Somatic Practices of Being-in-the-World.

An Exploration into Feminist Artistic Strategies of Materialistic Demands of the Recognition of the Body as the Base of Human (Inter-)Action

Masterthesis von Tabea Merly

This master thesis, from which chapter 4 is published here, is about bodies and how this concept, this term, has evolved over time, how it has been and is defined, and how contested and regulated it still is. It is about the political and social dimensions of bodies and their matter and examines theoretical frameworks that address these dimensions, including feminist materialisms and the works of Judith Butler. In addition, Hartmut Rosa’s concept of being- in-the-world is incorporated and his analysis of social structures combined with the multi-level perspective of Geels and Shot. 

It is a search for ways to talk differently about bodies. Ways that surpass mere acceptance and advocate for a discourse that recognizes and embraces embodied experiences, acknowledging their inherent presence and influence in shaping positions of power. 

In chapter 4, the process of creating an exhibition piece which was showcased in disctinct contexts is described. It illustrates the attempt to bridge the abstract and non-visual realms into tangible expressions through the creation of written scores. 

4 EXHIBITION MAKING 

In this chapter I will document the process of creating an exhibition piece for the Künstlerhaus in Vienna. Established in 1868 at Karlsplatz, the Künstlerhaus embodies a space for engaging dialogue, intellectual exchange, and the showcasing of modern artistic expressions. Alongside its conventional exhibition spaces, the Künstlerhaus also houses the › Stadtkino im Künstlerhaus ‹. Moreover, within the basement, the Alber- tina modern exhibits Austrian artists as well as international creatives through temporary showcases (Künstlerhaus 2023). 

During my time as a guest student in the Art & Science program over the past year, the students of the first semester were tasked to organise a student exhibition at the Künstlerhaus for June 2023. Collaborating with the teachers and department, they planned and executed the exhibition. I considered it a great privilege to have gotten the chance to present some- thing and decided to exhibit the practical part of my master’s thesis, since I was planning to finish my studies in this period. The process of prepar- ing for the exhibition began well before the official registration of my thesis, as I found myself contemplating about what I wished to present in the Künstlerhaus exhibition at the onset of the winter semester 2022/23. 

»Why, what and how am I doing what I am doing? In wishful thinking, I think art is inherently political by its condition of proposing the trans- formation of a given system. « — Lilia Mestre 39

39 Mestre 2014: 11 

I remained committed to my initial concept of utilising scores as a means to explore alternative ways of generating knowledge about one’s body and cultivating a new approach to being-in-the-world. 

4.1 SCORES 

Given that the term › scores ‹ was unfamiliar to me until reading it in the course description at the Angewandte Performance Lab, I will provide a brief explanation of my understanding of the term and share the reasons behind my decision to employ it as the medium for my exploration. The term › score ‹ (known as ›Partitur‹ in German) originates from the field of music and refers to a handwritten or printed notation of a musical composition. A score can encompass either a single part for a solo perfor- mance or multiple parts that collectively form an orchestral or ensemble piece. Primarily utilised by the conductor, a score serves as a written doc- ument that provides an overview of the entire musical work. So “scores are a frame that allow us to see what is actually there. [I]n a creative artistic research a score […] functions as a tool to create the attention and intensity needed to let something of the unexpected enter into the social field of the knowledge and practice process” (Mestre 2014: Glossary). The way I understood scores is that they are, in a way, instructions given by one person for another person to follow. They involve simple actions or ideas from everyday life, recontextualised as performance, they are texts that can be seen as proposal pieces or instructions for actions. The idea of a score can be realised by people other than the original creator and is open to variation and interpretation. This creates a situation in which one engages in observing oneself or the surroundings for a limited period of time according to the guidance provided. I deeply resonated with Lilia Mestre’s 40 perspective on scores, which she describes in a publication 41 “as triggers for accidents that instead of being avoided are embraced. It’s a call for risk taking on unstable grounds, for the imagination and the manifestation of emotions, ideas, and states of being, not as ideologies but as an awareness of being in the present” (ibid.). Scores can therefore create spaces in which knowledge about one’s own body and beyond can be generated. 

40 Lilia Mestre (born in Lisbon in 1968) is an artist and researcher who currently resides in Brussels. Her work revolves around the exploration of art practice as a medium that bridges multiple domains of semiotic existence. (Dutch Art Insitute 2023) 

41 „Writing Scores“ is a publication co-edited by Lilia Mestre and Elke Van Campenhout, published by a.pass in 2014. This publication delves into the realm of scores as a form of written documen- tation, providing a framework for artistic practices and exploring the potential of scores in various creative contexts. (Mestre 2014) 

I perceived myself in the role of an initiator by engaging in the act of developing scores, writing them down and subsequently sharing them for others to explore. My intention was to enable or deepen a process – a research process – regarding the embodiment of individuals who engage with the scores. Through this approach, I aimed to trigger an exploration of the body, encouraging others to allow for the emergence of unexpected connections. I wanted to materialize the knowledge of space, temporality and experience that is achieved in one’s physicality. For the exhibition at the Künstlerhaus, I intended to create an art piece consisting of written scores, written on small pieces of paper that visitors can take with them and experiment with in the environment and context where they feel comfortable. 

Figure No. 15: › Scores ‹ Own Image

It was important for me to convey that these instructions do not have to be carried out during or in the exhibition at the Künstler- haus, but rather at any other time, such as on the way to work or in one’s own room, whether it be morning or night, alone or with someone else. This approach aims to enhance one’s awareness of personal experiences, enabling individuals to examine and compare how their perception and experiences are shaped within different contexts by performing the same score. By choosing this medium and allowing the scores to be tried out in a decentralised manner, it becomes possible to cultivate a personal practice that acknowledges the body. As of now, I find it challenging to determine the criteria for measuring the success of developing such a practice. Even though frameworks like the multi-level perspective can help to decipher the interdependencies of such endeavours, I have the feeling that I cannot make a prognosis. In this regard, scores provide a suitable method as they actively embrace ambiguity and ambivalence. When writing the scores, I deliberately kept the action instructions brief, allowing for individual interpretation and explanations. I am trying to prioritise the process over the product and demystify my role as an artist by involving the visitors and giving them the agency to determine what they make of my piece. They were not only spectators but active par- ticipants, creating a “palimpsest of [their] bodily constitution, priming [them] for certain future realities” (Karolczak 2014: 44). 

One art movement, that engaged extensively with event scores, was Flux- us. It emerged in the 1960s and was characterised by its interdisciplinary nature and its emphasis on merging art and life. Fluxus artists sought to break down the boundaries between different artistic disciplines and challenge the traditional notions of art by creating works that encour- aged audience participation and interaction (cf. Hendricks et. al. 2008: 9). In the context of Fluxus, being-in-the-world referred to the notion that art should not be confined to the gallery or the museum but should permeate everyday life. Fluxus artists sought to dissolve the boundaries between art and life, incorporating everyday activities, objects, and expe- riences into their works. They aimed to create works that were accessible and participatory. The movement rejected the notion of art as a precious or elite commodity, and instead embraced the idea of art as a process and a way of being in the world (cf. ibid.). Fluxus scores often involved simple actions that engaged the body and the senses. These actions could include walking, breathing, listening, or even eating. The emphasis was on the experience of the action itself rather than on the final product. By acknowledging the body and its sensations, Fluxus aimed to create a more intimate and embodied engagement with art.

Figure No. 16: › Jackson Mac Lows Score ‹ Source: Hendricks et. al.: 10
Figure No. 17: › Geoff Hendricks Score ‹ Source: Hendricks et. al.: 79

Building upon the principles of Fluxus, I, too, adopted this focus on experienceand will delve further into the selection of somatic practices, to provide further context to this aspect of my approach. The term › somatics ‹ finds its etymological origin in the Greek word soma, a reference to the self or the tangible embodiment of the physical. The International Somatic Movement Education and Therapy Association (ISMETA) elaborates:

“The field of somatics has developed over the last century through a process of inquiry into how consciousness inhabits the living body. The term is derived from the word › somatic ‹, which means pertaining to the body, experienced and regulated from within.”

(Lester 2017: 31)

According to Kelly F. Lester, 42 somatic experiences can be likened to self-awareness, “but somatics as a genre is much more complex than this. An individual observes [their] state of being in the present moment with a sense of nonjudgment, and then invites a process of self-reflection and consideration of positive change” (ibid.: 32) After Thomas Hanna, 43 the human being is not simply an aware body, passively witnessing itself, but is rather actively engaging in simultaneous actions: it constantly acts upon itself, consistently participating in the process of self-regulation.

42 Kelly F. Lester is a professor of dance at the University of Southern Mississippi and a somatic movement therapist.

43 Thomas Hanna (1928-1990) was a renowned philosopher, author, and somatic educator.He pioneered somatic practices emphasising the mind-body connection for enhanced well-being.

This ongoing regulation, commonly referred to as re pattering in somatic practices, involves making choices influenced by both internal and external observations. By providing the written scores, I aimed to provide an opportunity for self-observation and the exploration of re pattering. Although my work involves terms and concepts from performance and dance arts, it was crucial for me to maintain simplicity in the scores. I wanted to ensure that the encounter with one’s own body remains low-threshold, regardless of a dance background or prior preparation. As individuals, we are experts of our own bodies, capable of generating situated knowledge from this standpoint. My intention was to place the ownership of learning in the hands of the participants, I wanted to facilitate the ability to already perceive subtle changes. Writing the scores from a somatic perspective, my aspiration was to accentuate experimentation over execution, attending to the whole self (thinking, sensing, feeling and intuiting). By keeping most of the descriptions brief, I wanted to allow exploration without trying to make it › right ‹ or › wrong ‹.

“You are all doing the same scores yet you are all doing different scores”44

44This quote is adapted from one said by dance professor and education specialist Bill Evans: “We are all having the same class, yet we are each having a different class.”

For the title of my work, I opted for the German literal translation of the word › Score ‹ – › Partitur ‹ – because I really liked the musical aspect of it. Additionally, having a German word for the piece added an interesting context, considering that the exhibition featured works and their descriptions predominantly in English. In the text I composed for the Künstlerhaus exhibit, I described my work as follows:

“ › Partitur ‹ aims to provide opportunities for engaging in somatic practices that prioritise perception and sensations. It approaches one’s own body in a manner that allows individuals to personally experience and gain a deeper understanding of themselves, while also serving as a form of resistance against the neglect imposed on bodies by a growthoriented society. Through participation in these practices, individuals can learn more about their bodies and how they relate to the world around them. This process makes their own agency tangible, empowering them to take ownership of their experiences. By placing a strong emphasis on mindfulness and situational awareness, › Partitur ‹ aims to encourage participants to be fully present and deeply immersed in their surroundings. The practices are designed to be decentralised and can be repeated if desired, allowing participants to engage in them at their own pace. In doing so, it creates a space where one can recognise their body as the foundation for their actions and interactions, challenging the notion that bodies are taken for granted, while also embracing ambivalence and ambiguity”

Figure No. 18: › Exhibition Booklet ‹ Own Image

4.2 DESIGN

To prepare for the exhibition at the Künstlerhaus, I obtained a typewriter and utilized it to transcribe the scores onto handmade Hanebütten paper. Subsequently, I folded and tore the sheets, creating a hand crafted appearance. This technique imbues the scores with a visual quality that should convey their manual origin. To differentiate among the various categories, I colour-coded them, selecting hues that fit harmoniously and opting for the Hannebüttenpaper because of its easy tear-ability and softness that prevents it from wrinkling upon touch.

Figure No. 19: › Paper Tearing ‹ Own Image
Figure No. 20: › Space Score ‹ Own Image

Figure No. 21: › WIP ‹ Own Image

Figure No. 22: › Hair Score Fail ‹ Own Image
Figure No. 23: › Tearing Paper ‹ Own Image
Figure No. 24: › Finished Scores ‹ Own Image

During the process of designing the paper snippets, I thought about the organisation of the various scores. Initially, I considered categorising them by specific instructions, such as › Partner Scores ‹ or › Breathing Scores ‹. However, I found it difficult to precisely classify them under specific themes. So I opted to divide them based on duration, resulting in the 5 categories › for a moment ‹, › 5-10 minutes ‹, › 10-20 minutes ‹, › 20-30 minutes ‹, and › indefinitely ‹. This method allowed for a more flexible classification of the scores but it was still important for me to emphasize that the time divisions should serve more as guidelines rather than rules, so that each person could decide for themselves how long they wanted to perform a score. Of the green scores intended for a moment I have written ten different ones with the dimensions 56 by 40 mm. In my choice of wording, I aimed to emphasise that these exercises do not prioritise productivity. For instance, the score › pause ‹ is designed to foster an attitude that values gentleness towards oneself rather than placing efficiency at the forefront. There is also a seemingly impossible task: doing nothing. Through practice, one can explore the personal meaning of doing nothing and how it can vary depending on the context. It might involve stillness or a deliberate choice to let something be without reacting. I imagined these scores as quick interruptions in daily life, inviting one to pause and engage in breathing exercises and mindfulness, allowing to fully immerse in the present moment. The 10 scores I wrote are:

› sit still ‹

› hold your breath for as long as you can ‹

› pause ‹

› focus ‹

› sense the presence of other beings in the space ‹

› close your eyes ‹

› apply pressure – using your thumb – on the area between the eyebrows ‹

› let go ‹

› do nothing ‹

› concentrate on your breath ‹

Figure No. 25: › Green Score Measurements ‹ Own Image

The next longer category, › 5-10 minutes ‹, consisted of more instructive prompts. In general, my intention was to create a variety of scores that would appeal to a broad audience by including a mix of rather free but also more didactic ones. By doing so, the options could resonate with individuals seeking different levels of guidance in their engagement with the scores. Writing the longer scores, I still wanted to create a sense of lightness by using line breaks and giving them a poetic quality. I wrote six scores on dark blue paper measuring 80 x 70 mm, which could be performed between 5 and 10 minutes. I drew inspiration from yoga practices and exercises covered in the APL course.45 The somatic practices offer a chance to connect with both the surroundings and ones own bodies through voice, breath, and perception. Additionally, there is a partner practice included to enhance the interactive experience:

45 › Somatics, Scores, and a Sense of Embodiment ‹ with Mariella Greil-Möbius.

› touch a body part (e.g. left elbow) with your eyes closed and explore it – then let your partner explore the same body part while you have your eyes closed ‹

› gradually deepen your inhales and exhales, allowing the breath to flow freely – explore different qualities of breath, such as slow, fast, deep, or shallow ‹

› in a q uiet environment – shift your attention to the micro-movements happening in your body, such as the subtle pulsations, tremors, or vibrations – observe ‹

› use your voice to explore the resonant qualities of different sounds – notice how the vibrations of sound reverberate through your body ‹

› sit down in a quiet environment – look at one point – keep your eyes open as long as you can – observe the change in your perception ‹

› pay attention to the contact between your body and the clothes you are wearing

Figure No. 26: › Dark Blue Score Measurements ‹ Own Image

As the interpretative flexibility of the categorisation lead to me reconsidering additional scores that could have fit within the 10 – 20 minutes time frame, I ended up writing only four pink scores that fit within this time frame. While one can certainly also do nothing, pause or focus for 20 minutes, the longer time frame allowed for a deeper engagement with the scores. As a result, I created two perceptual scores, another impossible task with a playful tone and one practice focused on the experience of time.

› watch ‹

› make shadows with your body – try to catch the shadows ‹

› perceive ‹

› choose one action which would usually be completed in a short time – extend it ‹

Figure No.27: › Pink Score Measurements ‹ Own Image

The scores I wrote for the duration of 20 to 30 minutes are the ones that require the most engagement and resources. Unlike the other scores that can be mostly done anywhere, the two walking scores necessitate a change of location. In my view, these scores are the least easily accessible. However, as I mentioned earlier, my intention was to provide varying levels of guidance to cater to different needs. The scores are written on light blue paper, with the dimensions of 80 x 70 mm for three of them, while one shorter score measures 80 x 35 mm:

› take a walk with no aim ‹

› find a quiet place to sit or lie down – close your eyes – bring your attention to your breath – notice the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your body – pay attention to the temperature, movement, and depth ‹

› gather objects with different textures – close your eyes and select 1 object at a time – explore the object – pay attention to its texture, temperature, and any other sensory qualities you notice – observe ‹

› go for a walk in a natural setting – as you walk, intentionally focus on each of your five senses one at a time – pay attention to what you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch – take in the details – be present ‹

Figure No. 28: › Light Blue Score Measurements ‹ Own Image

Composing the yellow scores, intended for an indefinite duration, was more like writing prompts or reminders for a repetitive practice, where one may get a grasp of Judith Butler’s concept of performativity by observing subtle shifts or changes in their sense of self through the repeated practice of the scores. My goal was to compose a collection of scores that encourage a gentle, weird, and playful approach to being-in-the-world. With the intention of writing prompts that foster a sensual practice of being connected, I aimed to create an assortment that embraces an open, light-hearted and joyful perspective and ended up writing 17 scores:

› stay fluid ‹ | › grow your hair ‹ | › take up space ‹ | › express your self ‹ | › be weird ‹ | › move ‹ | › allow ‹ | › care ‹ | › be curious ‹ | › feel ‹ | › play ‹ | › take it slow ‹ | › try ‹ | › retreat ‹ | › sense ‹ | › explore ‹ | › listen ‹

Figure No. 29: › Yellow Score Measurements ‹ Own Image

When describing the scores, I have utilized various terms like › exercise ‹, › task ‹, or › practice ‹, and I would like to clarify their intended meanings. Tasks refer more to the scores that demand attention and effort, with actions that can be more or less completed. Exercises, on the other hand, are inherent in every score for me. I perceive working with one’s own body as something that can be physically demanding and requires a consistent practice. To me, exercising involves the ability to discern differences between the executions. And that’s where the aspect of practice comes in, which I would define as a repeated and prolonged engagement with the condition of being-in-the-world.

In total, I devised a collection of 41 distinct scores, each of which I reproduced as 10 to 12 pieces, resulting in a total of approximately 450 paper snippets. In this context, I would like to note that being able to take the time for such practices of being-in-the-world is a privilege, as time allocation, distribution and access are influenced by power dynamics and social structures (cf. Hersey 2022). The way in which time in western societies is valued, managed and distributed also reflects political choices and priorities, as working hours, access to leisure time or resource allocations all have political implications. Engaging with the scores, regardless of the duration or outcome, can therefore be regarded as an act of resistance against the neoliberal pressure for efficiency, as discussed by Hartmut Rosa. But is also a practice of becoming aware of ones self, of the inevitability of one’s own body not as an obstacle but as recognition. Because acknowledging our own bodies as the foundation for inter-action, the recognition that we embody our positions of power represents the first step towards the transformation of existing hegemonic power structures. This process can serve both as a form of resistance and self-discovery.

Somatic Practices of Being-in-the-World. An Exploration into Feminist Artistic Strategies of Materialistic Demands of the Recognition of the Body as the Base of Human (Inter-)Action © 2023 von Tabea Merly ist lizensiert unter der Creative Commons Attribution Namensnennung – Nicht-kommerziell – 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0 DEED). Diese Lizenz erlaubt das vervielfältigen und weiterverbreiten des Materials in jedwedem Format oder Medium.

Masterarbeit von Tabea Merly tabea.merly@gmail.com
Betreut wurde die Arbeit von Paul Feigelfeld und Bianca Herlo

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