MANUAL is a collaborative publication by performance artist Victoria Gray and writer-artist Emma Cocker. The publication is a response to Berthing Bone, a video work by Victoria Gray. MANUAL comprises photographic stills from the video Berthing Bone, alongside writing by Gray and Cocker.
Conceived as a durational series of miniature performances for the hands, Gray’s video Berthing Bone explores incipient action; the affective experience of movement before movement takes form. Throughout the production process of Berthing Bone, Gray and Cocker met for dialogue, witnessing together the evolving process of the video work. Cocker’s writing reflects on ideas emerging through these encounters. Her text is not conceived as an explication of Berthing Bone, but rather as a set of exercises or thought-fragments imagined alongside. In turn, Gray’s text is a meditation on both the video and Cocker’s response, exercising the practice of attention that the original performance and Cocker’s text call forth. Excerpts from the video Berthing Bone can be viewed at, www.victoriagray.co.uk/berthingbone
PRACTICED LIVING || And so, as it goes — we don’t know what a body can do. We have not yet realized the true extent of its capabilities. We, a force whose power has yet to be grasped, remaining unfathomable, stranger even to ourselves. Yet, there are ways of tending, for attending to this untapped potential. Not that this is an easy task, a task to be taken lightly. But still, lightly must the task be undertaken. So, practice a little levity, levitas. Practice with effort, yet without. Exert the self with care. Askesis: exercise or training. Yet, not of self-control or self controlled. Not the renunciation or deprivation of the sworn ascetic; (s)he who abandons the living of life in pursuit of higher ideals. Exorcises self. Takes leave of flesh; ecstatic disembodiment. Rather, an art of life, practiced living.
CAPACITY BUILDING || Indeed, it is with and in the body, through the body, that we might escape its limitations. Or instead, our limitations, for a body is boundless, it is we who set its limits, determine its perimeter edge. Exercise with the body. Experiment with other bodies. Remember too, that mind is of the body, muscle and memory equally receptive to the push and pull of working out. Train(ing) of thought; thinking pressured as limbs tested against the leverage of external force or weight. Meletē: an Ancient Greek term meaning meditation. In myth, sibling to the muse of melodic voice and memory, related then to rhythm and remembering. Meletē: to ponder, the mental weighing up of an idea or thought, the contemplation of a repeated phrase. Ponder — from pendēre, to be suspended, to hang in the balance. Training is never the end, never ends, rather the building of capacity. Capacity is both actual and potential, an ability both to yield and to withstand, a measure of both receptivity and resistance.
RESISTANCE TRAINING || Resistance requires strength, to turn away or abstain from certain action. Conceived as a form of opposition or confrontation, it requires taking or making a stand, refusing to be moved. To resist is to reject then, to counter-act, to operate contrary to the norm or expectation. External pressures create the conditions according to which the body must acquiesce, contravene or somehow work around. Yet, resistance can also cultivate capacity, empower, augment. Small acts of minor resistance increase incrementally the body’s inner strength. With practice, muscle matter can be trained to transform the resistance of other forces into its own. Gradually, greater pressures can be applied and still converted. Care must be taken though, for without caution the body becomes dense and hardened, insensitive to the affects of subtler force. Attuning oneself to the intensity of a force is different to feeling its weight. It is often easier to recognize the greater the impingement, experience that which is felt to be heavy or hard to bear. Lesser pressures often go unnoticed, so are tolerated, not transformed. Attend to the micro level, for it is through the turning of imperceptible forces that true action might then emerge.
MEMORIZATION || Acts of minor resistance can be rehearsed daily, practiced in quieter moments or under the cover of other activity, concealed within everyday gesture. Yet, such practices cannot be learnt, perfected by rote. In time, the body becomes inoculated against the potency of a given move or action. So, memorize not movement’s moves but rather its affect. Be moved by movement, which is to say transformed. Commit then not to movement’s form but in fidelity to the feeling of its force. The disciplined body is good at sticking to the score, impressed with how a given move should look. Discipline sets the mold that shapes that which is unruly. However, affect is unscripted, indivisible, invisible. It is impossible to predetermine how the body will respond on a given day, a given hour. Preparation becomes synchronous to the event. Attend to each situation with new precision, which might mean disobeying the rules. The body must learn to improvise. Conjure each movement as an act of invocation, a calling into life. Cultivate the muscle-memory of intuition. Have courage. Take (to) heart.
VIGILANCE||Grow hypersensitive to the smallest of details. Take the light down low. Lower. Lower still. Removed from the usual distractions of the diurnal world, the eyes become sensitized to the play of shadows, as darkness moves. Notice the differing gradients of density, intensity. Avoid assigning names, for the operation of language is a nominal regime that favours the solidity of things; is quick to override the wordless act of sensing. Both thought and gaze must remain somewhat passive to perceive the micro-movements of existence, the vibrations of motion at the verge of action, trembling. Like the stalker or the poacher, practice stillness. Know how the smallest start can scatter one’s focus. Remain patient. Keep alert. Be on the que vive. On guard, stay watchful.
MEDIAL REFLEXIVE || Self can be conceived as an interior condition, pitched against the rest of the world that exists without; skin, the line of separation that keeps these two realms distinct. Yet, under scrutiny, the borderline where the body ends and where the world starts is impossible to discern. Self is of the world, not identifiable from. Internal and external exist along a continuum, where the skin does not keep the individual protected from the world but rather is the threshold through which they merge, inseparable. Interiority extends far deeper than the centre of the body; can be pressured beyond the limits of the skin to create spaces other than the body’s own. The exteriority of the world can be clasped between the fingers. Self is a field of forces, not fixed form. Its capacity is endlessly modified according to how it acts with and against the pressure of other forces. Become sensitized to one’s own force, which is always multiple. Experience this by pressing the palms tight. Notice how the balance of power shifts between left and right. Allow one side to dominate, now to yield. Practice between activity and passivity. Feel the point of balance once neither side takes charge. Apply this awareness to other encounters.
TEST OF NERVE || To encounter time stripped of its familiar beat and meter can be disconcerting to say the least. Dislodged from the tenses of past and future, time is experienced simultaneously as now and forever, inconstant and eternal; or else perhaps, forever now, eternally inconstant. An experimental practice locates itself on the trembling edge as time unfolds, uncertain. No longer scripted in advance, here, every next action has to be called or conjured, summoned into play. The temptation might be to fall back onto a repertoire of familiar forms and practiced rhythms. The body wavers at the cusp of action, stalls from making too swift a move. Instead, remains expectant, anticipatory. Hopeful. Intrepid. Not without some unease. For, it takes some nerve to lean into the unknown, to be open or vulnerable to what lies therein. So, test the nerves. Exercise this most fragile of the faculties, for unattended nerve is easily lost. Lean then, into the void; remember — we don’t know what a body can do. (EC)