Playfulness

Reflections on play

These days of busy holiday businesses, long to-do lists, cold mornings and bodies in thick black winter coats rushing up and down the streets in relentless search for perfect objects to buy and consume, a word keeps rumbling in my mind:

Leg [ˈlɑjˀ]

In Danish, this does not refer to one of the two body parts that connect your feet and your torso. It means play, or game.

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Leg. Lege. Legende. Legesyg. Legeplads. Legekammerat. Legebetingelser. 
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Play. Plays. Playing. Playful. Playground. Playmate. Play conditions.  

The playful body

When was the last time you shared a playful moment with someone?

A couple of weeks ago I was in a four day workshop with two lovely teachers from Teatro de los Sentidos – an internationally acclaimed theater company, who for decades has been making immersive, sensorial theater plays with an actively involved audience.

Theatre play. The connection between play and performance is obvious here. In Danish, not the word play, but the word “stykke” (piece), is traditionally used about a piece of drama. However, the Danish word “forestilling” (imagination) can as well be used as a synonym for the theatrical performance.

So, we can say: “I saw the imagination (at this or that theater), and really liked it”

Imagination. Play.

In the workshop, Theatro de los Sentidos kept circling around the intention of creating an imaginary. How spaces can be transformed into imaginaries. How rooms, houses, nests, and other built spaces can encapsulate and evoke dreams.  How this is crucial for their method of creating sensorial journeys where the audience is the protagonist.

The workshop became such an imaginary in itself. For four days, we played countless games. Mostly they were plain, simple children’s games, but they made us laugh, sweat, loosen up and become better listeners. (When was the last time you played hide and seek with someone at your own age? Try it!). We immersed in countless blindfolding practices. And we explored countless rooms in the old, historical buildings of the workshop venue, and made short experiences for each other. Most of the time we worked inside, then at last going out for a while on the last morning. For me, the closed non-space of the theater black box was beautifully contrasted by a stunning winter landscape outside. There is magic in this dark, slow time of the year.

Thank you, Teatro de los Sentidos and Den Danske Scenekunstskoles Efter- og Videreuddannelse, for the (re)treat.

 

The playful city

In the unfolding of Sensescapes, my interest is mainly in how to implement methods from artistic fields of sensorial performance and body work in the everyday lives of everyday people, who work, move and live in everyday surroundings.

In other words: If embodied, sense-based knowledge is as equally important as rational, scientifically based knowledge, how can sensation, sensitivity and sensuousness become more present in our private lives, our homes, work places and  – not the least – in the public space, that we share?

In November, a shared sensescape was created in public, as a Sensescapes workshop was held at the water front of Aarhus, in and around the temporary urban space Dome of Visions. It was part of a three-day urban laboratory program, centered in the fundamental question: How do we create a livable city? (See the whole program here)

Familiar and unfamiliar participants came to explore the space and transform the area through sensorial intervention. The frame of the sensorial workshop was simple as always: After a brief introduction, the participants paired up and tuned into each other’s presence for a moment. Then they set off to investigate impulsively together, hand in hand, without words. One was blindfolded, the other not.

This time, a special emphasis was put on the equality of participation. In any game, so much power lays in the few sentences of instruction! In the intro, I therefore asked the participants to act on their impulses, no matter if their were blindfolded or not. The intention was to create a clear frame for potential curiosity and action to grow. Instead of a blind citizen, waiting for a seeing guide to lead them somewhere, the couples were encouraged to become one joined, impulsive, investigative, playful body.

The game began. Within minutes, individual and shared sensescapes arose.

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Sound play. Photo: Thea Green

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Role play. Photo: Thea Green

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Jump. Photo by Helle Arensbak, Dome of Visions. Take a look at Dome of Visions’ article about the laboratory, for more of her beautiful photos from the workshop.

Later the same day, a few of us blindfolded ourselves and curiously engaged the inside of the dome for a while.

Slowly. In silence. Alone.

 

In a debate on the last day of the laboratory, we re-posted the question: What is a liveable city?

Engaged debate participants suggested various answers to the question. A liveable city is a co-shapable city, a place with diversity, with green areas, with spots to breathe, with respectful meetings, a place where individuals have a sense of belonging.

And so on.

What would you answer?

What is a city worth living in, for you?

Homo Ludens

In 1938 the Dutch cultural theorist Johan Huizinga published Homo Ludens. A study of the play element in culture.  In the book he argues that play is not only a fundamental phenomenon in human culture and society, in fact, “culture itself bears the character of play” (from foreword in J. Huizinga, 1949: Homo Ludens, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd). I have still to read the whole book, but as with many great theoretical books, reading the first couple of pages already brings plenty of food for thought:

[…]even in its simplest forms on the animal level, play is more than a mere physiological phenomenon or a psychological reflex. It goes beyond the confines of purely physical or purely biological activity. It is a significant function-that is to say, there is some sense to it. In play there is something “at play” which transcends the immediate needs of life and imparts meaning to the action. All play means something. If we call the active principle that makes up the essence of play, “instinct”, we explain nothing; if we call it “mind” or “will” we say too much. However we may regard it, the very fact that play has a meaning implies a nonmaterialistic quality in the nature of the thing itself.

(Chapter 1, page 1)

… a nonmaterialistic quality in the nature of the thing itself! This corresponds wonderfully with the theoretical background of Sensescapes, where the aesthetic is regarded as an intentional search for impulsive perception with no other aim or agenda than the aesthetic experience itself. Thus, throughout the last months, is has become clear to me that the essence of Sensescapes is play. To playfully explore a relational world that is present in this moment, with and through the body, with and because of each other.

But what can you use it for?  Nothing! Sensescapes is useless! It wants to be useless! It intends nothing else than – borrowing Huizinga’s words – transcending the immediate needs of life in the here and now. No hidden evaluation forms. No efficacy measurement. No promise of life changing fitness results, and obviously no materialistic gains. Sensescapes intend to facilitate playful relations between bodies and their surroundings with no other aim than the powerful force of play in itself.

These are the good news.

The bad news is that this work-and-life philosophy is having a seriously hard time in real, actual, globalized life.

As I write these words, news are constantly throwing bombs of depressing information from all over the world. Horrified, dust-covered children from Aleppo. A truck driver killing randomly at a Christmas market in Berlin. Wars, refugees, climate crisis, natural catastrophes, terror, political madness, suspicion, inequality, trauma.

Have our world lost its playfulness?

Let’s hope not. Recently I met a great guy who is founder of the locally based Counterplay Festival. We chatted about play, and he said, almost in a side comment, that playing is highly political.

Of course it is. Perhaps more than ever.

In a time of too much hopelessness, despair and desperation, let us be deadly serious in bringing back playfulness to society. If playing together is transcending the immediate needs of life, play is not only for kids. It is for everyone. I dare even say, it is a human right to play.

With wishes of a seriously playful midwinter season,
and a New Year of hopeful togetherness,
Lotus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: aesthetics, Blindfolding, Cityscape, Playfulness, Workshop | 1 Comment

Forest encounters with little people

Greetings from the late summer forest Risskov, where the performance figure Flora is wandering this month.

Flora is a curious and playful nature explorer, who loves to go for a walk and see what happens. She likes her own company as well as being with other childlike souls.

This time, she has invited groups of 4-5 year-olds and their pedagogues to investigate the forest with her. She has brought her backpack, a blanket and a basket, and she has brought her most important tool:

All the senses.

Come along and get to know what experiences the forest will provide today!

Read more (in Danish:) here

Photos: Marianne Duus, Børnekulissen, Aarhus Kommune

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Categories: aesthetics, kids, Landscape Dialogues, perception, Playfulness, Sight, Touch | 1 Comment

Without seeing you can be transported everywhere

Memories from a workshop session in Barcelona

About a year ago, a Sensescapes workshop was facilitated in Barcelona, in Parc de La Ciutadella, as part of Experimental Room Festival – a festival with human/time/site specific performances and workshops, curated and organized by Atelier Escènic Stoyanova.

Six lovely Barcelonian souls participated. One of them had brought her mother, who had never tried anything like this before. Some were artists in the performance field. Some spoke English, some not, so one of the participants also functioned as my translator.

We had two wonderful hours together. The participants curiously inhabited the park and investigated playful ways of embodied relation to each other, to the ground, the plants, other park guests, and to all other sensorial components in our momentary sensescape.

During our time together, each participant had the change to be led blindfolded and to be guiding someone else. Every exploration session ended with a short feedback, where the participants paused from their silence for a while, and shared three words to describe their immidiate impression of their experience. Afterwards I have had their notes with the three keywords translated from Spanish to English, so today I can re-read what they said.

Here is a glimpse of the atmosphere around our workshop in the park that day.

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And here are some of the feedback notes:

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I like the way impressions are mixed and open to interpretation in these feedback notes.

Listening. Frightening. The Unknown.

Hugging trees. Seeds. Water.

Wonderful.

Attention.

Tendernes. Trust.

Fantasy, memories, time travels. Why time travels? Because with eyes closed you can be transported everywhere. Countries, landscape, childhood…

The urge to speak and be in contact with something honest, primal and profound.

Sensescapes contains it all.

Thanks to Experimental Room Festival for making this happen. By the way, this years’ festival is just around the corner, so if you happen to be in Barcelona, you might want to take a look at their program.

With hope of many more blindfolded explorations to come,
Lotus

 

Categories: Blindfolding, Cityscape, Feedback, perception, Playfulness, Workshop | 1 Comment

Dreams, openings, connections

Today I did a guided baby walk in my neighbourhood. Nine mothers with nine babies in nine baby carriages made a spectacular body of moving legs, wheels and heads in the grey morning of Aarhus city centre. Together we explored some local gems: an old crypt, a hidden garden, a hip street transformed from slum, a mysterious pig monument and at last a café with more breastfeeding customers than not.

Doing guided walking tours the classical way is not directly connected to Sensescapes, but the stream of intention underneath is the same: To raise awareness of our everyday surroundings, getting embodied experiences of the things, beings and events that are already there. As the test walk today was a success, I intend to do a series of them this coming summer and fall. If time and space allow it. So stay tuned!

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As days come and go, new connections appear. I was honoured to be contacted by my main theoretical inspiration source for the master thesis about Sensescapes, Professor in Human Geography Edmunds Bunkse from Latvia. A kindred spirit, he concluded from our chat.

Yes. New dreams and visions of local and cross-country connections are slowly, slowly being formed:

A former fellow student, asking to pair up and share the depths of knowing life and death from a sensitive mind’s perspective. A soul to walk with in the everyday challenges.

A British artist in the inbox, encouraging Sensescapes to visit a festival of senses in London next year.

Sudden meetings like this one. Sudden openings.

A visit in the beautiful building Dome of Visions, which will soon move from Copenhagen to Aarhus to become a frame for experimental practices, dreams and creative events. Perhaps Sensescapes could and should contribute…

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A gift from a generous landscape enthusiast and artistic director: 4 days residence in the soft landscape of Mols Bjerge in June, on the farm where I have been researching, playing and working so many times now. I will go there with my little family and see what creativeness the land will inspire.

Gifts, ideas, encouragement, sprouts.

And through it all, a constant state of motherhood relations, preoccupying the mind with strangely down-to-earth impulses: Little one, are you tired? Hungry? Bored? Impatient? Hands, eyes, ears, nose, mouth and feet completely immersed in tiny sensations. Now we dwell in the living room together, now the bed, or the bathroom, or the local park, or a train. Without further notice, I have become an all-time facilitator of the babyscape created and maintained by the presence of my daughter’s curious discovering of the world. My world becomes her world and vice versa. What a responsibility.

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Next week we will travel across the Atlantic to make new experiences and reconnect with older generations. There is still some time before maternity leave ends and I will have an opportunity to turn (some… a few) dreams into real projects. Let’s see. Let’s see.

Oh, and did I mention this blog has been referred to in a (not-very-intellectual) Danish weekly magazine for middle aged women doing needlework and handicrafts? No kiddin’. A journalist from “Hendes Verden” called and asked to use a photo of a cairn my husband did in Iceland in the magazine. I said yes and so Sensescapesblog.wordpress.com is now to be found in a cheasy section about creativity online, along with adds for DIY table cloths and coffee scrub:

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Surprises and openings in all directions! To be continued when summer is around the corner.

See you!

Lotus

 

 

Categories: Birth, Cityscape, Country side, Dreams, Motivation, Playfulness, Process | Leave a comment

A definition of aesthetic perception

In a philosophy of aesthetics of appearing, the work of the German philosopher Martin Seel draws a line from the notion of interdependent body-world relation to aesthetic theory. By this, a close link between senses, perception and aesthetics is established. In a historical perspective, Seel portraits aesthetics as a philosophical discipline, undertaken in its original form as congnito sensivita – or the discipline of sensuous knowledge, derived from the first definition of the term by Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten in 1750 (Seel 2005:2). In this manner, the sensuous is the aesthetic and the aesthetic is the sensuous. Aesthetic perception implies “a sensuous alertness, that is an end in itself” (ibid.: xii). This special alertness differs from scientific knowledge, states Seel, and refers to Baumgarten’s suggestion that complete knowledge should consist of both scientific and aesthetic thinking (ibid.:2). 

Departing from aesthetic theory’s origin in sense-based knowledge, and following the thought that life gains in different ways from scientific and aesthetic knowledge, Seel present an illustration of the difference between what can be characterized as a detective and a poetic practice. The illustration is this (ibid.:29): A mushroom gatherer is scanning the forest floor. He is paying close attention to multiple appearances, but his attention stays connected to a particular intention: in this situation, to find edible mushrooms. This practice is detective, because it takes the form of a fixed investigation in a search for traces that can lead to a specific goal. Then an aesthetic perciever enter the forest. He is likewise characterized by close attention as he experience things in their particular phenomenal individuality (ibid.:28). But this attention is not directed at distinctions or details in order to find a particular object for a purpose, like edible mushrooms. Instead the aesthetic perception stays intuitive in a sort of spontaneous going-with-the-flow (ibid.:29). This practice is poetic, because its aim is purely to be open to the particular sensations that may appear in each given moment: the grass, the mushrooms, a sudden change in light, the leaves, the wind. The openness in the aesthetic perception can lead back to Seel’s notion of Baumgartens portrait of sensuous knowledge as an undetermined, confused form of knowlegde, and thus “cognito sensivita” and ”cognito confusa” becomes related (ibid.:2).

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Cognito sensivita/congnito confusa. Participant: Stephan. Photographer: Rasmus Malling Lykke Skov

In the movement of bringing aesthetics back to its origin, Seel’s basic concept of aesthetic perception is not only connected to perception of art works, but also to “exstra-artistic phenomena” (ibid.:xii). Encountering the reality aesthetically can thus include nature, design, sports, artistically designed events, and also arbitrary objects in our everyday life – in our life world. As such, my definition of aesthetic perception finds its form with Seel as:“to apprehend things and events in respect to how they appear momentarily and simultaneously to our senses” (ibid.: xi). 

In line with a phenomenological emphasis on perception as communication and communion, Seel connects the aesthetic object of aesthetic perception to a relational process, in the manner that such an object ”[…]shows itself in a constantly transitory state. In this condition, nothing is simply just what it is; everything appears in the light of relations that, for their part, change with every change in individual appearances” (ibid.:27). In the aesthetic process of perception, nothing is ever the same. The (or a) phenomenology of aesthetic perception can thus be stated to bring forth a perception of the particularity of the here-and-now, which requires a reconnection to playful, poetic intuition and capability of being present and alive in the moment. And finally, this approach can reach a proposal of the potential of aesthetic practice, as given in Seel’s thesis: “in the multifarious forms of this practice we are drawn into the play for the intuition of presence” (ibid.: xiii).

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Particularity of the here-and-now. Participant: Martabolette. Photographer: Søren Gammelmark

(The text is an excerpt from the introduction chapter in the master thesis I am currently working on, titled: “Sensescapes. The Phenomenology of Sensorial Landscape Connections”)

References:

Seel, Martin, 2005: Aesthetics of Appearing, Standford

Categories: aesthetics, perception, Playfulness, Process | Leave a comment

Sensescapes in Aarhus#2

May I present participant nr 4 in Aarhus this week. Stephan is a talented architect and it was a pleasure to investigate the different atmospheres, spaces, tactile surfaces and other sensory aspects of the urban-natural (or naturally urban) landscape with him today.

Mostly we just played around like curious kids.

One of the things I really love about the concept of Sensescapes, is that it creates a possibility for both the participant and me to be playful and enjoy our time together!

May all the pictures from Sensescapes be enjoyable for you and may they become an inspiration to sense, play and investigate more.

Participant: Stephan. Photographer: Rasmus Skov.

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Categories: Blindfolding, Cityscape, Closeness, Landscape Dialogues, Playfulness, Thesis experiment, Touch, Trust | 1 Comment

Sensescapes in Aarhus#1

Spring is under and over and inside my skin!

The feeling of Green. The sound. The smell.

Yesterday I started a week of sensorial walks in Aarhus.

The walks take place in and around the botanical garden in the city center.

A wonderfully various landscape to investigate!

Todays’ participant was curious and brave like a playful child. He almost jumped up in the first tree I showed him!

Unafraid.

Self-confident.

Afterwards he told me how much he loves trees and woods.

His courage was very inspiring.

In the pictures you can probably see what I mean.

(By the way, I have an available walk on Thursday at 13.00)

Participant: Søren. Photographer: Christine Fentz.
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Categories: Blindfolding, Cityscape, Landscape Dialogues, Playfulness, Thesis experiment | Leave a comment

Sensescapes in Mols Bjerge#3

Today will be the last day in my experiment with sensorial walks in Mols Bjerge.

It has been magical.

Sensorial encounters everywhere.

Silence.

Streams and fields of emotions.

Playfulness.

Laugther.

Important states of exploring inner and outer landscapes.

Lovingly wonderful participants.

Today, in the last walk, I will be blindfolded myself. Christine will guide me.

Thanks to all of you: the participants, the photographers, the farm owners, the horses, the buildings, the land. You have made beautiful things happen, and for that I am grateful.

Here are some pictures from walk nr 4 out of 9 this week.

Participant: Martabolette. Photographer: Søren Gammelmark.

See you in two weeks for sensorial walks in Aarhus!

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Categories: Blindfolding, Closeness, Country side, Euphoria, Gratitude, Landscape Dialogues, Playfulness, Thesis experiment, Trust | Leave a comment

Small stories of today II

Participants for the walks

Today I have received reservation nr. 2 and 3 from people who want to participate in the sensorial walks in April. These are people I haven’t ever met, and it makes me very grateful and excited that someone from outside my own network shows interest in my experiments. If you are interested in going on a walk, read the invitation in the latest blog post and contact me at mielotus@gmail.com.

Research question

So far, this is the reseach question that frames the overall thesis project:

This production thesis investigates sensorial perception and non-verbal, bodily experiences as a possible way towards a deeper understanding and awareness of relations and encounters in the local landscapes that surround us. With the creation of a series of sensorial walks for one person at the time, I ask: How can landscapes be understood as relations? And how can an aesthetic experience contribute to such an understanding? The goal of the thesis is to critically bring the philosophy of phenomenology into life in the production and analysis of the sensorial walks. The walks will serve as an empirical platform to investigate the significance of sensorial perception as a fundamental mode of being in and connecting to the landscapes we are a part of.

Motivations

Yesterday a was in a coaching session with a girl from my entrepreneurship course. She asked me about my motivation for working with sensorial walks. Answering that question made me instinctively aware of my personal drive and dreams. The cure of my motivation… is stories like this:

Last fall I did a series of blindfolded walks in Iceland. After the walks, one participant told me how struggling with cancer had made her body incabable of doing some specific movements with her arm. During the walk, a moment of contact improvisation between her and I had made her do some of the movements she could not do when she was sick. We both became very touched when she told me how these movements on the walk had made her feel free and relieved.

Last summer I did a small series of short, blindfolded walks in Mols Bjerge. During the walks I took the participants into a stable to meet a horse. After one walk the participant told me how she usually fears horses, but this time she had felt safe. Now she thought she would not fear horses anymore.

Two days ago I showed a blog post to two girls in a feedback group at uni. One of them told me she became so inspired by reading it, that she now wanted to consider how she can implement the things she works with in her thesis into her everyday life.

Small awareness practice: 

Since I am working with landscape as a relational and multisensory concept, part of my investigations is to test and practice how the term “landscape” can literally be used to describe something else and more than visual representations of beautiful, natural scenarios. In my theoretical starting point of the thesis, landscape is a concept of “embodied practices of being in the world, including ways of seeing but extending beyond sight to both a sense of being that includes all the senses and an openness to being affected” (Dewsbury and Cloke, cited in Benediktsson and Lund 2010: 2). Here landscape is relation. It is what continuously goes on between myself and my surroundings. In this phenomenological approach landscape includes “a consideration of fluidity, transition and motion” (ibid. 3).

Today I am working at home. And so, a moment ago I walked around the apartment and took some pictures to share my everyday landscape – my life world – with you. When I saw the pictures afterwards I discovered how I had unconsciously been looking for plants, window views and cozy scenery to present to you as my local landscape. Then I went back to my desk and decided to delete all the photos. Instead I sat on my chair while looking around. Bam. Change in view. Change in perspective. Change in attention. This is the task, and you might as well try to do it where you sit right now:

Stop. Look.

Look again.

What do you see?

How do you see it?

This is a main point in my sensorial walks: It is not necessarily what is seen that is of importance, but how it is seen. Or not seen.

Here is my current local landscape seen in a moment of awareness. All the photos except the first are taken from the chair (in the first photo) where I’m sitting right now.

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Now I keep discovering new details in this small world of two squaremeters.

I can recommend this small practice of awareness. Try to take a couple of minutes’ break from whatever you are doing, to open your gaze and look around. Perhaps something will show up that you never noticed before. Perhaps you will see things. And people, if there are any. I mean, really see them. Encounter. Engage. Relate.

Then I read this:

Awareness of the unfamiliar is, however, generated through encounters with the familiar (ibid. 6)

Perhaps this post could be an example of how the familiar has now, in a few moments, shown itself from an unfamiliar perspective.

Peace,
Lotus

Literature: Benediktsson and Lund, 2010: Conversation with Landscape, University of Iceland, Ashgate

Categories: Blindfolding, Landscape Dialogues, Material, Motivation, Playfulness, PR, Sensorial meditation, Short experiment, Thesis experiment | Leave a comment

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