Guilty feet have got no rhythm
I. Foot power
Human movement, the act of changing place or position, necessarily involves bodily motion. We move our feet, one step after the next, in a sequence that creates rhythm and direction. By moving, we encounter other people, meeting face-to-face or walking alongside them. Such contact can bring about tension, but it also makes dialogue possible. Any social movement is based on real people walking, standing, or assembling together. Any art movement requires the same—real people coming together. I say real rather than virtual since, as we have learned, social movements might be reflected or organized in the virtual world, but they don’t happen there. To bring about a social movement, you have to get your ass in motion.
Physical motion is an ethical imperative similar to French philosopher Emanuel Levinas’ demand to face the Other. In Levinas' case, this action is confrontational. The Other, with a capital ‘O,’ defies my capacity to understand or represent it and, therefore, constitutes a threat. In our case, keeping on our feet means participating in an ongoing procession of people moving, carrying their belongings, moving through borders, at times with signs of war and carnage stamped on their bodies. We should face them, even with the knowledge that otherness tends to incite fear and then rejection, and later avoidance. We need to overcome those barriers. Moving together is a step forward.
Who are those anonymous others that walk the streets of almost every major city in the world—the peasants, proletariat, refugees, displaced, and unemployed? They usually exist at the margins of our sight and at the backs of our mind. Standing up and walking together means rubbing shoulders and interacting. Such action levels the playing field, either by rendering us anonymous also or by making us all known. On the most basic level, the move from observation to participation is linked to our means of transportation. Traveling by car, plane, or digital device is not enough. Arriving at our destination too quickly won’t do. We should linger, dwell, roam, and drift in public spaces, on the streets—wherever we encounter inequality, injustice, and insecurity face to face.
We are bipedal animals, and our walking allows us to raise our arms, observe, think, and take action. Thinking while walking is not the same as thinking sitting down. Decisions taken while in motion are different. How different? They tend to be more open-ended. They carry a sense of continuity from past to present and towards a future. They include multiple viewpoints. They have a smell, taste, and kinesthetic awareness. They are dialogical. They pace themselves, have a rhythm and an intensity. They lean slightly and swing gently…. You can add your own experience of walking, thinking, and sorting out your actions. Some people cannot think without moving—and perhaps no one can.
Foot power is the connection among social movement, political movement, and artistic movement. In all cases, it’s about people coming together and thinking on their feet. Art demands that we get off our couch, turn off our screens, and walk someplace, stand up with others, and open our thinking to other possibilities along the way. Since artistic movement depends on moving our bodies, we can learn about the characteristics of the art by the way it makes our bodies move. Classical art held us in static poses. The Renaissance was an awakening and a raising-up. Modern art moved us towards a utopian future, and contemporary art makes us present, in the here and now, to one another.
To be more specific, the Bauhaus was a movement constantly in motion. The school itself moved from Weimar to Dessau to Berlin in the span of fourteen years (1919-1933). Movement was one of its primary concerns: the movement of people in cities and within their apartments; the movement of shapes and colors; mechanical movement; repetitive, structured movement; and so on. In each case, we can gain an understanding of the art based on the kinds of movement it preferred and fostered.
II. Oskar Schlemmer’s ”Das Triadische Ballet”
Oskar Schlemmer’s ”Das Triadisches Ballett” became a staple of the Bauhaus and was performed numerous times following its premiere in Stuttgart in 1922. What can it teach us about movement?
The Ballet contains three acts, each characterized by a strong color background (yellow, pink, and black) that suggests a particular mood. The three participants (two males and one female) change their costumes in each set, and the design configures their movements. Colors and shapes provide the ballet’s driving force, rather than its narrative or music. The piece transforms the human body into what Schlemmer called a “figurine,” a synthesis of organic and formal attributes. This combination of sensory and corporeal focus coupled with analytical structures, epitomizes much of Bauhaus thinking.
The piece is about movement and characterizes the distinctive way that the Bauhaus understood movement: partially mechanical, partially illusory—something in between a sculpture, a painting, a court dance and a game of chess.