Comparative Guts

Close this search box.

Isabel Lewis, Scalable Skeletal Escalator (2020)

Live art work, initially realized at Kunsthalle Zürich, September 24-November 8, 2020 in collaboration with Dirk Bell / Mo Stern, Lara Dâmaso, The Field (Mirjam Jamuna Zweifel, Pierre Piton, Lucia Gugerli and Declan Whitaker, in cooperation with Tanzhaus Zürich), LABOUR (Colin Hacklander and Farahnaz Hatam), Matthew Lutz-Kinoy, Rafał Pierzyński, Mathias Ringgenberg, Sissel Tolaas, Juliette Uzor, Marcelo Alcaide and Yolanda Zobel; Photo credit: Andrea Ebener and Annik Wetter. Courtesy of the artists

Isabel Lewis’s practice spans dance, live art, and a multi-faceted research project that explores the potentialities of bodies in relation. Her work disrupts the philosophical traditions of idealism and materialism through a range of social choreographies and embodied techniques. It is often generated through a complex practice of collaboration that she designed in 2008 called Communal EPIC (Experience in Performing Instantly Created) Fiction, with the intention of locating individual agency within relational structures of making, play, and performance. Scalable Skeletal Escalator was initially realized together with dancers, sound artists, painters, thinkers, and scent researchers over three floors of the Kunsthalle Zürich—with a community compost station in the basement—as an experimental form of the holobiant. In working with the idea of the holobiant, Lewis is drawing on the evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis’s work on symbiotic structures such as coral reefs or the human gut. The immersive work engages the visitors’ full sensorium as they move through the space. They encounter dancers who are at once responding to a fluid choreographic score, authoring their own movements, and adapting to shifting conditions in a play of intimacy and distance. The scalability of the title undoes the hierarchies of form that have structured the longue-durée cosmo-anthropology of Nature in terms of race, gender, and species. Instead, drawing on contemporary research on gut microbiota in conjunction with the varied ecologies of human and non-human life, Lewis probes the capacities of aesthetic form to cultivate a motile awareness of the different scales and configurations of living-together.

(Brooke Holmes)