The Broken Man

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes —

I meant to write this blog post back in August ’09 when we performed VB07 – I Advance Masked.

VB07 Performance Images:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/vaneeesab/sets/72157623520926810/

VB07 Machinima:
http://www.blip.tv/file/2503163

VB07 Previz:
http://vaneeesa.com/2009/06/12/vb-previz-5-i-advance-masked/

One of the most enigmatic, haunting images in all of art history is The Broken Man. If you’re brave enough to journey inside the earth, to let the small pool of light from your flickering tallow lamp guide you through the convolutions and restrictions of both space and time, deep inside an incision within the earth, your quest will guide you to someone you have at least a little kinship with, it will guide you to one of the earliest vision questers.

Deep in the Shaft room in the caves of Lascaux in the Dordogne region of Southern France we find a 16,000 year old man whose quest resonates with us still:

He is The Broken Man at Lascaux.
He is the impaled South African figure.
He is the self-impaled Inuit shaman.

and 16,000 years later,
He is Neo in The Matrix.

All of these individuals have died to their initial, mortal existence, and then been reborn, resurrected, as enlightened beings.

The Buddha told us that to be enlightened meant nothing more than simply to be awake. Yet in a narcoleptic, sleep-deprived world of diffuse attention, who among us can ever claim to be truly, fully awake. Who among us is ever completely present.

It is no coincidence that Marina Abramovic’s recent performance was titled, The Artist is Present. The power of her being truly, fully, simply present, was overwhelming. It moved people to tears. It could only be consumed in small doses.

Dance? Trance? How deeply can one live in a moment? Can a moment be transcendent? How far down does the rabbit hole go?

In VB07 – I Advance Masked, we considered an Oracle-like figure. This figure has existed throughout human culture. Perhaps the first to come to mind is the Oracle at Delphi.

In Tarot card readings I have witnessed, I’ve generally been struck not so much by the vision of the reader, as by the willingness, the need, the hunger, the power of the listener, to invest in the message.

Probably the best known oracle today is Stephen Hawking. Yes, yes, he is a “man of science!” Yes, yes, he is surrounded by mathematics and logic. But all of that is, for the larger public, secondary to the enigmatic wheelchair. It is the wheelchair that confers the High Priest of human culture status upon him.

From the Broken Man at Lascaux to the Oracle at Delphi to Neo in The Matrix to Stephen Hawking to our own performers around the Greek neo-ruins at Leto Zerbino & Steel Howlett’s Petruchio region, these individuals, all have one foot in this reality and one foot in another.

“That deaf, dumb, and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball.”

Even as we explore the deepest reaches of our Milky Way galaxy and the tiniest moments within our brain that hold the neuronal correlates of consciousness, we so often yearn for a dualist universe.

A materialist universe may be a reasonable and even compelling place, but we are still far more animal than mind, and when we look into the night… the night sky… the darkness on earth… the darkness of unknown mysteries… the subterranean recesses within our souls… we find a power, a harmony, a resonance that is elusive to we small, frail primates.

Of her (probably Temporal Lobe Epilepsy induced) visits from angels, St. Teresa wrote:

Beside me, on the left hand, appeared an angel in bodily form,
such as I am not in the habit of seeing except very rarely…
He was not tall but short, and very beautiful; and his face was
so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest rank of
angels, who seem to be all on fire…

In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip
there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my
heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails.
When he pulled it out, I felt that he took them with it, and left
me utterly consumed by the great love of God.

The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans.
The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that
one cannot possibly wish it to cease… This is not a physical,
but a spiritual pain, though the body has some share in it –
even a considerable share.

The Ecstasy of St. Teresa (detail) Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1647–1652

And so we present VB07 – I Advance Masked. A work filled with bodies that are at once “naked,” and yet we are denied access to their “window to the soul” (eyes). Like all those oracles and shaman before them our enigmatic characters have a debilitating sort of loss: they appear unable to see or hear or taste or smell or speak. Save for the raw power of their physical presence, they almost fail to exist in this world at all. Are they sub-humans? Or is so much of their being consumed by their presence in, their communication with, their communion with, another spiritual realm?

Unable to perceive light in this world, they seem, in that grand dualistic tradition that burns longingly still within our souls, to have traded normal sensation and perception for access to secret knowledge, for a unique, powerful, singular vision.

That deaf, dumb, and blind performance artist sees penetratingly, burningly, into our souls.

— VB

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