In my paper presentation I presented a novel epistemological and analytical framework that sheds light on the dynamic of perception, power, knowledge and the body in human experience, particularly in performance situations. While I initially developed the framework for performance analysis, I suggest that it can be productive for artist-researchers in the field of performing arts in planning and reflecting on their research and presentation strategies. My framework is based on a detailed view of the human perceptual apparatus that underlies all our activities and meaning-making processes – how our experiences and knowledges take form through the performative and material interaction between our bodies, the environment, and culture. Drawing especially on Jacques Rancière’s, Marcel Mauss’s, Nick Crossley’s and Michel Foucault’s views of perception and experience, the main concepts of my framework are “sensory fields“, “experience fields” and ”body techniques“. Through case studies, I showed how this framework opens up possibilities for addressing ideological assumptions and processes of inclusion and exclusion both in artistic research processes, in performance situations, and in our daily lives. I presented an epistemological-analytical framework for addressing ideological assumptions and processes of inclusion and exclusion in performance situations and artistic research projects. It can be used by artist-researchers for planning and reflecting on their research and presentation strategies.
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How do our experiences and knowledges take form through the interaction between our bodies, the environment, and culture? How do those processes inform our artistic and research activities, especially in the field of performance? And, in which ways are our modes of knowing and perception intertwined with processes of inclusion and exclusion both in performance situations, in research practice, and in our daily lives?
In my paper at the CARPA6 colloquium, I discussed these vital questions that form the basis of my research practice, and also of this text. In what follows, I briefly present an epistemological-analytical framework for locating and interrogating ways in which performance events engage and affect the participants, and for understanding the culture-bound dynamic of perception, knowledge, exclusions and the body in performance situations. While I devised the framework primarily for performance analytical purposes, I suggest that it can be used by artist-researchers for planning and reflecting on their research and presentation strategies. I have discussed some of the main concepts of my framework – sensory fields, body techniques, and the distribution of the sensible – in more detail in my 2015 article in Nordic Theatre Studies (see Lahtinen 2015) and I am further developing them in my forthcoming PhD dissertation on power relations in and political underpinnings of participatory performance practice at the University of Helsinki.
Body, perception and normativity in daily life
I believe that there is a specific sensory apparatus or mode in which the human organism and, possibly, many other organisms we call animals, register their surroundings. The term “sensory field”, which refers to forms, intensities and elements that the senses of an organism register amidst the continuous flux of stimuli that surround it, is a useful term to shed light on this mode. Here, “registering” does not refer to language-based acts of signification, but to acts of momentarily being affected by some elements in the ocean of stimuli that delineate and guide the perception of the organism. (see Hurley 2010; Sullivan 2013) The human mind automatically seeks to take sensory affects into language and turn them into experiences of a self-conscious “I”. That is, one’s affections in the sensory field are “turned” or “translated” as reflected and conscious experiences, feelings, and emotions. In this process, the particular sensory field turns into an experience field insofar as the affects and sensations that the sensory field gave rise to can be rendered meaningful.
In our daily lives in a specific society and within a certain “distribution of the sensible” in Jacques Rancière’s meaning of the term, we learn and adopt behavioural patterns through observing and mimicking other people’s behaviour – including the use of language – both automatically and intentionally. (See Panagia 2009; Rancière 2011; Rockhill 2004) Drawing especially on Marcel Mauss’s line of thought, I call these behavioural patterns body techniques so as to emphasize their bodily, social, technical and skill-bound dimension. (See Crossley 2004; Mauss 1985; Mauss 1992.) Body techniques can be taught and imposed on individuals and groups purposefully in institutions such as schools, prisons, hospitals and museums but we also adopt them in domestic environments, and also without noticing it. (See Bennett 1995; Foucault 1978; Foucault 1995.) For instance, from our childhood onwards, we learn body technical routines and divisions of labour in household chores, the ways of behaving at home with other household members, and so on.
These techniques are ways in which we adapt to the behavioural codes of the society, and ways through which others perceive and assess us. In this ongoing social process, we also continuously create a sense of “self” and of our subjectivity, and also through which our “habituses” in the Bourdieuan sense of the term are formed. (See Bourdieu 1984; Crossley 2004; Featherstone 1987.) If a person does not succeed in learning the normative body techniques – and proper use of language in specific situations – prevalent and “suitable” in the social body or community he or she lives in and that are essential for recognition and acceptance as a member of that community, he or she is likely to encounter social alienation, discrimination and violence. The same goes for the situation in which the person is not given an opportunity to learn these techniques and ways of speech, or refuses to comply with them. Indeed, body techniques “embody” social norms, values and hierarchies in that they produce and manifest accustomed ways of using one’s body “properly”; of reacting to other bodies “properly”; and of having a “proper” relation to one’s own body, in social situations as well as intellectually.
Body, perception and normativity in performance situations
Based on my view of human perception, I suggest that every performance situation gives rise to a particular sensory field, which in this context means the specific material, kinaesthetic, visual, aural and haptic situation created by the performance, as a combined effect of all its participants and elements. It is through this sensory field that the participants form a conscious experience – an experience field – of the event. Whenever we talk about or analyse a performance situation, we talk about our partial and subjective experiences rooted in the sensory field of that situation; it is not possible to describe or reason about sensory fields “as such”.
The artists bring crucial elements to the sensory field by means of their actions and the scenography that they have created – for instance what they do and make visible and audible; where the participants are supposed to sit, stand or move about; what kind of atmosphere the artists try to generate and so forth – but they do not and cannot take complete control of the sensory field of the event. This is because sensory fields and the experiences that they arouse in participants are always situational; they depend on the specific bodily constellation, expectations, moods and reactions of the participants that cannot be fully predicted in advance. Also, any stimulus in the sensory field can engage the participants’ senses and affect their experiences of the situation; participants often register “distracting” random stimuli such as cracks in the wallpaper, uncomfortable seats or the humming of the ventilation system.
In performance situations, there are many normative collective body techniques and cultural codes of conduct at play that we are most likely to become aware of when someone breaches them. For instance, a child or anybody who attends a conventional drama theatre performance for the first time and who loudly comments on the actions on stage has not yet learnt the “proper” behaviour in theatre: that one is supposed to be silent and keep one’s thoughts and reactions mostly to herself while viewing the events on the stage. (See Harvie 2013; McAuley 2000; White 2013.)
Potentially useful questions for artist-researchers
I believe that the crucial ideological assumptions, as well as the processes of exclusion and inclusion in any artistic project are not to be seen solely in their “goals” or “themes”, but, even more distinctly, in the modes of bodily participation that they employ. Also, any kind of research is bound to the bodily experiences of the researcher, as well as to the ways of paying attention, of using language, and of using one’s body in social situations – informed by body techniques – that he or she has learned by living within a certain distribution of the sensible and as a member of a certain household. These experiences guide the researcher’s views and inform the choices he or she makes in devising a project, performance or presentation, both consciously and subconsciously.
While each artistic research project obviously has its specific rationale and is embedded in specific institutional resources and procedures, I wish to conclude with a few general questions – rooted in the framework presented above – that might be useful for artist-researchers in planning their project and in reflecting their aims and assumptions:
- What kind of body techniques does the project and/or the presentation employ, challenge, interrogate?
- What kinds of spatial setting and participatory positions are created through the research and presentation situations?
- What kind of atmosphere is strived for? Why?
- What strategies are employed to direct the participants’ attention during the event?
- What assumptions about “ideal” or “desired” participation does the project rely on?
- Does the performance or presentation allow or encourage questioning and spontaneous, potentially subversive action by the spectators, listeners, co-performers? Why? Why not?
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Joonas Lahtinen (A/FIN) is a performance and installation artist and researcher based in Vienna. He works as a Lecturer-Researcher in Art and Education at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Joonas has studied Performance at Queen Mary, University of London and is writing his PhD on power relations in and political underpinnings of participatory performance practice in Theatre Research at the University of Helsinki. He has published several research and popular articles in Finnish and international publications. Joonas’s artistic projects have been shown in Austria, Finland, Germany, Romania and Switzerland and he has cooperated with such institutions as Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art / Finnish National Gallery, WUK Wien and brut Wien. joonaslahtinen.wordpress.com.