WooLoo New Life Residency Project: Proprioceptor!
As part of WooLoo's New Life Residency Project (http://www.wooloo.org/newlife) on Saturday, October 16, from 12 noon to 6 pm, Clarinda Mac Low and Maria Jésus Cascales will bring visitors into an experience of their bodies that is guided by touch, hearing and our more subtle internal senses. They will be especially concentrating on proprioception. Proprioception is a kind of “sixth sense.” It is the sense of position and movement and it is produced by nerves in muscles, tendons, ligaments, joint capsules and cartilage. They send information to the brain about how much tension or pressure is being applied to them, and how quickly it’s changing. Without proprioception, you couldn’t stand up. You couldn’t even scratch your nose, because you wouldn’t be able to find it. Proprioception is universal and unseen, a common thread that all humans share, regardless of national origin. Both the guides will use their different forms of expertise to create the experience—Maria Jésus contributes her tools for navigating the world as a blind person, and Clarinda contributes her knowledge of the body and movement. In total darkness the guides will share different methods for paying attention to our internal physical life—our sense of place in space, our sense of touch, our sense of balance. The darkness becomes a friend that shows us how to “see” differently. In the darkness, the city outside melts away, the borders of countries melt away, and the only barriers left are language and fear of the dark. Eventually, maybe, even those will melt away. ABOUT THE COLLABORATORS Maria Jesus Cascales, from Murcia, Spain, is a massage therapist and actress who is blind. Clarinda Mac Low, from New York, USA is a choreographer and performance artist who is not blind. She is working on speaking Spanish better. WORKING LOG: Saturday October 16, PM: Residency ends, exhibition day. Long, very good day. Very varied crowd, strong experiences. Maria Jésus and Mari Paz (our other Murcian guide, not blind) did the majority of the heavy lifting, that is, guiding. About 33 people, ranging in age from 7 months to about 62 years old, mostly from Murcia, but some from elsewhere as well. Maria Jésus was amazing, talking to people about being blind, talking to people about the art of the project, never tiring but gently leading. I feel like it was a privilege to meet someone so patient and curious and intelligent. She said she chose me partly because she was interested in the challenge of the language difference. And I kind of agree--we had to reach beyond sight and beyond language to that other place of communication--voice? But more than voice. How is it that she understood me and me her? With a lot of patience and repetition, but something more--reading the situation with our feelers, like insects. It surprised me and touched me how strong the experience was for the visitors. One woman said is was "un regalo" (a gift) and I was very happy to hear that. It's amazing how simple it is to activate something new in people. A dark room, a few proprioceptor exercises, a few dance improvisation exercises and there is a new world. But it is the dark, indeed, that makes it. The combination of intimacy and freedom that the dark brings allows a whole new way of experiencing your senses. It brings home to me how rare it is for people to spend a moment fully inhabiting their bodies--and it's true, how often do I even do it these days? It definitely underlines my feeling that the most effective way I can feel/share dance is through subjective experiences created for general audiences. It limits the number of people that experience the work, but the experience is strong and allows a new perspective. It's the way i can really give something using simple tools I already have. Re-frame the tools into a directed and shaped score and you have a whole new architectural edifice. Lastly for now, so interesting how completely accessible it was. Of course, those who came are self-selected, but such a range! Giggling teenagers, parents and children, couples out for a stroll, visiting students, etc etc etc, and everybody--felt it. Really felt it. I very much wonder if it's a function of the location (Spain). How would it be in another city? Maybe it couldn't be in another city, because in another city there is not Maria Jésus, there is not Manifesta, there is not this particular amalgam of elements that makes it what it is. Friday October 15, PM: Working long hours today. The press conference in the morning was actually interesting. The reporters asked very good questions, and in answering them I discovered a few things about the project that I hadn't articulated to myself yet. For example, that this project is mostly about trust--do people trust the dark, trust each other, trust their bodies, trust us (the guides)? Do they trust that they can find their way? Each person is VERY different in their reaction. For some people the total darkness is very very frightening. For others it's no big deal. A trio of teachers, Murcian women in their 60s, came at the end of the day today, at 6PM, after we had been working for about 8 hours. We were done for the day, but they had come a long way, so Maria Jésus very graciously agreed to lead them through. Two of them were terrified, and refused to go across the dark space at all, insisted on staying with Maria Jésus the whole time. One of them was fine, but she said it was mainly because she knew her friends were there, so it must be safe. One of the frightened ones said that she knew it was illogical, but she couldn't help it, she was afraid. Anke, from the Manifesta office, wasn't afraid, not even one little bit. She wondered whether it was because she knew me, and trusted me, and whether it would be different otherwise. I think it is partly knowing the guides, but partly it's many other causes; these illogical reactions to total darkness, or, actually, not illogical, very logical. It's NOT being afraid that's illogical, in a way. But also, as Anke pointed out, at some point you decide to trust or not trust, and that kind of follows you in your life. Anyway, I love that three schoolteachers came out of their way to come into our dark room, and were interested in their difficult experience. I wish that there was more of that kind of curiosity and openness in the US... Me, I just need a little company once in a while and I feel like life can go on in the dark. Mikkel and Giovanni (my lovely helpers) cooked me dinner today, for the second time, and Cristina-off-the-clock came too, and good food, good conversation, I feel that all is good. OK, tomorrow's the big day. Curious to see who comes, what happens, etc. etc. Friday, October 15, AM: Como se dice "homesick" en español? Today I'm feeling tired and bit cranky about my extended camping trip in the dark. I am in so public a place but all alone--like a lion in a cage. Yeah, well, OK, more like a little spider monkey in a cage... I'm wondering if this big dark empty room is the ultimate art joke by a bunch of Danish trickster demons, or the ultimate imaginative act. Even when cranky I lean towards the latter. The big dark empty room is a laboratory for our engaged selves, a place for us to project fears and visions and desires. Darkness is a privilege and a hell, a permission and a loss, a kiss and a knife in the back. Where are proprioceptors in all this? As they always do, they've snuck into the background, slipped out of sight again, or, more accurately out of the range of perception. I feel like this experience/experiment has become more obviously about language and vision, that greedy visual sense that wants all the attention. But when they're in the space I can tell that people are experiencing their proprioceptors--or a lack of trust in their proprioceptors and in other senses. The darkness against their eyes makes them lose their sense of place in space, they don't pick up right away on the fact that there are other ways to know where you are in space, other ways to know what's happening in a space. When we give them tasks they use their proprioceptors (and their ears and their sense of touch) to follow our instructions, but I don't think anybody thinks about it that way. Well, of course not. Proprioceptors haven't really had their moment in the sun, have they? Still slinking around in the shadows... Thursday, October 14, PM: End of the fourth day of the residency. There is a huge group of students (150) visiting Manifesta from an Art and Design Academy in Amsterdam, and they kept showing up in groups today. The first group came with their teacher, and Maria Jésus and I tested out the tour (as we had it at that point) on them. They were not impressed, but gave interesting feedback, some very useful, some not. I was especially amused by their criticism that we were too nice, with soft voices and gentle guidance. I told them that if they wanted confrontation they would have to find it elsewhere. Immediately following them was another group from the same school who had exactly the opposite reaction to the experience--one guy said that he would now start to pay a lot more attention to his other senses. Another woman said she would "never forget it." After that it got even more interesting. I've been keeping the door locked or stopping people if I'm not inside, but today I decided to just let people go in (if I was around), just making sure that it stayed dark. I figured that people would just go in and go out but I was wrong. Several more groups of the Dutch art students showed up and many of them ended up going all the way back into my bedroom alcove, and pawing through all my stuff in the dark. It was kind of fucking hilarious--they were all very impressed by the installation where we thought to give them the sensation of feeling their everyday stuff without light. My room was kind of trashed, but for some strange reason I didn't really mind...luckily nothing got broken. The unplanned strikes again and suddenly we are genius. Why are some people afraid of the dark? Why would some people walk into a dark room and leave immediately, and others attempt to crack the mystery? The dark in the eyes is a luxury when it's not your total reality. A young woman fom Murcia contacted us, interested to participate, yesterday. She came today and fit in immediately, and will be one of our guides on Saturday. Thursday, October 14, 2010, AM: Beginning of the fourth day of the residency. I have posted photos of my bed and the exhibition space. I have been speaking Spanish several hours a day for about 4.5 days. Maria Jésus is very patient with me, and has no problem repeating stuff again and again. I feel language blind and, in the city, direction blind. I feel perfectly safe in a dark room, much less confident trying to find my way around. I don't have a map, have been relying on other people and my "GoogleMaps" application on my phone, which is very imperfect. When I get into the room I feel happy--the darkness is like a friend, a comforting velvet curtain. The dark makes no difference at all to Maria Jésus, though we laugh a lot because she still uses me as a guide when we first get in, but she might as well guide me. She has excellent echolocation abilities. It's more difficult to understand Spanish in the dark, without her gestures and facial expressions, but we're managing. I was up till late last night talking to a Romanian woman, also part of Manifesta, who is living about 10 hours off the clock (http://cristinadavid.ro/). Between my jet-lag and her intentional shift in schedule it was difficult to find a reason to go to sleep. I go to sleep in the dark, and wake up in the almost-dark--a little bit of light seeps in near my bedroom in an alcove at the back of the space. I'm living in an office building and my whole life is on display except that it's not because I'm in a dark room. People keep trying to walk into the room and I stop them, saying "There's nothing there," and telling them to come back for the tour on Saturday. I've decided to change that, and just let them go in, see what happens. See how fast they come out. See if they try to find a light. Hope they don't somehow make it all the way back to my room and steal my stuff. Though, in the dark, that would be impressive and then maybe they deserve my stuff. It's really very different to be in a totally dark space, where even with your eyes open wide you really cannot see anything, than to be in a kind of dark space where you can see shapes and forms, the ceiling, the floor, the size of the space, and where the door is. I think the sensation of total dark is worth having, and worth having for a while.