In this blog post, I want to share my ongoing exploration of new working methods that aim to recreate sensations of touch and non-bodily connections, particularly in the context of remote or online experiences. As part of my practice-as-research project, which began during the Covid-19 pandemic and continues to evolve, I have developed two audio recordings that offer online multi-sensory experiences.
The significance of physical touch in interpersonal relationships and emotional well-being has gained recognition in recent years (Heatley et al., 2020). However, events like the #metoo era and the COVID-19 pandemic have limited opportunities for physical touch and non-bodily connections, creating a need for innovative methods to recreate touch experiences across distances or online (Sigurdardottir & Halldorsdottir, 2021). The shift to remote and online practices has presented challenges for fields that traditionally rely on physical touch, such as dance. The inability to engage in direct physical contact has prompted us to explore how we can recreate the intimate and sensorial experiences that touch provides. Moreover, even outside the limitations imposed by a pandemic, there are individuals who cannot or choose not to engage in close physical contact due to various reasons like physical disabilities, sensory sensitivities, or personal boundaries. For these individuals, the ability to experience touch-like sensations remotely offers opportunities for inclusion and participation in activities that may otherwise be inaccessible to them.
To address these limitations, I have created a series of online multi-sensory experiences that aim to explore alternative ways of engaging with and experiencing touch in online spaces. Each experience approaches the concept of touch in a unique manner. It is essential to note that when referring to touch-like sensations, I adopt a comprehensive understanding that goes beyond the physical act. Drawing inspiration from philosopher Erin Manning (Manning, 2006, 2013), I view touch as a transformative and relational process rooted in the concept of prehension. I emphasize the interconnected nature of touch, recognizing that it extends beyond mere physical sensations.
This post introduces two audio files for personal exploration at home or in someone else’s home. The recordings prepare for improvisational tasks, cultivating presence in external and internal states. They invite a sensory journey, focusing on your sense of touch through various approaches. Use them to prepare for remote workshops, classes, or rehearsals.
“Touch and Training” as a special issue for Theatre, Dance and Performance Training takes up the call to (re)consider performer training for a changing performance culture as a result of recent global happenings, specifically #MeToo, #blacklivesmatter and the Covid-19 pandemic. Out of these three quite defined moments in history, there has emerged an intertwined and complex understanding of touch in performer training studios and rehearsals. This leads creative artists to critically interrogate “traditional” understandings of touch as well as propose new, other ways of (re)negotiated touch during creative exchange. As an editorial team of four from different performer training institutions and freelance experiences in South Korea, South Africa and UK, we encouraged contributors to intentionally layer their impulses and responses, questions and practice as research and look across disciplines and cultural contexts. For this special issue, we have selected materials which can be read as singular contributions or read in relation to each other through our structured juxtapositions and groupings, and understood as a kind of meta-narrative on touch in training at this moment in time. Peer-reviewed articles, essais, postcards and an edited conversation, as well as embedded links to video clips, sit in conversation with each other.
This post presents two audio files which can be found within the article In Touch and Between: A Tactile Toolkit for Creative Practitioners to Navigate Touch within their Creative Practice under the subheading Acclimatising the Body and Sonic Dominance. They have risen as part of my practice as research which began before the Covid 19 pandemic and has been ongoing throughout. This research investigates how touch can be used as a tool to develop creative practice through a somatic methodology using passive, active and intra-active touch within the solo body and between bodies. This initial enquiry stemmed from research around the displacement of touch in Aristotle’s hierarchy of the senses (1951) and this catch-22 between negative associations of touch and the longing for touch due to the pandemic. It aims to challenge power dynamics between the giver and receiver of touch, in a way that can offer opportunities for the receiver to have agency and attend with their sentient body; present new tactile engagements to deepen our relationship with our practice; and open up suggestions of touch being a collaborative mesh for us to be in touch with one another. This was analysed within my own solo creative practice and case studies including professional practitioners and university students, in relation to artistic identity and creative inquiry within dance and movement. As a result of this a tactile toolkit has been created which offers a variety of scores/ exercises to be explored through improvisation and offers different methods of engaging with touch highlighting the reciprocal interplay between the internal and external worlds.
This post presents two different audio files which you may use for your own inquiry or to facilitate within a studio/ class environment. This first audio (Acclimatising the Body (figure 1)) is a somatic guided offering which prepares the body for somatic practice, whilst the second is a score/ exercise itself for you to respond through improvisation and your sense of touch. Findings have been collated for the second score (Decibel Negative (figure 4)) and are presented in the article mentioned above, however it is not a necessity to have read these as they are just observations. We have our own tactile language and so what we experience will be subjective and significant to ourselves.
Acclimatising the Body (figure 1)
This is a guided offering which aims to prepare the body for somatic practice by drawing awareness to the sense of touch whilst releasing any thoughts or pre-conceptions which may be present. It will enable the body to become more receptive to stimulation and approach the scores/ exercises presented in the article through a holistic presence. This audio can be used for your own creative practice and engagement with the scores/ exercises or within a class environment to enable students to settle. This audio could also be used independent from the article and become incorporated into any form of somatic practice which encourages tactile awareness. It will ask you to find a comfortable resting position and close the eyes so please ensure that you feel comfortable with your environment to do so. It is recommended to be done with stillness so to help draw attention to the body. Throughout, I ask you to listen to the offerings through your sense of hearing but also to notice sensations through the skin and promote a tactile awareness between ourselves and the world.
Decibel Negative (figure 4)
This audio is a soundscape Joe Mathew curated as part of the research and the sound itself is used as a score/ exercise for creative improvisation. The sound uses low frequencies in order to enhance the vibrations and offers awareness on how we perceive this through our sense of touch rather than hearing, also known as ‘sonic dominance’ (Henriques 2010). It will begin to introduce the lived notion of the skin in that our body may respond subconsciously and the creative choices will further highlight our processing of tactile composition (Gunther and O’Modhrain 2003). Due to the low frequency, the volume will need to be turned up to its highest volume to feel the full effect and it is recommended to use a good speaker to become fully immersed in the sound. Headphones can also be an option but the vibrations may be reduced. This can be used for solo creative practice or facilitated within a class environment. Whilst exploring this score I would like to invite you to consider the following and please do share any experiences in the comments:
How can you experience sound as a tactile phenomenon?
How does it infiltrate your anatomy and how do you respond?
How do you move, or perhaps it prevents you from doing so?
How does it affect your relationship to the external environment?
How might it affect your composition?
Knowledge of works
Aristotle. 1951. De Anima. Translated and edited by Kenelm Foster and Silvester Humphries. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Special issue: Touch and Training to be published June 2023
Call for contributions, ideas, proposals and dialogue with the editors
Guest editors Dr Ha Young Hwang, Korea National University of Arts, School of Drama, Seoul, South Korea ([email protected]) Dr. Tara McAllister-Viel, East 15 Acting School, University of Essex, London, UK. ([email protected]) Liz Mills, AFDA The School for the Creative Economy, Cape Town, SouthAfrica ([email protected]).
Training Grounds editor Dr Sara Reed, Independent researcher, writer and project manager ([email protected])
Touch and Training (Issue 14.2) Global happenings throughout this past decade, such as ♯MeToo, ♯blacklivesmatter, Asian Spring, Arab Spring, the Marriage Act (2013 UK) and Russia’s “Gay Propaganda” law (2013), and COVID-19, have radically repositioned touch in performance and performer training. Touch is a socio-cultural event, a political act between two people as well as a network of power positions and layers of institutional infrastructure: who touches, how does/should one touch, why and when can/should touch occur? These questions when raised within performance traditions, theatre, film and television rehearsal and performance spaces and performer training studios ask creative artists to (re)consider the ways we think about, talk about and stage touch: for instance, the rise of the “intimacy coordinator” in response to concerns about the inequitability of touch during re-enactments of intimacy is only one of a number of recent developments in performance-related fields (re)considering the role of touch during the creative process.