The inside of your instrument

Your body as a “research instrument”: this imagination is meant to be metaphorical. Seeing your body as a research instrument is not meant as a way to define or conceptualise your body. Ofcourse your body is much more than “instrumental”. The metaphor functions as a thought-experiment. It invites you to become aware of our body within the context of your artistic practice. It allows you to reflect on your work in different terms, through a different language and other imaginations than we usually do, which fosters new insights in the way you work as artist. 


The metaphor has been used a lot in the AOK research centre, for instance by architect and artistic researcher Marlies Vermeulen. As Dear Hunter, she and Remy Kroese have extensively studied their own artistic practice – the practice of qualitative map making – by drawing themselves as researching instruments. Each screw, each detail is there for a reason. By disassembling their own practice like that and assigning each part of the process a material representation they opened up their artistic process for themselves and others. 

 (See an Article about Drawing Instruments here.)




We will work with the metaphor in relation to our body. As a practitioner and researcher, I work on emancipating practices that produce or enhance body awareness. My aim is to grant “body awareness” credits as a form of knowledge. Other than having it function in contexts in which the body awareness is instrumental in rather obvious ways, such as in therapeutic practices (practices that are meant to heal the body and mind) or performative practice in which the body plays an obvious role (such as dance, theatre, singing etc), I argue that body awareness plays an important role in artistic practices and research practices as well. Our bodies are not only always there. Through our bodies we engage with the world, they allow us to sense, register and attune to our surroundings, be present and move through spaces, incorporate and process information, and to be expressive and communicate with others.


In the 1930’s sociologist Marcel Mauss first coined the concept “Body Techniques” to show that the way people use their bodies is culture specific. People swim, walk or eat in specific ways, depending on cultural norms, societal standards, traditions etc. He describes, for instance, that after American movies travelled to Europe, French women started to walk in the American way, copying the movements they saw on screen (Mauss, 1973 [1935], p. 72). This first part of our Body Awareness course, invites you to practice a number of body techniques, that will not just make you use your bodies in different ways, but also experience and become aware of your body in different ways. Similar to how, as Mauss argued, from society to society, people use their body differently, the way you use your body is also very specific. 


We are not always aware of how specific the way we use our body is. You can think of this as the “black box” of your instrument: that part of this instrument that remains hidden from us most of the time. The inside of the instrument. If the instrument works well, there is usually no need to open it up and look inside to find all the technical details of how the instrument works. Only if the instrument is broken, there is a need to turn it inside out and see what exactly need to be repaired. A good researcher however, knows her instrument inside out, even if it works perfectly. This allows her to attune herself to it: knowing exactly how her instrument works, what she has to do in order to allow it to keep working and adapting what she does to the specificities of her instrument. We can think of our bodies in a similar way. We are not always aware of what happens at the inside of our bodies. However, if something is broken – if, for instance we break our leg or get burned out – we suddenly become very aware of our body and how it works: we learn where our tibia bone is and how we use if for movement or we become aware of our boundaries and learn how to guard them. In this course, we become body aware in situations in which our bodies do work well. We work on becoming aware of how you use your body in daily life and when you work on your artistic projects. You will get to know your instrument inside-out and study your individual blackbox. You learn what you need to do to allow your instrument to work at its best, so that your creativity, intuition, inspiration and expressiveness can thrive. 


Creativity, intuition, inspiration and expression: these are things that are often considered either as “natural” or as something that “happens” to us, automatically or instinctively. This way of thinking is connected to the notion of the body as something that is naturally there, from the beginning. In science and philosophy, the body is often seen as either something we have or as something we are. When studying anatomy, for instance, students learn about the body we have: an object which we can get to know “objectively” by dissecting it into parts. To counter this objective view on the body, phenomenologists (a philosophical discipline developed by among others Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty) have argued that we also are a body: through our body we experience the world. According to this view, we can get to know the body “subjectively”, by learning about experience and perception. 


Social scientist and philosopher Annemarie Mol has argued (e.g., in her book “The Body Multiple”), that we should add a third option: we also do our bodies. What she means by that is that what we call our body is not just an object – that we can touch, dissect and disassemble for instance – or a subject – which experiences and perceives the world – but it is also something that we practice: we eat, we walk, we dance, we get sick etc. And in these practices, the body becomes something specific: it becomes a digestive system, it becomes a vehicle for movement, it becomes a source of expression or a physiological body that needs to be examined. In short: the body is not naturally there from the beginning, but becomes something specific, depending on the specific practices in which we engage. 


To make this less abstract, we will work with different versions of the body. We will experience how our body changes (both objectively and subjectively) if it is a body made out of bones, or of muscles, or if it is something that allows us to be present in space. What we imagine our body to be, depends on the way we are used to using our body and vice versa. Our practices – today and in the past – influence the body we have, are and do on a daily basis and when doing artistic work. 


We will explore what ways of using the body feels “natural”, “automatic”, “intuitive” to you. And since this does not come naturally, we will look at what practices foster these ways of using the body. There are thousands of practices: thousands of ways to use the body. Some of them you may already use, some of them you won’t. By becoming aware of this and by widening the repertoire of ways to use the body, you can more intentionally use your body in specific ways in specific situations. In short: you learn what your instrument can do and how to use it. 


Audio Exercise 1: "Opening up the Blackbox"

In this exercise, we are going to explore different imaginations of the body. We will explore how different ways of imagining our body can make us attend to, feel, experience and become aware of our body in different ways. Some of these ways of imagining your body may be very familiar to you. Other might be very strange. Our historical, cultural and social background may have taught us to imagine and experience our bodies in certain ways, and others not. Feeling our body is not natural, but depends on the specificities of our social-material surroundings. Yet some ways of feeling our bodies may seem natural to us, while others do not, because we are used to practicing them. By using different imaginations we become aware of a wide spectrum of ways in which we can “do” our body and what part of this spectrum we use (on a daily basis or within our artistic or research practices) and what ways of doing our body we do not do. 

Duration: 1 hour 

Location: inside 

Preparation: Don't use headphones for this audio exercise as they may limit free movement. Make sure you have enough (safe) space to move. We start with slow movements on the floor, so make sure you stay warm. You may use a mat of blanket on the floor to begin with. Later movements will be more active and distributed in space. 

Documentation: After the exercise: take at least 10 minutes to document about your experiences, what you became aware of or what you learned about the way you do your body.

References, sources: 

Bogart, A. & Landau, T. (2005). The viewpoints Book. A Practical Guide to Viewpoints and Composition. New York: Theatre Communication Group

Newlove, J. & Dably, J. (2004). Laban for all. New York: Routledge

Olsen, A. (2004). Bodystories: A Guide to Experiential Anatomy. University Press of New England, Hanover and London

Zaporah, R. (1995). Action Theater: The Improvisation of Presence. North Atlantic Books 

Opening the black box.m4a
MP4 Video/Audio File 27.0 MB



-       Your Bodies: now that you learned that there is not one “body” and experienced different versions of yours, think about the different bodies that you do. When do you use which version of the body? How did you learn to do this version of your body and how do you train and practice this body?

-       The inside of your instrument: working on your instrument manual, describe or draw the inside of your instrument. What do you see when you open up your instrument? What are the different parts? How is this held together? How does it work? When does it not work? Think about every detail and don’t allow there to be things for no reason (except if this would be an important feature of your instrument).