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.
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 report written by Marianna Maruyama]
Line Exercise, performed during If I Can’t Dance Research trip, 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 If I Can’t Dance Research trip, 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 her voice as she pauses to utter a word each time her position is adjusted. She resumes walking with closed eyes until her 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 the Dutch Art Institute, Arnhem
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 interested me during my participation in this project was the self-led experimentation with collaborative modes of writing, the collective negotiation of tasks and decisions bringing into focus particular group dynamics, and the structuring of the overarching process by the project curators.
INLAND Volume, ‘To Affect and Be Affected: A Goethean Way of Seeing, in Dialogue’ chapter contribution, published by Casco Projects and the Dutch Art Institute, Arnhem
‘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 at the Dutch Art Institute, Arnhem
Image Credit: Maria Barlasov
I’d like to share with you an account of the process-led performance. About 50 people participated in the exercise and I invited them to stand shoulder to shoulder and back to back along the length of the room. I asked them to start swaying and noticed conversations and distractions taking place. I experimented with drawing people’s attention to specific aspects of the situation, which had varying effects on the group. 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?
The second phase consisted of asking people to explore the room, becoming aware of the edges of the space, where the wall meets the floor, what the texture is of the surfaces. I then instructed them to close their eyes and move through the space if they wished. I was concentrating on enhancing through voice the different concrete effects that take place in the body when you move through a space. Because of this, and perhaps because of the size of the group, it was difficult for me to feel that I was in dialogue with the situation. Eventually, people started dropping out and watching from the sides of the room. Some lost interest in participating in the activity, others were interested in observing what was taking place. Around half of the group kept their eyes closed and participated until the end.
After the exercise, someone suggested that the experience facilitated an embodied state of mind, which could function as a method with which to initiate a group conversation.
Somebody else observed that the dynamics occurring between people despite or in reaction to the instructions I was giving – laughing, joking, stepping out – could be seen as little acts of resistance. Considering the exercise as a participative work, they suggested to amplify these reactions and behaviours, drawing attention to them and emphasising the emergence of multiple voices and complexity arising through the activity.
Another person shared that it wasn’t important for them to participate and that they would rather observe, as an audience member, what happens when my 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 felt that the exercise functioned well in a context where people are not used to working with their bodies. They appreciated the way in which I had used language to facilitate the experience and suggested that this mode could be developed further through studying situations where people are using language to mediate and manipulate a set of social relations – in a market, a yoga class, an auction house, for example.
[Extract from personal email]
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.