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.


Body Sessions
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.


Essay Jeanine van Berkel – nov ’22


“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 Rana Ghavami – nov ’22

Soft Histories
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.


Essay Helena Sanders – dec ’22


“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


Essay Hannah Dawn Henderson – nov ’22

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


Essay Moosje M Goosen – nov ’22

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.”

Hannah Dawn Henderson

Hannah Dawn Henderson (1991) is an artist and writer, based in The Hague. Her artistic practice is underpinned by a research drive that sees lyrical narratives accompanied by (choreo)graphic and haptic methods of image handling. The resulting works — films, texts and installations — explore what kinds of sensibilities and knowledge can arise from the experience of inhabiting positions that are characterised by liminal and illegible qualities. In turn, this enquiry stimulates critical reflections on how bodies become politicised/political entities, whilst simultaneously remaining individual vessels in which singular, autobiographical experiences are compiled.

Rana Ghavami

Curator, contact person Enschede

Moosje M. Goosen

Moosje M. Goosen woont en werkt in Rotterdam, Nederland. Ze is schrijfster en PhD kandidaat aan de Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis. Goosen heeft als kunstcriticus bijgedragen aan tijdschriften als Frieze, Metropolis M en Ixiptla, en schrijft ook fictie en essays in het kader van kunsttentoonstellingen en evenementen. Ze heeft in verschillende educatieve capaciteiten gewerkt, zoals lesgeven en begeleiden van kunststudenten (o.a. Sandberg Instituut / School of Missing Studies, Rietveld Academie, Piet Zwart Instituut); coördineren van de cursussen van De Appel Curatorial Programme (2011-2013) en de MA Fine Art van het Piet Zwart Instituut (2009-2010), mede-organisatie van en deelname aan academische conferenties, en gastdocent aan universitaire seminars.

Jeanine van Berkel

Jeanine van Berkel is a graphic designer, visual researcher and writer. She is interested in what way her multi-ethnic body relates to the bigger colonial structures – especially focusing on the relationship between Curaçao and the Netherlands. In her ongoing research and story through the semi-forgotten memory of herself and (un)known history of her various motherlands, she looks for answers and shapes what silence looks like.

Helena Sanders

Helena Sanders (Austin TX, USA, 1983) is a multidisciplinary artist based in the Netherlands. Her practice takes form as abstract painting and drawing, installations, audio and live performance.

Across all elements of her work, she explores the potential of color and pigment usage to access and communicate complex histories of Place and notions of land stewardship. The use of materials – organic and synthetic pigments, dyes, and paints – cultivate intimate forms of
engagement with landscape, and she is particularly interested in sites of resource extraction such as ochre and coal mines, where folklore, science, desire and economics overlap.

Helena earned a Bachelors of Science from Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY (2005) with
concentrations in painting and textiles, and an MA in Artistic Research from the Royal Academy of Art, the Hague (2019)

Helena is involved in the production of artist-run events and workshops in and around the
Netherlands, such as AV Club Amsterdam; an experimental video and music series which ran for
six years at OCCII, Amsterdam. She also collaborates and performs as a duo with researcher/
curator and artist Margarita Osipian under various titles, most recently, “Reassembling What Has Been Scattered,” a live sound, music and video performance.

Kexin Hao

Kexin Hao is a visual artist and designer born in Beijing and based in The Netherlands. Her practice is a marriage between graphic design and performance art, and between art and non-art spaces. Using a daring visual language, Kexin’s work is a constant swing between intimate close-up on personal stories and zoom-out to collective narratives; between a past of political heaviness and a flashy modernity rendered in humour and sarcasm.

The process of the research:
In my graduation work “Total Body Workout”, I investigated in the subject—nationwide physical exercise routines and mass gymnastic performances from different regimes in the last century. My research asked questions: How is our body scripted and shaped by the times it lives in? How are national agendas and political ideologies woven into bodily semiotics? How does one’s body memory become an integral part of hegemonic historical narratives? And how do we inhabit a historical and totalised body? “Total Body Workout” proposes a recomposition of the existing corporal movements and a reconfiguration of the past in the present. It leads you through a ‘total body’ experience in which history unfolds not in chronological order but in a head-to-toe sequence.

In my latest research, growing out of Total Body Workout and the experiences of its performances, I started to trace ‘moving bodies’ in historical archives, and revisited my own body by looking at family footages. The research was materialized through the video essay “The Timeless Morphs: 3 Body Sessions”, in which I departed from the following questions: What is a disciplined body and what is an undisciplined one? By bringing together the personal and the collective body, and by bringing together family footages and historical archives, the essay not only observes the body in motion, but also investigates the states of being disciplined and undisciplined. This visual essay proposes our physical body as a processual, moving archive, and it aims to flesh out the importance of remembering the body as a tool of empowerment and resistance.