Stefa Govaart

Trieb It

You read the world. Do you trust its revamped façades, its expensive cushions of outward appearance? Yes, costly cushions may work delusionally at first. No, they do not make for an adequate cover. Yes, the outward radiance of glossy surfaces labor in the service of outshining what’s grim about their shine. No, this labor cannot conceal the wretchedness of what's beneath and around. The coexistence of shine and obscurity is irreducible, never onefold. The self-assured power to appear is premised on brutal falsity. Self-dissolution is its consequence. As philosopher Paul B. Preciado writes, “All statues are a lie. All statues are made to one day be toppled”.[1] The world abrades then crumbles––and you perceive it, repeatedly. We are in crisis, our sleekness included. I fail to persuade you: a post-Debordian exhaustion with the familiarity of spectacle. If we read the world as already false, then how to make make-belief? In Trieb, Liza Baliasnaja’s two-dimensional cuts and three-dimensional tensing-up formalize inadequacy: no gesture, no knowledge, no self-sufficient subject is going to unveil the veil draped over the “real”. Trieb has lost faith in exposure. And so have you. Am I even real? “doesn’t seem worth asking”, writes Maxi Wallenhorst.[2] 

Aesthetic practice today insists on the world in crisis as “a perceptual object”.[3] You are intimate with indeed inseparable from the apparatus that delivers it to you. Trieb’s projected and dancing body cannot be dissociated from this obstinate logic. If a city’s skyscraper is the material inversion of a desert’s mine, then Baliasnaja’s body is the inverted incarnation of the unending sedimentation of material and discursive histories. Trieb’s wounded, severed, edited body is in the midst of perpetual extraction, using up both natural and social resources to sustain itself––to not crumble while it also crumbles. Its body is caught in a thriving-as-collapsing logic. To be cut is never to be done. See. Watch it go round and round this cycle of thriving that is collapsing that is thriving. It is called a free market. It is no secret that nothing is real. The commodity's built-in collapse––its planned obsolescence––is not sub rosa. Can a body suspend it and for how long, Trieb asks. 

You read the world while you don’t really. The impossibility of separability (you from world), sequentiality (if you read then you know) and determinacy (meaning itself, or the “you know”) internally erode acts of decipherment.[4] You are seamlessly sutured to (the) world; its crumbling is your crumbling. You don’t read it; you are being read by it, if at all. You trade in the hewn parts of you in an involuntary exposure to otherness as the condition of surfacing, of re-insertion, of copy-paste. Acted on, you still act, precisely because you never quite get done with being undone. You need to be undone to flee from the rhythm of brutal thriving, of cruel progress. But to be undone is really to be undone: it hurts. Moreover, its crumbling materiality can be more readily extracted, disposed of and re-assembled by not-you, and used against you. The point is how Trieb’s body and logic come to be resurrected to crumble again, and again. The tensed flexions of Baliasnaja’s dancing, re-incarnated in their DIY-ness on video, affectively suspend an immanent undermining that is also relentless. Trieb’s simultaneous insistence on a subject’s undoneness and a multiply plié-ed body straining thighs, calves, butt, feet, trapezia, wrists, neck (and so on) pulls the work into not only a logic of the commodity's planned obsolescence but also articulates an overwrought being that earns its social formation through that very threshold of unlivability. 

The opening scene of Trieb’s DIY poor-image animation projects a still of Baliasnaja’s carefully composed body looking at you. Shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, ankles and toe joints: all bent; neck and head: upright. (Trieb’s final scene turns this iconic posture into a static yet charged dance, now with a bent neck gazing down.) Neither the background nor the image of the performer’s body move. What is moving is a line drawn with the Smart Lasso function in Photoshop (enabling the extraction of a form or image by tracing its edges). While tracing the body’s contours, the line’s internally generated circular motion denies the body its realness. There is no real body: this body can be cut out and reinserted into anything at any moment. The line threatens. Trieb does not ask whether or not the body is real. Instead, it cares about the real conditions of its existence: endless circulation and digital dispersion in fractured temporalities. “Your” body is not quite “your” body: “your” body has already happened, is already streamlined by the threat of a lasso-ed line. Its desires, aspirations and hopes are pre-emptively formatted. “Precorporated,” cultural critic Mark Fisher would say. Anticipatory line and anticipatory body are caught in a lasso loop of pre-formation, cutting, incomplete repair, encircling and being encircled: even your receptivity is not your own. The threat of a lasso-ed line threatens to cut you. You are stuck in the temporal subjugation of unstoppable movement brushing up against you. Can you threaten this threat? Can you fracture time and body into even weirder temporalities and geometries? Trieb tries.

In the scene that follows, Baliasnaja confronts her self[5] (and you) with the video’s second protagonist: (the) knife. The knife as material object you recognize and have feelings towards; and knife as metaphor for violence and cutting as well as sharpness and precision. Introduced in solitude, it is shortly joined by the by-now familiar body-image. What follows is a host of cut-ups and multiplications of (the) knife, (the) body and both together. Who is doing the doing and who is being done to? There is no first; there is the simultaneity of both, which is what constitutes the blood of being, that is, the-being-done-to-of-doing. Prior to the screening of the video, Baliasnaja, who slowly moves around on relevé, sings in a monotonously melodic voice: “What was first/ shields or knives/ Fears or threats/ pains or stabs.” Refusing a cut and dry divide between passive receptivity and agential violence, Trieb does to (the) knife that which (the) knife does to itself: cut. How do you use a knife against itself? Asks poet Anne Boyer: How to collapse a structure that will fall on our heads? How to set fire to fire?[6]

Trieb’s knife professes: I cannot be my body in the absence of violence/cutting: “When this body/ Is cut into half/ And then another half/ And then another half/ And then another half/ I am sort of still there/ I is sort of/ Still there.” You receive what you already know, have known, and will have known: I is unimaginable outside of a logic of violence. What knife will do? Trieb, what are you going to do after you will have bled pixelated blood, after you will have draped not only the walls but also your body with cut-up limbs and knives, after you will have danced not gentle but strained dances, after you will have sung: “Wound wound wound/ Softly bleeds/ Sobs sobs sobs/ never heals/ Scars scars scars/ Left behind/ On the tip/ Of this tongue (…) Wounded rhymes/ Cry cry cry/ Cry cry cry/ Cry cry cry/ Cry cry cry/ Cry cry cry”. Baliasnaja assumes that the damage of endless mediation is constitutive rather than consequential (an effect). 

Am I overdoing it? Yes. But Trieb’s is a tense knife, not a cool or loose one. Trieb is not the delusional flow of instinct. Trieb is drive or urge. It denatures not by digging up but by taking in. Fuck anatomy and gravity: nature is unjust. Fuck pedestrian movement, Judson Church. “Subjugation consists of constant movement”, performance theorist Bojana Kunst writes.[7] Slowing down won’t do. Crying won’t do: Cry cry cry/Cry cry cry. Even when we learn that everything is increasingly alive––that the accumulation of value is movement, on the move––even then it isn’t just that stillness blocks the thriving of a world replete with gleaming cushions, even if it also does. You still need a knife. And dance’s knife is tension. Tension as: You are resisting the animatedness that is value production but you are also resisting the deadness that is private property. You can neither move nor not move. To trieb it, then, is to tense it up, cut it up––into itself. 
[1] Paul B. Preciado. “When Statues Fall.” Artforum, December 2020. 
[2] Maxi Wallenhorst. “Like a Real Veil, Like a Bad Analogy: Dissociative Style and Trans Aesthetics.” e-flux, April 2021.
[3] This phrase is stolen from artist Becket MWN’s exhibition note for
[4] The triad separability-sequentiality-determinacy comes from Denise Ferreira da Silva’s work.
[5] Space intended. 
[6] Anne Boyer. “Questions for Poets.” Mute, May 2014.
[7] Bojana Kunst. Artist at Work, Proximity of Art and Capitalism. Zero Books, 2015, p. 114.