Mariechen Danz | A Cartography of Who We Are

Irish German artist Mariechen Danz creates performances incorporating strange vocal sounds, pop music-like choruses, oratory remarks, sculptures and costume design together with writings on a wall to convey a sense of who we are as a species. An appreciation of the now extinct Mayan and Aztec cultures is required as she re-interprets their methods of iconic and phonic communication, merging these with representations of our modern day ‘high-tech’ communications to create bizarre rituals which might leave one scratching one’s head upon viewing.

Knot in Arrow: Ore Oral Orientation (2017) Mariechen Danz
Knot in Arrow: Ore Oral Orientation (2017) Mariechen Danz

These seemingly senseless performances doesn’t convey a story to the audience per se, but more of an expression of something, pushing the line between art and child’s play. The question to be asked, which happens to be the same question reporters asked when confronted with a Pollock 67 years ago, is, is it random what she does and says on stage, which would mean a child could do it, or is there some sort of logic to it? And what exactly is the ‘mind body problem’ or a ‘womb tomb’ for that matter?

Knot in Arrow: Ore Oral Orientation (2017) Mariechen Danz
Knot in Arrow: Ore Oral Orientation (2017) Mariechen Danz

Here we get into the realm of syntax. In Knot in Arrow: Ore Oral Orientation (2017) shown at the Venice Biennale, Danz starts off by explaining that the stage is in fact a ‘map’ with the walls being ‘folded in on themselves’, going on to explain the attributes of the various actors on stage who are ‘vessels’ and bodies of ‘symbols’, culminating with the ‘central body’ lying flat on an altar like fixture, the ‘womb tomb’.

Knot in Arrow: Ore Oral Orientation (2017)
Knot in Arrow: Ore Oral Orientation (2017)

What happens next seems to be an abstract rendition of a particular aspect the history of mankind; the development of communication, a re-enactment of a pre-historic man’s first attempts at speaking amidst a line of feet replicas on the wall, which is symbolic of the migration taken by early people. This act ends with the statement ‘homo sapiens conquered the world’ at which point the woman with a collapsed globe and hurricane symbols teaches the man with the ‘different body’, how to speak a certain language phonetically. Incidently, phonics was also an integral part of the Mayan and Aztec hieroglyphics communication system, a language of interconnected symbols and sounds.

Knot in Arrow: Ore Oral Orientation (2017) Mariechen Danz
Knot in Arrow: Ore Oral Orientation (2017) Mariechen Danz

What happens after that is a bit of a strange song which in essence describes what our body actually does internally amongst different organs, and externally with other people’s bodies, as all the other ‘vessels’ start touching the central body; that is to communicate.

The next scene, in what’s called ‘the dig of no-body’, a body in layers or a contemporary soil sample, all the ‘vessels’ congregate around the body in layers ‘in a dig’ (effort) to put him back together, describing the materials of the particular layer they each are handling in the process. At the end of this sequence the ‘different’ body exclaims “cart-o-graph-y” which implies that this body in layers is actually a map of sorts, an organ map.

Knot in Arrow: Ore Oral Orientation (2017) Mariechen Danz
Knot in Arrow: Ore Oral Orientation (2017) Mariechen Danz

The final scenes describe vaguely a relationship between the land and the body with some more incomprehensible lyrics to a song; the need for land to mine for natural resources, at times waging war over this need.

The gold route, the lead route, the copper stain.
My handkerchief one fleckblood raw knuckles again.
Again. Again. Again. Again. Again. Again. Again. Again. Again

What’s a ‘fleckblood’ anyway? Normally one would write it off as some sort of artistic jargon, but this song appeared in Danz’s work as early as 2011 in an earlier performance of the Knot In Arrow series, so it must have some meaning.

Knot in Arrow: Ore Oral Orientation (2017)
Knot in Arrow: Ore Oral Orientation (2017)

At which point the ‘different body’ launches in an authoritative monologue describing the graphical symbols etched on the stainless steel panels which has something to do with geology:

“An erosion takes place, specially pronounced and visible, where different elements collide over time the elasticity weakens its structure. All that it entails weakens. If it is not cared for, individual particles, movements, moments, voices, deposition is weakened and breaks down
until it fades away.”

Knot in Arrow: Ore Oral Orientation (2017)
Knot in Arrow: Ore Oral Orientation (2017)

What all this has to do with the human body and organs is still a bit of a mystery, perhaps the systems of geological movement and erosion, our need to mine resources within the land to power commerce and buy the latest gadgets, the burning of these fuels which alter weather systems creating bigger storms, which affects human bodies in turn, but these bodies need a paycheck, so they go and input, output the systems to mine the resources, again. The cells are all just communicating with each other; mechanically, unceremoniously, with no knowledge gained.

And what to gain from
name a rumour
like a fever
holds a tumor
and my hard braces
battles paces, landing line
rings up the nations and
no man glory, no learning
organs input output systems
no man glory no learning
organs input output systems
no no no, no no no
no no no, no no no
no no no, no no no
no no no, no no no.

While the songs and monologues may seem random and incomprehensible, many of the phrases and lyrics have appeared in earlier works, such as the ‘gold route lead route’ song and the final ‘no man glory no learning’ song, while the ‘womb tomb’ sculpture was created in 2015, and so should be considered as part of a syntax, a vocabulary in her language. The fact that some phrases are designed to be ambiguous, such as the stage being a ‘map’ but the walls being ‘folded in on themselves’, ‘in motion mid-motion in one location’ and ‘the dig of no-body’, adds to the confusion.

But overrall it maybe viewed as an abstract painting, which seems to describe where we came from and where we are headed; a cartography of our bodies and who we are as a species.

Knot in Arrow: Ore Oral Orientation (2017) Mariechen Danz
Knot in Arrow: Ore Oral Orientation (2017) Mariechen Danz