WT at ASA 2016

WT went to the ASA conference on July 4-7 with a lab titled Corresponding with threads: an exploration in movement, performance, materials, and anthropology. This lab was different from previous WT events in that it was partly structured as a participatory ritual performance and a workshop.

We thought of using a mixed format to help participants to attune to the experience of walking with the golden thread which, by its very nature, is unstructured. I felt that combining structure and flow made the lab more accessible, though there is always room for fine-tuning.

Following the walk, we gave participants some time to respond to the walk through engagement with materials that we had brought along. More details as well as some pictures will be soon available on the WT blog.

Here is one of my responses, I drew the day after the lab:

Paola WT_response_1

Towards an Anthropology Otherwise

From the 5th to the 8th of May I was in Aberdeen, participating in a Sourcing Within worksession (May 5-8) conducted by theatre-maker and performer Gey Pin Ang. The worksession is integral to anthropologist Caroline Gatt’s collaborative research with Gey Pin, investigating possibilities for an anthropology with performance. Caroline’s research is titled Crafting Anthropology Otherwise and it is part of a broader project called Knowing from the Inside (KFI).

The first time I had taken part in a Sourcing Within worksession was in 2014. That experience had opened paths of inquiry which continue for me to this day. This latest session did not disappoint. The main part of the worksession focused on voice and movement training, as grounded in Gey Pin’s theatrical expertise and longstanding engagement with Tai-Qi Quan. Gey Pin’s work as a teacher and performer is top-class, imbued with both depth and immediacy.

On Saturday Paolo Maccagno and I contributed with two sessions in our respective disciplines, Feldenkrais and butoh. I was looking forward to trying Feldenkrais technique with a certified practitioner. I could not have asked for a better introduction. Paolo guided us into the logic of Feldenkrais exercises gradually and thoughtfully, each word of instruction an element in an unfolding mosaic of corporeal understanding.

It was the first time that I taught butoh to professional performers and to anthropologists who also practice performance. Thus, my teaching was also a very valuable learning experience, a unique opportunity for me to reflect on the potentialities of butoh-with-anthropology, or anthropology-with-butoh.

In this respect, Caroline’s session, Crafting Anthropology Otherwise, which took place on the Sunday, was especially inspiring. As hers is research-in-progress, I will only say that the session involved thinking-by-doing; more specifically, relating to anthropological content through the participants’ varied performative strategies and languages.

Below is a picture taken at the end of the session, during a very fruitful discussion.


Walking Threads/The Unfamiliar

Walking Threads (WT) is a project in which I have been involved since 2014. In its most basic form, it involves people moving with threads in the open. This, however, does not exhaust what WT is or can be.

To me, WT is an opportunity to engage in a framework for action that is open-ended, and to witness what emerges from that engagement, in the moment or across time. Participants can decide for themselves what to make of it; also, whether to use it or to dismiss it.

You can find more information about WT here. And, if you are curious about creative and theoretical outputs of this project, have a look at the special issue of The Unfamiliar on ‘Human and Environment/Walking Threads’, with contributions from the WT team and collaborators.

WT Logo
WT Logo. CC Paola Esposito

Crow’s Playmates

Dance company When My Grandfather Was a Fish and filmmaker Dariusz Dziala got together to shoot a video of the piece ‘Crow’s Playmates’. As we walked to the location we sensed a storm approaching so we did everything a bit in a rush (and with no warm up…). This video was intended as a present to our dear friend Flavia who is moving back to Brazil, leaving us very sad indeed.


Dance and Music: When My Grandfather Was a Fish
(Paola Esposito, Flavia Coube, Ana Barbour, Malcolm Atkins)
Film-making: Dariusz Dziala
Masks: Paola Esposito
Inspired by the poem ‘Crow’s Playmates’ by Ted Hughes

Cat on the window sill

cat window sill

The curtain had been taken down altogether and dust particles were flying around.
Due to the change of circumstances, the cat had been temporarily moved from its place on the window sill.
Upon its return, nothing seemed to have changed.
Until, as I glanced at the vacant corner where once the curtain precipitated like a waterfall, my eyes laid on a vagrant coal black piece of familiar substance.
A cu apparteni? (To whom do you belong?)
Turning back at the cat I realised it was its back paw.
Had it fallen off on its own, shot off like a satellite, in free fall like a dust particle?

I may never know, though the truth is staring at me.

Imagining interrelation: an image-based reflection on walking threads


(You can find an expanded and improved version of this post here).

After the ‘walk with the tread’ in Seaton Park, Aberdeen, last March, Peter, Ragnhild, Valeria, Brian and I kept in touch to share pictures and videos of the walk. Valeria and Peter later proposed we also gather our thoughts and reflections on that experience. Mine came about one sleepless night, in the form of an image. It all began as I had been pondering over Bruce Baird’s review of Japanese butoh dancer and writer Hijikata Tatsumi’s text Ailing Terpsichore (Baird 2012: 194-196). As I was reading the few pages that Baird devotes to Hijikata’s work, I had the uncanny feeling of something seeping in me and, in an impulse that I can only describe as terror, I left the pages, promising myself I would go back to them later. As it turned out, Baird’s words had worked their way into my unconscious, and now, scattered like fragments of glass they strived to re-condense, causing disturbed sleep and sudden waking up in the dead of the night. At which point I had no choice but to pay attention, and so words were drawn out by waves of thought in the form of an image. In this short essay, I summon up those words, and the thoughts that followed them, to engender my reading or, better still, my imagining, of the Walking Threads as a ‘model for mind.’

In his reviewing of passages of Ailing Terspsichore, Baird highlights the reoccurring of the Japanese word sei. He explains how, depending on context, such word can be translated as variously as ‘on account of what’, ‘outcome,’ ‘consequence,’ ‘result,’ ‘guilt,’ ‘fault,’ and ‘blame’ (ibidem:194). That is, contextual nuances aside, an idea of causality is constant in sei. Its appearing over and over in Hijikata’s text is thus, for Baird, symptomatic of the narrator’s ‘obsession with action and entities that affect things’ (196). In investigating the causes for a particular condition or event, Hijikata follows different imaginary leads, hunting ‘for hundreds and hundreds of seis but with little surety as to whether the right one has been identified’ (195). This leads to a proliferation of seis in his reflection and, for the reader, a sense of immersion in a dense field of ‘cause and effect,’ with actions and entities that affect each other even when well removed from each other spatially or temporally.

The ubiquity of causal links or relations, and the disregard of spatial and temporal distance between ‘cause’ and ‘effect,’ comes to correspond to ‘all the choices, thought patterns, and societal structures that constitute the life-forming and identity-forming space surrounding [Hijikata]’ (196). As Baird put it, ‘[t]he concern with sei … when multiplied over and over is the same as the concern with the socialization of the body and mind by customs, concepts, and purposiveness’ (ibidem). Finally, Baird notes that attention to how things are wrapped in, entwined with or involved with another thing constitutes another aspect of Hijikata’s concern with causality and interrelation: ‘Hijikata’s physical preoccupation with things that envelop, such as mist, haze, gossamers, odors, and clothes, and the way that they wrap, cloak, and involve other things, is a counterpart to his metaphysical (but in fact equally physical) preoccupation with how things are connected to and related to other things’ (196).

Caught up in Baird/Hijikata’s vision of causality and interrelation, I must have transposed it onto my experience of the Walking Threads, which also lingered in my mind at that point in time. In looking at the image a posteriori, in fact, I recognise the thread as a manifestation of sei – to which I referred simply as ‘causal relation.’ When drawing, I recall being concerned not so much with effects, events, or results, as with the very intertwining and sorting of seis in a sentient web of reflective experience. In drawing silhouettes to correspond to each one of us participants, the characterisation of individual bodies as self-contained ‘entities’ was not as significant as their being in relation to all others: in movement, we affected and were affected by one another. In the case individual bodies, that is, ‘containment is not equivalent to enclosure, confinement, or immobilisation. Rather, the body as container is conceived as a kind of vehicle that serves to extend the spatiotemporal range of a person’s movement, influence and experience’ (Ingold 2000: 100).

And so silhouettes turned into ‘nodes’ in a system of circuital looping. They became dimensions, or ‘facets’ of an ‘aggregate,’ what Bateson would have call a mind (Bateson 1979: 92). ‘[M]ental function is immanent in the interaction of differentiated “parts.” “Wholes” are constituted by such combined interaction’ (ibidem: 93). By way of their positional and perceptual reconfiguring, silhouettes interfaced transient geometries of immanence, the thread carving those very geometries out of the densities of air, daylight and land. Silhouettes were also bodies-without-organs (Deleuze and Guattari 1988), pure bodies constituted only by what passes through them (Hornblow 2006: 31-32), passages of ‘intensities’ and compressed spatiality, caught up in transverse relations with other aspects of the environment – trees, grass, wind, sunshine, passers-by – regardless of physical distance from them.

It is a question of making a body without organs upon which intensities pass, self and other – …. The field of immanence is not internal to the self, but neither does it come from an external self or a nonself. Rather, it is like the absolute Outside that knows no Selves because interior and exterior are equally a part of the immanence in which they have fused (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 156).

It is in this very field of shifting immanence that a twig ‘decides’ to get entangled, precipitating another nodal convergence, or passage for intensities, another body-without-organs. I say ‘decides’ to get entangled because, in joining in the dance of seis, it is as though the twig becomes one of us. Its characterisation as an ‘object of perceptual attention’ is a condition for this. That is, the twig is not ‘one of us’ in absolute terms, but only by virtue of its enmeshing in the sei-net, its co-option in the animated fabric of our treading. Animacy is, by virtue of mimetic empathy (Willerslev 2007: 104-106), the basis for the twig’s new, temporary identity, which mirrors our own (ibidem: 99-100). In this respect, the twig is not so much one of us as a projection of us, as elements of an open-ended whole.

For Hallowell, ‘[a]ny inner-outer dichotomy, with the human skin as a boundary, is psychologically irrelevant’ (Hallowell 1955: 88). The self’s behavioural environment can include not only the animate but also the inanimate, the human and the non-human. ‘The formation of the self is, at one and the same time, the formation of an environment for that self, and both emerge out of a common process of maturation and personal experience’ (Ingold 2000: 99-100). Thus, the Walking Threads walk allows us ‘to dissolve’ – albeit for a moment – ‘the very boundary that separates mind from the world, and ultimately to reach a level where they are one and the same’ (Ingold 2000: 100). While empathy is the basis for metamorphosis (Ingold 2000: 106), the transformation of the twig into one of us is by no way complete, the twig retaining its twig-form, its ‘coming to life’ being contingent to the make-believe we are engaging in – a bracketed occurrence in the spatiotemporal flow.

Finally, Bateson understood mind as a self-monitoring (and self-corrective) system of multiple parts, at least until death occurred which dissembled and randomized the multiple parts of the system: ‘Death is the breaking up of the circuits and, with that, the destruction of autonomy’ (Bateson 1979: 127). By a movement of self-dissolution (death instinct?), or rather of moult, we entangle the threads to a post, and the twig with them, as vestiges of our passage. The post thus stands as the conclusion of our walk, and as the death – and reconfiguring? – of the mind we were.


Baird, Bruce (2012). Hijikata Tatsumi and Butoh: dancing in a pool of gray grits. Palgrave Mcmillan: New York.
Bateson, Gregory (1979). Mind and nature: a necessary unity. E.P. Dutton: New York.
Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari (1988). A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia. London: Athlone.
Hallowell, Alfred Irving (1955). Culture and experience. University of Pennsylvania Press: Oxford, London, Bombay and Karachi.
Hornblow, Michael (2006). ‘Bursting bodies of thought: Artaud and Hijikata’, in Performance Paradigm 2 (March), pp. 26-44.
Ingold, Tim (2000). The perception of the environment: essays on livelihood, dwelling, and skill. London: Routledge.

Sourcing Within in Aberdeen

From the 16th till the 21st of March I was in Aberdeen, taking part in a performance and anthropology event entitled Performance reflexivity, intentionality, and collaboration: a Sourcing Within worksession, convened by anthropologist and performer Caroline Gatt with theatre artist Gey Pin Ang.  The worksession was a great opportunity for me to learn about Gatt’s collaborative research with Ang, and to meet other researchers who use performance in their research and work, including Valeria Lembo (University of Venice), Brian Schultis (University of Kent) — both of whom presented their work on the second day of the workession — and Gatt’s colleagues from the Knowing from the Inside project.

The University of Aberdeen

I contributed to the worksession by delivering a workshop-talk entitled The body as a dewdrop: metaphor, mimesis and self in butoh dance on the third day.  In the first part, I introduced participants to some notions and techniques in butoh.  I argued for the relevance of those notions and techniques in cultivating an anthropological attitude, especially in relation to the idea of ‘listening’, which informed the three-day worksession.  In the second part, I invited participants to corporeally and imaginatively engage with those notions and techniques.  In the third part, I outlined some anthropological theories that inform and guide my butoh practice.

Lunch break with some of the participants in the worksession

I am happy of having taken part in this event.  Beside meeting many interesting people and having stimulating discussions and exchanges, I received positive feedback on my work, which encourages me to continue pursuing my interest in anthropology with butoh.  In visiting the anthropology department at Aberdeen University, I was impressed with the sense of community of the research environment there.

‘Taking a thread for a walk’

On the last day I was in Aberdeen, after the worksession and a few hours before Gei Pin’s final performance, some of us decided to take advantage of the sunny day to go for a walk. On our way to the sea, Valeria took a ball of thread out of her bag, that she had used in one of the worksession exercises. Without uttering a word, we started playing between us with tangling and untangling the thread, whose golden colour glittered in the sun. We continued walking while getting ourselves, plants and things in the landscape temporarily entangled, and so allowing ever-new shapes to emerge. I felt this was a very appropriate way of bringing to a close a week of encountering, exchanging, doing and undoing and, of course, listening.