Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

'Performing Surfaces': Designing Research-Creation for Agentive Embodiment

Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

'Performing Surfaces': Designing Research-Creation for Agentive Embodiment

Article excerpt

This article starts from the premise that critically engaging the movements, sensations, qualities, techniques and affects of everyday experience will give insight into designing research-creation strategies for agentive embodiment. Research- creation proposes the possibility of becoming newly sensitive to affective and sensorial influences via material and medial negotiation which, in turn, can modulate habits of attention and the way we tend to everyday experience. How, then, can research-creation processes activate agency in habit, which is entwined in personal histories of emotion and perception, so that it can become a creative force in both personal and collective contexts?

To explore this issue, I have composed a series of thematic gatherings that integrate theoretical, reflective and artistic examples. I first consider everyday, material interaction as a process of emergent embodiment I then explore how agency is constituted in embodied movement and sensation more specifically by extending the discussion of embodied agency to instances wherein felt sensations are intensified and generated via procedures within which to formalise it. I introduce 'tactile drawing', an exercise I designed to demonstrate how refocusing existing, linear perception parameters can generate emergent sensitivity in the movement and sensation of tactile experience. I then discuss embodied agency via the mediated, affective and perceptive intensification of research-creation processes. Finally, I consider Sara Ahmed's proposition that clumsiness can destabilise emotionally charged habits of boundary and social distinction. I suggest that engaging social frictions and tensions with clumsy non-attunement in processes of research-creation can generate emergent sensitivity across affectively charged social boundaries, manners and habits.

My aim for this discussion is to develop both affective and critical resonances between theory, reflection and artistic expression, so that it becomes a context with which to develop research-creation from the often non-conscious continuities of habit. The central theme of agency in habit is not examined for the discreet purpose of explaining it. Instead, the notion of embodied agency is a focalisation with which I engage the experience of habit, so that embodying processes can be designed that have the potential to intensify and modulate everyday experience. My theoretical contribution thus lies in composing a dynamic milieu for emergent thought and reflection, to bring theory closer to the development of agentive, inhabitable and socially pertinent embodiment processes.

-Material scripts

It is important to consider how everyday, embodied habits are developed via dynamic scripts or tendencies within material, relational milieux. For Elaine Scarry, the process of embodying an object is two-fold. The body is anatomically augmented with specific prosthetic objects that prolong, transform and facilitate specific tasks, and project the perceptive limits of the body outwards. Correspondingly, these same objects are internalised, objectifying the body.1 Scarry specifically elaborates on the perceptive relation of the internal and external body in instances when pain is relieved by extending sentience into ergonomic objects like furniture. When one relieves their pain by sitting on a chair, the body is objectified-it takes on 'that blissful immunity of inert, inanimate objecthood'.2 Meanwhile, the chair assumes the vulnerability and sentient consciousness of the relieved sufferer. Embodiment itself is thus a loose and porous dynamic of intensive surfacing with surrounding materiality: 'a body-is itself at its origins a profound registration of the fact that physical sentience has, after first projecting itself outward, then absorbed back into its own interior content the externalised objectifications of itself'.3

In reference to Heidegger, Robin Bernstein distinguishes objects from things to better grasp the physical and psychological transformation that occurs when bodies move with things in processes of embodiment. …

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