This workshop proposes to practically approach the question of the “(non)human” from the perspective of artistic research in and through “Body Weather”, a comprehensive performance training that emerged in Japan in the 1980’s and that has developed a wide range of practical tools to investigate how bodies and environments intersect. In the workshop, we will work with one such practice, the so-called “Bag of Bones”. In this practice, a receiving body is moved by two or more other giving bodies while closely examining and observing the receiving body’s material condition in terms of weight, texture, muscle tension, mobility, etc.
The apparently simple practice of “Bag of Bones” prompts a number of questions and issues for us to reflect upon in the context of this colloquium: What is the effect of shifting our attention to the material condition of the body? How does the practice alter the body’s perception in relation to itself and to other bodies? How might this altered mode of perception be linked with a re-negotiation of our preconceptions about the “human”, about what the body of the other is and about what it can do? How does this mode of perception possibly point beyond an anthropocentric perspective of the self?
This workshop requires no special pre-experience in movement or performance training, but it rests on a desire to get bodily engaged and to work hands-on. Make sure to wear clothes you feel comfortable to work in.
I opened the workshop (60 mins) with a short introduction into my doctoral artistic research and presented some of the research questions that I am dealing with in my investigation:
What is the impact of Body Weather performance training on the performer? How does it alter the performer’s mode of perception? How does it alter the way bodies relate to themselves and to their environment? What is the impact of the training practice on the body’s capacity to affect and be affected? What is the physicality of the altered mode of perception and how does the altered physicality of the body possibly relate to altered modes of thinking? What is the knowledge that becomes embodied and enacted in and through Body Weather practice? What insights can be drawn by studying and reflecting on the process of alteration from within the practice, that is from the perspective of the practitioner, from the one who is actually doing the practice and who at the same time studies and explores the effects of the practice on the process of perception?
I linked my research questions to the questions raised in the Vision Statement of CARPA4:
“How do different practices and techniques in performing arts face the contemporary critique of anthropocentrism? How do different practices and techniques in performing arts participate in renegotiating the role and the limits of the human and what kind of critique does the involvement with the non-human entail?”
The workshop invited the participants to get introduced to a Body Weather training practice called “Bag of Bones”(10), and to explore together how “the role and the limits of the human” are renegotiated in this practice. I proposed to the participants to put the practice to the test with their own bodies – and to put to the test their own bodies with the practice of the “Bag of Bones”: What is it that is activated by the practice? What kind of physicality, mentality, mode of perception is activated by it? How does the practice work? What is the impact of the practice on how the body relates to itself and to others? What kind of subjectivity does it tease out? What conception of the human being is underlying the practice? How is the human body approached?
Before actually introducing “Bag of Bones”, I suggested to first try some perceptual and observational exercises that aim at activating sensory perception and that I consider useful for doing the practice.(11) These were:
- From peripheral vision to peripheral proprioception
– peripheral vision (2 mins)
– peripheral proprioception with eyes open and with peripheral vision (2 mins)
– peripheral proprioception with eyes closed (1 min)
- Awareness of breathing during peripheral vision & peripheral proprioception
– directing your attention to breathing (1 min)
– adding peripheral vision to the awareness of breathing (1 min)
– adding peripheral proprioception to peripheral vision and the awareness of breathing (1 min)
– peripheral proprioception with closed eyes and awareness of breathing (1 min)
- Exploration of an object through touch
– take an object you find in the space and, through touch, explore its material properties (size, texture, weight, etc.) while actively maintaining attention to breathing, peripheral vision and peripheral proprioception (2 minutes)
– find a partner and explore a body part while actively maintaining attention to breathing, peripheral vision and peripheral proprioception (3 mins); change roles, so that the explorer becomes explored, and vice versa
Bag of Bones
With the experience of these preparatory exercises we moved on to the practice of “Bag of Bones” itself. We worked in trios: one body lying on the floor, two bodies working on the lying body: we were exploring the material properties of the lying body, and how its perception in a horizontal position differs from a body in vertical position. I suggested to explore the body in its parts and in terms of weight, texture, tonus, size, density, temperature, mobility etc., by lifting weight, giving weight, moving weight, placing weight, directing weight; by extending one’s modes of attention beyond one’s own body and into the explored body; one body in a mode of peripheral proprioception meeting the peripheral mode of proprioception of the other body: a meeting between bodies in peripheral modes of haptic and proprioceptive perception. The attention to your breathing extends into an attention to the breathing of the other. Both the exploring body and the explored body: carefully stretching the limits of each other…
In the third and last round of the trio, the body of the lying person, after having been moved and explored by the other two bodies, was given 2 minutes to move based on the perception of the experience of being moved and explored, while being observed from distance by the two others. (2 x 4 mins, 1 x 4 + 2 mins)
To round up the practice, each trio had 5 minutes time for an internal discussion. Afterwards, the workshop concluded with a group discussion. Due to the short amount of time that remained (10 mins), I asked the participants to come up with what they felt was most urgent to say. It was mentioned that(12)
- the practice stimulated a negotiation of the human in terms of becoming aware of a certain deterioration of the body related to age
- the experience of being moved by two other bodies was like “being an instrument played by other humans”, like becoming a “Marionette”, and that “being in space was dreamlike”
- the experience of the practice opened the imagination to the question “what is human?”
- the elasticity of the skin as an organ was experienced differently and that the practice brought the 3-dimensionality of the body to the fore
- there was a resistance to lie down on the floor, and that this saying “no” was circulating as information through the body
- the mind was experienced as “active” in a passive body
- the situation of being explored and moved by two other bodies was accompanied by a sense of being receptive for theory
I concluded the discussion stating that in my conception “Bag of Bones” is a practice that has the capacity to materially alter the perception of one’s own body and its relationship to other bodies, be it human or non-human. Practiced by and between humans, it thus cultivates a sensibility and receptivity for the non- or more-than-human.
Joa Hug is a doctoral researcher at the Performing Arts Research Centre at the Theatre Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki. His research investigates the impact of performance training on the performer’s process of perception and mode of knowing. It connects movement research grounded on “Body Weather” – a comprehensive approach to performance training that emerged in Japan in the 1980’s – with a conceptual investigation at the intersection of artistic research, cognitive science, philosophy and cultural theory. Hug is based with his family in Berlin and coordinates AREAL (Artistic Research Lab Berlin), a platform for exchange on research projects.
10) The name “Bag of Bones” evokes a non-human image of, or approach to, the body as being composed of bones that are contained by a bag, thus encouraging practitioners to suspend any preconception about what a body is, how it feels, and what it does.
11) When leading a workshop at an event such as CARPA 4, one never knows the background, the pre-experience and the anxieties that the participants bring into the space. In order to address possible concerns regarding the physical explorations we were going to do, and to relieve some of the anxiety, I mentioned that it was always possible to step out and to just watch.
12) This summary is based on the notes I took during the discussion. My sincere apologies for any errors or misinterpretation!