Simone Forti’s News Animations

Ben Eastham

Spread from Simone Forti’s News Animations (showing Lena Foote’s photographs of Forti performing “News Animation with Manny the Rabbit” at the Dance Theater Workshop, New York City, 1988). Image courtesy of NERO Editions.


October 29, 2021
Centro Pecci / Nero Editions

Simone Forti has been dancing the news for four decades. Prior to the death of her father in the early 1980s, the Fluxus artist was more likely to be found reinventing the possibilities of dance in New York or exploring the limits of consciousness in Woodstock than engaging in the quintessentially bourgeois leisure activity of reading the newspaper. Yet Forti took up the practice in homage to her father, whose careful attention to the newspapers prompted him to flee Mussolini’s Italy in 1938 with his wife and the three-year-old Simone (her uncle, a partisan, later died on the way to Auschwitz). From her reading Forti developed a series of improvisational performances that she calls “News Animations,” in which she brings a pile of newspapers onstage and, having arranged their pages into “maps” on the floor, responds with spoken word and bodily movement to what she can see. A headline might, for example, compel the artist to strike a pose which embodies contradiction or despair; she might see two unrelated stories and riff on what connects them.

This book, published to accompany an exhibition at the Centro per l’arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci in Tuscany, gathers together preparatory drawings, transcripts, and photographs from performances around the world. There is something unavoidably self-defeating in this exercise, which binds into a book a series of improvisations designed expressly to enliven printed material. Divorced from Forti’s physical responses to the words and images she is encountering, the transcript of her speech can read like a Dadaist monologue: “… and it was so abstract and like the Bhagavad Gita, reading about those battles and reading about Rome and the Tower of Babel and…”

Yet the same problems apply to any attempt to document a dance—museum retrospectives are notoriously unsatisfactory—and enough of the artist’s spirit survives to make this book more than a simple artefact. In print, for example, it is easier to trace the principles that guide Forti’s apparently free linguistic associations and to be surprised at how regularly her pronouncements anticipate the news as much as react to them. There is something oracular about the fragments she delivers even if, like the Sibyl’s, they only make sense in hindsight: “I worry that the America, that the United States, is in a Weimar Republic moment,” she says during a performance in 2012, and “nobody knows, the people who think they know don’t know, nobody knows” what is happening and what is to come.

“Being a dancer,” writes Forti in a short afterword, “I see and understand things through movement. I see even the news in terms of pressures, wedges, and balance shifts.” As the international news can be interpreted through the body, so the world is described in bodily terms: Switzerland is the “spleen” of the capitalist economy, the Panama Canal “flushes” trade through the global circulatory system, the Bank of America has “pores” through which money seeps, the West Bank is “like the stomach.” To learn how the body is articulated is, by extension of the analogy, to learn how the world is connected. This materialistic and holistic way of thinking is a powerful counterpoint to the fantasies of difference—the violent assertion that one part of the body politic can be separated from another—on which divisive political projects depend.

Underpinning Forti’s work is the principle that movement is a state of awareness and a medium through which to gain knowledge. “I sometimes think that if I could think [difficult things to think] while turning a somersault, I might be able to think them through, and dare to say them.” If knowing cannot be separated from doing, then Forti’s epistemology is also an ethics. So it seems pointed that the first transcript in this anthology records a performance in which Forti reflects on the transformation of news into entertainment: “when the news comes on, is when I can get a glass of wine, not before. And so I love the news. And I feel so safe when I’m listening to the news and drinking my wine and hearing about far away troubles.” Her animations work against the tendency to passive reception of the news by acting upon it.

It’s hard to imagine a more urgent political imperative, or to stress how little the idea of instinctive movement in response to reported information is some avant-garde fixation that will die with the last of the artists associated with the Judson Dance Theater. Forti’s father read the news, and he responded with an appropriate action. Her uncle read the news, and he responded with an appropriate action. To protect what we love requires not only that we stay informed but that we allow ourselves to be moved by the information. This book arrives at a moment in history that bears well-documented similarities to the one into which Forti was born. Its lessons should not be ignored.

Simone Forti’s News Animations was published by Nero Editions in September 2021.

Dance, Theater

Ben Eastham is editor-in-chief of e-flux Criticism.

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October 29, 2021

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