© Øystein Haara

Night Watch

Before industrialization and the electrical lighting of buildings and streets forced people in Europe into a newly regulated rhythm, the eight hours of sleep recommended today were rather rare. Sleep occurred in two parts, at nightfall and after a short waking phase again until daybreak. As I’m remembered by writing this text, I read it up more closely.[1] These waking moment in the middle of the night’s darkness, called »night watch«, was filled with all kinds of activities, especially just indulging in the dreams just experienced. Thoughts, not necessarily related, dreamlike stories, and hallucinated events allow for a proximity to other realities. So it was a certain kind of lucidity that went along with this state of being awake without a task.

A seeming infinity in this monochrome landscape relief. Maja Zimmermann

Landscapes Rolling by

It’s October 2022, and I’m sitting on the train from Oslo to Bergen to go and see The Living Monument at Studio Bergen, the production site and stage of the Norwegian dance company Carte Blanche, founded in 1989. From the new housing developments of the Oslo suburbs, the landscape gradually morphs from dark shades of green to gray-black fissures until the train eventually winds its long way through the snow-covered plateau. Various shades of white take turns in a consistent, never identically repeated rhythm. A seeming infinity in this monochrome landscape relief.


From the black depths of the stage, outlines of figures gradually emerge. My brain struggles to create a conclusive picture from the sparse visual information. Slowly, scenery and figures take shape, all dressed in black, wearing black masks in front of a black backdrop. They remind me of the Plague, though I don’t have a tangible image of the disease; I only know that it was called the Black Death, and it was feared. Entire regions lost their human inhabitants to that pandemic, which somewhere or other would break out and die down for centuries. The tableau spread before me on stage is continuously transforming, but so slowly that I have a lot of time to indulge in the historical events before new associations edge into my train of thought.

Monuments of the Past, Present, and Future

In a conversation, Berlin choreographer Eszter Salamon tells me about her artistic engagement with the past which has spanned many years. Following an intuitive approach and not least influenced by her own biography, Salamon looks for alternative narratives to the dominant perspective on (dance) history. Raised in Eastern Europe in the socialist Hungarian People’s Republic, she learned both folkloric dance and later classical ballet before turning to contemporary dance.

Her responses to my questions meandered as she reached back into the prehistory of her own oeuvre to make connections. Starting with the idea of a performative monument, better yet, anti-monument, Salamon created a series of choreographies, the tenth part of which is The Living Monument. The critique guiding these works is directed both at the dominant Western narrative which has perpetually marginalized and omitted other perspectives, and the canonization of a certain art tradition, the preservation of which necessitates the negation of non-Western aesthetics, bodies, and modes of expression.

My memory fills in insinuations, while my senses hallucinate the tangible. Maja Zimmermann

The MONUMENT series begins with MONUMENT 0: Haunted by Wars (1913-2013), an examination of Europe’s colonial past. While the choreography takes into account various wars led by Western interests over the last 100 years, it traces various folk dances that were practiced in the regions of the respective theaters of war. With MONUMENT 0.3: The Valeska Gert Museum (2017) and Salamon’s continued, in-depth engagement with the life and work of the German dancer, cabaret artist, and actor Valeska Gert (1892-1978) through today, her focus shifted to moments, persons, and experiences, which saved from oblivion, should be recalled and celebrated. MONUMENT 0.7: M/OTHERS (2019), an intimate duet with her own mother, thwarts normative ascriptions and representations of bodies socialized as female, carrying out feminist, intergenerational relationship building in an entirely different manner.

Crafted Hallucinations

Her current work, MONUMENT 0.10: The Living Monument, does not refer to any specific moment in history. In 11 monochrome tableaus, from black to blue, red, orange, and white, unspecific, opaque moments of a possible past emerge whose legibility remains fuzzy. In the continuous transformation of fabrics and colors, figures arise that are at times coherent, at others less tangible. Having emerged from another world, they take on a life of their own before disappearing into their background. Elaborate material collages were arranged from numerous costume parts recycled and collected in Theaterfundi, under which the 14 dancers of Carte Blanche almost disappear. Instead we hear their voices, sometimes quite clearly, sometimes transformed into a soundscape. Composer Carmen Villain has created an electronically distorted sound layer consisting only of human voices which overlays the individual images with further associations.  My memory fills in insinuations, while my senses hallucinate the tangible. The activities on stage do not follow a narrative, rather they flow like flotsam in a river. Sometimes they drift into ornamental shapes, after a while to be carried away slowly, inexorably.

Landscapes of Overlapping Time

Our bodies are constantly transforming. They age, die, and eventually decompose. Eszter Salamon reminds us of this process with her choreographies, reminds us of the transformation to which we are subject. Many of her works evoke danses macabres, for which she develops somatic practices. In her work, Salamon refers as well to Henri Bergson’s philosophy of time and his concept of duration, in which past, present, and future exist simultaneously. Since »from the present one may say that it ‘was’ at any moment, and from the past that it ‘is,’ that it is eternally, for all time.«[2] A time that experiences itself not as a succession of instances, rather in fact, as the simultaneity of remembered past, lived present, and imagined future.

In highly decelerated movements, boundaries and categories dissolve with Salamon, in order to arrive beyond the human body and become things, landscapes. To the point of actual mummification, Salamon plays with slowness and overlapping domains of time, with the liveliness of the dead, the present past. It’s like she’s able to manipulate time itself.

In highly decelerated movements, boundaries and categories dissolve with Salamon, in order to arrive beyond the human body and become things, landscapes. Maja Zimmermann

Between Sleeping and Watching

Eszter Salamon understands her role as choreographer primarily as creating connections between people, places, times, and memories, she said in closing the conversation. The Living Monument is such an attempt, a monochrome ritual that links the past and the passing present. The performance exceeds common time, unfurling diffusely in a time between here and somewhere else. It is the feeling of blurred vision between half-opened eyelids I remember after the performance. Moments perceived as if half asleep, flowing into and interpenetrating one another as the images pass before the mind’s eye, unsheathing what is far away. A lucid moment, mid-sleep.

[1] Roger Ekirch: In der Mitte der Nacht, https://monde-diplomatique.de/artikel/!5761920#fn2

[2] Gilles Deleuze: Henri Bergson zur Einführung, Hamburg 2007, S. 74

MAJA ZIMMERMANN works as a dramaturge and curator for contemporary dance and performance. Since summer 2021, she has been part of the PACT Zollverein team, where she is responsible for program and project development.