The Freedom of Form

Isabelle Schad creates resistive body potential and escapes fixed categories  

Text: Christine Matschke  

A big concern for Isabelle Schad is to manifest micropolitical resistance in her work. For this year’s festival she leaves the stage to conceive the exhibition “INSIDE OUT” in the KINDL – Centre for Contemporary Art. 

Isabelle Schad practises aikido every day. It’s one of the first things she tells me as we sit in her kitchen. She doesn’t want to just answer questions. This she has made subtly and insistently clear since her first email. 

Letting go  

This is good. Schad’s aikido teacher – eminent in his field – combines aikido with Zen meditation. Seventy-four years old, he often seeks an interchange with his students. A quality that Schad appreciates, because she too enjoys sharing her knowledge – theoretical and practical – with others: “It’s the person who practises with self-awareness and not in repetition – like a solo violinist in a concert, who is really there when s*he plays – who has talent,” is how Schad paraphrases her teacher. This is the first of many lines she draws for me to give me a picture of her work. Studying technique closely is a part of aikido. But it’s also about how much freedom and personality the form can express. 

‘Talent’ – you could also call it the moment of absolute presence – is something Schad aspires to in every piece. Rhythmic repetition and variation of movement sequences that develop palpable energy are the essential principles of her choreographic practice. An energy that’s catching, that can sometimes lead to the viewer’s complete relaxation and contentment. 

Escaping categories

Schad’s intention with her spatial figurations is to make inner movements visible. This essentially means the visualisation of somatic practices from Body-Mind Centering, which she draws from Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen’s embryology workshop: “The umbilical cord to the mother only constitutes itself after about the third week, which means that before this we develop from within our own space. So, I also speak of the body becoming spaces and stages, instead of moving the body over stages and in spaces.” This physical becoming-form is decisive with Schad. Her way of choreographing is akin to an energetic modelling that is never complete, and that concentrates the body, thought of as material, into temporary forms through repetition and variation of movement. The body is both motor and material reshaping itself here, moving into and out of the space layer by layer, like clay on a turntable under the form-seeking hand and eye of its sculptor. 

Schad’s energetic sculptures are influenced by her long-term collaboration with the visual artist Laurent Goldring. In order to make inner movement processes visible, they have devised the concept of the ‘amplifier’. For their first joint project, “Unturtled #1–4” (since 2009), Goldring suggested oversized items of clothing to show the inner movements. Later, for “Der Bau” (2013), the clothes lost their seams and became long widths of material; in “Collective Jumps” (Premiere at HAU Hebbel am Ufer, 2014) the group became the amplifier. 

The openness and incompleteness that characterises Schad’s energetic sculptures is also reflected on a semantic level: no visual idea is formulated down to the last detail; Schad only ever navigates them associatively in a certain direction. She doesn’t hold with compartmentalisation. Which is why she resists using fixed terminologies: “Concepts soon become categories. And this is exactly what I want to avoid.” An approach that keeps the body and mind open, and enables an unformed, more intuitive, one might say more creative view of the world (order). “It’s the other images and potential imagery that interest me, where the viewer is given an active sight and tries to understand, although not with the intellect but through sensory perception.” 

It's the other images and potential imagery that interests me, where the viewer is given an active sight and tries to understand.

Schad’s artistic ‘escape’ – a word she uses several times this afternoon – is a kind of visual-sensorial self-defence principle against everything that is normative, generalising and stuck: “Resistance lies in loosening and dissolving categories, to free oneself from the binary, stereotypical images we know from the mass media.” This entails an interest in allowing differences and contradictions. Schad sees a political dimension in her way of composing images: “For me there’s a resistive potential in not drawing boundaries – this demarcation and categorisation is a kind of right-wing ideology that you find in competition, contest or war.”

Micropolitical Practice

In practice, with her performers, she also tries to manifest the resistive potential of the body. So, she corresponds with them in writing. Schad would like to find out how the micropolitical can be defined in practice. For the group choreography “Collective Jumps” (2014), the first part of a trilogy about collective bodies which also includes “Pieces and Elements” (2016) and her project “Reflections”, planned for 2019, she drafted a manifesto together with the performers: 

“The group’s body is made out of many. We exercise practices that have the potential to unite instead of individualize. We understand these practices as a relationship to oneself and to one another, as a pathway. These practices are biological ones, cellular ones, energetic ones. We look at freedom in relation to form: to form that is made of and found by an inner process and its rhythms. Rhythm creates the form. Therefore, there is multitude, multiplicity, subjectivity, and variation: variation within repetition. We look at freedom as the essence of happiness. […] We look for equality in movement and for the end of hierarchy between body parts. Relations between body parts are like relations between people within the group. […] Could the creation of an infinite, unified, monstrous body possibly become a site of resistance? Could the body itself become a site of resistance, the body of a dancer? ”

In working with groups, Schad breaks down hierarchies physiologically: here too she draws on Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen’s workshop in experiential embryology, according to which at the start of life all cells are equally important. Within a shared form, for example walking together, Schad creates awareness of the fact that everyone has a different breath rhythm and therefore a different rhythm of movement. Bodies can be subject to synchronicity without having to function synchronously. “We understand synchronicity as the moment when things fall together in time, a phenomenon of energy”, reads the long version of the manifesto. ‘Sensing’ is very important for this kind of group work, as sensitivity to the group is developed from a sensitivity to oneself. The specific use of energy in aikido is an important pointer to collective physical resistance. An energy that doesn’t seem forced, but requires a high sensibility to one’s own body. In aikido they say you have to move yourself in order to be able to move someone else – Schad understands this politically.

Opening Other Spaces

Isabelle Schad’s most recent work, “INSIDE OUT”, has been specially created for the KINDL – Centre for Contemporary Art. In contrast to the stage work, the museum’s various spaces offer the possibility of working with changes of perspective and extended time. Six sculptures are planned, consisting of sequences from existing and future pieces. In two of these sculptures Schad deepens aspects of her recent portrait pieces “Double Portrait” and “Turning Solo” (Premiere at HAU Hebbel am Ufer, 2017). In collaboration with Laurent Godring she will also form a sculpture from an amorphous pile of remnant fabrics left over from their joint production “Der Bau”. One group sculpture draws on the production “Pieces and Elements” (Premiere at HAU Hebbel am Ufer, 2016), which Schad sees, analogously to her portrait series and to visual art, as one of the so-called landscape pieces, and two modules are being developed from the project “Reflections”, which is planned for 2019. Each sculpture is autonomous in Schad’s energetic exhibition, which will ideally set the audience in motion.

Translated from German by Michael Turnbull.  

Isabelle Schad | INSIDE OUT

16.+17.8., 18:00 | 18.+19.8., 15:00
KINDL – Centre for Contemporary Art
World Premiere