Choreography for Moving Image
Author: Smiljana Glisovic
Duration: 11′ 18″
Published: July 2020
With this project I am exploring ways in which audiovisual artefacts can cultivate a consciousness that is aware of the interrelatedness of all human and more-than-human entities (Abram 1996).
I am bringing two strands of my research and practice together in this work: my academic work on the phenomenology and affective potential of audiovisual artefacts; and my somatic practices in Vajrayana mediation (after Dharma Ocean, Reggie Ray); Shiatsu (within Japanese and Traditional Chinese Medicine Frameworks); and Body-Mind-Centring (after Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen).
I do this as a way to respond to the cultural and spiritual transformation that is needed to address the ecological crisis, which Joanna Macy calls The Great Turning (1998). This ‘transformation’ begins by way of the human animal (re)discovering their complex interrelationship with the more-than-human world. A range of practices have been proffered as tools for this exploration; what some call a ‘rewilding’ (Plotkin 2003; Reason 2016), or ‘re-membering’ (Seed et al 1988). These practices are intentioned to facilitate the development of an ecological awareness and ethics for humans, through practice and ritual.
The broad questions that underpin my research are: how do we develop and cultivate an ‘ecological self’ (Naess 1986)? How can audiovisual work serve as a tool for this? What methodologies might the researcher employ? The key questions specific to this video project are: how can audiovisual work contribute to The Great Turning? How can an audiovisual artefact make space for an audience to feel into their more-than-human interrelationships?
My methodological approach brings together two approaches: Soft Choreography (Ingvartsen 2013) and Critical Intimacy (Miles et al 2018). I do this to ask: how does a haptic criticality work to shift what we pay attention to? The quality of attention is what is at stake in this project of cultivating an ecological self. The video explores argument, criticality, discursivity and how we can soften and expand these practices with the moving image.
My ongoing research takes into its scope other related questions and concerns which I cannot elaborate on here. In short: the relationship between somatic practice and language (Glisovic 2018); embodied knowledge and research (Glisovic 2017); moving image as ritual; the ‘contemplative body’ and ‘embodied pensiveness’ – after slow cinema and cinema of stasis (Glisovic 2016). Some of these areas I have, and continue to explore in the live performance space (Glisovic 2017), and the installed moving image in both the gallery and live performance context (Glisovic 2016).
The Great Turning and the Ecological Self
‘The Council of All Beings’ is what Macy and Seed call the group-work practices they have developed as a way for humans to ‘experience consciously…the power of our interconnectedness with all life’ (1988: 7). They cite a range of already extant ‘methods for inspiring the experience of deep ecology which range from prayer to poetry’ and ‘wilderness vision quests’ (13). Deep Ecology is an ecological philosophy first developed by Arne Naess (1986), which takes an ecocentric approach to both self-realization and ecological sustainability (where the two are inextricably linked). My work contributes to Macy and Seed’s call for ‘methods of coming into the awareness that ‘the nature within and the nature without are continuous’ (16), where ‘affective education’ is the way toward the expansion of this consciousness.
Not only do we have a tendency to separate the human from the more-than-human, we also separate the human into segments and hierarchies: the mind from the body; the bone from the organ; and so on and so on. The premise I am working with is that this dissection of the human – and their separation from everything else – gives us a narrow sense of self-hood. With this work here, I am trying to create the conditions for the audience to feel-think their way into their ‘ecological self’. This is the self that identifies with more than its own ego, more than its human community.
The specific practices I have experience and training in, and that I am drawing on here, are: Shiatsu; Body-Mind-Centring; Vajrayana somatic mediation. These somatic practices cultivate the body-mind relationship, and an expanded, interdependent sense of self-hood. I use some of the language and instruction from these practices in the video, to guide the audience to ‘put their mind’ in various places in the work (sound, image, frame). I use this technique to foster a ground toward an affective education of the interconnectedness of all things.
Phenomenology, Affect, and the Thinking Body
With the intersecting interest in the mind-body connection, and a ‘knowing’ that happens with and through the body, the scholarly work on the phenomenology of film and cinematic affect, has clear connections to this research, and how I handle, and think with, the moving image.
A key influence here is Anne Rutherford’s conceptualisation of cinematic affect (2011), what she calls the ‘-ness’ of a thing: a part of an image that connects to a bodily understanding or knowledge of the quality in that image; an identification, as per Rutherford’s example, with the weightlessness of a fish swimming in water. The ‘sympathetic vibration’ with the -ness of an aspect of the image is what gives rise to an ‘affective resonance’, an embodied experience of the image, the feeling of being moved or touched by it.
With my work here, I use the relationship and interplay between the voice and the image in order to make room for affective resonance which activates ‘a porousness between one’s self, one’s own body and the objects or images of the world’ (Rutherford on Taussig and Gibson’s concept of ecological perception, 159). The choreography of the voice in relationship to the choreographies in the image (the dancer’s body; the body in relation to the frame) is a resonance I am attempting to enliven; a softening and expansion, a surrender of the ego to flesh.
The concept of the ‘thinking body’ also serves as a figure of practice and thought that resonates across both the philosophical and practice fields from film to somatic mediation (see Olson 1994 on pre-Socratic and Aristotelian Greeks; Deleuze 1989; Ray 2016). The ‘thinking body’ here belongs to the creative practice researcher; Helen dancing in the lake; the audience encountering conceptual and phenomenological figures of expression in the video. What kinds of knowledges do these thinking bodies come to? And how can we inspire this way of thinking-moving through the world with audiovisual artefacts, as a way to expand our sense of self-hood to include the more-than-human?
Audiovisual community of practice
The main context, and circle of influence, to draw here are audiovisual works that employ poetic structures and non-representational formal techniques (Deren 1945; Tait 1974; Greenfield, 1973); and the essay film (Marker 1962; Ivens 1963; Varda 2000). The former refers to films that work formally to compose affective experiences, that employ associative plays as a way to open meaning, rather than fix it, as a way to make room for an experiencing audience. The latter is about using poetic modes to include a thinking audience into the creation of meaning. With this research I bring together these discursive and non-discursive elements: association, poetics, relationality, spontaneity, making visible the search for meaning. My improvisational mode of working and aesthetics can be situated within these avant-garde practices, where spontaneity and relationality between the lens of the camera, the filmmaker, and the subject, give rise to an aesthetics that is interested in the ‘liveness’ and charge of the shifting relationships made visible.
The essay is always in the making; an expression of a continual and changing dialogue between the self and the world. Coherence is found through the act of making and encountering. Notice the transitive verbs. As a ‘form of cognitive perambulation’ (Alter, 2007: 45), we might say that coherence is found through movement.
The essay lends itself to redefining ‘representational assumptions’ (Corrigan 2011: 4) and forms. It asks one to think their way into new spaces, to make new associations. It can be a highly poetic mode in this way, a composition of a relational field. An essayistic work is one in which ‘readers must feel included in a true conversation’ (Lopate 1992: 19. Foregrounding experience and immediacy (for author and reader) is part of both Adorno (1984) and Lukács’ (1974) theorisation of the essay. This ‘liveness’ and ‘in-the-making’ is a formal aspect of my video work and its aesthetics of production.
I explore what the essayistic body is (the researcher, the woman behind the camera, the woman dancing in front of the lens). This body takes improvisation as its methodology: the camera follows the body; searches for her and with her; allows her to push the edge of the frame; the researcher writes and re-writes as she moves between the image, the poet and scholar; always searching for, finding, re-making, transforming in the improvised relationalities made possible within this field of encounters. The essayist, filmmaker, dancer, researcher – the thinking body – enacts the search for various relationalities and selves.
My intentions in working methodologically and aesthetically in this way is that I attempt to enact and condition the above intentions through the relationship between voice and image (often one of the key features of the essay film). The voice encourages a ‘soft’ attention as a way to refine and expand awareness, as a way to find various positions in relation to the image. The essayistic approach allows me to find relations between the affective potentials of audiovisual practice and an ecological awareness as it offers a space for a thinking and experiencing audience.
The concept of Soft Choreography figures as the methodological model, conceptual framework, and thematic concern. Mette Ingvartsen’s definition of Soft Choreography speaks to the relationship between performers and audience in the live performance context and their shared agencies, where the choreography ‘arrange(s) conditions for encounters to occur’ (Ingvartsen 2013). Ingvartsen describes a way of being together that maintains a liveness in the space where multiple ways of thinking, being, and moving, are possible.
As a methodological model, it is flexible, open to improvisation and encounters between multiple actants: the philosophical, somatic, and audiovisual theory and practice intermingle in the work; the audience is encouraged to participate, explicit invitations are made to them; poetic room opens for their own thinking and experience.
I am also positing a ‘soft’ approach to research inquiry more broadly. A ‘soft’ inquiry does not enact virtuosic and exact movements of ‘hard choreography’; rather, it is an approach that loosens distinctions and assumed categorizations, open to improvisation and even faltering feet. This is a move away from western scientific inquiry that has dissected and segmented the natural world, separated the human from it, separated the mind from the body.
A ‘soft’ image is non-discursive, it has affective potential for a soft body, which means a soft mind. The non-discursive image can open out onto new knowledge that has been occluded by more discursive ways of knowing. Qualities of fragility, tenuousness, present-ness, all manifest in an aesthetic as well as philosophical way such that we might find expansion and unexpected relationalities. A soft image cultivates reverberations; a spaciousness for the audience to inhabit. The concept speaks to the particular potential of creative practice research as a mode of inquiry. This concept speaks to another: Critical Intimacies. I understand both of these concepts as interested in haptic awareness.
Critical Intimacies is Adrian Miles’ ‘alternative to critical distances’ (2018). Attending to relational complexities is the key aspect of this concept relevant to my project. Critical distances are about a kind of separateness, a separate mind and body. Critical Intimacies are about haptic knowledges and approaches (see also Stewart in Vannini 2015).
The various formal ‘layers’ – the written text on screen, the image, the non-diegetic sound of the ocean, the voice – at first perform the kind of separateness that I am interrogating, before proceeding to understand their interrelationships. We watch Helen dance, her own improvised response to where she is; we watch the dance of the windmills, with the dancing body still present as a memory image by way of visual matching, the sound of the waves on a dry lake, the voice that almost accidentally ‘touches’ the image as the dancer falls and she says ‘the centre falls out’. With this movement we might feel into the flesh between these ‘layers’, we might explore the connectedness between these times, spaces, bodies, and ideas, that are Helen’s, the lake’s, the researcher’s, the audience’s. This movement is as a pulse, which is life: a movement between expansion and contraction, touching and drifting apart.
By using particular techniques from somatic and meditation practices, I am exploring what Critical Intimacy might look like: the drifting between the phenomenological and discursive elements of the form, that might soften the rigid mind and bring it into the space of flesh.
I offer here another example of how we might ‘think with’ the moving image. It demonstrates further evidence of what moving image works can potentialize in regards to knowledge. Specifically I demonstrate how one might work with the formal properties of moving image as a way to question certain assumed boundaries and categorisations of the world. The work encourages further debate around what knowledge looks like and the relationship between scholarly work and practices of mind and body. In this way it opens up questions around how somatic practices may inform screen production research, at the methodological, formal, and thematic levels .
Soft Choreography as a methodology for research in general is something that lends itself to further exploration by other researchers in other fields. In relation to The Great Turning in particular, it shows how this methodology might be effective in dealing with complex issues that require flexible structures and an intermingling of ideas, multiple knowledge frameworks and practices.
I hope others might be inspired to think about the diversity of practices and disciplines that can contribute to The Great Turning.
In their activist work, Macy and Seed have found that ‘educating’ people with facts and statistics on the ecological crisis does not have the impact on behavioural change that they had hoped for (Seed et al 1988). Seed and Macy have come to understand that it is only through a transformation of consciousness that humans are likely to change behaviour. My project seeks to contribute to creating spaces where a transformation of consciousness is possible. The potential impact of this is clear and could be profound –a deeper understanding of what it is to be human in relation to our environment. Art practice also has the potential to change consciousness. My work happens in this meeting place where art and meditation are put to use to foster a cellular awareness that brings us deep into our humanity. This kind of awareness has unbounded potential for how we proceed through our earthly existence – in a non-segmented or dissected, non-hierarchical, interrelated way.
Abram, D. (1996) The Spell of the Sensuous. New York: Random House.
Adorno, T. W. (1984) ‘The Essay as Form’, New German Critique 32, pp. 151-71
Alter, N. (2007) ‘Translating the Essay into Film and Installation’, Journal of Visual Culture 6 [online], pp. 44-57. Available from: https://journals.sagepub.com/home/vcu [Accessed 05 June 2020]
Corrigan, T. (2011) The Essay Film: From Montaigne, after Marker. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Deleuze, G. (1989). Cinema 2, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Roberta Galeta. London: Continuum
Glisovic, S. (2019). ‘The Gape at the Gallery: writing from flesh’. Axon Journal [online]. Available from: https://axonjournal.com.au/ [Accessed 20 January 2020].
Glisovic, S. (2018) ‘The Leaky Dimensions of Film and War’. Capacious, I (3) [online]. Available from: http://capaciousjournal.com/ [Accessed 05 June 2020]
Glisovic, S. (2016) ‘Conduits for Transformation: Spatializing the Essay, towards an Embodied Pensiveness’. Journal of Writing in Creative Practice 9.1 (2), [online] pp. 105-26. Available from: https://www.intellectbooks.com/journal-of-writing-in-creative-practice [Accessed on 05 June 2020]
Ingvartsen, M. (2013). ‘69 positions – Soft Choreography’. Mette Ingvartsen [online] Available from: www.metteingvartsen.net/ [Accessed 10 January 2020]
Lopate, P. (1992) ‘In Search of the Centaur: The Essay-Film’. The Threepenny Review 48, Winter, pp. 19-22
Lukács, G. (1974) Soul and Form. Translated by Anna Bostock. London: Merlin Press
Marks, L. U. (2000) The Skin of the Film. London: Duke University Press
Macy, J. (1998) ‘The Great Turning’. Wild Duck Review, IV (1), Winter, p. 14.
Miles, A. et al (2018) ‘From Critical Distance to Critical Intimacy: Interactive Documentary and Relational Media’. In: G Cammaer et al eds., Critical distance in documentary media. Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan
Naess, A. (1995) ‘Self Realization: an ecological approach to being in the world’, In: Drengson, A. & Inoue, Y. eds., The Deep Ecology Movement. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books, pp. 13-30
Olson, D. (1994) The World on Paper: The Conceptual and Cognitive Implications of Writing and Reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Plotkin, B. (2003) Soulcraft: Crossing Into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche. California: New World Library
Ray, R. (2016) ‘Somatic meditation: Rediscovering the body as the ground of the spiritual path’. In: H Blum ed, Dancing with Dharma: Essays on Movement and Dance in Western Buddhism, North Carolina: McFarland, pp. 187–91.
Reason, P. & Newman, M. (eds) (2016). Stories of the Great Turning. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Rutherford, A. (2011) What Makes a Film Tick? Bern: Peter Lang
Seed, J., Macy, J., Fleming, P., Naess, A. (1988). Thinking like a mountain: towards a council of all beings. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers.
Spatz, B. (2017). Embodied Research: A Methodology. Liminalities, 13(2), p. 1-31
Vannini, P. (2015). Non-representational methodologies : Re-envisioning research (First ed.). New York, New York ; Oxfordshire, England: Routledge.
A figure walks into an empty room, performance/video (Smiljana Glisovic, 2017, Australia)
A Study in Choreography for Camera (Maya Deren, 1945, USA)
à Valparaiso (Joris Ivens, 1963, France/Chile)
Aerial (Margaret Tait, 1974, Scotland)
Element (Amy Greenfield, 1973, USA)
La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1962, France)
The Gleaners and I (Agnes Varda, 2000, France)
All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows:
Review 1: Invite resubmission with major revisions of practical work and/or written statement.
This video essay or combination of spoken text and moving image (as well as moving in the image) touches on many relevant topics, it “puts to use a Soft Choreography (Ingvartsen) as a way to explore what a video practice might contribute to the ecological crisis, and the spiritual transformation required to address the crisis, called The Great Turning (Macy).” These ambitions are present in the soft voice-over or spoken word incantation, a semi-poetic meditation on the “labor of making space”, body, awareness, focus, witnessing and more. The imagery consists of windmills, a woman hopping and rolling on a salt lake, images of cliffs and sea etc. and seems less well thought out than the text. The title “Choreography for moving image” suggests that the movements of the woman are created for the camera, but the relationship to the moving body is somewhat unclear; whose thoughts are we listening to, if not her? The research questions in the accompanying text make clear that the aim is to explore or translate soft choreography “in the context of screen production research”, linked to the meditation practice of the writer, who is not the woman moving, but the person witnessing, recording the image, if I understood correctly. And here it would be interesting to learn a little bit more about a) what aspects of the practice (of filming?, of witnessing the mover?, of editing?, of writing?, of speaking and recording the text?) are linked to what aspects of soft choreography, b) what aspects are linked to what aspects of the meditation practice. Another area where some of the confusion could be softly dissolved is the role of experience; where is the main interest, in the experience of the woman moving, the experience of the camera person witnessing, the experience of the writer (and reader) recollecting or the experience of the viewer watching. Is there an assumption or wish that the viewer-listener would identify with the mover and become sensitized through kinesthetic empathy, or perhaps be seduced by the soft speaking voice, or perhaps be moved by the inserted sea views, which resemble the imagery of mindfulness applications that try to calm people down quickly? I understand that such questions might feel counterintuitive to “softer” modes of inquiry. The dichotomy between scholarly work and ancient somatic practices seems to trouble the writer to such an extent that hardly any effort is made to articulate some aspect of the practice. If this is a deliberate choice, since some practices are traditionally supposed to be kept “secret”, then it would at least be relevant to know on what level the practices are used or thought to have an effect, on the mover, on the camera person, on the writer, or the viewer. Another dimension that would need addressing, is the context of moving image, film or video, which is not discussed at all, neither in terms of the practical aesthetic choices in the camera work and the editing, nor in terms of predecessors or styles or debates. If there is a link to contemporary choreography via Ingvartsen and somatic practices, what is the link to moving image work, video essays, experimental filmmaking or whatever tradition the author sees herself as part of? The visual part is the least described and discussed and seems almost haphazard. It might be worth reconsidering, perhaps even re-editing, partly.
Review 2: Invite resubmission with major revisions of practical work and/or written statement.
The artist is approaching the notion of Soft Choreography by choreographer Danish Mette. An attempt to integrate it within the moving image practice. Her research question explicitly refers to a method developed for bodily work, in presence with the audience and she is contextualizing it in moving image research. “What does Soft Choreography look like in the context of screen production research?”. The text does not interconnect the two mediums/languages/disciplines in-depth. Choreography and film. What is the relationship between these two artistic disciplines? This needs to be developed and brought into the writing work.
She refers to the specific dimension, Shift in Consciousness in the eco-literacy study the Great Turning by Joanna Macy, developed as an urgency to shift the perception of reality and expand it to more-than-a human-world in an ecological crisis context. In this concern, I would suggest referencing more-than-human coined by David Abraham, as he explores the non-human communication in-depth and refers to language from a common breath we shared with the environment and forces in nature. References are to new materialism, deep ecologies, post humanities to back up her exploration into the nature of consciousness. But as she is looking into “illuminate the qualities and complexities of human and more-than-human interminglings, through moving image works.” I am wondering how she is not exploring the film and sonic energy further rather we encounter an essayistic formalist approach.
Meditation and breathing technics are used to develop the moving image work for a contribution to the learning and integration of a bodily/somatic language. How is this felt by the audience? How is this expressed in the work? Does the film observe consciously the unconscious process? We are presented with a choreographic improvisation dance event in a wild landscape, a subjective camera and voice-over guiding us through the scene, sensation, landscape description of perceiving, reflection on consciousness and movement, questions, there is a mental process expressed continuously, there is always a human voice telling us, for instance how the environment is in the “becoming interactivity” between the performance and filmmaker (See Meeting the Universe Halfway by Karen Barad). We found little space for the audience to have an encounter with the film material and the knowledge produced by the camera may be limited by the human perception operating it, a distant eye, a guiding voice. Perhaps working with text as an image would have the viewer become a decentralized I? How can the film open a space for more than human encounters? Though as an exercise can be fruitful for the filmmaker and the performance has been sensitively documented, the camera produces new knowledge and this knowledge only emerges by freeing the camera from the human perspective and integrate movement and breath rhythms when approaching the performance and the landscape.
The spirits may manifest where meaning collapses, or where dialectics absent. A kind of contradiction between what the film work is doing and the intention in the research questions.
The work has been informed by meditative methodologies but it seems not fully integrated into the material and the potential on the cinematic medium, as it in itself it is a third eye device (William Boroughs) and produced naturally a non-human encounter, Looking into the deconstruction of words and language would have open the endless opening that the artist may achieve in her somatic / body practice.
Some reflections on the process of review and publication with Screenworks:
Taking into account the reviewers’ comments and my revision process, I recognise my approach to the original statement foregrounded too much the somatic frameworks and methodologies whilst assuming that the influences and references to the audiovisual theoretical and practice contexts were evident in the video itself; without the need to explicitly orient the viewer/reader toward those contexts.
Rather than considering how I might make accessible all of the dimensions of the video work – short of annotating instances in the video and the formal choices with explication – I considered too much making available the pleasures for a participating and ‘knowing’ audience. But this was not a pleasure for the reviewers, rather a frustration, perhaps; or simply too opaque to allow for meaningful engagement.
Whilst the intentions and contributions of the research have not changed in this process, the statement has been revised to bring into focus how the formal choices in the video achieve the larger interests of the project, as opposed to details of the techniques I have drawn on from other disciplines.
My purpose was not to obfuscate or keep ‘secret’ any aspect of my process or intentions, I hoped that the audiovisual work itself would enact some of the techniques that I drew on from other disciplines. For example, the way in which I formally both ‘separate’ and ‘make space’ between the profilmic event, non-diegetic sounds and voice-over, and the discursive script on screen. I now discuss this in greater detail in the statement, which now does more of this kind of exegetical work. Balancing prescriptive guidance on how to engage with the work with a more open approach has always been a challenge (I hope the balance is now a little bit more right). Still, necessarily due to the scope, there are aspects the reviewers made mention of, which I have left unaddressed; for example, unpacking the resonance of the term ‘choreography’ which clearly can and does refer to much more than the body and certainly more than just ‘dance’: it’s about the quality of movement of entire ecologies. And unpacking ‘ecology’ and the poetic, somatic, material, formal potency of this term will also remain unaddressed here.
Exactly how to position the audience, and help illuminate aspects of the work and its contribution with the written statement, has been a perennial discussion for creative practice research. This question was one I spent much time answering in my PhD work 10 years ago, and it is interesting that it is still a question to be addressed and negotiated. This isn’t a bad thing, there is no single model, I don’t think, and the relationship is specific to each project. How to frame what the research is, and how to best set up how an audience might access or encounter what the work is doing, both as a research artefact and as a work of art, are not new challenges for the creative practice researcher. These written statements are sometimes required to do the kind of work that the ‘accountants’ of our research need us to do; other times it can be a more creative venture, where the different artefacts are having a different quality of conversation.
I have found these questions particularly challenging working quite radically across disciplines with this research project. This of course is a question of contribution, too. I focussed on the contribution to The Great Turning as it specifically speaks to that concern, whilst the reviewers, I think, sought for a discussion on the contribution to audiovisual practice. Of course, this is a fair expectation, especially given the nature of the journal. I did find challenging to do all of this work in a written statement of the prescribed length. Perhaps this points to the video part not doing enough of this work, or at least not as explicitly as the reviewers would have liked. The relationship between the disciplines, and nature of my contribution to those disciplines, is a topic I am keen to explore in detail in a full-length traditional scholarly work in the future, which is where I think it belongs and has the space to be fully fleshed out.
The challenges this process has raised for me in regards to some larger concerns around creative practice research have been stimulating, and I thank the editorial team and reviewers for this opportunity, and welcome an ongoing dialogue around these issues with your readership.
Smiljana Glisovic (July 2020)