In the April 2016 performance I developed a piece about the process of how ideas manifest through visceral phenomena. The piece, called IDEA, enacts the process of listening, attuning-to, noticing, dilating, and augmenting visceral phenomena. This text reflects my own experience of creativity, as well as the artists’ descriptions of the creative process that I refer to in Chapters Four and Five. The sense of being in the dark, scratching around for ideas, needing to be silent, and receiving only snippets of things through bodily indications are constant themes in artists’ accounts of creativity. For example, Tharp (2003) argues that the ideal creative state is something that can be constructed and controlled; a process that is about actively seeking inspiration. She refers to this process as “scratching” (p. 95). Scratching is what artists do as part of the first steps of a creative act. Tharp describes these moments as looking ugly and desperate because they are random, chaotic, and feverish as the artist casts around for an idea. Her main point about scratching is that ideas are everywhere; that everything we need to create already resides in and around us and can take on many forms. Tharp discusses how ideas rarely come to the artist whole or complete and how scratching is a process of looking/listening and capturing the “morsels of inspiration” in the form of “lines, riffs, hooks, licks…molecules of movement” (p. 99).
In performance, I began this piece by literally scratching around on the wooden floor of the Oratory, “scratch, scratch, scratch all around, there’s an idea here to be found”. The sound of my nails on the floor, amplified because the lights were in blackout, became an improvised rhythmic pattern that I could experiment with and augment. As one audience member notes, “I loved the irony of scratching around on a hard block floor for an idea – you’re a true creative” (Audience Reflection, April 16, 2016). This piece enacts, through lines such as: “the quickening, the rush, the furious fumble to scribe”, the desperate, random, and feverish state that Tharp describes about the creative process. It is an enactment of the artist’s choice to listen closely to the multiple visceral phenomena that are at the artist’s disposal as a constant structural feature of lived experience. The performance text is as follows:
Performer places blindfold over eyes. Sequence is performed as a duet with another performer
who lights this vignette with hand held lights.
Scratch, scratch, scratch all around
There’s an idea here to be found
The quickening, the rush,
The furious fumble to scribe.
To ingest, to divest its cajoling.
Flash of light
Rushes out to edges of flesh
Morsels given, startle and surprise
In fevered state ignite and politicise
Come hither idea
Don’t wither away
Get over here!
Fragile fragments lurk within fascia of feet,
Alliterative allusions jibber-jabber in joints,
Riffs and rhythms, in resounding semibreves,
Appear like shadows that disappear in the dark.
Idea, buried deep
Between the crevices of breasts,
You taste of sorrow and care not for the morrow
Your shape and form in a tender moment will be born.
Shh Shh Shhh
Lured to the threshold of sleep
Be silent, not a peep
Idea is here.
Idea, Idea won’t you stay?
Idea, Idea, come let’s play
In my experience, much of the creative process is literally in the dark. It is often not clear what is actually coming forth until the work is fully realised. Creative practice feels risky and requires a deep trust in the process. To help enact this experience, I decided to blindfold myself, literally work in the dark. The blindfold referenced the Möbius loop in design, and I endowed it with a certain reverence toward the end of the piece as I began to recognise ‘idea’ as an honoured guest; “be silent, not a peep, Idea is here”. The size of the blindfold was also manageable; I held it in the palm of my hand. As one audience member noted, the Möbius loop “by the end, has transformed to the manageable, pocket sized version” (Audience reflection, 16 April, 2016).
The blackout during this vignette quite literally enacted the idea of being in the dark. The lighting designer/performer Suze Smith, entered the space and we improvised in the dark. I was blindfolded; she had a torch. Removing the sight sense by being blindfolded was an attempt to actively awaken the other senses. I listened to where I could hear Suze move in the space and responded accordingly. Suze held the torch to my body and improvised with my movements using the torch to highlight sections of my body. I could feel the heat of the torch upon my skin and sense its light through the blindfold. At one point the heat of the light on my lips encouraged me to respond and enunciate with more precision. One audience member said, “the torch on your mouth reminded me of Beckett’s “Not I”. But it is I/you! that you are creating in this particular way” (Audience reflection, 16 April, 2016).
Moving Image 12: Performance Vignette – IDEA
The performance of this vignette (Moving Image 12) enacts the process of consciously attuning-to visceral phenomena in a multi-sensory way. It attempts to reveal through an enacted process how ideas form through visceral phenomena such as sounds, movements, gestures, phrases, words, rhythmic patterns, and musical riffs that happen when a creative process is underway. These bodily indications or corporeal snippets of information are part of the constant structure of lived experience that I call wild life. Attuning-to visceral phenomena and bringing them to more conscious awareness for creative purposes is a dynamic and consciously activated process that feels different to ordinary ways of accessing experience.
For me, these bodily indications start as small sensations such as a hum or a twitch in the toe. I might then imagine the depth of the earth beneath the feet or the vast sky above the head, sound into specific body parts to gain a thicker sense of organs, bones, skin, and muscles. I might then allow improvised vocal sounds to emerge and develop through humming, gibberish, and rhyming nonsense phrases. This awakens the hearing sense, which I might then actively engage by imagining the ear canal opening up beyond its physical boundaries into an elephant ear-like structure to expanded hearing capacity. I might then direct attention to the nostrils, noticing the breath, and consciously opening up the nasal cavity to enliven the sense of smell. Allowing visceral phenomena to grow and develop in this way without imposing an end point, or planning the next step can lead to surprising, strange and inventive creative outputs.
When immersed in these experiences lived experience feels more substantiated. I have a thicker connection to bodily sensation, a more heighted awareness of the physical conditions that present themselves, and a deeper awareness of and connection to other entities and things within the environment. It is an act of imagination to focus attention on visceral phenomena and then expand that experience so that phenomena are heightened, dilated and brought more vividly into conscious awareness. Whether or not anything is changing from a physiological sense I cannot say, but the lived experience is viscerally affective.
My research comes alive in these moments because the process is performative and I have dropped-in to a deeply enlivened state. I claim that these corporeal practices utilise fundamental structures of life in service of artistic creativity and highlight a corporeal intelligence that is ontologically primal. In my experience, activating this process creates the conditions that allow wild life to capitalise on its material conditions for artistic purposes. In the following section I describe how I applied a sensory metaphor to experientially discover ways to define the wild life dynamic.