Saturday, 27 June 2009

PSI#15 Zagreb 24-28 June 2009

This is a post of my paper presentation to the audiences in Zagreb at this year`s - the 15th Performance Studies International conference in Zagreb, Croatia. Once again, this was carried out in my SL station so I made a dual presentation to two audiences in both locations. I had 15 mins to present my paper with question time following some 45 mins later, after the last presentation had been made. During the interim, I had another question time from the Second Life audience in the station.

PSI#15 Zagreb, Croatia
Misperformance: Misfiring, Misfitting, Misreading

Abstract Title:
In the Company of Strangers - Negotiating the parameters of Departure in Urban Spaces; a study of Indeterminacy and the Roaming Body

This paper scrutinizes Indeterminacy as a mediating force impinging upon our behaviour and its subsequent impact on the nature and constituency of engagements and dialogue between people in urban spaces. Concepts centering on the dynamics of departure are being investigated through my research-practice, which posits the formation of a new Urban Myth: Experienced through the vehicle of the Roaming Body, our meetings and encounters with people frequently manifest as truncated or disjunct, mis-communiqués and dis-engagements. I am asserting that this is due to the inevitability in our existence of indeterminacy acting as a significant
governing factor in the articulation of our relations with others and that this is evidenced in us through the occurrence of a continual, pre-emptive state of departure. Indeterminacy implies motion and emerges, as Massumi so ably asserts, through ‘… an unfolding relation to its own nonpresent potential to vary …’. We, as humans, are constantly being drawn away – always either approaching or embracing involuntarily, a state of ‘Leaving’ which co-mingles with and unerringly erodes our efforts to engage with another in the here and now.

In my dance and video practice, which underpins the concepts in this paper, interventionist dance strategies are being used to prompt and interrogate the constituents of encounters and departures in designated public places.

Massumi, B. (2002). Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation Duke University Press, Durham & London, (p.5). Def: 'The Roaming Body' - the body as entity which can never be fully committed to a set position or location in space and time (Mike Baker Feb 09)

This paper examines and seeks to link two principal issues: Indeterminacy and Mis-engagements. My first task is to illuminate certain forces which give rise to the concept of the human body witnessed in the context of contemporary, urban environments, as a roaming entity. This particular description of the body which I would like to present defines as a reality for us as humans, an involuntary movement away from people and places with which we come into contact. We are always partially missing from 'this' moment in the everyday. Our Roaming/leaving body I maintain, is responsible for the existence of the second issue: Our predilection as humans for obfuscation, tangential connections and the involuntary pursuit of the next moment; mis-communication, mis-engagements, missing in short, from 'now' which in turn, makes our shared communications at best, problematic. Our roaming/leaving body initiates pre-emptive departure - an inexorable, unfolding momentum into the omnipresent future, now past.

Both, past and present descriptions of the body`s temporal identity have inevitably been swept by that uneasy beat of dark wings; I am suggesting that a climate of indeterminacy has always existed in the terrain which we, as humans have had to negotiate, evident in the ways in which our choices are made, in our actions which appear to prevail, in our relations with others, in the spaces we displace and in the times which we traverse. Through indeterminacy, despite possible desires to stay put, in life, the notion of our leaving is central to our existence.

Henri Bergson is perhaps most widely known for his treatises on the concepts of time and becoming. A process philosopher, he pursued the often intangible qualities binding content, concentrating on the unfolding process of the event itself. Significantly, for this paper, the state of ‘Becoming’, describes movement - an action rather than a static state. Bergson asserts that,‘ … the qualities of matter are so many stable views that we take of its instability’. He puts this very succinctly another way: '… rather than there being things which change', more accurately speaking, there is, '…change provisionally grasped as a thing'.

This realignment of perspective may allow us to witness indeterminacy in-the-making, made visible in mis-matched meetings between people on the street, governed in their actions by the phenomenon of leaving. Indeterminacy occurring through premature departure ensures that we are often led away by our Roaming/Becoming body before all of our attention is ready to leave ...

A definition of the term, 'Indeterminacy':
The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle which is founded in quantum mechanics, asserts that both the position and momentum of a given particle cannot be determined simultaneously.'The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant and vice versa'. (Heisenberg,1927)

Video 1 - the Roaming Body - ICS

In other words it could be said that one is unable to record scientifically, evidence of a given body that is both static and moving at the same time. If one cannot measure something, does this make the non-finding absolute? Given that we register the activity, is it possible perhaps to measure empirically, through the senses, this activity in one body taking place in two situations at once? Despite the scientific, physical non-finding, does this mean that one`s 'attention' cannot be in two places at once? Or one`s desires, intent, perception? I suspect that this is not the case. I am suggesting that through acknowledging and assuming in ourselves a state of 'the being-in-change' or our Roaming Body, it is possible to transfer ones presence in the form of intent, from 'here' to 'there' simultaneously and that there is physical, visible evidence for this in scenarios involving mis-engagements between people on the street.

To illustrate dual presence, mis-engagement and pre-emptive departure through an indeterminate intent; in the first video clip shown here, the couple in the spotlight conduct an animated conversation in the street. In the last minute prior to their separating, although the woman eventually says goodbye, physically walks away and leaves the engagement, the man appears to have already departed from the conversation. He shuffles, he checks his cell phone, he hides behind his hands, he waves his arms uncertainly and looks around. He checks his watch. Eye contact decreases. No longer is he fully present. When she does finally leave, his reaction is marginally interested – because his roaming self has already left. His ‘Leaving’ has crept into and hijacked the meeting, while ostensibly, they were still engaged. Indeterminacy and resulting slippage is embedded here. Can this constitute evidence of a simultaneity of presence? Here, yet not here? Both people left. Movement away occurred in both parties, even though ironically, the person who left first, stayed behind. Is this occurrence actual or merely a point of perception? (Is a point of perception no less actual?)

Let us examine human communication as an adhesive which only partially binds us to the moment in this continuity of change. Not only does speech aid our functioning in social situations and locates us in time and given space, but more candidly, the ability to converse and to be heard ignites, expands and affirms the map of the human heart, consolidating engagement.

‘Rudimentary engagements, communication at its most basic, the prototype of all human interaction …’ such are the descriptors for the term, ‘Protoconversation’ in Daniel Goleman`s, Social Intelligence, The New Science of Human Relationships. Protoconversations have a certain elasticity in meaning and application. Not only does it refer to the very earliest development of our powers of communication as infants (mostly non-verbal), but in adulthood, protoconversations remain as our most fundamental template for mapping, matching or missing in meetings with others.

The template is tacit, a subtle awareness through feeling and the senses which allows us when we meet to quietly proceed, in step, with a stranger or acquaintance, friend or family member. Protoconversation is a silent dialogue – Goleman uses the term, ‘substrate’ upon which all encounters or engagements are built. Goleman assures us that it is, ‘… the hidden agenda in every interaction’. A silent go-between if you will, which underpins and as a mode of communicating, often outlasts the manifestation of speech. One could extend this to say that protoconversation is a silent, neurokinetic conversation supported by mutual empathy - assisting a curiosity about the path ahead. Theoretically, this is a human given - a strategic baseline which ensures that once we do engage with another, we can communicate.

In Tricks of the Mind, Derren Brown writes, ‘ Most people when they are getting on well, will be in a state of unconscious ‘rapport’. They will tend to mirror each other`s body language and so on without realizing it …’ At the same time, ‘… there is the odd sensation we have all experienced (though we never think to mention it) of knowing when the other person is about to get up and leave. Suddenly there is something in the air, a moment or a shift and then you know the other person is about to say they should ‘make a move’. And if they don`t you have that feeling that they are outstaying their welcome’. Brown maintains that studies carried out on rapport have shown an array of mirrored behaviours where conversants tend to breathe at the same rate, adopt similar facial expressions, blink at the same rate and use one another`s language. I would describe these responses as somatically based. A hidden dialogue beneath speech and vision through which we are more overtly governed. The hidden message which is about when and how to leave an engagement is articulated through speech-prompts but also through body language, an underlying empathetic cue to move on and here is the rub - with this decision coming from a place ‘of ‘ and in the body – a place though, from which in a manner of speaking, we have already departed. Indeterminacy surfacing through departure and perceived through the lens of our Roaming body, ensures that the sophistication of these systemic communication modes ultimately achieves only temporary purchase in the moment. But there are reasons to be hopeful I hear you say?

Here we have at our fingertips, so to speak, a very specific skillset which is available to us on a subliminal level during our interaction with another; a transponder of sorts, fashioned to assist us in the process of counteracting our tendency toward our disfunctional, mis-matched connections, lost-in-translation through our predisposition for departure. Yet it seems that we cannot control this movement away. Brian Massumi states that a body in motion is held within an ever-changing process of movement relative to its own already non-static position in space. Massumi, (in a vein which is similar to Bergson`s sense of 'becoming') maintains that the only 'real' relation is that of a body to its own indeterminacy, (... its openness to an elsewhere and otherwise that it is, in any here and now.') Somehow, either sooner or later, (or, in the light of what we have just seen - sooner and later), without always recognizing it our Roaming body ensures that we are always leaving. Allowing for the variables within which we carry out our departure, the only non-variable is that we will actually depart.

Video 2 - Departed - Movement 1 - ICS

The video playing here is an expression of both matching and missing - an intimate, small-conversation between dancers who, as cinematic simulacra dislocated from their original performing context/moment, possess avatar properties. I wanted to introduce a sense of small but strong drama - a tableau of clenched feeling which we can easily recognise and sometimes witness in public places; a sense of passion, of despair, of pathos at our fate which is to be swept up in this constant movement away from those places and people which sustain our sense of belonging. Our conversation through movement is compressed by time - impending departure often narrows our sensibilities and where we had hours to talk, to smile, to share empathy, thoughts, hopes and aspirations, suddenly there is no time and our dialogue becomes erratic, our thoughts unspoken, the spoken word itself, stymied. Is this why touch is so eloquent in moments of parting when no words can be found? Private, personal dialogue which largely remains invisible in public spaces becomes larger than life for us - illuminated with undisguised feeling. A tableau between two people made public, a virtual, half-witnessed-half-remembered-later moment, representative of the myriad of disjunct dialogues and discreet micro-dramas within scenes of departure which may occur in these kinds of public spaces.

In this Urban Myth I am creating, the interconnections which exist between indeterminacy manifesting through lived departures, ensures that there is no surcease for the Roaming body in this obdurate, dislocated continuity of the Real we call life. The Roaming body ensures that no secure position may be attained and held indefinitely. In this context we may find that we are interconnected through our mutual estrangements and that our engagements, conversations and connections will always be at hazard.

I suspect from my observations that ultimately, as indeterminants, we are always ‘Leaving’ and that this is a true descriptor of our condition in that business of being a becoming human. There is real pathos to be found in a lifetime of leaving engagements and this state will keep us forever defined as being incommunicado because we have already left, missing from our own present tense in the everyday.


Allen, J. (2000). Negotiating difference or being with strangers. Thinking Space Crang and Thrift (eds). Routledge, Taylor and Francics Group, New York, (p:57)

Bergson, H. (2005). Visualizing Experience. Henri Bergson on memory in Middleton, D and Brown, S. D. 2005, (p. 61)
Brown, D. (2007). Tricks of the Mind. Channel 4 Books, (p.186).

Goleman, D. (2007) Social Intelligence, Recipe for Rapport, Bantam Dell, (p.30)

Massumi, B. (2002). Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation Duke University Press, Durham & London, (p.5).

Middleton D and Brown S. (2005) (The Social Psychology of Experience: Studies in Remembering and Forgetting, (p.62).

Retrieved from: Quantum Mechanics 1925-1927 THE UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLE

Mike Baker Nelson, NZ Aotearoa 26.6.09


This conference was the first that I applied for last year, so I had, theoretically, a surfeit of time to prepare. This did not quite eventuate due to the other conferences that I needed to prepare for which preceded this one, but I was still able to prepare in good time. I had a number of meetings with my technician in Zagreb, who like Emily at Stanford, came in to the SL station so that we could discuss issues and develop strategies for the presentation. This all went well until the last week, when I could not get in touch with Lovro at all - until 20 mins before my presentation was due to begin. So a list of points that I had emailed to him did not get resolved, eg: confirming his camera angles for the Zagreb audience, organizing a camera to record my presentation in the space there, last minute communication aspects ... when we did meet, he informed me that his headset had broken so he could hear me but I could not hear him. So he typed his replies back to me and we ran the presentation like that. This was acceptable, but slow and some things were missed. So this phase of this conference for me was very stressful and unhelpful.

The conference format had organized that question times only occurred after all the presentations (4) had been made, which I found very unsatisfactory. It meant that this time was not sufficiently focussed upon one presentation at a time, so the feedback quality was questionable. One plus to this format was that I had questions from the Second Life audience while we were waiting and this was very constructive. It also meant that I could show 7 of my videos to the waiting crowd, although unfortunately, the Zagreb audience did not see these.

The questions from the SL audience dealt with death, leaving, dual presence, the autobiographical nature of my project, arrival v departure.

My presentation was delivered without any problems and I finished inside 14 mins, while changing the videos playing. When it came time for questions from the Zagreb audience apart from queries about the nature of leaving there were not others and I was asked to continue with my concepts, so I read one of my coverages of protoconversation/mis-engagement as applied to Contact Improvisation Dance practice - the experience of dueting and this was well accepted.

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