Tarantism (2007)

Joachim Koester

16mm film installation, black and white, mute, 6’09”

Tarantism is a condition resulting from the bite of the wolf spider, known as the tarantula. The bite causes numerous symptoms in the victim: nausea, difficulties in speech, delirium, heightened excitability and restlessness. The bodies of the bitten are seized by convulsions that previously could only be cured by a sort of frenzied dancing. This ‘dancing-cure’ called the Tarantella emerged during the Middle Ages as a local phenomenon in the area of the city of Galatina, in southern Italy, and was widespread in the region up until the middle of the 20th century. Since then, the Tarantella has evolved from a form of uncoordinated movement––where people would ‘quiver and hurl their heads, shake their knees, grind their teeth and make the actions of madmen’––into a highly stylized dance for couples.

Koester’s interest in Tarantism is tied to its original form: a dance of uncontrolled and compulsive movements, spasms and convulsions. In the film he has utilized this idea to generate the movements of the dancers. In six individually choreographed parts the dancers attempt to explore a type of grey zone: the fringes of the body or what might be called the body’s ‘terra incognita’.