The movement of the body establishes a dialogue with the mysterious zoomorphic rocks found in the northern part of Italy. The movements are delicate; the research seeks to touch the essence of the million years stratification contained in the rocks. The circular dance is a metaphor for the geological time that runs endlessly and repeatedly in the process of erosion and sedimentation. The question reappears: who has acted - the space that sculpted the dancing body, or the movements that transformed the space?
Directing: Anja Dimitrijevic
Cinematography: Emanuele Zampieri
Choreography: Anja Dimitrijevic
Performer: Anja Dimitrijevic
Editing: Anja Dimitrijevic
Sound and composition: Emanuele Zampieri
Release date: 2017
Cinematography: Emanuele Zampieri
Choreography: Anja Dimitrijevic
Performer: Anja Dimitrijevic
Editing: Anja Dimitrijevic
Sound and composition: Emanuele Zampieri
Release date: 2017
Artist Interview: ANJA DIMITRIJEVIC
ANJA DIMITRIJEVIC details
IntervieW Transcript: ANJA DIMITRIJEVIC
Valle delle Sfingi is a nature park in the northern part of Italy, which you accidentally discovered. I would like to know how did you discover this place? What about it intrigued you and why did you want to film a video there? And why in particular did you feel it should be a movement-based video?
Anja Dimitrijevic: Yes, Valle delle Sfingi is actually Valley of the Sphinx, an actual name of this natural park situated in the pre-Alphic region that is very near to Verona. It was for me one place that I didn't really know before. My partner who knew already that beautiful park proposed to me to make a video project there, and I wanted to make a screen dance. This natural place actually has one interesting thing that are the rocks. These zoomorphic rocks are something that people go to visit and see and discover more. It is very mysterious how they are so sculptural because really some of them are very similar to the Egyptian sphinx. And I was interested in this possibility of a dialogue between body in the movement and these rocks.
You come from a theatre background. You're studying theatre and visual arts. How did this interest in exploring spaces through the movement come about?
Anja Dimitrijevic: I always liked the collaboration between different kinds of arts. I think that theatre in itself has this collaborative possibility. I always loved the theatre that has this textural form, but also I become very interested in the theatre that doesn't need a textual form to express itself. So my interest in the movement and the screen dance started when I went to my Erasmus in France. In French universities theatre is very near to contemporary dance. At that moment I became aware of the possibility to do projects that could be more into the genre of the screen dance. I discovered some projects of choreographers as Carolyn Carlson, who made a documentary film in Venice because she was an artistic director during, I think the 1980s here in Venice. She made this beautiful video which is a screen dance project but has very evidently theatrical narrative forms that are not spoken but are very obvious. I became very interested in that kind of form.
Talking about narrative, I know that even though you have a background in theatre, you also like to avoid narrative structures and prefer abstraction and intuitive level of perception. And when we spoke about this before, the person you referred to was Robert Wilson and you quoted him saying that he doesn't want to tell stories, but draws stories…
Anja Dimitrijevi: Exactly. During my bachelor studies, I had a possibility to make a thesis and Robert Wilson was one case study that I chose. Because I already liked his practice a lot. And I knew that he doesn't necessarily use a narrative form. So I became very curious about this kind of research. I knew that he was also inspired by Merce Cunningham. While doing research, I discovered there were also so many similarities between some of the thoughts of Merce Cunningham, who was studying at the Black Mountains College and the University I was studying at here in Venice which is based on the thoughts of Bauhaus (one of the inspirations for the Black Mountain College). So in a way, everything was connected. I started discovering more and more about these kinds of languages.
I am not against textual form, I just think that sometimes without the textual form, there is more liberty to see and interpret by yourself the things that you've seen. It doesn't have to be like that, but it can be a choice and I prefer it in this period of my research. I think also that I will use text in my further researches and my further projects. But at the moment, it's like that.
And when I think about this thought of Robert Wilson that he doesn't want to tell stories but draws stories. How do you reflect and how do you relate to this idea of drawing when you make videos?
Anja Dimitrijevic: It is reflected in the editing. And I think that editing, as a collage, has a possibility to give this kind of freedom of interpretation, possibility to create your own narratives from what you are seeing. So in that kind of perspective, I see what he said. And also, I like that he doesn't want to give dictatorial view on what he does, but actually open his research to something more free.
I'd like to come back to the actual site of Valle delle Sfingi. You were speaking about the rocks and the formation of the rocks that you have encountered there that looked like Egyptian sphinx. How did you respond to these shapes with the choreography that you made?
Anja Dimitrijevic: When we went for the first time to the Valley of the Sphinx, we didn't know exactly what the video is going to be. There was this first phase of researching that included the collection of all the elements connected to the site - drawings, perceptions, our comments, and also some of my movement improvisations registered with the camera. We explored what movements could be functional for that place. We decided they should be connected to the rocks, in a slow moment. We wanted to make a video that was a dialogue between the body and those rocks, between the body and that location. When we came to Valle delle Sfingi in January, there was a lot of snow. And somehow that day when we decided to make a video, we sow a big circle in the snow. That also inspired us and we wanted to make the circular movement that was also connected to the geological time that created those stratifications of the rocks. So the first chapter of the video is based on the forms between the rocks and the body. While the second chapter is an elaboration of the circular movement that is a way of an interpretation of this geological time connected to the rocks.
I wanted to ask you a bit more about how you have decided on this particular pace, on this particular slowness… And I picked up something in the texts that you wrote in relation to this piece where you speak about movements being delicate, and you say: “The research seeks to touch the essence of the million years stratification contained in the rocks.” And the part that I really like it when you say: “The body listens and it starts a dialogue with the surrounding space while the movements become fluid and infinite.” And then in relation to the body listening to the space through the movement, I'm also wondering what were the sounds that you were responding to? There is obviously the sound that we are hearing now as part of the video, but was this sound always something that you worked with or was this particular sound added to the video after the edit? And if so, what was the sound that you were choreographing the movement to?
Anja Dimitrijevic: In the reference to the pace, we were trying to find the most functional movement. So I was considering if I should come to the project with my movement repertoire or will the landscape give me something that I could perceive and translate into the movement. That, in a way, became a methodical research. I am always interested in what kind of repertoire I have and what can the landscape give me. It was very interesting how we found this dimension of time in the stratification of the rocks and also in the possibility of translating it into the movement. The circle doesn't have to be only representative of time, but it has the possibility to be that concept. Se we tried to find the most appropriate form that could create a possibility to perceive a dialogue between the body and the space.
In their reference to the sound, we also tried lots of different things. For the first period, in the first phase we tried with the ambient sounds but also with some music that we thought could be suited for the landscape. It didn't really work. So I tried to be patient and just listen to the real location. And I remember that some of the things that were helpful were the sound of the wind and my steps that were stepping on the snow. All these things were something that we tried to collect and then translate into the sound. What we made after in the editing was not really an ambient sound but we took a charango guitar and my voice and then we extended it. This was again, by the concept, connected to the idea of the circular movement and the extension of time and space. It was more suited for the video. Many people think that it is actually an ambient sound. So it is very interesting how sometimes an artificial sound actually can tell you more than the things that you collect in the place. So it is also very important to have clear ideas of what you want to translate.
Coming back to your interest in the space and the body's relation to the space, and the way the spaces are perceived by us… Another thing that you speak about in this short writing that you've done for the piece is about this idea of the space becoming the body. And you also speak about how to way the film is shot, encourages and affects our attention and our perception of the space. You say: “Because visual stories have the power to transform spaces into places, the video is a tool that can modify space and introduce new qualities to it.” So there are a few questions for me in that. One is: how can video do that, but also what does it mean to turn a space into a place? What is the difference between the space and the place? And what does it mean for the space to become the body?
Anja Dimitrijevic: I think that the video as a tool can really make one anonymous space into a place that can be identified as something else. Using the video tool, you can actually understand the space in another way. My research is this dialogue between the body and the location, but I'm trailing this word dialogue - how is it possible to make visible this dialogue. I like the possibility of activating spaces with the bodies while not giving the body an entitlement over the space. I like when it can be equal.
We had a brief chat about this concept of space versus place before and you referred to a friend of yours who, if I understood it correctly, suggests that spaces exists even when we are not in them but they become places by either our presence, our awareness of them, or our attention. In relation to that, I’m thinking that that’s perhaps the function of the video - to direct our attention in some way and turn this spaces that are there regardless of our presence into places, because we have pointed our camera eye to them and invited the outside eyes to perceive them…
Anja Dimitrijevic: Exactly. What motivated me to continue this research was development of the exhibition entitled Shifting Space, in a gallery in Belgrade featuring works by Laura Santini, Paloma Layton and myself where we presented three different videos. The videos of me and Paloma were more connected to the dialogue between the body and the space, while Laura’s videos were more concerned with questioning what is the perspective of the space without people. In them, she sometimes deletes the human presence by editing. And that was very interesting to me – i.e. how can we make a dialogue between us when she thinks that the spaces are there, they are real even though we are not in them. And in response to that, I was saying that the spaces exist only when we perceive them. So this was a dialogue where we had these different points of view. And we wanted to make a collaboration out of this different points of view on what can place really be and how can space be modified. Now we are researching it with the video forms but when we speak about theatre, this whole subject can expand a lot because in theatre, the audience is really free to watch wherever they want. There we can really speak about this freedom of the point of view …
… which, in a way, in video is a bit more limited?
Anja Dimitrijevic: It is more limited. But it is a possibility to research.
And is this desire to open that up and encourage the freedom as much as possible something that you mainly worked with in the way that shots were devised or is it something that really kicked in in the editing process?
Anja Dimitrijevic: I think it was both, actually. There was this idea of devising the shots before but then when we had all the materials, we saw what we can really do. I would say that there is always part of the research where you have some clear ideas, but everything changes when you start editing. So it is interesting how flexible you have to be in your ideas, even though you tried to be as clear as possible. You need to find a….
… a dance with it.
Anja Dimitrijevic: Yes! Yes.
Tell me a bit about the way the shots were devised and if there were some visual references, some guiding images that inspired you. Or maybe it was just a general guiding feeling that was leading you through this labyrinth of clarifying your thoughts?
Anja Dimitrijevic: We were more intuitive in this way. We didn't have particular visual references. If we have to really search for some, it could maybe be the land art of American artists during the 60s in terms of their approach to the space and the modification of natural landscapes. But it wasn't really a leading point during our project. I remember that we were studying about those subjects during that period, but it was not the real leading point.
We also wanted to make it black and white because the rocks and their lines and forms are more visible with the black body. So I had the black costume and everything around me was white because we did it in the winter. So we saw that there was this possibility of a dialogue between the forms that are in black and white.
We saw that there are so many horizontal and vertical lines and I tried to do different movements that could be playful with those rocks. And then we also saw the circle that I told you about before and, again, it was an intuition. We knew that this place has this dimension of mystery as the rocks are very similar to the Egyptian sphinx. And then again, this mystical circle appeared and we wanted to create something in it because it wasn't only interesting to make the dialogue between the rocks and me, but also between the whole place.
So the idea to have it in black and white was present even before you actually shot it; it didn't come to you as an idea within the editing process?
Anja Dimitrijevic: The idea of the black and white actually happened during the winter because we saw that everything was white and we sow that it was more functional for the editing. So it was again, something that we decided in the process. It is not only about aesthetics; it is also the decision to make it more clear with this idea of the dialogue. So we were researching for the best forms that could give us something that was more connected to it.
You mentioned in relation to black and white that the accent between the body and the shapes becomes clearer in the black and white technique…
Anja Dimitrijevic: Yes, I think that it is more obvious in that way. We wanted to make it obvious that this video is not something that will narrate you some story, but is a research of the movement.
We discussed a lot. We discussed with our friends and so many people that are not only in visual arts but also in the architecture. And it is very interesting how in these discussions, movement emerges. So not only by practicing and improvisation, but also while speaking and trying to find conceptually what is the best way to express something.
How long did that process of conceptualizing the project and spending time discussing it with your partner take? How long was the whole journey?
Anja Dimitrijevic: I think it was very long actually. I am very reflective person so I like to have discussions about these subjects. It lasted from October to February; it was finished in February.
But I'm not trying to stop there. The project gave me something and I took that something more like a theory, and I try to discover it more in different ways and is some other project so it's very, very useful. And I'm very happy and interested that you are also asking me about this project so it also tells me that it arrived also to you and to other people.
There are artists who prefer not to talk much about their works because they feel the whole point of being a visual artist is to have visual language speak for itself. And then there are those who find it quite helpful to have opportunity to reflect on the work through words. How do you feel about being asked questions and having time to reflect?
Anja Dimitrijevic: I think it is not easy but I find it fundamental for my work. Also, studying at artistic university you always have to find the right words to define your projects. And it is one of the most difficult parts of studying, in a way. It is important that the work comes to spectators by itself, but I like when I also have a possibility to express it by words. What is it about and what can it be? What limits it has. So I like when people are aware of what it is and what it is not; when they are given these possibilities of framing the work.
I can totally understand artists who prefer not expressing themselves by words. I think it also depends on the work itself. But as I'm very interested in the research, I have those interests in defining the work. In a way it is necessary for the dialogues in culture and sometimes gives access for people who are not totally in, gives them a way to understand it a bit more. I don't think that explanation by itself is something negative. On the contrary, actually. I also work at the Venice Biennale and I prefer to explain the work to somebody who maybe doesn't have the instruments to really read it, then having the spectator say: ‘This is shit! I don't like it at all,” because maybe they are not understanding the work.
In relation to this idea of the work extending beyond the time of its production, one of the important parts of any work of art is the mode of its presentation where in some way the work is completed or extended. What was the presentation mode that you have envisioned for the work as you were making it? And has that maybe changed since?
Anja Dimitrijevic: During the creation of the work, we thought it could be interesting to have it presented in the exhibition with the screen and the video going in the loop. Also, the audio should better be into the headphones… But it also can change; it could change.
Is presenting the work, showing it to the public and the ways it will be exhibited, something that you tend to actively think about as you make the work?
Anja Dimitrijevic: I have to say, not always. When I thought about this project, I wasn't very sure where it could be exhibited and how; I was just thinking about the work. I also like the idea of a possibility to have a conversation with the curator and possibility extending and making the work different. So I think that till now I didn't really always thought about the spatial presentation of the work because I was more concentrated on the making of it. But I think yeah … it has a very important dimension of what the work is. It can be totally differently understood as only a video or a video with the photos and with the maps. So yeah, exhibiting the videos is very important as it can be understood in different ways through it. Absolutely.
Coming towards the closure of the discussion about Valle delle Sfingi but also the discussion around your own practice. You have spoken a bit about importance of intuition in your work. What role does intuition play in general in your practice and how do you enter intuitive states? Is there a particular ritual that you would go through before you go into the process of making or a particular tool that you have in order to centre yourself in order to access this space of intuition?
Anja Dimitrijevic: I have to say that it really changes depending on whether I am only the Director of the work or I am also a performer. When I'm both, it is very important for me to enter the intuition. And it is also very important in the editing. So it depends which kind of rituals I enter. For example, if I'm physical involved, I need a moment to enter into it physically, with meditation or doing some yoga and with trying to listen to the place I'm working on. If I'm speaking a lot with other people and I have to decide for them, it is more difficult to be intuitive. I think the intuition is something that is not only a sense, it is also a method, and it is a very important method to develop. And probably every person has its own method of developing intuition. Sometimes it really happens that I feel something that it has to be like that. Of course, in that moment I cannot really explain it in words but I try to maintain it. For example, when I work with other people and I have an intuitive sense of something, it is still very important for me not to say only: “Oh, it is just my intuition,” but to find a way of expressing it by words. Also my intuition is not always right for the whole project but I think it is very important and I think it is possible to hear your intuition only if you have time and space where you can really listen to yourself.
"I was considering if I should come to the project with my movement repertoire or will the landscape give me something that I could translate into the movement."