Reflections Task 5 + Task 6 –Constraint Satisfaction

Dear Maria,

Thanks for Task 5. There was so much in this task and I wish I had been able to spend more time on it, but I had such a busy week arriving in Denmark. Perhaps a Task to revisit?

Reflections on Task 5

I carried out this task on my bike in the town of Horsens, Denmark, where I have relocated. My reflections are a transcription of the audio recording I made on my phone, while carrying out Task 5 –A Word for a Place. I then go on to add some reflections on the yoga posture instructions that followed.

Appendix

‘I’m taking a right turn onto Christian M. Østergaardsvej. I knew straight away that this was the area I wanted to explore when I read your instructions to do this Task in a place that is not familiar. I was born in Horsens and lived here till I was 18 and I have now moved back. There are roads and areas of this town I have never visited because they’re not in the trajectory of movements between my childhood home and school or my gymnasium (Sixth Form) or shops or the train station. So, although this area -where I am now standing- is only 10 minutes cycle from where I grew up it feels like a kind of a… an…

… APPENDIX

That’s a good word. I like it. It’s quite a visceral word. As I’m standing at the side of the road looking towards what seems like a blind area, the word ‘Appendix’ describes this feeling of an unknown place. This place is attached to something else that is familiar but it doesn’t have a purpose or even a function for me. Not yet, anyway.

And there’s something else…

I haven’t got an inner map of this area. It’s a strange feeling. I know most other parts of this town so well and the psychogeography of it; I know where streets are in relation to each other, I recognise potholes and road signs and where the hill gets a little bit steeper and even shops and houses that haven’t changed for the past 16 years. But I haven’t got a sense of this neighbourhood. I’m standing at the cross roads between a very familiar street and an area that is completely unknown to me. I have no idea what to expect. I know it’s a residential area and that a new college was built here recently. That’s all. I feel a bit unsettled, perhaps also because of my own prejudice that this neighbourhood is a slightly rough part of town. Will I lose track of where I am? Will my presence be questioned?’

(15 minutes later) 

Cycling

‘I am now on streets that I don’t recognise: Hybenvej, Pilevej and Bakkesvinget. I get really confused about the ‘left/right side of the road’ driving. I was walking for a while but then as soon as I got on my bike my brain couldn’t decide whether to be on the right or the left side of the road. My body is drawn towards the middle and I end up veering on my bike towards the centre. I know I need to be on the right side but because the streets are unfamiliar I’m confused. It’s almost a cross-wiring of my spatial brain.

I recognise this feeling. Because my movements around the city of Leeds are very much experienced from a cycling perspective, being on two wheels in Horsens, taps into my default relationship with the road, which in Leeds, obviously, is on the left-hand side.’

(15 minutes later)

Losing track of APPENDIX

‘I realise I have completely lost track of the word for the place. It is at least five minutes since I was tracing the ‘N’ in APPENDIX. I set off on this task with the intention of spelling out each letter. Now I have lost my whereabouts in between identical apartment blocks and paths, hedges and trees. I’m confused about keeping left or right…  this definitely doesn’t feel like anything that I know.

(12 minutes later)

I have reached a woodland area and I have a view of the inlet from the fjord. It’s amazing how the relationship between water and land anchors me in a place. I see a path that I recognise, running along the water, but I have no idea whether following this path would take me closer to or further away from home. It is very disorientating. I think I will take a right between the trees and see where it takes me…

(8 minutes later)

Ha… I have come full circle and the path has taken me back to the top of the road where I started the journey. Funny how this new information is instantaneously updated in the map in my brain. And what felt like an unfamiliar neighbourhood –an appendix, something dispensable– has become an integrated part of the town. I will enjoy the final leg of the journey and see if perhaps I can trace the ‘X’ as I make my way back to the start.’

Further reflections from second part of Task 5 –A Word for a Place

It is several days after my exploration on bike that I get a chance to do the second part of Task 5. I lie down for a prolonged Savasana and undo the cycle trip with some yoga postures. I carry these additional tasks out after transcribing the audio recording, so I still feel the residue and imprints of the first exploration.

As I lay down for Savasana I feel a heaviness in my body that I haven’t experienced for a long time in this posture. An image of anchoring comes to mind, like the anchoring experience I had when catching sight of the fjord inlet on my journey. From that image, I spontaneously start to trace my awareness through my body as if I’m mapping a landscape. I follow the curves of the spine and move my awareness into my legs and take a trip through my body to uncover areas that seem like blind spots.

I move into yogasana and follow an instinct to do some challenging balance postures: Ardha Chandrasana and some variations, where I twist the spine and catch my foot. I’m (re)discovering ways of moving in my practice and when different limbs, that haven’t connected for a while, join up, new pathways are created. My body is put back together.

Exploring a new environment and creating pathways is done through the action of physically mapping the terrain with my feet (and bike wheels!). It is while treading this new ground that my prejudice that the neighbourhood I visited is rough and unsafe, is put to shame. I think of the Situationists: This is psychogeography and politics at the same time.

 

Task 6 –Constraint Satisfaction

I wanted to dwell a little further on your task, so Task 6 reels of your Task 5. It has made me think of an article about Constraint Satisfaction by Stephen M. Kosslyn from 2011 from the book This Will Make Your Smarter. The next task is inspired by this article and a blog entry I wrote on it in 2012.

Here is Task 6:

Think of your route to work or perhaps another familiar journey you do most days of the week. Now come up with 3-4 ‘constraints’ that will change how you carry out this journey, and for the next week add these obstructions to your trip.

Here are some suggestions for constraints that you could use:

  • If you usually drive or take the bus, walk your journey.
  • When you pass a bus stop, cross the road and walk on the opposite pavement.
  • Make eye contact with as many people for the duration of the journey as possible.

You can take my suggestions or if you think of some constraints that would be fun, doable -but a bit challenging- that might work better for you, you should use those. You can do all of your chosen constraints on the same journey, one after the other, or perhaps dedicate one to each day.

Doing Task 5 made me think of how exploring a new environment tested my patterns of movement. What happens when you place obstacles on a familiar journey?

After your final exploration, lie down in Savasana and notice the sensations that emerge. What kind of pathways are you noticing in your body?

Then do a few yoga postures with ‘pathways’ as your anchor point.

How do you feel about your route?

Enjoy the task!

Reflections for Task 3 + Task 4 – pen and scissors

Dear Maria,

Thanks for Task 3. It was enjoyable to expand a bit on Task 1. Here are my Task 3 reflections.

08.46 am – first try with ‘Standing on paper’

I feel the weight in my heals and it falls more prominently on my right foot. It feels more like tension rather than a softening. My body recognises that, standing with my eyes closed and my arms hanging down by my side, is really just an upright version of Savasana. I imagine the imprint my body makes on the surrounding air and the room I’m in. How much can I let go of the body in this upright position without collapsing on the floor? If Savasana is one of the most difficult postures to do how difficult is standing with your eyes closed?

2.10 pm – second try with ‘Standing on paper’

I look at the flaming red feet I have drawn on the paper and I’m reminded of the importance of feet as my contact point with the earth. The earth that is ‘fully alive’ and that in its vitality supports my forward propulsion as I push my feet into the ground when I walk. The outline of the foot has become blurred as the vax from the crayon has spread across the drawing. I like the idea that perhaps my feet can become wider and spill outside the given outline of my foot to give me a sense of trust that the earth is supporting me. Perhaps I don’t even end where the outline suggests?

5.14 pm – third try with ‘Standing on paper’

I step onto the paper for the third time completely intuitively without wondering where my feet should be placed. I draw the first outline, then want to move, and make a new set of outlines. I repeat this a few times eventually stepping of the paper. Intrigued by the multiple footprints I grab a green crayon and start drawing on the outlines. It quickly becomes clear that I have lost track of the footprints. One line continues into another and soon I find myself circling the crayon around, following whatever trail it passes. The task you gave me, to pay attention to weight and mark the imprint in the outline, has been replaced by the movement of the crayon across the paper and the emphasis of the imprints’ relationship to each other.

I move back from the drawing and notice a reverse choreography emerging in the imprints. It appears as if the final green print steps into the second red print, that finally settles into the first brown/black print.

 

Task 4 – pen and scissors

What you will need to carry out task:

A couple of blank pieces of paper

Scissors

A pen/pencil

Glue (optional)

My task for you for next week is linked to the dance class you take Tuesday evenings at Northern School of Contemporary Dance, so I hope you get a chance to go this week. If not, you should be able to carry this task out in a different context. I will leave this to you.

After your dance class (or as soon after as possible) sit down for 10 minutes (you can set a timer!) and do continuous writing, noting ideas, sensations, experiences, thoughts that come up from the class. It can be full sentences, words, images, accounts of exercises, whatever comes to mind; most importantly don’t think too much about it and try not to stop writing during those 10 minutes.

This next bit can be done at a later stage:

Cut up the paper so the words and sentences are divided into separate slips of paper. Then mix them together. Take a fresh piece of paper and now randomly pick the words and sentences and place them (or glue them) onto the paper to form a new piece of writing. You can use as many of your cut up words and sentences as you like.

What comes out of this? How did you experience the process?

The reflection may simply be the new piece of writing and/or additional reflections on it.

Hope it makes sense. Enjoy the task!

Refections for Task 1 + new Task 2

Dear Maria,

So here are my reflections on task 1. It ended up being a longer response than I intended. Below the reflections you will find task 2!

Task 1 reflections:

I stand with my feet on the wooden floor of my living room, take in the view in front of my floor to ceiling window from my flat on the fifth floor, and follow the instructions you have given me: Find space between top of the spine and base of the skull, check. This automatically lifts my skull up and I can feel the shoulder blades release and relax my shoulders. I trace sensations down my spine and reach my coccyx. I follow the ‘honey-drip-line’ down to the floor feeling the back of my calves lengthen as I gently lift up through my legs. My awareness has reached my feet. I observe their connection with the floor and allow them to become wide for a while and at some point, my weight starts to shift from left to right to left to right. For a long time, I simply observe the different sensations of my feet spreading out on the floor, notice the metatarsals of my right foot are tighter and won’t soften down when I shift my weight to the right. It’s a wonderful sensation of tuning in to this subtle awareness and practice not judging or trying to change but simply letting my body find its own way, by giving it time. I envy the tree across the road that stands tall and secure with its big trunk rooted firmly into the ground. The outer branches and leaves sway and bend in the wind, creating a dance that follow the laws of nature, without wondering whether it’s doing it right or not. I guess it doesn’t get to sit down and drink a nice cup of coffee in a minute. There are some perks to being a human being! And then my head drops forward, my spine curves, and as I roll towards the floor my breath suddenly comes in. How could I have forgotten my breath? I let out a sigh and the breath brings movement to the torso, I roll back up and my arms float up into a little dance with my feet still in the same position.

Afterthoughts

As I begin the first task of our collaboration I realise how much I have pre-empted my response to it. Before beginning the task, I have already half written my reflections to you. I have done this task many times before: standing with my feet on the ground, paying attention to sensations of weight, of contact surfaces with the floor and of the skull rising up from the spine. This is in no way a criticism of the task, on the contrary, it makes it more interesting to encounter my own expectations to how I will carry out the instructions. The use of vocabulary is deeply embedded in my own teaching and perhaps for that reason I find it difficult to distract myself from the familiarity with the exercise.

I decide to embrace the comfort of the exercise but then something happens. As I carry out the task a few times, my experience of embodying the task, blends with other thinking processes that are present to me. I am currently thinking about how we as bodies and entities define the edges of our form. Is it the skin that defines the edge of me and the bark that defines the edge of the tree? I have a brief moment –as I stand in front of the window looking out on the giant tree across the street– where the tree and I only exist in the space-time between us. It is only a momentary sensation but I realise, that the metaphor of the tree and I as one and the same –standing, grounded into the earth, moving up and out of the top of our ‘branches’– means that we only exist in our relation to each other. I have been doing this exercise of standing and noticing weight etc. many times, but never has it occurred to me that the tree and I each take form in the interaction with the other.

Task 2

Please read the following instructions in the image below. The task comes from the book The Place of Dance by Andrea Olsen, on the chapter Dance and Yoga, page 219.

Enjoy…

Reference

Olsen, A. with McHose, C. (2014) The Place of Dance. Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press

1, 2, 3… 4

1, 2, 3: The footage
For this second film, I wanted to think about training as a studio-based activity and set myself the obstruction of using only video footage recorded in a dance studio.

1) Northern School of Contemporary Dance (NSCD), Leeds, June 2005. I recently rediscovered this recording on a Camcorder DV tape. It contains footage of a contemporary class taught by Sue Hawksley and a ballet class taught by Vivien Wood, both for 3rd year students. I had got a friend to film the classes to keep a memory of our final days as students at NSCD.

2) Independent Dance (ID), London, May 2016. The footage shows the sharing from my assessment on the ‘Investigative Practice’ module, the final taught element of my MA Creative Practice at Trinity Laban. The module was a ‘research intensive’ that allowed each student to challenge their own practical research and dance-making through the encounter with the practice and ideas of an artist—in my case Siobhan Davies. The assessment was the culmination of this five-week creative project.

3) University of Leeds (UoL), April 2017. The footage shows my daughter Lisa and myself playing and dancing, and was filmed with the intention of making a record of the negotiation of our relationship in a studio setting. I brought paper, markers, string, food etc., to create an environment where we would want to interact with each other and investigate the materials within the scope of the studio space.

I initially thought this last footage (number 3) might work on its own for this blog entry, to link to and follow up the previous film and post, which has Lisa at the centre of the film. The rediscovery of the NSCD material changed my mind: I seemed to me the old footage had relevance to my theme. Once I managed to get hold of the ID recording, the composition of the studio training film started to crystallise.

1, 2, 3: Types of training
Training in a formal sense of ‘being in training’ usually has an outcome in mind (training for). It has a purpose. It is undertaken with the intention to develop or perfect a skill using a pretested form or structure of activity.

1) The ballet and contemporary classes in the NSCD footage are a good example of the development of technical skills seen as essential to becoming a proficient dancer.

2) With regard to the ID footage: technical dance skills were a prerequisite for the MA Creative Practice, which took these for granted, so that study could focus not on technique but on the develop of artistic ideas. The footage does not directly show the process of acquiring artistic skill, but nevertheless gives an insight into an early stage of the creative development of material.

3) Dancing and playing with Lisa felt like stepping out of training. We played without a specific outcome in mind and came closer to being equals as we took turns to lead play and generate ideas. ‘Being in training’ with a child does not work like formal training. Lisa does not enter a game or play with the intention of ‘getting somewhere’: she simply ‘does’. Momentarily I had the experience that our mother/daughter relationship was suspended and that our usual roles were put on hold. When I look back at this footage I watch myself go along with Lisa’s play and encourage messiness in the studio to a greater extent than I would do at home. The mother/daughter relationship never really ceases, of course – as is evident in a moment in the film – but perhaps in the ‘neutral’ studio setting it was overlaid by another connection between us where we could be creative co-players.

… 4: Mixing time
Playing with the footage in the editing process and confusing the chronological timeline shifted the meaning of the material. By ‘stacking’ the clips, commonalities between footage was highlighted and I stopped seeing training for something and began to see training as play. As the individual bits of material became detached from the timeline, the content of the training was ‘presenced, revealed in itself and not only as a piece of ‘historical’ evidence. The decision to edit extracts of the material together in a non-chronological order, and to compose in split screen, reflected my interest in playing with temporalities. I suspended the temporality of chronology—the sequence and gaps of time between the different footage—in order to favour temporalities of simultaneity and rhythm. I decided to foreground shared timing between images, analogies in the use of space in the studio and matching actions. This, I felt, challenged the idea of training as an activity that always ‘looks forward’ and instead allowed the juxtaposed images to give each other new meaning in the ‘present’ of training-in-itself.

1, 2, 3…. 4: Motherhood talks back
The film revealed to me a paradox that only became clear after its making. I took motherhood into the studio to investigate being with Lisa within the setting of a training space: by doing so a clash of temporalities emerged. Being with Lisa is about being ‘for now’, while dance training is ‘for the future’. The dance studio commonly frames the training that is concerned with a forward trajectory but in the case of Lisa and I, the studio became a playground where training is being-for-now, so being in the studio with Lisa meant the framing of one temporality in the space where another typically takes place. And so, for me, the composition of 1, 2, 3… 4 adopts the structure of motherhood as a non-linear and playful activity, a being-for-the-present. The question then becomes, if the footage of Lisa reveals the playful and being-for-now in the other footage, what does that other footage reveal about the footage of Lisa and I? How does that other footage talk back to motherhood?

Motherhood In/As Training
1, 2, 3… 4 is the second of three blog posts under the title Motherhood In/As Training. This project explores the correlations and tensions between being a dance artist in training and a mother at the same time. To read my first post and get an introduction to the project please read here.

I dont want to dance: Motherhood In/As Training

Introduction for the viewer/reader

‘I don’t want to dance’ is my first of three blog posts under the title Motherhood In/As Training. Each of the three blog entries is composed of a short film (at the end of the post) and accompanying text. I’m a freelance dance artist and a mother and this series of posts is about being both at once.

I completed an MA in Creative Practice at Laban Conservatoire in London in September 2016 which required me to work in dance training while becoming a mother (my daughter Lisa was born in 2014- my first year as a part time student) at the same time. In this way, the experience of becoming a mother and being in creative development happened simultaneously and that experience is the foundation for this project.

I have experienced a tension between my dance training and training in motherhood. A dance practice traditionally requires time in the studio and a physical body-mind dedicated solely to the creative work. Being a mother affects these aspects: time and space as well as my body-mind are not exclusively at my own disposal. Motherhood pushes me out of traditional working methods in my dance practice and challenges my assumptions of what I believe training to be.

To challenge these assumptions my project asks: What is considered to be ‘training’ and to what degree does training begin or end when I step into or out of the studio? Who trains who in a mother/child relationship? What and how does the artist in me see from the point of view of what I call the ‘motherside’?

Motherhood is not linear and consistent. I respond to my daughter’s needs in the moment they occur, as unexpected and inconvenient as they might be – interrupting me in a train of thought or a meal half cooked. In a similar way, the blog texts and short films aim to give the viewer a sense of fragmentation, of spontaneity, of being stuck in repetition and again and again being interrupted, stopped, confused.

Feminist-academic-artist-mother

In her manifesto Mothernism Lise Haller Baggesen outlines the tension between the various aspects of her identity. ‘As I tried to figure out the relationship between the different aspects of my life (…) defining myself as a feminist-academic-artistic-mother increasingly felt like playing a complicated game of rock-paper-scissors-boob. (…) I felt increasingly provoked at this demand “to check my motherhood at the door.” So much so that instead of “covering” that part of my life , I opted to “come out” as a mother, artistically and academically.’[1]

Following Baggesen, I want to challenge my own assumption of the artist being someone on a lonely individual journey and that the nurturing nature of the mother is in opposition to the romantic ideal of an artist as a singular genius. I want to let go of the idea that in order to lose myself in an artistic process I have to give up motherhood.

Paradoxically, motherhood is precisely a lonely journey where I lose myself as I venture into the unknown. A lonely journey that for me started in the intimate experience of pregnancy where I felt removed from the sense of self that I knew, as my slender agile body was replaced by a grotesque version of me. Giving birth was lonely and unpredictable and although the shared responsibility with Lisa’s dad when she was born was a relief, I was always the last point of call when he was no longer capable of offering her comfort, because only my breast would do.

As I begin to acknowledge the common points of reference between the roles of mother and artist, this polarisation dissolves. If there is no polar opposition between the mother and artist and I can be both equally at once, what creative process and outcome will I have?

What does motherhood see?

Inspired by the documentary Cameraperson (2016), directed by American filmmaker Kirsten Johnson, my thoughts on how to make this investigation happen started to come together. Johnson’s documentary shows footage from her 25 years as a cinematographer, telling a story about her, the cameraperson, almost without showing her in the film. I was fascinated by the idea of using artistic tools of filming without purposely putting the person in question directly in the frame. Cameraperson shows what Johnson sees through the lens but only on a few occasions do we actually see her. It tells a story about the person who is seeing. Could my film show motherhood without the mother in the frame? I was not interested in depicting my experience of being a mother, I wanted the film itself to ‘be a mother’. My project shows motherhood in/as training by letting motherhood look through the camera. What does motherhood see? How does motherhood see?

 Seeing through a viewfinder

The filming is not planned in advance; nothing within the frame is directed. I don’t seek out to film dance but to allow the dance to come through in the juxtaposition of shots, camera movement and pace. For this reason I don’t use complex equipment: being able to improvise my filming means to simply point and shoot.

I review my footage and observe that Lisa is often in the (centre of) the frame. I try and see beyond Lisa and beyond the loving gaze of a mother looking at her child as my film is not intending to be about Lisa, I’m not interested in portraying her. But in reality she is in the viewfinder when I film. She becomes the obstruction for the project: always there, pushing her way into my film, into my consciousness even as I try to see past her, in a way, illustrating how her presence fills my time, my space and my being. I wonder how the process of training is taking place and to what degree Lisa’s presence in my film is an element of her training me to be a mother and /or an artist?

The making of the film becomes about seeing movement and choreography, contrast and colour in the footage I have gathered and not just seeing my child. I allow the choreographer in me to shine through in an interest in framing what I see in the viewfinder in a particular light, in shadows or against a contrasting background. 

Seeing beyond Lisa 

In the film ‘I don’t want to dance’ I try to let the motherside of my daily life merge with the artist. Lisa is dressing up and role playing, using ‘performance’ as a way of training for ‘being in the world’. At the same time she is refusing to be trained as the voice track reveals.

As a consequence of embracing motherhood in the creative process I find the centre of the film becomes about the actual manifestation of motherhood, my daughter. Here lies the tension of the project for this first blog entry: can I make a film that has Lisa in the frame without it being about her? What can my intention to see beyond her show me about how motherhood sees?

[1] Lise Haller Baggesen, Mothernism, p. 12 http://www.spdbooks.org/Content/Site106/FilesSamples/9780988418554.pdf