Our Enfolded Ecosystem
The study of embodiment seems a bit superfluous. We live in our bodies. What more is there to say?
Plenty! To be embodied is to live in relationship – to live from a felt sense of – what the late Martin Luther King Jr. called – ‘the inescapable network of mutuality.’
Biological organisms are an interdependent ecology – enfolded, enmeshed and empathic. Human Origami enables a small conceptual leap to see that folding underscores the shaping of all relationships. From our embryonic life onwards, we are shaping and being shaped, first by fluid forces, then by gravitational ones. Human folding patterns vary infinitely along the relatively short time scale of human life. The Earth’s folding patterns, like the bend in a river or the fault line in a land mass – act across much longer (metamorphic) time scales.
What seems a mere physical reality is, actually, meta-physical. Body and world are not discrete ‘things,’ but a living conversation of belonging in intimate entanglement. Phenomenologists understood this entanglement of body, psyche, culture, and world, calling it by different names – Martin Heidegger’s ‘being-in-the-world,’ Edmund Husserl’s ‘lifeworld,’ and Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s concept of reciprocity – of touching and being touched.
Our sense of touch is critical to this conversation, one fraught with ambiguity and interest. Somatic movement practices are directly designed and intended to cultivate our senses to become more attuned to relationship – to self, others and world. This is so that we can live more sensibly, responsibly, and harmoniously. Physicist and feminist Karen Barad writes that our worldly relationships revolves around mutual attunement of both response-ability and responsibility. ‘Matter, Barad notes, ‘is condensations of response-ability…Touch is what matter does….’
Enter Human Origami.
This autumn, I had the good fortune to spend three weeks as a guest artist/lecturer at Bath Spa University in Bath, England. The schedule was intense – teaching a variety of classes across multiple disciplines in the arts and humanities, facilitating discussions, giving keynotes and teaching workshops. My topic? Embodied Agency. This I posed more as a question than an answer: How can embodiment practices reflect principles of emancipatory education – those destined to meet today’s challenges? How can embodiment foster creative agency to ‘humanize humanity’ in our time? To this topic, I brought a trans-disciplinary approach, drawing from my half-century of life’s experience in dance, Somatic movement studies, rehabilitation medicine, human movement and brain science, philosophy and aesthetics.
I gave a workshop entitled, Human Origami –The Folding Continuum of Human-Environmental Life, hosted by two research hubs at Bath Spa: The Research Centre for Environmental Humanities and the Creative Corporealities Research Group. Given the late recognition of threats to our planet, these centers were established to a develop sensitive and sustainable responses to today’s global crises. My intention was to spark interest, questions and critique around the current status of our human-environmental interface: How can we understand that we are not ‘other’ than the natural surround but are part of an enfolded universe? Where does human patterning belong in the pursuit of creative responses to the deepening global environmental concerns and crises?
I chose first to offer a moving meditation from Human Origami, postponing lecture and discussion for later. Human Origami is like many Somatic movement practices in that people attend to shifting sensations as they move – attuning to the sensations of touching and being touched as they explore folding variations. This duration of attention is important – at least an hour – long enough to make room for new thoughts and feelings to surface from underneath the conformity of body habit.
The participants in the RCEH group were amazed at the results. The movement experience enabled them to access new language that was more body-based. Rather than imposing a more cognitive analysis on the experience, they found a new way of expressing themselves, and ascribing meaning to experience. From this, they were able to gain new insights into the value of Somatic movement in probing important issues around the human-environmental interface.
My colleague, dancer and multi-media artist, Susan Sentler describes the process of Human Origami so beautifully: ‘As the [mover] begins to work continuously, through various avenues of the body, yielding, opening, closing, circling, wayfaring, they come across hidden nested subversive states. These states are transitory hybrids of human, animal and home(as nest). The body is here both an existential prosthesis and an environment. These states are not static, cozy or comforting. They are a fleeting form of belonging everywhere and nowhere; a form of belonging that is abstracted, blurred, hazy, yet clearly recognizable as belonging.’
Human Origami…Delve into movement, touch your own matter and be touched by discoveries that matter.
Barad, Karen. On touching: The inhuman that therefore I am. Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 2012 23(3).
Sentler, Susan (in press). The Liquid Architecture of Bodily Folding In: Natasha Lushetich (Ed). Beyond Mind: Beyond Mind Symbolism an Interdisciplinary Journal of Critical Aesthetics