Shoshanah Ciechanowski's art is concerned with the body as a pivotal site for transmissions and transformations of presence, meaning and media. Whether in drawing, video or performance, her body of work is consistently centered upon the workings of the body, using her own body as a kind of machine-center for various communications with other types of bodies, among them the bodies of others and their emissions (movements, expressions, semiotic bodies). In the contemporary context of an overflow of information, Ciechanowski takes it upon herself to reestablish the body as a centre, be it fleeting and always on the verge of collapse, in order to be able to select a certain point, follow a specific line, circumscribe a region from whence to begin something new.
In order to reestablish a true communications centre one first needs to draw back from the vertigo of flows coming in from all directions. This is a process of radical selectivity, of setting harsh limits, of isolating a certain minimal point of departure, a point zero. For Ciechanowski, this point can be a certain conceptual "point", a word, a sentence, a paragraph, a tiny set of constraining rules for action (in this, as in other aspects of her work, the influence of Sol LeWitt is well felt). In her series of drawings (Propositions, Landscape Borders, Pre-Face) Ciechanowski usually begins with some canonical text, typically visionary political speeches or religious poems, expressing a call for points of contact with a fleeting centre of convergence or a yearning for an ultimate tipping point (The Song of Songs, poems by Sappho and Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, or peace speeches by Nelson Mandela, Yitzhak Rabin and Martin Luther King). These voices function as a minimal and ongoing aural input, an abstract yet moving "proposal" which the body of the artist simultaneously puts into action.
The canvas or paper thus serves as the target environment, but the body still needs to set itself its own action-territory – an oval frame dictated by the maximum peripheral reach of the two arms (Pre-Face), a pure geometrical figure dictated by a definition (Propositions), a geopolitical territory or a statistical data set dictated by history (Landscape Borders). Now, with the point of input selected and the territory circumscribed, lines of writing can set about their path. A multifarious transformation then occurs: voices from the past turn into live action, speech transforms into writing and writing itself becomes non-linear, leaving its semantic value behind in order liberate other, formal and material values: a drawing. More precisely, these areaction-drawings, the action becoming all the more free and hazardous thanks to the prior constitution of a well defined point of concentration and an encompassing habitat giving that point the vital force of a center. Experimentations with coloring and heterogeneous drawing materials (graphite, ink, acrylic etc.) are then superposed upon this pre-constituted level of aural-conceptual, geometrical-active, embodied-affective freedom. Starting with the complete determination of a geometrical outline or the full density of a written line, the body-in-action encounters a rich materiality filled with a variety of potential colors and textures and ultimately capable of liquidating everything into an unformed transparency (see the importance of water in this regard).
The ambidextrous writing technique, crucial for Ciechanowski's work, is a natural outgrowth of the consistent logic and desire running through her practice. It both requires a high degree of bodily coordination and a willingness to risk losing oneself in action. In fact, by frequently performing it in relation to a speaking voice to be transcribed, the artist makes it into a tool for simultaneously listening closely and breaking all intelligibility apart. Moreover, through its bi-linear nature, this writing gains an active and graphic materiality beyond any kind of typographic ornamentation, thereby making the body and its limits directly present in the written word. Finally, in addition to being a vehicle expressing these liminal, double determinations (coordinating/losing oneself; articulating/dissolving meaning; abstract representation/bodily action etc.) ambidextrous writing is in itself an act of mirroring, a double movement originating from a common center towards two opposite extremes.
Ciechanowski's videos can in fact be described as originating from yet a further act of doubling, the action-drawing itself becoming the object of a new gaze, behind or before the active body. Thus, the body is no longer merely an active subject of perception and action but also a performer, i.e. a subject performing and perceived as such. Can the drawing process and the drawing body be shown simultaneously, and what can be gained by adding an external perspective? This problem concerning the expansion of visibility necessarily brings in considerations of the space beyond the canvas and the time beyond the action. In The Mean (2011), a work setting out from Maimonides' ethical ideal of centering, the duration of action is shown together with its temporal limits – the pre-defined conditions (the before) and final result (the after), as the body goes in and out of frame. With the camera placed behind the body, doubling the latter's close-up perspective with a full-shot, the drawing process can only be shown where the body is absent, and the body's perceptive yet self contained face cannot be revealed. In Angle(2012), a "point" made by Albert Einstein ("darkness is the absence of light") sets forth the reversal of points of view: the camera is looking at the front of the body from the perspective of the drawing itself, such that it is now the writing process that gradually occludes the body, constraining the passage of light. This inverse doubling of the point of view of the body, a mirror reflection already encountered in ambidextrous writing, is made possible by the use of a transparent medium on which the writing/shading action takes place (Ciechanowski's early work with porcelain and its translucency is a relevant precursor). Thus, the drawing surface becomes both a limit and a site of communication between two inverse points of view, both inhabiting an overall dynamic space of visibility and disappearance.
INBETWEEN, and more particularly MYNAMEIS, are a product and a further expansion of Ciechanowski's practice. To recapitulate in the manner of an "abstract story": Starting from a minimized point of input and a limited territory, lines of mirror writing transform into a free action drawing, where the moving body encounters the hazardous potentialities of matter; this transformative encounter then itself becomes the object of a mirror perspective in the video works, placing a now performative body behind a transparent plane of inscription. In the transition from video to live performance it's the social aspect of Ciechanowski's work that becomes most manifest, especially in the way the different dimensions of time are concentrated into a multiple and enduring social present: the aural input is no longer comprised of canonical texts from the past (the before), but rather live and direct enunciations of basic presence (proper names); the mirror gaze is no longer that of a recording camera, to be viewed only after the fact in the future (the after), but rather the living and embodied gaze of the visitor; furthermore, these live enunciations are from multiple sources, accumulating on the inscription plane just as multiple gazes are accumulating in the performance space.
A whole social dynamics thus unfolds, a proper "happening" allowing the performing body to encounter and remould a "social matter" with its own unique potentials, turning the "viewer" into a participant that comes to feel his own body in its relations to others. Yet this multi-layered accumulation and transformation of/ in social bodily presence (speech/hearing, seeing/being seen, action/feeling etc.) never reaches the chaotic overflow that had to be screened to begin with. This is thanks to certain principles of selection and minimization that constitute the very possibility of a performance – points of instruction on how to approach and what to say, a plane of inscription functioning as a crucial filter, and the performing body as a privileged centre for a pre-distilled channel of contingent perceptions and a pre-refined procedure of hazardous actions. By constructing this formal "stage", this almost invisible "frame", Ciechanowski's work brings to light whatever it is that's happening, transmitted or transformed at present.
By Adam Aboulafia