IT'S IN THE AIR
Mette ingvartsen interviews Mette Ingvartsen
We are going to start with a rather simple question, which might open the discussion to more complex matters. Why or how did you come up with the idea of working with trampolines?
It started as a very simple physical desire, a nearly child-like passion arising through the remembrance of how the body can feel almost supernatural by the very fact of extending its capacity to jump. The extension in this case being the trampoline, understood as an analogue machine that enables the body beyond its natural ability. When we went to try it out the first time, we became increasingly more convinced that this activity of jumping could also have a potential as performance. The ecstatic smile that planted itself on the face of the person watching, without fading for the next 15min together with the sensation of movement that we felt not from jumping but simply from watching, made us think of the possibilities of kinesthetic transfer. A transfer of movement from body to body that we had not yet been able to imagine in relation to dance and performance.
So you became fascinated with how the spectator’s body absorbs or reproduces the movement of the body that it watches?
Yes. We had already been talking a lot about how a contemporary body can be understood in relation to dance and movement. We were looking for a way to deal with an abstract rather than a signifying/semiotic approach to movement, and at the same time we were doubtful about returning to a body practice based on technical dance skills as we know them. In these discussions we came to the notion of kinesthetic transfer and how sensations can be communicated on the level of bodily engagement, on the level of experimenting with what a body can do and what a body is capable of. What occurred to us was the intriguing perspective of how to work on the body as body and to be busy with the “how” in front of (but not in place of) the why.
What exactly do you consider the difference between the “how” and the “why” of what a body is capable of?
The “how” has to do with the experience of actually seeing a body moving in front of your eyes. Of seeing an unfolding of the body which you did not expect or that seems to stretch the limits of what you consider the body being capable of. It works through your sensory system. Through experience, it is that which you cannot know before you have actually seen it. It is content produced through perception. The why is rather a cognitive thought process that appeals to reflection. It would be possible to conceive of the jumping without actually doing it, which most probably would be a rather spectacular and powerful imagination, but it would remain inactual and, more importantly, based on past experiences rather than creating new ones. We go from the notion that the body needs the body to know what it is capable of doing and that it is only through experimenting with the force of the body itself that its powers can be uncovered.
It sounds a bit like you are talking about a body/mind split which I have to say surprises me.
We don’t think that these two approaches can ever be entirely distinguished but we need to separate them in order to work, to define the specificities of our method, which for this work starts from the body and its movements working outward towards structure and composition rather than the other way around. We go from intensive and qualitative movement experiments, from the how high, how long, how detailed, how differentiated, how silly or how precise we can perform.
Okay, I understand this emphasis on the “how” but still it’s a very particular set-up for a performance that I assume you have been thinking about as well?
Well the trampoline enables the body to do things it cannot do with out this machine-like connection to the extension tool. In a way this is an interesting aspect to consider as we live in a world where technological/mechanical extensions of the body are part of our everyday activity, at least in our part of the world. With the Internet and free flow of information a lot of things have changed in terms of how bodies interact. How we consider identity, belonging, privacy, social spheres, borders and nations. The defying of gravity, the hyper-mobility, the flexibility and buoyancy of these jumping bodies in a way reflect exactly these moves away from stability, fixation and rooted-ness, not as an ideal or utopian state of being free but rather as a response to certain developments in how contemporary bodies function.
I don’t know, maybe I mislead you with my last question. It can be that it’s a bit far fetched that two people on two trampolines, jumping up and down should represent anything in relation to the world and for instance the bigger, better, faster of capitalist expansion…except maybe when you would actually represent the competitive sports bodies of the synchronized jumping, where discipline, precision, perfection and synchronicity are the only things that matter and where it is exactly only the fittest who win. But as far as I understand you are not going to actually represent that, however it is one of your influences?
That’s correct. We decided to extract certain principles from the sports discipline, but we are exactly not interested in working on the clearly coded bodies that a sports body would be. The piece is built on vague indications of reference within a very strict set up of the binary motion of the bounce. Even though some of the shapes, intensities and rhythms that our bodies pass through might point to specific connotations, the basic principle remains the qualitative, intensive, affective, kinesthetic and proprioceptive.
Wait….all these principles are not exactly known to me, would you mind trying to specify them?
I guess quality has to be seen in opposition to quantity-it implies change, or maybe rather one can only really define a quality when it has changed or when it is put in relation to other qualities, if not you are simply watching a growing number of jumps. We think of every jump as a qualitative transformation-which might only manifest once a series of jumps has been completed. It’s like looking at a landscape while traveling through it-then snoozing for a little and realizing when you wake back up that you are no longer surrounded by endless fields but by a mountain range. The quality of the landscape has changed; you are no longer counting sunflower fields but rather mountaintops.
Excuse me, but where does this nature reference come from all of a sudden?
In fact we have been thinking a lot about what aspects of the body can be considered biological functions or at least following natural laws. Like gravity, I throw a thing into the air and it will come down, that much is certain. Perhaps there is also something about the kinesthetic mechanisms of movement perception that in this case connects to the physical laws of the body and the behavior of material/matter. I mean this in relation to for instance the sensation of one’s own body moving while in fact it is not, just by watching a body jumping. Of course we are aware that the fully natural body is a long gone concept, which is also why we in spite of our interest in physics, gravitational pulls and natural perceptions are still working with digital strategies of manipulations, trying to understand each jump as an organic/mechanic loop, which participates in a constructed system of generated movements.
Maybe this is an irrelevant question, but are you trying to produce a synthesis between nature and culture?
We are not really concerned with that question, we are rather trying to figure out something in relation to perception. I don’t know if you have heard about the famous half a second that it takes for the brain to actually become conscious of its own activities. Experiments* show that if the body is effected with a stimuli it can be measured as brain activity 0.5 second before it actually becomes a conscious perception. What Brian Massumi adds to the understanding of this experiment is that every perception is already smudged by all the other perceptions that take place within this half second of delay and explains the clarity of perception as a kind of hallucination. The brain tricking itself into thinking that the stimuli and its conscious reception coincide in time, when in fact it is always running half a second late. This is extremely interesting to think about in relation to what we discussed before when saying that qualitative changes happen unnoticed. If it takes half a second for the brain to register a change it should be possible to work with the micro perceptions that lie in between, and these changes in fact could happen unnoticed, like microscopic hallucinations.
In fact what we are working on is the differentiation of perception: Imagine you are listening to the rain, a sound that you have heard a million times before but that you have no detailed perception of. You don’t have 20 different names for snow like the Eskimos, at best you have 4: rain, snow, hail and fog (which by the way is no longer rain). Now imagine that you start to be able to distinguish one drop of rain form another, the kind of surface on which it falls, its speed and texture, all of a sudden rain is no longer one whole but a conglomerate of millions and millions of different/-ciated drops. In a way it is this kind of microscopic perceptive activity we try to achieve when working on looping the materials we address.
Something is becoming clear to me. As I understand you are no longer busy with the politics of representation but rather with the politics of perception and sensation, from the perspective of creation. Does that sound right to you?
What do you mean exactly with creation?
I mean that you use natural or common perceptions and manipulate them in a way where the expression it produces is no longer expressing something natural, but something entirely cultured or let’s say created.
Uhmmmmm, maybe you are right. Somehow we question the notion of natural perception in the first place as there is always a level of mediation involved in any constructed expression. But for sure with this work we are trying to get beyond dealing with the politics of representation as our topic.
Now that you bring up the word topic how would you then define the topics that you are working on?
There is not one single topic but rather many different topics processed through the same machinery which is the gravitational constraint of moving up and down in relation to the surface of the trampoline.
Maybe what you said before is not bad as a topic. The politics of perception, sensation and possibly affect, this is for sure within our domain of interest. Secondly I think the notion of experimenting with how the body becomes visible as what a body can do deals with the idea of modulation, transformation, evolution, creativity and change. This connects to the idea of the subject, what it is that determines it and how these forces of individuation or becoming function. Thirdly there might be an interest in figuring out how to develop a new form of spectatorship that works through the principle of kinesthetic transfer. As a fourth topic I would address the set up of the performance and the radical constraint of the movement production that the trampolines produces as an experiment.
This all sounds very justifiable but do you also have a more personal interest in these things?
In a way it’s very simple. Jumping equals desire, whether personal or impersonal. Desire equals a motivation to work and a reason to invest in thinking about why this is important to do now in dance and performance. Work is always relating to at least two fields of production, one’s personal development and the general state of the field within which one works. This parallel axis is what makes it important to both work on the personal desire and a more social or political context. Whether that is applicable to this particular work I don’t know. ”IT”S IN THE AIR” is concerned with the body, its capacity to move, to change, to act, to jump, to experience, sense, situate, hallucinate, fabulate and to think and formulate how one’s own body is affected by watching these bodies jumping. What conditions the body to move? How much is it the machine that moves the body and how much is it the body that moves the machine? It’s about the in/visible forces that condition the movements of the body and about the effort or effortlessness with which these forces are performed. The body is always changing/evolving in relation to something, be it other bodies, systems of organization, maps of spatial navigation or an inner sense of orientation.
This notion of navigation and orientation, could you elaborate on that a bit?
Let’s maybe return to the principles that you asked us to define more in depth earlier on, because we think two of them are very relevant in relation to the question of navigation and orientation. One could try to define the more conventional understandings of orientation, such as following city maps versus one’s sense of place, or walking in accordance with habit and memory versus walking without any sense of direction, but what we are dealing with while jumping is a very precise and specific notion of orientation which has to do with the before mentioned proprioceptive and kinesthetic mechanisms of the body.
Proprioception is defined as the body’s interior ability to know the position of its own limbs in relation to each other and to adapt the acquired effort it takes to carry out a physical action. It is in opposition to the 5 exterior senses (taste, smell, touch, hearing and sight) an interior sense, which often is forgotten or functioning completely unnoticed. Kinesthesia is a similar phenomenon, a sense guided by receptors in the muscles, tendons and joints.
When we are jumping we are dealing with these bodily mechanisms of orientation, of letting or getting the body to know where the ground/surface is, even when we are totally upside down without any measure from our other senses or when sight has become too slow a sense to navigate with. We are working with the instabilities of directionality and position of the body as expression. What we are interested in are the kinesthetic hallucinations that can occur when the body senses that it is moving however nothing is going on. It’s exactly these hallucinations that the body of the spectator might be confronted with and hopefully a lot more.