Workshop: A path from Irvine: Theatrical and anthropological explorations of self-knowledge

Workshop: A path from Irvine: Theatrical and anthropological explorations of self-knowledge, Caroline Gatt (in person) and Gey Pin Ang (telepresenting)

This workshop emerges from a collaboration between a theatre practitioner, Ang and an anthropologist, Gatt. This praxis session will intertwine group tasks, brief spoken presentations, a question and answer session with Ang Gey Pin and open discussion. The collaboration between Gatt and Ang has developed along multiple paths: through practical work in the studio, academic discussions and more open imaginative exchanges. This workshop will similarly explore the diverse paths of self-knowledge that emerge from different ways of life and skilled work on the self, and will open up questions about non-relativistic understandings of self-knowledge. We suggest that the notion of embodied cognition can be fruitfully challenged if a broader understanding of selfhood is taken into account.

In her current project Gatt has taken an anthropological approach in parallel to the theatrical investigation with Ang. For this session Gatt will consider Grotowski’s interest in what he called ‘objective drama’, a phase in his work developed in Irvine. This provides a challenging starting point for an anthropological approach to self-knowledge. Inspired by Ingold’s ecological phenomenology and Viveiros de Castro’s manifesto for ontological self-determination, Gatt’s anthropological stance is to take seriously possibly non-commensurable forms of self and self-knowledge.
In this workshop, Gatt will invite participants to explore different culturally and historically situated forms of self-awareness through theatre-inspired tasks. Here knowing by means of theatre, rather than providing an analysis of self-knowledge in theatre is key to understanding different possibilities of the self. Examples of such different forms of self include ‘Western’ notions of self-knowledge as ‘reflexivity’, permeable and partible selves in South India and moments of distended selfhood in experimental theatre.

A pedagogue and performer currently completing a Practice-as-Research PhD at the University of Kent, Ang Gey Pin explores her work as a reflexive investigation of a creative path. Having spent a period of 9 weeks at Grotowski’s Objective Drama Program, University of California, Irvine, in 1992, Ang will trace her path since Irvine.

Ang will briefly describe how her formative training has had significant influences on her and has opened up a path for her work Sourcing Within since 2006. Ang’s current research emphasizes the notion of ‘care of the self’ and the discoveries of the performer’s potentiality via one’s physical and vocal embodiment in a performative work. Her work concerns and relates shared human experience within cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary contexts.

We suggest that work on the self is ontologically generative. Selves and self-knowledge are veritably transformed through joint work in processes of ontogenetic development and growth. Taking this transformational potential seriously, and being aware of its limitations, allows us to transcend relativism without ignoring alterity.

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.

Panel: Embodiment in Arts Education

Shaun Gallagher, The concept of joint body schema in educational practices in the performing arts

During certain types of expert performance, the performer’s actions are sometimes carried along in a way that seems to involve a kind of passivity. Høffding (2015) in an analysis of musical performance has pointed to four factors that are involved in this phenomenon: body schema, emotion, the music itself, and, in the case of playing music together, the other players. I’ll take a closer look at the connection between body schema and the intersubjective dynamics of co-performance. I’ll clarify the concept of body schema and it’s relation to practice, and I’ll look at recent research on the notion of a “joint body schema” (Soliman & Glenberg 2014) and discuss some implications for training in music and dance.

Melissa Bremmer, What the body knows about teaching music

This panel will be about embodied learning/teaching through/in the performing arts. From an embodied approach, the body is not considered as an instrument but as a primary signifier in the cultural transmission of musical and dancing skills – from the perspective of the pupil and of the teacher.

Three ideas in relation to embodiment will be discussed. First, the idea that the teaching/learning process in the performing arts is a multi-modal form of teaching/learning. Teaching/learning dance and music involves the entire body and all the senses: it is a living process that requires a bodily attentiveness and dynamical attunement of both teacher and pupil. Secondly, teaching/learning in dance and music is considered a participatory sense-making activity and is therefore highly relational. It is an activity that can be described as an embodied engagement process in which music and dance experiences are exchanged, coordinated and shaped between pupil and teacher and between pupils. Rhythm, pulse and timing are co-constituted and co-regulated in the interaction. The third idea is that art itself is aesthetic and expressive-affective. In learning and teaching music and dance meaning is created together: the aesthetic and expressive-affective meet, and from this meeting meaning arises. In other words, what is being learned settles in the body. Learning/teaching in music and dance is a relational, emergent practice in which the social, the physical and the cultural coincide.
The panel starts with an introduction by Shaun Gallagher about the notion of “joint body schema” as related to the performing arts. The other presenters will look into the implications of this concept for the teaching/learning in dance and music, connecting it to multi-modality, participatory sense-making and art as aesthetic and expressive-affective experience. The subsequent lecture performances enable the translation of the theoretical concepts into hands-on, lived experiences of embodiment in arts education.

Jaco Van den Dool, Learning with the body: investigating the link between musical interaction and the acquisition of musical knowledge and skills

Despite empirical evidence claiming that emotional and bodily processes underlie our cognitive decision making and social functioning (Yang & Damasio 2007), the pervasive body-mind dualism, the Cartesian split (Crossley 1995; Howson & Inglis 2001; Merleau-Ponty 1962), has been deeply rooted in education (Armour 2006; Bowman 2004; Chodakowski & Egan 2008; Powell 2007; Evans & Davies 1996; Reid 1996). This study aims at challenging the body-mind dualism with empirical research, claiming that conscious bodily participation significantly enhances the acquisition of musical knowledge and skills.

This paper examines the acquisition of popular music by young Nepali musicians for whom local traditional music occupies a preeminent place in their music learning process. The way they apply their bodily learning strategies in local traditional music to popular music sheds light on the way musical knowledge and skills might be acquired in general. Therefore, the central question in this study is how bodily learning processes in the form of interaction, gestures and entrainment result in the acquisition of musical knowledge and skills in popular music. The outcomes are based on data collected in Kathmandu, Nepal, from 20 band rehearsals
Derived from a qualitative video analysis and a binary logistic regression, two patterns of learning emerged, indicating that musical knowledge and skills arise out of bodily interaction between musicians. The first pattern, in which they mainly observe their peers or teachers, comprises of human action observation (Calvo-Merino et al. 2005), imagining the observed movements with motor imagery (Cox 2011) and connecting this to previously acquired musical skills. The second pattern demonstrates the transition from human action observation to conscious participation with the body. Consciously aligning the body with the dominant pulse seems conducive to the learning process. Understanding these patterns contributes to embodied music education and caters to body-mind learning strategies of students.

Eeva Anttila, The potential of dance as embodied learning

In this presentation I will discuss the notion of embodied learning and argue that dance can be considered a special type of embodied learning. I will also argue that dance may have yet undiscovered educational potential beyond learning dance. Research in physical education (e.g, Singh et al. 2012) suggests that increased physical activity during academic classes seems to be connected to better learning outcomes. Dance is most often a multifarious physical activity that involves multimodal processes, social interaction, various modes of reflection, creative processes, and performative elements. The combination of music and movement in dancing is yet another factor that in light of brain research seems to warrant more attention. In all, dance may connect non-symbolic, multimodal sensations with symbolic, cultural meanings in an embodied, performative activity where multiple meanings can be shared, negotiated and interpreted. The performance elements and cultural aspects of dance open wide possibilities for learning that is grounded in embodiment but reaches towards complex cultural meanings. During this presentation I will outline my current understanding on dance as embodied learning, developed through several years of research and practical work in dance education (e.g., Anttila 2007; 2013; 2015). My research connects theoretical views and empirical findings on embodiment, embodied cognition, social cognition and socio-material approaches with somatic studies, dance studies and performative studies. In my view, embodied learning implies that the body should be understood as the site and medium for all learning, and that embodied activity – both the actual movement and bodily experiences of the learner – is fundamental in learning. Understanding the significance of bodily activity coupled with reflective and relational processes is a key in developing a comprehensive view on learning, and may have wide pedagogical implications.

Carolien Hermans, Participatory sense-making in dance improvisation

Most theories on subjectivity look to social cognition from a representationalist point of view. Models such as theory of mind, theory theory or simulation theory all state that the mental state of other people cannot be directly observed and therefore our mind-reading abilities have to rely on common sense or folk-psychological theory. In contrast, the enactive account looks at the problem of intersubjectivity from an interactive, embodied, non-representational perspective. Enaction stands for the manner in which a subject of perception creatively matches its actions to the requirements of the situation. It refers to a pathway in which several related ideas come together and are unified: autonomy, sense-making, embodiment, emergence and experience. De Jaegher and Di Paolo (2007) draw further on these five basic ideas of the enactive approach. They introduce the concept of participatory sense-making. In this presentation I will argue that group dance improvisation is a special form of participatory sense-making. The five interrelated ideas of enactive cognition will be used to show in detail how group dance improvisation is in essence a joint sense-making process. In group dance improvisation multiple embodied meanings (such as affects and aesthetic intentions) are created and shared on the spot, in the moment. This embodied joint sense-making process offers vital learning opportunities for both professional and amateur dancers.

Luc Nijs, Digital painting with music and movement: multimodal learning in instrumental music education

Starting from a specific view on the musician-instrument relationship (Nijs, Lesaffre & Leman, 2013), I will discuss the importance of the embodied music cognition paradigm for instrumental music teaching and learning, focusing on the different levels of embodiment (Metzinger, 2015). Using the Music Paint Machine, an interactive music educational technology that allows a musician to make a digital painting by moving in various ways while playing a musical instrument (Nijs & Leman, 2014) as example, I will elaborate on how the integrated use of different modalities (music, movement and image) can address these different levels of embodiment (morphology, body schema, body image) and as such contribute to establishing an optimal relationship between musician and instrument. In our view such an optimal relationship is a conditio sine qua non for the expressive interaction with music and for the involved musical signification process.