Reorganizing body vessel towards atmospheric body
Even if, as an artist, I can work with various kinds of understanding of bodies and with all kinds of bodies, and bodies with various skills and body-techniques, in this chapter I open the process of building an understanding of the operative body of this research. My understanding of the body in the field of choreography is based on my studies at the Theatre Academy from 1998–2003 and on my artistic practice since then; and partly because this studied-and-built understanding became obsolete and insufficient for my practice, I was motivated to perform my doctoral studies in the first place.
Background and starting points
Conducting the artistic doctoral research has been a deeply transformative process in many ways, and one of the most significant transformations that the process and experiments have generated for me is in the relation between my body and the intimate choreographic practice. Both have influenced the other; sometimes the choreographic practice has set the framework for examining the emerging body, and sometimes examination and incorporation of a certain concept of the body has informed the choreographic practice. If one changes, it affects the other. In my research project, this relation between body and choreographic practice is conditioned by the material surrounding, so altogether the process of developing understanding between my body and intimate choreographic practice is complexified by the contextual and situational questions. In brief, my process has expanded from the dancing body-vessel in the field of dance and choreography towards the body that operates in the framework of posthumanist visual culture in the field of contemporary art, and it has shifted from the materiality of the human body-vessel towards the atmospheric body-organism. By vessel I refer here to the understanding that I developed during my MA studies and in which the body functions as a container for rehearsed movements, whereas body-organism indicates the porous relation between body and its surrounding and which is the source for the movements of the body. When it comes to studying the various ways the body can be understood, the artistic references influential for my research project come from the historical development of the relation between body and choreography, place and space, and the body in contemporary art, as well as from the field of contemporary science fiction, which also brings awareness about the notion of disembodiment into the artistic practice.
The closest philosophical references that influence my practice come from three directions: Jose Gil’s ‘Paradoxical Body’ (TDR Vol. 50, No. 4 T192), (pp. 21-35) 2006), Michel Foucault’s ‘Utopian Body’(in Jones, ed., 2006 pp. 229-236), and Jaana Parviainen’s writings about the division between the German words ‘Körper’ and ‘Leib’ (Parviainen 2006, pp. 70-76). I have chosen these three references because I find the texts relevant for my artistic practice. Having begun my professional artistic history in the early 2000s, during the research process my aim has been to discover another kind of body that would lead me to another kind of choreographic practice – and vice versa, to discover another kind of choreographic practice that would make another kind of body emerge. Thus, the process has been, and is, an opening towards the im/possible futures of my body. It is important to note that I do not aim to define the body conceptually but what it does and how it operates in the practice.
There are many body concepts that touch my practice, but it is not necessary here to map all the possible understandings of ‘a body’; rather, it’s necessary to keep in mind where my approach stems from and from where it multiplies. The plurality of possible bodies and understandings of bodies in general has significantly opened a broad horizon for me to approach choreography as well.
Problematizing the relation between body and choreographic practice
The main questions during the research have been: What kind of body does the choreographic practice produce? How does one experiment with and continuously probe the developing understanding of the body with choreographic practice?
In my BA and MA studies in dance and choreography in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I incorporated the idea of the body as a vessel for the rehearsed, trained, and repeated movement patterns. The early choreographies that I made were based on this understanding and approach to the body and its relation to the movement. The process of changing and developing the understanding of the relations between the body, movement, and choreographic practice has not been linear but reciprocal, one in which processing the understanding of each of the elements has affected each other.
Many of my works in this research are solo works. Thus, my approach to the practicing choreographic body has been a process in which the conceptual and practical contours of the body has dissolved and expanded in the materiality of one particular body. The second artistic part, #CHARP, is a project in which I have shared and discussed the starting points for the choreographic practice, and in that process the discussions also touched on the understanding of the body that the practice develops and supports.
Even if in this chapter I focus on drawing the conceptual lines of my understanding of the operative body in my practice, I want to emphasize that the choreographic practice and experimentation has been the method with which my understanding of the operative body concept has been developed in dialogue with the above-mentioned discursive materials and artistic histories. This includes taking into consideration my interests in science fiction, in which the body is coupled with technology and imaginary spheres and worlds and which implies the interest in the cyborgian or alien disembodiment and re-embodiment in this specific field.
When it comes to the term embodiment, I understand it as a relational process in which the sense of movement and the experience of movement become manifested as bodily gestures through choreographic thinking. Furthermore, my research project also includes the understanding of choreography, which is not made for the human body to perform it but which is understood as a materialization of the relations of movements that conduct the body. The choreographic practice thus means to set the body into these relations and experiment with that position and situation. In this research, my body can perform the choreographic, but it is not necessary. Choreography does not need a performing human body to be realized in the dance-piece sense, shared as an artwork, and experienced by the viewer as dance. Materialization of the choreographic relations between various movements can be realized through various bodies and mediums, dancing human body being just one possibility.
Training perception and kinesthetic sensitivity: How and where did I start?
In order to probe, de- and reconstruct, and multiply my former understanding of the body that operates in the intimate practice, in the beginning of the research project I experimented with deconstruction of the body vessel by simply standing in the big intersection by the corner of the Theatre Academy. I stood, perceived, observed, witnessed, and received the movements that constitute that specific intersection. The moments of standing were very intense, and the dynamics between the random cars, walkers, and bikers, along with the temporality of the vegetation growing, the decay of the buildings, and the wind on my face, quickly extended to the planet’s orbit and rotation. The body was taking place in the vast amount of different qualities of movements, and this simple opening and sensitizing practice of the body, and training of the perception, was, in the research project, the first step in examining the movements and choreographies that move my body. In training the perceptual sensitivities through this kind of durational standing practice, the body operates as an inquiring, sponge-like substance permeated by the dynamics of the particular location. The intention and the motivation to make an unconventional gesture in that particular intersection, namely standing where the standing was not a general action, was motivated by the need to train perception in an obvious motional circumstance.
In this sense, I do not make any connections to the practice of standing more broadly. Sometimes, while standing, I let my body react to some specific dynamics, but that was not my intention before going into the intersection. In a way, this standing practice exposed the field in which my choreographic thinking operates, namely in the dynamics of various simultaneous multidirectional movements. Examining the materiality of the intersection through standing in and with the movement dynamics, I can link this experiment and gesture with many artistic gestures and works in which the relation between the still body and the surrounding material operates at the core of the proposal; for example, to Valie Export’s Aufprägung (1972), Sebastian Stumpf’s Puddles (2013), and Annette Arlander’s Performing Landscapes series from the early 2000s to present. From the history of cinema I found the final scene of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point resonating strongly with my experience with the intersection. In the scene, one seemingly coherent entity explodes to many directions (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txpKbs-iG3Y last accessed 17.11.2018).
If I think of the intersection as an existing choreographic pattern in the urban landscape, which directs me as a walker, for example, the act of standing in the middle of it resonates all the way back to images from the 18th century in which the dance master is standing at the center of the space with a variety of possibilities for moving (Foster 2011, p. 24). In my case, the possibilities are turned into the already existing movement dynamics that set the conditions for the options and potentials for my body to move instead of understanding the act of standing in the center of the geometrically numb and static plane to be colonialized by rehearsed dance movements. In this perspective, my central positioning is destabilized, and my body becomes one of the many motional agents within the choreographic practice.
Training perception and sensitivity in the intersection also functioned as an introduction to getting in touch with various effects, both received and generated, by the body. The mixture of various temporalities and scales of movement, from microscopic to telescopic and from immediate to beyond one lifetime, also formed a viscosity with which to work. The question that arose from this experiment was how to understand or make sense of this dense mesh of experiential movement through choreographic embodiment and work. Parsing the surrounding dynamics is already a choreographic act in the sense of recognizing and bringing together various movement qualities and their relations. Kinesthetic sensitivity and proprioceptive awareness are highly activated. Since the relation between the body and the surrounding movement dynamics already exposed itself as choreographic, I wanted to continue to explore the possibilities of choreographic materialization of this experiential lived mesh that formed that particular intersection.
The first experiments based on training the perception in the manner described above include my project Seasons as Choreographers: Where Over the World is Astronaut Scott Kelly?, Mesh, A guest, and the Hiding series. In these works, the common denominator of the projects is the approach of the phenomenon of movement being something not to be mastered. These works have many artistic references, such as Anna Halprin’s Hangar (1957), Bas Jan Ader’s Bike Fall (1970), Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ Washing, Tracks, Maintenance – Outside (1973), Andrea Fraser’s Museum Talk (1989), Reijo Kela’s Cityman (1989), Song Dong’s Stamping the Water (1996), Jordi Colomer’s Anarchitekton (2002-2004), Janet Cardiff’s and George Bures Miller’s Ghost Machine (2005), Samson Kambalu’s Draw (2013) and Sari Palosaari’s You Are Not A Thing, The Thing Is Not You (2015). All these works examine and expose the relation between the body and the environmental and material surrounding, which form the broader field in which my four works operate.
My works develop choreographic practice based on decentralizing a choreographer and question his/her relation to the mastery and possession of the movement. Through this approach, another kind of choreographic operative body emerges: a body that has a porous, sensitive, and contextually aware critical relation to its surroundings. I found the expression ‘sculpting the air’ at this point very useful in terms of the choreographic practice. The body that practiced this kind of choreographic I playfully termed an ‘air-conditioned body’, following my understanding of the air being a mediating material in which the choreographic emerges. These processes deconstructed and rerouted my understanding and experience of the body. The body gained another kind of significance from in my earlier works. Instead of operating as a container for rehearsed movements, the body became an atmospheric organism that mixes and gathers various movements together and couples into that dynamic process, not by superimposing rehearsed movements but by reacting to the motional effects and forces that move it. The solidity of the body dissolved in the sense of letting the environmental elements permeate into the body.
In his essay ‘The Paradoxical Body’, philosopher José Gil provides a couple of concrete examples of how the body extends from its contours. In one of his examples, the body extends when it is immersed in a bathtub and a spider is dropped onto the surface of the water; in the other the body partakes of the space and contours of a car while driving it. (Gil 2006, p. 20) For Gil ‘…the body gives itself new extensions in space, and in such ways form a new body – a virtual one, but ready to become actual and ready to allow gestures to become actualized in it‘. (ibid. p. 22) This is an apt description of the body with which I have been experimenting with from the beginning of the research project in order to deconstruct the body vessel with which I used to work, even though to question the notion of ‘virtual’ is necessary here in terms of exterior and interior. The project Mesh exemplifies this approach quite literally; the dense brushwoods can be seen as an extension of the body and at the same time as a motional relational matrix in which the body takes place. It seems that it is this virtual body (extended body through senses) that moves the actual body (understood as a biological organism), but instead of taking this as given, the choreographic thinking operates in my practice as a filter through which the virtual body is actualized and visualized, meaning that the virtual body becomes an interplay between my body and its surrounding.
For Gil choreography seems to operate in the external and temporally before the body’s movement when he says: ‘The dancer senses his dancing. The dancer does not see himself as an object in motion across space, but accompanies his body’s movement (seen from the outside by the spectators) with virtual images formed according to the map he has created from the choreograph’ (ibid., p. 24).
Gil problematizes the relationship between movement and dance with the question of what happens to the movement when it is translated into dance, but what concerns me is that at the same time his expression ‘from the choreography’ implies that choreography is something pre-thought and which a dancer follows as an ‘energetic map’ and which is ‘executed’ (ibid., p. 30). Gil explains, however, how movement in possession aims at dancing (ibid., p. 23), which I understand as a mode and position from which I used to work as a choreographer: movement was something to be mastered by the trained body and possessed in order to make dance. When it comes to the choreographic practice, ‘paradoxical body’ has the capacity to open and shut itself off to space and to other bodies (ibid., p. 29). It is this capacity that conditions the choreographic practice in my research project. If I choose to work with the mode of openness, the quality of processing the incoming movement stimulus is different than if I choose to function in a more closed mode and in practice interpret an internal, planned, artistic idea, regardless of the external movement stimulus.
Philosopher Michel Foucault’s essay ‘Utopian Body’ (‘Le corps utopique’, translated by Lucia Allais from Foucault’s radio broadcast in 1966) touches both my understanding of the human body and choreography as a body. Foucault’s writing helps me to bear the physical limits of the body, and see the science-fictional and speculative potential in the body in terms of body’s temporal and spatial potentials. According to Foucault the Utopian body is the source of all utopias: ‘My body, in fact, is always elsewhere. It is tied to all elsewheres of the world. ... It has no place, but it is from it that all possible places, real or utopian, emerge and radiate’ (Foucault 1966, published as text in Jones, Caroline A. 2006, p. 233). Foucault’s poetic Utopian body has stimulated my practice from this perspective, especially when I have examined how the process of taking place operates choreographically in the first examined artistic part of the doctorate.
The openness of Utopian body also has given me a tender nudge towards exploring and developing the notion of astroembodiment, by which I refer to working with the cosmic choreographies that move my human body on the planet Earth. I am also inspired by Foucault’s poetic way of describing the utopia of an incorporeal body. To have a body without the corpse also nourishes the expansion in choreographic practice. This kind of choreographic art generated by the body that comes from the utopian land, Foucault describes as being ‘where bodies transport themselves at the speed of light; it is the land where wounds are healed with marvelous beauty in the blink of an eye. It is the land where you can fall from a mountain and pick yourself up unscathed. It is the land where you’re visible when you want, invisible when you desire’ (ibid. 2006, p. 229). ‘Virtual, imaginary, intergalactic, utopian, and paradoxical’ describe the understanding of the operational body and choreographic outcome that has been developing in my practice during the doctoral research project.
Philosopher Jaana Parviainen writes aptly of the difference between the German words Körper and Leib. For Parviainen ‘Körper’ means an organic, biologic, and physiologic somatic entity that operates apart from human will, thinking, and emotions. ‘Leib’ for Parviainen is the part of the body from which our awareness stems, from which we move, which remembers and perceives, and which can produce knowledge from its activity. (Parviainen 2016, p. 70) Following this, and in my understanding of what Parviainen writes about the two sides of the same organism, I have become interested in how surrounding movements can be understood as matter that forms my body and how my body couples into this matter. So in this sense, I think my work in Parviainen’s terms considers both sides of the same organism. If I understand body as matter formed by surrounding movements, choreo-orientated practice is a meaningful way for me to build understanding about the artistic process, which could overcome the binary opposition between form and matter.
During my research, I have developed an understanding of the body as an atmospheric organism. Parallel to my studies of the different body concepts that I mentioned above, in order to build more profound understanding of the notion of atmosphere, I have more closely studied the texts by German philosopher Gernot Böhme (1993, 2013), Italian philosopher Tonino Griffero (2014), Australian scholar Stuart Grant (2013), English human geographer Derek P. McCormack (2013, 2015), and Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa (2014).
Atmospheres can be thought of as spatialized feelings (Griffero 2014, p. 36), and we cannot be sure where exactly they are (Böhme 1993, p. 114). I understand atmosphere as the agglomeration of the movements that produce spatialized affects. Through choreographic thinking and work, these movements can be located through the im/materiality of the human body and choreography. According to architect Juhani Pallasmaa, spaces and architectural experiences are verbs (Pallasmaa 2014, p. 231). I understand this in my research in a way that architectural spaces are choreographic elements that constitute atmospheres that affect the way I move. Pallasmaa writes also that ‘as we enter the space, the space enters us, and the experience is essentially an exchange and fusion of the object and the subject… Atmosphere is similarly an exchange between material or existent properties of the place and the immaterial realm of human perception and imagination’ (ibid., p. 232). I am interested in what kind of body this exchange brings forth, how this exchange is embodied, and how does this exchange operate choreographically.
Atmosphere can operate in many ways, and there is an infinite number of possible atmospheres (Grant 2013, p. 22). Philosopher Tonino Griffero presents and analyzes (Griffero 2014, pp. 55-99) various historical models of visual, auditory, tacit, and orosensory atmospheres: climatic (from the shadows of the mountains to heavy rains), orosensory atmosphere (from the point of view of olfactive system), socioeconomical (from department stores to clubs), political (from charismatic leaders to voting decisions), and architectural (from churches to huts). He also presents other concepts related to atmosphere: Stimmung, aura, and ambiance. I chose to focus on atmosphere because of its operative scale, orientational stimulus, and its ecological and planetary connotations, which I found relevant to my practice.
Stuart Grant and Derek P. McCormack write about atmospheres: ‘Their form, beginnings and ends are indistinct.’ (Grant 2013, p. 20) and ‘Atmospheres name the affective qualities of gathering intensities of feeling while always escaping the recognizable form of that gathering’ (McCormack in Hunter, ed., 2015, p. 84). I am interested in the orientation of the formless form as a choreographic starting point and as a bodily state and the choreographic as something that escapes its pre-determined formation, as always evolving. Where does the body or the choreography start, and where do they end and how do they keep on forming? How does one choreographically materialize or embody the disclosure of the atmosphere?
Atmosphere has a long history in arts. Music, visual arts, cinema, architecture, and literature are filled with examples of atmospheres. The personally relevant artistic spheres for me come mainly from choreography, visual arts, and cinema — from Marcel Duchamp’s descending nude to Rudolf Laban’s modern kinespheres; from Olafur Eliasson’s atmospheric works to Sari Palosaari’s architectural installations; from Rimini Protokoll’s urban walks to Ghost Machine by Janet Cardiff and Georges Bures Miller; and from Won Kar-wai’s loving moods to the alien spheres in Jonathan Glazer’s sci-fi film Under the skin. These are just a few examples out of many. Relevant, intimate, experiential atmospheres that my body has engaged with during the research process are the calm early mornings by the sea, wondrous walks in the forests, times in quiet libraries and galleries, and urban experiences in seductive electro-soundscape clubs. These are all bodily felt examples coupled with movement, choreography, and atmosphere.
Atmospheric body and choreography
If a body is understood as an atmosphere instead of a solid, grounded substance, the quality of occupying a place changes, and this shift in understanding of the body also has consequences for the practice of choreography in which place-taking is one operative element. What is the body that choreographs or is choreographed if there are two or more atmospheric viscosities coming together?
In my previous choreographic practice, the body was taken as a solid, impenetrable vessel that occupies the stage with spectacular virtuosic rehearsed movements. Nowadays, the body operates as an atmospheric, translucent organism. In developing the idea of the atmospheric body, the engagement with the division of external–internal space is problematized and instead understood as a functioning porosity. Choreography, which is practiced with the understanding of the solid body, can no longer operate. It becomes incompatible with the atmospheric body that practices choreography. The change in the quality and understanding of the body that choreographs also changes the practice of choreography, and vice versa. My interest turns towards the reciprocity of these two elements.
When my understanding of the body changed, choreography – which I practiced based on the understanding of the solid body – collapsed, because that kind of practice became incompatible with the atmospheric body. But the question is, How? If two spheres - that of the body and that of the place in which choreographic practice happens – meet, the relation between them becomes gaseous, spreading, elusive, never finished, open-ended, and without clear contours. Maybe one of the clearest examples to consider is in how the air that I breath transforms into the body and vice versa. In experimenting with this example, I am extending the moment of transformation from gas to the body and staying in the state between the two substances, air inhaled and the body understood as an atmosphere. Or, if I look at the clouds forming and deforming, there are two bodies in action, atmosphere and the cloud, and both of them are gaseous. With this kind of porous understanding of the body, the practice of choreography can no longer operate as a practice of a solid construction, because the gaseous body no longer holds choreographic pre-ordered and planned construction. Choreography thus becomes something other than a preplanned linear coherence. When I reached this point in my research, Jean Luc Nancy’s notion of struction helped me to build further understanding of how this other kind of choreographic relation operates and what the choreographic practice with this kind of a body does.
‘What is at stake in this process is sense: Whereas we were in the habit of relating sense to an ultimate purpose or final end (whether it was one of history, wisdom, or salvation), today we are discovering that ends are proliferating at the same time as they are constantly transforming themselves into means’(Nancy 2015, p. 45).
From here as well my take on embodiment as related to enacting the sense of movement and experience of movement through choreographic thinking started to evolve. I don’t delve further into Nancy’s struction here, because in this commentary there is another page in which I take a closer look at how the notion of struction impacted my practice.