Choreography as Reading Practice
In this doctoral artistic research project, choreography is understood as reading practice, and more closely as hyper-reading practice. I have been developing and experimenting with this approach throughout the research process, in the first and second examined artistic parts, in other artistic works, and in the workshops that I have facilitated during the research-process. In order to build understanding about the choreographic sensibility of reading, the main operative notions in my practice have been movement, choreography, place, space, and context, with which I have been experimenting in the artistic parts of the doctorate. The practice has been in dialogue with various theoretical and philosophical materials such as philosophy of movement and Western philosophical history of the notions of place and space. In building my understanding of the choreographic potential of reading, I have studied reading theories by Wolfgang Iser, Louise M. Rosenblatt, James J. Sosnoski, and N. Katherine Hayles. I have not aimed to apply the studied reading theories to the practice, but they have been helping me form conceptual understanding of the development of the practice, mainly when learning how to explain what happens during the reading practice and how choreography can be understood as reading practice.
Both of the examined artistic parts of the research project expose and experiment with the choreographic prospects of reading. The first artistic part consists of five works and one contribution from visual artist Sari Palosaari, with whom I collaborated during the first artistic part. The second examined artistic part is a performance called #CHARP, which exposed the practice and embodiment of Choreography as reading practiceas a performance for three performers and one stage manager. The difference between the first and second artistic part is that in the first artistic part, I was experimenting with the notions on which I have built my understanding of the choreographic perspective of reading; I then took a closer practical look at the second. In the first examined part, I focused also on the contextualization of the choreographic documents and gestures when exposing the experiments done as artistic proposals. I mean that choosing mediums and materials for the examined expositions and installations was an important part of the first artistic part, whereas in the second part, I and the co-researchers Paula Kramer, Outi Condit, and Vincent Roumagnac concentrated on exposing the bodily practice with lighter emphasis and problematic of contextualization of the practice at hand. Also, other works and artistic processes done during the research process have built my understanding about the topic; as artistic proposals, for example, Meteor and pompom examined the elements that constitute my understanding of Choreography as reading practice. The artistic works are linked to and extend the lineage of site-specific practices and related choreography, and they find their contextual place in the entanglement of visual and performing arts. I call my works choreographic art.
During the research process, I have examined choreographic thinking and sensitivity in terms of a multi-sensorial dynamic process in transforming surroundings through such reading that recognizes various simultaneous multi-directional movements and forces that generate the specific motional material circumstances of various concrete contexts. I have problematized the notion of context from the perspective that these examined movements partly form the context, instead of understanding that context is already existent. This involves practicing-thinking between the notions of text and context and between the practices of writing and reading. According to these starting points, the process of reading generates the potential for choreographic writing. The relation between text and context and reading and writing is thus reciprocal, and I do not consider reading and writing as two separate bodily practices. Between both practices, the notion of movement operates as a coupling; it links the situated body to the intimate material, cultural, and historical world. Choreographic reading produces embodied, experienced translation of the movements, which surround and move my human body. This translation manifests itself in the gestures that the body performs while being engaged with choreography as reading practice.
Choreography and movement
Choreography as reading practice is based on the understanding that movement and choreography are coupled. I thus need to pay attention to the complex question of what I mean by movement and what the movement is that is at stake in the reading practice. Philosopher Jaana Parviainen argues (Parviainen 2006, pp. 15-26) that owing to human motivation to master the world – from Aristotle to the scientific revolution of the seventeenth-century - Western thinking has approached movement as something that follows universal physical laws of cause and effect and viewed it mainly externally, as occurring on a geometrical plane. Rene Descartes, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, and Isaac Newton established the basis for understanding movement in the scientific revolution. The classical mechanics they promoted led to many great discoveries and developments. Parviainen writes how classical mechanics offers an understanding of movement as measured and ruled activity. According to Parviainen, at the end of the sixteenth century and in the beginning of the seventeenth century, Galileo Galilei, among others, was influential in opening a purifying mathematical perspective onto movement where there is no space or significance for the experience or intentionality of the movement itself. Parviainen argues that this mechanical concept is the prevalent concept of movement that directs our understanding of and interest in movement itself.
Understanding movement mechanically also has consequences in practicing choreography. This historical lineage invites us to understand choreography as an organizational tool with which to master movements, their embodiments, embodied combinations, and stagings. As Susan Leigh Foster writes (Foster 2011, pp. 18-26), the mathematical perspective can easily be seen in the development of the notation systems of dance that emerged in Europe at the turns of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when the idea of the bird’s-eye perspective in seeing the relation between the body and movement on a horizontal plane developed. According to Foster, dance notation systems ‘allowed instructors to master various regional styles’ (ibid., p. 25), which fortifies the idea that movement was something to be mastered in a certain hierarchical social practice, namely the court dances. She writes that one of the main goals of developing the dance notations was to document dance steps and develop skills in reading them in order to learn dances without the need of personal instruction. In these notation systems, the space was seen as a horizontal plane where the dance happened. Notation functioned like a map, which was looked upon from the vertical position and in which the human body was central. In the development of notation, Foster also argues aptly how this perspective towards the space invaded the body through the development of the classical dance technique (ibid. p. 40). Nowadays, the question could be how dance notation systems can be thought of as precursors to software (Portanova 2013, p. 8), in which different GPS techniques or Google Earth mappings produce the notion of space and how they affect our movements and routes we take from place to place, for example. The world still seems to be something to be looked upon and controlled from the bird’s-eye vertical position.
As an artist, I can work with various perspectives towards movement and often in the artistic process I go through both more experiential and mechanical phases. So in this sense, I do not see a problem in a mechanical approach to movement, but when it comes to choreography as reading practice, the raw material of it is based on the experiential movement. The mechanical perspective on the relation between the body, its surroundings, and movement has of course been challenged in many ways in the history of dance, choreography, and contemporary art – for example, in the history of land-art, site-specific, and site-responsive practices. Editors of the book Choreographic Dwellings (2014) Gretchen Schiller and Sarah Rubidge call these forms of choreographic practices movement environments or ecosystems, installations, dispositives or choreographic dwellings. In their projects, they have examined experiences from place-as-action as a base for their choreographic works.
The history of the site-specific, land, and environmental art’s body-environment approaches were linked to the contextual choreographic interests in the beginning of my research. For these reasons I have examined the notions of place and space and their relation and interdependence as constituents of choreography as reading practice. In my practice, the shift from theatrical choreography (meaning representational dance piece objects on proscenium stages) to everyday sensorial choreostructions has broadened my understanding of choreography to also operate from examining socio-cultural structures to pondering choreographic landscapes in the earthly environments all the way to intergalactic imaginaries.
If I consider the world where I live and through which I move consisting of a net of infinite movements, I find it insufficient to reduce choreography to a system of control or capture, which can be considered a repetitive and produced closed form, or understood as writing in the sense of a rehearsed and repeated dance piece. In my artistic history in this choreographic perspective, the motional circumstances are taken as given and the choreography understood as a system of organization based on an assumption of an explicit pre-planned structure between a viewer and a mover who masters the movements. I destabilize this structural choreographic thinking and practice, because the aim to choreograph or to make choreography understood in the sense of mastering the movements in an object-like dramaturgy has become obsolete in my practice. The motivation to re-think the practice of choreography, and the relation between choreography and movement in another way, thus stems from the collapse of my earlier choreographic practice. In this research project, I have examined how the movement of the non-human entities create a mobile bio-, geo-, meteoro-, techno-, and ecological relational world-matrix where the body takes place (see, e.g., Ingold 2011, pp. 69–73). This inquiry brings out another kind of choreographic practice. In my understanding, the world is movement; movement is a fundamental ontological realm, like time and space, in and through which my life unfolds. In short, the perspective towards variety of movement ecosystems is infinite: it can be virtual, actual, political, economical, cultural, historical, sociological, geographic, analogic, digital, artistic, and so on. Earth moves, planets orbit, and the galaxies flow within the dynamic cosmic universe.
In considering choreography from this understanding of movement as a broad phenomenon, which constitutes the intimate life-sphere from microscopic to telescopic and beyond, one of the important shifts in my movement-based practice is to understand movement not as going across a chosen place but through it (Ingold 2011, pp. 145-153). In this ‘Ingoldian’ understanding, choreography is not generated or put on the geometrical surface of a chosen place in the world; instead, it is unfolding itself through the dynamic place-world as lived multi-dimensional place-taking from private to public and from the everyday to the imaginary. For my choreographic practice, this means that a chosen place is not considered a static container into which the choreographic work is poured in or taken as a background for human artistic activity. In my early choreographic works, I considered, for example, theatre’s black box as a container into which the choreographic work was poured in, whereas today this container is the choreographic agent, which is not left in the background.
What does it mean to make choreography?
In my research project, choreography as a human artistic activity functions as reciprocal activity with the situated environment and a chosen particular circumstance from the very beginning. The human body is part of a dense relational matrix and the process of ‘taking (a) place’ in the matrix with various choices is choreographic. I have examined this process among body, place, and space more closely in my first examined artistic part. It is important to understand that there is a conceptual difference to site specificity in my practice, if site-specificity is understood as working on, in, or from the site itself. Miwon Kwon (Kwon 2002, pp. 11-33) analyzes the genealogy of site specificity aptly, and my research includes, examines, continues, and partly expands the approaches that can be framed according to Kwon as physical-phenomenological, social-institutional, and discursive. In artistic works, I do not use the word ‘site’ but ‘context’, because it activates a completely different spatial sensitivity, bodily orientation, and terms and conditions for the choreographic practice. Following the earlier-mentioned Ingold, I work through site-conditioned culturally and historically framed social and material circumstances. What is at stake in practice is a moving dialogue between and through an experienced movement, a cognitive analytical process and lived material circumstances that produce choreographic patterns and forms. In this practice, a human centered-idea of a choreographer making a choreography – understood as a process based on a mastered transcendental artistic idea and pouring it into the space-place – is shifted to the background as an insufficient one in order to understand the conditions of movement in the movement-world. This movement-world operates as a choreographic agent, which generates terms and conditions to human movement before the transcendental artistic idea exists.
From this perspective, choreography functions as an immediate coupling of a non-linear action/re-action and perception/re-perception instead of a rehearsed, internal, linearly unfolding representation of the external world. This does not mean that the choreographic action-re-action has to be immediate to be shared with the audience, but the experience of the surrounding movements and the relation between various material objects is a base from which the choreographic proposal forms. To bring this experience into a visual choreographic art can be processual; it can be documented, contextualized, reflected, and processed as such. Of course the transcendental artistic idea can be based on the immediate experience, and many times actually is, but my point is that in my previous artistic practice, the experience of the situated material condition vanished in the processes in which the piece was rehearsed in the studio and then shifted to the stage. Given this, to make choreography thus means here to reconsider the possibilities of a critical contextualization of the process of the situated experiential reading-writing, which unfolds reciprocally with the material condition. In other words, it means to inhabit and to conduct inquiry into the surrounding movement and life-world through choreographic thinking and practice and then to work on the critical contextualization of this intimate process. The two processes coming together form most of the artistic outcomes of this research.
If choreography is thought of as a practice, which produces, generates, enables, and creates movements, then before making choreography I have to take one step back and ask how the perception and experience of the mobile world, as I have described, is choreographed – by which forces and through which motional material? What is the material that forms a possibility for the choreographic to emerge? In my understanding, the term choreographic refers to the mode of making art, and choreography is a result of the making process. In my work, choreographic refers to the orientation whereas choreography refers to the action. So my question about the material that forms the possibility for the choreographic to emerge makes choreography an operation, which negotiates, examines, processes, interacts with, and interferes with perceiving, experiencing, and sensing such materials.
The key to the choreographic in this project lies in the viewpoint that the relation to the material can be simultaneously plural, filled with many different situated and contextual forces. In practice it is crucial to stay open and unfinished towards this plurality. From this viewpoint, making choreography as a human artistic activity examines, studies, articulates, creates, shifts, moves, mobilizes, reroutes, and processes the perception and experience of the chosen moving cultural context. That makes it different from the somatic practices in which the immediate perception and internal bodily experience, per se, can be the aim to be materialized. In my approach, perception and experience go through a complex and critical but sometimes extremely rapid choreographic thinking process, like in the project A guest, before its materialization. In this kind of artistic process, spaces, places, and stable and static contexts turn into trans-dynamic, transforming, interdependent, plural, and reciprocal.
Philosopher Erin Manning writes: ‘To move is to create (with) sense. A body perceives through difference. A change in environment provokes a sensory event. Whitehead suggests that perception is both sensuous (sensed) and non-sensuous (a direct perception of pastness in the present). To perceive is not simply to accumulate sense-data: it is to directly sense relation as the virtual activity inherent in the taking-form of objects and worlds. It is not that a “subject” perceives a world but that the world is pulled into experience. This activity of “pulling” suggests that there is no subject-position that precedes experience. Without an initial perceiving subject, a preformed body cannot exist. Worlding occurs in the process of a world becoming subject, or a subject becoming world. Or, to extend the analysis, subjects are transitory individuations in a processual worlding whereby certain actualities take form in a nexus of “contemporarily independent” events’ (Manning 2009, p. 66).
This kind of reciprocal ‘worlding’ approach towards the relation between movement, body, surrounding, and environment resonates with choreography as reading practice as a process that recognizes, parses, and reroutes simultaneous multidirectional movements within the process of taking (a) place. I understand Manning here in a way that the pulling she writes about can be understood as an embodied process that forms experience and perception. In my understanding and practice, this pulling operates as a constituent of reading understood as virtual activity in the sense of processing the perception and experience of various motional relations. In my project, I add then pushing in the sense of accomplished gesture or movement by the body as a response to pulling in Manning’s terms. This kind of virtual-actual pulling and pushing places the choreographic focus on the relation between the one who perceives and experiences and the perceived and experienced, which is plural. In this multifarious relation, the choreographic emerges through opening and leaving space for the experiencing to be experimental, which, when it comes to the choreographic thinking and embodiment, means that there is no external object that needs to be experienced but relations between several objects that cause the differences in the material world. In these moving relations, movement operates as coupling and at the same time as an object to be experienced and the sensorial mode in which experiencing happens. In other words, the choreographic process includes the intimate process in which ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ dissolve and operate together and in which pulling and pushing are not separate artistic actions.
One choreographic path in the relation of writing and reading
In my early choreographic works (2003-2008), I was interested in inventing, creating and making dance-steps, bodily grouped patterns, and dance moves to be composed on a proscenium stage, i.e., in making repeatable dance piece as an author who writes movements and composes them as closed ‘phrases’. These works were performed in various circumstances as repeatable dance-objects without changing the dramaturgical structure or movements of the ‘piece’, whatever the context or material surrounding was. This kind of artistic aim, production-based approach, and professionalism in the field of contemporary dance lost its significance after a few years of professional work following my graduation with an MA in the Choreography program from the Theatre Academy Helsinki. In this slow and confusing process, in which the practice became meaningless, I realized that dance as an artistic discipline is just one of the possible ones to explore and process movement, its experience, and dis/organization coupled with choreographic thinking, and to process this exploration into the artworks. One of the significant changes happened in the terminology of my practice: I realized that I am not working with movement material but the phenomenon of movement. To understand this meant, practice-wise, an extension from the realm of dance in which I had experienced that movement was something to be possessed, represented, and mastered as movement material in order to produce dance. I found this approach insufficient in terms of the choreographic practice and thinking that I was interested in. Dance pieces as rehearsed, produced, and repeated/repeatable, human-centered artistic forms were no longer of interest to me, but the dis/organization of the broadly understood movement phenomenon and the relation between corporeality and materiality were. As an artist, I no longer recognized myself as a writer of dance pieces in the realm of contemporary dance production.
Through this development of my artistic practice, the starting points for exploring the possibilities of the notion of choreography as reading practice lie in 1) my experience based on dynamic multisensory perception and the sensitivity that my immediate life-world is realized in and through movement and 2) in my artistic attempts to make sense of these perceptions and experiences with and through the mode of choreographic thinking and practice. With ‘a’ world, I mean a complex eco-, bio-, techno-, geo-, and meteorological multiform cultural sphere, which is impacted and in dialogue with the material forces of the human actions and movements. My human body is in movements and motions with non-human moving bodies forming the above-described world. Nonhuman bodies have a different temporality than my body and some of their movements go beyond my lifetime. It seems that some of these bodies, for example buildings or my worktable, are stable and cohesive, but according to new materialist views, their material solidity and inertia is merely a perceptual illusion (Coole & Frost 2010, pp. 1-36; Ingold 2011, pp. 19-32). To be grounded and surrounded with and among these bodies, my movements are co-created. The quality of the surrounding material and movements affect the way I move. This includes taking into account the rotation of planet Earth and its orbit around the Sun. The material circumstances perceived in this way makes it impossible to master the movements; instead I am in various continuous sensory-motor relations with them.
From choreographing towards choreoreading
To emphasize choreography as writing practice is motivated through its etymology. The historical development, purpose, and aim of the dance notation systems affirm this perspective. But notation is also something to be read in order to know or get instructions for how to move. To practice-think choreography as reading practice can be motivated with the same historical development of the dance notation systems. The moment of combining movement, place, and printed symbol to choreography writing (Foster 2011, p. 17) can also be thought of as the moment when a choreographer became a person who was supposed to have a skill to read that notation. Even if writing and reading are not two separate bodily practices but mutually entangled, it is worth thinking about the possibilities, which the operational shift from writing to reading generates, especially when choreography has expanded from human to non-human and from everyday dynamics to virtual dimensions and from physical to discursive realms (Foster 2011, pp. 2-3). Choreography as practice no longer operate only as a human formal order, superimposition, or framing relations to moving bodies but as a way to examine socio-ecological systems and structures in which human bodies move.
The idea of mastering movement as a starting point for choreographic art is insufficient and rather suffocating. When using the word movement, I mean by it an experiential phenomenon as described earlier, but this does not mean to set hierarchies or preferences onto which kind of understanding of movement choreographic art is realized, because the point is in the critical contextualization of the work.
I perceive movement through lived experience. In order to build understanding on how choreography operates as reading practice, in the very beginning of the research process I studied my ordinary, habitual, everyday conditions. I, for example, chose to work in the large intersection by the Theatre Academy where my working room is situated. I chose this place as an obvious motional site, in which it is quite easy to witness how movement organizes the intersection and all come together in a simultaneous, dense, choreographic experience: a stream of bikers and walkers of various ages and in various outfits, the rhythm of the traffic lights, manifold accelerations and braking of the cars, robust forms of the buildings, a seagull randomly spiraling over the intersection, the temporality of the growth of the trees in the middle of the intersection, the breeze on the leaves and on my skin, fresh air in my nose, variations of colors in the asphalt and the grass, knowledge of standing on the earth’s surface moving in space, and sense of grounding gravity pulling me onto the tectonic plate. The density of the experience and the recognition of the multiple simultaneous movement-information are vertiginous. This experience reminds me of the final scene of Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Zabriskie Point (1970), in which a singular composed becomes a beautifully decomposed plural in the framed images.
The notion of movement is conceptualized by various contemporary philosophers as a profound way of being in touch with the world and comprehending, knowing, and making sense out of it (Noë 2004, pp. 75-79; Johnson 2007, pp. 19-32; Manning 2009, pp. 13-28). Alva Noë’s sensorimotor profile of the objects in which place and movement constitute a perceptual significant relation, Mark Johnson’s thinking about the movement and meaning in which the experience of movement is not separated from the world, Erin Manning’s body-worlding in which movement does not have a beginning or ending, and Thomas Nail’s perspective of the ontological primacy of movement support my process of building understanding of movement as a broad phenomenon, which implements and realizes my intimate life-sphere and imaginary beyond the spatiotemporal scale of my life. The movement that I am interested in is relational, perceptually multi-sensory, and affective, and as such it does not have a clear beginning or end. As said, as a choreographer I do not aim to master the movement in the sense of possessing it in order to dance, and that is one of the reasons why the choreographic art and reading practice I am articulating is processual and virtual. It can take various material forms in various disciplinary areas. I have let go of the idea that choreography functions as a construction of or for human-accomplished danced movements, and instead I have started to think of choreography as a way to recognize, examine, and critically reroute how various surrounding relational movements are continuously dispersed and reformed. This shift is based on the experiences in which the entanglement of the perception, sense, and experience of the world and its movements is no longer referring to a sense of construction but more to a sense of a labile sphere in which my body takes place. With this viewpoint, I contribute to the thinking in which choreography is no longer understood as composing of a linear, coherent unity but as processing of simultaneous incoherent multiplicity. Choreography, thus, is a way to comprehend the world that escapes the logic and practice of construction. One of the most important references in building this kind of understanding is philosopher Jean Luc Nancy's notion of struction, which I reflect on elsewhere in this commentary (From construction towards struction). From this point of view, choreography as a human artistic activity can be thought of as a processual inquiry of the situation in which the interpretation of the surrounding movement takes place. This inquiry, which entails the bodily reexamination of the position of and relation toward movement, its materialization, and critical contextualization as art, I call reading.
In the investigations of the choreographic sensibility of reading, it has been crucial to pay attention to the different modes with which a reader (and a writer) grasp, or make, an ‘art-object’. The field of literacy theory and the theory of reading is rich and broad. I limit the research here to the question of what happens during the reading as embodied practice that focuses on movement, instead of examining what reading written texts is. (When it comes to the reading and human cognition, see, for example a comprehensive article about reading models by Keith Reyner and Erik D. Reichle: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3001687/ [accessed 27.8.2016]).
In order to understand better what happens during reading, I have studied mainly four different reading theories from Wolfgang Iser, Louise M. Rosenblatt, James Sosnoski, and Katherine M. Hayles. Each of them contribute building blocks to my understanding of choreography as reading practice, and of course the choice of these specific reading theories is a small fragment of possible ones from the field of Literary Theory. However, to study these four writers more closely has been enough for my purposes, and the studying process has been an ongoing dialogue with my artistic practice during the research process. I present here in brief each one’s approach and relevance to my choreographic practice. Their writings are related, complementary, and sometimes overlapping.
German literary scholar Wolfgang Iser (1926–2007) introduces a phenomenological analysis of the reading process in his essay ‘The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach’ in his book The Act of Reading (1978). The starting point for his analysis is to examine ‘the ways how sequent sentences act upon one another’. (Iser, part II). In his analyses, the reader causes the interaction between the sentences, and it is the imagination of the reader that gives shape to the interaction at hands. This shape-giving is a process of continuous modification of the expectations that are formed by individual sentences, and Iser calls the reader’s viewpoint a wandering viewpoint (ibid, 1978, p. 111). Each sentence evoke a particular horizon, which is modified in following sentences but also with the previously read. Thus, the reader establishes relation between past, present, and future, and by doing this, the reader ‘causes the text to reveal its potential multiplicity of connections. These connections are the product of the reader’s mind working on the raw material of the text, though they are not the text itself – for this consists just of sentences, statements, information, etc.’ According to Iser, this process reaches ‘far above mere perception of what is written’. Iser writes that the process happens in the virtual dimension, which is not the text itself, nor the imagination of the reader: ‘it is the coming together of text and imagination’. The process of reading for Iser is not a smooth process but full of blocks, twists, and turns, which create gaps for the reader to fill by establishing connections. For Iser a text is an inexhaustible potential, and this is the reason that forces the reader to make decisions. The purpose of the texts is then ‘to make us aware of the nature of our own capacity for providing links’. Iser provides an example by explaining how repetitive reading of the same text offers different experiences. The virtual dimension he speaks about shifts, reforms, and moves within the reading in the changing relation between anticipation and retrospection.
When it comes to my choreographic interests, Iser’s example of two persons looking at the same stars is revealing: he describes how two persons can see different things in the same stars: ‘The “stars” in a literary text are fixed; the lines that join them are variable.’ The main choreographic and artistic interest for me here lies in the simultaneous, diverse visualization of the lines and the gaps between words and sentences that Iser is writing about. I am interested in how choreographic practice can be thought of as processing the perception with the coming-together of the perception and experience of the surrounding motional material and imagination. The gaps that Iser writes about is the area into which my practice delves.
Iser’s text helped me understand that reading is about processing the perception in my practice in a specific way. In the practice, my body inhabits the existing relations through indirect visual perception, and by its sensitive kinesthetic skills and movements materializes the textual gaps while at the same time forms new interconnections. By indirect visual perception I mean that my gaze does not take over any objects but scans the relations between objects, which is the area in which the material signs act upon each other. This area is affected and informed by the qualities of the objects that form the relation; in other words they kind of emit colors, shapes, lines, curves, and material qualities into the area the body inhabits. I am aware of the objects through indirect perception but avoid watching them directly; in other words, I do not take over the objects by straight visual contact. The materiality of the textual is understood as the material of everyday life conditions or the airy conditions in which the artistic work takes place, namely between objects and things that form that place. This mode of indirect perceptual practice has developed my understanding of the operative atmospheric body, which I describe elsewhere in this commentary.
During the research process, my works #CHARP and pompom have most clearly been the works that materialize the reading of the raw materials in Iser’s terms. In these works, my body functions as a synthesizer of immense information perceived and experienced in various material relations and conditions with indirect perception. In the works, the body is in constant modification, never finished, never ready, but always negotiating with the choreographic potentials of the relation between the body and the surrounding material, the area between various motional signs. This means that I never select a movement theme or motif to process further but am continuously in the state of making a choice, touching and processing the surrounding motional information. The embodied choreographic at this level of a bodily practice is a result of my selection process from the vast amount of information, and that is all it is: selecting, visualizing, and materializing motional relations reciprocally, with my body and its gestures and movements. Iser’s text supported an understanding of the reading practice being choreographic in a sense that reading is about working with the enmeshed relations and gaps into which the material signs leak qualities. The relations and their interactions, and the moving perspective of the reader, is one important building block in the choreographic reading practice.
After studying Iser’s phenomenological approach to reading, I studied the American literary professor and writer Louise M. Rosenblatt’s (1904–2005) Writing and Reading: The Transactional Theory (1988), which deepened my understanding of the general nature of reading and the reciprocity between reading and writing practices. One of the main contributions to my process from Rosenblatt’s theory is her idea that the writer starts with the blank page, whereas the reader starts with the already written. This is very strongly stated by Rosenblatt and can easily be criticized; however, this formulation fits very well my contextual choreographic practice, in which the conditions are thought of as choreographic agents and material to work through and with. This starting point is clearly exemplified in my works Mesh and Hiding. Also, the similarities with what Rosenblatt points out as composing meaningful text (writer) and composing an interpreted meaning (reader) were helpful in the process of rethinking the relation between choreographer and movement.
From this perspective, the choreographic practice in this research is interpretative practice of movements that already exist and which move my body. The term ‘transactional’ is consonant for Rosenblatt with ‘the twentieth-century shift in thinking about the relationship of human beings to the natural world’.
I have explored the shift of this relation in my practice in the works A guest and Seasons as Choreographers: Where Over the World is Astronaut Scott Kelly? Adjacent to the artistic interests, all this invited me to study Rosenblatt’s theory more closely, because I recognized the relevance of it in the ongoing developing practice. The way Rosenblatt writes about selective attention helped me to understand, and stick with, the practice that didn’t aim to develop any movement motif further, but stay with the state of selective attention of potential motifs. Even if the selective attention is influenced by many other factors, such as fatigue, stress, etc., in particular contexts like Rosenblatt writes, the most significant point for me is that the selective attention is a process that operates in movement and is rapid, non-linear, and fragmented. It creates choreographic possibilities.
Rosenblatt’s selective attention and Iser’s wandering viewpoint supported the practice in which choreographic thinking-practicing is manifested in movements that do not aim to build smooth linear coherence, even if the reader in these theoretical materials aims, in the end, to make sense of the texts. I was more interested in the process of how selective attention and wandering viewpoint operate and take those processes under choreographic scrutiny. Rosenblatt (1988, p. 4) writes: ‘Each additional sentence will signal certain options and exclude others, so that even as “the meaning” develops, the selecting, synthesizing impulse is itself constantly shaped and tested.’ In Rosenblatt’s terms, in the research and artworks I have done, I have examined the moment between certain options and the selecting synthesizing impulse as choreographic potentials, and this has produced a practicing body that is constantly shaped and tested.
The most interesting and influential conceptual dialogue-partner from the literary theories has been the notion of hyper-reading, developed by American author James J. Sosnoski (1938-). In his essay ‘Hyper-readers and their Reading Engines’ (1999), he describes the impact caused by digital, electronic, and computer-assisted reading to the practice of reading. This perspective is highly relevant for my process, because everyday life is filled with reading and writing electronic texts in the forms of emails, text messages, tweets, and online journals. I browse the internet more than I read in printed form. Sosnoski’s notion brought theoretical support of the reading practice in the contemporary techno-condition in which I live and make art.
In his essay, Sosnoski borrows American professor of communication and media Johndan Johnson Eilola’s writing about the hypertext. What interests me in the following quote is how the reader is described: ‘Thinking about hypertext in this way, readers are no longer reliant on the writer to lead them temporarily from border to border in the span of a tale; readers walk around, deconstruct and build, move over and under, exterior and interior’ (Sosnoski 1999, p. 2). The hyper-reader seems to be in a deconstructive movement, thus piquing my interest.
For Sosnoski hyper-reading is characterized by: 1. Filtering 2. Skimming 3. Pecking 4. Imposing 5. Filming 6. Trespassing 7. Deauthorizing and 8. Fragmenting (ibid, p. 3.). What makes hyper-reading particularly interesting is its limitations, according to Sosnoski: ‘loss of authorship, of coherence, of meaning, of depth, of context, and so on’. I’ve been curious about exploring more in depth these limitations, because according to Sosnoski, ‘we cannot operate on the conventions that governed the reading practices of previous generations’. This fit well into my experience of the collapse of my choreographic education, artistic practice, and the need to develop another kind of artistic practice. The main point for me in the limitations has been the loss of coherence in choreographic thinking. Today, my choreographic thinking operates in the realm of incoherent, simultaneous, multidirectional movement instead of linear, coherent, motional, and dramaturgical unity.
By going through Sosnoski’s eight characterizations, it is relevant to point out the following: in Sosnoski’s hyper-reading, the degree of selective attention is taken further by search engines and use of keywords (1. filtering). Less of the text is read, but the amount of the hypertexts is vast in the world wide web (2. skimming). New ways of understanding coherence in which the (3.) pecking is a suitable technique instead of linear reading. When it comes to building a meaning, in hyper-reading the reader is fully in charge (4. imposing), and the text is subservient; this is clear in (5.) filming, where the graphics can play a more important role than the written words. When it comes to the relation between reading and writing, Sosnoski claims that hyper-readers become hyper-writers when they assemble various fragmented texts. In his idea of (6.) trespassing, Sosnoski calls hyper-readers ‘textual burglars’ who copy&paste and reassemble different texts, becoming ‘ardent plagiarists’ and (7) dismissing intellectual copyrights by deauthorizing the hyper-texts and links to different web pages in which, according to Sosnoski, it has become difficult to discern ‘who authored which pages’. ‘Books and essays are being torn to bits,’Sosnoski writes. All this means, for Sosnoski, that hyper-readers may prefer fragmented texts (8.) to linear ones. Sosnoski’s critical concerns (but at the same time hope) towards hyper-reading, as I understand him, lie in the destruction of scholarly reading practices. But the loss of coherence, substance, and depth seen by anti-cybernauts can, according to Sosnoski, be rethought through the praxis of hyper-reading. He doesn’t claim the importance of the theory of hyper-reading but to build understanding through the practice in which the techno-conditioned paradigms of reading and writing are not separate.
When I found Sosnoski’s essay, I was thrilled. The hyper-reader seemed to be a dynamic, deconstructive, reassembling cybernaut, an idea that fed my imagination and practice. Choreographic hyperlinks, copy&pasting, random pecking, etc., helped describe the practice that was in process and in development. As an embodied choreographic practice, I was aiming to build an understanding of the dynamic incoherence and to build a practice in which the body could function as a cybernaut in the sense that the movements that move my body are visited, imitated, counteracted, followed, observed, rapidly visualized, and left alone all at the same time in the materiality of my body. Sosnoski’s vocabulary seemed to describe practice that I could relate to easily. In the practice, it was easy for me to imagine the body as a de- and recoding receptor and transmitter at the same time. My #CHARP and pompom works have delved into this viewpoint more closely, and these works bring together the experiments I have done in the works of A guest and Seasons as Choreographer: Where Over the World is Astronaut Scott Kelly? In A guest, the temporal frame of the practice at hand was really short and immediate, whereas in the latter, the temporal frame extended to one year, in which I opened and slowed down the moment of rapid selection and response to the durational. In #CHARP and pompom, the temporal and spatial scales of the reading were open and beyond my understanding.
After lightly mapping the reading theories from the late 1970s to the early 2000s, I wanted to study Sosnoski’s direction more, and I found American literary critic and professor N. Katherine Hayles’s (1943-) essay‘How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine’ (2010), in which she complements Sosnoski’s theory with two other characteristics, namely juxtaposing and scanning. By juxtaposing Hayles means that the hyper-reader can deal with several windows open on the screen at the same time, and scanning refers to rapid reading in order to identify what the interests of the writing are. Hayles critically discusses the possibilities and concerns of hyper-reading in rewiring the brains, but for me the importance and impact of her text is in her descriptions of what happens during the hyper-reading.
Taking the attention away from linear flow, distracted and small habitual actions, increased demands of decision-making, navigating, scrolling, and visual processing of hypertexts is worth understanding as choreographic potentials. One of the main points in Hayles’s text is that in ‘linear reading the eye-movements are more routine and fewer decisions need to be made about how to read the material and in what order’(ibid, p. 68). For me this means that in the previous works, I have aimed to construct a linear piece and flow of movement in the materiality of the dancer’s body and in the dramaturgy of the work, which I can follow, whereas today my practice does not have this goal. Today, my works are more layered, juxtaposed, and fragmented in terms of spatial and temporal directionality. The movement that is materialized in my body in the works such as pompom is minimal, jammed, blocked, and jerky, always shifting and never processed further in one direction as a movement motif.
What is common for Hayles and Sosnoski is that they both claim that the evolution of new reading and writing modalities brought by the development of the internet challenges the previous ways of reading and writing, and these new practices also have an impact on our brain function. Taking hyper-reading as a framework for choreographic embodied practice might help to build understanding of the embodiment of the contemporary technological, information-intensive condition (as Hayles puts it) in which my body takes place every day. Parallel with the development of the artistic practice, through and with these theoretical materials I have rethought how choreographic practice operates and basically what it is and what it does.
Given this theoretical framework, and the preliminary choreo-focus on what happens during the reading process, I have developed my understanding of how choreography operates as reading practice, and this commentary’s main motivation is to introduce and articulate this perspective to the field of choreographic art and studies.
A specifically interesting matter in the reading theories is the analysis of how the reader forms an artistic object from the linear texts. While studying the reading theories, I got interested in Rosenblatt’s way of articulating how the linguistic-experiential reservoir (ibid, p. 3) operates in reading practice. I turned this term into movement-experiential, and conceptual-experiential, (referring to the movement philosophers Noë, Johnson, Manning, and Nail, whom I mentioned before) in a way that in the practice – if I work with the relation between the stone and a wall, for example – I have movement-experiential reserves from both, as well as conceptual-experiential ones. I have experienced many different ways of, for example, lifting a stone, throwing it, etc., and I have faced many different kinds of walls. In this sense, in my practice it is significant to be aware of the fact that I know that it is a stone or a wall, and I have a history of using those words, concepts, and objects, and in this sense I have a conceptual-experiential reservoir in the body. Following this, and in my understanding of a text in the following sentence being a material condition in which the body takes place, as a reader of the text/material condition I am inside of the text and the process of creating an experienced object out of the text includes combining conceptual-experiential and movement-experiential bodily registers. As a reader of the surrounding movements and kinesthetic fields, I select from the dense sphere based on the previous experiences and past knowledges, as Rosenblatt and the above-mentioned scholars write, and thus the movement that the body makes is a response to the inter- and transaction of these two temporal states. In a way, it is a restructuring of what is perceived and experienced being already there and then continuously reacting to the new movement that is produced by the body; and again that movement changes the relation at hand through this restructuring. This mutually constituted situation between the body and its surrounding in the relation between material signs can also be thought of as a continuing negotiation. This negotiation is choreographic, and it differs from so-called free improvisation, because previous experience, conceptual knowledge, selective attention, and indirect perception are significantly at play, and simultaneously. The choreographic thinking process is dense, rapid, and non-linear. There is no right or wrong in this negotiation but more like fulfillments, discontinuities, and flows oscillating in and through the experience. Thus, choreographing becomes choreographing the perception and experience in the interplay between the human body, movement, and the surrounding material. This process can be understood as reading. Through this kind of reading practice, a certain intimate motional organization and a synthesis or de-synthesis of the body and surrounding emerges. When it comes to the artistic works, this is the first raw material of the choreography as reading practice. In this practice, I recognize myself as a choreoreader more than a choreographer, even if both stances are active. In the artistic process as a whole, I am choreoreading.
As an artist at this point in my life, I am interested in the material and social conditions of human movements beyond my human scale more than trained, rehearsed, and accomplished human movements. Of course, these points on the interest-continuum affect each other, and my body carries a particular training history. Parallel to choosing a theoretical framework in dialogue with the artistic processes, I have mapped many art-historical references for the practice and works, and I can contextualize the research process in the lineages of site- and context-responsive practices in choreography, dance, and visual arts within the last 80 years, starting, for example, with Marcel Duchamp’s 1938 work ‘Twelve Hundred Coal Bags Suspended from the Ceiling over a Stove’. Thus, as a practice, choreoreading is a continuation and contribution to these lineages, since it is a way to examine movements that form material and social conditions, and together with choreographing it is a way to materialize and visualize often invisible movements.
If reading is understood as de- and recoding the written symbol with the movements of the eyes in order to comprehend or make meanings, as the earlier mentioned reading theories do, in choreoreading I turn my de- and recoding gaze from the materiality of the written symbol towards the material of the surrounding environment. Thus, the quality of the reading changes from de- and recoding the printed symbol with the movements of the eyes to de- and recoding the in/organic with the sense and experience of movement and the labile sphere. My purpose is not to introduce the idea of reading understood as de- and recoding printed symbols but to understand reading as an embodied and disembodied process, which brings together dynamic, multi-sensory, selective perception, experience, and interpretation of the surrounding movement-materiality. This means that the choreoreader-grapher works with the sensory, kinesthetic, choreographic, and material information and input from the environmental factors. Examining the surrounding movement in this embodied de- and recoding, the selective multi-sensorial input and processing of it can be understood as reading the relation between the human body and the circumstances that choreographs the experience and which provokes an awareness that unfolds artistic possibilities. These possibilities can be processed into responsive, emerging writings. The emergence of writing then, again, changes the processual experience of the surrounding movements, and in the end choreoreading and choreographing operate simultaneously. If I borrow the idea of the reservoir from Rosenblatt and translate it here to ‘reserve’, these emerging writings can become ‘new’ if the previous conceptual-experiential and movement-experiential reserves of the choreographer-reader are unexpectedly rerouted or challenged. Nothing new is put into the situation, but the relational matrix in which the body takes place is rerouted by its dialogue with the surrounding through specific choreo-practice and thinking.
This practice delves into the movement patterns that create other patterns influencing choreography becoming an artistic practice, which makes sense of the choreography woven from planetary and galactic movements. The introductory questions and starting points of choreoreading are waiting to be developed.