Nicky Coutts  My Previous Life as an Ape

All Rise  2015  HD Video  7'30 minutes

J. A. Harrington  All Rise

All rise.
As we arrive at the scene it is in the distance. Words have not yet been formed. The chapter is unwritten. The sentence has not yet been passed.

I write this in a cell. It is not how I had imagined it would be.
When I was a child I was taken on a visit to a zoo. The sadness was overwhelming. A gorilla picked its nose and looked past me as if I wasn’t there and I questioned my own desire to exist as a human. A keeper approached the gorilla. The gorilla stood its ground. The gorilla was not intimidated. The gorilla was unmoved. There was a mirror in its cage and through this we met each other’s gaze.
My movements have been arrested. But I feel no sadness and do not pick my nose. The cell is empty and clean and bright and smells faintly of bleach. When I woke up this morning I was untransformed. Unreconstructed. Unreformed. There is no mirror but I will stand my ground.

All rise.
All will rise. As so many have risen before. Risen and fallen and reached a conclusion upon which all have agreed.

In the courtroom, barristers focus more on what they are saying than what they are showing. So he will remain conscious that the jury will be watching him all the time. That he will need to exude trustworthiness. He will never cover his mouth when talking. In body language it is a sign of lying. He will want to demonstrate that he is in control of the situation. Making himself look bigger. By putting his hands on his hips and spreading his legs. Implying dominance. He will tent his fingers. Which will suggest confident power. There’s a fine line between aggressiveness and power however. So he will temper his movements with plenty of steady eye contact.
Happy to tell Her Ladyship. Where we must begin. With the magical power of replication. The image reflecting what it is an image of. Wherein the representation shares in or takes power from the represented. The compulsion to become the Other.
In imitating we will find distance from the imitated. Much will be made of the fact that vision, more than any other sense, requires a certain distance between subject and object. And further that this physical distance corresponds to the emotional distance of detached intellectual scrutiny. Vision cannot be pinned down to the absolutes of proximity and distance. To see is to be in at least two places at once. The claim that sight is naturally distancing will be coupled with the observation that vision is somehow disembodied.
Leaving us with two eyes, the eye of the mind and the eye of the body.

All rise.
All eyes will be directed towards me. My misgivings will be returned to me on reflection. But my true self will not be revealed. Will not be in evidence.

I will look for cues. I will appear calm. Resigned even. At one with my surroundings. I will act and react. I will ape their behaviour. Follow the steps with disguised movements.
Perhaps I am certain of my vindication. Perhaps I am resigned to my fate. Justice is a set of expectations about what one deserves and how one ought to be treated. Justice has been served when these expectations have been appropriately met. Ritual is a means to regulate and stabilize the life of a system. Adjust its internal interactions, maintain its group ethos, and restore a state of harmony after any disturbance.
The intercession of animals is common because animals remain ambiguous. He will ask Her Ladyship whether we were reducing animals to signs or beginning to learn their languages. The barrister will explain. I feel self-conscious playing myself but not when I’m playing a panther. The next step will be to make the animal human. The elephant will now have legs and arms. The physical and psychological aspects of the animal will be kept. They will be transformed into the human counterpart in himself.
It will not be a dog-eat-dog world because really dogs don’t eat other dogs.

All rise.
All will arrive. Fate, freedom, character. All will observe the rules, follow the steps. Go through the motions. Motive. Intent. Physiognomy.

He will put it to me that external characterization can be achieved intuitively. And also by means of simple external tricks.
Mimicry will be the sign of a double articulation. A complex strategy of reform, regulation and discipline. Which will appropriate the Other as it visualises power. Mimicry will also be the sign of the inappropriate. A difference or recalcitrance which will cohere the dominant strategic function of colonial power. Intensify surveillance, and pose an immanent threat to both normalised knowledges and disciplinary powers.
The evil eye. My Lady. Where an individual has the power, voluntarily or involuntarily, to harm another individual. Merely by looking at or praising that person. Typically the victim’s good fortune, good health or good looks invite or provoke an attack by someone with the evil eye.
In the barrister’s hands mimicry will emerge as one of the most elusive and effective strategies of colonial power and knowledge.

All rise.
I write this in a cell. I find myself repeating empty gestures. Accepting hollow promises. Obtained by deception.
In thinking. I should be free because I am not in another. I remain simply and solely in communion with myself. Yet, I am not I. In the sense of my usual consciousness of myself. Here alone I struggle to convince myself that I am not being observed. The cracks and marks on the wall take on faces and personalities. Voices, arguments and instructions. The eye of providence. A window onto a blind alley.
I am not alone but with someone whom I seek in myself and cannot find. We correspond. Myself and the gorilla. Thoughts and movements exchange. I lose myself in the environment. Sink back into nature. The hidden foundations. Historical fields. Ancient lives of struggle and disease. The death drive. We would not have even the concept of freedom if the reality of coercion were not already present.
The wonder of mimesis lies in the copy drawing on the character and power of the original. To the point whereby the representation may even assume that character and power. In an older language this is sympathetic magic.
From the law of similarity. The magician infers that she can produce any effect she desires. Merely by imitating it.

All rise.
All will be apprised of the circumstances and the evidence. Past the testimonies and the exhibited behaviours.

Using body language with clients is a controversial soft skill because barristers may disagree on the priorities they have for their work. The idea is that you can use body language to ascertain a person’s overall disposition to an entire situation, and, therefore, to predict their overall actions. The butterfly, wings spread, becomes the head of a huge bird of prey. But a perceptive barrister will deliberately use body language to detect whether his client is lying about their asset position.
If it pleases Your Ladyship.
Offensive mimicry. Designed to surprise the prey. Defensive mimicry.
Designed either to escape the sight of the aggressor or to frighten it away by a deceptive appearance. Direct mimicry when it is in the immediate interests of the imitating animal to take on the disguise. Indirect mimicry when animals belonging to different species show professional resemblances.
He will identify two principles. First, homeopathy, the law of similarity. The principle that like produces like, where pouring water encourages rain. Second, contagion, the law of contact. The principle that things which have once been in contact continue ever afterwards to act on each other, where harm caused by a piece of hair will be felt by the person who owns the hair.
But things are rarely so simple. The undeniable caveat in the use of all body language is that it is ambiguous, and consequently it definitely is not admissible in a court of law.

All rise.
I write this in a cell. From which I may rise. After night and silence, the regenerated life.
Thrown into solitude, the convict supposedly reflects. Placed alone in the presence of my crime, I learn to hate it. And, if my soul is not yet blunted by evil, it is in isolation that remorse will come to assail me.
All deception requires simulation. These two experiences of the self. One felt, the other seen. Are never fully reconciled. I cannot ever attain the completeness, the unified and stable presence of my specular double. The resulting vacillation between identity and difference, self regulation and alienation, is the origin of a fundamental ambivalence that characterises my relationship with myself and others. Isolation provides an intimate exchange. Between the convict and the power that is exercised over me. The desire to emerge as authentic through mimicry is the final irony of partial representation.
Animals first entered the imagination as messengers and promises. They had magical functions, sometimes oracular, sometimes sacrificial. Animal spirits could affect economic behaviour. Nearly all modern techniques of social conditioning were first established with animal experiments. So too were the methods of so-called intelligence testing. And in the first stages of the industrial revolution, animals were used as machines. As also were children. The eyes of the gorilla were attentive and wary. The gorilla had secrets. Recent speculation about the possible origin of the evil eye have included the suggestion that it is related to gaze behaviour perhaps involving gaze aversion, common in many animal species.
It may be said a person who kills by sorcery or a miraculous act must be killed. But the person who kills by the eyes must not be killed. The only reason for the distinction is that the person who kills with the eyes did not want or intend to do so. And couldn’t have avoided doing so. The application of the eye was involuntary. The difference between first and second degree manslaughter.

All rise.
All eyes will arrive at the scene where with due process the features of justice will emerge. Words will be performed. The chapter will be enacted. The sentence will be passed.
All rise.


Giorgio Agamben – The Open: Man and Animal
Albert Bandura – Social Learning Theory
Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce – Wild Justice
Catherine Bell – Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions
Walter Benjamin – On the Mimetic Faculty
John Berger – On Looking
Homi K Bhaba – The Location of Culture
Suzannah Biernoff – Sight and Embodiment in the Middle Ages
Geoffrey Bird and Cecilia Heyes - Imitations:Thoughts About Theories
Roger Callois – Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia
Alan Dundes (ed.) - The Evil Eye: a Casebook
Peter Forbes – Dazzled and Deceived
Michel Foucault – Discipline and Punish
James George Frazier – The Golden Bough
Robert W Mitchel and Nicholas S Thompson – Deception
John Mortimer - Rumpole and the Younger Generation
Denis Owen – Camouflage and Mimicry
Rajesh P. N. Rao, Aaron P. Shon and Andrew N. Meltzoff - A Bayesian Model of Imitation in Infants and Robots
Jane Marla Robbins – Animal Exercises
Constantin Stanislavski – Building a Character
Michael Taussig – Mimesis and Alterity
Harry Witchel – Using Body Language With Your Client

This text has been written by J. A. Harrington on the occasion of Nicky Coutts' solo exhibition My Previous Life as an Ape.