Field Notes.3 – Gian Paolo Cottino

Here is the third set of field notes from Gian Paolo Cottino. The fourth and final one will be published in the new year.

PART THREE

The Water Hole.
I plunged into a pool of water whose surface was being strimmed by the wind. I was my father as a younger and leaner self. I watched him disappear under the water, agitated and concerned. Then, he re-emerged, calm, knowing and un-movable by the forces that had gripped the younger man to become dependent on drugs.

This morning, at first light, I walk to the water hole we had seen on our initial hike through the plantation. I want to look deeper within me, I want to find the stillness in these waters…and from this stillness to know.

I find my place under a pine tree on the southern edge of the body of water. Facing the north and in the midst of morning practice I see a man approaching on the track to my left. Ahead of him a Staffie dog is running, excited and bashful, seemingly led by a contortion of irrepressible muscle. I notice the man has removed his shirt to bathe in the sun’s light even though the morning is still crisp. His body is muscular and tattooed, and his head is shaved. I can see the dog’s curiosity is leading him towards the area I am in, and for a moment I consider the possibility of my presence surprising him and causing him alarm and agitation. For a moment I consider also that this man might equally be surprised by me and become irritated by the otherness between us and perhaps even question my purpose. But then I watch in stillness and I notice I am invisible to them. I notice also that it is the choice to be grounded and still that means I have been unnoticed.

The man sits down on the large boulder to my left and bathes in the light of the sun. Concerned of startling him I introduce my presence with a greeting.

His voice is soft, his being suddenly startled by another’s. We converse tentatively, about the water, the deer, the fox and the dragonflies and then he carries on with his journey, leaving me in the peace we’d both sought.

Woodpecker.
I see your strong neck vibrate and repeat your heart’s desires into the hard wood and I notice that it is with this beat that you make your home within the tree.

Field Notes.2 – Gian Paolo Cottino

Here is the next installment of observations from our time in the King’s Wood in August 2016 from collaborator and artist, Gian Paolo Cottino.

PART TWO

I feel I belong
I belong when I allow myself to belong.
I belong when I have the courage to belong.
I belong when my authentic self is welcomed by others.
I belong when I acknowledge the other.
I belong when I can give thanks.
I belong when I accept differences and take joy in the connections.
I belong when my eyes meet another’s and I see them light up.
I belong when I utter my name to the earth and I speak my truth.
I belong when I dare to have desires and longings.
I belong when I step away from the stories I tell about who I am.
I belong with my ancestors.
I belong to my self.
I belong in the landscapes within me and in the folds of the body I caress and walk upon.
I belong when I do my best.
I belong when I witness the mystery and I allow it to see me, naked and raw.

Then I am well.

Watching.
Working to no logical conclusion, they appear as suspended in the experience of work. Are we all caught in a loop of performance?

I see big casted knots of plaster in varying colours float just above the ground, soft and doughy lengths having been worked into different configurations, yet each rooted in a practical task, each functioning in relation to the elements.

Field notes.1 – Gian Paolo Cottino

Here are a series of observations and field notes from Gian Paolo Cottino, during our working time in the forest. Gian’s detailed and poetic observations elucidate our activities and realms of conversation, through the lens of his experience and thought processes which arose from this intense working time together. I will publish them in a series of 4 parts over the coming weeks.

PART ONE

King’s Wood, Kent. August 2016.
I walk, the coppiced hearts of the chestnut trees touching me as I make my way to camp.

They keep giving, keep on providing, continuously bringing the earth into the sky. There is renewal here, every day.

I think about renewal through practice, how every day we might renew the self and every day renew our relationship to mystery, recommitting each day to our true longings.

Peripheral Vision
I become aware of myself and of how I am included and enveloped in that which I see. I belong in this material.

As I let go all my senses open, my body relaxes and moves of it’s own accord, and mind follows, diving into the joy of connection. My jaw drops, my mouth opens, I speak with the dragonflies.

I see the wind and feel her all over me, becoming aware and remembering that she is communication between all things.

Seeds high up in the air.

This peripheral vision softens my gaze to see all as one fabric, one material, and yet… it is also the way of the hunter and the stalker and of the indigenous warrior and the martial artist. It is impersonal yet all inclusive.

Crow glitters in the sun of the north.

Crawling
I see insects and plants I hadn’t been been able to perceive when once I walked upright.

Here there is an abundance of new colours, of new forms, and the small yet sharp intentions of lives. They grow upon me, covering me in their universe. My head wants to go deeper, drop further down. Now I find it difficult to perceive what lies ahead. It is a space of immediacy and intoxicating instinct.

Time slows down and I become entrenched with the ground. I smell and follow spoor. Animals and birds are less alarmed by my slow pace. The light is flickering on the ground and in the woods, playing optical games inspired by the trees. Soon they are kaleidoscopic and hallucinogenic like effects, transporting my body ahead of me and into the thicket.

I am reminded of an article that pointed toward the forest’s interplay of light and shadow and to humans’ relationship with the hallucinogenic plants of these arboreal places (and hence the spool of images and the emotive response of imagination) as the trigger and origin of abstract thought. The leaps of light and the stirring of shadows quickening our mind as it follows helpless the imaginative image.

Turning onto my back I walk the sky and all the weight of my body is lifted.

Rocks aren’t Lonely

by Jennifer-Lynn Crawford

A small meditation on a few questions that came up at the very start of this last phase of ITAWL research:
‘what are the things that make me ok’ and ‘things that make me feel I belong’

These two questions were given by Charlotte as part of the forest residency back in the summer, and after going to see George Monbiot’s Loneliness Project in Leeds a little while ago, they resurfaced and…

What is OK?

OK is a great metric. I like that it expresses a general satisfaction – a kind of resting state between not-good and good. Just sort of regular. Not exceptional in either a positive or negative direction. I feel much of life is happening in this in-between place – that much of life looks for this quality of OK. It’s pretty stable.

I also appreciate that this was linked to ‘belonging’ in the task. I struggled with this association, as I’m sure many might and also many might not. On the basement level of my being, I notice a profound OK-ness when I am not contemplating belonging… a little like the refrigerator hum, or other sensory events you don’t notice yourself as noticing until they cease, I don’t normally notice the sensation of belonging unless I am not. This shows up on the surface level of me as a kind of anxious murmuring and muttering over the gap where belonging isn’t part of my assumption about the world.

I don’t always know that the gap is in the belonging area – I just know that something isn’t ‘OK’ and as is my wont when not-OK, I put on one of my favourite costumes: that of a single, solitary rock in a wide empty space. Of course, that tends to make the not-OK-ness bloom in the most vibrant colours not-OK-ness comes in.

It’s funny-ironic that I’ve never quite been able to grasp that that gap is relational. That I turn in on myself to examine something that can only be seen in the light that other people carry with them… I’ve always thought it was something I was needing to do in myself, and all the time, it turns out, I just needed to remember that I’m not a rock, but part of a tribe called people.

I mean, sometimes the rock is a wonderfully functional costume – particularly when joining/being joined by other rock-types. Sometimes the tribe I need to remember I’m part of is bigger than people, or needs to be other life that isn’t people. Whichever way I play with the wording, the sensation of belonging, rather than having a gap somewhere (where belonging should be) is a bit like having a home. The sensation of I-am-where-I-should-be is physical, a deep satisfaction that doesn’t beg questions. It doesn’t demand anything of you, and in fact, it allows you to just get on with whatever it is you were up to (which probably involves ‘other’ in some way).

I find it interesting that I have an idea that it’s possible to exist by ‘myself’ – that when I think of ‘self’ I tend not to think of how that self is a palimpsest of all the other selves, the other people and lives, it has ever encountered… I mean, it’s not as if I got here alone. But when faced with a question about belonging, I tend to answer as if all the others who I’ve lived alongside – my family, my friends, the various and changing communities I arrive in, live in, and depart from, in short, all the lives to whom I belong – are somehow not part of my OK-ness. I tend to answer as if only I, alone on the me-raft, circling the island of self, am responsible for my own OK-ness.

The Me-Raft

A lecture given by Sandra Noeth prompted the following:
“…one body is no body – spectating is a kind of co-habitation – I live in you for a bit, or at least, with you… ‘just’ a body does not exist – it’s totally abstract – we’ve simply adopted it in the same way that we separate everything from everything else and then think we’ve got a ‘thing’ (because we’ve removed it from its context and set it out by itself) – we are of the same material”

If anybody did ever exist solely by themselves, ‘we’, all the others, would probably never know about it. One body = NoBody.

I can’t imagine what that life would be like. Except for….

This me-raft is a received idea – it’s one you learn through experience. Rebecca Solnit, in her very on-point piece The Ideology of Isolation discusses the disconnection that epitomises right wing ideology: ‘yourself for yourself on your own’ I can trace the reception of this idea in myself to my 1 family and a particular sort of privacy insisted upon by my father. This wasn’t something ever questioned because there was also a very clear and fixed hierarchy that existed between us. My father was a firm supporter of the euphemism that children should be seen and not heard.

He was also an extremist in some ways and had no qualms about making a point (his point). If I moved too far from my position in the family-tree, he tended to refer to larger hierarchical structures outside the family-tribe such as the police, the medical system and the educational system in a very direct and practical way. This served a dual purpose – I had the impression of his authority being upheld, and also, that the only ‘others’ outside the family tribe were generally much taller hierarchies which loomed with much larger shadows over my lowly position.

So, I discovered the me-raft at a very young and impressionable age and I also discovered through the very private family-tribe that there wasn’t anyone ‘else’ around. Or at least, no-body who was going to intervene in the hierarchy and the sanctity of parent-child relationships. It left me in a bit of a quandary – I clearly didn’t feel OK in the hierarchy, but any moves to change it left me outside of it, in a land where I had even less resource as a minor. A minor who doesn’t have ready access to ‘others’ in the guise of extended family or family friends gets ‘systematised’ scarily fast… testing the waters there had me re-tracing my steps fairly rapidly.

I grew up a bit scared of mostly everything, convinced that anytime I didn’t make good of my bottom feeder role in supporting the top of the tree, I would be cast off into the cold cold world.

Tribes

So why, apart from common human interest, would I be writing this in relation to this project?

I guess, in many ways, family is both the first environment and the first tribe we have. I’m not sharing my story here because I’m seeking acknowledgement for it in and of itself, but as an example of how simple it can be to pass on and hold on to a sense of disconnection or isolation borne of fear. Of course, it’s obvious that our first sense of connection or disconnection, our first sense of belonging, of the world as safe, scary and totally new, comes from the familyenvironment-tribe. Equally, the obvious is often the realm where the barriers arise. The family-tribe either helps us find the world as an already-there-with-me place or a-place-we-keep-at-a-distance.

My experience of the world through most of my early years and adolescence was fear-based – even if fun and interesting stuff happened, it happened in spite of a threatening, disconnected world that I was forever in danger of getting cast off into. I went through a period of depression when I was 12. The world already seemed sad and burdensome and I was still in grade school. Writing that seems hilarious, but… it sucked to be me at that time. I’m sure it also sucked to be my teachers and grade school friends and my parents, wondering what the problem was.

And if this is my fairly tame white, middle-class suburban childhood version of the kind of gap an isolationist, fear-based and hierarchical power structure creates… what else can happen in that gap if it were to be heightened by circumstances that have nothing to do with much apart from geography and genetics? It isn’t even a ‘what makes me belong’ question at a particular threshold – there is a point where the notion of belonging is such a distant glimmer that the question itself becomes a fantasy. Belonging becomes a species of experiences that applies to ‘others’. I imagine many children right now who are entitled-to but prevented-from joining relatives in the UK/other countries with increasingly obstacle-strewn borders as suffering a gap in belonging that is so big it might be broken.

George Monbiot’s Loneliness Project

George Monbiot is a dose of sanity every few weeks in the Guardian. I appreciate how his ecological approach, the accessibility and openness of his writing and his surety about our okness, our mutual belonging as humans, generates hope in me.

The construction of the evening is simple, but it works. George speaks mostly of content that he’s addressed through his online writings, but I’m still happy to hear it again, Ewan McLennan plays (very beautifully), and at the end, they ask us all to sing together. Along the way, I’m finding that I’m moved, the images and characters of the songs and stories finding their mark in my own life. Before they finish for the night, they invite us to turn to the person next to us and introduce ourselves. I meet someone who works for the Campaign to End Loneliness. We chat for a bit, he has very sparkly socks, fabulous shoes and shares a bottle of prosecco with his date…. and then… I need to go. I’m not at the event with anyone else, and the resonance of loneliness and old age through the songs is a bit of a soft squishy underbelly for me at the moment and I’m feeling overwhelmed. Ironic response to Monbiot’s intent I think.

It’s interesting to witness a direct approach – Monbiot is literally making a project of dispelling loneliness – and to see that it seems to work for many people. He’s pointing at it, naming it, and then doing something about it and inviting us in to that. It’s great. I wonder what the legacy will be? I’m hopeful that for some people, they just needed a little nudge, a little wave and sign-posting to find a way towards greater belonging and greater inclusivity.

“Of all the fantasies human beings entertain, the idea that we can go it alone is the most absurd and perhaps the most dangerous. We stand together, or we fall apart.”

I like the image of the vertical – that we can find our strength together there, in our stance – and the dissembling of our selves and the iconic ‘fall’ as the other term of the dualism. It is clever and a nice turn of phrase. And I’m reminded of another favourite writer, Jeffrey Maitland, from the land of Rolfing, Zen and philosophy:

“In the end, there is nothing unique about being unique. The power lies in what is common.”

Although I like Monbiot’s phrase, I get just a little bit stuck on the ‘or’ – it’s a classic tool and one we’ve been saddled with as a culture for far too long. The binary opposition pattern is part of the 2 Guardian 3 p xvi, Embodied Being winners v. losers structure that has us believing in the island of self and constructing me-rafts. Plus, I think we fall apart anyway, it’s part of what we do from time to time – the bigger question is whether we have enough between us to help each other regardless of where we are in the standing/falling cycle.

Of course we do… We’ve got a whole tribe called ‘life’ in common.

Sometimes it’s hard to point at this, name it, if you’ve been given a specific kind of costume by circumstances in early life or if you’ve had to row the me-raft hard for a long time. Maybe making a project, like Monbiot, is a help. Joining a meaningful art-process, like the one this blog is written around. Making a practice of OK-ness through the varied events of everything. Charting your palimpsest for all the other selves to whom you belong and remembering that one body is no body. That in watching or noticing each other, we co-habit: I live in you for a bit, and you live in me. I think that last can be called empathy. And that although it takes effort to do this in a politics and economy that would still have us believing in one-or-the-other, it is possible for us to engage in what Rick Dolphijn refers to as the ‘relational nature of difference’.

Post Script: Obviously, everyone’s childhood memories are extremely personal and contingent. My parents were two people doing what they felt they could around my mother’s ongoing ill-health and my father’s desire to inject some normalcy into the land of illness (which is entirely abnormal and unpredictable).They each had their own personal contexts that contributed to family structure and politics in ways I’ll never know about.


¹ p1 The ideology of isolation
² Guardian
³ p xvi, Embodied Being

Written

Dolphijn, R. & van der Tuin, I. (2012) New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Open Humanities Press.
Maitland, J. (2016) Embodied Being. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books
Monbiot, G. (2016) Neoliberalism is creating loneliness. That’s what’s wrenching society apart. Guardian, [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/12/ neoliberalism-creating-loneliness-wrenching-society-apart [accessed on 7.11.2016]
Solnit, R. (2016) The Ideology of Isolation. Harper’s, [online] Available at: http://harpers.org/ archive/2016/07/the-ideology-of-isolation/1/ [accessed on 7.11.2016] Verhaeghe, P. (2012). Capitalism and Psychology – Identity and Angst: on Civilisation’s New Discontent. Vermeersch, W. (ed.), Belgian Society and Politics 2012. Available at: http:// paulverhaeghe.psychoanalysis.be/artikels/Identity%20and%20Angst.pdf [accessed on 7.11.2016]
Verhaeghe, P. (2014) Neoliberalism has brought out the worst in us.Guardian, [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/29/neoliberalism-economic-system-ethicspersonality-psychopathicsthic [accessed on 7.11.2016]

Other

Childhood and other life-changing experiences
Monbiot, G. and McLennan, E. (2016) The Loneliness Project [Performance] All Hallows Church, Leeds [21.10]
Noethe, S. (2015) Symposium 2015: Dispositives of the Body [Lecture] Haus der Kunst,Tanzwerkstatt Europa, Munich [02.08]

Life ITAWL Everything

Jennifer is doing a WAY better job than me at writing blog posts about the work we did on Is this a Waste Land? over the summer. And below is another entry from her. I will get to mine soon I promise! But in the mean time I have to finish the next funding application to the Arts Council to help fund the rest of the project, and raise our target for our current crowd-funding campaign! So, if you’d like to support the cause…then follow this link: http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/is-this-a-waste-land

Otherwise, enjoy Jennifer’s most recent piece of writing. It’s about our time on site in Corby at the start of October 2016. Photos and video footage from Corby coming SOON!

Life, ITAWL and Everything – Jennifer-Lynn Crawford

I’m enjoying the parallelisms of Is this a Waste Land? (ITAWL) There is a deep intertwin(n)ing of life activities and art activities occupying the root-system of the ITAWL tree – something I discussed a bit in this post on practice and projects – that I readily acknowledge and embrace. The parallel line here is that we’ve begun to write some words, not just in blogs, but to hang them in the air, for other people to listen to, as members of a future audience.

It’s a bit pointy. Not in a negative sense – I’m not sure why ‘pointy’ as an adjective seems to have negative connotations for me, but I feel like it might – but in the sense that ITAWL is coming to a point in some ways… multiple points in many ways.

It’s important and satisfying to write about practicing as a way for the work to come to be, and it’s more important and satisfying to practice that practice with the others and then it’s somehow a bit less satisfying, though still very important, to try and project that practice into the immediate future, where the other other people (aka audience-participants) are. In some senses (more than others) leading up to the sharing we had last week, it felt like ITAWL needed a bit more project-perfume to get itself ready for people to participate. I felt myself struggling with the sharing’s long shadow.

I remember a similar feeling from the days of Walking Stories. I get a little frustrated with imagining how people are going to respond to instructions and find my focus becomes pretty diffuse, flickering between so many different possibilities. It feels like trying to reverse-engineer a creamy soup. Minestrone would be more articulable than this rich bisque (I’ve never actually had bisque, but it looks like the most texturally uniform soup on Google).

Paul Carter, a theorist who seems to work in so many different fields I’m really not sure how to describe his location, refers to some of the difficulties of urban planning with the phrase ‘the planned encounter’ – it really resonates for me. An encounter is inherently unplanned; it happens spontaneously. Planning is pretty much… not that. So the notion of a ‘planned encounter’ is paradoxical, in a way that seems relevant for ITAWL. In a lecture he gave at Leeds Uni last month, he notes that there is a dominant assumption that people want, or should want, to interact with each other. This over-determination at the planning stage closes down any real choice-making, any real possibilities for an encounter to take place.

Personally…

I don’t like telling people what to do. My way through this has evolved over time and I notice I make a lot of propositions. I leave ideas with lots of space around them when I offer them to others. I tend to be indirect, probing, offering, suggesting…

But what we are doing here in ITAWL isn’t that. It’s based in a need to communicate with people in a way that asks them to step away from their own ways of doing things – to do things that perhaps they wouldn’t otherwise. We aren’t, as Charlotte says, asking them to join a workshop (I’m good at designing those BTW) but to participate in a performance. In most ways, they are producing the performance. They’ll need some directing. In the same way that we need directions when we are going somewhere for the first time because they give us an orientation, these people will need directions.

How do we create sound borders for somebody else’s performance?

Conversations with CCL (Corby Civils and Lintels)

“Now comes the messy work of fashioning spontaneous speech”¹ (Stern, 2010)1

Daniel Stern is famous for many books, predominantly in the field of developmental psychology, but the one that he wrote last (Forms of Vitality) is quickly becoming my favourite. As he says in the first chapter: “We live impressions of vitality like we breathe air”²… I can’t disagree.

Stern articulates this phenomenon of life (so accessibly) across a spectrum of activity and towards the end of the book, focuses on therapeutic practice, in particular ‘talking therapies.’ At one point, he traces the expression of vitality through and into spoken language. When he refers to ‘fashioning spontaneous speech’ I feel my ITAWL tuning fork start to hum. It has a similar vibration to Paul Carter’s ‘planned encounter’ in that I feel we are trying to capture the planned/fashioning encounter-speech in all its gooey vitality (or creamy soup).

In our case, ITAWL-speaking, the site is the conversation-encounter and the materiality we find/ bring there is the back and forth of that conversation. I don’t want to liken the material stuff to words – because they are utterly different and part of ITAWL is in drawing attention to that – rather, the material stuff of the site is the way that we gain the possibility to have the ‘conversation’ that is Corby Civils And Lintels (this is how the site is listed on the Corby Council website; it’s also signposted at the entrance).

I guess that sounds a bit abstract. Site as conversation. What I experience this as is a to-ing and fro-ing (in me) when in Corby Civils and Lintels that is totally individual to me and my apprehension of its particularity. It is a very different conversation to the kind I have, for example, with any other place, even if it’s maybe part of the same species of place. For example, in driving to the site each day, my conversation with the interior of the car really contrasts: the car asks things of my fingers, of my focal vision that CCL doesn’t unless I lie down on my belly and get my face close to its ground. Everything in the car is a little bit right up against me, or right up behind me or just right there – buttons and dials and random ends of things on slidey surfaces and moulded seating. My feet are quiet-to-non-existent in the car. I could keep giving examples, but it’s just trying to capture the creamy soup with a colander. I’m using familiar body parts because they are readily available – but the conversation is a totality that isn’t closed and includes all of me and all of CCL, not just the bits I can name and point to. The more time I spent in CCL, the more I was able to notice the subtleties of our interaction. I could not do that from a distance – the conversation was only possible in proximity.

Agents Gorell Barnes promote CCL on their website (https://gorellbarnes.co.uk/property/gennerpark-corby-northants-nn17-5fd/) as ‘a ‘blank canvas’ where ‘(o)ccupiers have the opportunity to be located within a high quality landscaped environment, close to local services with a mobile workforce in close proximity’

The kind of conversation they’ve had with Corby Civils and Lintels is obviously very different. The place, the site, the actual stuff of CCL, in that kind of conversation, has nothing to say. Apart from a convenient fountain of workforce nearby, the distance that this abstract process called Representation has responsibility for opening includes a lack of feeling, a lack of presence. The site is blank for Gorell Barnes. They could have their chat with CCL on Skype and wouldn’t notice anything amiss.

One end or two?

“Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei” (German proverb)
(Everything has one end, only the sausage has two)

When a place has been ‘blanked’ (or ‘space-d’, depending on which theorist you read – flattened into universality and divested of vitality), then it has only one end – the one that gets planned on to it. Place that remains unfinished always has multiple ends, mostly undecided and yet-to-be. Maybe a bit like lots of sausages heaped together. I don’t really eat sausages, but I really like that German proverb about them, with its forecast of inevitable ending and proposal of hopeful alternatives – or hopeful ending and anomalous alternatives.

Part of the distinction I proposed previously between practice and projects has to do with borders and temporal orientation (which way does it lean in time? does it have beginnings and endings?):

“Practice has a growth orientation that will continue to evolve over time, whereas a project has a border – we can finish a project and go on to something else. We don’t really finish a practice, although we might leave it for a while/ever. Practice seems to refer to itself – it doesn’t lean out into the future in the way that a project does – it stays in the act of doing”

I think part of the challenge, for me at least, in bringing things to a point in ITAWL, is that we need to ‘do’ something with the practicing, and in some ways, this demand is asking us to make a project of the practice. The sausage disappears – and an ending, a sharing, appears in its stead.

For something with >1 end, it’s hard to figure out where to put the borders in, even if they might only be temporary. What do you close off if you don’t yet know what might happen?

One End, For Now

In the end, the sharing was a lovely event. It confirmed the potency of the conversations we hoped to broker between people and place.

CCL: you will be different again, next we meet, and the kinds of conversation will be too… we won’t know until we get there. “Who is meeting and who is met? It all depends where you stand and how you move”³ (Carter, 2013)

I still have many questions. I’m not sure how we manage the project of practicing other people’s performance until they get there to do it themselves. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the parallel (of) direction, offering direction and trying to find that myself.

And sausages. Vegetarian sausages.

 


¹p 123, Forms of Vitality 1
²p 3, Forms of Vitality 2
³(I’m not sure of the page number as I was cheat-reading on an Amazon-Kindle preview), Meeting 3 Place: The Human Encounter and the Challenge of Coexistence

Books

Brouwer, J., Mulder, A. & Spuybroek, L. (Eds) (2012) Vital Beauty: Reclaiming Aesthetics in the Tangle of Technology and Nature. NAI Publishers.
Carter, P. (2013) Meeting Place: The Human Encounter and the Challenge of Coexistence. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.
Rogoff, I. (2000) Terra Infirma: Geogrpahy’s Visual Culture. London, New York: Routledge. Stern, D. (2010) Forms of Vitality: Exploring Dynamic Experience in Psychology, the Arts, Psychotherapy, and Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Other

Google (tool for getting lost)
Carter, P. (2016) On Choreotopography (Lecture) Leeds.
Corby Civils and Lintels (19-22.09 and 6-7.10.16) (Site) Corby.
Various places – cars, my bike, houses/flats, my home, bike shed, dance/yoga studios, theatre spaces, trains, cafes, pubs, parks, open outdoor spaces that aren’t designated, rail stations, treatment rooms.

Dead things don’t move

Written by Jennifer-Lynn Crawford

Since my last post, these three words:

vitality
animation
movement

… have come together to give me the phrase:
‘Dead things don’t move’

Clever, I know.

It’s sort of stuck in my head now. Ironically not-moving. Anyway – I wanted to nudge this a bit and get it to roll over so I can see what’s underneath. It helps me to have a direction for that – give it a vector and some friendly faces to move towards.… so hopefully I find something under this particular rock.

These three words have come up through a few different ways – one, of course, is movement itself, being a ‘mover’ (as we all are, as animals) and the more specific identification as a ‘mover’ in the dance world. Or a particular sort of movement practitioner has claimed a stake here (me): unwilling to be a ‘dancer’, with the sometimes narrow associations that tends to invoke, I am more likely to self-identify as a ‘mover’ than a ‘dancer’.

I suppose I should pick apart movement and dancing – or try to put them back together, that would be more appropriate I guess, given that I feel they have a tendency to dis-entwine in some art-instances. But I’m not terribly interested in making this another pitch about things I struggle with in contemporary dance land. I’m much more interested in pursuing these three words: animation, movement, vitality.

Vitality
When my father was dying (he died at home when I was 17) I remember feeling quite anxious that I would somehow miss the moment of death – generally somebody was with him all the time in the last few days, but if it was just him and me, I really wondered how I would figure out the difference between a lengthy pause in his breath cycle (it was pretty hard for him to breathe by then) and his last breath. Did it matter? Was it a social conditioning thing? An animal thing? Was I making this all about me? When did life go and what do I know, what do I sense, of its passing?

There was a massive qualitative shift when he died. The stillness of the dead is shocking. I know this is obvious, but on the perceptual plane, it is an enormous silence – like a vacuum of sorts. I sat with his body, helped wash him, post-life, pre-rigor. The no-more lifeness was a no-moreness of animation – in his tissues, in his fluids, in his presence… And I think this is different from the sensation of loss and grief (a different species of vacuum though closely related).

This was much the bigger given the labour of dying. There was so much blind continuation that is biology just hanging on for a little bit more life that the vacuum of death feels like you’ve just been plonked down in a vast plain on the other side of the moon. It’s a place you’ve never been before and a place where that person is never going to arrive. It is still and silent in a totally alien way. There is no possible way for us, alive, to empathise with the (dead) other. It’s irreconcilable.

Maxine Sheets-Johnstone calls this the ‘transformation to another other’[1]– a totally radical change in the other’s being in that the other is no longer an other with whom I can interact or engage. They have become their materiality in a way I cannot. I can no longer identify with this other as ‘like myself’, even though I ‘know’ that they were and are human.

There is a rupture in our shared identification set against a continuing material sameness, and a stillness that I cannot join: separation – here, finally, is ‘alone’. Sitting with my father’s dead form, which was very alone, I understood that I had never been solitary like that – and wouldn’t whilst alive. Of course, as a 17 year old, I felt disconnected to anything I could possibly, actively, disconnect to – but I’d never understood how utterly and easily related I was, just by being alive.

In the most gloriously lazy and unlooked for way – if I’m just here, living, I’m part of something. There is nothing else I need to do to be part of all of this.

I’m really grateful for that enormous moment and for my father’s decision to die at home, to not move his death into a hospital, and to ask us to be part of it. I mean, I think he also wanted our company and to not feel alone, but I wouldn’t put it past him to see it as something to impart (he was that sort of person for me).

Animation
Motility, roughly, is ‘to be capable of motion on one’s own’. It’s something I’ve come to a feeling-understanding of within the therapeutic context of Rolfing Structural-Integration™ in the past year. Biologically, it speaks to an intrinsic movement spontaneity – and is different to ‘mobility’ in that it precedes mobility (if we accept a definition of mobility as ‘being able to be moved’). Motility is a quality inherent in living tissue and was notably absent, or significantly dimmed, for example, in my father’s dead form.

In Rolfing™, as in many other therapeutic approaches, there is a lot of time given to developing the phenomenon called ‘resonance’ – the ability we have to be moved by others’ movements. We sometimes know this as empathy – our mirror neurons enable us to make sense of others’ behaviour by activating it in our own systems. A flavour of what-it-might-be-like… or as Kevin Frank puts it: “In essence one’s brain activity imitates that of another, as though the observed motor activity is one’s own.”[2]

Those lovely empathy buttons that allow my nerves to be tickled by what I see, what I recognise as a form similar to mine, those vitally important activators of my limbic system, create resonance with all the other humans I find myself in relationship with all the time. They are linked through our motor system i.e. the circuitry that gets us moving and respond most easily to movement itself. Hence:

Aliveness is thus a concept as grounded in movement as the concept ‘I can’. Indeed, we intuitively grasp the coincidence of aliveness and animation from the very beginning. With no prior tutoring whatsoever, we take what is living to be that which moves itself and to apprehend what is not moving and has never moved to be precisely inanimate.”[3]

Movement
Many of the people I enjoy reading refer to the ‘primacy of movement’ (actually, the quote above is from Maxine Sheets-Johnstone’s bookThe Primacy of Movement…) and despite our social habiting/learning of stillness, movement is everywhere. Even if we have to go into the cells, we, our body, is motile. We are movement, in many ways, just caught in an uncomfortably static urban culture. Tim Ingold, in his aptly-named Being Alive says: “Life, in short, is a movement of opening, not of closure.”[4] I agree, but am not sure that that isn’t an extremely privileged statement. It feels sometimes that that movement, of opening, of expanding out along a path, a way, a curiosity, a question, is really under-supported. Under-nourished, in our current regime of chairs, cars and consumption. I’m struggling to figure out how I keep opening whilst writing this.

A lot of movement that I bear witness to seems to be movement of closure. Not necessarily in a metaphorical or socio-political sense, although I appreciate there is a lot of closure-movement I could point towards if I paid more attention to The News. I mean the movement that I see in the everyday bodies I walk/cycle/move with on a daily basis – people who are moving around the same bit of road/pavement as I am.

I empathise with that movement, just as a thing that I do at the moment. A practice maybe.

It feels like work. It feels that I need to have a lot of will, or fear, or need, to move. In trying that movement in myself, tasting it, I also notice that my ability, my perception, is funnelled by the feeling of work. It costs me to see a horizon when I’m predominantly closing rather than opening. It costs me an ‘extra’ movement and as movement itself already feels like work, why would I do that? Why would I do extra, when I’m already struggling to get along as it is?

I used the example of a horizon, as it is a wonderfully overused image that I still can’t let go of. But we could replace that with m/anythings. Like the other person beside you. Or the world around you. Or the world that you can’t imagine on the other side of planet. Or the world that is inhabited by all the other life that isn’t human. All the life that you are part of, just by being alive. All the movement that is happening, just because.

If your life/movement is a closing, a narrowing of possibilities, then it’s really really hard to feel that life moves, in a kind of self-defining/creating kind of way – that motility, spontaneous motion, is intrinsic. Buried under an accumulation of compression, of body-home as too-much density, life feels heavy and not a little bit deflated. Effortful.

We read vitality in the quality of animation we sense in those around us. Substitute ‘read’ for smell/sniff/another form of pre-linguistic animal understanding – or resonance – and when many of us are living life as a movement of closure, life as a movement of opening just doesn’t really stand much of a chance. We sense it in children, in their spaciousness (oh, sometimes we call it naiveté don’t we?) and their ease but we don’t regularly find it spread out in a bus queue of people on their way to work in the morning.

So I guess it gets harder to live life as a movement of opening when all the empathy circuits are being shown life as a movement of closure. We go to a nice Feldenkrais/dancing class or walking in the nice green forest and we get a dose of opening – but we are generally surrounded by human life as concentric movement. Shortening.

ITAWL
In animating this phrase: ‘dead things don’t move’, in bringing it in to a conversation with others (imagined, at time of writing), I’m also mirroring a process, a practice, that lives in ITAWL. I guess in the next phase we’ll be looking for the ways in which ITAWL lives – how does it move? Rather than a representation or as an art object – it isn’t fixed – where are the edges? Do those edges or borders shift? Where does it start to lose vitality, resiliency, adaptability? How does it open itself again? What kind of resonance does it have?

There is a sense of being part of something, just in being alive. This is so fundamental to our experience, so absolutely taken for granted, we might not be able to see the forest for the trees here until we encounter death in some way. All of this seems to relate back to the curiosity of belonging and self-okness and a sense of ‘being’ as a crucial practice for ITAWL.

Roll on Corby and the pink house.

Books
Abram, D. (1996) The Spell of the Sensuous. New York: Vintage Books.

Brouwer, J., Mulder, A. & Spuybroek, L. (Eds) (2012) Vital Beauty: Reclaiming Aesthetics in the Tangle of Technology and Nature. NAI Publishers.

Frank, K. (2008) ‘Body As A Movement System: A Premise for Structural Integration’ Structural IntegratIon, June 2008, pp 14-23

Ingold, T. (2011) Being Alive. Routledge.

Maitland, J. (2016) Embodied Being. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books

McHose, C. & Frank, K. (2006) How Life Moves. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books.

Sheets-Johnstone, M. (2009) The Corporeal Turn : An Interdisciplinary Reader. Exeter: Imprint Academic.

Sheets-Johnston, M (1999) The Primacy of Movement. Amsterdam: J. Benjamins Publishing Company.

Other
Various writings available at: www.resourcesinmovement.com/articles-archive/

Various people, going about their business, in various locations between Leeds – Dundee – London – Brighton – Kent – Munich – Schiphol Airport.

Rolfing – Basic Training. Munich, 2015-16.

[1] The Corporeal Turn, p107
[2] Body As A Movement System, p16
[3] The Primacy of Movement, p135
[4] Being Alive, p4

Practice and Projects

Written by Jennifer-Lynn Crawford

As per Charlotte’s recent post →, the lot of us (minus James, but he sent his self’s worth of proposals for us to play with) have recently returned from a week’s residency in the woods. The Woods, I should say – the experience needs upper case recognition.

“I’m still amazed by how much I’m dealing with the unknown”… when Charlotte says this in her post, I feel a strong sympathy. Since The Woods, I’ve been trying to make sense of some of ITAWL’s (Is this a Waste Land?) themes. This has resulted in a great deal of floating about and not very much else. I mean, they are very big themes, so floating around in them is perhaps a valid way to make ‘sense’ of them.

I’ve been toying with re-framing the themes as such; not in terms of content, but re-considering them as maybe part of a different species, a more exotic breed than those I’m accustomed to. I’ve always thought of themes as rather like content – they are ideas or subjects and I suppose I am used to manipulating them, or feeling like I can wrap some abstract thinking around them.

The floating-about I’ve been subject to feels less like my usual experience of themes and more like my memories of getting swept out by an unexpectedly strong current whilst swimming: there is really not very much you can do about where you are going and where you end up.

So here’s a current that has taken me on a little trip and helped me re-species the ‘themes’.

Practice and Projects
For all that ITAWL is a project, it really isn’t – I think it is wearing a project-costume to fit into a frame that includes ACE (Arts Council England) funding, current art-making models and our busy and variable lives. But I think what it proposes, through the phenomena it orients to, is large-scale practice, but like, done by us in our human-sized ways.

I feel these two words, practice and project, relate to very different sorts of art-making. I’ll explain in a roundabout sort of way.

It’s funny maybe that in building towards a performative-interactive art work there is a lot of stuff coming up that can’t really be project-based, perhaps because it’s life-based. These big questions, about:

  • Space and Value – commodification and privatisation of space
  • What makes us feel like we belong? Home and community
  • Where does all the stuff go – Waste and Capitalism
  • Being in my body – Nourishment and taking care
  • Living with uncertainty – How do we live right now? Dealing with the everyday in uncertain times

(As well as the strong sense that we can’t just get off at one stop here and leave the rest for another time… because all these stops are interdependent on the same transport system…)

Art-Making Models
… these aren’t themes any more, although that’s a good short-hand and helped me out greatly when I tried to explain to somebody the other day what I was doing in a forest last week. In trying to explain the sense and importance of relationship in working with all the questions, I got the feeling we were having a deeper unspoken conversation about creative models.

One, where the model of making art is reliant on addressing content (a theme) and creating a product related to that theme, and another, where the model of making art is reliant on practicing the content itself, with attention to the practice as vital to the making, and through that practice, bringing phenomena to life rather than to representation… Product, in this model, is perhaps more of a negotiable than an assumed separable output.

This question of the creative or art-making model is really relevant, something we already know as jobbing artists or makers. Or maybe not all of us identify with that as we only sometimes job as artists… Most recently, we all forest-ed as people. Maybe we don’t define ourselves by our participation in employment (or forests). No matter. We are participating in this ITAWL together and thus, the question of how we go about doing what we are doing and might do, is t/here.

I suppose part of the reason that the questions ITAWL proposes aren’t really themes ‘any more’ (if ever they were!) has to do with their lack of distinct borders. The clarity around what and where something starts/ends, is/is not, also relates, I believe, to the difference between practice and project.

Project, as a word and concept, would fit ITAWL if ITAWL didn’t have size-infinity boots and loads of wavy branches within which the big inter-con-questions of space-time-life-systems-difference/change-value-sustenance-sustainability-uncertainty-presence perch. ITAWL is an ecological sort and needs to be to address the web of questions it has nesting inside of itself. This seems important to name because it is rather different from the dominant mode of project-ing and the dominant mode of art-consumption. I think ITAWL can only really find its home as a practice, or a web of practices that we do together, sometimes in proximity.

Practice and project are of different times and natures. Project feels like it has an end, one that is included from the beginning. Practice feels like it keeps on and doesn’t come with a pre-decided ending. Project feels like if I were clever, I could finish it sooner than I originally planned. Practice feels like a never-ending tale that keeps spinning so long as I keep reading. Practice has a growth orientation that will continue to evolve over time, whereas a project has a border – we can finish a project and go on to something else. We don’t really finish a practice, although we might leave it for a while/ever. Practice seems to refer to itself – it doesn’t lean out into the future in the way that a project does – it stays in the act of doing. If anything practice props itself on the past – if I were to do something once, it wouldn’t be practice. If I do something repeatedly, then it becomes practice, after the fact and in the fact of doing it again. The repetition also points to a loop – yesterdays’s practices feedforward into today’s practice. And I can’t use my clever brain to short-circuit a practice – because then it wouldn’t be practice. Which is not to say that we can’t have a thinking practice. If I never add things up in my head, then I fall out of practice and it’s really hard to add things up in my head. But if I practice it everyday, then it changes and I acquire more skill in adding things up in my head. But I can’t change my skill here unless I actually exercise it.

When I think about ITAWL like this, I feel like the floating, or getting swept out by currents, is really important. Part of the practice time. Being together in the woods felt like group practice. Building a temporary home and a temporary life together. Being together.

Practising
I feel, and think, that to make this work, Charlotte made an intuitive decision to bring it to life, rather than make a symbol representative of thematic content. I think this work is a celebration of the materiality of life (at least, that is where the current has taken me today) and that the only way to really engage with that is for us to practice it. This brings the questions to human-size.

In choosing to step around representation of themes that are too big to represent, I guess we are also making a choice to engage with the non-linear and non-narrative level of the pre-reflective. To be in the realm of the sensory and the perceptual is to be directly in the world, with all the other inhabitants we find there, all the things that verge on all the other things, to interact with what happens as it happens. It’s also to say yes to making a political statement in many ways; it’s to go against the nap of the cultural fabric of bordering, of inclusion/exclusion and representation and work with all the in-betweens of relationship.