Visual Intelligences Research Project

Symposia : The Documentation of Fine Art Processes and Practices : Nigel Stewart

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The Chaining: Dancing as land surveying
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NIGEL STEWART, LICA: Theatre Studies, Lancaster University

The Chaining: Dancing as land surveying

The Chaining Project is a practice-as-research scheme which aims to discover a common ground between art, science and ecology, literally by exploring a single plot of land through three very different documentary practices in which “chaining” is a key concept:
Chain surveying – the practice of documenting an area of land through geometric structures that are measured with chains and tapes.
Choreutics – the practice of dancing harmonized spatiotemporal structures, or choreutic chains, as those chains of movement can be documented through Labanotation.
Myofascial Integration – the practice of documenting the sensible structures (meridians, chains, lines) of connective fascial tissue within which the bones float and the body is wrapped.

The project aims to develop new knowledges through the specific ways in which these three documentary disciplines may interact and in particular is concerned with the way in which documentation can be actively essential to the process of creating, and not merely passively recording, an art work.  By using site specific improvised dance as a preparation for chain surveying, the project sets a premium on the “prescientific” experiential, qualitative and embodied knowledge upon which, argues Husserl (1970), scientific fieldwork depends but seldom acknowledges.  Reciprocally, by transposing the spatiotemporal patterns identified through the geometric procedures of chain surveying to the trace- and shadow-forms of the dancing body, the project makes use of a “scientific” model as a means of returning us to, not obfuscating, the sphere of lived experience, and also shows us one way in which dance work can offer a living account of the world that science discovers.  And by understanding the spatiotemporal forms of the dancing body in terms of the subcutaneous body-wide web of tissue that enables and contains those forms, the project demonstrates how dance documentation can disclose the link between the invisible and internal biological structures of the body with visible and external visualizations of space and place. 

The Chaining Project hopes to illuminate, from a Husserlian and Merleau-Pontyean understanding of science and art, how scientific or quasi-scientific forms of documentation can enable dance to reflect on the pre-reflective bond between the ‘I’ who perceives and the world that is perceived, and, equally, how dance can “reactivate”, in “original ‘coincidence’“, that critical moment when geometric structure is first grasped within situated, equivocal, sensible fleshly experience but before a purely abstract and univocal arithmetization of space and time is elaborated.  In thus returning scientific reflection to “the original activity […], i.e. the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of its prescientific materials” (Husserl 1970: 366), The Chaining Project is concerned with and comments on a founding state of interdependency of knowledge and material practice and, furthermore, how that interdependency can be disclosed through documentary practices.  In this sense, The Chaining Project provides evidence of a kind of meta-documentation in the performing arts.

Nigel Stewart has danced with Figure Ground, the improvisation collective Grace and Danger, and as a solo artist.  He has also worked as a director and choreographer, most notably with Theatre Nova and Triangle in the UK and Odin Teatret in Denmark, and Theatreworks Ltd.  He performed in Clever, produced under the Dance Northwest Extend Commission and the Nuffield Theatre's Live Wire Project, and he has worked as dramaturg in Lehmen’s Stations for the Berlin Tanzfest. His articles have appeared in New Theatre Quarterly, Performance Research, Performance and Total Theatre, and co-edited Performing Nature: Explorations in Ecology and the Arts (forthcoming, Peter Lang 2005).  He has taught dance and theatre at Wolverhampton University and many other UK HE institutions, and is presently Lecturer in Theatre Studies at Lancaster University.