in research practice



An interactive, mixed-media artistic research process – using somatic experience, dance, listening, storytelling, and visual arts to ponder on the topic of distance in research practice.

The focal point of this research process has been the somatic feeling of distance and entanglement and exploring those through movement - captured on film, inspired by and enriched with music by Ólafur Arnalds.

The written story is a secondary translation of the research process, formed by the somatic exploration, movement experimentation, painting, and the process of film-making. I’ve used watercolors as an aid to help me translate and express the inquiry in the form of text.



d i s t a n c   e

somatic exploration

movement, idea, edit: ewa łączkowska

co-production, collaboration, camera: tomek kowalski

filmed on locations in Ruhrgebiet and Neandertal, Germany

music by Ólafur Arnalds ("Undone" feat. Lhasa de Sela & "Woven Song", from some kind of peace album, 2020).
special thanks to Sven Hasenjäger for providing the license.



I can still feel the power of the river current on my skin, inviting me to join the gravitational pull downstream, closer and closer to Earth and her cycles. It was whispering to me: come, come and let me in. Come, so you can become like me. 


I remember the late-evening walks to the ocean. Streets bathed in the last light before nightfall, pavement still warm, echoing the heat of an already passed day. The mountains soaring behind me; their immediate distant presence like a gentle, giant hand on my back, leading me towards the boundlessness of the water. I would reach the cliff and stop for a moment, taking the vastness in, before following the steps down onto the cold sand. The tide rolling in roared the timeless rhythm of the universe.

I would stay till the sun disappeared behind the horizon, echoing on the clouds for a moment longer, and then giving way to the first stars showing up as the night fell on this scrap of Earth. I didn’t want to leave. The ocean felt like home; its rhythm holding all the mystery and love of this world: tranquility, chaos, change, destruction, Life.

But even sitting right at the edge of it, I couldn’t soothe my longing for it. Between the mountains and the ocean, I was lost, unable to come to terms with the heartbreaking vastness, groundlessness, and intensity of this experience. I was there, but I wasn’t: in love with the world in front of my eyes, but too afraid to get intimate with it and see it for what it really was. I thought I knew how it was supposed to be. Hung up on that, I missed what was really happening. The longing could not be soothed. Although the ocean loved me completely, offering me its boundless reality simply by being there, I couldn’t truly love it back.

The Earth travelled four times around the Sun since I last sat on that beach, now over nine thousand kilometers away. But time and space are funny things. They bend and twist, eventually returning to the point they’ve started from – my body. During these four years a lot has happened in me. I’ve began to settle on the Earth under my feet. And though memories fade and disappear, the body keeps remembering. In the rare moments of opening, it turns out that the loving, violent rhythms of the ocean have imprinted on my heart, ready to break it at any moment. The waves ponder on, no matter where I am. They have nested inside me. If I pay attention to my breathing body, I can hear them in the wind, or in the rush hour traffic. I can feel them when I put my hand on the warm earth, or when I press my forehead to the bark of a tree. When I listen to music or dance. In anything. The ocean returns. And in those moments, I can try to finally love it back.

Now what does it mean to love like that?

One description that has drilled into my brain is that love is an act of truly perceiving and receiving, in our deepest nature, through all of our cells, the totality of the other – without judgement, without labelling or expectations; without holding back for the sake of control. If we can get there, even if only for a moment, we begin to know the reality in front of us. We learn to receive the world on a level beyond what we think we know. To love like that means to actually know the other.

Research is also about perception – and ultimately about knowing. In this way, we could say research could – or should – be about love. The love we have for our world. The longing, need, urge to see and to really know – and through that, to finally feel we belong. This is what makes us drawn to research: it is our search for the most fundamental form of intimacy. 

So why do I detect a dissonance there?


I put my hand on my chest, the other on my belly. The world is right there, warm to my touch. The vibration I feel inside seems to have no clear source. The movement of my breathing happening under my palms holds all the mysteries. It extends into the space around me without any regard for the boundary of my skin.

But there is tension. Sometimes subtle, sometimes overt; but it’s there, always. On some level I desperately try to freeze myself into a definable form. A fixed structure. There is irony in that. Even science says that on atomic level, we are mostly empty space, held together by swarms of dancing electrons. Matter is, and has always been, in constant movement. There is absolutely nothing to hold on to.

The tension is a defense mechanism against the inability to control our unfixed nonexistence.

Something happens. We pull back. The world is just so complex and abundant that we cannot handle the intensity of its love. Because we face the fact that the world is unknowable in any kind of tangible way. It escapes our oversee. It’s changing so quickly that as soon as we translate it in a thought, it’s already become irrelevant.

We still long for the shattering beauty of the world, but we protest its ineffability. We want to hold on to it. We want to have it. We want to rage, rage against the dying of the light.

This rage can be described as the basic human condition – but it has nothing to do with love.

Because when we rage against the dying of the light, we rage against our experience. We judge it and through that, we create distance.

So what is distance and what does it mean for research and knowing? This question has been a starting point for this project. Looking back, it has been an experiment in doing knowing with honesty about the distances I create. And an experiment in trying to reduce the distances between me, my experience, you, your experience, and the world.



In its first dictionary meaning, it’s a quality of spatial remoteness. Only the second – a personal or emotional separation – brings us closer to the essence of it.

Etymologically, “distance” comes from “discord, quarrel”; “dispute, disagreement, strife”; “standing apart”. A dissonance.

The old meanings might have been forgotten, but they still communicate our lived reality. The world shows us on every step: distance has little to do with physical remoteness – whether in space or time.

Quantum physics tell us that not even billions of light-years can produce distance between entangled subatomic particles – they still respond to changes in each other.


And even on a more tangible level, distance is not what we think.

Every breath is a reminder of our intimate connection to the Big Bang. 

So breathe.

Water held within our bodies at this very moment has been formed over four billion years ago and delivered to Earth by asteroids; it has been circling through many states, powering many heartbeats, until it reached you and me.


The oxygen and all the elements composing every living cell of your body have been forged in the hearts of distant stars and arrived here, still arrive, as stardust falling through the atmosphere.



Each movement of your body and your every thought is powered by the energy of a sun burning over 150 million kilometers away. Transformed with the help of many organisms throughout Earth's ecosystems, it is able to reach our bodies and keep us alive. 

How far from your every breath to the ends of the universe?

There is no distance between your body and the world. Your body is a direct result of this world. It absolutely needs this world to exist. And with every breath, the world is breaking through all of our imagined boundaries of individuality. From this perspective, distance just doesn’t apply. We are completely immersed in everything – whether we want it or not – or maybe, everything is immersed in us. Whatever makes up our conscious self is just as much a part of the world beyond our skin as every cell we’re made up from.


Breathe. Because it will help you to stay in that feeling for our journey on.

 Although each of the 37 trillion plus cells of my body is intimately linked to everything around me and can’t live without the trillions of symbiotic alliances with others, we rarely feel as connected as we actually are. We are at odds with our experience. We like to think ourselves individuals, and in order to do that, we need to put some distance between ourselves and our immediate, unbroken, undone relationship with the world.

I let my arms move through space, noticing the subtle touch of air on my skin. Headphones on my ears. The music doesn’t seem to come from the outside, but somewhere deep inside; it resonates in my bones, flows through my muscles and tendons, initiating the movement of my body without a conscious thought.

I can’t find a source of it. There’s a whole world inside me, but it doesn’t feel mine. It flows through, breaking the walls separating the inside from the outside.


 Where is the distance?


Alan Watts once pointed out that the brain that makes our perception possible is in itself a member of the external world it’s perceiving. There is no wall between inside and outside. So distance is a matter of adding something between you and the world; something that wasn’t there before. Something that on a deepest level does not seem to exist.

In its nature, distance is a concept. A thought that gets between us and life.

And the HOW of research should be about an honest relationship with our distances.


Our prime relationship with the world is a somatic one. Before the thought, before the concept, before distance, there’s experience. The body knows no words. It touches, smells, and tastes the salty air on your lips. It is familiar with the space inside your cells and the space beyond. It lives in the everchanging eternity of relationship and reciprocity.

On a certain level, the body doesn’t need to inquire about the world; it already knows the world.

But for us, it isn’t enough – or it’s too much.

We want to understand. We want to be able to think about the world. We year to be able to comprehend it and describe it; to make sense of our experience. We do research.

We put stuff between us and the world.

The question remains: how much distance do we produce through that?


The body receives and knows the world – bluntly and without any distance. But for the mind, the world is, at its essence, unknown. And as we approach it, trying to understand it, we are overwhelmed with this. It’s just too intense to be in relationship with the unknown – because it’s beyond anything we can think or name. It has no limits, does not succumb to any category. And this makes us afraid.

So we restrict it. We wall ourselves off. We deny the experience of our body. We cover it with something graspable, something we can control. A concept. A thought. A name. And the world gets lost in the distance, behind the walls we create, so we can pretend that we know; that there is nothing more to know than what we can think.

But there is. This is what the body tells us, if we really listen to it.

There are clues pointing to that in scientific discoveries I bring up here - but facts are not enough to get to the unknown. The James Webb Space Telescope can take images of things that happened billions of years ago in distant galaxies. But the energy put into sending it to space is lost and its images worthless unless we work with our distances. Unless we let them break through our walls and break our hearts with their beauty. And to do that, we need the body. Here, on Earth. 

We can only arrive in the world through our own somatic presence.


Will we dare?


Do I dare?



And if we can get there, how do we convey this experience to others?


This text is just another distance. We sometimes say, we can see things better from a distance, but this text cannot see the world. It can help me understand a certain concept, but it doesn’t walk on this Earth – it moves through words. Its reality is two-dimensional. It’s a translation. A displacement. In writing about it, I force the world into another form. I build a wall around whatever I’m writing about so I can draw something on it and call it “the real thing”.

I add something between me and my experience, because I want to be able to communicate it to you. But writing and reading, painting and viewing, dancing and watching represent different activities. As I write, I picture you reading – but I’m not with you. I want to touch your skin with my words, images, movements,

will you let me do it?


can I do it?

are two different questions.

Research should be about reducing distances between us and the world; us and the people we talk to through our work. And in order to do that, we need to be honest about our own distances; about all the moments we pull back from the world. Because reducing distances doesn’t mean getting closer. It’s about removing the walls and opening up to the world, letting it enter us, and becoming an aqueduct for the endless (un)knowing of the world. It’s an intimate activity.


And this means I cannot do it for you. It’s up to you if you’ll be able to touch this experience.

Or is it?

If research should be about reducing distances, our job as knowledge-makers means translating the world in a way that makes it approachable. Translating in a way that points to the original. Scratching the walls we see around ourselves and the others. It could mean creating resonances through our work; communicating in a way that lays bare the cracks in everything we do. Minding our distances in an honest way and creating spaces that can facilitate experience. We can do it only if we let go of our own walls. Concepts. Credentials. If we let the world speak through us, truly – without putting it in a cage in an attempt to control it.

If in reality, there are no walls between the inside and the outside, what I do affects you. My wall is your wall, in a way. If I break mine, yours will not stay unscratched.

Being a researcher, a teacher, an artist, or a writer comes with responsibility. Because very act of communication is an act of world-making. It enacts a certain space. And it is up to me what kind of space I create here.

Will it add something or rather remove something?

Will I fortify the walls further or go at them with a hammer?


Tao Te Ching says that the essence of everything is emptiness.

An absence.

The function of a house doesn’t lie in its walls, but in the empty, liveable space inside it.

The purpose of a cup is to offer space for your drink.

I often think about something a collaborator said to me on an earlier project: “If I want to facilitate learning, it’s important to me to throw people off their knowing a bit. I search for ways to confuse them, and through that, to make them susceptible to new knowledge. There’s this Zen story about a guy that approached a Zen master and asked him: ‘Tell me about Zen.’ The master took a cup and poured tea. He poured and poured, until the cup was completely overflowing. ‘The cup is already full!’ – exclaimed the guy. And the master answered: ‘Just like your mind.’ You have to empty the cup first, to be able to pour new tea, new knowledge into it. And this is interesting. Some people say that if there’s no knowledge, you can’t understand anything. But it’s not true. The cup is there.”


Research with honesty about my distances requires me to enter a beginner’s mind and look at my own cup first. How much space do I offer the world in my research? Do I sit on this Earth when I perceive and communicate, or am I too busy putting walls up?


Am I able to love the ocean back?



I thought my heart was already broken


it’s not done

as long as I breathe

the world is not done 
cracking my chest
open with
violent loving waves
over and over

deeper and deeper
again and again
until I become nothing
and we become one


Tomek (2023). Aber die Hände…/But the hands…/Ale ręce… WEG DES KINDES.

Reggie Ray (2014). Touching Enlightenment: Finding Realization in the Body. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.

Reggie Ray (n.d.). Online Program: Awakening the Body. The Way of Somatic Meditation. Dharma Ocean.

Naomi Austin, Stephen Cooter & Alice Jones (2022). Our Universe. Netflix series.

JOSIN. Ocean Wait (2017) & Evaporation (2014). Dumont Dumont.

Ólafur Arnalds (2020). some kind of peace. Mercury KX/Decca Records. 

Neels Castillon & Fanny Sage feat. Awir Leon (2020). 間 MA — The Space between all things. NOWNESS

Hania Rani (2023). Dancing with Ghosts. Gondwana Records.

David Abram & Katie Holten (2023). Creaturely Migrations on a Breathing Planet. Emergence Magazine

Tim Ingold (2000). The Perception of the Environment. Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. London/New York: Routledge.


References (in order of appearance)

Claudia Lorenzo Rubiera (2017). If atoms are mostly empty space, why do objects look and feel solid? The Conversation.

Jesse Emspak (2023). What is quantum entanglement?

Online Etymology Dictionary. 

Carl Zimmer (2013). How Many Cells Are in Your Body? National Geographic Science.  

Alan Watts (2015). Reality, Art, and IllusionBrilliance Audio.

Goddard Space Flight Center (2023). The James Webb Telescope.

Lao Tsu. Tao Te Ching. 
    (2011) Translated by Gia-Fu Feng (馮家福) and Jane English. Vintage Books.
    (2007) Translated by Stephen Addiss & Stanley Lombardo. Shambhala Publications.