Agata Siniarska: In the Beginning was a Copy

Find a comfortable sit or lie down.

Stay close to the speaker so you can hear my voice.

Look what a perspective you have from the chosen position. What do you see, maybe a sealing, maybe some corners of the room you haven't look at before. Search for the spots you normally do not see.

Define the horizon you have in this position, how far can you see things?

What you can't see?

What can you imagine is there even though you can't see it?

That expanded space bring closer to you and your body.

What are the surfaces, objects around you, close to your body?

Maybe sth surprised you? Maybe there is something you didn't know is there?

What can you take in your hands or touch with your hands?

What kind of texture is that?

From this environment around you, lets come even closer and try to feel/imagine the borders of your body.

You can go through your shape/ the edge of your body/ the borders  with your gaze or you can try to draw it/touch it with your hands.

And lets come closer – please take one of your hands in front of your eyes and have a good look at it. How is the skin of your hand?

Are there any differences between the skin on your palm, between the fingers, close to the nails?

And now, bring the hand even closer to your eyes, so close that the image becomes blurry

Can you still see it?

What can you see?

What you can't see?

Imagine that your eyes are like a microscope?

What could you see then?

The human body is a dynamic system. It is estimated that every human contains a hundred trillion microbes. The milky way contains between a hundred million and four hundred million stars. There are more bacteria on/in your body than there are stars in our galaxy.

Please, put you hand down if you still keep it in front of your eyes. Take a one breathe in and strongly breathe in out – through this action around 36, 000, 000 bacteria cells are released from your body into the air as you sit/lie down. Imagine that...

We are more of microbes than we are of humanity. What counts as a unit—a ‘one’—is highly problematic.

Now I would like to come back to the skin.

What kind of skin do you have: is it an oily skin, dry skin, soft can examine that while touching your cheek with your hand or use the hand to touch it.

Skin is one of the largest human-associated microbial habitats. New microbes constantly appear in our bodies, on our skin. It is impossible to trace them, to trace this exchange.

Imagine how this is happening, how you are in constant exchange with every organism is in contact with you. Maybe you have a dog or a cat – that also counts.

Who did you meet today...

The transmission of bacteria is a fact and cannot be questioned. The time spent with other humans and non-humans, especially when intimate, slowly changes or moves the borders of our primary ecosystem.

Every kiss, every speech act, every handshake, every decision, every crime is always marked by the company and the influence of bacteria. There is nothing that fully belongs to us. Bacteria always participate in all parts of our life.

What does it mean when one says: “I thought about it, this is my idea”. Thinking processes are collective.

The ideas do not belong to us and artworks do not belong to the artists because it is impossible to distinguish ‘our’ bacteria, the ones that inhabit us our whole lives from the bacteria that come from the other organism. 

Imagine this: I, a scientist, share my apartment with a film director, let‘s say, Jane Campion. Eating breakfast together, sharing cups, using the same towels, keeping our things in proximity, kissing each other, borrowing shoes, our bacteria ecosystems impact each other. Practically, this means that my bacteria triggers certain ideas in Campion, making her write certain scripts, choosing certain scenes for her movies. Yet it is her as a person that activates the whole machinery. She allows bacteria from my ecosystem to niche in her, she listens to them and ‘lets them speak’ through their molecular language. She listens to them, 'she listens to her body' as we might call it colloquially, but on a physical level there is nothing more than Campion giving space to different kinds of microbes. She cultivates them and allows them to interfere with and influence her own ecosystem.

Some symbionts help digest food, some symbionts help digest ideas. An artwork is not a product of discourse, it is the material confrontation between bodies. The act of thinking and making work is dynamically entangled with the microbial capacities of our bodies. We can't stop the act of transmission but we can choose with who we would like to exchange our microbes.

Lets come back to our hands: Hand surfaces have higher levels of diversity than other skin surfaces thus tonight I am going to concentrate on hands and the easiest act of transmission that is a handshake.

The handshake is a major tool for checking power relations. We know the famous handshakes of Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin: pulling, squeezing, pushing everything to perform power. But let’s forget about that childish aspect of handshakes as performed by politicians.

My/our proposal here is to shake hands, but instead of performing power, to use handshaking in order to participate in microbial exchange.

We can’t exchange it now unless you are with somebody in one space or there is a dog or a cat companion with you...if not lets just try as an exercise to perform a handshake between left hand and the right one.

There is a simple scenario to follow.

1. Choose a person – although it is possible to take advantage of everyone, please try to choose wisely. The procedure introduced here now might sound simple but it takes lots of emotional and physical engagement.

2. Do it when you feel a bit sick, but not too much. Choose the moment when you have a small infection, tooth ache, or are menstruating, but not when you are very sick. Although the body is weaker and without enough protection, it is also infected by viruses that do not necessary want to cooperate, and they can change the whole trajectory of the desired situation.

3. For two weeks before the exchange, do not wash your hands too frequently, allow them to be familiar with outside. Do not be sterile. Under no circumstances do not use soap for desinfection and do not use hand creams either.

4. Try to make your hands sweaty. Do not feel ashamed of your sweat. Sweaty places between your fingers are welcome!

5. When you start the contact, offer your hand to shake, to squeeze the given hand, look at the eyes and count in your mind from one to four: 1-2-3-4. When you finish the shake, try to slide on the surface of the hand you shake. We call this a ‘finishing sliding’.

Additional information: Try to get as close as possible into the spaces between the fingers: these are the places where bacteria easily situate themselves.

6. Become a host: eat lots of yogurts, cheese, kefir and do not take a shower after the exchange for at least thirty-two hours. Think warmly about the person you shook hands with, think of them with full admiration. Repeat the mantra: come, I feel you, I hear you, I taste you. Try to think through this person, do not analyse this person from your perspective, try to be this person so the bacteria can feel familiar. This is how to seal the partnership.

7. Once a bacterium arrives in a new destination, it needs to make itself at home, and there is no guarantee it will succeed. Try to relax, warm yourself up, keep your body temperature stable. Cover yourself with a blanket, sit close to the heater, drink tea, keep sweating but do not take a bath. If, for the initial 32 hours, the bacteria stay, they stay forever. Listen to them.

The beginning of this research was initiated in 2016. It has its base in the handshake. The research supposed to be continued through the analysis of the kiss, the french kiss, the hug and objects exchange.

It is 2020, I am in Berlin, Germany, following the restrictions of the physical distancing. I don't hug, I don't kiss, I exchange the objects in the sterile gloves within the 2 meters distance recommended. My body is separated from you. Sometimes I go to the street and wait, I wait until somebody will appear on the horizon. Somebody, anybody, really. Here you are! I observe how you are coming closer. I feel a huge thrill. Should I get out of your way? Should I stay? Will you pass by closely enough? Closely enough to be dangerous? Closely enough to be intimate? What if we touch each other? Accidentally, perhaps. Only the ends of our jackets. What if we exchange the jackets? Give me yours, I'll give you mine.

The current pandemic is written though the war language, the enemy is out there. The enemy is the other, the other body. I want you to know, you are not an enemy to me. We smile to each other every day when we shortly meet on the street, when I meet you in the shop. What happens to you, happens to me, I am not an individual. I am with you. I miss you. I miss you because you are on a different continent, because you are in another country, another city, another district. Because you are in the same building, because you are behind the wall, because you are 2 meters away from me. Because you are not here, because you are not here anymore. Because you won't be.

Text from the lecture performance IN THE BEGINNING WAS A COPY.
Concept and performance: Agata Siniarska

Berlin, 2016, revisited in 2020.

Choreographic Turn was made with financial support of Ministry of Culture of Slovenia and with financial and logistical support of Nomad Dance Academy Slovenija.