Panel: Coming to Grips with Embodied Experience in the Arts

Erik Rynell, Acting as participatory sense making

In their theory about “Participatory sense-making” Hanne De Jaeger and Ezequiel Di Paolo extend the enactive concept of sense-making into the social domain. With this theory they intend to explain how “meaning is generated and transformed in the interplay between the unfolding interaction process and the individuals engaged in it”. Their theory builds on the fact that processes of social interaction are complex, multi-layered, self-organizing, and can shape individual intentions (De Jaegher, Di Paolo 2007, Di Paolo, De Jaegher 2012, Cuffari, Di Paolo, de Jaegher 2014). I will argue that this description can also hold true for scenic action, in the actors’ collective way to make sense of the text during their preparatory work, as well as in scenic performance. I also intend to point out that, implicitly, Stanislavski presents an idea of similar kind in his late “method of physical actions”, and in his related idea about “on the floor” analysis, where he recommends the actors to make sense of the text in bodily interplay. A comprehensive account for this method can be found in a work Action Analysis by Stanislavski’s assistant and follower as a teacher at the Moscow Academy (GITIS) Maria Knebel (Knebel 1959, 2006). I will also refer to Katie Mitchell to illustrate how the theory of participatory sense-making can be applied to work in contemporary experimenting theatre (Mitchell 2008). Finally, I will discuss the idea of participatory sense-making in relation to contemporary performance art (Gob Squad Reader 2010). In my speech, I intend to demonstrate that De Jaegher’s and DiPaolo’s theory about participatory sense-making can contribute to a less individualistic approach to the actor’s work, and also make the paradigm of enactivity useful for bridging the gap between representative and non-representative acting forms.

Gretchen Schiller, The mémoire vivante project

The “Mémoire vivante” living memory research project advances the hypothesis that the subjective tacit kinaesthetic knowledges drawn from the dancer’s experience are not valued as part of our kinaesthetic culture. This is largely due to social and methodological constraints. To address this gap, this paper proposes to elaborate upon the ways in which dancer Germana Civera remembers through her body and develops very adaptive embodied cognitive skills through language, metaphor and daily practice. The research will be presented as a performative portrait (prô traho) ‎ pulling and “bringing forth” the dancer’s tacit knowledges as kineaesthetic markers of thirty years of dancing. It focusing on the dancer’s ghost gestures (Behnke) and micromovements apparent through the dancer’s constant shifting of weight from one foot to another.The intent is to extract the idiosyncratic specificities of choreographic experience which altered her physical understanding of the body and contributed to her gestural repertoire.

This videodance project (using motion capture, oral history and videodance) is currently in development and funded by the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme with ÉCLAIR, la Maison de la création, Université Grenoble Alpes.

Lukas Ligeti, Polymeters, Body, and Mind: One Musician’s Creative Experiments with (Dis)embodied Rhythm

Soon after beginning my composition studies, I attended a lecture by the ethnomusicologist Gerhard Kubik about the court music of Buganda (an ancient kingdom now in Uganda). In this tradition, extremely fast, interlocking melodies are performed by multiple players sharing the same tempo but having individual notions of the beat, a way of feeling and hearing rhythm unique to East/Central African music. Listening, it quickly becomes impossible to perceive individually each musician’s part, and we start reprocessing the aural information according to other criteria, such as frequency bands. Such cognitive phenomena were exploited with great mastery by the (probably mostly 18th- and 19th century) composers of this tradition, creating a highly complex composition technique.
This discovery embarked me on a journey of experimentation both as an improvising drummer and as a composer for new-music ensembles. I developed a “choreographic” drumming technique, based on repetitive motion patterns, that allowed me to play rhythmic cycles thousands of beats long, and I attempted to dissociate sound from movement while playing, leading to new ways of hearing and understanding my own playing. I experimented with new modes of interplay between ensemble musicians, developing techniques of relative beat perception. I incorporated melodic and rhythmic illusions into my music, allowing one to experience the music from multiple vantage points, not unlike looking at a sculpture from different sides. And I brought my ideas “home” to my experimental collaborations with traditional musicians across Africa. Computer technology has played a key role in many aspects of this work.

In this paper, I will describe some of my techniques and experiences and show how they derive from concepts from various African traditions. I will also point to possibilities for future development and for collaborations between musicians, ethnomusicologists, and cognitive scientists.

Sally Jane Norman, Performing Arts Incorporated: Poetics of Physical Labor

..theatre is not that scenic parade where one develops virtually and symbolically – a myth: theatre is rather this crucible of fire and real meat where by an anatomical trampling of bone, limbs and syllables bodies are renewed. Artaud

Performing arts offer unique modes of embodiment in the ways they solicit corporeal skills and elicit audience re-cognition. Actors and mimes, dancers and musicians, magicians, circus artists and puppeteers mobilise diverse embodied literacies to creatively shape live action. Genres like live coding, with its staging of computational algorithms, human gestural and inscriptive practices, and machine-rendered outputs, pursue this playful exploration of more-or-less flesh-bound processes vying for the immediacy of non- or beyond-representational presence. Spatial and temporal scales implied by a given performance, and the materials and energies it employs and deploys, are fashioned to reinforce a sense of ‘corporeal exemplarity’ (Barthes). In contrast to habitual task-driven or communications-driven encodings and decodings, the morphokinetic qualities of artistic human action demand expressive and interpretative labor, honing our ability to entertain otherwise inconceivable kinds of liveness.

This, I argue, is the role of performing arts writ large: to make corporeally manifest their poetic construals of liveness that stretch our imaginations, thence our adaptive skills to steadily evolving conditions of existence. Insofar as these manifestations convoke idiosyncratic engagements with materiality – the acrobat contradicts our sense of gravity, the puppeteer contravenes our understandings of inert objects – their appeal to cognition is productively and uniquely ambivalent. Setting longstanding and emerging performance practices in the context of debate on corporeal ‘intelligencings’ (Thrift), I will try to show how they constitute a vital, irreplaceable ‘body of knowledge’.

Antonin Artaud, Theatre and Science, 1948
Roland Barthes, Critical Essays, 1964
Nigel Thrift, Non-Representational Theory: Space, Politics, Affect, 2007

Guy Zimmerman, Ghosting the Radical in the New Gilded Age: Immersive Theatre and the Experimental Politics of Embodiment

Since the 1960s, site-specific experimentation has been a mainstay of LA’s art and theatre avant-garde. In the 1960s and 70s the city’s Arts District provided the Live Art movement with an abundance of urban sites ripe for radical situationist re-encodings. Here, the innovations of Alan Kaprow’s happenings were fleshed out by radical feminist and other activist artists. Given this history it is surprising that immersive theatre only arrived in Los Angeles in 2014, when Wilderness Stage Company’s The Day Shall Declare It (TDSDI) premiered on 7th Street. Immersive theatre, in which the viewer travels at will through a complex staged environment for a singular theatrical experience (Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More, or Third Rail’s Then She Fell) is of a piece with the new emphasis in critical theory on relationality and embodiment. Some critics have connected immersive theatre to narcissistic spectatorship and the entrepreneurial subject of neoliberalism. Others have taken a more benign view, celebrating immersive theatre as a natural extension of Malina and Beck’s experiments with The Living Theatre in the 1960s. Noting how this divergence replicates the discourse around the politics of postmodernism, I bring neo-materialist perspectives from Hayles, Braidotti and Lazzarato to bear on the mystery of immersive theatres delayed arrival in LA. Examining a central feature of immersive theater—how it replaces the generic audience experience with the singular relationality of a unique body—I ask whether it fashions the foundational activist critiques of the past into a new political subjective modality, or instead betrays those same radical antecedents. I argue that while TDSDI reproduces some of the central contradictions of neoliberal capitalism, it also points toward a new subjunctive (“what if?”) mode of politics that replaces neoliberal collapse with a situated, embodied expansiveness that helps to explain its delayed arrival in Los Angeles.