Words have power. They don’t just signify objects or actions; they tell stories
that define the world we live in. Signs and symbols become the only way to understand the
world and communicate, and this is not only a mental process, but a memorization of small spatial
stories that we encode into our bodies. Mark Turner, in his book The Literary Mind, discusses the phenomenon
of image schemas, “skeletal patterns that recur in our sensory and motor experience” (p. 16).He notes that small
spatial stories like “the tea pours into the cup”, “he threw the ball”, or “we followed the path”are encoded in the
nervous system in ways that are multi-modal (meaning we can use the same image schema to speak about a story, see it,
feel it, perform an action, or even make a visual or sonic representation of it), and this encoded knowledge can then be
used to understand new stories we might encounter. For example, if we have a conversation about “falling in love”, my experience
of falling—feeling exhilaration and loss of control—comes into play. I am reminded of my experience of forcing my way through an obstacle
when we talk about having a “breakthrough”. My experience of recoveringfrom a cut or scrape is recalled inthe proverb “Time heals all wounds”.
When I consider creating an artistic landscape for emancipated spectatorship, these shared spatial stories are invaluable tools I can use to sculpt
the terrain. If I add a steep mountain (let’s say this is a metaphor for struggling to rise above a difficulty in order to gain wisdom),the
participant will understand both the sensation of struggle and the feeling of being on top. Of course, everyone who chooses
to climb this mountain will be starting from a different place. The real challenge, in my mind, is telling just
enough of a mountain story to allow many participants to co-create the landscape with me. When the
mountain becomes a site of shared discovery,it becomes not just a spatial story, but a social story.
In a similar way, image schemas can also be used to create narrative imagining of how humans
should behave in society: social norms. The labels that we assign ourselves in order to
show our value to others are often reflections of these norms. Those who display them
are considered competent and productive, while those who do not are marginalized.
The pressure to conform can be immense, and choosing not to can cause a
breach in society that can only be resolved by either adapting to
reintegrate the marginalized party or by casting them out.
This is Victor Turner’s theory of social drama, which
he lays out in The Anthropology of Performance.