Collective, City Observatory, 38 Calton Hill, Edinburgh EH7 5AA

Emmie McLuskey: these were the things that made the step familiar


2 February - 10 March 2019

Review by Alex Hetherington

The eight large scale screen print collages, audio works, printed matter and gymnastic ‘furniture’ that make up Glasgow-based artist Emmie McLuskey’s installation at Collective look at the shared poetics of the filmmaker and choreographer by analysing, describing and recording the body, through its interactions and its gestures, between rest and motion. They question how the moving body has been represented in experimental film histories, paying particular attention to the 16mm dance on film work of Maya Deren, including ‘Meshes of the Afternoon’ (1943), ‘At Land’ (1944) and ‘A Study in Choreography for Camera’ (1945). They also address the chronophotography of Eadweard Muybridge and, through the methodologies of choreographers Rudolf Laban and Katherine Dunham, studies in the body’s grace, locomotion, potential energy, mass and language. All the while, McLuskey’s installation challenges how the moving image might be represented by its antonyms - through the solid form, the page and printed matter.

To my mind, the installation alludes equally to contemporary situations where film, the performative and choreography assemble as well as recent works by performative choreographers like Sarah Michelson, Alain Platel and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. While notions of bodily perfections, repetitions and fluency, of agility, particularly in the competitive, athletic or gymnastic body, bring to mind Jo Longhurst’s ‘New Order, Other Spaces’ (2018), something of the fusion between the haptic and psychic qualities of interconnected bodies and materials makes me think of the film ‘Sensorium Tests’ (2012) by Daria Martin.

Learning and the accurate pronunciation of a language, here demonstrated in an audio recording of a French lesson, is employed in parity to these issues surrounding the performative body. McLuskey’s soundtrack discusses the required discipline and devotion to language and performance, while a stream of descriptive ‘action’ words gives us an evocative lexicon for the body’s workings: resistance, tension, pressure, ballistic, slicing and such. At other times McLuskey draws our attention to sign language, a mode where language and gesture synthesize. When brought together in unison these observations characterise what we understand as ‘embodied knowledge:’ a schema of intuitive gestures, where the body is the knowing, receiving subject.

‘these were the things that made the step familiar’ is one episode in Collective’s annual ‘Satellites’ programme, this year brought together by a coterie of artists working with the moving image, dialogue and documentary, writing for the screen and unpacking filmic histories. Future instalments in the series will include new works by Helen McCrorie, Kimberley O’Neill and Katie Shannon.

The cache of materials that constitute McLuskey’s installation (including notes from the artist’s time at the Maya Deren archive at Boston University) alongside screenings and in-conversation events prefigure the artist as nascent filmmaker. The overall effect echoes what Gilles Deleuze describes in his book ‘Cinema 1: The Movement Image’ (1983) as the “out-of-field:” “what is neither seen nor understood, but is nevertheless perfectly present” and “where perceptions cause affections and where affections cause actions.” Here in McLuskey’s workings, there is a film in mind, in the making, waiting in the wings.

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