Reflections Task 34 and Task 35 – Syncopation

Dear Maria,

Thanks for Task 34. Find my reflections below and you next Task 35 – Syncopation

Revisiting task 32

A few weeks back I received task 32 in which you asked me to decide ‘in the moment’ to close my eyes, focus on the breath and inhabit it. When I received task 34, I understood that in my reflections of the first task, I had subconsciously sidestepped your original intention. Here is why: There was a temporality issue in the task I could not solve. From the moment of reading the instruction I would await the task to happen but, in that anticipation, hinder the possibility of surprising myself in the action. It felt significant to the task (in my reading of it) to not plan the moment and for the week of testing task 32 I had daily flashes of thinking ‘now I will do the task’ but feeling untrue to it because I had planned it. It did give rise to a real-time exploration in timing and breath which was very fruitful. It left me with questions such as:

When am I being present in my breath and can this be planned?

When does the breath begin and end?

What happens to my sense of timing when I realise I am now in the moment of carrying out the task?

How does the timing of a task interfere/interact with my own timing and daily rhythm?

Reflection on Task 34 – the breath and the gaze

So I welcomed the prod that asked me to reconsider this task as it prompted me to reflect on it again. At the same time, you gave me a second even more unachievable task, which was to photograph what I see when I open my eyes. Unachievable because I was only interested in the immediate gaze I would have after completing my breaths, I did not wish to postpone taking the photograph.These are (some of) the photos i took:

It became awkward at times as i remembered  the task half way through practicing yoga

Sometimes obvious when enjoying a moment at the beach

And dangerous when it popped into my head while cycling

and driving…

Task 35 – Syncopation

It strikes me now that my task 33 ‘what if..’-task was a response to my own inner struggle to grasp your instruction for task 32. Yes, it was incredulous and unwieldy to intellectual meaning. Like something out of synch that doesn’t beat to the same rhythm.

For this reason – and further on from the question that arose from reconsidering Task 32 – I want to think of timing out of synch. 

Consider this image showing a beat-level syncopation

Decide on two (or more) actions that you do throughout the day that has different sense of rhythm. They could be breathing or running down the stairs, playing with a child, reading an article etc. Now try and do the actions at the same time or overlapping and explore how it changes your sense of rhythm of the synchronal action. Bring back any traces of reflections from this.

Enjoy

Reflections Task 32 and Task 33 – ‘What if…?’

Dear Maria,

Many thanks for your task 32. Find my reflections on the task below and your new task 33 – ‘What if…?’

Reflections – Breath

Shortly after reading your instructions for task 32 – Breath, I opened an email from Independent Dance in London that advertised a workshop aimed at dance artist named The Breathing Archive. It is described thus:

I was intrigued by the sound of this work and wanted to attend the workshop, but alas, it being in London, that was not an option. What I could do was adopt some of these ideas and fuse it with my Breath task. I don’t know of Anouk Llaurens’ work, so the adaptation invented below is purely from what I imagine components of the workshop might be like.

What I did

Three ideas came to mind from your task and the workshop description:

  • Breathe once, twice etc and inhabit and be present with the breath
  • ‘Crumple and un-crumple printed A4 pages’
  • Texts, scores and pictures that represent a physical manifestation of ephemeral work

I print out 6 pages (I was going to print out our entire 71 pages of Two Trainers Prepare correspondence but didn’t feel it was justified to exploit nature for my reading/crumbling experiment) and lay them out. How can I breathe and be present with the work and relate directly to the documents?

I begin by crumbling the first page while I read out the text. I notice the connection between reading out loud and breathing. Was I ever aware of how/when I breathe when I read? On page two I make a little ‘tick’ on the text for every breath I take while reading. Page three becomes a mark-making experiment where I keep the pen on the paper, I follow my reading with the pen and make a little peak for every breath. Page four takes into account your instruction to breathe more than once. So instead of taking one I take three breaths when stopping to inhale while reading the text out loud. It becomes a question of ‘words-appearing-between-breaths’ rather than the breath merely being a necessity for speaking. Page five is an image from my yoga lore from task 30 and portrays Surya Namaskara A. I practice Surya Namaskara A while crumbling and un-crumbling the page for every breath. Finally, I combine them all for the last page; I read out, I breathe three times when I run out of breath and crumble and un-crumble the page and lift up into Urdhva Dhanurasana. The (un)crumbling reveals a pattern of how the paper folds when the action is repeated. The breathing that connects with this action has a similar quality and I connect with the image Llaurens gives above about the cells breathing and moving. The folds create a landscape across the page and the pages laid out together become an illustration of the stages of the breath.

Task 33 – ‘What if…?’

Thinking about cells and the body as cellular draws my attention to Deborah Hay. Her work has been very influential in my thinking and approach to my own choreographic work. She practices exploring questions in her dance beginning with ‘what if…’, allowing the response to be open and playful. I will borrow a question of Hay’s and give it a twist to satisfy my idea for your next task:

Explore your yoga practice with this question in mind:

‘What if every cell in my body at once has the potential to perceive every breath passing?’

Enjoy

Reflections Task 30 and Task 31 – Installation of your research topic

Dear Maria. Thanks very much for this Task. See my reflections below and your next Task 31– Installation of your research topic.

Reflections Yoga Lore

I immediately knew how I wanted to carry out this task: I envisaged my own yoga book. How would it look? Which postures would I include and what would I say about them? Would I talk about their alignment, their do’s and don’t’s, their origin, would I ponder my relationship or history with the postures? Would I get spiritual and philosophical or simply practical and pragmatic? Since starting my MA I used an app on my iPad to take notes because I like that I can combine writing, drawing, taking pictures and recording audio. The note-taking-app I have used to make the images below are from this app, it’s called Notes Plus.

My Yoga Lore is a ‘Desert-island-Discs’ of the postures I would take with me if I was stranded somewhere. If I can hold onto these ones…

The full PDF of the Lore is here:

Yoga Lore

Task 31 – Installation of your research topic

I have begun a collaboration with an anthropologist in Denmark and we are currently looking to do some work that explores the bodily knowing in patients who are undergoing treatment or surgery for back problems. It is opening up a new and exciting  avenue for me of working creatively between movement and science/medicine. I know you have been/are working outside your primary discipline with technology and digital forms. I am curious to find out more about this work. And so, this next task involves your own research.

For task 31 I want you to think of your current research topic or an area of it and make an (art) installation that reflects or captures (some of) your ideas or questions. Use materials or environment that inform your work and put it into a spatial relationship. If it makes sense to move with or around the installation you can add a movement score to the instruction. You can photograph or film the outcome or dance and bring back any aspect of your installation to the blog.

Enjoy

Reflections Task 28 and Task 29 – Female + yoga = ?

Dear Maria,

Thanks for task 28. See my reflections below and your new Task 29 – Female + yoga = ?

Reflections on Inconspicuous

Transcription of audio recording while carrying out task 28:

(Im at a busy opening event of beach front in Horsens (Langelinje) with events, games and stalls. Imagine kids running around and loud music playing)

‘I just spotted one of my yoga students about 20 feet away…

(pause)

I decide to attempt an inconspicuous Sun Salutation – knowing I will probably fail – or at least have to amend the movement to not ….

give away that I’m trying to do yoga.

There’s something about the environment here as

being around kids, being around play makes the yoga practice

less visible…

Parents play with their kids – pick them up – there’s lots of physical activity happening. Perhaps I can blend in…

(pause)

The first moves are easy, I can stretch my arms over my head and have a little yawn. Second movement is easy enough. I bend forward and pretend to tie my shoelaces. I lift my head up and extend … and look… out over the sea … and then it gets tricky.

How can I …

do Chaturanga and not clearly be doing a yoga posture, or I suppose any exercise posture. I crawl forward and pretend to be looking for something in the grass. I skip Upward Dog as this seems to be too obvious. On walking my hands back, I lift my hips up a little bit and come into a half-hearted version of Downward Dog. Eventually I come back to checking my shoelaces again and then rise up to standing.

I think I got away with this one.’

NEW SCENE

(shopping in the local supermarket. Music playing in the background and there are sounds of trolley wheels and occasional chatting.)

‘I’m self-consciously continuing my testing. Luckily it’s Saturday after 6 pm so it’s not so busy. I am – nevertheless – aware that there might be CCTV cameras everywhere. I look around… yes there are cameras.

I’m in the vegetable department which is empty. I look for spring onions and decide it’s a good idea to test whether I can get away with the three postures I have decide on: Tree posture, half moon posture and mountain posture

I do tree posture. I can hide behind the cucumbers.

Half moon posture… I bend forward and raise one leg up…

(here I realise that it’s partly a question of how long I stay in postures that makes it inconspicuous or not. Anyone can drop an apple and bend over to pick it up with one leg raised and get away with it.)

I do mountain pose. Again –apart from looking like I forgot what I came into the shop for – I can get away with this pose.

(pause … with the clicking sound of trolley wheels)

I’m in the coffee department. I’ll try it one more time.

When does the yoga practice become something else…?

(sound of my breathing)

And again… I walk and I did it.

It’s quite satisfying actually. It’s completely changing how I experience my food shopping. I suddenly hang out in the supermarket. Spend time here. For the first time ever, I notice the ceilings and the changes of temperature between different areas.

(the task makes me forget what I came to the shop for and I browse around for a while up and down the same aisles.)

I map the layout of the frozen goods and the tinned food. I notice that there are different types of pasta if I look further down.’

(pause)

Task 29 – Female + yoga = ?

Since task 26 and your reference to the work of Polly Penrose – ‘I was never good at yoga’– (and perhaps also thinking back at a blog post I wrote years ago together with some female yoga friends about women and yoga) my thoughts have been circling around the subject of gender within the practice of yoga.

It has been a condition for our project from the outset that we were two women working together. I am curious to bring this aspect to the surface for this task. It may be an interesting subject, it may also be completely irrelevant for what we’re doing. It felt important to acknowledge it, though. I’m conscious of the weight of this subject and so am trying to make this task as open and non-prescriptive as I can. Here it goes…

For your next task I want you to consider the following:

What is it to do the yoga practice in the awareness of being female? The task does not prescribe a certain understanding of what ‘female’ means (to you or the world) and whether this applies to biology or politics or social conventions. The task is to do your usual practice with this question in mind.

I am interested in you exploring the multiple ways one can both physically test and mentally consider this question. How can these multiple ways of considering the two words ‘female’ and ‘yoga’ create a network of possible ways to understand their relationship?

Bring back any aspect of your reflections to the blog.

Enjoy!

Reflections Task 26 and Task 27 – The ‘rightness’ of a posture

Dear Maria,

Thanks for task 26, you can find my reflections below and your next task 27 –  The ‘rightness’ of a posture.

I found it very moving to read your response to task 25. Your report of yours and Dimitris relationship to the yoga practice and how it resonates so differently on your respective cultural and environmental circumstances felt very true to the idea of the project: to creatively explore the potential of the yoga practice. And it made me excited for the many avenues of tasks and responses that remains to be discovered for the last part of the Two Trainers Prepare-journey.

Reflections Task 26 – MYOYP

First thing to say is that I was very excited to do this task, how wonderful to get license to practice yoga ‘off the script’. The topic of ownership of the postures also addresses issues I’ve had in relation to my own yoga teaching syllabus: at what point does Trikonasana stop being Trikonasana when a student’s general physique doesn’t enable them to make the posture look remotely like my idea of what the shape should be? I will return to this question further down.

Polly Penrose’s photographs are beautiful and to avoid replicating her idea and postures – and perhaps because I am afraid of doing postures and pictures a lot less interesting than hers –  I decide to abandon my initial thought to photograph myself in ‘non-syllabus-postures’.  I am very interested, though, in your instruction to relate my own postures to my environment and wonder how I can think of environment not only as my physical surroundings but also more widely as my circumstances as a dance artist and a mother living in Denmark. Penrose uses furniture and yoga props as obstruction/facilitator for her images. My obstruction/facilitator is the perpetual presence of my four-year-old daughter. I want to embrace the reality of regularly being interrupted on the yoga mat by her, when she wishes to teach me her own postures. I am curious to find out what practicing yoga means to a child who takes part in and observes many asana practices but who is not restricted by the bounds of ‘yoga postures’.

The Flip

So here is what I did: As we were walking home from my daughter’s kindergarten, I asked her to teach me some of ‘her yoga’. She immediately started moving around and wiggling and jumping. I said: ‘I was thinking more of those moves you do when we practice together on the yoga mat.’ She stopped and looked at me with sincerity: ‘this is yoga’, she said.

For her, yoga is movement, not individual postures separate from each other. This brought my attention to the movement I do in between postures. The following days I spent some time practicing and dwelling on the transitions that are outside the syllabus of Ashtanga Yoga, the moves that link the ‘formal postures’. One movement is the jump from Samastitihi (Tadasana) at the front of the mat to standing postures like Trikonasana or Parsvakonasana. In the short clip below you can see us practice this. I call it The Flip.

 

Task 27: The ‘rightness’ of a posture

I return to the question posed above: at what point does a poorly execution of Trikonasana disassociate the posture with its name?

For your next task I want you to focus on variations and modifications of one posture of your choice and come up with as many different versions as you can. Using a search engine to find e.g. ‘images of Utthita Trikonasana’ is completely valid. You can write your reflections as a description of each variation or take photos of yourself practicing them to feed back to the blog. I am particularly curious to hear whether you, with an Iyengar background, have a set of criteria that determine the ‘rightness’ of a posture and, if so, what they are and when you know they have been achieved.

Enjoy!

Reflections Task 24 and Task 25 – alone/duet/phone

Dear Maria,

Thanks very much for your Task 24. Please see my reflections below and your next Task 25  – alone/duet/phone

I really enjoyed following your train of thought between the different challenges of Task 23 and how they led you to Task 24. I was fascinated by how, the moment the ‘discriminatory mind’ was switched off, you experienced a sense of detachment from your own body in what you saw on the photos and the video from the dance class. I feel differently: Perhaps I have simply become accustomed to scrutinising movement and body – a consequence of looking at myself in the mirror as a dancer for years – so this has become intertwined with my experience of the movement.

I recalled filming myself practicing yoga for Task 21 –emerging forms– and finding it really interesting to practice with this awareness of ‘being watched’.

Reflections Task 24– Confirmation?

For task 24 I was practicing alone in the house so I had to think up an alternative solution to having a photographer pointing a camera at me. I called up my partner, who is still in Leeds, and asked him to act as a ‘camera’ by instructing him to imagine my joints as we were practicing yoga together.

The Breathing App for synchronising our breath

We started by synching our breathing pattern in a shared meditation while being in contact online. After eight minutes of this we disconnected our conversation and did a prearranged set of postures: Sun salutations A & B, standing postures, Shalabasana and Urdhva Dhanurasana completed with a short relaxation. Whoever finished first would send the other a text message to mark the end of their practice. While we were practicing, we each had to imagine the other thinking about or looking at our joints as we were (presumably) in the same postures at roughly the same time. When we both finished (with 1-2 minutes apart) we called each other up and reflected on the experience.

 

Task 25 – alone/duet/phone

This topic of ‘being watched’ is something I discussed with a friend recently in relation to movement improvisation. She was explaining the big shift in her awareness, as a teacher at the culmination of an improvisation workshop, had asked participants to continue improvising but to now imagine one side of the room as their audience.

This is your task 25:

  • choose an activity that you can repeat 3 times. This could be a set of yoga postures, moving to a piece of music or doing mark-making. Decide a rough time frame for your activity.
  • the first time you do the activity be in a space on your own
  • the second time, either ask someone to witness you do the activity or imagine someone there. Decide whether they move around or stay in one place.
  • the third time, arrange to speak to someone on the phone/online, connect with them and ask them to ‘be present with you’ after you finish the conversation while you do the activity

Bring back to the blog reflections from any part of task. Enjoy!

Reflections Task 22 and Task 23 – Merge seeing with felt sense

Dear Maria,

Thanks for the Task, no need to apologise.

It feels somewhat ironic that you should present me with a task to study how my practice looks on a week where I cannot even touch my toes. It was a week that was marked by challenging circumstances: illness (flu, first my daughter, then me) very little sleep (due to the former), spraining my back (due to both) and travelling back and fro to Norway by car/ferry which made time limited. I spent the first four days thinking about the task as I was not able to practice. Saturday afternoon I mustered enough time and energy to test it but never got to the ‘corrections’ part. I therefore send an apology back to you – I simply have not been able to carry out the Task the way you asked me to.

Task 22 Corrections

I decide to stick to the Ashtanga sequence as a barometer for my practice and begin my Sun Salutations – I have my camera set up to take photos every 5 sec to capture the progression of my postures, alignment etc. As expected the practice is very difficult and painful but as is always the case when injured/sick I am hyper-aware of my body and the practice feels very fulfilling. My attention bounces between my back, my head and my joints, connecting me with sensation and the internal spaces in my body. It brings up images of joints and muscles working together, blood carrying oxygen around my body and nerve endings that are overstimulated. I realise I have no interest in the camera nor in the photos that will come out of it –perhaps because I know what they will show: a decrepit woman doing half-versions of postures in an Ashtanga sequence.

When I look back at the images, the postures are hardly recognisable. It makes me smile, as there is a direct relationship between how I feel in the practice and how it looks: pretty awful.

 

Task 23 – Merge seeing with felt sense

I was sad not to have completed your Task 22 and am happy to repeat again next week in its entirety if you feel that would be interesting.

Personally, I feel it is very useful to be made aware of how postures look. As you mention yourself, the function of a teacher is for her/him to see you from the outside and when practicing yoga on your own, the focus become inwards directed and some attention to the ‘form’ of postures is lost.

But is it an objectification of the body to look at it from the outside, like you mention? Does using vision always mean judging or objectifying? Is there a way of looking at the postures where seeing is merged with the kinaesthetic intelligence experienced in the body?

In other words, could the felt experience of the posture harmonise with a visual impression or simply add another dimension?

Your Task for this week is to start like Task 22: Practise postures and make a record of them on video/photos. Continue by studying the visual material but instead of looking for areas that can be improved, merge your ‘seeing’ with the felt sense in the body when you were doing the postures. Maybe your reflections can be a poetic rendition of what happens in this space between seeing and sensing.

Reflections on Task 20 & task 21 – Yoga postures around you

Dear Maria,

Thanks very much for your task. See reflections below and your new Task 21.

I decided that rather than looking at the sculpture and finding postures ‘in the sculpture’ I would study it for a while, draw it from memory and then let go of connecting the shape of the sculpture with yoga postures. Could I allow the memory I have of the shape from looking at it and from drawing it, to emerge in my body during my practice. Could I feel and experience emergent forms?

I filmed myself doing a 30-min yoga practice on time lapse. I was interested in trying to embody the shape of the sculpture without trying to imitate its shape. What was the relationship between feeling that shape move through me, the texture of it in the way that the sculpture provides looking holes –windows that you can see through– as a way of framing the world? And what might that mean in my yoga practice?

I am trying to frame, trying to capture a fleeting moment of seeing the world from a different perspective. This happens literally when I change into a headstand or when I look under my arm tomorrow towards my finger or toes. Changing the perspective through the practice.

I didn’t spend much time in each posture, so moving through the practice was a way of being emergent. There was never a sense of being static. It was always going somewhere else.

That was interesting, I was aware of how this was going to look on the film —What shapes would be visible on the film? Will my ‘sensing of’ the emergence of the shape be recognizable? Is that coming through in the recording?

I am very slow in my movement, also being self-conscious I am being filmed. I’m pushed up against the wall and have lost the volume of my body. I have no space to move my arms. My body against the wall looks flat and two-dimensional. 

The time-lapse format of filming gives a sense of continuous movement and captures what happens between postures, the emergence of the postures. When I look back at the video I notice the wall behind me, contrast in colours and contours as well as recognising postures.

Movement is slow as I am aware and a bit self-conscious of filming myself. It looks really rushed on the film. Makes a strange discrepancy in timing between the feeling of the practice and the watching it.

Slow vs rushed. Time as emergent. Form as shapes always changing.

Task 21 – Yoga Postures around you

I want to invite you to see yoga postures in your everyday life around you. if you can, photograph them, or make a record of them by writing them down in details, explaining what you see. On the last day put them together into a sequence of yoga postures. When you practice them, imagine yourself as that person/statue/tree/building in the moment you recognised the posture. In your reflections you can share any part of the experience.

Reflections task 18 + Task 19 – Vertical orientation

Dear Maria,

Thanks for your task. You can find my rambling reflections in the audio file. Below I have also transcribed fragments that stood out as important from this voice recording. Some of them are amended to correct meaning and take thoughts further.

Secrets

Getting annoyed is a good thing. It taps into a place of emotion and shaking up habits. It means change.

There is nowhere to hide. The importance of curves and irregularities. Things not being in line, not being predicable and as you’d expect. Otherwise there is nowhere to disrupt a flow. In my neighbourhood, houses and paths don’t have irregularities. Lawns and hedges are neatly trimmed. I have to bend the task so that the instruction to crawl into a hole, fits the linearity of the place I’m in.

I look for a place to fit into something, a hole or a cavity. Or is there a way of doing this internally? Instead of me fitting into a hide-away, the hide-away fits into me?

I find myself in a hedge. On a tree, against a tree. The trunk spreads into many branches. If I can’t talk my secret injuries away from the world but instead I have to speak into an open tree or a bush will the secrets not be kept secret? How does it affect how I speak and what I speak of if the tree doesn’t hold onto the stories?

I realise all my injuries, aches and pains are on the right side of my body: my right ankle, my right knee, my right psoas muscle, even a sprained finger on my right hand as a result of a play fight with an ex-boyfriend in 2007. Through time, they have moved up my body, defying gravity.

hmm

Task 19 – Vertical Orientation

You need to choose whether you’re going to place your focus on the right or the left side of your body. Whichever side you choose must wear a weight of some sort – a sandbag around the arm or a brick on the foot. (Avoid hanging something from your shoulder though) Wear it as much as you can when you’re around the house but also on the journeys you make during the day.

Now when you move let this ‘weighted’ side respond to your vertical orientation of the space you’re in. Go to your yoga mat and practise Urdvha Dhanurasana with the weight on.

Reflections Task 16 and Task 17 – Uneven surface 2

Dear Maria,

Many thanks for your Task 16 – Uneven Surface. Here are my reflections and your next Task 17- Uneven Surface 2

uneven surface

I’m balancing on one foot with soft grass underneath me. It’s mossy and wet and gives way. The texture of the wind becomes my uneven surface as it throws me to the side and pushes against my body and challenges my balance. There is no predictable rhythm to the wind so it takes me by surprise and creates a sensation on my body that I have to resist to not tumble over in Downward Dog. It holds me up and suddenly presses against my skin reminding me of the surface of my own body. As I breath during a Sun Salutation the wind surface that pushes against me enters my body and the uneven surface goes inside me and gives me an internal experience of weight. I imagine the wind against the surface of my lungs and this image of the wind as an internal sensation of weight and gravity blows my mind. I begin to understand that surfaces are created in the moment I touch the world. I understand in the world. Seeing is a surface. There are snowdrops pushing through the ground and ten variations of green in the mossy grass in front of me. Branches stick out and move in the wind and create an unsteady surface for my eyes. I do tree posture against a tree connecting with the meaning of it as it sways and brushes against me. I am In and On uneven surfaces

Task 17 – uneven surface 2

Have a close look at this lithograph. Work with your own body as an uneven surface.

Henri Matisse: Acrobats (1952)

When you write your reflections write them in a reverse or uneven order of how you would normally structure your thoughts/argument. E.g start with evidence, continue with reasoning then summarise and conclude and then give introduction.

Good luck, I hope you enjoy!

Reflections Task 14 and Task 15 – Textures of sound

Dear Maria,

Thanks for your task 14 –the dance of the skin.

In my previous post ‘Two Trainers Prepare –for what?’ I mention the tendency to plan a response to a task – rather than being spontaneous – as something I find challenging. As an improviser, I’m always interested in the immediate reaction to a given instruction and reading a task way ahead of carrying it out, can hinder the spontaneity. For that reason, it was ironic that I read your instructions for this task when you posted it mid-December, knowing I had three weeks to consider it before my reflections were due on the blog. I remember feeling terrified for how I could possibly solve it: “I don’t have any hot water bottles” (we don’t tend to use them much in Denmark as houses are very well insulated!) and ”it’s below freezing outside”.

It has now been three weeks since I read the task and I can’t recall any details of it. It was something to do with wearing hot water bottles and the sensation of the skin. That’s what stuck with me. I decided my challenge would be not to give in to the urge to re-read the task and instead to go by solving it from what the idea of skin and temperature would trigger as a response. I feel strangely like I’m being disrespectful to you by not obeying the task, but decide to go with my plan. Here’s my response:

 

Task 15 – Textures of Sound

For this task I want you to work with the textures of sound or the sound of texture. How does sound feel? Work with three sounds that either please you or annoy you. Dance with them, walk with them, invite them into your yoga practice.

Enjoy!

Two Trainers Prepare – for what? Status after 14 tasks

As one would expect when embarking on a (for us) untried project, the focus and intentions shift and questions come up. In late December 2017 Maria and I met in person – speaking for the first time since starting the project in September 2017– to talk about the collaboration and to check in with each other. How are we getting on with tasks? How do we manage time? Should any of the rules for tasks or reflections be tweaked?

In our meeting, these are some of the questions and thoughts that came up:

What is a Task?

Is it necessary for a task to have a clear outcome?

We discussed the difference between a task that asks for a specific type of response and one that is completely open. We both agreed that reading reflections that divert from the task they respond to are more exciting and inspiring to read. Can we be aware of not turning expected or desired responses into tasks?

How do you give a task? 

Does a task need to be written with clear intentions? Could a task simply be a few words, a Koan, a conundrum? How can we explore the widest spectrum of task-giving from very detailed instructions to abstract ideas?

How do you capture the process? 

An  blog related to an academic invites a particular way of responding. Both of us spend time writing and re-writing reflections in order to be clear about what we want to say. Could a response be more intuitive, more personal, less coherent? Could a reflection also be capturing the process of thinking about how to respond to the task and thereby making decision-making and choices more transparent? Could a reflection simply be quoting or rendering thoughts, images or ideas from someone else?

What is the role of time between reading and carrying out the task?

What happens in the gap from reading a task to carrying out the task? We both experience the challenge of not planning how to respond to a task between the moment when the task is read Monday evening till the point when one finds time to try the task out. If an immediate response to a task is essential, perhaps the beginning of task can specify that only when the person has time to carry it out, can the full ‘instructions’ of the task be read.

How does environment and space influence how the tasks are carried out and what part do they play when we construct tasks?

How does furniture, trees, people and busy streets obstruct or liberate tasks? How does one carry out a task, say about sprinting, if one has only 5 x 5 sf to move in? How is use of space and environment when carrying out the task reflected in the responses we give on the blog?

How can we question or challenge the tone and phrasing of reflections and tasks to push our habits of working?

What are our individual habits of setting tasks and responding? What is the tone of writing? How do we make sure not to fall into a ‘groove’ of responding in a customary way or to anticipate that the other will do so and perhaps therefore interpret their task accordingly?

Is the project moving in the same direction as we set out to do? Are we still working towards a pedagogy of training or are we moving into an artistic practice? What is the difference between the two? 

In the initial post, we described the project ‘as a preparation towards integrating different styles of yoga and other art forms in an interdisciplinary pedagogy’. The project has certainly taken a more creative course than the original idea intended. So, what are we as Two Trainers preparing for?

As we are based in different countries (Maria in UK and me in Denmark) the gap between us feels like an added dimension to the project: What does it mean to work on practical tasks with someone every week when we never meet in person or hear the other’s voice? Does the physical distance have an impact on how we read each other’s tasks and reflections and how we ‘sense’ each other? Not having the opportunity to talk and ‘perceive’ the other allows the question of ‘which direction the project is going’ to remain open.

I’m right there and you’re there

Prologue: Training and Motherhood

I went through pregnancy and became a mother over the course of my MA Creative Practice degree, an experience that encouraged me to think about the meaning and character of training. This experience led to the Motherhood In/As Training film project as I wanted to explore the tension I felt between developing my creative practice and being a mother of a young child. In my first two films of the project – I don’t want to dance and 1, 2, 3… 4 ­– ‘training’ was conceived in opposition to ‘motherhood’. I began the project feeling there was a dichotomy between the two states: my training in dance required a physical body-mind dedicated solely to the creative work but motherhood meant that time and space were not exclusively at my own disposal. This was expressed in different ways in the two films, posted in May and July 2017. In the first film, I don’t want to dance, training was disrupted by the obligations and demands of motherhood, as my daughter, Lisa, pushed her way into the centre of my film. For the second film, 1, 2, 3 4, motherhood challenged the temporality of training, as the film considered the notion that training is ‘for the future’ where motherhood is ‘for now’.

This project has progressed over seven months, during which I have interrogated an assumption that time and space for training can be achieved only in a specific environment and at the appropriate moment. The making of I’m right there and you’re there puts this assumption to the ultimate test: this film and essay is created in the turmoil of moving from one country to another, settling into a new place and adhering to a different daily rhythm. Creating the final film under these circumstances meant there was no choice but to be ‘in training’ and creative development in the times and spaces available with or without my daughter being present. As a consequence, I’m right there and you’re there steps out of the dichotomy of ‘training’ and ‘motherhood’: the oppositions and tensions I had conceived between them cease to be relevant when I learn that training and motherhood are interdependent and that they continuously co-exist in my everyday life.

 

I’m right there and you’re there

My final of the three films under the title Motherhood In/As Training has been created over an extended period of time due to my changing circumstances. I relocated in October 2017 from Leeds to Denmark (where I grew up) and I now live in Horsens with my daughter Lisa, to be joined after a time by Alan, my partner and Lisa’s father. The transition has brought up many questions for me about how I relate to the idea of ‘home’ – in the sense of belonging to a place but also belonging to a family, family being implicit in motherhood. The film seeks to define and to reflect on what home means when places and people must disconnect and then reconnect. And while the focus of the film is directed towards ‘home’ I learn that training is happening in every step of the process of making this film.

The Place of home

During the summer of 2017, during a holiday visit to Denmark when I was preparing for my definitive move, I tried to pinpoint places and times where home could be said to be present. Was it possible for me to define an area which was only home? Should our flat in Leeds or the place I was born be exclusively defined as home? Could my body, which is home to my dance training and yoga practice and was home to my daughter Lisa when I was pregnant with her, be the boundary of home? Or did ‘being home’ simply mean being with certain people, loved ones? 

Cycling between home

I started the investigation for my film by cycling through Leeds and, later, Horsens in order to record ‘my’ cities. It became apparent, as I was enjoying the cycling, that I was less interested in arriving at places or landmarks and more curious about tracing the trajectories my body had made over the past years. What felt like home were the journeys that connected the destinations. I was tracing time, paying homage to the city by highlighting the ‘in-between’, connecting physically with the place by climbing hills, revisiting paths and negotiating traffic, by putting my body into the familiarity of cycling.

Home between other activities

The more I failed to trace a precise boundary of home, the more I came to describe home to myself as an experience less in its own right than as an interlude, a place that connects other activities – but that seemed to mean that home didn’t have its own space, didn’t even have its own time. Was home, therefore, failing to be seen or heard? I thought: perhaps if I started a dialogue with home, this could be a way to give home shape and to acknowledge its existence as an entity in itself? I wanted to address ‘home’ by speaking to it directly: Dear Home…

 Surface tension

As I was figuring out how home could exist in its own right, I came to think of a moment I had been part of in a large group dance improvisation: this was a moment when all the participants were reluctant to be on the edge of the group. This phenomenon of preferring to move towards the middle of a structure was pointed out by science writer Philip Ball, who was witnessing the improvisation.[1] He described how, in physics, edge positions are considered vulnerable as they always have to be ready for change. The molecules on the edge of a closed system (e.g. a drop of water) have high energy relatively to the molecules closer to the centre, leaving those near the surface more unstable then the ones in the middle (this is surface tension).

The image of the drop of water, and the idea that molecules are closed systems with a constantly shifting surface, helped me to clarify my relationship with home. I came to understand that perhaps home is not the absence of other activities, it is the sum of them, it is the sealing material that touches them all. The power of home is, in fact, that it accommodates all aspects of my life: its identity includes family, friends, my body, Leeds, Horsens, training, dance. It’s a system that joins those places, people and experiences together. This makes home malleable and in constant change.

Home: a system of falling

Training, like motherhood, relates to home in the way H2O relates to O2: they are different elements that serve different purposes (for us) yet they share a basic component. Motherhood presumes a devotion to being present with Lisa in everyday life, while training depends on a dedication to challenging the state of ‘knowing’, but they share the same foundation; both take place in my body, in Leeds, in Horsens and with friends and family. The changing circumstances of daily life mean that motherhood and training take turn being at the surface of my awareness even as they co-exist.

Home: an ecology of mutually determining relations

My investigation for the film started as an experiment on my bicycle in Leeds and Horsens as a sort of ‘training for’ the film itself. As the cycling footage features in the film, the ‘training for’ and the ‘outcome of’ the film are indistinguishable, and the edges between maker (me) and product (film) start to blur. The editing of the film, the writing about it and even the film itself as an outcome, form an ecology: a complex network that consists of numerous co-dependent and mutually determining relations. Motherhood and training are precisely co-dependent elements that, like molecules at the surface of the water drop, continuously meet and part and find new ways to co-exist. Like a group of people improvising together.

Home: the sealing material of the film

I shared the idea of writing a letter to home with my partner Alan (an academic who works on cinema) and he pointed me to the essay film Sans Soleil (1983) by Chris Marker. The script of Sans Soleil takes the form of letters which are narrated as voiceover by the woman who receives them. The beginning of the film came to inspire the format for I’m right there and you’re there. Its first minute shows two unrelated pieces of film footage with the following voiceover:

‘The first image he told me about was of three children on the road in Iceland in 1965. He said that for him it was the image of happiness and also that he had tried several times to link it to other images but it never worked. He wrote me:

‘One day I will have to put it all alone in the beginning of a film with a long piece of black leader. If they don’t see happiness in the picture, at least they will see the black’.’

The juxtaposition of two unrelated pieces of footage, which seem ‘irrelevant’ to each other, are linked together by the voiceover, asking the viewer to consider them as relational. I thought: are motherhood and training my two unrelated ‘pieces of footage’? When we are asked to ‘see the black’ we are invited to see the ‘in-between’, the sutures, that seal and stitch the film together. As I (re)watch and edit I’m right there and you’re there, I start to tune into the links between the cycling footage from Leeds and Horsens and the sutures in the editing in relation to the voiceover. These cuts are intended to bring to light the sealing material that touches all the other elements: home.

Training myself

The opening of Sans Soleil gave me licence to include the footage that I really wanted to share, the footage that summarises how home feels, or how I feel home: a summer’s evening in a quiet garden with Alan watching Lisa on a swing. Lisa is in training in her appearances in all three films, using performance, dancing and balancing on a swing as a way of training to be in the world. These images link the works together with motherhood at the centre but with training as the underlying process that feeds and shapes the content of each of the films. I look back at the process of all three creations and observe that ‘training’ is happening in every moment of making the films. I train myself to develop a concept for the films, I train myself to film, to edit material, to write, and not least, how to make a ‘process of creating’ visible.

For more information about my work please go to http://www.mariehallagerandersen.weebly.com/

 

[1] I worked with choreographer Vanessa Grasse on dance and performance research project MESH in Leeds in July 2017. As part of the research process Vanessa had invited science writer Phillip Ball to respond to the working process with his theories of formations in nature, critical mass and nature as self-organising.

Reflections Task 12 + Task 13 – Recurring themes

Dear Maria,

Thanks for your task. Please see my reflections below and your final task of the year Task 13 – Recurring themes

 

Reflections Task 12 – Likes and Dislike

This task touches on something that I have been wanting to address for some time in relation to our respective Yoga practices, yours being Iyengar and mine being Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. I want to start by highlighting that I find these separations between different Asana systems tricky territory as they are founded in the same Eight Limbs (Ashtanga) yoga system and talking about them antagonistically feels wrong. I have also practiced yoga ‘Iyengar style’ and found it hugely beneficial and informative for my own practice. I think that what shapes by practice and teaching is precisely learning from other styles and disciplines. What seems to distinguish them is mainly different approaches to how to execute postures and the order in which they appear in a practice. With that caveat in place I will continue.

As you may be aware, the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga system is built on set sequences. When I first began the practice, I wasn’t really aware of this as I just followed the teacher. But when I started the self-practice system called Mysore I realised that the postures were set in an order that was practiced exactly the same every time to a particular breath count. Primary series[1] starts with Surya Namaskara A continues to Surya Namaskara B which is followed by Padanshustasana, Trikonasana, Parsva Trikonasana etc etc. (See the image for full practice chart). In the beginning, you practice up to Navasana in the seated postures and then slowly as you get more proficient, more postures are added.

And now I come to address your Task: Because the series of postures are the same every time I am bound to do postures I don’t like. I avoided postures like Supta Kurmasana and Marychasana D for a long time, I simply skipped them because I had decided ‘I couldn’t do them’. I needed the set practice (and a patient and insisting teacher) to confront me with my ‘dislikes’. Beginning to do these postures was a painful experience both physically and mentally. I have tight hips and these two aforementioned postures are deep hip opening postures but doing them eventually started to break down my assumption that there were things in life I would never be able to do. I wrote a blog post about the challenges of the sequence in the Ashtanga Vinyasa practice in 2012.

My current practice is less orientated towards sticking to the exact sequence of postures (as a full practice is time consuming) but I think the psychology of having gone through the set sequences for years has primed me for being aware of confronting and engaging with postures I do not ‘Like’. There are however still postures I dread or look forward to. There are postures I dislike and some I really like.

Here is my list:

Dislikes:

Urdhva Dhanurasana

This deep back bend requires openness in the back and shoulders and a lot of control and strength. Part of me loves it because it so satisfying after I’ve done it but I find it difficult to breathe through the discomfort in my back and shoulders. I actually try and practice this posture most days as I feel it keeps my spine healthy and mobile.

Supta Kurmasana

Bringing both feet behind your head at the same time seems like an impossible thing to do, even unwise some might say. This is what this posture asks the practitioner to do. I struggled for many years to cross my ankles behind my neck. When my hips finally were open enough I one day sprained my sacroiliac joint which gave me pain and problems with all forward bends for a long time.

Marychasana D 

Due to a knee injury I have a difficult relationship with this posture. It is practiced on both left and right side. On the right side, I have made good friends with it because it’s a deep twist and hip opener which is intense but satisfying. On the left side, this posture has caused me knee pain and possibly contributed to more damage to a meniscus tear.

Kapotasana 

This has been my number 1 mental and physical challenge for many years. It is an extreme back bend and shoulder opening. I lose my breath in this Asana and can only focus on pain. It sits like a looming posture waiting for me a third into intermediate series in the Ashtanga Yoga system. In all honesty, I haven’t spent time on this posture for a long time.

Purvottanasana      

This posture is agony on my stiff shoulders and I always get a cramp in my calf muscles. It just feels impossible to do.

Savasana    

I wasn’t sure if I could classify this posture as a dislike as it is –for obvious reasons– a very pleasant and relaxing posture. I do find it very hard to give myself time to do it and stay in it for long enough to feel rested at the end of the practice. I suppose it feels hard because it is an act of kindness towards myself I rarely take time for!

 

Likes:

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog)

This is my default yoga posture that is easy to do anywhere: I find myself doing it on train station platforms, airport lounges and when I pick up my daughter from nursery. It does so many things for me: stretches my hamstrings and calves, opens my shoulders and mostly it helps me connect with my breath and focus my attention.

Uttanasana    

In a similar way to Adho Mukha Svanasana this can be done almost anywhere and relieves a sore back and helps me relax my jaw. I will do this before going into a situation I’m nervous about.

Parvritta Parsvakonasana         

This twist and lunge is a deep posture that squeezes my lungs and organs and wrings my spine. I always find myself doing a version of this posture when I do my practice. It leaves me feeling detoxed and refreshed.

 

Task 13 – Recurring themes

For the final task I invite you to look back at the 12 tasks we’ve done so far since September 2017. Printing them out and looking at them would be ideal but perhaps not great for the environment! So perhaps you can skim each of the posts and write down or draw the following on a big sheet of paper:

  • words and phrases that are recurring throughout the posts
  • a diagram or mindmap that shows themes and subjects that reappear
  • your own brief reflections on what stands out for you

If you find time after this take a moment to lie or sit on top of the sheet and do a short meditation/relaxation on your reflections.

Can you find any threads that run through the posts and that tie them together?

Enjoy!

 

[1] Primary series is the name of the first sequence you learn when you begin the practice. For many practitioners, it is also the only sequence they will ever do as it is quite challenging.

Reflections on Task 10 + Task 11 – Absent vs Present

Dear Maria,

Thanks for this task. Please find my reflections below. I am interested in the subjectivity/objectivity of the body and habitual movement patterns we are exploring in our tasks at the moment so Task 11– Absent vs Present, will dig a bit further at this.

 

Reflections on Task 10 – Body Talk

The first thing that comes to mind when reading the instructions for this task, is a scene in the film Fight Club (1999) where the main character discovers a series of articles written in the first person by Jack’s (or Jill’s) organs: I am Jack’s colon. I wondered if instead of me talking about the body, the body could speak for itself? What would the body say if it was able to articulate what was going on as it was engaged in a particular action? I thought of everyday tasks that I do. You mentioned making a cup of tea or brushing your teeth but what would be even more day-to-day than that? What is the most essential activity my body is engaged with? Two things come to mind: walking and breathing.

How does walking speak to me in the first person? How do my legs speak to me when they begin the forward movement of walking? What would my diaphragm tell me if I gave it a voice?

 

I am Marie walking 

I am Marie’s hamstrings that contract and propel her forwards

I am Marie’s knee cap that shifts forwards and leads the movement

I am Marie’s vertebrae C7 that neutralises the movement of the spine to stabilises her head by supporting C1-6, the neck bones

I am Marie’s spine that acts like a wrench to offset the forward propulsion of her legs

I am Marie’s right heel that, with my fat pad, cushions her foot and the entire skeleton when the weight falls down through her right leg

We are Marie’s eyes that work together to keep her balanced as she walks and make sure she steers in the right direction

 

I am Maries diaphragm

I am a large muscle moving like a jellyfish in Marie’s abdomen. I do one simple, continuous movement as I contract and release when I receive a nerve impulse from Marie’s brain. I am Marie’s diaphragm. In my contraction, I pull down which opens up her ribcage. This movement creates a vacuum inside her chest cavity which draws in her breath and fills her lungs with air. I by-pass Marie’s awareness. Until the day she stops breathing I will have done this millions of times and 95% of the time without her being aware of how I supply her heart with oxygenated blood which keeps all her vital organs working. She tends to focus her attention on other muscles that contract and release to satisfy her needs to eat or move. I, on the other hand, move constantly and persistently, even as she sleeps.

 

By letting my body speak for itself I start to question my idea of ‘myself’. If feels banal yet quite profound to take time to really allow parts of my body to have their own experience and to listen to what they have ‘to say’. I’m surprised by the stream of ideas, sensations and thoughts that appear in my reflections from taking time to listen to organs and muscles. It makes me wonder if ‘I’ am simply made up of many different parts each with its own agency? I think about the body as an ecology of agencies where the body as an intricate system of neural networks, organs, blood supply and coordination together create what is me.

 

Task 11 – Absent vs Present

Doing task 10 made me think of Deborah Hay who talks about the body as made up of trillions of cells. In My Body, The Buddhist she asks if ‘I’ is the configuration of my body into fifty-three trillion cells at once?’ (Deborah Hay, 2000, xiii). Task 11 aims to consider Drew Leder’s ‘absent’ body and Deborah Hay’s ‘the body as present at a cellular level’ simultaneously.

This task will also take you back to Task 9 – Do As You Normally Do and start with a yoga routine that you can repeat every day. Your task will be to become aware of the moments in your practice when you feel your body is ‘absent’. When you do the practice notice what parts of your body are ‘neglected’ or not in your physical awareness. This may be a specific muscle or a large or small area of your body, inside you or on the surface. Now try to bring that muscle/area into the ‘presence’. You may want to do this by talking out loud while you practice –as you suggested to me in task 11– or you may reflect on it after the practice. Allow the area/muscle to ‘talk’ for itself and perhaps invite different ‘absent’ areas that have come to your attention to ‘speak to each other’. What will they say, how will they say it and in what way does this affect your yoga routine?

Enjoy the task!

Reflections on Task 9 + Task 10 – Words that move you

Dear Maria,

Thanks for Task 9. Here are my reflections. Below them you can find my Task 10.

Reflections on Task 9 – Do as you normally do

After the first day of practicing I sat down to document the order of Asanas to make sure I’d remember the sequence for the following day. I looked over it swiftly before my practice on Day 2 and after practicing on Day 3 I started to add some thoughts.

When I described the task to my partner Alan, who also practices yoga, he suggested that I could record my sensory experience as I do the practice: what I see, smell and hear, as an alternative to the more subjective somatic approach of interpreting what’s going on in the body. I decided to give this a go and copied and pasted the order of postures in Sanskrit and added the moments of perception next to the Asana as they stood out for me as I practiced:

Day 1

Green mat, ‘What are we doing?’ Alan asks.
3 x Surya Namaskara A synchronised breath.
2 x Surya Namaskara B
Padanghustasana unsynchronised breath.
Trikonasana
Parvritta Trikonasana
Parsvakonasana
Parvritta Parsvakonasana
Padottanasana shuffle back, giggles.
Sirsasana
My foot slips off my leggings Vrkasana
Surya Namaskara A
Ardha Kapotasana
Paschimottanasana
Purvattanasana I look over to Alan
2 x Urdhva Dhanurasana
Salamba Savangasana
Soft rug Savasana

I was interested in trying out the obstruction that Alan had mentioned but then something caught my attention when I was recording my sensory experience in relation to the posture names. The Sanskrit language of yoga speaks to my senses in a completely different way to the language of English. When I read English, I take on board a meaning of a word or entire sentence through a ‘mental’ cognition. My knowledge of Sanskrit is mainly limited to posture (Asana) names. For that reason, the Sanskrit names of postures do not provide me with a sense of ‘mental’ understanding but give me pictures in my mind and often bodily sensations. I read ‘Padanghustasana’ and I feel my head hanging down and my fingers wrapped around my toes and my belly gently touching my thighs. I read ‘Purvattanasana’ and I see the transition from Paschimottanasana and feel my body stiffen and the stretch over my shoulders as it recalls the effort to lift my hips.

           

Day 2

I’m blinded by big overhead lights 3 x Surya Namaskara A.
Loud Danish kids’ songs.
2 x Surya Namaskara B I try to hear my breath.
Parents looking at phones or minding smaller children.
Padanghustasana
Trikonasana A small boy. I smile at him.
A gust of air as Lisa runs past me.
Alan’s hands on my shoulders Parvritta Trikonasana
Parsvakonasana
Parvritta Parsvakonasana
Silence for a moment Padottanasana then more loud music echoing with the sound of feet running in the hall. The small boy in my vision again.
Sirsasana the sound of a ball hitting the ground
Vrkasana
Lisa interrupts me with a big gym ball. I help her do backwards walkover over the ball.
Lisa on exercise bike.
Surya Namaskara
Ardha Kapotasana A child is crying.
Paschimottanasana
I ask Alan to take a few photos of me Purvattanasana.
2 x Urdhva Dhanurasana
Salamba Savangasana I look into the bright light again. A ball rolls behind.
I lay down Savasana Something flies over my head. I get up.

The juxtaposition of Sanskrit and English became an oscillation between a bodily and mental experience of the practice, of feeling and experiencing postures in Sanskrit through my body and perceiving the surroundings in English through my senses.

Day 3

I take off my glasses. Blurred room.
3 x Surya Namaskara A
2 x Surya Namaskara B
A sweet smell of ice cream. Lisa shrieks with joy.
Padanghustasana ‘Wheels on the bus go round and round.’
The door goes, my dad enters.
Trikonasana ‘How did it go?’ I ask.
Parvritta Trikonasana His account of events.
Parsvakonasana
I gaze towards my fingertips and just see a blur.
Parvritta Parsvakonasana
Padottanasana My dad: ‘That’s very impressive Marie’.
Sirsasana
Vrkasana Fridge door opens – a bottle is being opened. Footsteps: ‘is it not beer o’clock?’ Laughter. Alan and my dad both cheer.
Ardha Kapotasana
The door to the entrance opens. Sound of shoes clicking on the floor. My mum. ‘Hello’, then to Lisa: ‘Har du haft det godt i børnehaven?’.
Paschimottanasana
Purvattanasana cheerful chatter
Alan’s eyes on me Urdhva Dhanurasana
Salamba Savangasana
My mum’s contour above me. ‘hvad spiser I i aften? Savasana ‘det ved jeg ikke’. Eyes closed. She walks off. Loud TV noise of children’s voices. I get up and walk over to Lisa to help her pour a glass of milk. My dad steps on my mat with his shoes. I pick up the mat.

Task 10 – Words that move you

Your task is going to be to seek out a text or a collection of words that have a similar effect on you as to what I describe in my reflections on Task 9: Find words that for one reason or other make you feel them physically rather than mentally. It might be to do with language or perhaps the text brings back a physical memory, perhaps it’s simply their aesthetic appearance that brings on the bodily sensations. When you have found your words/text reenact the physical sensations that the words/text brought on. What is the relationship between the somatic and mental understanding of the words/text?

Enjoy the task!

Reflections Task 7 + Task 8 – read, record, dance, write

Dear Maria,

Thanks for Task 7, that really made my brain curl into funny shapes as a constraint satisfaction on writing. It was fun but not sure how successful I was sticking to your instructions! See my response to the task below and following that Task 8.

 

TO STAND

Stand up, stand in, stand for, stand towards, stand over

Stand down, stand out, stand behind, stand away, understand

Standing is always in relation

Standing as waiting, standing before i move, 

standing into falling…

‘I see it, I want it
I stunt, yeah, yellow bone it
I dream it, I work hard
I grind ’til I own it’*

Just standing can be seen as passive

TO BE SUPPORTED

The mat was laid on, rested on by my body. Before getting to this passive state a long and active cycle took my body there. When yoga is done a sense of relief follows. As the chair immediately after supports my weight, my head is held up by the column of my spine and the blissful Savasana position reverberates inside me. Sun shine is mastered by the universe, leaving me feeling warm and light. The recuperating, recovering, readjusting rest, rolls me into the Friday feeling and it is said that this will mean the weekend is on the way.

*Quote and frame grabs from Beyonce’s video ‘Formation

Task 8 – Read, record, dance, write

Read out and record the two reflections I have made for the previous post: Task 7 To Stand and Be Supported. For the first ‘To Stand’ text make use of the spaciousness between words (in the way i wrote them) and read out accordingly. For the second ‘Be supported’ text ignore any full stops, commas and grammar when you read it out.

Make a gap between the two texts or record them separately.

Then find a space where you can move and use the two recordings as a soundtrack to improvise to. Your obstruction for the dance is as follows:

For the To stand recording you cannot stand

For the Be supported you cannot be supported

What is the relationship between the experience of the words when you look at the text and record? How does this relate to hearing the sound of the text and how it feels to move with them?

Enjoy the task!

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