Energy as a practice
Päivitetty: 2. kesäk. 2021
Concept of energy as a starting point for movement practise. Presentation in Choreography research platform, Helsinki 2021.
I recently found out that the cosmological method, described by performance and media theorist and a dramaturg Maximillan Haas (Haas 2019), as “a mode of speculative philosophy” resonates with the way I see my work, and helps me to position the practices I’m trying to develop in relation to science, philosophy and performance.
Haas describes this originally Whitehead’s characterization as an abstraction of a concept from it’s original object (or context I suppose), and it’s transferability to other areas of research (such as artistic research or art as research, I suppose again.) (Haas, p. 101) “Since the abstraction of the concept from the original object and its concretization in respect to another both exceed the methods of the respective sciences, the conceptual extension requires speculative intuition and imagination. These faculties, however, belong less to the sciences as such, but rather to philosophy as a conceptual mediator between them. The procedure is conceived of as experimental: whether a concept will be effective in this or that context cannot be determined until it has been tested there. As cosmological thinking thus necessarily leaves the foundation of proven knowledge to be represented by the specialist sciences, it becomes an “adventure.” (Haas. p. 101)
So this transferring of concepts from their original contexts to a new speculative usage, is the process I identify my works as an artist with.
For the past couple of years, I have been working with the concept of energy, mostly in the framework of Energpriests collective, but also outside of it. The interest initially came from very concrete embodied sensations of feeling blocked and not-able to fully enjoy movement. This has lately grown, through several hypothesis’ on the way, into my current artistic interest, which is to propose embodied practises as something that can help people to relate to the new worldviews, like the one provided by quantum physics. But since this is something relatively new, I will mostly talk here about the phases leading to this point. They deal with the performers agency, psycho-social dimension and meditative qualities within our work with energy, arriving at questions of choreographic. (I will try to make a brief positioning of the practise in relation to 20th century dance art and eastern energy related movement practises as well.)
What is Energpriests (for me)
Originally Energpriests was founded by dance artists Krista-Julia Arppo, Meeri Lempiäinen, Katriina Tavi, Anni Koskinen, Salla Rytövuori, Pauliina Sjöberg and myself, and we worked from the beginning in close collaboration with DJ UKKO aka Ukko-Pekka Itäpelto and lighting designer Teo Lanerva. I have served as Energpriests’ artistic director from almost the beginning, after being asked to do so by the group.
I invited this bunch to work together, based upon our previous encounters in schools and art field and a hinge that they might share similar interests, namely energy in relation to the gender representation in movement and as their energetic effects in the body.
Our very first working hypothesis was “What if freeing the energy flow in the body also frees from stereotypical gender representations.” As you can see here, there’s already a transference going on; does a freedom in the area of embodiment translate as freedom in the area of the social? This was in 2017. We met frequently, approx. 2-4 times a month, practising listening energy flow in the body, and talking about it. The idea of these movement laboratories was to function as a platform for each of us to bring forth our own interests regarding the umbrella topic, and questions, practises etc, associating with it. The idea was to create a continuous flow of movement research and a research oriented community, who would test the “findings” and ideas through performance scores and events. Our first performance concept, A Sharing, was to be a liquid format for these tests to take place. From the very beginning we were very interested in the audience experiences, seeing them as results from these tests, as well as our own experiences.
We have gathered audience feedback sheets, asking about their past experiences with sexual or gender related harassment, experience with movement and dance art, as well as how particular parts of the performance felt, and did it create any difference or change in their experience of themselves or in their movement.
The feedback has been encouraging, both in terms of the answers themselves, telling us that the Sharings so far actually have created wellbeing in our audiences, as well as the act of communicating and letting the audience <<in-form>> the future development of our work. (Haas, p. 112)
In addition to A Sharing, we have been experimenting with concepts called Party Intervention and Guided Body Meditations in clubs and festivals. Our main target audience is young adults, who are interested in movement, self help, clubbing, traditional healing practises, and are looking for experiences where their role move beyond traditional spectatorship into an active participant, and where they are partly responsible makers of their own experience within the performative field created by the performance.
Birth of this practise
Something that definitely started to drive me personally towards this work, was a need to understand the challenges I had with my body during my professional dance training. I often felt that energy was getting stuck in some areas of the body and leaking from others. I started to see, quite intuitively at first, connections between my beliefs and the expression of my body. Later I became highly interested in trauma-body connection as well. What trauma can do, is that it blocks affects arising from the body in certain situations from “passing through” the body, thus leaving energy stuck in the body. (Äärelä 2009) This can lead to fatigue, pain or depression, for example.
But for our work so far, focus has been on how the social representation of the body, more specifically the gender representation, affected our bodies. Knowing that we are free didn’t necessarily seem to translate as freedom in the body. There was something else at play, hidden or driven in by the body.
So I came up with a proposal for energy mapping practise. The aim was to frame all but the body’s impulses out. For this reason there could not be any end goal in a form of score or certain aesthetics. In a way, choreographic ambitions had to be left out at this point totally. Naturally the past experiences in life and dance that we carry with us as our inner voices were immediately present, negotiating and almos nagging about this proposal of freedom and what kind of movement arose. We spent hours discussing all that came up, experiences of shame, giggle, anger and fear, trying to support and witness each other in the most permissive way. We looked for shelter in the practises of authentic movement, especially in it’s ways of using language and gaze as tools for supporting the sometimes un-easy staying with the un-known.
Thematically we framed the practise with the first hypothesis I mentioned earlier: “What if freeing the energy flow in the body frees from stereotypical gender representations.” I guess I was assuming, through my own embodied experience, that the psycho-social adapting to the hereronormative culture and woman imagery partly followed by it, was partly responsible for the embodied un-well-being I was going through.
So the practise is very simply this: We start with eyes closed, focusing our mind in a small spot (whatever spot) in the body. Instead of actively moving the spot, we try to let it move wherever it happens to move, and just keep track of it by focusing our mind to it. Putting our mind into an object, that is within our body, works as a sort of concentration meditation. (Stahl & Goldstein, 2011) The mind melts into the object of concentration, giving the <<left hemisphere of the brain something to grab>> and be busy with. (McGilchrist, 2021) This gives the right hemisphere in turn space to do sort of a realization meditation kind of task, that is a non-judgemental observation of the body, thoughts, emotions and sensations.
The pre-assumption here is that the energy is already in movement in the body, between us and everywhere. This notion is of course inspired by quantum physics, but at this point I can't say much more about it. But the practise is all about listening to this energy. For me it opens up a possibility to be in-formed by the body as an inter-connected entity also beyond my identification as a human.
As Sabine Huscha describes, “ the implicit knowledge about energy manifests itself in somatic, movement-related and choreographic practices that model the body as agents of movement and present energetic as an aesthetic force field of transgressions, which oscillate between utopia and critical intervention.” (Huscha, 2019)
The body is assigned a radical role as a mediator of in-formation, making every performer/researcher in this context inevitably an agent of the choreographic as well. No one can really say what is or is not within the practise in this kind of work, making it extremely important to elaborate with clarity what is practice and when are we working with something else, like making a performative outcome to share with audiences. I find this transition from the practise to performance making both highly interesting and problematic at the same time.
In terms of agency, I’d like to mention here that allowing sparing energy, to stay home, skipping meetings, being tired, bored, annoyed etc. has had an important role in our working culture together. As well as trying to create different performative approaches to arrive easily in different places, to be abto to monetize from our know-how as dance artists without always going for grant applying as well. However, this has proven to be difficult, when simultaneously maintaining an attempt to have a career in other contexts as well.
A Sharing is not choreographed in a sense of a performance drawing attention to choreographic detail. So far it had been combined of simple rules, that in-form a performative field, where forces / energy can be experienced both as emanating from the performers, but also as a felt presence of something invisible, a force field, that translates the events of the performers’ bodies into the spectator/participants’ bodies. This does not primarily happen through sight but rather through touch, or by tuning in to the same pitch. It’s a “dynamically organized field that enables it’s elements to perform.” (Haas, p. 104)
In this psycho-social choreography of sharing our energies (here in the context of clubbing-performance), <<the psychic and the social constantly form each other>>, and the movement that emerges. (Haas, p. 113)
In his article Cosmology of Forces, performative fields, Haas talks about in-formation, a constant emerging and signifying between a force field and individual. He refers to Gilbert Simondon’s ontogenetic force fields by writing: “
He writes about the relationship between individuation and the milieu, and how these two in-form each other. In the choreohraphic work I have wanted to provide the audience a possibility to be in a field where recognizing one’s limits, habits or thoughts might be possible, but where a approach to embodying differents scenarios is also offered as a movement proposal. For me the work with energy is about recognizing what affects in me, by what am I in-formed, and using performative tools or apparatus to facilitate this for each other.
“Forces are obscure alien factors that (de-) constitute the human in an impersonal play of expression.” (Menke, Haas, p. 104) And this is what makes me so curious about energy as an angle, how it at the same time deals with emotions and let’s call it psycho-somatic attunement while it still is fundamentally a field like, non-personal area of embodied communication.
The choreographic work emerging from all this, would be then to figure ways to build or facilitate these fields. For me so far the core strategy seems to be to find the most simple “points” to focus the movement around, so that the body has space to re-organize itself. In Yessay our aim is to look even more closely to the speculative event, a dream of bodies talking to each other in some quantum way.
I believe that the performative structure, what ever thay may be, must leave enough space for to encourage the audience to recognize their embodied sensations, especially the markers for yes and now responses. They are life vests and security gards of the performance, taking care of the performers and the audience.
Haas, M. (2019). Cosmology of Forces, Performative Fields. Energy and forces as aesthetic interventions p. 113. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag
Huscha, S. (2019). Aesthetic Scenarios of Energeia. Energy and forces as aesthetic interventions p. 113. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag
Äärelä, E. (2009). Psykoanalyyttinen affektin malli ja ruumiilliset oireet. Psykoterapia (2009), 28(2), 98–107 https://www.psykoterapia-lehti.fi/tekstit/aarela209.htm (viitattu 25.3.2021)
Stahl, B; Goldstein, E. (2011). Stressinhallinnan käsikirja - Tietoisen läsnäolon menetelmä. Helsinki: Viisas Elämä
McGilChrist, I. (2021). The divided mind. Making Sense podcast by Sam Harris, 234. Episode, in conversation with Ian McGilChrist. https://samharris.org/podcasts/234-divided-mind/?utm_source=Sam+Harris+Newsletter&utm_campaign=6cbb7d3c1d-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_03_28_12_51_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f1c2a2c9db-6cbb7d3c1d-216419399&mc_cid=6cbb7d3c1d&mc_eid=fa77c04ce8 (kuunneltu 4.12.2020)