Shoaling: group dynamics of shared reading in space, switch of direction as follower becomes leader.



Shoaling was tested by Emma Cocker, Cordula Daus and Lena Séraphin in the interior spaces and courtyard of the former Convento dei SS. Cosma e Damiano on 9 May 2019, following by a period of reflective conversation that we recorded and subsequently transcribed. Extracts from the conversation are included in this section. 


The wind of movement


You know, as it starts to turn. To be ready to let go of the lead and to let the other take over. And dialogue is like that – when you are taking care to be mindful of talking only as long as it feels in the interest or movement of the dialogue, and then once I am just talking, now I am talking for the sake of talking, to let go, and also to know when someone is ebbing and be ready to move in.


Moving with the sentences


I mean maybe this does not work the same in all contexts. For example, in the Finnish context there is a space between one person saying and the next one continuing. No overlapping.


So, to pick up the wind of one person finishing and another starting, probably for some cultural conditioning you need to leave more of a space, but maybe also you need to speed up; you might have to move it along.


If we were runners and we were training for a long run, and we had to keep swapping who is the pace setter because it is too much for one person. We are running. You are running ahead. After a while I take over this responsibility.


Or I slow down or stop and we find the moment of switching the lead.


It is also like the canon in singing, there is one voice that is ahead in time.


Conversation after the exercise, an (edited) transcript:


Example 1) Three readers, in the corridor alongside the Courtyard of Convento dei SS. Cosma e Damiano during the opening event of the Research Pavilion on 8 May 2019. A 1:02 minute extract. Recording by Tuomas Laitinen.  


Reading as social imprinting


In contrast to other social situations in which you have to be so attentive to who takes the lead or not, be attentive to power games, playing Follow the Leader [Follow John or Följa John in Swedish] was such a relief.


As there was this rule that someone would lead and then someone would take over, I thought why can’t this be all the time like this? You take the lead and then I take the lead. One of the ways through which one feels exhausted is through trying to find out what is going on. Trying to find out the rules.


There was no anxiety about deciding where we were going.


Follow John can create the thing where two people speak at the same time. And then there is a negotiation. But it is about being attentive to negotiation. 


Notes and Credits

1. Proposition for Shoaling within the courtyard of Convento dei SS. Cosma e Damiano on 9 May 2019. Photography by Emma Cocker.

2. Location of the Shoaling recording, in the corridor alongside the Courtyard of Convento dei SS. Cosma e Damiano. Photography by Emma Cocker.


This is a shared reading practice for multiple readers. Decide on a text that you wish to read together – you will each need a copy of this text. Then, meet together in a space with room to wander - whether inside or outside, in daylight or at night. Take a moment to let go of existing thoughts and mental chatter, for this is a practice that requires concentration.

Begin without reading, by exploring a shared movement practice in space. Gather together as a group. Tune into one another’s energy and presence. When the time feels right, start to walk slowly together as a group. Imagine you are a shoal of fish or flock of birds, like a murmuration of starlings or skein of geese moving in formation. Follow the movement-direction of the person at the front. In time, as the movement-direction turns, a new leader will appear at the front of your formation. Now follow their lead. Continue. Practise with ever-subtler precision, attending to the nuanced shifts in attention as your role switches between following and leading, following and leading.



Once you have established fluidity with this exercise, experiment further by introducing a reading practice. Take a moment to tune into your chosen text - a printed page or open book. Agree on a place in the text to start. As you start walking together, the person at the front begins to read the text out loud. The followers listen and read along silently with their ‘inner voice’.


In time, as the movement-direction turns, a new leader will appear at the front of the group formation. They take over the practice of reading out loud. The followers listen and read along silently with their ‘inner voice’. Continue, switching between the roles of leading and following, between reading the text out loud and following with both your eye and ear.







Attend to the different pulls on your attention: in the physical experience of walking together, in the shifts of responsibility between following and leading, in the encounter with a text between the different senses of mouth (voicing), ear (listening) and the eye (seeing).