Only The Hand (performances)


See the list of  the Only the hand… performances.

See the notes on the Only the hand… video installation.


VIDEO, in English (Vancouver).

VIDEO, in French (Beirut).

VIDEO, in Italian (Macchiagodena).

VIDÉO, shooting of the three screens performance in Macchiagodena, Italy.

VIDEO, in Ojibway (Winnipeg).

VIDEO, in Innu (rehearsal).

VIDEO, in Arabic (Beirut)

VIDEO, video installation at La Cinémathèque québécoise.

STILLS from various performances.


The Only the hand… performance started in Vancouver in February 2007 when I visited the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design to meet with animation students. At this occasion an evening of image and music improvisation was organized by the Computational Poetics group where I did a four hand animation performance with Aleksandra Dulic and a duet with musician Stefan Smulovitz. For this duet, I choose to work from a sentence that had been brought to my attention by my French friend Hervé Joubert-Laurencin, an eminent specialist of Pasolini and of animation cinema : Only the hand that erases can write the true thing.

Hervé knew very well that this sentence would interest me for many reasons : the fact that it expresses itself in the form of a paradox and also the fact that that it centers on the gesture of erasing which had become a central element of my live animation performances. He had heard about “the sentence” during a conference given by professor Carlo Ossola. Skipping the details, I should note that this sentence is sometimes attributed to the German mystic Master Eckart but actually its origin is obscure and contested. At any rate, this idea of associating truth and erasing has a very ancient history. Traces of it are found a bit everywhere, in the Gospels, in Dante amongst other,

Beyond the austere mystical undertones of this sentence, what interested me fist and foremost in it was its precise relationship with my workflow when I do live improvised animation, alternately drawing and erasing. The animated movement cannot appear without the action of erasing. It also interested me because it relates the question of truth to very physical actions that put the body into motion (writing and erasing), and not just to the act of “saying the truth” although speech is always present in the background. It seemed to me that the impossibility to attribute this sentence to any single author did authorized me to give it a meaning that suited my needs without necessarily discarding all of the possible historical interpretation of it.

I did the first performance in English. I continued several times in French (Seule la main qui efface peut écrire la vérité) in Toronto, Beirut, Montreal and Chicoutimi. In Beirut, I regretted not having done the necessary preparation to be able to do it in Arabic. Actually my stay was too short for the amount of work that would have been needed in order to do it correctly. Nevetheless, this planted in my mind the idea of taking advantage of all of the occasions that would permit me to do the performance in as many languages as possible. This is how it became a major project for me. Also, the objective of associating the austere theme of erasing carried by the sentence to the burgeoning abundance of virtually all the languages of mankind allowed me to add another layer of paradox and to give a less unilateral value to the whole enterprise : to advent, truth must not only face the exercise of taking away all superfluities, but also engage itself in the infinite repetition of all the idioms of mankind.

So the Only the hand… performance became not only a celebration of the multiplicity of languages but also a celebration of the very possibility of translation.

I first thought that the end product would be a DVD set with the captures of all the different linguistic versions of the performance but I quickly realised that such an object would be absurd. I finally came to think that the simultaneous viewing of different versions, which would allow to create a vaster dynamic and plastic ensemble, would be more interesting than a mere collection of versions on a DVD. What makes this visually interesting is the fact that all the performances generally have the same structure (because of the structure of the sentence itself and because of Stefan Smulovitz’smusic whichI use for every new performance) but that they also are all very different in terms of timing and of visual and dynamic construction. So when it was be technically possible, I began to do the performance with a three screens setup (two previous versions being shown on each of the side screens, and the new one on the center). This was the beggining of the transformation of the performance into a video installation project.

After having performed it in English and several times in French, I did it in Italian, in May 2008, in the village of Macchiagodena, in the mountains, 200km east of Rome and at ZOCulture in Catania (Solo la mano che cancela puo scrivere la verita). On January 29 2009, I performed the Dutch (Flemmish) version of Only the hand… (Enkel de hand die uitwist kan de waarheid schrijven) at the Vooruit in Gent. On February 4 2009, I performed a Yiddish version in Paris at Théâtre de la Vieille Grille (Nor di hant vos ken oysmenk di ken shraybn dem emes). On February 6 ,I performed it in Portuguese at the Faculdade de Belas Artes de Lisboa (FBAUL) in Lisbon (Só a mão que apaga pode dizer a verdade) and on February 14, I performed a North American native language version (the Lakota language – nape kin lece hena pajuju wowicake he okihi owa) at performance Works in Vancouver. At this occasion, almost exactly two years after the first performance, it was performed again with live music by Stefan smulovitz and Vivianne Houle. On April 20, I performed it in the Paiute language spoken in Nevada (Emi kaahemá katoo myuk’u, key hemá nomy yow qua) at the University of California in Davis. On September 29, I did a Romanesco version (the traditionnal vernacular idiom of Rome) at the INIT Club, in Rome (solo a mano che cancella po scrive a verita), and on October 4, a Romagnolo version (the traditional idiom of Romagna) at Area Sismica in Meldola (Sol la man c’la scanzèle po scrivar la vérité). On October 30, at the Cinematheque of the Winnipeg Film Group, I will do an Ojibway version («mininj eta gaa-gaasii’ang odaa-ozhibii’aan debwewang»). The last language of the installation, the Innu language (muku mititshi ka kashinimatshet tshi ui uitam tapueunu), will be performed at La Cinémathèque Québécoise on December 4 and will be readily inserted into the video installation.

Update: In October 2010, I did a Serbian version in BanjaLuka, Bosnia (Samo Ruka…), and an Dutch version (Alleen de hand…) in Utrecht, Nederland and, in May 2011, an Arabic version at the Beirut Animated Festival. It makes it to 15 versions.

technical rider

See more writings about «Only the hand…»

See equaly the notes. (in French only)