‘Liveness’ online exhibition launch – Newcastle Performance Research Department

We are compelled to find resonance in space and time and place to feel real. The voiced expression of this connection – this liveness – this mutuality of experience – is story. And story sustains us, but it cannot replace the felt sense of temporal and spatial proximity. Collective bodily experiencing. Viscerally, the watching soma in this iteration is not in that screened live-ness and feels the frailty of secondary sensing.

6 teens, wrapped up warm against the cold of February in Coventry Fargo Village!

Liveness – a short film response

My piece is called My Heart Cannot Hear Yours From Here. It’s a six minute film, which was made in Fargo village in Coventry during lockdown at the beginning of 2021.

(I’ve linked to the final piece at the bottom of this blog post. Keep reading!)

The performers are my own children and their cousins! We had originally intended to use professional dancers, but COVID restrictions didn’t allow that. But in the end I think that using untrained teenagers added a quality of ‘unawareness’ or gauche to the piece that works.

Heart connection

What is Liveness? …

My interpretation of the theme is that humans, as relational beings, experience ‘liveness’ along 3 dimensions of knowing. Space and Place and Time. Concepts that I could tease out in more detail another time! When one of those elements is not there, our sense of liveness is incomplete or changed in some experientially significant way. 

I wanted to explore what happens to the quality of ‘liveness’ if we take one of those 3 elements away from a performance or a happening. I wanted to evoke a sense of the frailty of that secondary sensing; to ground this piece in not-live. Primarily, by having the performers be in separate ‘space’ and then coming together into the same ‘space’ (by which I mean into a distance where they can sense the presence of the other/s at a visceral level). 

My Heart Cannot Hear Yours From Here – is obviously contextualised in the time of Covid. We used 6, two metre distancing markers set into a circle. Which is interesting to me in itself – two metre distancing as a protective measure but also 2 metres distance as harm – that which is lost in that specific distancing restriction, even beyond the obvious loss of direct touch.

Making Connections!

In my creative and research work I’m interested in themes of connection and how humans sense each other, as beings who are by nature designed to operate within community. And the idea for this piece came when I stumbled on some research that humans sense each other – apart from the 5 senses we immediately think about (smell, touch, hearing, taste, sight) – on a visceral nervous system or heart impulse level. But crucially, that this ‘sixth sense’ or electrical heart impulse only works to recognise another mammalian nervous system from a distance of three feet or one metre.   

So we start with a now very familiar scenario of queuing on 2 metre distance markers. The soundtrack is made up of cityscape sounds and also radio clips from this last year where nationwide isolating measures were announced – placing the film within this timeframe. 

And then in the second half of the piece, the action shifts and the group turn to face out of their circle, and they step backwards towards each other. Moving into that critical sensing distance of 1 metre from each other, where they can become viscerally aware of each others’ bodies. It wasn’t necessary for them to literally face each other in order to make the point I wanted to make. There was something quite profound for me also about facing out into the environment – looking outwards rather than into that circle. But also we didn’t need to flout COVID restrictions by bringing people into each others’ breathing space in order for them to have that heart sensing connection. (There are certainly interesting things to say I think about that too, but it felt as though having them do that would confuse the message of this piece).  

Sensing the other in shared space

Humans, like all mammals, can still detect each other even when we’re not engaging any of our other senses to connect. So if you’ve been in a crowded place – like a train station – you’ll recognise that feeling of being amongst so many unattuned somas and it can feel quite disconcerting some times with all the bodies around you.

As the teenagers in our film come into that shared one metre distanced sensing space my voice directs them to do a ‘heart lock-in’ technique –  which is slowing down breathing to bring heart rates into sync so that you can feel safely attuned to another person or persons. And they are brought into heart connection with each other as a group. This heart connection exists and continues before story or narrative. It simply ‘is’ – for me, a visceral sense of ‘being’ because the soma is in relation to another. Into a space where their hearts can detect and become pleasantly attuned to the electrical impulse of those around them. 

Foot stepping on yellow social distance marker

My intent was that the viewer, in experiencing the short film, might feel nostalgia and longing for coming into ‘liveness’ and being part of a human collective again.  It’s the sensation of being sat next to someone you feel at ease with, or having a cat on your lap. In contrast to the feeling of ill – ease you might get being sat next to a stranger on a bus for example, or being up in the face of someone you don’t like! That can feel quite threatening to our nervous system. A gut sense if you like.  

So we see the group coming out of isolation with themselves, to experience the relational sense of liveness of being part of a human collective again. As relational beings, we experience ‘liveness’ by being in the same space and place and time. And when one of those elements is not there, our sense of liveness is incomplete.  

Getting together to make during lockdown

This piece was originally conceived as an installation and live action performance piece for another project which Covid prevented from happening. But in the end, filming it allowed for a greater breadth of exploration of what ‘liveness’ means, bringing in differential time and place, as well notions of space. I worked with a brilliant Coventry artist – Sherrie Edgar to film and edit. Sherrie is a film maker that works around themes of social isolation and loneliness  – do check her work out.

We added in this sort of glitch effect to the film, at the beginning and end. So that as the audience is drawn into that nostalgic feeling of people coming physically back together – the teenagers put away their phones and move into the shared space –  the technical screen interruption would bring the viewer back out of that sentiment, and back to an awareness that we are observing this action through a screen – that as viewers we are not in the same space and place and time as these actors; we are not in their shared liveness. 

It seems to me that over this year of Covid, cultural offers are increasingly focussed on developing a sense of ‘being there’ by engaging all of the senses, into their design. The intent being to replicate the live experience, or to fully immerse, as distinct from establishing a shared sense of engaging in deliberate cognitive disbelief. I wanted instead to try to evoke a sense of the frailty of that secondary sensing; to ground it in not-live. To highlight what we miss when all of those elements are not there – in spite of contextual richness that is designed to convince us for a time that we are.  

But I also wanted to offer a sense of hopefulness. A feeling of ‘not yet but soon’ – to preface ways of moving back into shared spaces together as collective gatherings become possible again. 

I’m really honoured to be part of this permanent exhibition by Newcastle Performance Research Department. I’d love to hear your reactions to the piece!

For Laura – on beauty and dressing up

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
But what if the beholders do not see? What then?

Perhaps we dress in pretty things
to make ourselves feel (practice preceding)
what we should not need to dress for.

As if you mean to flirt with magpies;
You layer gilt and sparkle
thinking your own jewellery has
been utterly consumed.

It is not true.

Shaping fun

What fun am I having
or am I having
You tear off the perfect coat and
sensibly fold it up, neatly, and clutch it
to your chest
Sensibly you say, and firmly;
Go and have some fun!
Go and shop. Don’t settle for this old thing and worn
It’s not what you really want at all. It’s not.

So I shiver. And then obedient
walk about the windows which do
promise marvellous deals in red exclamation;
looking for you.

I think girls are supposed to like shopping
But all these others pinch me or hang
careless of my shape.
Still, I shall pretend to have fun because
you think you are being generous.

Balloon Untethered

That isn’t right!
Those words don’t count.
You got that wrong.
You should have known.

It’s Black and White!
Those words don’t count.
You got that wrong.
You should have known.

you said, unspoken, ‘leave it be!
I didn’t know
I didn’t hear
I trusted ink. I can see it.

The rules rules rules. I’ve broken them. They aren’t mine.
I don’t deserve gravity.

I’m floating now. Please catch me.

Some old words ..

25 02 04

Twisting logic of conscious pardon
anger lodged here, to be dispensed measuredly.
It become distilled and not evaporated in tears as before.
This machine of me re-designed. Prevents leakage!
function. I do, and am, of circumstance and others blind
That evil cancer stopped now by tourniquet but the blood
both divided still fights and presses to flow. Free and dilute;
tension with determined sense along.
My gentle patient soul stretched taut
I measure

On shaking. With rage if needs be ..

I’m thinking this week about how body work – somatic practice – is a compliment to speech, and how the act of tremoring is beyond the politics of words.

I’m currently training in particular body work practice – called TRE. (Trauma Release Exercises). This methodology for shaking was created by Dr David Bercelli, but in fact tremoring is a natural human – mammalian – adaptive response to stress, that humans tend to suppress. This practice of shaking is often seen in non-western tribal communities, who do not seem to experience collective trauma in the same way. The following is a reflection on the insight that my deepening understanding of TRE is giving me.

The additional context needed is my particular neurology – i’m autistic and have adhd and recognise that life’s experience have prompted a complex PTSD which i’m working through. TRE has been instrumentally very important in this process of unpicking and healing and understanding of how I respond to the world.

I’m a words person. They spill out of me, but, often, the more they spill out the more I lose threads of connection between others where experience is so apparently alien. The more ( I ) talk the less I connect and the more that difference is described and marked. So there is a tension created by marking the difference – defining and going over the edges to find my own shape and take up the air that this body needs. Because defining those edges simultaneously dissolves the possibilities of immediate empathic connection, and this recognition of threads let go is a kind of grieving of imagined relating, and often adds more heft to the existing trauma. But I think too that perhaps that empathic connection is not real unless we have a shared understanding of who each other is? So the work is also in learning each other. Sensing each other.

(For me this is true: ) sometimes the silent howl is as much towards words as the body can manage. Or the real howl. Which stays mostly private. Muteness and selective muteness may be the soul’s protest when words are inadequate and cannot and will not be received by the other.

Bodies are political. The experience of TRE may be a kind of democratising of experience: putting our bodies in relation to each other as we shake without words. But also it may put our bodies in juxtaposition with each other where I allow myself to be vulnerable to one observing; so that the trauma is witnessed – this feels supremely necessary. This is movement beyond dance – not as beauty or as form or as directed catharsis of experience. It is primitive movement – primal brain movement. It is an expression which is intensely private but it is an act that I think must also, in some times and some places, be witnessed with ceremony and form; like an exorcism of ghosts that were never meant to be there. That must be expunged from a body; our bodies, collectively, that are designed as glorious and for which this traumatic resonance is evil absorbed.

I’m starting to read the work of Resmaa Menakem to explore this further. The happenings in the US right now, following the murder of african-american George Floyd by a white police officer make this understanding of trauma context ever more critical to reflect and act on. (For clarity I am white and live in the UK)

Increasingly I think this; that where trauma is contextualised and rooted in a geography, and within walls – this historic trauma resonance might be shaken away into that very place so that the walls and the soil bear witness to that violence taken in. For individuals as well as for communities.

Our bodies, which become characterised by the tensions of that trauma resonance, know instinctively that the chance of renewal grows into the folds that form in us around that compression and oppression. As plants grow up new life through the cracks in pavements. Shaped by but not held back by that immovable. Leaving that resonance in the space where it belongs then, and taking just the learning that the resonance gave us; with us – as tool, and fertile tilled soul, in which to grow further understanding.

If we leave the words and also the resonance where they belong – at the site of trauma – that evidence can bare witness to what dissonance was done there, and it may do more work to change.

Where does your trauma belong? Where does the resonance of it sit in this world?

A longer read and some brain theory…

Enjoying that anger vent and want some more detail (and some brain sciencey bits)?

Here’s my two-pence worth in full. There’s a Part 2 as well. I had a lot to say. You’re welcome.

Part 1 https://www.cloreleadership.org/resources/against-empathy-curating-angry-voices-vital-leadership-role

Part 2 https://www.cloreleadership.org/resources/anger-motivator-change

Typography poster: Fuck yeah!
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