Photography: Senya Corda
Funded by: Senatsverwaltung für Kultur und Europa Berlin
Supported by: Boels Verleih GmbH Berlin Tiergarten

Special Thanks to:
NRW Kultursekretariat
Stiftung Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin
Deutsches Tanzfilminstitut Bremen / Deutsche Tanzfilmproduktion GmbH
Lehrstollen und Infozentrum Stadt und Bergbau in Kamp-Lintfort
Koreanisches Kulturzentrum in BRD e.V.
Tanzbüro Berlin

Kunstquartier Bethanien

Mariannenplatz 2
10997 Berlin

Video Documentation

The video documentation is produced on behalf of the Senate Department for Culture and Social Cohesion. The purpose of this contract is to document productions in the field of contemporary dance in Berlin. The master recordings are archived by the University Library of the Berlin University of Arts. Copies of the recordings on DVD are available for viewing exclusively in the reference collections of the following archives (at media desks in these institutions):

University Library of the Berlin University of Arts
Mediathek für Tanz und Theater des Internationalen Theaterinstituts / Mime Centrum Berlin
Inter-University Centre for Dance Berlin (HZT)

I Jung Lim / Trailers and Video Documentations

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