Please listen to the episode “Dispatch 6: Strange Times” of the podcast Radio Lab. The part that is of relevance for this assignment (the first part of the episode) takes about 20 minutes.
Andrea Pruisers directs the Corona Virus Anti-Viral Research Program. In this podcast, she beautifully illustrates the kind of preparations, care, movements, attentiveness, mindfulness, feelings and thoughts that are at work when she is working in the lab.
Try to illustrate your working process as an artist in a similar way. Although obviously working on your artistic research is quite different from working in the anti-viral research-lab (among others things because this kind of work is very protocol driven and your work probably not so much), for this assignment you will attend to the process with the same kind of precision. Hence, even though every step of your work is not as methodically set out for you as the work described in the podcast, as a thought experiment you pretend that it is, as a means to create body awareness in relation to your artistic (research) work.
Imagine a typical research day and attend to:
- What and how you prepare before starting your work
- The intentionality with which you do everything
- How you move
- Your mental state
- Your concerns
- The order in which you do things
- The qualities of your movements and bodily tensions
- Your mental state and headspace
- How you are aware of things that happen around you
- The way you relate to space
- The way you relate to objects around you
- The way you relate to other bodies around you
- The way you relate to the objects and materials you touch, move around, manipulate or handle.
- Your thoughts and feelings
- Your focus
- The way you are present
- Your sense of time
- Anything else that stood out for you when listening to the podcast
Hiroyuki Noguchi (2004) describes traditional Japanese culture, perception of the body and sensitivity, by explaining the Japanese use of colour. Traditionally, in Japan a material was coloured in such a way that the colour was not painted onto the surface, but the material absorbed the colour. Colouring a material meant that the material incorporated colour. In the same way, my dance teacher Yoshito Ohno explained to me in his studio in Yokohama, “in the West, you dance to music. This way the music remains on the surface. Here, the music enters the body and so the movement comes from inside the body”. According to Noguchi, this “inviting” or “welcoming” state of a body has been the “essence of the idea of Nature held by Japan’s culture” The inside and the outside become one. And boundaries between inside and outside get blurred.
What happens inside the body and what happens outside the body may not always be so easily defined.
In “Embodied Action, Enacted Bodies: The Example of Hypoglycemia”, Annemarie Mol and John Law, show how bodies with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) may expand beyond the “body-proper”. Their informant Miriam knows how to feel a “hypo” coming (sweating, shivering or an overall sense of discomfort) and knows that eating an apple may prevent this. Sometimes however, Miriam’s husband feels her hypo coming before she does: “Then he looks at me and says ‘Don’t you think you’d better eat something?’ Or he doesn’t even look, but he gets it from how I’m doing. I get irritated in a particular way, or unfriendly. And he knows where I’m at, what’s happening. And usually he’s right.”
Miriam’s husband feels what is happening in Miriam’s body, because she “excorporates” some of her body’s actions beyond her body’s skin.
While incorporating parts of our environment, we also excorporate to our surroundings.
Maya is a haptotherapist. Through touch, she helps her client – Nicky who is lying on her belly on a massage table – to connect to her body. She asks: “can you feel my hand on your back”. Nicky confirms. Maya goes on: “do you feel only my hand, or can you also feel the part of your back my hand is touching”. “Only your hand”, Nicky replies. Maya invites Nicky to try to also feel her back. After a while, she says, “yes very good”, apparently feeling that Nicky started to feel something else than before. “Now, also feel your belly touching the table.” Again, after a while she senses some progress, guiding Nicky one step further by asking her to feel “the entire area between my hand and the massage table”.
After practicing this for a while, Maya asks: “Now that you feel your body, can you still feel my hand?” Nicky replies that indeed, she had been so focused on the inside of her body now, that she forgot that Maya’s hand was still there. Together, they work on making Nicky feel both at the same time, so that she can be in connection with her own body, without losing the awareness of her surroundings. Maya instructs Nicky: “see if you can try to not just feel my hand, but my entire arms”.
Again, after a while Nicky seems to succeed and Maya continues to guide Nicky through feeling more and more of Maya’s body. After a while, she reminds Nicky: “can you still feel your own body now”?
Working on this dual attentiveness, Maya constantly feels and invites Nicky to feel beyond the boundaries of her individual body and to be aware of the inside, the outside and how they interrelate and interexchange.
Our body-boundaries may be constantly changing, shifting or (at least semi-) permeable. Sometimes we may experience that what feels as our body is not just what happens inside our skin. And sometimes we may feel what happens inside another person’s skin.
Butoh practice dairy, Tokyo februari 2013
Yokio Waguri shows us a painting from Hijikata Tatsumi’s (Butoh dance’s founder) notebook. It basically shows some flowers at the bottom and a yellow plane that, towards the top, dissolves more and more into small particles. Into a yellow grain. It is about pollen. About losing outline or shape, he explains. Waguri talks us through this dance, the dance of pollen.
I walk. The air around me is filled with pollen. As I walk further, I breathe in the pollen through my nose. I also open my mouth and feel how the pollen enter my body. There is pollen in my eyes, in my ears. My body becomes dry inside. It feels extremely light. My mouth is sticky and it feels as though my lungs are filled with pollen. My skin changes. Or disappears, rather. I start to lose the outline of my body; to become one with the space around me.
We practice this a second time. Now, at the point we stopped the last time, Waguri says that the air becomes wet. Walking forward extremely slowly again, I feel how the pollen become sticky and how they start to settle. The pollen are slowly resembling a kind of shape again. For a moment there, I think that my skin returns, that I will soon possess my outline again. But then the wind comes and the pollen are taken away. I am taken away and turn into smoke, or damp. I have no shape. I am inside and outside at the same time.
Depending on the way we attend and attune to our body and its surroundings, we can shift our body boundaries. Can you think of situations, in which your body boundaries shifted, changed, became permeable or maybe disappeared altogether?
Mol, A. & Law, J. (2004). Embodied Action, Enacted Bodies: the Example of Hypoglycaemia. Body & Society, 10, 43-62
Noguchi, H. (2004). The Idea of the Body in Japanese Culture and its Dismantlement. International Journal of Sport and Health Science, 2, 8-24
Duration: more or less 1 hour
Location: outside / the street
Preparation: Bring headphones so you can listen to the audio exercise while walking. Bring a notebook. Bring a face mask.
Documentation: you will be documenting during your walk