What Matters launches
What is the pattern that connects the crab to the lobster and the primrose to the orchid, and all of them to me, and me to you?”
– Gregory Bateson
Gregory Bateson – who is the subject of the film An Ecology of Mind, (screening during What Matters on Saturday 14 April), spent his life exploring the patterns that connect things. Leaving studies in zoology to become an anthropologist, Bateson’s explorations then took him into such diverse areas as psychology, cybernetics and linguistics.
Through this process of moving between discrete areas of knowledge, Bateson became increasingly aware of just how difficult it is for a single individual to grasp the meaning of a larger complex system. Curious as to why this might be, he turned his attention to knowledge itself. What knowledge do we have? How do we get it and how do we organize it? He once said: “Why do our schools teach us nothing about the pattern which connects?…Break the pattern which connects, and you necessarily destroy all quality.” When we don’t see the pattern or connecting system between things, (whether this is in relation to subjects like ecology or politics, or in connection to our own relationships with others), it’s easy to disregard or misunderstand what something is. It seems the recognition of the delicate, often invisible, connectedness of things offers the possibility of living more harmoniously within complex systems. Systems which, within our current paradigms for knowledge, will always remain outside the ‘knowable’ grasp of an individual.
What might be the connection between Bateson’s ideas and choreography and movement? There are many possible answers to this question, but let’s start with this one: the practice of exploring movement offers the possibility of experiencing the complexities of systems: perceptual systems, aesthetic systems and collaborative-social systems. Although the practice of dancing is now frequently articulated through language in research and books, there are other layers of its embodied thinking which are passed on through the unspoken absorption of an idea – no less distinct for its lack of being spoken or written.
What Matters emerged from an invitation, and was shaped by a death. Both the invitation and the death came from and to Gill Clarke, who had been a huge part of the curation of What If… in 2010, which was the predecessor to this current festival. What Matters emerged as a title because, for Gill, the notion of “What?” mattered – the sense of questioning, exploring and remaining curious mattered deeply to her – and is essential to the work of Independent Dance, the organisation of which she was co-director.Here already are a number of connections – from invitations and questions to past events and influences. All are present in What Matters, which is a festival that serves up artifacts and events that, although made entirely without connection to each other, will be placed in the same building for a period of time, and so therefore will speak to and across each other.
What are the connections between these disparate art works? Can we find a route through an event that displays (amongst other things) the details of the rotation in the ear of a horse, the story of a man holding his dying wife in his arms, the extended view of a spider weaving a web, and a woman tending to bee hives in East Sussex? Can we find a path from two bodies slamming together in a live space to the ecstatic screen bodies of soldiers about to go to war? Can the images of a man who decides to take on an Indian mannerism of squatting remain in the minds of those who pass by those images and then see a performance on mixing and heritage?