WRITINGS

Our Polish Nature of Us project artist Bartosz Ostrowski joined forces with Katinka Wissing (DK) and Bárbara Cordeiro (PT), both dancers, choreographers and teachers. We asked them to share what strategies/formats/practices they have been using.  Bárbara and Katinka replied with the following:

Strategies for integrating an environmental/sustainable approach in  performance 

Overlapping approaches. 

Not separating strategies of observing the natural world from strategies of  observing ourselves. 

The mindset to the practice – We aim for a more sustainable collaboration and  more hybrid collaborators. We are now working with scientist-performers so that  everyone can relate to the research in a more fluid way. Body-mind-body. 

We are aiming for economical sustainability: finding ways to pay our  collaborators and to trade more than just scientific knowledge. 

We feel more pressure within the how we want to take the next steps than the  where. We would like to continue to occupy different contexts with the project and to  continue to question our place within these urgent social and political puzzles. 

We try to acknowledge the strength within our vulnerability and hold on to this  as our most important strategy. 🙂

What are you working on and what do you want to do? 

We are currently working on “Choreographic Atlases” as ongoing performative  research, premiering as a durational performance, in Lisbon in summer 2023. We are working with overmapping, overlapping, overlayering as key methods  for following, unfolding, and tracking our research.  

We are researching concepts of “home” and playing with processes of  decomposition and fermentation, such as yeast and composting. We are knitting,  crocheting, and weaving with our arms and bodies using fabric, recycled plastic and  yarn. A body engaging in a task that is only using hands and eyes-where two ends  meet-rolling and unrolling, doing and undoing. 

The consequences of repetitive actions turn the space into a temporary home.  A kind of home, unstable enough to be moved, but stable enough to be a place to  return to. 

We are floating in a terrain where topographies of communication emerge in  the relationship between human ‘domestic’ life and other species’ ways of  creating/shaping homes.

What have you done in this context that you can share? 

Reflection on the similarities between mammal bodies and bodies of forests 

“As a native of the north, the cycle of northern forests from rest, hibernation to  blooming, spring to the extraordinary boom of life, colors, to fading, decay seems as  familiar as the stream of blood in my veins.” 

Katinka Wissing 

In search of this felt similarity/familiarity between my body and the body of the  forest, I found the similarities between bodies of fungi-more precisely mycelium-and  connective tissue of mammal bodies. 

Connective tissue is found between all other tissues everywhere in the body,  including the nervous system and like mycelium, it is perceived as a network. It  consists of three main components of fibres, ground substance, and cells. All  connective tissues are immersed in body water. It plays a crucial role in providing a  medium for oxygen and nutrients to diffuse from capillaries to cells, and carbon dioxide  and waste substances to diffuse from cells back into circulation. It surrounds muscle  fibres, it is a component of tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels. It connects  everything in mammal bodies. 

Bodies of mycelium have a similar role in forests. Mycelium decomposes  materials slowly. It turns waste into nutrition. It allows communication between trees  and connection between species, to soil and water, it increases the efficiency of water  and nutrient absorption of most plants and confers resistance to plant pathogens. It  connects components of the forest; it is therefore an essential component. It is the  connective tissue of forests. 

This hopeful trail of thoughts, of the feeling of a likeness and non-separateness,  leads back to bodywork and a somatic look into what is in what we are. 

Thinking about your work, how do you define your strategy, what elements  and/or conditions are you searching for? How has the state of the Natural  World in the contemporary time influenced your artistic process? 

We are understanding that it is necessary for us to accept the anthropocene as  the condition for our time, as for how and why we conduct the research. One point that  has become increasingly clear is that we cannot study ‘nature’ or ‘the environment’ as  something outside of us. We cannot repeat the pattern of using nature to feed our  artistic ambitions. 

A main question for us has been how to bring the research closer to our lives? How to not impose humanness on the natural world and at the same time recognizing  ourselves as part of it? 

We found that studying migratory paths of birds, or the complex network that  mycelium offers the forest floor was somehow bringing more distance than closeness.  We found that to grasp the relationship between all that is living, we had to bring the  research close, very close – to our homes in a way. How does yeast work, and what  happens in fermentation processes? Why does the craft of knitting, weaving, and  crocheting where one or multiple threads become patterns, clothing, nests, feel so  important to our practice? These are some of the questions we are currently working  on. 

We believe that we cannot distance ourselves from our contemporary lives. We  cannot ignore the part we play in the breakdown of the environment and ecosystems;  neither can we play the saviors. Instead, we can look at our position, we can find what  is near and dear to us, and we can find ways to communicate and perform our  entanglements with a drowning planet, and all there is on it. 

We need to get in touch with our tininess knowing our strength. We are not  going to change the world, but we are conscious sentient beings, and we can act on  our perimeter. Sometimes whispering, sometimes shouting.  

Mycelium score 

Forest body/body of forests 

Mapping body from connective tissue 

Place fingertips lightly just underneath the chest bone, on the soft part, not pushing in.  Connect to breathing, gaze slightly down, relax the jaw, let eyes rest in their sockets. 

When feeling ready, start a slow nod, like saying yes without words. Nodding the head  slowly up and down. Stay with this as long as it feels good. 

Let go of the nodding. Start moving the fingertips up, tracing the structure of the chest  bone, where it connects to the ribs up to where it connects to the color bones. Let the  fingertips rest on each color bone. Just slightly. Start moving the head slowly as in  saying no, and try to sense what is going on underneath the fingertips. 

Choose another place on the body to rest your fingertips and move your head again,  still sensing what goes on underneath your fingertips. You can continue this as long  as you like, shifting the placement of your fingertips.

At the Nature of Us Conference on Sobieszewo Island near Gdańsk, Poland in May 2022, we were pleased to have theatre director and pedagogue Petra Tejnorová and dancer and choreographer Tereza Ondrová join us from Prague. In this letter to the Nature of Us project they emphasize the potential of degrowth, safe space, sharing experience, scientist artists, and the possibility of confronting one’s practice with a rigorous questionnaire, all of which are useful strategies for moving forward in dispiriting times.

Dear Nature of Us,

We’re going to try and share some of our impressions, incoherent, but hopefully useful…

Some time ago, an open letter to the Minister of Culture was written in Czechia, and it was the result of year-long meetings of a working group constituted of representatives of various Czech cultural institutions that work with the concept of degrowth. Its intention was to spark off a discussion about the principles of degrowth culture and about the conditions in which artists work today. Its primary intention was to draw attention to the fact that we are working in an exhausted and inertial system which has not been creating an environment suitable for innovative and socially responsible culture for several years now. Without a vision – we repeat the same mistakes – which have led us into the current crisis of culture. With the need to look for an alternative to the current state which globally applies economic views – without consideration for the environment, happy life, meaningful work, reciprocal care and the quality of relationships… At that time we somehow travelled to conferences at your place and it happened at the right time: being at your conference – without the pressure for an outcome of any sort – it created a safe space for us… And even though my background (Petra’s) is more in theatre (institutions) than in dance like Tereza’s, I hope my short observations will still be relevant…

By safe space I mean the conditions “on how to meet” – that the goal was not to produce and consume as many books, films, performances, exhibitions, music, projects or even discussions and lectures on the subject as possible… but rather to let it all make an impact and grow into our individual lives, and mainly, into society – as the threads of individual issues and their possible solutions.

It was this, that made this conference format/no-format an interesting field for us, which is defined by the group and current needs – how to create space for shared thinking – as a part of creation across all fields of expertise? How – to make it suited to both people of theory and practice? How – so that nobody feels left out?

Shared experience – that is something we feel are fibres that strengthen and co-create human connections – because they increase the intensity of experiencing and empathizing with the experience of others. For us, that was the great potential of the meeting in Poland. In the multiphony that was somewhat heard towards the end it was heard that many more positive examples from practice could be shared – please, give them the space and room to share. More sharing of the already existing interdisciplinary experience! I keep hearing that there are scientists who are or used to be active dancers or artists – which means there are people who connect this interdisciplinarity within themselves. This is what we find really fulfilling lately, some positive examples from experience, an existing dialogue… In Prague, we remember several attempts at dialogue with an Entomologist and a Climatologist – obviously, it was just a first attempt, and it opened a certain path – but would there be a chance to continue? Keep on trying? Why and how to find one’s way in the time of a climatic crisis and where to direct one’s strengths? In this aspect, the connection with local creators and scientists, in the way that you tried it, appeared as a thread/line that should not be allowed to sink into oblivion – because less identity and more connections!

And in conclusion – you surely know this already – but BRUNO LATOUR wrote a short essay on the PANDEMIC which was translated into many languages. At the end of the text he comes up with  a series of questions that the readers should try and answer. The first one is: “Which of the paused activities you do not wish to return to?” I would like to know what you, personally, have realized when your home country and the nearest vicinity were affected by the coronavirus?

I have to admit that I find it difficult to reply to this questionnaire and I admire those who were able to find answers to all the questions… it gets interesting with further questions – if you disagree with this activity, do you want to stop it or destroy it? What would you do with those who engage in it? For instance, you could say you do not want to experience mass tourism destroying your city. Fine, but what about all those people who have invested in restaurants, hostels or who work as guides? Your answer to this question guides you to reconsider the original thought. And so on… the goal is to move away from mere opinions and it is in this that the questionnaire is really inspiring. It activates…

We do not have answers – only fragments of what has remained and what resonated after your email reminder…

Would it be possible to add more of your experiences to the website? Because we also want to create and organize cultural events with the awareness of sustainability, and sustainability is a big topic for us  –  but also for you  – can we stay in touch like this? maybe also online – perhaps only with suggestions for interesting meetings, how and where these issues or similarly volatile questions are being discussed…??

I know, it takes a lot of inner energy, and we are grateful to you for that!

Even when we arrived and joined later and did not always speak up – believe us, a lot has happened, been happening, within us – and it was really inspiring, and I also dare say really nice: to be there with you and listen to all of you and be present when all participants’ processes were shared!!

All the best –  take care – warm hugs

Petra and Tereza

Project partner Ula Zerek of the Polka dot foundation in Gdańsk, Poland evaluates the research and approaches explored during the Nature of Us project 2021-2022

The project Nature of Us was full of meaningful reflections that aroused during partners’ online meetings as well as during discussions within the program itself. In this text I try to evaluate some of them, questioning myself about possible continuation of the work.

Together with the participants from Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary we have been searching for strategies in the frame of the artistic work but also as citizens caring about the natural world. In the context of crises that the contemporary world is struggling with, we find it necessary as Central European societies to reflect on our attitudes and actions. We have confronted the idea with science to find a common language to communicate better with broad audiences. The initial idea of the project was to create conditions for a dialogue between artists and scientists. Soon as organisers, we realised how challenging it is to engage the scientific and art communities equally. Artists, dance researchers, theoreticians and activists invited to the project eagerly explore aspects of the natural world using a variety of tools and referring to scientific data in their work which they have expressed through the artistic research sessions and discussions during the conference. Nevertheless it seems to be a one-way transmission and the question about a dialogue between art and science remains open demanding long term work.

I find a question about artistic strategies in the context of the natural world interesting as a chance of redefining the role of art and my own work in this field. 

From the moment we started working together with Karolina Wycisk organising Polish Dance Platform 2019 in Gdańsk I realised that being a producer I am more interested in searching for new formats and ways of communicating in the dance field rather than organising presentations of performances. Not that professional art show cases are unnecessary but we thought there are different possible approaches where dance and choreography can be meaningful tools for social changes and those have been our main interest. How we do what we do has become more relevant than what we do. Becoming a partner in The Nature of Us project as Polka dot Foundation we had a very basic need to do work about and with care for the natural world and human relation with it. Being responsible for organising the Sobieszewo Island Conference we also wanted to check whether the traditional format of a conference can take a more vivacious form of inspiring flow between art and science. It was a risky experiment but worth testing a new language of discussing artistic work. The event was an inspiring incubator of ideas with a platform for sharing practices and thoughts. Even though in the meeting it was mostly people identified with the art field who participated, with just a few (exciting, but few) representatives of the science, scientific subjects and research were the main discussion areas. But what I find the main point of these two days at the Sobieszewo Island is an expression of a strong attitude of a community that shares similar cultural and geographical experience of living in Central Europe that wants to be present in the world in a sustainable way by being close to the natural world and doing meaningful work.

Choosing the Sobieszewo Island as a location for the project’s conference I had a bit of a personal motivation. Nature, so very present around Gdańsk where I am based is an important part of my life. Sobieszewo Island is one of the places where I go to get relief from the city, unite with the sea, the ground, the woods. When learning about the natural world you dive into it. Preparing the program of the project I knew the island would be an inspirational context for exploration and discussions and I was very happy to observe how the participants of the conference were stimulated by this place. Thanks to people’s involvement and mutual interest the atmosphere around the presentations and discussions was full of attention and care towards each other.

Building communities is something I consider a great value. It is often uneasy work to maintain relevant bonds within rushed and superficial patterns of the consumption reality whereas the natural world seems to be all about interconnections. The Sobieszewo Island welcomed us with its overwhelming nature giving us a great lesson of networking power.

Nature of Us has come to some closure point. This encounter of great people participating in the project with their ideas for artistic work has been an attempt to understand the complexity of the world that we are part of. This experience is leaving me with more questions than given answers, opening another chapter of further explorations.

Our Nature of Us artist Zden Brungot Svíteková has agreed to share notes from her research leading to her site specific dance performance as geological hike. Called
. tektoparty | a walk in the landscape and with the landscape, this groundbreaking work premiered in Prague on 10 October 2022 on the occasion of the first ever International Geodiversity Day. Here Zden includes findings and ideas on strategy and approach not only from her research during the Nature of Us project: she has been exploring geology, performance and choreography since at least the time of her project Hazard Zone in 2016. Also included are bios of Zden and her geologist consultant, inspirational quotes, word art, and photos from her research and performance. 

. tektoparty | a walk in the landscape and with the landscape

Strategies leading to site specific dance performance on a hike through geological formations as a time bender.

This collaboration started in 2019 as part of research development phase of the project Sentinelle G, which aimed at creating a choreographic walk, a score that would be a physical study of the geological situation, processes, past and possible future of a landscape. It turned out to become a long-term body of work, which I today call Geology Of Being (or Geology Do Being, thanks to misspelling of a colleague) combining the disciplines of geology (and very much likely influenced by and with nutrients from other scientific disciplines. Psychology and, from observing the way I’ve done things, anthropology, ethnology, sociology … ???) and art to activate new perspectives on the workings of our bodies, the body of society and the body of the Earth. The partner of this work being the Earth itself and our human knowledge of it. 

The work addresses 

  1. somatic based movement research 
  2. choreographic research exploring scoring
  3. creation of indoor/outdoor artistic formats  

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field trips

Wait, I need time for my body to figure this out!

quote of mine from the visit of a cave when climbing up a passage

Contact local geologists. It is always better when the mediation is given by the person who knows and is very familiar with the territory, you can learn the details.

Once your eyes know what to see, once your mind has been trained to what’s important….

Iain Steward

Man of Rock documentary

anthropological approach

cultural anthology 

observing subjects in their local environment

methodology: participant-observation

where a researcher (anthropologist or sociologist) studies a community by sharing in its activities

including audiovisual recording 

Humans are not creatures who dance on Earth, they dance on earth (D. Abram, 2010). Even more to the point, earth dances in and through them.”

Karen L. Charlotte – As the Earth Dances

Back to Dance Itself, University of Illinois press 2017

* When you’re in a new place for the first time, what’s the first thing you look at? What are the first “things” you do in the field?

* Hard to answer in one sentence. It’s always different because it depends on what I’m doing there, why I’m there, and how long I’ll be there. Anyway, I subconsciously turn off the inner monologue and let my surroundings soak in. 

But what do I look at first?

…at form, shapes, structures, textures in all possible scales, macro/micro 

Then I try to interpret what I see, or record what I perceive in the form of a documentation journal. But I always try to explain what I see, to give it some genesis, at least an attempt.

from conversations with the geologist

From the perspective of bodily becoming, empathy does not proceed by way of feeling or thoughts per se, but by way of kinaesthetic experience. To empathise is to move with.”

Karen L. Charlotte – As the Earth Dances

Back to Dance Itself, University of Illinois press 2017

day long field trips following the specialist in his environment 

methodology: participant-observation

July 2019  Choč – pietra verde volcanic ash in Middle Triassic basin sediments

December 2019  Cave of Lost Ring

February 2020  Harmanec

May 2021  Horná Ždaňa

August 2021  Liptov

October 2021 High Tatras

June 2021  Nemecká – Predajná – geological mapping of the tectonic unit of the hronikum – thrust structure (Triassic sedimentary sequence), environmental load, leakage of industrial debris into the bedrock (dolomites)

August 2021  Agytelek (HU), Low Tatras Tale

November 2021  Predajna and environs – geological mapping of the tectonic unit of the hronikum – thrust structure (Triassic sedimentary sequence), environmental load, leakage of industrial debris into the bedrock (dolomites)

Bios

Zden Brungot Svíteková 

works internationally as a dance artist. She is interested in research and creative dialogue in the context of interdisciplinary collaborations.

She co-founded and co-directs the artistic association Ostružina focusing on contemporary dance. It is characterised by interdisciplinarity, openness to innovative approaches and interest in creating works for non-traditional spaces.

She has been awarded international residencies. Also collaborates in projects in the context of creative education.

Mário Olšavský 

specialises in field mapping oriented on the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, Tertiary and Quarternary rock formations, Landslide mapping, development of GIS databases, regional geology, litostratigraphy and tectonics. He works as an Independent scientist – geologist at the State geological institute of Dionýz Štúr (Slovak Geological Survey). He authored or co-authored of more than 14 papers in domestic and international scientific journals and regularly participates in international geological expeditions.

language 

vrždiake, blyštiake, krkváke, ravake…

And to all of those vrždiake and blyštiake Albín Klinec always made sure to add and to remind that: 

those flat stones there on Kráľová Hola, those are ťapšne“. There is such a special crystalline rock with plate-like separation.

from conversation with the geologist

*  Albín Klinec was a geologist speaking Horehronie dialect

vrždiake (a cruncher) meant a rock containing silicium that makes a crunching sound when you walk on it

blyštiake (a glitter) meant a rock containing glittering components

krkváke (a crinkle) meant a rock heavily affected by orogenesis

Language seems to play an important role in my interests. In general, I do notice it while reading geology related literature.

elusive terms seem to be exciting” – the room problem (the problem of magma emplacement hypothesis)

This gave birth to “geocards”. Cards featuring geology terminology, specially verbs speaking of processes and action, which can be used for various situations as a started for conversation, as a guideline of how to execute a movement or a score or as a way how to enter into contact with another body. 

we’re all Anthropocene practitioners

Recognising what is now ending and what is beginning can help us to respond to the predicament of LIVING IN FISSURES between one epoch and another.”

Jan Zalasizewicz, The birth of the Anthropocene, 2016

To get time to transform your heart.”

…notes for Hazard Zone

nature – milieu – ecosystem – interconnectedness – collaboration

pratiques d’attention et de reciprocity (situations of indigenous nations)

“In facing our current climate crisis, it is not enough for humans to care for Earth (Warren 1996), to dance for Earth or even to think about the Earth as a relational whole (Abram 2010). Humans are better equipped  to participate responsibly in the ongoing life on Earth when they cultivate the kind of sensory awareness dancing can enable. … They can build within themselves and their societies a moral (ethical I’d say)  compass that can guide them to act in ways that take care of the Earthly conditions of their own ongoing existence.

… or to create works of art that communicate participation in this sensory awareness.”

Karen L. Charlotte – As the Earth Dances

Back to Dance Itself, University of Illinois press 2017

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