Introduction


Having outlined in the previous chapter some of the basic guidelines and ideas that underlie the Manipulations, this chapter further elaborates in more detail on the practice of the Manipulations in the context of the training with Body Weather Amsterdam. I will focus in particular on those aspects of the Manipulations that I personally consider most relevant in order to indicate what was at stake in the development of my doctoral research, and in the transformation of this training practice into a medium of artistic research.

 

As a result of this bias, my account of the Manipulations is necessarily partial and highly subjective.x It is, furthermore, provisional in the sense that it is open to future change and modification, and it is propositional in that it does not claim to make any statements about the practice of the Manipulations itself that can be proven as either true or false.x Refusing any authority, my aim is to share my understanding of the practice, and to articulate it in a way that encourages further unfinished thinking, with the hope of cultivating the potential for difference, rather than suppressing it.

 

My experience and conception of the Manipulations is largely shaped by my work with Body Weather Amsterdam, and by training with the two founders of the platform: Katerina Bakatsaki and Frank van de Ven. Moreover, I wish to acknowledge here that my knowledge and understanding of the Manipulations is based on countless times of practice with a great many practitioners who have contributed—each of them in their own way—to how I have come to conceive of this practice.

 

Transmission


I want to begin my account with a description of the typical process of transmission, as it took place at Body Weather Amsterdam. Usually, the transmission of the practice to newcomers would happen over the course of several days during a one-week intensive workshop. Every day, one or two sequences of the Manipulations would be introduced, for example Numbers One and Two on the first day, Numbers Three and Four on the second day, Number Five on the third, Six on the fourth, and Seven on the last day. At this initial stage of transmission, the focus would be on teaching the form of the Manipulations, i.e. on the specific way in which a touch-manipulation is given, where and how to place one’s hands in order to give weight to the receiving body, how to direct one’s weight in relation to the particular anatomical structure and individual features of the receiver’s body. The teaching would be done by either Bakatsaki or Van de Ven, by demonstrating one individual touch-manipulation after the other on the body of an experienced practitioner. This demonstration would be accompanied by verbal explanations and there would be time to address further questions brought up by novice students.

 

After the introduction of a complete sequence, for example Manipulations Number One, participants would get together in couples and repeat the same sequence together as a group. Ideally, the couples would be mixed so that a more experienced practitioner would partner up with a novice, to ensure that the latter would not only have the experience of giving the newly learned Manipulations, but would also get a first-hand experience of how it feels to receive them from someone with experience. Typically, a few more guidelines would be given out beforehand as how to approach the actions of giving and receiving. For example, the givers would be instructed to work gently and carefully, and to not push or force anything. The receivers would be asked to relax their bodies, to make themselves available to be moved, and to breathe out making an audible hissing sound. The giver would be instructed to closely listen to the breathing of the receiver and to always give a touch-manipulation in sync with the exhalation.

 

In the course of the workshop week, a new section of the series would be introduced every day, and the sequences learned during the previous days would be repeated. Accumulating knowledge in this way, sequence by sequence, participants would thus have learned the entire series from One to Seven by the end of the week. At this stage of the transmission, the focus is mainly on teaching the form of the Manipulations, to make sure that the novice acquires enough basic knowledge to continue the practice—if desired—in the regular weekly trainings.

 

This first phase of the transmission of the Manipulations provides novices with no more than a starter’s package that consists of some basic tools, the main components and a succinct manual. It is the kick-off to an open-ended process of learning-by-doing. It is then literally in the hands of the practitioners to find out, in the future, what it is that they will come to learn in and through the practice. After the initial week-long introduction, it typically takes some time for the practitioner to first become familiar with the form of the practice, to learn each individual touch-manipulation by heart, and to remember their order. In this early phase of getting acquainted with the practice, the focus is on learning to give the Manipulations. In line with Spatz, one could say that the emphasis at this stage is on embodying the technical knowledge that structures the practice of the Manipulations in the form of relatively stable and reliable pathways of action.x Repetition, and practicing the Manipulations with more advanced and experienced practitioners, are crucial factors in the time following the initial transmission. In the weekly trainings, the knowledge that had been embodied in and through the Manipulations would be passed on from practitioner to practitioner through learning-by-doing.

 

As soon as newcomers have become more acquainted with the basic technical principles of the form, the focus gradually shifts from learning what to give to learning how to give. This is the moment when one has gathered enough knowledge of the practice in order to open up to the Manipulations’ complexity. One starts to realize that the aim of training is not the successful execution of a pre-conceived action, but to construe the practice as a site of investigation, where questions are potentially more interesting and productive than finding answers. These questions may at times seem banal, but they invariably touch on fundamental issues of the human condition – what a ‘body’ is and what it does. One soon comes to realize, furthermore, that there are no definite answers, because bodies are different every day, and that knowledge in and through the body can only ever be provisional, since the conditions for the possibility of bodily knowledge are constantly changing, as are the bodies themselves.

 

Learning the practice of the Manipulations is not the same as learning how to ride a bike or to swim. While both riding a bike and swimming can be construed as practices structured by technique, the extent to which these daily practices become automatised is very different from Body Weather’s approach to the process of embodying the Manipulations. In the Manipulations, any form of automatised action is considered as cutting into and limiting the wealth of possibly infinite relations. Automatisation is understood as a form of fixing and reducing the complexity of experience. To learn and to master a technique to the point that its automatisation masters the practitioner is completely the opposite to the aim of the Manipulations, which is a practice that underlines the active role of reflective awareness in the process of embodiment.

 

The Bracketing of Language


One of the strategies employed in the Manipulations, and at the same time one of the few outspoken rules, is to abstain from using language during the practice. In their interaction, giver and receiver should not talk to each other to share their experience or to immediately give feedback to their partner; for example, whether or not a specific touch-manipulation is effectively ‘working’ for the receiver. The idea behind the suspension or bracketing of language during the Manipulations is that it prompts practitioners to activate and intensify, by all means, other modes of non-verbal communication; for example, listening to the rhythm and quality of their partner’s breathing, sensing the effect of touch and weight on their partner’s body, and being alert to any kind of bodily reaction to their giving.

 

To avoid misunderstandings, what I consider the ‘bracketing of language’ in the Manipulations refers first and foremost to the suspension of verbal conversation between the giver and receiver during the practice, in order to focus on sensation. This does not mean that language is fully bracketed, but that the exchange between the two bodies is restricted to non-verbal physical means of communication. The ‘bracketing of language’ in the Manipulations thus concerns a particular modality of the expression of language – the verbal exchange between the two partners.

 

Having said that, the following also needs to be pointed out: as I witnessed in my own and others' practice, the risk of bracketing this particular modality of explicit verbal expression is that it is also extended to another modality, which is the implicit action of thinking in the medium of words. In other words, the imperative of ‘No talking!’ can easily become misunderstood as an imperative to not think (in the medium of words) in order to be able to better focus on sensation. In this latter case, then, the bracketing is no longer partial, but becomes extended—whether intended or not—into a comprehensive suspension of language.x

 


“Is this body part really completely relaxed?"


“Does this feel like the right direction?”


“Could it relax even a bit more?”


“Is this too much weight?”


“Are we at the limit?”



“Is this painful?”


“Can we go any further?”


“Are you aware of this tension here?”


“Is it possible to breathe through the pain?”


“What happens if I change my focus and re-direct my attention?”



Questions like these, amongst many others, inevitably come up in the course of the practice. The problem is not the fact that they do come up. On the contrary, these questions genuinely belong to the practice. They are a vital part of the ongoing negotiations between the giver and the receiver during the practice. The worst thing that can happen is to stop asking questions, because this is a sign that the doing of the practice has become automatic, and that the potential richness of the experience has become reduced. Indeed, the constant questioning of one's own perceptions is the driving force that keeps the practice alive and thriving.

 

The idea behind the suspension of speech is to shift the mode of articulating these questions from verbal to non-verbal, and to work on refining the sensorial capacities so that the conversation can happen by means other than through language. The bracketing of language as the privileged means of human communication requires practitioners to establish and develop new or different sets of relations between each other. It asks practitioners to tune in more deeply to each other’s bodies and to open themselves up to other sensorial channels of communication. Bracketing language provides the opportunity to read and listen to, more closely, not only the body of your partner, but also to your own body. The suspension of language is thus a constraint that enables the reconfiguring of the material means of communication by refining the sensorial tools of exchange, in particular the sense of touch. Touch becomes the privileged medium of a mode of communication that happens in between bodies and under the skin – subcutaneous communication.

 

If the worst thing that can happen is to stop asking questions, the second worst thing is to ask your receiving partner whether a given touch-manipulations feels ‘right’, or to explicitly comment on your partner’s giving, for example by asking them to give more (or less) weight, or by telling them that the direction of the given weight does not feel good to you. Of course, one is always free to speak up in a situation of immediate danger, for example in case of an existing injury, or because of a real risk of contracting one. But as a general rule, one should abstain from using any language to communicate. Linguistic shortcuts are seen as reducing the complexity and intensity of experience, and as obstacles to the development of sensuous knowledge. The use of language is considered too easy a solution to the challenge of non-verbal communication between giver and receiver; it provides the possibility to make shortcuts, and to bypass the necessary creation of new sets of inter-corporeal relations and of other modes of knowing between the two bodies – which are the actual goals of the practice.

 

Linguistic Framing


There is yet another issue, which has to do with the understanding of language that underlies its bracketing. According to Bakatsaki, it is one of the key targets of all Body Weather training to strip the process of sensing from linguistic frames. While she acknowledges that sensing does not happen outside of language, and that a pre-linguistic stage does not exist, the undoing of embodied language concepts is a major point of concern for her. Bakatsaki herself has experimented with different modes of speaking during work that is similar to the Manipulations, but she deliberately chose not to work with speech during the Manipulations, since she preferred to keep concept-forming and the process of speaking completely separate from this practice.x

 

The problem that I see with the notion of undoing linguistic frames from sensing is that it seems to suggest a uni-lateral power relationship between language and sensing. It appears that language is conceived as the oppressive power that colonizes and dominates the sensing body, which thus makes it desirable to liberate bodies from the imperialism of words and concepts. To me, however, this seems a one-sided and limited idea of the relationship between language and body. While there may be some truth to conceiving of language as holding the potential power to frame our sensing and to shape our perception of experience, it also seems possible to me to construe the relationship differently, and to emphasize the transformative potential of language as a tool for changing these very frames.

 

To me, the question is whether language can possibly be employed in the Manipulations in such a way that neither imposes linguistic frames, nor immediately reduces the complexity of experience by offering potential shortcuts. How can we change and re-configure the material conditions of communication between the two bodies, while at the same time maintaining the complexity of experience, and without principally excluding the use of language during the practice? Is there a possibility for sensing and language to co-exist, and to correlate, without one dominating the other?

 

Apart from this, it seems to me that the proposed undoing of existing language frames does not itself operate outside of language, and that the aim of undoing language concepts must not be to end up simply in speechlessness. The pedagogy of Body Weather is crafted not only on non-verbal learning-by-doing, but also on words. It employs language as a means to transmit and direct practices. As we will see in Chapter Four, Body Weather draws on a particular vocabulary in the instruction of the training and when giving feedback. Therefore, it seems not entirely unproblematic to me to proclaim the undoing of linguistic frames, while smuggling in new ones by the back door. Even if these new linguistic frames advocate notions such as change and openness, they are still framing, and potentially fixing, experience in these terms.

 

Suspending Thought (in the Medium of Words)


In my own experience of practicing the Manipulations for many years, the suspension of language and the emphasis on the sensorial qualities of experience often went along with a rather repressive attitude towards thought occurring during the practice.x One of the side effects of bracketing language is that any thoughts that emerge during the practice, and which are not directly related to it, are considered to be distracting, and to interfere with the material practice. It seems that the bracketing of language in the Manipulations, and the foregrounding of the tactile, kinaesthetic and proprioceptive properties of experience, often go together with the assumption that the having of thoughts, likewise, needs to be suspended, as if the proper place of thought—and by extension the act of thinking—is outside of the actual practice.

 

There may be good pragmatic reasons for why the bracketing of language in the Manipulations is chosen as a pedagogical strategy, particularly in the phase of transmission and early learning. It is important for practitioners to train their sensitivity and to develop their capacity to communicate non-verbally, in the medium of the senses. I do also acknowledge that it is important to emphasize that there is a kind of thinking beyond words – a thinking in the doing, in the sensing, in the action of making dance. It has been an important philosophical project to situate thought beyond language,x and to develop alternative epistemologies of practice that are able to account for non-linguistic modes of knowing. x

 

I want to propose that the revaluation of non-linguistic modes of thinking and knowing would be better enforced not by the exclusion of linguistic modes from the practice, but by their tempering. In the case of the Manipulations, I see a real risk that the repeated and continuous exclusion of language over the course of years of practice may eventually become embodied as a separation between language and practice, creating a gap between words and worlds. I consider it one of the core issues of artistic research to challenge this division, and to give equal value to linguistic and non-linguistic modes of articulating the knowledge that is created in, and embodied through, artistic practice. My research reconsiders and revises the bracketing of language in the Manipulations, and it explores how its inclusion can possibly lead to new and different kinds of thinking and knowing.

 

(Imaginary) Breathing Through


An important aspect of the Manipulations is the cultivation of a specific mode of attention: omni-central, non-hierarchical, distributed, peripheral and reflective. One of the practices that I was introduced to in the training with Body Weather Amsterdam as a means to develop this particular kind of attention—and that I came to rely on in my own research—is called ‘Breathing Through’.x

 

In this hands-on duo practice, one person lies on the ground with closed eyes, relaxing their body and breathing out so that it makes a hissing sound.x After the lying partner has taken a couple of breaths to arrive on the floor, and the giving partner has tuned in to the rhythm of lying partner’s breathing, the giving partner gently places one hand somewhere on the torso of the lying person, without giving any extra weight. The person lying on the floor then starts to send their breath towards the hand, breathing in and out, as it were, through the place of touch. The person touching the lying body observes the movement of the breath with their hand on the torso, while paying close attention to the smallest perceivable sensations, which might be a change of the skin’s temperature, a tiny movement or a tremor of a muscle – anything that can be perceived.

 

After a couple of breaths, the giver’s hand moves to another place on the lying person’s torso, who now re-directs their breath and sends it to this new place of touch. Both partners continue to work in this way for some time. After having visited a couple of spots on the torso, the giver starts to touch parts of the body beyond the torso; then, after some more time has passed, the giver can also use the other hand for touching, offering the lying partner the opportunity to breathe through two places of touch simultaneously (both partners are still accompanied and supported by the hissing sound of the lying person’s breath).

 

This may go on for altogether about ten 10 minutes, until the touching person withdraws. The lying person then continues to work alone. By drawing on their memory and by using their imagination, they return to as many places of touch as they are able to, and they continue to breathe through these virtual hands. They may choose to explore the difference between breathing through one place of touch and several places of touch at the same time. They may also imagine being touched at other places of their own choice, and combine these places of virtual touch with places where they have actually been touched. There is no limit to the potential number of—virtual and actual—places of touch that can become part of the exploration.

 

In the practice of Breathing Through, no part of the body is privileged or the centre of attention. The attention is not fixed to, or focused on, any particular place of the body, but is distributed to many ‘centres’ at the same time. It reaches out to the body’s peripheries, touching the perceptual limits at the threshold to the unknown. It is completely up to the receiver how to construct the process, and how to employ memory and imagination in order to (re-)create the experience of Breathing Through.

 

After having worked alone for a couple of minutes on what I call ‘Imaginary Breathing Through’,x the receiver brings the work to an end and the two partners have a verbal exchange about the observations they made during the practice. This exchange might encompass observations about places where the sensation of the breath's movement could pass through the body more or less easily; about the difference between breathing through either one or several places at the same time; about the differences of intensity between actual and virtual places of touch; about the capacity to split one's attention to several places of touch simultaneously, and about how this omni-central mode of attention affected the body's perception in relation to itself and to its environs.

 

(Imaginary) Breathing Through as a Relational Technique of Alteration


Both versions of the exercise, Breathing Through and Imaginary Breathing Through, can be conceived as open-ended investigations into the relations between touch, skin and breathing. But they are more than that. The practice(s) of (Imaginary) Breathing Through offer(s) an approach to studying the process of perception through an exploration into the constitution of attention. (Imaginary) Breathing Through fosters a notion of ‘receiving’ that foregrounds the share of activity in the process of perception. There is a great amount of action in perception,x regardless of the fact that the particular modality of action—attention —is not easily available to be perceived from the outside.

 

Omni-central reflective attention plays a crucial role in the alteration of a body’s perception in relation to itself and to its environs: the image of wholeness and of the unity of one’s own body becomes dissolved, and the body’s self-perception as a separate entity is destabilized. As a result, what comes to the fore are a body’s inner and outer perceptual peripheries. The skin plays a particular role as a boundary and passage that is activated from both sides by—actual and virtual—touch, as well as by the receiver sending their breath to the place of touch. Both the actions of touching/being touched as well as breathing through the place of touch increase the perception of the skin’s permeability. This bilateral, reciprocal opening of the boundary-passage marked by the skin enables the activation and creation of different relations between the two bodies, and, by extension, of the relations between body, place, things, objects, etc.

 

(Imaginary) Breathing Through is a preparatory practice for the Manipulations that enables a body to alter the relations it has to itself and to other bodies. According to the sociologist Olli Pyyhtinen (2016), the notion of ‘relations’ is broader than that of ‘relationships’. Following him, relations are not connections between pre-existing elements. Instead, relations constitute the properties and capabilities of the related elements, which are ‘connectivity’, ‘connectedness’, ‘connections’, ‘links’ and ‘associations’, as Pyyhtinen writes.x He further underlines that the existence of relations cannot be taken for granted, but that their creation is a laborious task. Following Pyyhtinen, I suggest that we consider (Imaginary) Breathing Through as a laborious practice for (re-)creating relations, structured by techniques of breathing—hissing—and by an omni-central mode of reflective attention. The relational technique of (Imaginary) Breathing Through plays a crucial role in the constitution of ‘receiving’ in the Manipulations.

 

Sensing, Perceiving, Reflecting


What else is there, besides Imaginary Breathing Through, that informs the process of receiving in the Manipulations? I have already mentioned above that the Manipulations are concerned with a deep relaxation of bodies. One of the main tasks of the receiver is to work constantly on minimizing muscle tension, and making their body available to be moved. Any kind of movement that could possibly be initiated by the receiver should be bracketed during the practice, similar to the bracketing of language. In order to drive on the action of minimizing muscle tension, receivers are prompted to constantly reflect on the following three questions:

 

  1. Is my muscle tension zero?

  2. Are there any places of holding?

  3. Are there any places where I am in a mode of stand-by, i.e. ready to move by myself?

 

By approaching the action of sensing-receiving through reflecting on these three research questions, practitioners have concrete points of reference through which they can examine the process of perception in relation to different qualities of tension in their bodies. However, reflecting on the perception of sensations may create more problems than solutions. Already, the differentiation of tension that is implied by the three questions may be a reason to rack your brain, because they presuppose the existence of different kinds of tension by making a distinction between ‘zero’, ‘holding’ and ‘stand-by’. However, what are the qualitative differences between these kinds of tension? Can the differences actually be detected and felt?

 

From a pedagogical perspective, the point of making this differentiation is to encourage the practitioner to search for appropriate strategies to efficiently tackle each particular kind of muscular tension in its most appropriate way. For example, there is the kind of tension that can be released by the act of will: as soon as you notice tension in your shoulders, you may be able to let go of it by telling yourself to drop your shoulders.

 

There is another kind of tension that often cannot be released so easily by an act of will, because it has hardened to the extent that it has become fixed in the form of a permanent holding. In this case, the tension might stay, even when you make the deliberate attempt to relax, for example, your shoulders. It may be possible to release some of the holding—for example, by breathing through, or by letting your arms hang loose—however, holding is a more persistent form of tension, and it may take more time and practice to get rid of it.

 

‘Stand-by’, finally, is yet another kind of tension that is so minimal that it is hardly perceptible. Stand-by is a state of getting ready, of building up a certain readiness potential to move before the actual execution of a movement – it is a proto-movement.x In the Manipulations, for example, stand-by is created by the mere expectation of being touched or moved by the giver, and by the receiver’s attention moving to the according body part.

 

The task for the receiver is to constantly check their body in relation to the three questions, and to ‘cut’ any of these different kinds of tension as soon as they come into their perception. The action of cutting and switching off tension, holding and stand-by is an ongoing and open-ended practice that by its nature cannot ever reach its goal. Throughout the Manipulations, tensions of all kinds inevitably build up. The action of releasing tension can easily become a habit and routine. One of the objectives of reflecting on the three questions is to continuously reactivate one’s attention in order to avoid falling into automatic repetition.

 

Meta-Reflection


The experience of a touch-manipulation can be overwhelming. The sensation of pain, for example, can be so intense that all of your attention is drawn to one place in the body. As an effect of working (too) hard on cutting the tension that is building up, and of trying to breathe through the pain, your attention may eventually become fixed and focused on one particular area (of touch, tension, pain) that starts to assume a central place and captures all your attention. What can you do if this happens? How can you get out of it? How did you get into this situation in the first place?

 

Most likely, it was out of habit. Your attention became attracted and focused by the intensity of sensations, and your perception of these sensations signalled: “PAIN! Oh! MY pain!” You got stuck in the perception of pain, and the more attention you paid to the sensation of pain, the more fixed you became in the organization of this sensation, in your perception of the sensation, and the more difficult it became to make a change.x Your attention got fixed and centred in the perception of the sensation of pain; everything else, every other sensation of your body, was pushed into the background. Your perception was captured by one particular sensation amongst the potentially infinite number of sensations you were possibly able to attend to. All your attention went to a sensation, allowing it to take centre stage.

 

This is the cue for meta-reflection to intervene. By constantly reflecting on the process from a macro-perspective, practitioners strive to obtain a picture of the overall situation and to possibly intervene in the ongoing process.x The act of receiving should not at all be mistaken for passivity or submission, although this is how it may seem when looking at it from a distance, from outside the practice. The receivers are neither extradited to their givers, nor do they become merely passive objects of their own experience. Instead, they play an active role in how the practice takes shape. By reflecting on the process of perception, and by constantly re-directing attention, the receiver cuts into the process of perception before it has the chance to organize micro-sensations into a macro-perception.

 

To give an idea of the workings of reflection, consider the following example. In Manipulations Number One, the giver places their hands on the receiver’s legs above the knees and directs weight through them into the ground. Typically, the perception of the receiver will recognize the accompanying sensations as being caused by the hands of the giver; it will extract the recognition of ‘hand’ from the field of experience and focus solely on that. What meta-reflection does is to cut this exclusive perception of ‘hand’ and to re-direct attention to the field of sensory experience. This effectuates a shift in the mode of perception from recognizing and knowing that “This is the hand of my partner” to a mode of directly experiencing sensations. The macro-perception of ‘hand’ becomes dissolved into micro-sensations of intensities. With this cutting and dissolving of perception from macro into micro, the linguistic frame of the concept of ‘hand’ is undone.x In my understanding, it is this technique of triangulating sensation, perception and reflection that sets the grounds for an altered perception of ‘body’, for an altered ecology of experience, and for a ‘body without organs’.x

 

Giving and Receiving


I have already indicated above that the roles of giving and receiving the Manipulations alternate throughout the practice. Partners seamlessly swap roles after Manipulations Number Two, Four, Five, Six and Seven, with the giver becoming receiver, and vice versa. It is important to see that the actions of giving and receiving are not separate from each other, but rather overlapping and interweaving. Not only do the two partners alternate the roles of giving and receiving, but the approach to the act of giving also draws on some of the same techniques that structure the process of receiving, such as the minimizing of muscle tension and the heightened awareness to breathing in order to intensify the connections between the bodies.

 

I also mentioned above in the section on transmission that the main focus at the beginning is on learning by heart the form of the touch-applications. As soon as the form has become sufficiently internalized, the focus shifts to questions related to the how of giving, and a whole new field of investigation comes within reach, opening up the potential complexity of the practice. While it may seem from the outside that ‘giving’ is the active part and ‘receiving’ the passive one, I hope that I have been able to show that it is far more complex than that.

 

Throughout the practice, the two partners enact both roles and swap perspectives, carefully listening to, and reading, each other’s bodies. They train and learn to use non-verbal means of communication in order to negotiate their limits and boundaries. They enable their partners to experience their bodies in ways they would otherwise never be able to do. They agree to bracket their emotions and their preconceptions of what they know about each other in order to enable one another to have an encounter with the unknown. They render their bodies into Weather for the other. In this sense, they become Weather.

 

From Inter-Subjectivity to Inter-Corporeality


Becoming Weather in the Manipulations coincides with a significant change in the terms of relations between the two partners in the practice. The usual social conventions between two human subjects are temporarily suspended as a means to clear the path for a mutual agreement between the two bodies to lend themselves to each other as tools for changing the condition of their bodies. What is the goal of this (ex-)change?

 

One of the aims of the Manipulations is to alter a body’s relations to itself and to other bodies, human as well as non-human. I consider the process of alteration in terms of a shift from the inter-subjective to the inter-corporeal. In the Manipulations, for the time of the practice, the social, psychological, linguistic and emotional conventions of inter-subjective human relationships become bracketed. Instead of inter-subjective relationships, it is the physical properties of inter-corporeal relations in terms of touch, breath, kinaesthesia and proprioception, among others, that become foregrounded and intensified. Needless to say, this shift from the inter-subjective to the inter-corporeal is not a state that can ever be fully attained by a practitioner, but is a matter of degree. ‘Alteration’ is not the ultimate endpoint that one finally arrives at, but a movement towards. It is not a result or a product of the Manipulations, but a process with the Manipulations. Here, the process is the product.

 

Bracketing


In the phenomenological tradition, the action of bracketing, or suspending, the ‘natural attitude’ in the encounter with a given phenomenon is a key methodological principle. The idea behind this is that by suspending our ordinary way of taking a certain phenomenon as given, the focus is shifted to the question of how this phenomenon is given to us, i.e. how its appearance is (co-)constituted through our conscious engagement with it.x

 

Similarly, in the Manipulations, the bracketing of language and of emotions is a way to suspend our ‘natural attitude’ in relation to the body of our partner, and to shift our attention from what seems to be a body that is simply given to the question of how this body is given to us, i.e. how it is constituted in and through our conscious experience of it. It needs to be pointed out, however, that to ‘bracket’ something does not mean that what is bracketed has become completely absent. Parviainen and Aromaa (2015) suggest that “bracketing is not neglecting or ignoring something but changing focuses regarding the contemplated object”.x I understand ‘bracketing’ as a kind of putting at rest, a temporary disabling, a deactivation. According to this, the bracketing of language does not mean that you no longer know how to speak, but that you are not making use of that knowledge, and instead are shifting your focus to other means of communication.

 

Similarly, bracketing emotions does not mean that you do no longer have emotions, but that you choose not to express them, for example by rather shifting your attention to the concomitant feelings and sensations. Bracketing subjectivity does not mean that you get rid of it, but that you focus, for example, on suspending the will to move ‘by yourself’, and on allowing yourself to be moved by someone else. The technique of bracketing thus plays an important role in the process of alteration, because it lays the ground for the emergence of an altered network of inter-corporeal relations, in which inter-subjective relationships are backgrounded.

 

The ‘Body without Organs’


Training with Body Weather has been likened to the killing of your body ego.x I do not agree with this assessment. In my understanding of the training, it is misleading. The drastic language suggests an unnecessary—and unintelligent—degree of violence against the body-self. I do not consider the bracketing of the self as a killing of the body-ego. My notion of training with Body Weather is closer to what Deleuze and Guattari (1987) write about the making of the ‘body without organs’ (BwO).x Following them, making yourself a BwO is an endeavour that needs to be approached with caution and intelligence. It does not mean killing your ego, but always retaining enough subjectivity in order to survive the existing reality while advancing the creation of the BwO:

 

You have to keep enough of the organism for it to reform each dawn; and you have to keep small supplies of signifiance and subjectification, if only to turn them against their own systems when the circumstances demand it, when things, persons, even situations, force you to; and you have to keep small rations of subjectivity in sufficient quantity to enable you to respond to the dominant reality […] If you free it with too violent an action, if you blow apart the strata without taking precautions, then instead of drawing the plane you will be killed, plunged into a black hole, or even dragged toward catastrophe. Staying stratified—organized, signified, subjected—is not the worst that can happen; the worst that can happen is if you throw the strata into demented or suicidal collapse, which brings them back down on us heavier than ever.”x

 

The point is thus not to kill and get rid of your organism, but to keep alive a sufficient share of your subjectivity so that you are able to change the organization of the organism:

 

[…] The BwO is not at all the opposite of the organs. The organs are not its enemies. The enemy is the organism. The BwO is opposed not to the organs but to that organization of the organs called organism.”x

 

According to Deleuze and Guattari, by striving to kill your body-ego, you are missing the target. You will botch making yourself a BwO, because if your subjectivity is completely erased, then who or what could be the drive behind the re-organization of the organism? Instead of killing your ego, it is wise to retain enough subjectivity in order to advance a rigorous program of experimentation. They propose approaching the project of creating the BwO like this:

 

This is how it should be done: Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continuums of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of new land at all times. It is through a meticulous relation with the strata that one succeeds in freeing lines of flight, causing conjugated flows to pass and escape and bringing forth continuous intensities for a BwO. Connect, conjugate, continue: a whole ‘diagram’, as opposed to still signifying and subjective programs. We are in a social formation; first see how it is stratified for us and in us and at the place where we are; then descend from the strata to the deeper assemblage within which we are held; gently tip the assemblage, making it pass over to the side of the plane of consistency. It is only there that the BwO reveals itself for what it is: connection of desires, conjunction of flows, continuum of intensities. You have constructed your own little machine, ready when needed to be plugged into other collective machines.x

 

One thing to keep in mind during all work of experimentation is that making yourself a BwO is a practice of going towards a limit, and that it is not an endpoint that could ever be reached: “You never reach the Body without Organs, you can’t reach it, you are forever attaining it, it is a limit.”x

 

Body Weather training, and in particular the Manipulations as part of that program, affords practitioners a way to study, and experiment with, techniques of displacing subjectivity by cultivating a kind of inter-corporeality that foregrounds relations to the more-than human. In my own experience, practicing the Manipulations with sensitivity and intelligence provides relatively safe grounds for such a displacement, and for encountering the unknown in a responsible and informed manner. Nevertheless, the displacement of subjectivity and the encounter with the unknown do not come for free. They inevitably require exposing oneself to situations of vulnerability, and this may not be suitable for everyone. Sometimes, and for some practitioners, it may be better not to take the risk. Pushing the limits can be serious stuff, and before pushing them it might be better to approach them with care, or even to stay safely away from them. Sensitivity and sharpness of mind are indispensable elements at all times and for all parties.

 

There is, however, a protection mechanism that usually prevents some, particularly newcomers to the practice, from physical or emotional harm. The process of learning the Manipulations, and of acquiring the capacity to enter the practice in-depth, usually takes long enough so as to prepare practitioners for the boundary experiences that might show up at a more advanced stage of the practice. At this point, one is usually able to read the signs indicating whether this is the right way to go or not. It is never the aim to cause someone to suffer mental, emotional or physical injuries. The practice can, nevertheless, be very powerful, and for some it may be better to stay away from it.x

 

 

[1] See Snow 2002 for a more comprehensive analysis and description of the Manipulations.

[2] See Latour 2004, 211-214, as well as my discussion of his notion of ‘proposition’ in Chapter Three.

[3] See Spatz 2015, 41, as well as my discussion of his notion of ‘technique’ in Chapter Three.

[4] See also below the section ‘Suspending Thinking (in the Medium of Words)’.

[5] See Bakatsaki 2018.

[6] I do not want to generalize my experience to other practitioners, but I would guess that my case is not an exception.

[7] See for example Manning 2012, 213-228, and Manning 2013, 149-171.

[8] The notion of non-linguistic modes of thinking is further discussed in Chapter Three and Chapter Six.

[9] It was Frank van de Ven who first developed this practice (Van de Ven 2019).

[10] This hissing sound is created by curling the front part of the tongue upwards towards the gums, leaving open a small gap through which the exhaled air can pass. In the Manipulations, the hissing sound supports the attuning of the two bodies. Originally, when I was introduced to Breathing Through, the hissing was not a part of the practice. However, in the course of the collaborative research for the second artistic part, we realized that the hissing sound not only intensified the bodies’ perception of space, but that it also helped both partners to stay attentive and not drift away.

[11] In the collaborative research for the second artistic part, we also spoke of ‘Imaginary Hands’.

[12] See Noë 2004.

[13] See Pyyhtinen 2016, 29.

[14] Manning conceptualizes the building up of movement potential in the form of stand-by through the notion of ‘preacceleration’, which she defines as follows: “Preacceleration refers to the virtual force of movement’s taking form. It is the feeling of movement’s in-gathering, a welling that propels the directionality of how movement moves. In dance, this is felt as the virtual momentum of a movement’s taking form before we actually move.” (Manning 2012, 6)

[15] There are, of course, also other kinds of sensations than pain, sensations that are enjoyable and that one does not tend to resist. The point here is not to judge a sensation as being good or bad, pleasurable or uncomfortable, but to highlight that it can potentially (conventionally, habitually) become subtracted and placed at the centre of attention, drawing attention away from other parts and places of the body, and reducing multiplicity in the field of experience. Against such a contraction and centring of attention, Body Weather promotes a radically non-hierarchical approach to sensation and attention. See also Fuller 2014.

[16] In the vocabulary of Body Weather, this is called ‘monitoring’. See Chapter Five for the Glossary.

[17] This is how I understand the operation of undoing linguistic frames, as discussed above. The concept representing the perception of ‘hand’ is undone and broken apart into the specific sensations that are possibly triggered by ‘its’ touch. I say ‘possibly’, because as a result of the omni-centric mode of attention, one does not actually know who or what exactly causes a sensation to happen. A sensation is most likely constituted by multiple relations. As a product of co-embodiment between giver and receiver (and the environment), one can never be sure which other influences have take a share in its formation. The number of possible influences is infinite.

[18] The concept of the ‘body without organs’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987) is discussed further below.

[19] See Pakes 2011, 41.

[20] Parviainen and Aromaa 2015, 10.

[21] See Cardone 2002. See also Taylor 2010 for a critique of the notion of ‘emptiness’ in butoh and Body Weather training.

[22] In Chapter One, I have already pointed out the connections between Min Tanaka/Body Weather and the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. In 1997/1998, Frank van de Ven and Rolf Meesters led a research project titled ‘How do you make yourself a dancing Body without Organs’, inspired by the Master’s thesis of dancer/choreographer Claudia Flammin (1996), who draws on the concept of the BwO in order to articulate the philosophical implications of Body Weather and Tanaka’s work (see http://www.rolfm.dds.nl/webbwo/textzero.htm).

The concept of the BwO was very important for my own development as a performer and artist-researcher. I first came across the BwO in 2001, when I read the corresponding chapter in A Thousand Plateaus in a theory course at the School for New Dance Development in Amsterdam. Some time after I started training at Body Weather Amsterdam in 2002, the connection between the two became clear to me, which felt like a kind of revelation at that moment. Body Weather and the BwO were a perfect match. However, the connection was so obvious to me that articulating Body Weather through the BwO seemed to be anything but innovative. Therefore, when I started with my doctoral studies in 2009, I bracketed the BwO, hoping to discover concepts in relation to Body Weather that would be able to shed new and different light on the practice.

Nevertheless, I recapture the concept of the BwO here, to point out the spirit of rigorous and relentless experimentation that is at work in Body Weather, and to indicate the potential risks and pitfalls. As Deleuze and Guattari state so clearly, making yourself a BwO is not a question of violent exorcism or self-destruction, but one of careful and well-considered action, requiring the development of adequate techniques. The Manipulations can be considered a technique designed for making a BwO. One of the original aims of my research was to articulate the (bodily) knowledge that is created in this process, and to reveal the language that is employed in directing it. In the further course of my research, the focus shifted to the question of how a BwO thinks, and how this thought can be brought to expression through language (see Chapter Three to Chapter Seven).

[23] Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 160/161.

[24] Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 158.

[25] Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 161.

[26] Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 150. For a discussion of the BwO in relation to touch, see Manning 2007, 134-161.

[27] During my time with Body Weather Amsterdam, Bakatsaki and van de Ven always approached newcomers with the utmost care and sensitivity. There were cases in which they advised practitioners not to join or to drop out of the training because it overburdened them.

Chapter Two

The Manipulations with Body Weather Amsterdam