Flux by Dr Veronica O’Neill

FLUX, the new film by Cléa van der Grijn, is breathtakingly beautiful. Every frame comprises a painting in itself, and every prop is a work of art, including the stage, van der Grijn’s own bed in her own bedroom, her own bathroom, her own home. With FLUX, we see more than ever the extent to which van der Grijn embodies art and is driven to bring it to life in everything around her, to create an artistic world, a world made of art. This can be seen as an attempt to come home, to find, create a place in the world of materiality, perhaps a world that can hold all of her, to come home to the body out of dis-embodiment, an attempt to slide down out of the head (psychological) and fall into the body (somatic), which is, after all, the stage of life and living.

(Dis)embodiment is a consistent motif in van der Grijn’s work, whether permanent disembodiment through death, temporary disembodiment unconsciously in dream states or (semi)consciously through engagement with the liminal, or indeed deeply psychologically (journeys into the subconscious mind) as in JUMP, or even physically, with disembodiment of sense organs, like eyes in JUMP, and here, with FLUX, the tongue and breast-milk ducts.

The sensual space, the world of art and wordlessness, otherworldliness, is reached through dis-embodiment, and van der Grijn has represented the physicality of the body as either violently disembodied or not there at all. In Ambivalence, for example, in ‘Dead Man’, the space between the head (mask) and feet (bronze casts) is empty; van der Grijn, in representing embodiment, albeit a dead body, deflects our gaze away from it. Empty space, empty of physicality at least; yet intangibly pulsating with a sense of moreness, that sense of intangible sensuous moreness we all know, but which can only be portrayed artistically, mathematically, and if with words, poetically.

Moments of flux are wordless yet sensuous.We interact sensually with the physical world. We perceive, take things in, through the sense organs: eyes, ears, nose, skin, tongue; and the tongue is a special case. Sensually the eyes look and see, the ears listen and hear, the fingers touch and feel, the nose sniffs and smells, and the tongue licks and tastes. But unlike the other sense organs, the tongue has an essentially other function. It completes the creation of words through speech. The senses launch us into beingness, sensuousness; while language makes sense of this beingness, makes it sensible. Language is at the root of what distinguishes us as human, but not what makes us human. The tongue makes sense of the sounds we utter. It lifts us out of the space of the nameless into the named, and it does this by naming the sensuous into the sensible. Through language, the tongue makes sense of, but at the cost of the immediacy of the sensuous.

Without the tongue, we are mute; not of sound, but of sense. Without the tongue, sounds we make become all the more disturbing, colourful, intense, sensuous. They call from the sensuous without mediation, without filter, and are commonly shunned. The refrain of “use your words”, admonishing an emotional child, means use your tongue to put names on, create words out of, to process what is being experienced sensually; it is basically saying: “come and meet me in the sensible, be sensible, not sensuous, not sensitive. It is the beginnings of setting the parameters of acceptability. However, ontological outer reaches of being require sensitivity to reach, and FLUX calls us back to the world before words, without words, back to the nameless and uncalled; gently or not so gently, nudging that part of us we silenced in responding to the call to “use our words”, “pull ourselves together”, “contain ourselves”; that world that every individual is wrenched out of in the early days of their lives with calls to not be too sensitive, not feel too much, not be too much.

The tongue acts as a bridge between the sensuous and sensible, but itis ultimately a tool of language. The creation of the sound of words is linguistic, and so a cognitive process, but a cognition that is limited relative to the sensuous. The sensuous compasses the sensible, while the sensible is subject to the sensuous. As much as it seems to be in the nature of language (and the tongue as its tool) to overcome and subject all to its own terms of reference, to compass all it perceives in its cognitive processing, it is limited; even the broadest and most basic principles by which it perceives and through which it cognises: time and space, are limitations. We know this through the sensual languages: mathematics and art. Both of these other languages, other not in the sense of French or Spanish, but essentially other, arise out of/at the poles  of existence, at the limits of any cosmology or ontology: mathematics in the physical, but beyond what is immediately observable, applying that language of numbers like a microscope, creating windows on the physical universe that offer glimpses beyond the sensible (sensible both in terms of language and physically observable). Similarly, the sensual language of art explores the other side, that of ontological being, the extremities of the sensuous that are beyond the tools of the perception and articulation of the senses: eyes, ears, nose and ultimately the tongue in calling them names.

FLUX highlights language, the word, precisely through its absence. When the tongue is absent, words dislodge and fall away from the things they designate, in silence or in wordless song. Through dis-embodying tongues, thereby inhibiting misuse of the word, FLUX catapults us into a post-Babelian state, where languages are more than confused; they are muted. The word is both creative and dangerous, the danger ultimately lying with equating the word with the thing, as has been noted by Jacques Derrida and others. Rebecca Solnit’s perspective on the horizon and the ‘blue of distance’ helps here. We might aim for the blue of the horizon, but things shrivel up there. Real things only exist in the space before the blue, the foreground, like a mirage, like the vision of water on hot tarmac in the sun, the shimmer is created by the interplay of the horizon and the senses, sensory perception (vision in this case), which projects an image somewhere in between, in the foreground. It, the image, cannot be projected onto the horizon itself.

The horizon intangible, unpossessable. And unless it is interpreted to imply any more than what it is, to mean more than it is, it is not harmful. All of our experiences are ultimately images projected onto a space between our eyes and the horizon. They are the results of the interrelation between what we strive for and our perception, our way of seeing. This is what we love. Our image of the beloved. To be loved is to be created, brought to life on the stage between horizon and perceiver (lover), in their eyes, in their mind, in their mind’s eye. Attempts to possess the beloved will fail, every time, as the beloved is just an image. It is ephemeral, ungraspable, but eternal because of this. It inspires us for as long as we let it, as long as we can bear not owning, naming, defining. The painful, joyfulness, breathlessness, pre-climactic intenseness of desire of what is promised but remains always out of reach. 

The horizon is incompatible with the image as a stage/home, just as the word is incompatible with experience as a home. As the horizon beckons yet deflects to the foreground; so the word beckons and should (but rarely does) deflect to the experience. Too often the word is an imposter and pretends that experience resides in it, that it is the experience – the word as the thing. Too often the mistake is made of flipping the sensuous/sensible relationship. This was what inspires the parable of the Tower of Babel in the Old Testament, where one language is split into many to avoid the word being equated with the thing. FLUX literally rips out the means of utterance of the word, as such going further than Babel with its confusion of languages, which can still make sense of the senses into sensibility. FLUX leaves only the voice, without the word.

In “The Storyteller”, Walter Benjamin makes a distinction between texts that are information and those that tell a story. An instruction manual and a poem both impart information, are both creations; what differentiates the two is that the creation of the instruction manual is completed by the writer, so transforming its content into information pure and simple. What makes the poem different is its own invitation to create. Unlike an instruction manual, a poem is not ‘called’ anything definitive; instead, it invites the reader to name it, if they can. The poem makes the reader complicit in its creation; it invites the reader to complete its creation. The true challenge of the poet thus is to inhibit the urge to complete the creation of their own creation, to name it, to say what it is, to make it into information rather than to allow it to become a story, a never-ending story.

Other art forms are no different to the poem in this regard. The work of art does not tell us anything; instead, it offers a framework within which to create in the act of perceiving. Art is creative on multi-levels; it is itself an act of creation, but so is a purely functional object such as a table that is created for purely functional reasons. The table has been named, called a thing in having its function clearly defined. What would change this table into a work of art would be the artist placing it in such a way as to invite the viewer to create in their perception of it. The artist does not tell us anything about the artwork; instead they invite us to complete its creation

The story is what art brings forth and van der Grijn has always embodied the story and brought it forth with the art she creates. In FLUX, she goes further. She creates and represents an art world to hold the story, a stage for the story(art) to be (re)born into, to live in. It is like she has created a stage for the wordless and nameless in the realm of words and naming, in the realm of language as information, but through art.

Her home is a work of art, and in FLUX she artistically creates the means of (re)birth, down to the red flowers fashioned from breast ducts (again disembodiment). The disembodied parts are laid out in constellation to set the scene of birth, birth of the story into information, birth of the artist into the mundane, birth of too muchness into materiality; ultimately reintegration and wholeness of mind and body and resolution of Cartesian duality. FLUX is ultimately an attempt at (re)integration. It fails, as it is destined to. Art, the nameless, cannot survive in the realm of the named. But van der Grijn’s attempt in FLUX is a strikingly beautiful and a spellbinding call to the moreness in us all. At the last moment, it deflects. And just when we are at the point of expecting resolution, FLUX gently tips us back into the nameless, the blue of distance. Material reality, embodiment, the sensible is transient; the sensuous is permanent. To commit to embodiment is to commit to transience, is to commit to ultimate death. But ultimately, to not commit to death is to refuse to live. In FLUX, van der Grijn is again playing with this conflict between death and birth, but it is her most visceral work so far, her greatest commitment to death in a shift from the psychological to the somatic, out of the head and into the body, a step in the journey back to self.

Distance, blue, the blue, which constantly deflects, draws us, holds a longing. It opens the heart, it beckons, to desire in us. This is where FLUX brings us, from the moment of the first simply beautiful shot, spellbound in that liminal space, suspended between life and death, in the moment, Van der Grijn creates an entirely original and unique work that is somehow also the culmination of all her work so far. It is both unique and connected to source; another artistic representation of the wondrous, wordless, nature of being.