Symptom Scores R&D Lab, Seeding Space Residency at London Performance Studios, London
A Seeding Space Talent-Development bursary from London Performance Studios supported me to lead a research and development lab with movement and arts practitioners to deepen the creative directions of my Symptom Scores research. Informed by a somatic and political lens, the project explores possibilities for experientially unfolding information within bodily symptoms and reflecting on their relationships to collective and socio-environmental dynamics. During the lab we explored transmitting experiential information through different sensory registers, including drawing, touch, voice and movement improvisation, experimenting with the choreographic potentials of the project and with registering the process for film. Some of the questions guiding this included: What forms of information are expressed in our symptoms? How to make the information in our body experiences more available? What happens when you enter an experience on my behalf? What is held in our symptoms for us collectively?
Many thanks to the participants: Shuyi Gao, Lauren Mair, Sarah Kent, Susanna Dye, Siin Lee, Maja Renn and Yoojin Lee for exploring with me.
Symptom Scores, workshop series at London Performance Studios, London
In June – July 2022, I ran a series of workshops at London Performance Studios as part of their Horizontal Practices programme to expand on the Symptom Scores project I’ve been developing. Structured with processes involving drawing, movement, and time for personal and shared reflection, the sessions invited discovering different ways of perceiving ourselves and the world by considering the relationships between bodily symptoms and the social and cultural environment in which we live. Doing this together supports communal consciousness-raising, imaginative consensus-building and tools for new ‘response-abilities’, enhancing a sense of shared ownership of experiences and moving away from pathologising the individual.
More info can be found here.
Symptom Scores at DARP, participatory performance research, Derbyshire Artist Residency Programme (DARP), Derbyshire
Image credit: Savannah Theis
In early May I was invited to participate in a miniresidency at Derbyshire Artist Residency Programme (DARP), a co-living and co-working art practice experiment situated in a disused school in the Derbyshire countryside. I explored sharing the Symptom Scores methodology I have been developing, for collectively researching creative ways of relating to symptoms and body experiences. Exercises involving improvised processes like drawing, moving and interacting guide embodying and expanding information within symptoms, like a form of dream-work. Underpinning this is the idea from somatic facilitation paradigm, Processwork, that symptoms have a social context and are not only our own, but expressions of a wider field of relations. Exploring together offers a space of mutual care, inviting noticing differences and correspondences within the shared field of experiences, and providing some relief from the isolation often brought upon us by our symptoms.
In the encounter we become something else, workshops for Maike Hemmers’ exhibition This Deep Becomes Palpable at Kunstinstituut Melly, Rotterdam
Maike Hemmers’ This Deep Becomes Palpable exhibition at Kunstinstituut Melly, Rotterdam (2022)
In the spirit of love, friendship and shared interests in creative practices, two groups were invited by Maike Hemmers for workshops lasting a few days. The groups used drawing, movement and somatic methods from Processwork, supported by Savannah Theis, to explore personal sensations and symptoms, collectivity, and colour. Each workshop moved from mapping sensations felt in the body through drawing, to focusing on a specific area, translating these observations into a movement, and exchanging this with another participant. These steps facilitated slowing down, trusting, and perceiving different ways of relating to bodily information. Evolving from this, every participant took turns in interacting with the soft sculptures in an effort to support their momentary needs and desires. With each of these interactions, new configurations and possibilities for what the sculptures could offer were discovered, which went on to inform the colours of the sculptures on view. Embedded in this were the group’s investigations of the potentials of the soft sculptures for activating support around our individual and collective needs and experiences.
More information can be found here.
Symptom Scores on Zoom, online workshop series
A series of self-organised online workshops using inbuilt features in Zoom to explore bodily experiences individually and collectively through drawing and movement.
Sounding Group, online group facilitated at Psychosis Therapy Project, London
Image Credit: Savannah Theis
Running from July – August 2021 at the Psychosis Therapy Project, I facilitated an online space to give voice and listen to what was present in the group. Shaped in collaboration with those attending, the sessions involved conversation, story-telling and collaborative song-writing.
Keep in Touch, dramaturg and voice performer for theatre production directed by Maja Renn, Schauspielhaus Zürich
Image Credit: Aaron Fuchs
Interdisciplinary artist Maja Renn invited me to contribute as dramaturg and voice performer for her production Keep in Touch. My role included research, writing and providing feedback during project development. The multi-sensory production explores different forms of power and imagination arising from the desire for encounter.
Composed of poetic acts that touch and are touched by one another, Keep in Touch brings into contact story-telling, play, image-making, live sound and dance. Three performers in accidentally assigned roles generate various constellations of closeness and distance. They reach out, draw and erase boundaries.
[Text from event page]
Direction and Stage: Maja Renn
Movement and Voice: Songhay Toldon , Ondrej Vidlar, Maja Renn
Live Sound: Magda Drozd
Costumes: Ulf Brauner
Production Assistance: Andrina Imboden
Dramaturgy and Voice: Savannah Theis
Stage Assistance: Ann-Kathrin Bernstetter
Proofreading: Selina Widmer
Premiere: 18th of June 2021
Schauspielhaus Zürich, Pfauen-Kammer
Collective-Body-Dreams, online group co-facilitated with Carol Hardy and Eva Vohlidkova
Image Credit: Savannah Theis
An intimate online group running from February – March 2021. Participants were invited to explore a personal body symptom supported through facilitation by a trainee Processwork practitioner, while witnessed by the group. Processwork is based on the central idea that our physical and relational experiences are a form of dreaming, and that our experiences are not only our own, but part of a collective dreaming process. The group explored how body symptoms might relate to individual and collective dreaming through movement, sensing, drawing, witnessing and conversation.
Correspondences. A Bodcast on Bodily Sensing Delivered in Voice Packets, a collaborative project produced with Valentina Curandi, published by a voice message project, curated by Ines Marita Schärer
Image Credit: Valentina Curandi & Savannah Theis
The first 4-part series of the Bodcast aired in February – March 2020. Read the transcripts and listen to the Voice Packets on the project website.
A series of voice packets unfolding the theoretical and experiential proposition of organ speech and sensibility, in the complexity and diversity of sensorial bodily experiences interpreted as a shared body of sound.
Using sound to channel and map bodily sensations, archiving day by day – or response by response – two female voices articulate a discourse on the body that tries to challenge notions of its ‘sound state’ as societally proper, normal and healthy. By sensing inner bodily movements – or their coinciding happenings -, pains, sensations and symptoms are listened to in their emerging qualities of signalling. They are then explored as signals with which to work through one’s condition and the social conditioning one is immersed in. The voice packets navigate the topics of Body as compass; Archives of bodily sounds; Organs speaking metaphors and Organ speech; Symptom/Sensation; A Sound state; Interlacing narratives on body parts; Patient and Therapist Canon; Belief systems; Conflict Bodies; Public Feelings; Dream Figures.
The experiments and the literary references exposed in the audios intend to cast a light on the psychosomatic nature of the body as a continuum of relations and interdependences. The interlacing of theory and practice is in debt to the research and the writings of authors such as Elizabeth Wilson (Gut Feminism), Ann Cvetkovich (Depression. A Public Feeling), Audre Lorde (Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power), and adrienne maree brown (Pleasure Activism). Underlying principles from the therapeutic-activist paradigm, Process work, guide this experiment.
Working at first as material in a process of exchange, the voice packets created in sound editing and post-production address new listeners and potential new experimenters. In the effort of embracing a shared body of sound, correspondences are found in the voices aiming to reveal patterns for subjectiveshared modes of existence.
[Excerpt of project description by Valentina Curandi]
Bodymind Space/Time, Workshops at Lordship Hub, London
Throughout October and November I will be facilitating weekly workshops at my local community centre. Drawing from a range of fields including movement, art and embodied somatic practices, we will experiment with creative ways of relating to ourselves and one another. Sessions will take on different forms and respond to the group and mood each day. They will be informed by my Processwork training and interest in exploring the multifaceted ways in which people can be supported to come together and listen to themselves and one another. The sessions are a pilot space for bringing into dialogue these various fields and seeing how they might evolve through exchange and experimentation with other people.
Bodymind Space/Time, Workshop Series, London
In early 2019 I initiated an informal workshop series informed by my personal desire to make more space in daily life for relating to and learning from my body. Still in the early stages of this series I have been inviting people I know personally to participate, with whom I share a connection over mutual bodily/movement/performative interests. The activities undertaken draw together and re-compose exercises from various somatic fields, performance and movement practices, exploring embodied experience as a source of wisdom, power, creativity and pleasure. The exercises are enhanced by the intensifying effects of collective pursuit. Searching for possibilities to reclaim space/time within the constricting conditions of a city where time and space are relentlessly commodified, the ongoing aim of the series is to explore how affinities and practices of mutual support are materialised and sustained, and how our bodies might guide us in this process. I am curious about the micro-political potentials and tools this kind of activity may open up.
On Disappearance, ‘Selected drawings from notebook No. 14’, published by SpellBoundPages, Arnhem
For their first issue entitled On Disappearance, SpellBoundPages – a publishing act and binding project initiated by Flora Valeska Woudstra, Valentina Curandi and Leon Filter – selected 12 contributors to respond to the thematic of disappearance. Produced collaboratively through the utilisation of obsolete printing methods, dispersed communications and remote editorial processes, the issue collates contributions that enact, in print, disappearance as a performative circulating condition. Taking an interest in the momentary “dissolution of the body behind the appearance of the symptom” in my body sensation notebooks, SpellBoundPages invited me to contribute 3 drawings and a footnote giving a theoretical frame to the drawing practice, deriving from the field of Process-oriented Psychology and its application in unfolding signals from the body.
“In order to get to know the details of one’s sensory-grounded experience more fully, one experiments with studying and amplifying the qualities of a phenomenon – its essence, its behaviour, its embodiment as a figure, for instance – in a process of consciously going into the experience and relating to it from within. This process invites getting to know different aspects of a system on their own terms and in relation to one another, bringing movement to the dynamic within and between them.”
[Footnote from On Disappearance]
Process-led Performance Workshop at Merso Art School, Athens
Image Credit: Despina Sevasti
In March 2018 I was invited by artist and teacher, Despina Sevasti to lead a workshop with her students in Athens. Structured with a series of exercises based on my continuing exploration of the knowledge emerging in the body, the workshop facilitated embodied sensory processes involving drawing, movement, dynamics of relationship and voice, leading to a performance overlooking the Acropolis.
Body Sensation Notebooks (2017 – Ongoing), exhibited as part of In Support: Violence of support, Group Exhibition, de Kijkdoos, Amsterdam, curated by Baha Görkem Yalım
Image Credit: Lukas Meßner
Savannah Theis’s notebooks contain drawings of bodily sensations made as part of a daily drawing practice, a technique of recording and translating the corporeal into visible forms. Presenting the drawings as they are, within notebooks, demands a different kind of attention to the act of exhibiting, since selecting one page/drawing from a notebook means obscuring all the others, and further evokes the violence between the private and public in relation to support and communizing causes.
[Excerpt from exhibition text]
Practicing (How to follow the individuating process?), performance as part of Maelstrom Slow Dance ~ Graduation Acts, Huis Oostpool, Arnhem
Image Credit: Maike Hemmers
Savannah Theis cartwheels across stage, energetically bringing the audience’s attention to the stage and herself. Her laptop is set up so that she can show drawings from notebooks projected via webcam on a larger screen behind her. She introduces what she is about to do, share some of her drawings in her notebooks. She calls them “practices” and says, “I wanted to share with you some notes on my thinking and reading with the body.” The development of her drawing practice takes form in six books, where the colors, shapes and lines help identify the quality of the experience she was having when she drew them. She presents the drawings by interacting with the webcam, deliberately moving selected pages towards and away from it. Talking about the internal conflict of speaking and not speaking, she says, “my inhibitions to speak affect my ability to speak up, so I want to practice.”
She shows drawings that look like energy radiating out of the throat area, asking, “how to follow my body and experience?” and, “How do I know that my experience is reliable?” These self-searching questions appear in Savannah’s live observations of her own body, and sometimes the connection between her body and the things she is doing are very simple: she says that her mouth is dry and drinks water. Partway through the lecture performance she puts the laptop on her lap and turns it to face the audience while looking through a notebook from her own perspective, going into the feelings ascribed to and associated with colors, textures and line qualities. Beyond the close-up of the pages, the audience sees itself projected on the screen. Her formal choices are interpreted from her personal perspective. In the last, most recent book, she tells us “this is the first time I drew my impatience” and “another headache, but drawn from another angle”, “another vice on my shoulders”, “feeling inverted, a few days before coming here”.
[Excerpt from text by Marianna Maruyama]
Line Exercise, performed during On Praxis – If I Can’t Dance Research trip (DAI), Espace Darja Casablanca & Aït Ben Haddou
Image Credit: Sergi Selvas
Image Credit: Nika Timashkova
In physics, a wave is a disturbance transferring energy from one point to another through matter or space. Taking as a starting point a conception of the world as composed of interrelating phenomena co-arising and interfering with one another, Line Exercise is a score for moving in space in relation and reliance on other bodies.
With eyes closed, a group stands side by side creating a line. The line begins to sway side to side and maintains this movement throughout the exercise. The participants try to synchronise their movement and pay attention to the material impact of their bodies on one another. Once this process has been given significant time to deepen, the person at one end begins to walk, keeping their eyes closed, to the other end of the line and joins it again, using the other bodies as a guide to find the way. When the next person in line senses the first has completed this action, they too make their way to the other end with closed eyes. This repeats with each person leaving and rejoining the line sequentially until the group has traversed an agreed upon distance. Through this sequence, the line redistributes across space.
Blindgestureword Exercise, Valentina, film 08:27, produced during On Praxis – If I Can’t Dance Research trip (DAI), Espace Darja Casablanca & Aït Ben Haddou
A figure walks with closed eyes through an outdoor space. The limbs of the person filming intermittently enter the camera view as they guide and adjust the posture of the figure. The camera acts as an appendage to the activity taking place, shifting between distorting and framing what is happening. Image and audio within the film have been recorded by separate devices. A phone in the figure’s breast pocket registers the sound of their voice as they pause to utter a word each time their position is adjusted. They resume walking with closed eyes until their posture is repositioned again.
Foremost a system of gestures and tone, language arises in the body through the tension between internal and external relationships. Blindgestureword Exercise is a score for exploring utterances that emerge from different bodily positions, activated through the interventions of an external body.
The Griefers of Bandung, collectively written novella, published by ArtEZ Press / Werkplaats Typografie / Dutch Art Institute
The Griefers of Bandung is a novella collectively written and published over a one-year period within the context of a group publishing project curated by Sarah Pierce and Tirdad Zolghadr. Over the course of 7 seminars, the project developed through group writing workshops and the allocation of tasks amongst participants spanning editing, design, distribution, promotion and the logistical management of the project.
The initial concept for the book was to consider the political agency of writing, the potentials and constraints of fiction, and the material possibilities of the novella format, which lends itself to circulation and ease of consumption. Each seminar was supplemented by the reading of literature with a relationship to activist fiction and/or collaborative writing processes including The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin, Reena Saplings by Bernadette Corporation, and Philip: A Novel a collectively written science fiction novel curated by Mai Abu ElDahab.
What particularly guided my research interests within this project was the focus on consensus building as a process – requiring time and trust, self-led exercises facilitating experimentation with collaborative modes of writing, and methods for structuring of the overarching process, guided by the project curators.
INLAND Volume, ‘To Affect and Be Affected: A Goethean Way of Seeing, in Dialogue’ chapter contribution, published by Dutch Art Institute / Casco Projects
‘To Affect and Be Affected: A Goethean Way of Seeing, in Dialogue’ is a chapter I contributed to the collective INLAND Volume, edited by Sanne Oorthuizen and Fernando García-Dory. Conceived of as a ‘para-institution’, INLAND is a project initiated by Fernando García-Dory in 2010 mapping the relationships between territory, geopolitics, culture and identity. It constitutes a platform for thinking through social formations within the framework of rural-context collaborations between artists, curators, farmers, policymakers, amongst others. INLAND Volume was produced over a one-year period, during which each contributor participated in a series of classes led by Sanne Oorthuizen and Fernando García-Dory focusing on a grassroots commoning approach to artistic and social practice. Commoning as a discourse, ethic and set of social practices, promotes the sharing and self-governing of resources by a community, countering the paradigm of private ownership and state or market governance of resources.
‘To Affect and Be Affected: A Goethean Way of Seeing, in Dialogue’ was developed in the context of my research into social models and practices challenging a mechanistic, individualistic worldview. The chapter is comprised of three parts, examining a Goethean approach to scientific study. These parts include: an extract from a Goethean Science outdoor lesson with biologist João Felipe G. Toni, a conversation with social practitioner Roland Playle about his application of a Goethean phenomenological approach to community and environmental work, a bibliography of reading resources and a description of conversation exercises facilitating different experiences of relating, perceiving and responding.
How do different ways of seeing influence our understanding, experience, and relationship with the world? What does it mean, in practice, to apply different modes of perception? The following material examines these questions through the lens of Goethean Science, a scientific practice that applies a qualitative approach to the study of phenomena. Rather than taking the position of a detached onlooker of external events, the Goethean empiricist is an involved participant, conscious of the need to adapt and relate intuitively to the focus of exploration. This process is described as a dialogue between the observer and the phenomenon in question, engendering a situational ethic that emerges from a continual recognition of the changeable nature of all things, including ourselves, which always exist in a dynamic relationship with the world.
[Excerpt from chapter introduction]
Practices in Conversation: What happens when we destabilise our habitual points of reference? Process-led performance exercise, performed for The Kitchen, Not the Restaurant Forum at Dutch Art Institute, Arnhem
Image Credit: Maria Barlasov
The forum space was cleared of furniture and the 50+ audience invited to stand shoulder to shoulder, back to back along the length of the room, and begin to sway side to side with closed eyes. Facilitated prompts, drew participants’ attention to specific aspects of the situation. What happens when you concentrate on the way in which the movement moves through the line? What happens when you relax or when you apply pressure or force to the movement? Along some parts of the line, quiet conversations and distractions took place.
The audience was then asked to explore the room, visually and sensorily, becoming aware of the edges of the space, where the wall meets the floor, what the texture is of the surfaces. They were instructed to close their eyes again and move through the space if they wished, sensing concrete effects taking place in the body when moving through space with other bodies. Different patterns of behaviour began emerging, some people moved to the edges of the room, observing what was happening. Others kept moving with eyes closed, sometimes encountering other participants, navigating through touch.
Following the exercise, participants reflected on the experience. Someone commented on the use of language to mediate and manipulate a set of social relations, and how this might compare to a market, yoga class, or auction house. Another person showed curiosity about the types of conversation arising from a collective embodied
state of mind, and what facilitating such states might offer as a method for dialogue. Somebody else shared it wasn’t important for them to participate and they would rather observe as an audience member what happens when vocal instructions are given to a line of performers, how the words affect the movement and how the actions of the individuals performing have an effect on the rest of the line. A fourth individual observed the dynamics occurring between people despite or in reaction to the instructions given – laughing, joking, stepping out – could be seen as little acts of resistance. What would it be like to amplify these responses, emphasising the emergence of multiple voices and complexity arising through the activity?
Practices in Conversation: Blindfolded Conversation, process-led performance exercise as part of To Make a Work ~ Molecular Revolutions, Group Exhibition, Casa do Povo, São Paulo, curated by Grant Watson & Yael Davids
Image Credit: Eduardo Cachucho, (photo taken while blindfolded)
Practices in Conversation are a series of collective exercises spanning conversation and movement, which address themes of social dynamics, conditions of interaction, the mediation of knowledge between people, and embodied states of perception. These exercises were developed during my participation in To Make a Work ~ Molecular Revolutions, a year-long educational programme at the Dutch Art Institute taking place in 2014 – 2015.
The research framework of this programme focused on the study of subjectivity and micro-politics, taking as a point of departure Molecular Revolution in Brazil (1986) written by French philosopher Félix Guattari and Brazilian psychoanalyst Suely Rolnik. The book documents the ‘micro – political vitality’ of social movements in Brazil shortly after the fall of the military dictatorship. Using the book and a research trip to São Paolo as guides for thinking through the interweaving of macro and micro dynamics in society, participants in the programme developed works reflecting on the politics of cultural practice.
Over under pore over, audio piece 04:23, commissioned by C~C Research Project, Group Exhibition, Late at Tate, Tate St. Ives, curated by Bryony Gillard & Oliver Sutherland
Savannah Theis’s work explores peer learning, alternative communities and collective connections to environment. For C~C, Theis presents a new gestural soundscape of looping phrases and rhythms, made from field recordings and interviews. Through a tapestry of woven sounds, Over under pore over references the craft of basketry and the notion of weaving as a creative approach. Courtesy of the artist, with special thanks to Eileen Delehanty Pearkes and Bristol Diving School.
[Extract from C~C Exhibition Map.]
Practices in Conversation: The Metalogue, a conversation exercise for exploring a problem
The metalogue is a concept originally defined by social scientist Gregory Bateson, who included transcripts of what he called metalogues with his daughter in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, a compilation of essays on anthropology, cybernetics and psychiatry written in the 1970s. Bateson defined a metalogue as a conversation focused on trying to solve a problem, and where the structure and form of the conversation itself has relevance for that problem.
Building on the idea of the metalogue as a practical tool and medium for gaining a deeper understanding about a particular subject, I carried out a series of metalogues with my parents in person and over Skype, exploring topics relating to the roles of the metalogue and democratic practices for social change. Through these conversations our own definition and application of a metalogue emerged:
The Metalogue is a particular method, a structured conversation that follows certain rules. Meta refers to the space behind and around a word (Logos), through which the meaning of the word can be explored. We start with a question, setting up the focus for the rest of the exchange, then take turns one by one in saying spontaneously what comes to us in relation to what has been said. The idea is to be spontaneous and focus on listening, rather than planning what we are going to say. The Metalogue is not specifically about imparting knowledge, reaching consensus or reconciliation. It is a space where the collective understanding of a topic can be broadened and a deeper level of understanding reached by those taking part, but who do not necessarily need to agree or even fully understand one another. A Metalogue comes to an end when the conversation has opened up necessity for a new metalogue.
The Anatomy of Seeing. A conversation, conception and programming of P-E-R symposium event with guest speakers, as part of Bristol Diving School residency at Toast Project Space, Manchester
As part of the P-E-R event programme, Bristol Diving School is hosting an introductory talk and a conversation with two invited guest speakers from distinct specialised fields. Jennifer Rowntree, a plant evolutionary ecologist will be presenting her research on parasitic plants and how they affect their environments. Kevin Kilburn, an amateur astronomer will be talking about his study of the colours of the moon.
Bristol Diving School is interested in the ways in which new meanings and narratives are constructed when different voices and ways of seeing meet. Using the format of the conversation as a tool for collective learning, the event will explore how the fields of art, astronomy and ecology might relate to one another.
The exhibition of P-E-R is based on the Proboscis-Extension-Reader (P-E-R), a web-based project developed by Bristol Diving School over the past 13 months. The website hosts a collection of written and visual essays that navigate through a range of subjects. P-E-R is a collaborative learning tool through which many definitions and perceptions of the world have been collated and processed. It explores DIY approaches to making sense of and engaging with different forms of knowledge.