Bodies and Breath: Embodied Research & Writing
part of: Body and power(lessness)
It is through our bodies, our senses and sensibilities that we encounter and live through our world. It is through a hierarchy of senses that we separate and compartmentalise our modes of experience and discard the multitude registers contained within our bodies. We are taught to look at maps and cartographies, whereas the world moves and transforms with the winds, cracks, breaths, whispers, and chants between us. Embodied inquiry is not only method, but a way of being, relating, moving and transforming, with and through the many relations we have at a given time.
This dossier has been created through rich exchanges and encounters we have had with our invited guests who were asked to host workshops on embodied writing and research, and to share with us the relations they have forged through their practices in writing, research, and making. In their workshops, each contributor invited us to acquaint ourselves with our sensibilities and bodies through writing, movement, and storytelling. Embedded within cultural practices that often deal with ancestral memory, magical realism and mythmaking, these contributions trace archival processes and historiographies by reviving sounds and images, and myths and stories that are affective, sensorial and experiential. It is out of desire and necessity that we reckon with our inheritance, and to live in relation with one another that we begin to speak to the most delicate aspects of our lives, which not only changes us, but also those who can hear, feel and move along with us.
We invite you to engage with the multitude of voices, textures, places, pauses, colors, breaths contained within the pages of this dossier. Here you can encounter essays, artworks, registrations of events, and invitations to guided exercises, where the symbolic, practical, artistic, and social is not severed, but brought together in ways that we hope will expand your relations through writing, making and listening.
Visual essay by and interview with Kexin Hao
“To remember, is to position oneself sound and still in the great flood of history. To remember yourself, is to ask others not to forget.”
Through the film The Timeless Morphs: 3 Body Sessions, visual artist and designer Kexin Hao takes us through her memories of growing up in Beijing, and her experience of alienation that resulted from the pressure to perform in dance and athletics. Kexin folds her recollections into (collective) histories of the moving body, and asks: What is a disciplined and an undisciplined body? Weaving the personal and the collective body, and patching family footage and historical archives, the film not only observes the body in motion, but also looks into how the body is disciplined, and how it escapes disciplining measures through movement and memory.
MY BODY IS A HOUSE
“Mama couldn’t talk for ten years after we left the island. She left all her words behind because there was nothing left to say. Sometimes grief is slow like that.”
Interview with Jeanine van Berkel
In the textual contribution Soft histories, Jeanine van Berkel’s prose moves us from inside her mouth to the core, along dust and bones, listening to memories and silences as they slip between dreams, inherited histories, and imagination. We spoke to her about how her body houses her urge to listen to ‘archival silences’ and memories residing within herself and the (un)known histories of her motherlands. We asked her how she sees her ongoing work—the workshop Soft histories and the text My body is a house—as part of an ongoing research to shape these silences through words, materials, pauses, readings, workshops, and installations.
SOMEWHERE A BIT FURTHER AWAY
FOOTHILLS OF THE APPALACHIAS
NORTH CAROLINA, SOUTHEAST UNITED STATES
“What pedagogies were introduced that students are not taught to recite songs in colour, or paint letters of the alphabet which emit fragrance?”
Color is not merely a pigment or a material property. Helena’s textual contribution Muddy Fields and writing workshop Muddy Fields and Pink Possums: field work and color work as an entry point for embodied writing begin with a simple question: What is color? Starting with her own body floating down the river, the question of ‘what’ is put aside, and color itself is encountered.
Following the 2014 coal ash spill into the Dan River in Eden, North Carolina, after which scientists found unsafe levels of lead, arsenic, mercury, selenium, and zinc in the river water, Helena Sanders traces these toxic chemical elements to their presence as pigments in paints—in lead white, Scheele’s Green, Vermillion red, orange cadmium, and zinc white.
Slipping between the practical and the symbolic, economic and aesthetic, contemporary and historical, in her text color is a carrier that takes us through a vast array of relationships between the world and our selves. Made of desire as much as necessity, color takes us across lethal mining sites, global economies, and aesthetic hierarchies, prompting us to attune ourselves to the many registers and positions our bodies occupy at a given time.
Coming back to the question what is color, and resisting any single interpretation, can color, kaleidoscopically, prompt us to attune ourselves to our multifold experiences and registers of meaning—to the many worlds—we already inhabit? In the words of Helena: “…if one language or another limits us and censors how we are able to narrative our stories and history through inherent bias, then can color provide a tool through which we can sing ourselves back into the world?”
“When we look out into a field, muddied and swamped with coal ash slurry in the dead of winter, the first thing we are struck with is a seeming absence of colour. What was green is now flooded with lifeless greys, rancid-butter beiges and cold blue-black. Is there a way back from burnt coal?” – Helena Sanders
The Archive who Breathes
On the circumstances and consequences of archival gaps
“It is perhaps jarring to consider that while archives in their origin are, quite literally, housebound, they are evidently (per their lack of evidence, paradoxically enough) lacking in hospitality. Archives, it would seem, do not make for kind hosts.”
The Archive who Breathes is a project by Hannah Dawn Henderson. You are invited to take a look at the website that belongs to this project. It is specially designed by Lotte Lara Schröder, and you can meander through a collection of annotations, footnotes and marginalia by Hannah’s friends, close relations and peers, relations that have been forged over longer periods of time. On the website you can also find Hannah’s essay.
The story begins Elsewhere, in a house that is a single room, a witness and host to a multitude of overlapping scenes. Hannah Dawn Henderson recalls one particular anecdote, the one October afternoon when a hurricane ripped the roof off her mother’s house. Writing of Jungian dream analysis, in which a house is understood as an allegorical projection of one’s psyche, Hannah wanders and wonders: How would Jung’s analyses have differed had he spent his formative years not in Basel but Elsewhere, where elaborate, multi-story houses are few and far between?
The Archive who Breathes departs from a prose essay that addresses the tropes that have historically shaped the field of archive science, often resulting in gaps in institutionalised archives — and, by extension, sociological imagination. Hannah proposes a re-imagining of what may constitute an ‘archive’, addressing how testimonies of intergenerational traumas often elude formal documentation, and are otherwise materialised through psycho-somatic expression. Interweaving accounts from her own biography with theoretical and lyrical analyses, the essay asserts that the body can also be understood as an archival vessel – both hostage and host to aphasic legacies.
“This is the embodied archive — the archive ever circulating within you, for which you are both the abode and the custodian. It exists there, along the tide of your breath, cradled by your ribs, always present and animated — confirming that amongst the ghosts, there is surely life.” – Hannah Dawn Henderson
De schrijver als lichaam en het lichaam als schrijver
Hoe opnieuw te leren leven en schrijven met ziekte?
“Wanneer ik aan Virginia Woolf en Susan Sontag denk, denk ik aan vorm. […] vorm geven aan een nieuwe situatie. Gedachten, gevoelens, ervaringen, door het lichaam ingegeven.”