This presentation consists of a collaborative performance lecture involving sound, speech, visual material and dance. By intermixing personal, physical, artistic exploration and theoretical insights the performance questions how the heart knows. The presenters share their diverse insights on the research-oriented artistic process. They address the significance of the affective and the emotional in artistic knowing. They likewise address how the motif of knowing through the heart informed the evolving artistic process and fostered renewed collaborative engagement.
We first performed “Renderings of the Heart of Matter” that consisted of video and sound material as well as live dance.
Video editing: Riikka Theresa Innanen
Sound design: Antti Nykyri
Movement, text and speech: Leena Rouhiainen
The video image and sound material were recorded from a cardiogram of Leena Rouhiainen’s heart on October 5, 2012 by senior physician Vesa Järvinen at Hyvinkää hospital, Finland.
The text spoken in the performance includes quotations from the following publications:
- Ahmed, Sara. 2010. ”Happy Objects.” In Melissa Gregg & Gregory J. Seigworth (eds.). The Affect Theory Reader. Durham & London: Duke University Press, pp. 29–51.
- Darwin, Charles. 2007/1899. The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. New York: Bibliobazaar.
- Gibbs, Anna. 2001. ”Contagious Feelings: Pauline Hanson and the Epidemiology of Affect.” Australian Humanities Review 24. www.australianhumanitiesreview.org (10.10.2012).
- Irigaray, Luce 1993. An Ethics of Sexual Difference. Trans. Carolyn Burke and Gillian C. Gill. London: The Athlone Press.
- Lefebvre, Henri. 1991/1974. The Production of Space. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. Malden USA, Oxford UK, Carlton Australia: Blackwell Publishing.
- Massumi, Brian. 2002. Parables of the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham & London: Duke University Press.
- Nancy, Jean Luc. 2008. Corpus. Trans. Richard A. Rand. Fordham University. Press.
- Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1999. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Trans. Richard Commons. The Pennsylvania State University: Penn State Electronic Classics. www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/nietsche/tszarath.pdf (18.2.2013).
- Perec George. 2008/1974. Species of Spaces and Other Pieces. Trans. John Sturrock. London: Penguin Classics.
- Saint-Exupery, Antoine. 2013/1971. The Little Prince. Trans. Richard Howard. China: Edmont Heritage.
- Spinoza, Benedictus de 1923/1677. Ethics. Transl. R.H.M. Elwes. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Ethics_(Spinoza)/Part_3 (18.2.2013).
Then we continued the presentation with the following lecture section in which we both addressed a few themes that influenced the progress of our collaboration:
I will shortly discuss our shared artistic process with sound designer and musician Antti Nykyri as well as videographer and dance artist Riikka Theresa Innanen through a perspective that could be termed as “affective orientation”. While we were working on the project, I began familiarising myself with theories on emotion and affect. On my part, they implicitly influenced the starting points of our collaboration and had a direct effect on the formation of the spoken script of the performance, if not our collaboration more generally. The next paragraphs, thus, consist of a few theoretical remarks on this orientation alongside of chronicled vignettes of lived life and the project.
In her book Queer Phenomenology (2006), Sara Ahmed theorises on how through our bodies we are oriented towards things, other people and the world. Being oriented in a certain way is about how things come to be significant for us. It shapes how we inhabit space, apprehend the shared world as well as whom and what we direct our energy and attention to. This entails, for example, feeling at home, knowing where one stands, or having certain objects within one’s reach. While analysing how orientations affect the manner in which subjects and objects come to materialise in the way that they do, she indicates that they involve affects, emotions and judgements as part of bodily habits and actions (Ahmed 2006, 27, 56.). One of the phenomenologists she draws on is Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Ahmed affirms his idea that the body is not a simple mechanical instrument for our personal goals, but a body sensitive and responsive to the external world already on its own grounds. In her view, the body is a form of expression that, in fact, makes visible our intensions (Ahmed 2006, 53, 67.). Indeed, on its most basic level Merleau-Ponty argues that our directedness towards the world is an affective one. He describes it as a carnal relatedness in which there is only an obscure flow of experiences that imply each other both simultaneously and successively and through which we welcome things with attraction or spurn them by repulsion. (Merleau-Ponty 1995/1962, 24, 154–155, 281; Merleau-Ponty 1987/1968, 12–13.)
In this project, it was the affective orientation my heart put forth that gave impetus to the emergent materials of our shared work. I had suggested artistic collaboration with Antti that involved using visual imagery, a related script and movement to produce a performance. He welcomed the chance to contribute to the formation of the overall project and its soundscape especially. Later on Riikka offered her support in editing the video material we received.
On my part, to create a script and feel drawn to some specific visual imagery, I felt I needed a theme or topic that moved me, touched me in some manner. While mulling over an approach to the work and embarking upon a visit to a friend’s summer cottage on one afternoon last summer, I felt nauseous and exceedingly tired. While packing my car in slow motion, it hit me that I had had quite severe arrhythmia during my sleep for the past few weeks. I was surprised and alarmed by my bodily reactions that were brought to consciousness through quite a time lag. The same afternoon and night I had medical inspection, including cardiography, which confirmed arrhythmia and a problem in the electric current of my heart. I had just survived an emotionally painful separation. This bodily reaction to a life shift offered a point of entry into drafting concrete artistic material. The heart, how the heart knows and relates to our life circumstances, prompted Antti and me into extracting audio-visual material from a real live heart together with a cardiac sonographer. The artistic materials began to emerge and the project itself to unfold.
To understand how the orientation that the artistic process took could be more strongly understood as affective, I will continue on a few more points. Dance Scholar Dee Reynolds writes about affect in the following manner: “In terms of embodiment, affect refers to that point at which the body is activated ‘excited’, in the process of responding: but this process has not yet reached consciousness to the extent of producing cognitive awareness that can be translated into language”. (Reynolds 2012, 123.) She relates affect to changes in the energy level of the body and describes it as an involuntary bodily response. Affect is a form of fluid relationality where belonging together precedes separation. In fact, following Brian Massumi’s formulations she argues that affect produces “an interface between body and world – a state of passional suspension in which the body exists more outside of itself” (Reynolds 2012, 128.).
What was of interest for this project is that, while affect is not directly accessible to experience, it is not exactly outside experience either. It involves a sense of a perception of one’s vitality and becoming active. (Reynolds 2012, 128; Massumi 2002, 30.) On the one part this activity took me to the doctors, on the other hand it moved me into producing artistic materials together with Antti and Riikka.
Perhaps unsurprisingly resonating with our project, in his article The Autonomy of Affect (Massumi 2002) Brian Massumi himself relates to the heart when he writes that: “Modulations of heartbeat and breathing mark a reflux of consciousness into the autonomic depths, coterminous with a rise of the autonomic into consciousness. They are a conscious-autonomic mix, a measure of their participation in one another.” (Massumi 2002, 25.) The heartbeat and breath could then be viewed as avenues that leak affective content into our consciousness. He also refers to affect as intensity – a form of incipient action and expression. Affect, as intensity, is a tendency that moves us into new selective contexts in which the affect itself is never completely expressed or actualised. With this understanding I considered the heart to have offered an affective orientation by which intensity flowed and generated the material organisations of the just seen performance. Even if my heart’s affective impulse had an effect on our artistic collaboration, it likewise relied on our previous collaboration, the practical circumstances we worked in as well as the skills and methods we embody. On this Antti has more to say – a topic he has been considering in more detail for a few years now.
There is certain kind of knowing involved in sound design as artistic practice, which can be understood by considering affectivity and how we hear and experience the world. By experiencing I will here refer to the many ways we become aware of our surroundings and things in it through hearing, but also to situations where we hear but do not necessarily become consciously aware of or recognise something – but are still moved by it or place ourselves accordingly to it.
This knowing has to do with the way the sounds affect us, even before any thought, emotion or interpretation of their quality or meaning can be formed. One way of looking at this is to consider how sounds are experienced and reacted upon in very different ways, when they are heard in varying contexts. According to cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist Daniel Levitin the same kind of sounds heard in a quotidian context and as part of a musical piece are experienced differently, even when they trigger the same neurons. (Levitin 2010, 95.) Because our inner, mental experience of the context, the way we hear them is different, the sounds also have a different effect on us; a sound of a car horn heard in the middle of a street or a sound with the same frequency played with an oboe as part of a classical music piece are experienced in different ways.
A performance itself can be understood as a varying context for hearing and being affected by sounds; different kind of qualities in movement, space, visuals, lighting design and so forth can create endless situational variations, through which we also experience sounds differently. Even a single movement executed by a dancer in different ways can appear as a contrasting or conforming context for the sound to be heard in. Sounds can also be understood as varying contexts for the seen movement, therefore influencing the way the affectivity in perceiving dance takes place (Reynolds 2012, 129–132.), and leading also to different kinds of experiences, emotions, interpretations etc. Experiencing performance is not a static state of mind, where sounds would have their fixed meanings or effects. The affectivity of sounds, the way they touch and move us before and beyond a conscious emotional state, is something that takes place in these constantly flowing situations.
Knowledge, which is needed in order to create artistic content by using sounds in these contexts, can be understood by considering Polanyi’s (Polanyi 1962) view on tacit knowledge or, for example, the discourse of kinaesthetic knowledge (Parviainen 2006, 96–98.). Apart from skills applied in order to produce, play and shape these sounds and compositions, there is knowledge, which is involved in and compiled through working and playing with them and associating yourself affectively and emotionally with them. For example, a sound designer can through his/her work become aware of how certain kinds of sounds when combined form relations, connections and arouse sensory experiences and non-linguistic meanings. These meanings and experiences cannot be directly transferred or encoded into language or other symbolic forms, although they can be pointed at or described, discussed and written upon. It is possible for us to discuss how the sounds of the heart we just heard affected us and made us feel, but through this linguistic encoding it becomes impossible to fully convey the affectivity and the emotions related to them – and all the detailed qualities in the sounds which cause them. Knowing, for the sound designer as a practicing artist, is therefore tied to this affectivity and non-linguistic essence of sounds; becoming aware of their presence and learning how to apply the understanding of them.
Apart from this knowing, which concerns the practice of sound design, I want, however, to bring up another kind of knowing involved in here. We have collaborated previously with Leena and others, by creating performances in the context of artistic research, focusing on and gathering around certain themes or topics, such as knowing through the heart here. These topics have set the orientation for our work on a very constitutive level. They have been approached as open questions; we have tried to find out how performance and artistic work could be applied in order to address them. These topics have guided our work, leading to performances, which have deliberately not had a clear, pre-defined form, concept, genre or set of professional roles or hierarchies. Instead the roles, approaches and the whole concept and realisation of these pieces have been negotiated accordingly to these questions – like a research question needs to be pondered upon, in order to find the applicable methods. One could say that from this perspective it becomes more important to ask these open-ended questions through collaborative work, than to establish yourself as an artist who creates certain kinds of work. The rest will then follow and works of art will form according to the question. In my experience this approach differs a bit from the common practices of art, where many institutional, genre oriented, productional, hierarchical and professional expectations often set the course and frame for work, and the work of art for that matter – although this is often left unspoken, in the spirit of liberty in the arts. Because of this orientation, the question and collaboration defines through the work to great extent how and what kind of a performance is realised – and not the other way around – I believe there also lays a profound possibility for knowing in and through art.
Helsinki-based Antti Nykyri (MA) has worked with music and sound design in different contexts including electronic music, band projects, contemporary dance, installation art, interface research, theatrical plays and artistic research.
Dr. Leena Rouhiainen is Professor in Artistic Research at the Theatre Academy Helsinki. Her artistic field is in performing contemporary dance.
Ahmed, Sara. 2006. Queer Phenomenology: Orientation, Objects, Others. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Levitin, Daniel. 2010. Musiikki ja aivot: Ihmisen erään pakkomielteen tiedettä. Helsinki: Terra Cognita.
Massumi, Brian 2002. Parables for the Virtual. Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham & London: Duke University Press.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice 1995/1962. Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. Collin Smith. London: Routledge.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice 1987/1968. The Visible and Invisible Followed by Working Notes. Ed. Claude Lefort. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
Parviainen, Jaana. 2006. Meduusan liike: Mobiiliajan tiedonmuodostuksen filosofiaa. Helsinki: Gaudeamus.
Polanyi, Michael. 1962. “Tacit Knowing: Its Bearing on Some Problems of Philosophy”. Reviews of Modern Physics, 34 (4) Oct. 1962, pp. 601–616.
Reynolds, Dee. 2012. “Kinesthetic Empathy and the Dance’s Body: From Emotion to Affect.” In Dee Reynolds & Matthew Reason (eds.). Kinesthetic Empathy In Creative And Cultural Practices. Bristol & Chicago: Intellect, pp. 121–138.