by Mira Dayal
“Capitalism” connotes an all-consuming practice of labor, a collapse of leisure into labor, a tireless machine… what can dance offer in translation? Koosil-ja’s “I Am Capitalism” suggests an answer: exhaustion, and a possible collapse of the machine. On stage, she gives us inward pointing feet, shaking knees, endlessly tracking eyes, and visceral collapse. She borrows from and imperfectly mimes the dances of masters before her–in an assemblage of choreography that is (re)presented to the audience on four titled screens at the corners of the stage–which is in itself a painful exercise: one hour and forty-five minutes of movement with few pauses, if only for a costume change (none for the audience). Koosil-ja wants her audience to know that she is in pain, straining, and that we are witnessing a sort of exorcism from the impurities of a global system as she scrubs the floors in a delirium and crawls while struggling to keep a coin in a beam of light that searches the floor for its dirty target.
It is possible to empathize with the dancer’s tired body and to understand the message that she feels trapped in a system that offers no route of escape. But here there must be a separation between what Koosil-ja wants and is. She wants to be rid of the capitalism machine and to engage in this performance as a route to individual release; but still she is capitalism, and indeed she embodies the practices and aims that capitalist desires entail. Borrowing from Boris Groys’ Art Power and returning to the methodology behind the artist’s sampled–diverse and literally colorful– choreography, one finds an interesting parallel: Groys writes,
“What is the origin of this dominating postmodern taste for colorful diversity? –there is only one possible answer: the market. It is the taste formed by the contemporary market, and it is the taste for the market. In this respect, it must be recalled that the emergence of the taste for the diverse and the different was directly related to the emergence of globalized information, media, and entertainment markets in the 1970s and the expansion of these markets in the ’80s and ’90s. Therefore, I believe that the discourse and the politics of cultural diversity and difference cannot be seen and interpreted correctly without being related to the market-driven practice of cultural diversification in the last decades of the twentieth century.” (149-150)
A taste for diversity in markets may stem from an even earlier point in time, when trade networks were first created in order to provide a wider range of product choices to consumers and increase revenues for producers. If in I Am Capitalism Koosil-ja embodies the market diversity (in this case, diversity of dance practices and recordings) framed by the same capitalist system she seeks to expel, can her practice succeed? Indeed, is success the aim?
In the last phase of her performance, two more dancers–Geoff Matters and Melissa Guerrero–joined the artist and all three intently paced the floor at angles determined by a projected geometrical pattern. At first, it was difficult to discern the logic of their movement, but as time progressed, it became clear that each dancers had an individually mediated path that made it possible to intersect and avoid collision without changing pace. This dance evolved in phases. Instead of following the exterior side of the triangle, Koosil-ja began to move into the center–and eventually the dancers did collide, in a sort of Pac-Man demise. A Pac-Man analogy has weight; unlike the initial phase in which Koosil-ja imperfectly mimed diverse prerecorded dances under visible stress, this last phase was characterized by a machine-like focus on timing and accuracy, devoid of emotion. At the end of capitalism, then, the machine did collapse after the imperfect performance of its cogs. The dancers fell out of alignment.
In dance, Koosil-ja may have found an escape from capitalism, but the escape relied on a naive expectation that the machine could collapse–and was a still a machine at all. Capitalism is increasingly represented not as a physical machine but instead as a network and system of exchanges. If Koosil-ja could perform again, how could her work speak to this shift? Perhaps the focus (for the majority of the dance) on an individual body is no longer relevant. It may not be possible for an individual to escape the network, but it may be possible for the network to fracture. An emphasis already prevalent in dance on pure movement and the synchronization of bodies could have been implemented to better represent contemporary capitalism–and that is the translation dance could offer.