Bodily Ways of [Un]Knowing / by Kiersten Nash

As a former gymnast (and distance runner), I'm familiar with the conditioning process. Hours, days, weeks…years of my childhood were spent rehearsing routines in a small gym tucked behind Westport Shopping Mall, so that when the time came to compete, my muscles memory would take command of the situation—overriding any psychological jitters induced by the competitive environment—and perform with ease. Matter over mind. That said, I also was trained to tune out the environment—mind over matter.

 Practice Makes...Practice: D.C. Gymnastics, Albany, NY, 1985ish.

Practice Makes...Practice: D.C. Gymnastics, Albany, NY, 1985ish.

An underlying assumption in the development of [un]learning° and Physical Training is that, over time, training—be it actively as a gymnast, politician, or designer; or passively via environment, culture, and identity—actually inhibits our capacities to innovate. A practice I've come to refer to as bodily ways of [un]knowing (reference N.Cross).

Choreographer Lucy Guerin provides an illuminating demonstration of this assumption in Untrained in which: "Four men take to the stage. Two of these men are highly skilled, experienced dancers and two are acclaimed visual artists with no movement training whatsoever. The complex, refined movements that one man can do with ease, another can only approximate. All are given the same instructions. It’s how they execute them displays an individual portrait of each man’s character, as well as an unavoidable comparison between the participants. It’s the evolution of information, built up through units of action, that shows what they have in common and where their physical histories set them apart."

Untrained. Chor. and Dir. Lucy Guerin, Mike Dunbar, Alistair Macindoe, Ross McCormack, and Jake Shackleton, and Mike Dunbar. Lucy Guerin Inc. BAM, Brooklyn. 30 November 2012. Performance.

Soon after I began designing the Physical Training workshop, I reached out to dancer, design strategist, and colleague in the Transdisciplinary Design MFA program, Rachel Lehrer (RL):

RL …wait. What?

KN I should probably back up for a moment. So basically…what I'm doing is expanding the field of wayfinding°. So right now I'm prototyping new methodologies in this class that I'm facilitating. I'm designing perceptual exercises so that individuals might understand wayfinding° as a sensorial experience which they navigate. It would also be great to work with you to create some of those activities. If interested, I'm happy to share more.

RL Yeah.

KN Sweet. So, I'm designing a 3-day workshop. The workshop will inform the design of interventions that will be woven throughout the University Center. These interventions will frame the University Center as an adaptable political, social, and economic interface designed and performed in flux. Does that make sense? …if we consider everything as vibrant matter, how do we, humans and non-humans engage in a dialogue if we're speaking two different languages? I think movement is a huge component...

RL Okay, so basically this quote is one I love: "To make a change, to become more consistent and hence more effective, I need° to become aware in the moment just before a habitual posture, gesture, voice-tone etc. takes over, so that I can exercise a choice. I need° to notice an opportunity to act differently to an established habit, and I need° an alternative to the habit to choose to activate." This is some guy (John Mason) Cameron (Tonkenwise) introduced me to. And I think this is important, particularly in regard to what you're talking about, because you're really asking people to understand movement scripts, understand how their environment effects them, how they adapt their environment to sort of better represent them and I think all of that kind of understanding and awareness has to sort of be taught or someone has to be sort of given the experience of being more attune to what they're feeling for lack of a better word. Authentic movement is this attempt to uncover what the movements are on the inside. Like what are our actual movements? Our authentic movements?

KN Precisely! So attempting to veer away from this traditional sense of wayfinding

RL So you have a mover and a witness. I think I did it for approximately 45 minutes but the time varies. The witness is just there to witness what happens and is completely non-judgemental. The mover, moves with their eyes closed. You start in a fetal position on the floor. You have to pay attention to what's around you and how you feel…the expectation is not that you move, but that you begin to understand what the impulses are that control your movement. My personal experience with it was profound. I had no idea what I was doing, but ended up slowly moving towards the sunlight that was on the floor. So authentic movement is a very specific way to get at an understanding of what the very subtle values are in the environment that make you move. And, in addition, try to understand what a body is that exists in a vacuum—where you don't have that visual impulse. And where your impulses are sort of beyond taste and touch but become about pressure…or soma-to-sensory perception which is touch, temperature, pain, pressure, and proprioception. Why we are able to do this with our eyes closed requires a particular attunement to how our bodies exists in space.

KN Yes! Moving away from a sensorial hierarchy that privileges the visual is an essential element in this practice (of [un]learning°)."