Wednesday, 11 April 2007

In the Company of Strangers

I am carrying out my MA in dance and film and I am investigating the possible dramas inherent in those moments of perception 'slippage' when we notice, fleetingly, something incongruous or perhaps uncanny/out of the rhythm of our current activity/task, occurring just at the edge of our attention - and failing to follow it up we wonder, perhaps only later, about what it was we had witnessed. What was that?

If you are able to document any of these moments in any way, through writing, drawing, photos, sound or film, I would be very interested. Please post writing or links to other media in the Comments section.


idiom said...

When I witness peripheral or liminal moments during the day, (either genuinely peripheral, out of the corner of my eye or liminal out of the range of my perception/senses) I find that I return to these fragment moments in my dreams. I return to investigate metaphorically in my dreams what I did not in reality. It is like I need to complete the narrative pattern in my sleep in order to be at peace with the 'not noticing' whether it was intentional or not.

Often when I intentional ignore these moments it is because they have a hint of obscurity that is uncomfortable because it is verging on unsettling, mentally unhinged, or dark.

nomads.hat said...

Hi Idiom, Thanks very much for that great reply! Yes, the dream factor is really interesting in this - If you look into the latest psychology movement in the UK, called the Human Givens, they are pioneering new links and import in dreaming being an essential and critical aspect of our ability to finish processing experiences which began in our conscious bodies but which is brought to resolution by our unconscious bodies during sleep.
With regard to my work, yes, it is the unsettling element that I am interested in, but also the whole issue of what constitutes the self and 'other'? I am putting in place experimental movement scores in public places to initiate scenarios where I and other dancers are noticed by the public as they go about their everyday tasks/patterns of movement - but only just. So our intervention into an otherwise 'normal'scene is often very subtle - to promote that '... what was that ...?' in the perception of the onlooker. So my research is currently personifying the public as the 'host' identity and myself and other intervening personalities as the 'stranger' identity, but of course these identities can also be perceived as reciprocal - it works both ways. The thing for me is to document the encounters through the character and contrasts in the different types of movement taking place between the 'host' and 'stranger' identities. I already have some really interesting moments... please feel free to get back to me at any time with anything that relates to this.
Any specific moments or insights, theories or observations - and please tell your friends. I am keen to get a process of enquiry/shared field of experiences going here. nomads.hat

nomads.hat said...

PS: Just another thought - I really appreciate your making a distinction between 'peripheral' and 'liminal' here. Feel like we are on similar pages. nomads.hat

mastermistress said...

Yes - I often see these brought back in my dreams, and calling upon a lucid state, I then have time to explore these at leisure. For fear of bringing these moments to attention while awake and risk appearing the fool, I find then find monumental moments of clarity in issues of self, if I care to take notice and record while dreaming - if you're a believer in psychoanalysis that is :-)

idiom said...

Do you see the crowd mass intent as fulfilling 'herd instinct' and the other/self a stray (read creative wild card) on the edge?

In my experience with these sorts of double take moments the liminal is more like a precognitive sense that there was something else going on in the scene I was passing that caused me to pause and briefly investigate the sensation. These are genuinely odd moments where something peculiar is going on. Like a glimpse of a man dressed as a chef lying down on a dirty alley floor running his hand over one wall above him. This could be perceived as normal or distinctively odd behaviour for a chef.

Other times it is more like a peripheral misinterpretation of a scene, where my occipital lobe filled in information that was not there and the ‘what was that’ moment of turning to gain a full view cancels out the unusual quality by providing the full picture. Sometimes this engages the fight flight response because the mind fills in a dark or threatening scene when it actually is nothing more ominous than an unusually shaped bag of rubbish. This is like the brain seeking completion.

What are some examples from your own experiences?

idiom said...

By the way – yes I do know of the human givens perspective! Very interesting and potent stuff.

Mastermistress, what issues of self do find clarity in when in REM/dreamstate? Do you mean when you remember the dreams that revisit odd moments? Or when you enter a lucid (relaxed?) state and return to the odd moments?

I understand your comment about appearing the 'fool'. It is interesting how often we avoid the trickster archetype in social settings!

nomads.hat said...

Hi Idiom, My own experiences of this occurrence, or I could term it a phenomenon, are centred around recollections of big-city flows of people, either at rush hour or seasonally, during Christmas shopping times when people are 'on task'. Of course large centres of population provide a canvas for this kind of commentary perhaps at any time due to the number of people constantly moving at any one time. The witnessed event though, has inevitably involved a stream of crowd-movement passing by another half-glimpsed kind of rhythm, or pattern of movement, or task on the edge of the main movement stream, but inevitably, if you are in this main stream, suddenly pausing or diverging to scrutinize a 'back-eddy' of incongruity is usually not possible. It is also interesting to note that, as you say, if you do pause to turn and dwell on what it was you caught with your peripheral view, often
(but not always) the strange tableau or activity resolves itself and so does the mystery or ambiguity. I can remember London in Oxford st being part of a solid phalanx of people sweeping past a corner, with something unintelligible occurring just down an alley - and then I had moved on and the moment was passed, but my retinal capture held two people pushing each other, not aggressively, but with an intent to do ... what? I have other incongruous moments which contain contrasting and vaguely unsettling ambiguities of human intent washed up as flotsam on the edges of peopled-currents, or simply existing quietly on the side, as it were, in spite of the greater crowd intent. So I am fascinated by the potential subtle dramas inherent in contrasting movement-fields juxtaposed almost symbiotically with one another - mutually independent and mostly unaware of the other, yet requiring this urban context as terrain in which to exist.

mastermistress, I would be very interested to hear more from you.
The aspect of dreaming as a vehicle for us to finish off or resolve unfinished business while awake is intriguing. For me it brings up questions about the self and other in terms of their recognizable manifestations: Are these moments of peripheral motion-capture - and by extension, the self/other duality, simply reduceable to electrical componentry in the brain/body matrix? It may be so, but at this time, I prefer to venture into this territory of ambiguous perceptivity to document empirically, through experience, the vagueries and contrasts which emerge when normal (doing) everyday activity is subtly disturbed by divergent (not-doing) activity.

idiom said...
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idiom said...

I saw a woman today, she caught my eye when I was at a busy playground. Most of the movement comprised of children running and playing, with adults walking in small groups or with children. I was sitting still observing the children I was with and the 'on-task-ness' of those around me. This woman caught my eye because she was wrestling with a package of fish and chips in the mouth of a rubbish bin. It seemed that she couldn't fit the package in, or was she trying to get it out? Eventually the package burst out of the bin and she walked away with it - triumphant or frustrated? A little later she returned obviously chewing, she easily pushed the fish and chips package pack into the bin. Was she hungry or returning for a second attempt to fit her rubbish through the flip lid of an over full bin?

nomads.hat said...
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nomads.hat said...

You were in the luxurious position of being able to monitor the moment as it occurred. In a way this alters the experience if it allows an analytical, objective register of the moment.

Last night I was at a party and in the crowd-press I glimpsed someone secreting their wine glass within their inside-jacket pocket, obviously to keep it safe for later.

A slightly unusual action perhaps, but it was the smooth furtiveness within the moment which just caught my attention. For me, these briefly-registered moments are arresting not so much for their functional content, but for the quality and nature of the movement taking place - what kind of narrative was it?

How did your subject`s kind of movement 'not fit' with the ongoing motion around it? Was the moment out of sync with the normal beach events?

Do we attach greater import to the reasons behind the captured moment rather than the manifestation of the moment itself? The signification itself, rather than the signifier or the signified. That is what interests me - the idiosyncratic nature of the signature being proffered ...

Antony & Cynthia said...

These moments come in the form of light mixed with movement for me. Flashes, splits, pulses,streaks and very occasionally it will have a sound attached as well. They have happened ever since i was a small child and so are integrated into my norm. I've always considered them to be energy unafraid to show itself to me manifesting in my mind as angels, faeries, and other such creatures of light.I had an interesting moment recently where i turned and looked at a friend and his face changed into a very alien like face. I turned away immediately telling myself i had not just seen what my mind told me i had seen and on turning back everything was how i expected. It freaked me a little but if it happened again i would choose to stay looking and investigate.

nomads.hat said...

Hey, thanks antony and cynthia! I find these almost-hidden moments fascinating - perhaps mostly because they are almost impossible to access again; ephemeral and transient and I suspect that they are more than a little responsible for the whole notion of 'faery' identities down through the ages. This brief transformation of a friend is the kind of thing I am interested in - it introduces this 'other' or 'stranger' as I call it, identity to us and then just as swiftly removes it again. Tantalizing but necessary for the creation of the phenomenon itself, I guess. You know, when this kind of thing happens, we often consider it in passing and then leave it don`t we, but sometimes you find yourself sharing the moment with your partner, friend - or the person responsible for the moment and you go: 'I just had the strangest thing happen ...' By dancing subtly in tucked-away urban places, I want to try to 'be' or be responsible for 'that moment' in the perception of whoever may stumble upon us. The hard part is documenting it. So I guess, in our time in town, if we were to call ourselves 'hosts', we are beset by 'stranger' identities manifesting all around us. Some may be 'hosts' - personalities who we may feel empathy for. Of course everyone is simultaneously, both 'host' and 'stranger' - each hat slips and slides ... so, I am using Contact Dance to investigate this duality. Each side of the duet contains both host and stranger qualities which don`t stay fixed ... had a good dance in Fresh Choice Supermarket last weekend - dancing in 'non-places' ...

nomads.hat said...

I had a similar moment of perception 'slippage' happen to me driving in to town one day, but it was with someone I had never seen before. Driving past a turn-off, I saw out of the corner of my eye, a man driving a ute. But he was wearing a patch over his eye and full futuristic body-armour, with a cab bristling with weapons! I actually did a speed-wobble and nearly pulled over, it was so real. I slowed and looked again and the warrior was a builder with light and shadow falling across his face, a patched jacket on and a cab full of building tools and bits sticking out of the window...the interesting thing was that for me, this guy did not resemble or 'look like' a warrior - he was one! For those brief seconds of perception slippage ...

tobie said...

Interesting observations and perspectives. Seems to me that generally we're taught to focus on things at the center, and pretty much ignore the periphery where things are less in focus, and more ambiguous. And yet.... I guess it's at that fuzzy point where context and connection begin. Looking forward to reading more thoughts on all of this.

nomads.hat said...

Hi Tobie, Context and Connection - very interesting thoughts ... It is the context of host and stranger identities and their tenuous and fluid connections with each other and the urban spaces in which they reside, which interests and excites me. In the light of yours and my connection through the virtual world of Second Life, I find your use of those two words intriguing and illuminating. While I am investigating and engaging with the concept of host and stranger entities in Second Life, I am increasingly recognizing the added level of perception that the 'virtual' transfers across into 'real' life and how it subtly influences our real life experiences. What is 'virtual'? Is it only another product of Marc Augé`s 'supermodernity' or can it occur without ethernet and LCD screens? I think so. That moment of 'perception slippage' we have been talking about, is pure 'virtual' I think. Second Life 'residents' have personal profiles which you can click on to find out details on that resident that they are willing to share. Only after I had completed mine did I realize that I had imported a 'real'life image into my Second Life tab and a Second Life image into my 'real'life tab! I thought it fitting so I left it. Indications of virtual and real developing into what Mark Hansen, in his great book, 'Bodies in Code' calls, 'mixed realities'; perhaps a closer and truer summation of how it is possible to perceive our dualities in this life.

tobie said...

You raise many interesting questions and observations. I'm finding the virtual world of SL to be a magnifier and illuminator.... time is accelerated somehow, and for me there is immense opportunity to explore and discover (at the center as well as at the periphery). Lately I've been sort of tripping over things in SL.... things that I must have been ready to look at... just didn't know it until they hit me in the face. This blog has also been quite a catalyst for me in the last couple of weeks. I don't easily follow all the abstract thoughts that get presented here, but I have almost literally been grabbed by some of the threads. I say "grabbed" because it has been less a conscious, intellectual thought process, and more an awareness at my core about intention and how to allow and facilitate self-expression of my own art. Today I came across notes I took over 2 years ago, something written by psychologist Larry Stoler, PhD: "The process of making art is fraught with risk. Artists have to know how to go to the edge, let go, and allow the art to happen." Yes, there it is again..... have to go the edge. Anyway, just want to say this blog has been helpful to me. So... thanks!

nomads.hat said...

Thanks Tobie, Going to the 'edge' is fundamental to carrying out work which is categorized as 'liminal'- there has been a lot of art work of all descriptions carried out in recent years of this kind; investigating interfaces, boundary territories, where apparently disparate states blend or collide. In my dance work I am exploring certain aspects of this 'edgy' area, not the least of which is how we, involuntarily, we get 'grabbed' by elements within our relative realities, almost in spite of ourselves. I enjoy your quote and in so many ways it is the essence of improvisation, which is at the core of the dance-work we do. Much of this conceptual territory reflects, for me, the physical terrain we are inhabiting in our dance in RL and that I am actively seeking in SL. So, 'non-places' which exist at the edge of spaces which can be classed as 'places'. The exciting thing is that these terms and the spaces they describe are very much subjective and open to debate. I am looking for tucked-away alleys at the interface with busy thoroughfares, for the visual 'tension' and contrast these two scenarios may present, to create an example of that momentarily-witnessed peripheral view - and to see what people or activity may 'show up' which I haven`t planned for. I believe Second Life presents a manifestation and fractal of our multi or at least, dual-personification which exists in RL - each of us appearing as hosts and strangers, both, to ourselves and to others that we meet - there are always 'others' in us which take us by surprise and out there as well. So Second Life provides a context in which we may see realized as ourselves, the arrival and departure of a number of identities, quite clearly defined on one level, which remain elusive and mostly dormant in SL.
'Humans are not entities but the clearing in which entites appear. Zimmerman, 1993. One could extend this to say that Second Life is the '...clearing in which entities appear'- the visible projection of our 'otherness', perhaps?

nomads.hat said...

That last entry on line six from the bottom should read: '... which remain elusive and mostly dormant in RL - Real Life ...' I tend to think of this, in context, as 'First Life'.

Just Plain Curious said...

I had one of those (mis)perception experiences this morning at the Student Café – I walked in and vaguely noticed a man sitting (back to me) at a table talking with another person. In the split second I saw him in that initial scan of the room I convinced myself he was an old friend from Hawkes Bay. The old friend is Deaf, although an extremely good lip reader… I found myself doing an internal commentary….

* It seemed odd that Lee hadn’t contacted me to say he was coming to Nelson!

* I questioned myself about whether or not Lee knows I work at NMIT.

* I wondered at how easily the conversation seemed to be flowing between ‘Lee’ and the other person despite the very loud music.

* I did a conscious double check and yes… it definitely appeared to be Lee

* I planned to go over and say hi… I wondered how much sign language I have forgotten

* I wondered what might bring Lee to Nelson

I did a ‘subtle’ check of this person after collecting my coffee… and it wasn’t Lee !!

nomads.hat said...

Hi Just Plain Curious, thanks for the comment! Great comment on that moment which assails all of us from time to time and which we tend to relegate to the 'toe-squirmingly embarrassing' or the 'vague disbelief that your senses had the temerity to let you down' basket.

Interesting that you also managed to sustain the moment while you critiqued it - no doubt the surprise and discomfort was compounded by being held in thrall to that belief - until the last instant of recognition! I would like to throw in an observation here: What excites me and feeds my curiosity about 'real' and 'virtual' moments and how they blend with one another, is that for that time while you picked up your coffee, that person WAS Lee. That kind of moment which, as you walk away going to yourself, 'What the ... I could have sworn ...?'

Interesting that our peripheral vision can often be 'truer' (at night, or in low light when staring straight ahead defeats our best efforts) in terms of identifying slightly obscure or indistinct details, but our periphery can also delude us. My interest centres on that useage which lies in that initial half-seen capture, that 'What was that?' moment - before identification takes place and the instant of drama is nullified. I want my dance movement to be viewed in this way - on the edge of straight-ahead binocular motion-capture by the anonymous crowd, so my unorthodox movement creates a question, before the viewer moves on, into the rest of the events in their day. Maybe they will remember it that night?

This sets up compelling questions, like: How do I know what they are seeing? How do I know if what I am doing is momentarily giving them pause for thought? I don`t think I can know and perhaps this actually not relevant, in the sense that there will be as many different views and the resultant responses as there are witnesses.

I am seeking to film this kind of scenario though and I am choosing to perceive and become excited by the drama inherent in the moment as a conversation-piece between that self and 'other' personna - that 'host' and 'stranger' relationship
with myself and my dancers taking the part of the stranger. (This of course, is not straightforward because we both, the anonymous crowd and I, are simultaneously, host and strangers - Perhaps we are all of us, constantly, while in our own company, in the company of strangers).

I mentioned previously in this blog a reference to Georg Simmel (1908) who coined the terms, 'host' and 'stranger'in his essay on 'The Stranger'. Simmel tried to convey through this figure, a range of ambivalences which have come to haunt us in the practices of negotiating difference’, (Allen, 2000:57). I am interested in Simmel`s account of modern urban culture, seen through the discontinuities of movement (through the interplay of ‘host’/’stranger’ relationships) and the circulation of people in urban spaces and how this influences the fleeting and increasingly abstract nature of focussing on sociation – or in my particular sphere of enquiry, not so much how society functions, but more specifically, how those groups and individuals within those spatial/societal structures function and relate to one ‘an-other’. In defining or ‘negotiating difference’, Allen says, Simmel adopted the figure of the ‘stranger’ as a means to express or capture the paradoxical experience of what it means to interact with someone who is both, perhaps nearby in a spatial sense, yet remote and therefore ‘strange’ to us in a social sense: ‘The unity of nearness and remoteness involved in every human relation is organized in the phenomena of the stranger, in a way which may be most briefly formulated by saying that in the relationship to him, distance means that he, who is close by, is far; and strangeness means that he, who is also far; is actually near. For to be a stranger is naturally a very positive relation; it is a specific form of interaction’ (Simmel quoted in Allen, 2000:57).

However, it is worth noting too, that in a city, an environment exists which is ‘home’ to all, where everyone may belong, while still preserving those differences which make each of us unique. Allen suggests that within this context, it may be useful to view the figure of the stranger as a symbol or an icon which lends itself as a conduit for the expression of a range of both, spatial and social tensions. He also points out that now, the host/stranger tension is experienced as, essentially, an accepted and perhaps innocuous fact by city-dwellers, rather than a problematic, threatening condition which requires exorcism.

The stranger, then, as I understand it from Allen`s view of Simmel`s perspective, is someone who is involved with us, yet removed, spatially and also socially as
a real member of a group or situation, which allows us to define ourselves as a host or ‘self’ identity by virtue of the fact that the stranger, or ‘other’ stands just outside (us).

Allen also points out that there are numerous increments of ‘strangeness’ identifiable in different contexts, but that, ‘It is present in those fleeting encounters between people which take place in the crowded subways or in the throng of busy streets …’

(Allen, 2000:58). Crang, M. & Thrift, N. (2000). Introduction. In M. Crang and N. Thrift, (Eds.), Thinking Space: critical geographies. Routledge, London and New York,

idiom said...

I was at the doctors yesterday. As I left there was a nurse at the reception desk that I knew. She glanced up at me as I entered the room where she was and smiled the kind of smile you share with someone you know. I greeted her by name as I reached her and she then looked at me as though I were a total stranger. She also looked rather startled. I asked after her children and husband at which point she uttered my name and then went on to explain her slightly mystifying behaviour.

You see she was thinking about her family who were visiting family & friends in the North Island (of NZ/Aotearoa, we were in the South Island at the time). When she saw me she thought I was a friend from the town where her family were visiting. Then she realised that I was not that friend but was someone she knew.

Because she was thinking of the other location she could not place who I was until I contextualised the relationship for her.

I told her about perceptual slippage and this blog - she laughed and decided that she would always call these moments perceptual slippage from now on.

nomads.hat said...

Interesting that as above, with 'just plain curious' the moment of 'slippage' can last and be as real'as any other undisturbed moment in our day - like a dream when we are paralyzed (both in and out of the dream to keep us safe from harm - so we cannot live out the dream) and from which we fight to wake. This moment is real and this moment and this moment, whether virtual or not - isn`t it?