“from … to …” by Juan Domínguez
[A project divided in 3 phases]
In 2006 I received a commission from Instituto Cervantes. Their aim to change the way they usually promote the work of Spanish artists was directed towards a shift in the relationship between artistic process and result. Out of a necessity of actualizing modes of production and diffusion together with the idea of building a stronger context within the multicultural framework in which Instituto Cervantes operates, the main idea behind their proposal was to engage artists in cultural exchange, as opposed to a colonialist attitude of exporting work by artists chosen to best represent their country. The question that arose for me was how I could share this procedure in my own work. I found the proposal pertinent to the artistic interests I had already been pursuing.
In the last few years, I have been working through written language in relation to the stage, developing the idea or concept of absence. Through an absent body, an absent motion, absence answers to many years of overuse and over-idealization of the body. In the absence of a body striving for increasingly unreachable ideals, the audience imagines a body closer to their actual experiences. Also in response to the necessity of enriching my relationship with the spectators, I approach the audience as a community of individuals: by activating their imagination, I activate their individuality. After some years working with language and its utterances in an intuitively pragmatic way, I thought about studying movement and the body through linguistics in order to gain tools that allow me to go farther in the idea of this accessibility of the body and its artistic and social use.
The subject I proposed for my project “from … to …” is to research the verbs of movement around the questions: how do we conceive movement through language, how is movement conceived through different languages and cultures, and how do different fields relate to these questions. The frames would come from the knowledge about language and body routines that human beings have, my performing arts background, and from linguistics, introducing a scientific and academic approach. By crossing between these three fields (everyday, artistic, and linguistics), I was able to invent new strategies within each frame.
My interest in linguistics came from a curiosity about the unconscious side that is active in linguistic communication. Certainly we are aware of the unconscious as we communicate to some extent, but can we gain freedom to change our reality once we learn how we perceive, understand and communicate it through language? I was also interested in relating this question to an understanding of the body and movement.
My work is always directly related to subjects and concepts (space, time, body and identity). For me my body has become lately more relevant than ever as a map of my identity, as the unity of mind and flesh, and as a primary means of activism. My identity has been built from a history of being strongly against – against a catholic education and a post-dictatorship culture, against the polemics of discipline and freedom. I developed an extreme wildness, a destructive use of my body in relation to society. When I began to create my own work, the body took a different place, no longer at the service of presenting forms under the ideals of a single author, but towards a body that can speak about a larger population, towards a body that can be understood in collaboration between author, performer, and spectator.
[Madrid, Beijing, Montevideo, Rio De Janeiro, New York, Vienna, Paris, Porto, Berlin, 2007]
The project was conducted for four weeks in each city. For the first three weeks I studied different linguistic approaches to my research as guided by a local linguist. Through the ideas I got from these approaches I developed a research workshop with the participants that put in to practice artistic and subjective ideas for later development by myself or the other individuals on their own afterwards. The fourth week was shared with local artists whom I chose from very different background formations (dance, theatre, architecture, film, theory, writing, production, medicine, etc…), in order to have a richer discourse in relation to the subject. We developed tools for a subjective methodology in which conceptual structures from language could be manipulated through imagination and influence the understanding of our perception.
I conducted seven months of research between July 2007 and May 2008, traveling to Madrid, Beijing, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Vienna and Paris, followed by shorter workshops in Montevideo, Porto and Berlin until August 08. Starting with a more semantic and cognitive interest, we went through all possible linguistics approaches; phonetic, morphological, syntactic, semantic, pragmatic, psycholinguistic, common understandings of the subject between different languages (Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, English, German, classic Arabic) as well as the specificities and peculiarities of each language together with cultural aspects that frame language or are framed by language.
One of the relevant aspects of this 1st phase of the project was the fact of not needing a final product. It was a genuine study and experiment. With that freedom I found what the intuition couldn’t tell me before and developed tools that enabled me to re think my preoccupations. We all constantly use space, time and our body in daily life; we are all unconscious choreographers. I was interested to gain consciousness about what we do unconsciously and yet in such a precise and sophisticated way when we speak and move in our daily lives, by working with consciousness to open and broaden autonomy but also for transformational purposes. Consciousness becomes a tool to effect and not to only be affected.
“While language is something offered to us and is there to be studied, it is also something of the human being himself, is specific to him, and thanks to this human being (whether a simple user as if it is a grammarian) has a natural knowledge that pre entitled him to use it, and actually uses it, not only to intra- and inter-communicate with success, but also to construct explanations and descriptions of him”
Can consciousness of sensation give us a possibility of understanding and choosing? Can perception give us more space to develop our choices? Is there space in between sensation and perception? Is there space in between perception and representation? If there is how can we extend it?
I was also concerned with sharing this research of understanding together. How can we share the way we understand and perceive reality? How can we communicate the way we construct our reality? And how can we start this path of sharing without resorting to hierarchical structures? All of the workshop participants confronted themselves with the fact that we presuppose how we speak and move and that we use language and the body only in an effective way depending on our daily activities. Any procedure of artistic creation faces the topic of visibility, but what about the topic of effectiveness?
We realized that we don’t really experience the process of how language and the body function together. As a collective research, we expanded the time for experiencing and altering our usually goal-oriented means of speech and movement. This expansion was reflected also in the structure of the project as a form of research: in the performing arts, the period of research is usually linked to a production, or some other a final result as a goal, which brings the work finally into one direction of work and one way of experimenting. By keeping the work open for longer than usual in the phase of generating tools and changing our perceptions, we stayed out of the usual frame of production and consumption, reaching another plateau of artistic exchange. Still productive and relevant to our artistic practices, but in a more multiplied way.
From the comparative study of different linguistic approaches, we learned about certain mechanisms that were pertinent to performance and to the ways that we can direct our perception through an understanding of how we function physically within and through language. By producing new ways of regarding the relation between verbs and actions, we found ourselves able to influence our perception of time, space, or identity. Examples from the research period include:
- Psycholinguistic studies focused on the mental processes and entities involved in the production and comprehension of linguistic enunciations. By inducing mistakes within the subjects of their experiments, psycholinguists reveal which parts of our perception or imagination are dominated by language and how. An example of this in psycholinguistics is displaying the name of a color in another color (BLUE, YELLOW, GREEN, etc.). We developed an exercise in which the subject has a person whispering in each ear. The subject performs the verb spoken in one ear and speaks the verb spoken in the other ear. The result is usually a delay in the ability to move or speak, when the information crosses and the commands produce a conflict between body and mind. The activity linked to language processing (repeating a verb), and the activity dependent of motor commands (interpreting a verb in movement), when performed simultaneously, are mutually influenced.
- The study of semantics describes how, in all languages, verbs of movement merge different combinations of movement’s semantic components (figure, ground, displacement, trajectory, manner) within their singular lexical form:
To jump = motion + manner
To fall = motion + path
To fly = motion+ figure + manner
To land = motion +figure + manner + ground
To uncork = motion + manner + path + figure + ground.
The study of morphology shows us, for example, that the Indo European languages (except for the Romance ones) that are satellite-framed (by particles and prepositions) focus more on sub-sections of path and have less verbs that imply path, and yet they have larger manner vocabularies, or verbs that imply also the manner in which the verb is performed. The implication here might be that what a given language enforces mirrors perceptual sensibilities. The satellites and prepositions in some languages like English or Chinese play different role than in Romanic languages. In Romanic languages, satellite and prepositional information is implicit in the verb itself (as in the above example; uncork). There are studies that show Romantic language speakers are more limited when they describe an action, which doesn’t mean they understand less or are not able to express it, but that they use more or less words to achieve the same meaning, and the structure of those words directs their attention differently. In this way, we can think that we are perceptually framed by our mother tongue.
- By developing an awareness of how path, manner, figure, and ground are implied in the verbs we use to talk about movement, we found opportunities for changing the habitual ways that we move, as well as ways that we perceive movement.
- Each language also gives importance to different details when an action is described or executed. For example, in Spanish, directions are always given in terms of personal orientation (right, left, straight), while in Chinese, directions are always given in global orientation (north, east, south, west). Throughout the workshops I observed how different cultures produce different approaches, and how different groups based on profession or background produce different habits. Although generalizations don’t confirm anything, I found it curious what qualities emerge in which cultures when performing an action; the Beijing participants’ preciseness and tension, the Río de Janeiro participants’ slowness and desire, the Vienna participants’ distance and their habit of thinking twice before doing anything, as directly opposed to the Madrid participants’ who first try and then think. Within professions, I observed the film directors’ specificity in describing action, the choreographers’ frequent use of metaphor, or the writers’ employment of different styles.
- We worked on the consciousness of how we talk about representing space in terms of axes and direction. We manipulated this consciousness by slightly distorting our spatial references. For example, by saying I am coming while walk backwards away from the viewer, the conflict between hearing and seeing proposes an observation of which perception dominates or negates, which one seems primary and which contradictory. We experimented with the manipulation of language use: how the quality of movement varies when we change our focus on the point of arrival “going to”, on the point of departure “coming from”, or on the process “going towards”).
- Experimenting with how language talks about time through the tense, placing events on a time line, we changed the tense of the verbs in relation to the actions performed. If I have just jumped and I say, “I will jump,” the temporality creates a new moment taking place neither in the past nor future, but in a co-presence of the two. If I have just jumped and I say, “If I would have run…”, a space for the possible is opened.
- By manipulating the aspect of the verb (the quality of the action; iterative, punctual, etc.) we were able to manipulate how an event is viewed beyond its placement on a timeline. Aspect functions differently in different languages: For example, German does not have aspect while Arabic understands an event primarily through aspect.
- The concept of telicity introduces the possibility that the inherent meaning of a verb implies an end to the action or not. One can produce sensations with the verb “to fall” that imply and end but “falling” itself does not indicate an end to the action. In this way, we can play with expectation.
- The process of translation carries with it the process of de contextualization. Translating one language to another empties its originally implicit understandings and contextual usages, and places the words in a new situation where invention has to be applied in order to make the same ideas activate the same relations to their surroundings. I worked a lot with de contextualizing quotidian actions in order to build new contexts for the body and its actions. Questions of motivation and fiction arose in the participants’ efforts to give the de-contextualized action a sense of utility or purpose. Children play a lot in this way, erasing the everyday purpose of their action, de contextualizing their actions from the immediate reality and spontaneously inventing imagined contexts for their actions.
- We focused on the importance of gesture and non-verbal elements in communication. When we tried to talk without using gestures, other parts of the body such as the feet or face would try to substitute for the expressions of the hands. When the speaker closed their eyes, they used the hands less. We observed the precise relationships in which visual perception and audio perception are both a part of verbal communication.
- In pragmatics, we studied the points of reference of the speaker and of the listener. We worked with different levels of description simultaneous to movement: first by describing what we are doing, then describing what another person is doing while we continue doing independently, then speaking in first person as the other person describing his or her own actions while we carry on moving differently from them. This resulted in a sort of multiplication of the self, changing the places for identity, changing points of view, examining how we reflect on space and on the other people/bodies. This often also proposed new ways of thinking about the relation between performer and spectator, as a relation between two who are looking at each other, offering tools for raising questions of identity via how we identify with the point of view the other has over us.
Through studying all the dimensions that can be expanded and arranged within language, the possible shifts in point of view or way of seeing, I observed a strong relation to the duality of reality and fiction, which has been present in my work prior to the “from ... to ...” project. For instance, in my 2007 solo entitled “all good artists my age are dead”, I worked on the fictional process of building the piece I was performing. Through a projected text, I locate the situation on stage in the future by referring to the past that is the actual present of the spectators. When the performers representing the characters of the story appear on stage, they are old. They fulfill the image built by the spectators, materializing what was described in the projected text. In this particular case, language functions as a channel of space and time, giving the sensation that the present space and time are already past.
It is clear to me that language frames our understanding although the inverse is of course possible. But language always creates such a strong environment that it becomes dominant. Language is something so complex and well structured towards pragmatic utility that in every life day we don’t think about what could produce another use for it. What would happen if we used language in another way? Would it change our perception of reality, our relation to space-time and our way of relating to each other? Language is considerably stable -- although it evolves (new words become officiated, for instance), but with what purpose? In advertising or politics, phrases and terms are appropriated in a way that changes their meaning or changes our reality through what the language implies, to maintain control, to create propaganda, generally to dampen the analysis and agency of the individual in society. But few use language in a way that transforms our understanding as simple users towards our own autonomy of communication. (Sometimes this is achieved through slang, or by certain rappers and pop artists who reinvent their language, or poets...)
Living in a society where everything must be productive, aptly framed and justified, there is no longer space for real subjectivity: when individual power is framed as consumer power, and subjectivity is framed as leverage for a false democracy, opportunities for creating non-globalized contexts are fast disappearing. With few possibilities for an un-framed imagination, we become trapped within sad and uniformed bodies and identities. By continuing to perform the fictions imposed by these frames, we lose a sense of power to form our own reality created by our desires, and we even lose a sense of reality itself. For me the only possible reality left is in what I call the imagined reality: a space where you can still feel freedom and think in the possible. I want to bring this imagined reality to praxis, to experience.
Because of these reasons I am now interested in discarding verbal language itself and applying what I have learned about its logics and structures to performance, in order to derail the goal-oriented modes of communication that might flatten the dimensions of experience. I feel the necessity to destroy language efficiency but keep an effective process. So the performance has no singular idea towards productivity or engagement with the spectator, but rather becomes an experiential production of realities.
I am currently in the 2nd phase of the project, in which I propose “from … to …” to the participants of a collective project called 6M1L (Six Months One Location) taking place at the Centre Choréographique Nationale de Montpellier from July until December 2008. 6M1L is 9 invited artists and the 9 young artists attending Ex.e.r.ce (the formation program at CCNM) rethinking formats of research in post graduate and professional projects and challenging the usual modes of production and collaboration. I am working with 10 of the 18 artists involved, among them choreographers but also musicians, theoreticians and visual artists from different parts of the world. Within the 6 months I will work with them 8 weeks, to search for a methodology that transforms the knowledge and ideas generated in the 1st phase in to a more graspable material. When I say material I don’t mean steps to be executed or structures in which the material can be placed, but a discourse that can hold the complexity of the subject and its performance potentiality. With the people in 6M1L, we have worked towards developing such a discourse already.
In this 2nd phase of research with the 6M1L group, I have begun to bridge the tools and information from the 1st phase with the goals of the 2nd phase.
We have started looking for an expression that is “conceptually unrepresentable”, which means that we cannot necessarily name it but it is something through which we can travel. It is a space or an event in which you recognize everything but you are not able to grasp it with the mechanisms that language grasps or frames reality.
We have been researching a practice of “communicating communicability”: with no other context than the relation between the people in real space and time, we attempt to produce an autonomy of communication that reveals and isolates the communicative mechanisms in speech and movement, hence allowing us to displace them from the their usual uses.
- NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION
Working with nonverbal communication, we study the aspects that accompany speech and are necessary to communicate. (Postures, orientation of the speakers, distance between the speakers, visual contact and glances, physical contacts, subjective intensity of the voice, thermal code, smell code…) Creating artificial situations that give relevance to all these aspects, we aim to nullify hierarchies between verbal and nonverbal communication by grasping the effects of the nonverbal forms and re/arranging the relationships between them.
We can draw a number of characteristics common to all non-verbal language. It seems that most of them dominate the expressive role, in this sense there are universal expressions of human affects (pain, joy, fear, surprise...), while it is also true that there are a number of gestures whose meaning varies with the cultures. The paralinguistic describes the traits that accompany the words, not always satisfied scientifically with the usual curves in intonation. Thus, the qualities of the voice include control of abstract parameters (emphasis, rhythm, articulation, resonance, volume…) but also of expressive parameters called “vocal characterizations” (laugh, cry, sigh, yawn…) and what Trager called the “vocals segregations” (aah, mmmm, err, umm…). All of these elements can relate to a certain style of communication, and even social stratum or spatial location/environment.
- SHORT CURCUIT:
At the very beginning of the “from ... to ...” project I have imagined the performer doing something but saying that she or he is doing another (she or he says: “I am running,” while turning). When I shared this idea with one of the linguists at the 1st phase of the project, she told me that I was interested in the “short circuit” between semantics and the body. In the 2nd phase, we have begun trying to produce these short circuits within the action itself. What do we find between an action and its representation? Between a thought and a word? Between thought and praxis? An electricity short circuit happens basically when the resistance of the circuit goes to 0 and the intensity goes to infinity. I like this fact as a metaphor, so “zero resistance, infinite intensity” has become a kind of slogan in this phase of research.
We also have short circuits in the brain: For instance, when somebody asks you if you have seen a particular movie and without thinking or wanting to answer “yes,” you do. Or within the nervous system: When you are very tired and you want to do something but when you move to do it, the body does not act according to plan, either does something else or doesn’t manage to meet your intention. I would like to prolong these fleeting moments in time, these moments when everything gets displaced. They occur when the mind and body can’t affirm but can only experience. From these very present-tense moments, we can talk about what we are experiencing and build situations from our present reality, when we don’t need to project ourselves because we are in the midst of the acting-sensing-perceiving. Consciousness of perception appears but we don’t change it, we inhabit the openness. We don’t experience something contrived, but rather simply travel to the edges of our perception.
When I talk about a short circuit the focus for me goes to the situation created by it. It is a real one, not productive but very provocative. Can we extend the moment of a cerebral short circuit? Can we know what we perceive with out having a representation of it? What is between sensation and perception?
Synesthesia is another phenomenon that interests me right now, as linked to changes in one’s state of consciousness. The idea of mixing senses also produces a kind of short circuit. If it is only possible for those who have Synesthesia to smell pink how can we expand the space that is created in between that short circuit in order to produce a synesthetic crossing of information? Synesthesia is irrational: it appears instantly, is usually uncontrollable, and cannot be willed, only felt.
All babies until almost 4 years old mix the senses, after which the brain starts to differentiate them and locates them in different parts of the brain. This is also the age when, in learning language, we start to lose perception. Before language acquisition, the child perceives up to 90% more than the adult. Through the efficiency of language, the perception is reduced to what is considered useful. Can we come back to thinking in baby-states? If yes, what can we gain? Perhaps an increased awareness, a movement away from a “sleepy” society, an increased capacity for action? To what extent is “normality” conditioned by the society in which we live and effect does this have on our sensitivity to percepts?
I am also interested in the idea of sharing: Sharing the construction of this state of mind where we travel together slowly, holding hands, with no time sensation, where we don’t look for but find ourselves in a space in which we reencounter communication. This idea of sharing extends from the interdisciplinary and workshop approach of the 1st phase, through the shared research of the 2nd phase, and eventually to the 3rd phase, with an audience.
The context I am developing in the 2nd phase raises several questions regarding the future piece. What is the experience for the performers and for the spectators? How can these things be catalyzed in the relationship between the two? What is the level of liveness that will be produced? What are the skills I need from the performers and from the spectators? It is clear to me that I will not try to put the performers and spectators in the same position. The experience for both will necessarily be different. But could the two create together the equivalent of an electrical short circuit? If one provides the voltage, the others provide the intensity, the energy will come from the movement between them and...
[Madrid, Berlin and Paris, 2009]
Working through non-verbal communication in the 2nd phase, we began to create a space between meaning and sense, losing grip on the former and having the sensation of the latter.
Performers experiment, the viewers look at people experimenting, but a simultaneous dual-experience is happening through the mutual discovery of all that lies between meaning and sense. By over-extending the normal process of recognition, a lucid dream-like space is created. In a lucid dream, the relationships between the lived memories that generate the dream continually shift and re-contextualize prior to being understood and memorized. “The reappearance of memories while dreaming happens during the storage process, when the memories move from one cerebral region to another before being filed permanently”. (Tendencias Cientificas, November 2008)
Hence, there are systems that allow us to evolve in relation to what emerges in our perception. If the “storage process” or arrival point (of meaning, understanding, consolidation of knowledge) can continually be postponed, this space of pure experience can become a constructed reality.
Text English version edited by Eleanor Bauer