For a number of years, primarily as a biologist and then as a writer, I have had a particular interest in the human body. Luigia Riva shares this fascination with me and InCorpore[o] was created almost spontaneously as a dialogue between us. When we first met I had just finished a series of corrections to my historical novel that recounts the adventures of a student of anatomy in Italy during the Renaissance.
A few historical notes
If we consider a medical student these days, I think that the first image that would come to mind would be that of a young man in a white coat dissecting a cadaver. In reality, the systematic practice of performing autopsies is quite recent. During antiquity and until the beginning of the Renaissance dissections were rare. The authorities forbade them for religious reasons, and physicians deemed them to be of no interest. In fact, according to the humoural theory, universally accepted for more than 2000 years, the human body is governed by four humours, health being determined by the balance of these four forces. In this vision of the body, the form or exact placement of the organs is only of secondary importance. It isn’t the parts as such that matter, but the dynamic harmony that exists between them. At that time, the only practitioners who were encouraged to study anatomy were the surgeons, who were not in fact physicians, but belonged to the barbers’ guild.
In 1542, Andreas Vesalius published De Humani Corporis Fabrica which can be considered the first modern treatise on anatomy. Its publication gave place to violent polemics, but little by little anatomy came to be recognized as an essential foundation course in the education of physicians.
In my opinion, the “anatomical method” has with time, acquired a paradigmatic importance in the study of animate matter in general. To disassemble, to separate the parts from each other (be they organs, cells, or more recently, molecules) is often the first step in an analysis of the living. The desire to reduce a living being into the sum of its organs has given birth to magnificent modern myths, such as that of Frankenstein, in addition to a plethora of science-fiction films in which scientists, more or less innocently, create automata in their laboratory that are endowed with free-will.
Genesis and development of the project
From her very earliest choreographic works, Luigia Riva has dealt with the fragmentation of the body, and our inability to perceive the body as a whole.
This is particularly true for Inrimessa, a solo inspired by Oliver Sacks’s book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, which recounts the case of a woman who had lost her sense of proprioception, that is, her sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body; thus forcing her to have to look at each of her members in order to control their movement.
She has explored this area in other choreographic works as well. In Inpreda, the subject is the disassembly of the body by medicine, while in Innocenti, a work for 15 dancers created for the Ballet de Lorraine, she evokes the symbolism of relics, those fragments of a saint’s mortal body, which according to the Church retain the saint’s power.
This unexpected overlap in our interests led us to imagine a joint project. InCorpore[o] was born as a reflection on anatomy and the relationship each one of us has with the invisible interior of their body.
The only thing that we can know in a direct manner is the interior of the other’s body. In this sense, it is interesting to note that in the word “autopsy”, made of auto and optomai, “auto” does not stand for “oneself” as in auto-portrait, but for “one’s own”. Autopsy thus means, to see with one’s own eyes, and not to see oneself. In this sense, the inside of our body is both that which most intimately belongs to us and that which remains hidden. This paradox gives the title to our performance: in corpore, Latin for “in the body”, and incorporeo, Italian for “incorporeal”, or literally, that which has no body.
We have also explored the different ways in which this paradox can be dealt with. In particular, we ask whether there are distinct feminine and masculine strategies for apprehending corporality. In addition, addressing again the issues dealt with by Luigia Riva in Inpreda, we evoke the power relationship men attempt to have over women’s bodies, as well as the one that doctors have (a primarily male profession until recently) with their patients’ bodies.
Genesis of the organs
I once asked one of my daughters, after she had recovered from bronchitis, what she imagined her lungs to be like. She said that they were “two sacks of tulle filled with flowers.” This description brings together an image, probably taken from an anatomy book of lungs represented as two porous sacks, along with the sensation of obstruction that bronchitis induces. My daughter’s poetic spirit then transformed mucus into flowers.
When I began modelling the “organs” for InCorpore[o], my intention was not to create anatomically correct representations, but to evoke the fantastic and personal images we conceive of our entrails.
I was inspired both by the anatomical wax models that can be seen in La Specola, the Museum of Zoology and Natural History in Florence, as well as by abstract organic images that remind one of roots and corals, rather than of kidneys and livers.
It has been very important for me, that these ‘organs’ have a pictorial presence. I wanted to bring to mind the majestic representations of flesh that can be found in the history of art, from Rembrandt to Jenny Saville. I also wanted to remain faithful to the Vanitas tradition, to which our performance, in its own way, belongs.
Daniele Derossi, May 2010