Discussion: Desires & Offerings
Group Discussion, Campbelltown Arts Centre Workshop, Day 4 of 5, Saturday 16th August.
In this meeting at our first workshop at Campbelltown, facilitator Lizzie Muller invited each member of the group to respond to the idea of ‘desires’ and ‘offerings’ – to identify shared interests in relation to our work with the body and opportunities for skill-exchange and collaboration across disciplines. Ideas that emerged from this discussion include the idea of making experiences to be shared (with each other and then a wider public), notions of mirroring in relation to movement based interactions, and some discussion of how the Feldenkrais Method relates to the project (Maggie Slattery & Catherine Truman).
Lizzie Muller: So we’re going to do four things. The first thing I want everybody to do is to think of one thing that somebody has said over the course of the last two days that has really resonated with you. It could be either a problem, like an issue or something where you thought, yeah, that’s a good point, I never thought that before. It could be as simple as one word that you have had trouble with, or that’s bugged you, or that’s come back to you. Or it could be a question, or a phrase that someone used, or something that somebody did. Something that has lodged in your brain and made you go ‘hah’! And I know there might be lots of them, but you only need to pick one. Or there might be none at all and you have to dredge one up. So, just one!
The second thing I want you to do is to identify a desire that you have within yourself, in terms of your own practice, for something that somebody else has done, or has offered as a skill that you have seen. Or an ability that you have seen that somebody else has – within their own knowledge base – or the within work they have done, or their approach to things that you think ‘I’d like to know more about that, I’d like to work more with that, I think that could be useful to me’. So that thing, I think it’s about saying ‘I desire that. I think that can help me. I want to make a connection that’s with me benefitting and you giving’.
And the other thing I want you to identify is something you have seen, perhaps either in someone individually or in the group, where you think you can make a contribution. So something you think you can offer to somebody else, or the group even, either that has been lacking so far, or that has been touched on but not in detail. So something you feel you can offer either to someone or the whole group.
All: Yes please!
George Poonkhin Khut: The number one thing in terms of something that really resonated with me in the workshops so far is on this idea of mirroring, and people becoming mirrors. So in Lian’s workshop there was that mirroring thing there. And then for some reason that was connecting to the descriptions Jonathan’s given about making these strange shapes. And I don’t know how it connects to mirrors at all, but the task to reach and pick something up, and there’s a task to try and reproduce some particular action. And I guess that’s similar to this idea of reproducing this thing you are seeing in front of you. And that struck me because in this exhibition ‘Mirrored States’, it’s so much about an interface’s ability to reflect back the visitor’s agency in the work. And I just thought there was something really interesting about a really different approach to how mirroring could be used. So it’s a kind of woolly little seed, and I think I’ll just spend some more time with it over the coming weeks and see what I can build out of that, because I’m quite interested in that.
In terms of desire or a skill experienced; I think one of the things I am interested in… With the work I do, it’s really about giving people these experiences that kind of transform themselves, about how they can experience themselves. And also there’s something kind of tacit about that experience of their own bodies, and something happens in there that kind of opens something else up. It’s a desire to see how I can use touch through that, instead of all these distal modalities of sound and sight – which are all about being separate to you – how I can use movement and invitation to touch and movement. So that’s one of my big desires.
Then in terms of where I think I can make a contribution, there are some really obvious things in terms of production and documentation. But then at a more personal level, I guess there’s this experience over the last four or five years with using bio-sensing. And then also the idea about using people’s body experiences in a gallery setting – not in a clinical setting, but in a gallery – and how the gallery as a social space supports different ways of people experiencing that.
Somaya Langley: I think some of this is still really abstract, and I’m trying to piece it all together. The thing that’s been resonating around my head – and Lian and I had a brief discussion about this when we were walking in this morning – is that some of my work is about trying to create empathy. So taking someone and putting them in someone else’s shoes. And I think through this I’m actually really questioning whether that’s possible. So I was saying, whether because of our learned physical behaviours, whether these can actually be shifted, and how the technology mediates that process of shifting, and whether or not it does. If by altering our physicality in space from one learned behavior to something different, whether that in turn does shift our mental/our thought processes and the world? And I think it does, but I’m beginning to wonder whether it does as much as I thought was possible. So with my backpack project, if I give someone a backpack and it has this soundscape, a little monkey-mind in there talking away, does it actually really make you anxious in public spaces, and whether it makes me or someone else… Do you really stand in my shoes? Maybe not.
So I think the desire is – and this is typical, I want a bit of everything from everybody – to borrow all of you for different parts. So one of those is, there’s more integration with the physical practices. I’m going ‘I want more of this because it feels great’ and, you know, ‘my back stretched out today and it shifted something in my head, but I still can’t put my finger on it’. And I also want to put more real methodologies into my practice because my art work is very outside an academic… Not entirely academia, but to a certain degree it is.
I’m not sure what I’m offering, but I guess what I can bring is being that translator in between. I have to do a lot of that under a title of ‘business analyst’-type work. So talking between technologists and people who have no understanding of technology, and kind of working towards developing models and practices. And I think in some ways I can be that mediator. It’s a skill I kind of feel I have but it’s hard to articulate. So Garth was saying maybe developing some models for how do we really make this physical work and sensor stuff fit together. And I think maybe that’s where I’m helpful, maybe I’m useful.
Catherine Truman: One thing that has resonated right from the beginning is everybody’s desire to express from the body; to make a connection not of ‘a body’, but their own body, and connecting out from there. And I think that requires a stripping back the language a little bit. I won’t explain any more than that unless anyone wants more explanation?
And one thing I desire is to do that, because I think, going back a step almost before that, is I would like to uncover people’s curiosity. What is it driving this project? What is it about our individual curiosity that drives this question of wanting to reconnect more with the body.
Lizzie Muller: Can I ask if that focus is on anyone in particular, or is that everybody?
Catherine Truman: No, it’s a really general thing that I’ve got from most of you.
Lizzie Muller: So you are curious to find out what drives in each of us individually?
Catherine Truman: Yeah, in your practices, really, because I think it’s the same reason why we’re all here together. So I guess there’s simple conversations I could have with each of you, and maybe it would drive an interesting discussion late one night with lots of red wine!
One thing I can offer, I think, is my experience in engaging in a process where I have had to really question the role of my body in the process. The role of my body in generating the concept of my work, and the process of my work and the outcome, and what that’s meant to my practice over 30 years.
Lizzie Muller: Can you make that more specific for me?
Catherine Truman: I thought that was specific.
Lizzie Muller: I think what I mean is, can you direct it towards either someone in the group or a question that has come up within the group where you think you could make an actual difference?
Catherine Truman: Well I can only be more specific in relationship maybe to my experience with the technology that it has taken to make my work, compared to your perspectives on technology and making your work, because they are very different. So I’m just saying I could bring my perspective into it to see how we rub against each other. To see how one can affect the other, because I come very much from a body-based, thinking through the body, working through the body process. So I don’t direct it at any one person. Does that make sense?
Lizzie Muller: It does, absolutely. Maggie?
Maggie Slattery: Ok, the first thing I thought of for number one is the immersion that has been happening in new experience that – maybe for everybody, but certainly for me – is going out of habit, and with others familiar for me, which is not so unusual but with technology is definitely unusual. And that we are immersed in a process where there’s a recursive process that is going on.
What I desire is what I’m calling ‘time for reflection’. That for me means that, because there’s so much coming in, differently than I’m accustomed to, I find myself thinking – I’ll call it a disembodied way – that I know that I need time to reflect out of language; to be circling around things, not looking at them directly, getting more of a peripheral sense of things.
Number three, well again I think authentically what I am familiar with is interaction that’s movement based. That is, at this time what I can say I can bring or offer.
Lizzie Muller: Can I ask, if you see that directed to anyone in particular, where your movement based knowledge and practice could help someone?
Maggie Slattery: Well I think, in conversation with George, and eye-to-eye contact… I sense a yearning that I feel a resonance with, which is about touch. And I think probably a lot more language about touch than most people. I would like to imagine I do, I’m sure. But that’s interesting because you only find out about things through relativity, not through absolutes, so I would be very interested to enter into an experiment that could be helpful.
Lizzie Muller: Anyone got any thoughts to add to that?
Catherine Truman: Only that I agree, and that maybe it could be built into future workshops one-to-one Feldenkrais work that we could…
Maggie Slattery: Yeah, there’s other things bubbling up for…
Garth Paine: Things that resonate… Experience, the whole notion of experience. I think something that’s been behind all of my artwork is about somehow getting in touch with all different experiences. And I guess what I would hope for from this project is to gain a deeper understanding of how I might apply that, and how I might get at some of that information.
Lizzie Muller: Can I just ask, did you just squish together one and two together?
Garth Paine: No, I’m still on one. So, two…well maybe I did. But how do we get to physical experience? So, for instance, how is experience represented in our physiology, seems like a concrete question, and can we mould that in some way to allow us to drive enquiry into technology sensors, ways of gathering this material? So that, at the moment, much of that is at a very gross level and what I would really like to do is get to a much deeper level to get that information. So it seems to me – I’m still in two – that one of the values of being in this group is the experience that people bring in terms of physical body work. And although I’d love to have one to one Feldenkrais sessions – because I really enjoy them – I don’t know that that’s actually going to help me take this forward. That in a way, what I feel…
Catherine Truman: Your experience of wanting to touch somebody else, not me necessarily touching…?
Garth Paine: No, I guess what I was just thinking is, I can’t expect in this period of this project to come to an understanding of touch and the way my body relates, or the way in which my body tells me about experiences that others of you, who have spent a lot of time concentrated on that, have. So what I would hope is to be able to work with those of you who have focused on that to try to develop some other model of how we might get at that. So, in a way, that’s what thinking through the body means to me in terms of this project.
In terms of what I might be able to offer, I think I can offer the experience of sonic gesture to people in a way that they might not have met before. Through playing some music and talking perhaps about the way in which gesture is part of, say, the music that I make. And I can offer some skills and experience in terms of sensing technologies and ways of thinking about that in orchestrated outcomes particularly in terms of sound.
Lizzie Muller: Can you give me an example of someone who you think you could give that to where it might make a difference?
Garth Paine: Which?
Lizzie Muller: The last thing that you offered, the sound.
Garth Paine: The experience of sonic gesture?
Lizzie Muller: I don’t mean that you need to identify who you think needs the experience of sound, but just to give us an example of how that might…
Garth Paine: Do you mean the experience of sonic gesture?
Lizzie Muller: Yes.
Garth Paine: I would like to connect with everybody, because I think we might think about sounds in the context of the experience of…
Catherine Truman: And that’s how we were talking about one-to-one Feldenkrais in exactly the same way. Not to show you or expect that you would grasp everything, but you might experience it totally differently from…
Lizzie Muller: It is very interesting to me, because it’s like you’re both wanting to offer very similar things, but from your own knowledge bases. So maybe there’s a very specific skills giving or…
Catherine Truman: It’s an experience giving!
Lizzie Muller: Experience giving, yes, absolutely.
Garth Paine: Yes, I want to get to some pragmatics to them. Like, there was something about sciatica that was mentioned this morning, and you said ‘oh I had this work and it improved things’, and you said ‘oh that’s a thing about the shoulder’ or something like that, which is the whole torso or whatever. And so it’s like…
Catherine Truman: That’s very common in Feldenkrais; people come and say I’ve got a sore foot – well, I’ll work on your shoulder.
Garth Paine: But that’s really interesting in terms of, if we were looking for experience and sensing things, maybe we sense them in places we’re not thinking they’re from?
Catherine Truman: And that’s why touch is really…
Garth Paine: …an important thing!
Maggie Slattery: I was just thinking then about sound. Sound is an interesting thing because when I am working in movement I actually hear the movement. I can’t describe to you how I hear that movement, but sound can be a very personal and embodied thing, rather than the body moving and sound…
Garth Paine: So, I would like to have a question around that, develop some. Not just to get to some very pragmatic descriptions of ‘we’re doing this and actually firing a muscle here’, what energy there is in that muscle that might give us some… But try to develop some sort of model about an experience that we are going to try.
Lizzie Muller: So, just where we are up to; to reflect back to you what you’ve been saying. What you’re saying in a way is that you want, you desire some pragmatics; you desire something slightly concrete? You want to give an experience of something new; and then your seconding this idea about we want some kind of pragmatic. So, I’m just trying to find some agreement in the room about something that is wanted.
Garth Paine: And then I want also to apply my technical skills to those pragmatics to try and develop some prototype experience that we might use as a common point of discussion.
Somaya Langley: Can we just… When you said that you can’t explain hearing the sounds, can you talk a little tiny bit about that?
Maggie Slattery: About hearing the movement? It’s as if there’s a singing. So if you think of whale sounds, it’s like that.
Somaya Langley: So when you move your own body, or when you watch other people?
Maggie Slattery: When I am working with somebody else.
Somaya Langley: You hear their body?
Maggie Slattery: I don’t know…
Somaya Langley: You just hear sounds – wow!
Maggie Slattery: I just hear singing, somewhere in that. Weird huh?
George Poonkhin Khut: It’s great!
Lizzie Muller: I was thinking abut the sound my body might be making… (laughs)
Maggie Slattery: No, it’s not, we’re joined but I’m not playing an instrument!
Garth Paine: They’re more like ripples or something coming out?
Maggie Slattery: No, it’s not like that. I mean, when I heard whale singing I thought that was the closest I could come to how it is like.
Garth Paine: So that would be a chance to talk about a whole alternative; what’s that, is that an energy field engaged with…
George Poonkhin Khut: Because with interactive arts we are really interested in synthethesia.
Maggie Slattery: Yeah, I haven’t thought too much about it; it’s one of those things that perhaps I just don’t want to think about, just to feel it.
Somaya Langley: Wow, the rest of us do! (laughs)
Maggie Slattery: But one of the things that strikes me is that when I had babies I was just very sound connected to them, whether it was singing something actual that I knew, or just sounding around a space; it was always a connection of sound. And so who knows, maybe it’s a deep relationship thing.
Lizzie Muller: Jonathan?
Jonathan Duckworth: Well I came up with the same word as George; (mirroring) …that was the word that caught me. And what’s more important for me is how important are others to the experience? Is that solitary or communal in it affects? And also from yesterday, Maggie’s work in particular, was we were mirroring each other’s actions when we were engaging with her work. No-one was actually doing any of their own movements because we were watching other people making slight movements and we were all interacting in the same way out of that. No-one tried to do their own, so I’m wondering how much of that actually goes on, what we really don’t know. How we are interacting with a system, and how much inhibition actually plays in that interaction. What is it actually stopping us doing? When we are thinking about interacting with a piece, are we thinking about what possibilities are there or are we thinking about what I’m definitely not going to do before you actually engage in it. So there’s a certain level of inhibition in that mirroring system where you are, I guess, the centre stage performer in that experience. And I want to explore that a little bit more as an idea.
And the third thing is what can I offer? Well I was actually a bit stuck there and I thought, well maybe I could be a lab rat for everyone else’s probings and proddings, attachments and devices and so on! But my background is more in design, so it’s maybe offering design in a certain context, whether that be interaction design or working out the aesthetics of certain interactions, or somehow visualizing that to what that might look like. We’d be able to do that quickly. So those were my thoughts there.
Lian Loke: Something I desire? Again that was hard to pinpoint, but I thought one of the things I want to do, because I’ve just spent six years doing this research into interaction design, and a lot of study and analysis, and bringing in knowledge perspectives and things. But I didn’t make anything; so I’m really keen to make something! And I guess with technology in some ways. I can imagine working towards something together, but I seem to make things in the weave of stories and conversations. So it wasn’t a solitary activity going on, and just be really inspired by what everyone’s doing.
And what can I offer? I thought, my whole thing was about how can we – in some sort of process of making and designing – move between the experience, the body and the dance, in a way, and designing things and understanding techniques and tools and that kind of stuff. So I feel like I have developed some sort of skill maybe in mediating between the dance and the felt and the desire. So always looking to feed in amongst these individual things, and returning them to just a really vital body. Quite a few people have mentioned that, finding ways of integrating those things together. So you’re sort of working from that base, and the body is quite central to the process.
Lizzie Muller: Ok, so the first thing that stuck in my head and resonated was Catherine talking about articulation. Where you kept saying things stuck in your throat every time you tried to describe them, and the way that related to your experience. You couldn’t articulate the making of your physical experience. And this visual metaphor, that representation of something being stuck in your throat is very interesting. The whole idea being about thinking through the body, and that was a very physical metaphor for an inability to verbalise. So I became interested in the throat because of that, I started to think about the throat and the mouth and the tongue and their relationship is kind of like the parts of our body that enable speech. So that’s something that has been resonating around and around in my head. This bit of my body (gesture) and how it relates cognitive, verbal, connective aspects of experience to the physical, visceral, emotional.
Catherine Truman: In Feldenkrais practice they paralyse the tongue and people can’t move very well.
Lizzie Muller: So the idea of voice, throat, articulation are things that have been in my mind. The voice for articulation, we could develop that in the next workshop to make it something… See, I’m squishing them together, too; I can never keep my own rules! It’d make a brilliant future session, something about vocalizing the noise that goes with physical experience, getting our voices going. So that’s one desire I snuck in.
Another desire I have, which I’ve felt bubbling up over the last two days is…you three; I really have this desire to be analysed by you three. Because on video I’m wandering around looking at each other thinking, damn it, I want to be analysed. Yesterday, when we were doing that movement mirroring and you said to me, ‘oh the whole left side of your body is…’. I swear I always twist to the right, and you said ‘how do you listen’ and ‘oh, you’ve probably got a dominant side.’
My yoga teacher said something to me on Wednesday because I had a bad back, and she said it’s because my right-hand side is incredibly energized, massively over-built; my left side isn’t, I have a lazy eye. Anyway, I was thinking about this and I thought, damn it, I want to be looking at art; be videoed, and sit and listen. And rather than describing myself, I want to listen to you three and go ‘well, see, what she’s doing there, she’s using her dominant side’. Because I was thinking about how all those things I feel are restrictions, are restrictions to me in my own comfort, in my life, in my ability to understand artworks; in all these ways. And I was thinking one way to do it was in ATMs.
Catherine Truman: Awareness through movement.
Somaya Langley: What an unfortunate acronym!
Lizzie Muller: I just want somebody to look at me, but not just me! I also quite like the idea of listening to you three talking about the movements that you see in people in the galleries. Because I was sitting there trying to develop my own sensitivity to movement and looking at them and thinking I can imagine all those things, but what I really wanted to hear was you guys – professionals – observing stuff that you can see from your own knowledge bases and perspectives. A kind of professional critique of movement experiences was what I was interested in, a movement critique.
The third thing, what I could offer; interestingly, I was thinking about blow-up body parts, too, and I was thinking about the objects you made and that conversation we had yesterday at lunchtime. And I was thinking about how there could be a way when some of those objects or some of the things you might be thinking of making, where you can combine the methods I have with ATM style structures to, in a kind of performance/research format, where you could say to people – and this is just musing… In Iyengar yoga you use props to make the body do different things, and my teacher is always saying you don’t just use that prop, and you don’t get into the habit of using it each week. You constantly need to ask what does that prop do to my body; what is it changing, what is it bringing? You constantly ask yourself that question. So I was thinking about that in relation to objects and, because of that conversation. There are objects you are making, one method might be to have a certain sequence of movement you can do uninhibited, and there’s a certain sequence of movement you do with some kind of object, and to try and interrogate the difference between those experiences verbally and physically.
Lizzie Muller: So we’ve got all of these great things, and what I would really like everybody to do is in their blogging tonight, try and get these into your blogs so that we’ve got a document of these things. And in particular what you desire and what you can offer.
And I will do some work over the next few weeks or months to put all these things together. But if you feel a call to blog about anything else that comes up tomorrow, perhaps you might think about doing those things. The point I’m keen to make is that all of these possible gifts, offerings, contributions and all these needs, desire, wants can work at a group level. They can be something that we all agree we want to do. Or they can be things that work on a bilateral or trilateral level where there seem to be three people, or two people, interested in something from one another and they want to try and develop that. And I think what we really need to be doing for the next workshop is to be starting to make some space for these things to emerge. And I don’t think we need to be too worried about that because I think if we start something off and it doesn’t go anywhere, that’s fine, you know? But I think that at the next workshop we need to make some space for some of these more intimate workings or ideas to actually start to coalesce.
So I think before we get to that workshop we’re going to have to identify some of what they are. Just questions time, and how to support them.
The other thing I am getting from other people here I think is that the Feldenkrais work we have had so far in this version has opened up a world that’s made everyone very curious. And one thing I am interesting in thinking about is how in this workshop Feldenkrais has appeared – and it will again tomorrow – through ATMs and actual lessons, and how there might be other ways to work with your expertise other than in a lesson situation with you as teacher. So we just need to think about how that might work and how there might be other ways to work with it and to work and maybe we will evolve that Feldenkrais environment from teacher to something more discursive, and that might happen individually as well as in the group.