Gestures That Matter

Making a gesture involves confronting the unknowable. A gesture is not simply mechanical like a movement, nor is it fully semantic as a sign might be, nor fundamentally intentional like an action must be. The idea of a “gesture” escapes the classical categories of meaning and is never developed as an independent notion. A trait that often characterizes gesture is its ability to use the body as a means to draw evanescent traces. Because a gesture inadvertently creates relation, a “milieu” institutes itself within the interstices of being and metamorphoses our quotidian lives. The gesture is often a tool towards the transformation of the self and of the world. André Leroi-Gourhan writes that “the tool is only real in the gesture which renders it operative and only exists within a cycle of operativity.”

Intrinsically inter-corporeal and inter-subjective, the gesture is a “means without end,” in the words of Giorgio Agamben. The gesture is always a form of the intermedial. But when the gesture apprehends its mediality in an honest and noble manner, it becomes an artwork. That is when a gesture “matters.” Whether it emerges in a ritualistic, artistic or technical context, the gesture extends and transmits itself well beyond the duration of its concrete manifestation for both the doer (the actor) or the one doing the observing (the spectator). It is right there that the body draws a simple gesture and aims to show the most rudimentary form, but also the most essential, of that which we call “art.” The gesture shows a clear materiality insofar as it does not disappear as it seems, and it leaves permanent changes in the art world and in within society. That is when gestures “matter,” insofar as they both are important for giving a deep meaning to our lives and inscribe durable transformation in the flux of everyday event. Gestures matter because they are ethically, politically and aesthetically important. Gestures matter because they do not evaporate but shape our lives on the long term.

Barbara Formis

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