In Time’s Spiral:
Daniela De Lorenzo’s Theatres of Hysteria
Alessandra Violi.

“Man perhaps cannot forget anything. […] From the moment they are produced by the brain and by the nervous system, all forms are thereafter frequently repeated by it. A repeated nervous activity produces anew the same image”. (F. Nietzsche,
(F. Nietzsche, Posthumous Fragments) “I quote myself, I have become nothing but time”.
(F. René de Chateaubriand, Life of Rancé)

The hysterical bodies photographed by late nineteenth-century medicine are said not to represent anything: no illness, unless it is that of a body-cliché that has been so impressed by memories of others’ gestures and poses as to become their proteiform ghost; no recognisable anatomy, given the nerves’ anarchic power – like that of art for art’s sake, as Charcot was wont to say – to reinvent what is organic in the name of the affects, contracting limbs into imagined postures and paralysing them in the incongruous figures of pathos. Thus, in hysteria, the subject retreats from the body, but does not do so with the aim of annulling it, or merely to free its ecstatic-figurative potential, as much later art (from surrealism to the various kinds of body art) would interpret it. This retreat, rather, transacts a restitution of the body’s ancient function as the formless matrix (hystera, womb) of figuration, and lends it to the unrepresentability of Time, so that, by becoming embodied, it can be made manifest, giving itself to us by means of the paradoxical intertwining of the symptom-images, which are stuck in the present by a memory that unknowingly repeats itself or that awaits a future in which to be fulfilled and to be undergone. These hysterical bodies are twice transfixed – once by their own memory and again by the photograph that memorises them – , and it is through their nothingness that they give shape to time and ‘give us time’ (the sense of the title, Dammi il tempo!); it is in this light that Daniela De Lorenzo’s works offer themselves as endless variations in the diseased theatre of hysteria, as well as as a response, itself hysterical (hysteriké, that which comes after, that which is always delayed), to the question of the actualisation (and understanding) that emerged from those patient-images: give us time, give yourselves time to look at us. Thus, by hystericising her own work, Daniela De Lorenzo does not restrict herself to ‘recalling’ Charcot’s iconographic archive by quoting it. Undoubtedly in the choreography of Agile (2005) the rhythm is set by the sequence of the hysterical attack (the arched body, the knotted limbs…), which is curable only by denying movement’s access to gesture understood as gerere, namely the passing of time (see the tied feet in Cura la tua destra, 2005); and it is clear that the body moulds in felt that make up Dimentico subito o non dimentico mai (2006) bear also the memory of medical casts, with their symptom-fragments reproduced in limbs made of wax. But for De Lorenzo, repeating the past means inscribing it in its turn in a hysterical temporality. As with the symptom, this too must wind itself round the present and the future, and return as a repetition of the other, as we can see in the headgear of the dancer in Agile, which is an image at once of the chameleon’s eye, recalling the ways that the symptom is simultaneously mimetic (duplicated) and metamorphic, and of the spiral movement of its time, which grows while it turns back on itself. Thus we find the twisting of the instant in the portraits of Dammi il tempo!; or the transformation of the identical in the moulds of Dimentico subito o non dimentico mai (truly ‘acts’ of the hysterical theatre: the title means ‘Either I forget immediately or I never forget’, citing Beckett’s Waiting for Godot); or again the time evoked by felt, the fabric of bodies that Daniela De Lorenzo conceives of as bereft of plot (of warp and woof, of history) and as ever pliable, re-impressionable like a mould, as if they were forever suspended between the mummy and the foetus, between the what-has-been-that-shall-live-again and the not-yet-living. In the spiral of time, the iconography of the hysterical body thus pulls along with itself also a panoramic vision of its own ghosts: in De Lorenzo’s works, the chronophotographs of Muybridge and the temporal doublings recognised by Bergson, a spectator of Charcot, come into play with the ‘intellectual auras’ (paramnesias, déjà vu) that are typical of the ‘disease of reminiscences’ (Freud), and transform the pathology into a hallucinated and dreamlike representation of the ordinary flow of time. ‘Our present existence’, writes Bergson in Mind and Energy, ‘as it unfurls in time is also a virtual existence, a mirror image. […] He who is aware of the continual doubling of his present into perception and recall will liken himsef to an actor playing out his part automatically, listening to himself and watching himself act’. Thus hysteria is like the chameleon of time and of its endless doubling, what Warburg (another ghost that revisits us here) called the ‘chameleon of [its] energy’, whose spirals can only be glimpsed – as in the poses of Dammi il tempo! – in the gaps where the asymptomatic flow of actuality becomes blocked and brings its pathological double to the fore, as in Muybridge’s black and white, or in the mirror effect of life and death we find created in De Lorenzo’s Se doubler (2006). It is in these intervals that the body falls sick of knowing itself in time: like Muybridge’s paralysed child, it reinstitutes the human ‘smile’ over its instinctive animal mimetism, it accepts its status as a purely energetic and nervous matrix, as a virtual archive containing innumerable doubles of the present that are set free from all bonds (literally ‘paralytic’), and, at the same time, still bound to the pathetic movement of the affects and to the spiral of images that have been or will have been recited. In this way, the protraits of Dammi il tempo! view humanity through the prism of Kafka’s stories and their animal-bodies, actors in a truly hysterical metamorphosis because, as we see in the mouse Josefine in ‘Josefine the Singer, or The Mouse Folk’, it serves above all to give time to Time to become time: for her kind, Josefine sings, has sung and will sing: radiating their phantasmatic temporality from the photgraphed bodies, the ectoplasmic doubles give the fixed present time to pass. Daniela De Lorenzo’s anatomies rarely pass up the chance to become estranged in their doubles, even if it is only by stretching out to their mirror images (as in the red sculptures of Cura la tua destra), or to exhibit, as ever hysterically, how what we thought was interior (time, memory…) can be turned instead into an exterior that takes shape through us. The process has no end and the necromantic rite will be repeated to infinity, because what Daniela De Lorenzo sets before us is the way that, after all, ‘hysteria’ means (re)starting from a matrix that is ill with an absence for which there will never be time enough.

Alessandra Violi
Testo dal catalogo della mostra ‘Dammi il tempo!‘ 2007
Fondazione Adriano Olivetti, Roma.