TOUCHING THE INVISIBLE
ABSTRACT AND INTRODUCTION FROM MY MA THESIS 2016. DOWNLOAD PDF BELOW TO READ THE FULL THESIS WITH BIBLIOGRAPHY.
Touching the Invisible is a final project by Rosalie Wahlfrid that is propelled from the experience of the present moment and further explored through establishing a practice of choreographic improvisation and filmmaking. The work has its roots in a desire to clarify and investigate the invisible and how it is touched through attention and movement. The practical outcome of this project is two separate works, a solo Rosco 2x2m and a film Småland. Both works are sourced from an embodied practice of accessing and giving form to invisible bodily storage spaces and settled time through an investigation of shifting and displacing attention in movement.
Both the movement and film practice intertwine concepts from each other such as permeability and time-pressure to find out more about their compositional links. The work explores filmmaking with the body as the source by drawing from experience of time, space and energy through movement. The film practice investigates shooting and assembling images through a meeting of the experiential and visual.
The work is placed next to and influence by dance and filmmakers such as Rosemary Butcher, Meg Stuart, Andrei Tarkovsky and philosopher Maurice Merleau- Ponty.
Things are what they are. As they move in the present moment time makes itself visible. If I keep practicing letting go letting go letting go time will reveal itself through me as a fluid state.
"Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose."
(Gertrude Stein 1922, p. 178)
Through my years of practicing dance, both traditional technique and over the past nine years through improvisation and somatic practice, I have come to realize the importance of my engagement with the present moment. Practicing in the moment has allowed me to let go of anticipation and judgment and it has made me recognize what I am interested in through each moment of the dance. This is where my research is rooted and where explorations and questions are propelled. To be completely present, recognizing and embodying what is here and now, has in turn opened possibilities of touching the past and the future as well as the internal and external. This Practice raises questions of what it is that moves me and what it is that I give form to. These questions flow from my interest in improvisation and how to clarify what we do when we improvise, so that we can strengthen it as a choreographic skill. Finding out what moves me is about touching the visible and the invisible in the present moment and giving form to something I can’t fully grasp. For my final project I have decided to explore this through making a short solo of structured improvisation and a split screen film.
“The visible body is “the visibility of the invisible.” As such the visible is the surface of a depth that reveals (and conceals) the invisible and reveals it as the depth of the visible, allowing one “to see farther than one sees.”
-Merlau-Ponty in Simpson 2014, p. 44, Mzerleau-Ponty and Theology.
This quote from Maurice Merleau-Ponty fits very well with my desire to make visible the invisible through my dance practice where my body becomes the surface that reveals the depth of the invisible. In dance the ‘visible’ are tangible things that I can see such as the floor, the walls, the air, my skin, etc. The invisible are the intangible things that arise into form through movement and inform the next step in an improvisation. The invisibilities are a wider field and harder to categorize. However Merleau-Ponty describes them as two types, inner and outer (2014, p.55). How I experience this when dancing is that the inner invisibilities are things such as thought, imagery, memory, emotion whilst outer invisibilities are things such as negative space, relationships or energy. Merleau-Ponty also points out that the visible and the invisible are attached and can only exist interdependently (Simpson, 2014, p.55). I can only see the negative space between my left and right arm because my arms are visible and I can only really understand another person if we create a relationship. This is also true in terms of movement because I can only really understand a movement if I understand it’s invisible agency. I am interested in how certain movement qualities access certain invisibilities and in turn how certain invisibilities take me to new qualities. By exploring these relationships I want to learn more about these stages in the process and develop my ability to revisit specific states of movement and their rootedness in the invisible. However in order to revisit them I had to somehow name them and place them, which is how I came to bodily storage spaces. These storage spaces are locations of dreams, memories, emotion and sensation mapped out through my body. I have a very specific memory of a dream located in the center of my chest and by moving into that place I can access that memory and find out about it’s physical qualities. Because of the attachment of the two types of invisibilities (inner and outer) and the visible, I can move storage spaces from an inner place to the outside and the other way around. I can create a relationship between the floor and me and then shift that relationship to the center of my chest or to the surface of my skin. I can start recognizing both forms and physical qualities that belong to certain invisible ideas or storage spaces and from there I can select and craft a repeatable choreography without resorting to set material. To that end I created two intertwined works in parallel mediums (pure film and pure dance) as a methodology for learning what of the invisible invariably belonged to each one of them. To create forms, which can be detached from their invisible motive forces and to see what kinds of things routinely attached/reattached themselves.
The reason for working with both dance and film has to do with how form and image become metonyms of the invisible through the same concept but with different outcomes. I have chosen to talk about the relationship between form/image and concept as metonyms. Ian Munday describes how the meaning of a metonym is created through contiguity rather than metaphor which, being representative, has a lesser status because what it represent will always have priority (2011, p.136). If I think about the metaphor “The light of my life”, it is there to serve and enhance it’s source, in this case a person that brings love and joy, and so the metaphor itself has a lesser value whereas the metonym is equally valuable as its source. Munday used the example of a crown being a metonym for the queen; it is not a separate representation of a queen but an extension that is touching upon her head. I find this interesting in the context of making dance and film, even though the relationship between concept and image is perhaps more abstract than the queen-crown relationship. It is a very appropriate way of describing my choice of form and image and how my practice touches on the invisible.
To find out where my work sits in the context of conceptual dance I will refer to and compare my working methods to other dance practitioners and filmmakers such as Rosemary Butcher, Meg Stuart, Andrei Tarkovsky and Béla Tarr. I will also refer to
my readings of Merleau-Ponty and Theology (Simpson 2014) as I have found his take on the visible and the invisible deeply suitable and has strengthen my understanding and helped me find a way of describing my experience of the present moment.
My aim is to write this document largely as a chronological account, however I will define terms such as bodily storage metonymy and settled time, as they arise but with a language that became clear to me later in the process. I will begin by discussing my motivation for this work, my desire to be at once the performer and the choreographer as a necessary function of ‘improvisation’. I will also describe here inspirations and experiences that have led me to my interest and in making improvisational scores that are performed in detail and with precision. This will be followed by an explanation of my relationship to ‘storage spaces’ and ‘settled time’ as ideal source material for such structured improvisation. I will then move on from defining my terms and intentions to a chronological account of the work in development, discussing the process of embodied research and the making of conceptual work where the body is the source. I will cover the work I have done with Meg Stuart and Rosemary Butcher.
Having covered the conceptual fundamentals of the work I will then go on to describing the somatic fundamentals i.e. the preparation of the practice. Here I will draw from the martial art Aikido and its breathing techniques. Moving from embodied research to somatic preparation I define my emerging philosophical approach to internal/external permeability, which allows me to intertwine internal/external resources for improvisation. Continuing from there I will go on to my very recent practice of filmmaking. It is equally important here that the body and experience is the source and so I will explain this practice as embodied filmmaking. Describing how I have used my movement practice through shooting and editing in terms of the experience of time, space and energy. I will refer to Tarkovsky’s idea of ‘time- pressure’, how time flows and is experienced within and through frames, something very valuable in composition of both film and movement. Using the work of directors such as Tarkovsky and Béla Tarr I will pick up on choreographic elements that they use to communicate ideas and concepts and how these have influenced my own work. Once again having discussed the conceptual fundamentals I will discuss the physical process of filmmaking itself and the impact it had on the film and how it fed back in to my conceptual approach. Finally in the chronology I will talk about a residency I created in order to have studio time reflecting on my film work and making the solo in response to my work and research thus far. Then I conclude with a brief word on the role of the soundscape, its composition and conceptual grounding and lastly my experience of the performance and the conclusions of my investigation.
In my practice the body is always the source and starting point. All further research has been guided and sourced out of kinesthetic experience. Due to the nature of this embodied practice being experiential I have strived to find the appropriate language and framework to break it down and express it’s content. For this reason some of the text is more poetic as it might be written from immediate experience describing invisibles and decision making, some of the language is more formal and drawing from other practitioners, filmmakers.
Image: Still from film 'Småland' 2016.