The Angular Distance of a Celestial Body
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Setting and resetting long, weighted lengths of black string into geometric patterns on the white floor of the stage, the two dancers in Alessandro Carboni’s duet The Angular Distance of a Celestial Body, flow through their initial tasks in a slow, mirrored symmetry. Covered in knee-length burqas made from an eclectic mix of fringe and African textiles, they use each other as anchor points to carefully place each line of string into shifting images: now there’s a rectangle, now a crosswalk, now a blank page of sheet music. Meanwhile, the soundscape hums and tingles towards chaos and soon the figures fold and slouch, pulling and jumbling the strings into a knotted heap. As the dancers devolve, the distorted voices in the background, once foreign and angry, become calm and intelligible. The transformation is complete – Carboni’s celestial bodies are now merely human.
Alessandro Carboni brings us to a white void, a sterile and isolated plain, where 43 threads lie weighted on the floor’s shiny surface. Two anonymous, multicoloured creatures, somewhere between animal, alien and machine, slowly and rhythmically manipulate the threads, drawing them into shifting patterns and constellations. They pull at the strings with such delicate precision that I imagine them to be much longer than they are: perhaps this void is a control room, the monochrome carpet the ceiling, and these strange beings are weaving a net of invisible strings that tug at others in a world below. But before I can conclude that they are playing God, the strings are lifted, a twisted web emerging against the pull of gravity, and I jolt back into my three-dimensional reality. Undeterred, the beings amass the cords into the lonely figure of a human.
In the 1960s and 70s, the Swiss pseudoscientist Erich von Däniken gained a wide and cultish following for his theories about extraterrestrial visitations, astronomical codes hidden in the geometries of the Egyptian pyramids, and the dawn of the human race. I was inescapably reminded of them in Alessandro Carboni’s The Angular Distance of a Celestial Body which opens with two strangely pharaonic figures in tasselled headwear and square-cut, block-patterned tunics, standing as flatly as hieroglyphs. Kneeling, they initiate a measured, snail’s-pace ritual, incrementally skewing and unskewing rows of weighted wires on the floor.
An epoch later, they lift the wires and mould them into the shape of a human body. An accompanying anthropological soundtrack – an English speaker interacting with voices in some tribal language – finally pushes the work into a mystical field uniting ideas of genesis, ‘primitive man’ and the advance of civilisation: von Däniken’s whole higher-being schtick.