The research event started with a preparatory phase, a one-hour indoor session during which the participants were introduced to the experiment according to the following scenario, or research score as I call it here. Not all the questions and problems related to the topic and raised in previous pages (such as those related to the methodology of artistic research) were addressed. The attention of the participants was focused on the study of the corporeal experience of the non-human body.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE PARTICIPANTS
The aim is to study the affinities between human and insect experience.
According to my premise, all beings have sensory perceptions concerning their surroundings. They are, in some way, capable of combining these perceptions with others and reacting with corporeal responses. That is to say: these beings experience. The way of experiencing differs from one species to another, but basically the same principle holds for all, including the human species.
The focus in this experiment is on the possible similarities between the ways these different modes of experience are constructed (less on the quality of the experiences).
In his classic study, Jakob Uexküll presents a model for describing how the experience of non-human animals is constructed and can be conceived. As an example, he uses a tick, an eight-legged insect that nourishes itself with the blood of mammals.
According to him, a tick´s relation to its environment, its Umwelt (literally: “surrounding world”), is built around three distinct factors he calls “carriers of signification” (Bedeutungsträger). In this case there are only three of them: 1) the smell of butyric acid, 2) warmth (of the skin of the animal of prey) and 3) tactile contact. These factors, the efficiency of which has been empirically proved, inform the behaviour of the insect as it tries to latch on to its animal of prey, a mammal moving in its surroundings.
In this respect, the tick´s world is very simple, but it is not necessarily “poor”, as Martin Heidegger once called it. According to the research hypothesis this experiment tests, not only is the tick´s experience differently organised, it also contains aspects that Uexküll´s analysis does not exhaust or even pay attention to.
My reason for supposing this is the following: if the tick has a world, that world, to be a world, has to be as integral as any other world. In other words, with reference to the Umwelt, the question of what comprises that “Um-“ remains. This study is devoted to this surrounding element, which complements the significant aspects of which an animal´s experience is based.
In this experiment, the experience of the participants is reconstructed around the above-mentioned carriers of signification so that we can study what remains between or beneath them.
The quality of the resulting experience will probably be partly human, partly nonhuman, and the experience of the participants will oscillate between the two. Do not let that bother you. Take it for granted. Everything you may feel or think during the exercise is OK and relevant to the research.
The experience is based on three simple embodied “variations” involving a certain number of simple devices. The purpose of the variations is to open up the world of the tick. They are deliberately distanced, playful and abstract compared to the experience being studied. The primary aim is not to give any illusion of authentic contact, it is rather to activate the embodied imagination (its associative and synthetic capacities) so that one could imagine what that contact would be like if one were a tick. The tick experience is built, step by step, as a sum of the variations.
The variations are preceded by a preparatory group exercise to familiarise participants with the idea of becoming a non-human entity.
[Next, the course of each variation is explained (according to the descriptions on the following pages) and tried out together in practice]
The variations are documented by means of one immobile video camera, with a moving photo camera taking close-ups. The use of the documentation is agreed on afterwards.
The variations are followed up with an interview in which the participants return in their imaginations to the experiences they have just had and speak out their re-imagined and relived experiences. The aim of the session is to give each participant the opportunity to re-imagine her experience and, in this way, to carry it to its completion.
The re-memorising session is led by the facilitator, and it is based on the questions presented by him. The interviewees sit on the floor, eyes closed, in a comfortable position. Each one speaks the language she prefers. The oral accounts are recorded with the help of the assistant. The use of the documentation is agreed on at the end of the whole session.
[Each participant reads the information sheet signed by the facilitator and signs the consent form.]
Retrospectively, I notice that this point concerning “the use of the documentation” could have been made more explicit. I hoped to use it publicly, but there were complications: 1) I did not want to make that a condition of participation; 2) I wanted to guarantee each participant´s right not to allow use of the material; and 3) the issue could not be properly discussed before the experiment. Afterwards I agreed separately with each participant how the documentation would be used, and luckily the point did not cause any misunderstanding.
Appendix: Informed consent, as formulated according to the regulations of UNIARTS Helsinki.