Me as Loose Cannon. Or a Loose Canon of My Own?
It must have to do with her performances that I cannot decide whether Tori Wrånes becomes a loose cannon, that is to say, something totally unpredictable, or whether she produces her own canon of strangely familiar gestures in a new and surprising way. In any case, there is music in it all, though of a kind that could not care less about standard laws of expression. For Wrånes’ thing is the power of expression itself and this goes beyond what is at first visible.
I’m not just referring to her performance Loose Cannon (2010), in which she plays a grand piano somewhere between heaven and earth, and sings in duet with a fjord boat, but I’m also and in particular referring to Everyone got something great (2010), or more accurately, the red ribbon that hangs out of her mouth like a huge tongue while she is singing. The red ribbon is the promise of something great that everyone has somehow got, namely the power to express him- or herself. Though this is not about expression itself. When, in old paintings, you see little labels hanging out of the mouths of the persons portrayed, labels with writing intending to represent speech in the picture, they are rather an indication of a limitation. They indicate the painting’s attempt to make up for its disadvantage in comparison to poetry, which employs speech. But when, as in Wrånes’ case, the ribbon remains blank, when she does not employ speech but presents her voice instead, then she is referring to the very power of expression; not expression itself, but its possibility that increases in each instance. It makes lost parts visible again. It lets us rediscover what cannot be seen because it is unlimited and so is readily suppressed as monstrous.
In Oo (2011), we see Wrånes on the stage as a bag lady, her face hidden behind her hair, laden with bags, clothes, hats, ropes. And as so often in her performances, Wrånes is attached to a tree branch. She sings and plays accordion; though a flute can be heard as well. And then we see that she is carrying perhaps not the world but another person on her shoulders. We have the impression we are seeing a miraculous body, such as we know from the old prints in Eugen Holländer’s art-historical study Wunder, Wundergeburt und Wundergestalten [Miracles, Miraculous Births and Miraculous Bodies], a double creature that seems archaic and contemporary at the same time. And since the paradox of an original repetition is, in fact, also the condition for the possibility of monsters, we have to differentiate between the opening-up effect of difference and the hammering-home effect of stereotypes. It is only from this differentiation that a person can emerge who shows all the signs of an unforeseen female mutant. And we need do no more than follow her gestures.
When Wrånes synchronizes herself with these gestures she does not embody herself but a piece of a different kind. This piece is multifaceted, it tells stories and asks questions. And singing is a must no matter what. We hear and we see: costumes, props and a physical effort that defies its own rules. We do not know what is happening in her performances, but we do know that something is happening and that this something is her own canon of very special performance practices. Wrånes performs but without merely playing things back. She directs, addresses, responds, relates. When she enters into a dialogue with instruments and the audience, her voice is not just a means of communication. It goes back to a time long before it was possible to record sounds and noises, a time when the voice was a medium that served as a place to store social and cultural events. This voice can imitate nature as well as other voices and so use the human body as a transcendent playback device.
In The Lonely Choice of a Multipersonality (2009), Wrånes positions eleven microphones on the floor and points them towards her organ. And this organ is in fact her vagina, the organ through which her body breathes in the sound of a hundred flutes. We are attracted to it like to a pied piper who lures us on a journey into an inner landscape of multivoicedness. And so we follow him into a multivoicedness once romantically captured in the metaphor of the echo chamber of interiority. This is a multivoicedness of echoes and reverberations, where faraway voices echo and reverberate inside as voices that are already one's own, in the cavity of an interiority from which the inspired voice speaks. Yet in the space that resonates with multiple voices, this voice is exposed to its exteriority. In the repetitions they are and the differences they make, echoes relinquish the interior voice to the multivoicedness inherent in it. It is no longer a single voice. It is a babble of voices, a babble of repetitions and modifications. A single voice is always a lonely choice picked from the murmur of all voices, from the resonating cavity of the echo from which it comes, from which it is cited and becomes excited so as to be installed retroactively as the cause of an effect that gives it existence. Yet the babble of voices from which the voice comes and which it eclipses is also where it will disappear again or rather be absorbed and inamissibly preserved.
And this is exactly what is so appealing about Tori Wrånes’ performances. They allow times, persons, states to be echoed and reverberated, and thus an event to emerge that we all share because it goes deeper than we ourselves do. It continues to allude to an echo and unfolds its effect so lastingly. When this event presents itself, it always also exposes itself to the instability of its presentation. Yet it is precisely in doing so that it traverses wider spaces than were at first visible. It may not make sense, yet it does something to us, to us who become the echo of this event.
In ancient mythology, Echo is a voice configured as female that is only audible when other voices speak. Ovid describes her in Metamorphoses as the ghost of language left over from the drama of self-assertive Narcissus. Rejected, Echo loses her body: “Scorned, she wanders in the woods and hides her face in shame among the leaves, and from that time on lives in lonely caves. But still her love endures, increased by the sadness of rejection. Her sleepless thoughts waste her sad form, and her body’s strength vanishes into the air. Only her bones and the sound of her voice are left. Her voice remains, her bones, they say, were changed to shapes of stone. She hides in the woods, no longer to be seen on the hills, but to be heard by everyone. It is sound that lives in her.”
Yet love remains and even grows when she finds pleasure in sound and invents a resonating body for herself. Though unlike Narcissus, it is a body that does not communicate its own self. It can wait and in doing so outwit the shortcoming of having no voice of its own. The art of waiting and appropriating strangers’ voices turns empty repetition into a resonating body through which Echo may express her own desire. A desire that resounds, that is neither present nor absent, and thus stronger than the narcissistic logic of repetition that relies on self-identity and threatens to make Echo inaudible. There may appear to be a difference between embodying this sound and using it performatively. As if you had to lose your body to become Echo. Yet this does not take Tori Wrånes into account, who is fond of hanging out in the woods, often hiding her face behind her hair, and most likely feels comfortable with caves. But if you suspect an underlying loss of self-identity here, you will miss how this loss turns into an enjoyment of multiple identity, such as emerges in the physical materiality of her shiny costumes and props. They are reflecting surfaces, a medium of resistance – be it air, a stone, a red ribbon hanging from her mouth, a branch at an angle to her body or white lenses on her eyes – that in a momentary and original purloining turn the voice into a loose cannon and make it ricochet so that it finds her breath. And this can be heard by everyone.
Eva Meyer is a writer and filmmaker based in Berlin. She currently teaches at Zurich University of the Arts. Her books include: Zählen und Erzählen. Für eine Semiotik des Weiblichen, 1983; Die Autobiographie der Schrift, 1989; Tischgesellschaft, 1995; Glückliche Hochzeiten, 1999; Von jetzt an werde ich mehrere sein, 2003; What Does the Veil Know? (with Vivian Liska), 2009; Frei und indirekt, 2010. Since 1997 she has collaborated with Eran Schaerf on films. Among others: Documentary Credit, 1998 (Rotterdam Film Festival); Record: I Love You, 1999 (International Media Art Award, nomination); Europe from Afar, 2001 (4th International Biennale for Film and Architecture, Graz); Flashforward, 2004 (Intermedium, Munich); She Might Belong to You, 2007 (Sculpture Projects Muenster 07); My Memory is Observing Me, 2008 (Ambulante Film Festival, Mexico 2010); Pro-Testing, 2010.
Translated from the German into English by Catherine Kerkhoff-Saxon and Wilfried Prantner