In this guest article, Stephanie Gottlobb writes about her practice as an improvisational movement artist. I have been working with Stephanie over the last year or so, to support her project which explores embodiment in various North American biomes.
I am delighted to be able to publish this short piece (originally published on Adrian Harris's blog), because I believe Stephanie's work - and the whole enquiry into embodiment generally - is fundamentally important to the sustainability conversation. It is almost wholly omitted in the headrush of science and technology that typifies our dominant responses to sustainability issues.
Ultimately, the solution to our problems lies in two things: realising, deep in the fabric of our bodies, that we are part of nature and; our imaginations.
Thank you Stephanie for this fabulous work.
- David Key
“Is art an imposition of order on chaotic Nature or is art a matter of discovering the grain of things, of uncovering the measured chaos that structures the natural world? Observation, reflection and practice show artistic process to be the latter” – Gary Snyder
I am an improvisational movement artist.
A year ago I left the life I had been living in Toronto to follow a calling of embodying the various natural biomes of North America. I bought a truck camper and for these past 12 months I have been living and dancing in remote parts of Nature exploring movement improvisation, creative process, and somatic experiences on, and with the landscape. Each biome that I have thus far explored – deciduous forest, freshwater lake, arctic tundra, swamp and grasslands – reveals something new about somatic embodiment and artistic expression.
While in Nature I improvise with various elements of the landscape: water, color, mountains, sounds, rock, mud, grass, heat, roots, wind, empty space. It is a somatic approach to creativity and art.
A few things have emerged from these investigations:
Improvisation is a Somatic Experience
The body is a landscape and the landscape is a body.
For me, improvisation is about merging with the qualities of Nature, rather than the objects of Nature. It’s the flow, movement, density and textures that pass back and forth between us. Through improvisation I try to embody these qualities… her arcing, sparkling, darting, expansive qualities. And it goes the other way too. Sometimes I turn inwards, towards my somatic felt senses and notice how I feel in relation to the smells, the soil, the empty space. This leads to improvisational connections as well. To me, these inner felt senses and nature’s outwardly expressed qualities are the same. We are the same inside and out.
The land is an aware and active canvas on which to create movement art.
During improvisation, Nature animates. She comes to life in the creative moment. This happens when we are in relation, in a creative relationship. The creative choices we make during the improvisation feels like a co-emerging process. During these moments of creativity, the landscape seems to toss, unravel, support and express independently, like an improvisational partner. Landscape and I… always a duet, at least a duet.
Improvisation is a Process of Finding through Imagination
The process of improvisation with the landscape is more about finding aesthetic moments as opposed to creating them. These artistic moments, for me, seem hidden or veiled. It is something Nature and I find together. We uncover them. We wait for them to be revealed.
One of the most important ways these moments are revealed is through the imagination, between I and the landscape. By imagination I mean a creative consciousness that is beyond thinking, doing, using, or even being. Imagination is an innate capacity in all things to transcend and express meaning. This meaning, is more of a non-specific meaning, a meaning such as presence or sacredness, beauty or individuality.
Improvisation Reveals Place
“The only mythology that is valid today is the mythology of the planet – and we don’t have such a mythology… Myths must be kept alive. The people who can keep them alive are artists. The function of the artist is the mythologizing of the environment and the world.” - Joseph Campbell
When improvising in wildness, theses aesthetic moments can begin to have a sense of story of place. Or even myth. There is a necessity of expression emerging from place. From this particular place. The expression, to me, does not feel like an ancient indigenous myth or fairy tale. It doesn’t feel narrative. It feels new. More like a process of emerging-myths expressing themselves as movements, as images, as sounds. Between human and wildness. These aesthetic moments in improvisation do offer one way of capturing mythic moments. Human and Earth.
Improvisation and Somatic Meditations
A deepening of meditative experience, is a deepening of aesthetic experience.
The somatic meditative or mindful experiences I encounter in Nature are very important in developing, deepening, and creating nuance in how I improvise with the land. Aesthetic experiences are very much linked to a state of mind. They are an opening into the unknown. They are a layering of the senses. They bring the imagination into the reality of experience.
Some of the somatic meditative experiences encountered in Nature:
the nuance of distance between the extremes of near and far revealing itself in the open tundra
silence experienced not as the absence of sound but as a landscape of feelings
an internal experience of natural objects morphing while drifting in a canoe on the swamp
the subtle differences between ‘walking’ and ‘wandering’, between ‘here’ and ‘place’
how boredom mysteriously leads to insight and freedom
These somatic mindful experiences, to me, are an integral part of the creative process. They reveal the wildness, the vitality, and the mystery of the connection between human and landscape.