Jianqiang Xia

"Touching Boundaries"

Section MS4, Mirna Pedalo

Keywords: borders/boundaries, moving image, body, performance

They are elusive things: the moment we name them, their meaning disappears, melts, dissolves like a jellyfish in the sun. Andrei Tarkovsky

Specific nouns exist to define specific social relationships, such as Enemy, Stranger, Acquaintance, Friend, Lover, Relative etc. Each term has its own conventional and empirical definition that works as a guideline, rule or a limit, which people use to define reasonable and safe ways to behave around others. Despite the fact that there are great individual and cultural differences in social behaviours, there are certain generalisations that can be made about what it is that differentiates one type of relationship from another. Inner boundaries arise from the moment when one establishes a social relationship with someone ā€“ relationship that is intangible and untouchable. Moreover, the noun one chooses to define this relationship can also represent a kind of boundary, which will perform as a subconscious restriction of oneā€™s behaviour. The word ā€˜inappropriateā€™ is often used when one behaves out of line that has been drawn between these terms. This kind of ā€˜inappropriateā€™ behaviour relies on the literal definition of relationship, which works as Discrete Variable and takes away the new potentiality of indeterminacy.

However, there are many relationships that are hard to define by using these terms. They need further explanation, an in-between or totally outside-of-the-norm definition. How to define this kind of relationship? Where is the boundary between each existing term? Instead of trying to fix and embed this line, an inner boundary is regarded as a movable and transformable object in this project. Personal relationships are supposed to be a Continuous Variable.

Contact improvisation is a form of post-modern dance originated by an American dancer and choreographer Steve Paxton in 1972. It involves an exploration of one's body in relation to others by using the fundamentals of sharing weight, touch, and movement awareness. In this project, all the external interference factors (gender, age, status etc.) are swept away and removed by completely anonymising the performersā€™ body. The key prop is a light and transparent gauze between performers, used to visually represent the ā€˜Boundaryā€™ that they can feel and touch without limiting their body movements. Actors were asked to improvise freely to the music and imagine that they were in a prescribed social relationship to simulate the behavioural expectations and constraints of different social relationships in real life. Although the dancers are performing within a given realm of relationships, it is not difficult to detect the movement and evolution of boundaries in the process. Just as dance is a dynamic art form that changes over time, social relations are constantly changing and developing, and there is no single moment in which they are exactly the same. I am using this experimental project as a trope of intimacy to think of social relationships through the boundary itself rather than the boundary as prescribed by definition. This project explores the potentiality of the absence of existing literal definitions of social relationships. It compiles body movements within the bounds of a selected set of social relationships and visualises intangible emotional boundaries.