Make Space: Feeling Our Way Into The Practice (Of Doing)
Make Space was a three-year programme run by Nic Green and Artsadmin from 2013-2015, developed to offer young artists the opportunity to explore site-responsive performance practices. Over the three years, the project was based at Hackney City Farm, Richmond Yacht Club (Eel Pie Island) and Totteridge Cricket Ground consecutively, with each group spending a month exploring the collaborative potential between themselves, each other and their chosen site.
This weekly series of blog posts will feature reflections, artistic responses and critical writing inspired by the project, exploring the potentials of ‘place’ and rejecting the pressures of ‘productivity.’ The posts were written by the participants and artists, all of whom all attended the Making More Space symposium in 2016:
- 'Away with the Birds | At Sing Two Birds | Mnemonic topographies | Women of the Hill' by Hanna Tuulikki
- 'Performance As Currency For The Wild' by Rebecca Leach
- 'A Naturally Occurring Psychology' by David Key
- 'Making Conversation' by Ayisha De Lanerolle
- 'Feeling Our Way Into The Practice (Of Doing)' by Simone Kenyon
- Make Space participant reflections
Simone Kenyon: Feeling Our Way Into the Practice (Of Doing)
On the Sunday of the Making More Space event at Eel Pie Island, I spoke about my artistic practice and movement work. This led into a practical Feldenkrais group lesson (also known as Awareness Through Movement classes or ATM) that gently explored the soles of the feet, exploration of weight transference in the joints and the whole skeleton, into standing and walking in the inside and outside spaces of the Yacht club-house.
Moving from listening to voice, back to listening to inner sensation for participants is a fascinating transition to witness and facilitate. It is difficult to describe here, how these kinds of listening transform a physical and collective space, however the interplay of our interior and exterior sensations is a useful starting point to make our way into something individually, and together.
I believe that the unity of mind and body is an objective reality. They are not just parts somehow related to each other, but an inseparable whole while functioning. A brain without a body could not think.
– Moshe Feldenkrais
As a movement practitioner I will always champion the importance of learning through doing. I am unashamedly biased in my thinking around the practice of embodied knowledge. Through movement we learn from the neurological to the philosophical. Through the Feldenkrais method and through dancing, we often work with the imagination as a way of conversing and affecting our neuromuscular system. Heightening our awareness to our ‘thinking bodies’ widens the reach for our interconnectedness beyond our own skin and to the more-than-human world we find ourselves very much a part of. Our embodied experience and tacit knowledge can begin to create language and meaning for performative and participatory experiences.
The act of walking as an arts practice and choreographic tool has been a significant thread woven through projects for urban and rural contexts over the past 18 years. These include the 2006 collaboration with fellow dancer, Tamara Ashley: The Pennine Way: The Legs That Make Us. This immersive 270-mile, 1-month long journey was a pivotal project that mobilised a significant deepening of my understanding of self, others and performance making in relation to scale, duration, environment and community.
A more recent project, Walking out of the body and into the Mountain: Dancing, Mountaineering and Embodied ways of Knowing, refers both to my current research and to Nan Shepherds’ explorations of the Cairngorms Mountains in Scotland as documented in her 1974 book, 'The Living Mountain.' Her writing presents her sensory and embodied experiences as a walker and suggests that the boundaries of body and mountain and the links between them are permeable. She writes, “I have walked out of the body and into the mountain” (p 106).
I was struck by how Nan relates and communicates her felt sense of place, developing perception and interconnection of body and environment on both micro and macro scales. Her work resonates with approaches born out of a dance training I have been working with for 10 years called Body Weather. Japanese artist Min Tanaka, who developed this movement training, considered our bodies as ever-changing environments within and in-relation to the larger environment, which of course is also constantly changing. This practice goes beyond producing dance. As well as a physical training, it is a philosophical approach that challenges our habits and tendencies, explores failure and confusion and has led me to consider how my practice, however small it may seem, can be a political act.
Through dancing, moving or resting in places, how do we develop the possibilities of becoming more permeable to our surroundings? What is our understanding of being-in-place? And how does this begin to change our perceptions and alter our sense of empathy towards our world?
Shepherd's words and examples Ied me to explore the Cairngorms mountain range as a unique place to begin conversations with other women about their experiences of mountaineering. It also brought into question how, as an artist, I can develop movement and choreographic languages to share the importance of physical and tacit knowledge that form our understanding of environments. I often lead walks that explore our senses intricately, so we might further understand how they create our perception of the world. From our fingertips to the internal workings of our own inner landscapes, these mappings begin to inspire a process for making new site situated and responsive performance to the mountains themselves. In time and through working in the mountains, they may offer other insights. However, only by going in and doing will I discover how to feel my way through.
Finding your Feyness
Often in my bed at home, I have remembered the places I have run lightly over with no sense of fear, and have gone cold to think of them. It seems to me that I could never go back: my fear unmans me, horror is in my mouth. Yet when I go back, the same leap of spirit carries me up. God or no God, I am fey again.
The feyness itself seems to me to have a physiological origin.
– Nan Shepherd
The definition of the word ‘fey’ has multiple meanings it seems: being otherworldly, mythical, close to death, or having a weakness of character or loss of judgment. Shepherd refers to becoming ‘fey’ as a positive attribute to her experience of becoming otherworldly, giddy even, within her heightened experiences as she feels her way through the mountains.
Through Shepherd’s appropriation I consider what makes me ‘fey’ again and as I search for meaning in the mountains and talk to women about their relationship to place. I recognise the feeling of being in a state of heightened flow. However to address when I feel ‘feyness’ also brings a philosophical question, relating to values and what keeps me going as a practitioner. I put the question to all of us: What makes us ‘fey’ in our lives and work? What it is that keeps us going, inspires us, connects us, challenges and excites us about the world? In other words, what makes you ‘fey’, time and time again?
Feldenkrais. M. Embodied Wisdom: The Collected Papers of Moshe Feldenkrais. North Atlantic Books. 2011.
Shepherd, N. The Living Mountain. Canongate Books. 2011.