‘What will change when science discovers exactly how our bodies give rise to our minds?’
This is the central question that we were working with a couple of weeks ago during Matthias Sperling’s workshop. The workshop was divided into two sections; in the first half, we discussed his work Now That We Know and in the second half we participated in Loop Atlas, which featured in the larger body of work at Siobhan Davies Dance, material / rearranged / to be in 2017.
Sperling’s two pieces of work inform one another. Now That We Know is a performance lecture piece which imagines that science has proven the relationship between the mind and the body. In a similar strain, Loop Atlas focuses on the idea of looping. Looping is a movement process pioneered by Deborah Hay which lets your body be your movement mentor rather than your mind. In this blog post I’ll be looking at Loop Atlas as I found that its content gave me a lot of food for thought!
Loop Atlas uses different choreographic approaches to investigate the mind-body dichotomy. In Matthias’s workshop we as dance artists were given a space to experiment with this idea. The workshop unearthed some ambitious questions not just about choreography but embodied experience at large. Will there ever be a time when our bodies are truly in sync with our minds? Or is there a time when our bodies take charge? When I’m walking to a familiar destination, when I am a pedestrian, my body is leading me there. My mind is indulging itself somewhere else; it is listening to music or zoning out at whether that is a pigeon or a boot in the distance. My body’s activity brings a lot of shame to my languid mind.
But when we’re in a dance studio this relationship changes in some instances. Dancers are trained to be aware of every body part’s function, from their neck to their right toe. And we engage our minds to do this – our mind is the puppeteer and the body is the puppet. However, there is always an opportunity to let our mind and body forget what we have been rehearsed to believe. Although it sounds unusual, it generates a really productive and fresh outlook as you become a blank canvas for experimentation.
In unconventional performance spaces, I would say that both the mind and body are working cooperatively towards creating and producing movement in new areas. During Matthias’s workshop, I had a heightened awareness of my mind and body where I was very focussed on the activity of each. But, as much as movement is about bodily awareness, it is also to do with forgetfulness and solitude. In a workshop such as this, we need to forget that the philosopher Descartes said the body cannot think without the mind. You really have to detach yourself from the philosophy that the two are separate. For me, I have a dance background, but I also have a lot of experience in the Early Modern and the Renaissance period. This might seem an odd combination, but the two have refreshing links which I stumbled upon unexpectedly. Matthias’s preposition (that I present at the top of this post) that the body gives rise to the mind resonated with me a great deal. Early Modern philosophy is pre-Descartes and it is rooted in the idea that the mind and body are one. In very general terms, the experience of the mind is the experience of the corporeal body. With this in mind, has history come full circle where we have returned to this viewpoint? During Matthias’s choreographic tasks, I remember moving on bodily impulse. Barely can I remember changing my movement because my mind thought it was time to. I will admit that there were odd moments when I could sense my mind overtaking, but I would just suppress the urge and let it go. I became quite comfortable in letting my body do the work and this kind of hypnosis was cleansing and relaxing.
When I walk a familiar route, my mind gives rise to my body. Unfamiliar spaces have a tendency to reinstate the mind’s control. And of course, this is the reason why as Next Choreography students we are always moving around the studio to find different spaces to work in so we can see what limitations they pose on the body and the mind. We are always debating the very nature of movement; whether it is detached from consciousness, or whether it thrives on bodily impulse, and it was great to participate in a workshop which really got us thinking about the origins of movement.