Ornamental Hermit

Our group’s abandoned practice prompt for devising our final performances was the ornamental hermit. A practice popular in England around the early 19th century an ornamental hermit was a person who was employed at the home of a lord or gentleman to reside in their garden. A kind of pre-cursor to the garden gnome, the ornamental hermit was often dressed in an approximation of a druid’s costume and was not permitted to wash, or cut their hair or fingernails. The description of the practice we received states:

“he became an original element of the natural setting, a sort of tree with moveable bark, or an animate statue. An impermanent plant, a musician of gestures, the ornamental hermit was contracted in due form, assured bed and board and a small renumeration (negotiable) by his employer, and lived his hermit life according to his own notions. His single contractual obligation required that he be there, in the garden, of which he became a rare and picturesque essence. He wasn’t under the constant obligation to remain visible […] but [his] presence, whether visible or invisible, was to form part of the landscape”

– Jacques Roubaud, The Great Fire of London, p. 290.

According to the article on this website, the hermit was far more than a whimsical feature but an embodiment of important concepts of Georgian England; melancholy, isolation and the somberness of spirit.


John Bigg, The Dinton Hermit, 17th Century

I wrote the following phrases in response to this practice:

becoming tree – movement and stasis – motion in stillness – impermanent plant – musician of gestures – visible/invisible – becoming landscape – constant presence – ideal/impossible – ‘an original element of the natural setting’ – what would a tree with moveable bark look like?

After gathering these points of resonance I decided to focus on two phrases in Roubaud’s text for my solo and trio performance: “moveable bark” and “a musician of gestures”.

The idea of moveable bark not only conjured some evocative images in thinking through attempts to embody this non-human material in performance, but also brought to mind the concept of aparallel evolution which Deleuze and Guattari outline in A Thousand Plateaus:

“The orchid deterritorializes by forming an image, a tracing of a wasp; but the wasp reterritorializes on that image. The wasp is nevertheless deterritorialized, becoming a piece in the orchid’s reproductive apparatus. But it reterritorializes the orchid by transporting its pollen. Wasp and orchid, as heterogeneous elements, form a rhizome. It could be said that the orchid imitates the wasp, reproducing its image in a signifying fashion (mimesis, mimicry, lure, etc.). But this is true only on the level of the strata—a parallelism between two strata such that a plant organization on one imitates an animal organization on the other. At the same time, something else entirely is going on: not imitation at all but a capture of code, surplus value of code, an increase in valence, a veritable becoming, a becoming-wasp of the orchid and a becoming-orchid of the wasp. Each of these becomings brings about the deterritorialization of one term and the reterritorialization of the other; the two becomings interlink and form relays in a circulation of intensities pushing the deterritorialization ever further. There is neither imitation nor resemblance, only an exploding of two heterogeneous series on the line of flight composed by a common rhizome that can no longer be attributed to or subjugated by anything signifying. Rimy Chauvin expresses it well: ‘the aparallel evolution of two beings that have absolutely nothing to do with each other.’”

Delueze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 1980.

My solo would be an attempt to perform moveable bark, an attempt to become an original element of the natural surroundings,

me becoming tree becoming me.

In thinking about the trio performance I was interested in exploring the idea of a musician of gestures (or an orchestra of gestures). Thinking about the Chautaqua Assembly presentational mode of “entertainment performance” in relation to this brought to mind Janice Kerbel’s series of works Remarkable in which she re-interprets Victorian side show posters with her own hyperbolic text:

Janice Kerbel, Remarkable: Three Ring, 2010

Janice Kerbel, Remarkable: Three Ring, 2010

The text I came up with to ‘announce’ the Orchestra of Gestures became part of a projected slide show in the final performance:



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