Mapping the Affective Landscape
Book 3 from August 9th to September 6th 2018
Chapter 6: One day in a Week of Grounding
During the preceding week of Landing, the long-term resident artists
Dava Wing/ Qingwa/ Frog (US) interdisciplinary artist
He Jixing (China) filmmaker
and myself, Petra Johnson (Ger/UK/Shanghai) interdisciplinary artist
were joined by
Peter Hagan (US/Shanghai) writer
Greta Mendez (Trinidad/London) dancer
Wu Jiayu (China) dancer
Courtney Mackedanz (US) movement artist
and Wu Meng (China) theatre and performance artist 1800秒的旅途 2014
链接: https://pan.baidu.com/s/1iY-PRKVjxDiJk2iFCZ-FXA // 密码 password: bnhr
Our first week together was accompanied by a question taken from anthropologist Erik Mueggler’s book The Paper Road: ‘How do rules about how we must perceive inflect how we walk and see?’ (Mueggler. 2011.47). Mueggler juxtaposes the activity of surveying the landscape with that of auscultating: a listening to the depth of the landscape, ‘a mode of throwing out lines of communication to its hidden presences’(2011.45). Whilst surveying was done for the purpose of rule, he argues, auscultating is done for the purpose of regulating relations between human and non-human social entities. Frog/Qingwa, who has apprenticed herself to Dongba Hexiudong for several years, tells us that these experiences changed her perceptions of the world. My own experience of accompanying Hexiudong to the mountains and witnessing a 24-hour ritual back in 2006 also had a profound effect on my practice. Only to me it felt as if something that had been stunted was re-validated.
Three stories about rules of perception:
(1) As a young child, my great-uncle, a freelance butcher, would take me to the surrounding farms, where he would have long consultations with the cow herdsman or the man taking care of the pigs. These men were unusual; caring, yet not at all interested in people and totally oblivious to my existence. When my great-uncle and his often monosyllabic counterpart had finished their to me incomprehensible discussion, they would leave me in the kitchen. Displaying a strained jolliness, the women would fuss over me, serving homemade bread layered with creamy yoghurt and a tangy fruit spread. There was a general feeling that the men had gone off to do something unsettling but necessary, a sadness about something that was going to happen somewhere on the farm and an effort to divert a little girl’s attention from it.
(2) One Sunday, at lunch, when every nook and cranny of the house had resonated with the sound of my father’s favourite opera, my mother cut the meat against the grain and my great-uncle stormed off, refusing to eat it. I was alerted to a subtle difference in taste and a profound difference in perception.
(3) Some years later my great-uncle showed me how he killed a pig. I was already old enough to wonder why there was only he, the full-grown pig and I. There was something clandestine about the situation. I was not sure if I should be there and I never told anyone. I witnessed the sureness of his hands, which kept the pig calm whilst killing it. We made sausages using the skin of the intestines.
It is after breakfast on the first day of the week of grounding, Friday, 17th August, that Greta tells this story (1):
Last night after dinner, when mushrooms foraged that day elicited sounds of delight from us all, we -Xuemei, Frog/Qingwa, Jixing and I with an orange plastic bag of fabric jumped into the car and headed off in search of the local seamstress. On entering the seamstress’ yard in Haidong, we saw children playing and a woman moving in front of a T.V. screen studying a dance sequence.
We had found a dancer but Alas! not a seamstress. Walking back, we passed the local shop. The old sofa and chairs in front of the shop were occupied by our neighbours. I greeted each one of them, in words, in gesture, with a smile, by eye. One of the women, the one who wore a Chinese hat, held a video playing music. I began to dance to the tune and her torso, cocooned in the seat, started to move too. I coaxed her up and we danced together, at times imitating what was shown on the video and at times dancing our dance. Everyone’s attention was edging us on. Seeking a rest, I left what had become a forecourt of joy and explored the back of the shop where I found more neighbours. They were playing mahjong. Xuemai joined them, whilst I became fascinated with the intensity of attention and the speed with which hands moved stones. By the time we walked home our bodies swayed to the rhythms of the breeze and the sounds of the night.
The morning after, Greta and Xuemai with help from Jixing, Wu Meng and Frog/Qingwa continue their search for a seamstress.
Meantime, walking along Lashihai, Yuyu sees a sprinkling of sunshine on the mountain. By 11am the sky has become overcast. The light coming through in patches reminds her of a theatre stage. Her sense of being here is that people’s relationship with each other and the natural environment is very intimate. This gives her a firm foundation to explore her own affinity to trees. The questions that guide her are ‘What are we willing to see as real’ 我们所看到的都是真实的吗? 还是 你更愿意相信哪部分真实 and ‘How to express the unreal through a simple story?’ 用简单的故事，通过虚构的表达。She identifies four solitary spots: a dead, heavily pruned plum tree; a pile of pine logs; a tree whose crown is partly luscious with leaves and partly dead and an object made of wood. She thinks of them as a cast for a theatre of trees. What body language relates to such a stage?
Greta Telling Stories (2)
At about 1:50pm, when dresses have been fitted, when sacks of mushrooms have been purchased at the market and parcels have been collected, the glacier lifts her veil.
All afternoon, WuMeng, Xuemei and Grandma clean the mushrooms bought at the market. They share their bad dreams and wonder. ‘How does a bad dream, scary dream, relate to daily life?
Next to them, He Jixing and He Xingsheng jam a tune or two.
Meantime, Peter is setting off on a 24 hour journey to a wedding in Shanghai and ponders “Grounded” in Lashihai is more like tying a gossamer to the land and unraveling the spool as you wander about, sticking it beneath a rock, to a lake, to the glacier in the fog and the fog and the rain and the mud that dried on the white soles of your city shoes. Grounding is more like building a web, then. And what happens to the web when you leave?
Courtney writes ‘Yunnan's land is fertile, I'm told. The air here is enveloped by soft-edged peaks of dense green and is the braiding together of more scents than I typically register at once. I walk on the red dirt road to practice absorbing the fragrance in its lush density and in the clarity of its distinct parts. These are the ideas too—at times a swarm and in other moments a stream. The ether here is a space of abundance, somehow vast and quiet while simultaneously cradling such rich entanglements.’
An undertaking, which returns us to Jay’s prompt: ‘What questions are better asked from here than elsewhere?’
Wu Meng addresses the question that opens the week of grounding, ‘How do perceptions inscribed on paper become interleaved with the substance of the earth, to inflect other perceptions?’ and asks, ‘How can I bring my perceptions to the stage rather than to paper? How can I track my walks? Are memories and feelings reliable?’
‘Leaving techniques aside, how can I use and trust my body?’
‘How can a walk be recorded without the use of technology?’
‘How can the body communicate the way a Chinese calligraphy brush does?
Frog/Qingwa observes, that whilst the pen can stop writing, that is it can stop being a pen, the body is continuous whilst on stage. And Greta adds, that body memory comes out through the dance. We continue to pursue the question ‘How does ‘it’ come out?’ in the context of what are the rules that guide our perception and how to communicate these on stage? Wu Meng describes the previous’ day experience of having been on a mountain immersed in foraging for mushrooms and the subsequent looking at the mountain on the way home, the being in and the looking at. How can she ‘play’ with these experiences? Repetition, explains Frog/Qingwa, leads to solids in the next dimension. She gives the example of the zero dimension (0-d), where the repetition of the dot leads to the line (1-d); the repetition of the line in turn leads to the plane (2-d) and the repetition of planes leads to solids (3-d).1 Therefore heartbeat, walking, chanting, all manifest in a further dimension that we can’t perceive. ‘We are literally, not poetically, transcending the third dimension.’ As we create content for this dimension, we become the shadow of it. When looking at repetition from this perspective, then either form of repetition, irrespective if it is for the benefit of consumption or an act of religion, is a form of worship.
Frog/Qingwa describes shamanic techniques used in Mongolia: the calling of an ancestor (who wants to be called) with an ever-faster beat of the drum. The ancestor ‘crashes’ into the body of the shaman and will be sent off again with the beat of drums. The shamans have no recollection of having hosted an ancestor. They remember having been in a field. Conversely we are the ancestors of the future.
Greta describes how through techniques of breathing and directing the circulation of oxygen through her body, she can activate muscle memory. A technique, she teaches her students who as future actors need to be seen to be connected to the role they are playing. Frog/Qingwa points out that whilst our bodies are capable of a lot of powers, our powers are also limited by what other people believe we have. Part of the ecosystem is that other people can be disempowering. ‘Maybe we can only access, what wants to speak through us’?
Contrasting being in a subway with walking, Wu Meng argues that whilst the environment on a subway restricts and homogenises movement, people’s thoughts are diverse. Foxconn, a factory in Shenzhen that makes I-pads, employed 300.000 to 400.000 workers during peak time. These devices contain not just the energy of the soul of the people who make them but also of the environments that get killed in order to mine the metals and minerals. The artist Li Liao (2013) worked in one of these factories as an inspector of circuit boards in order to demonstrate the disconnect between worker and product to an art audience. He needed to work for 45 days in order to earn enough money to buy one I-pad.2
Jixing shares a recent experience that shifted his approach to filming. When up until then his focus has been on what is happening on the screen, now his focus is on how to show the energy of that which is happening outside the screen. In response, Greta introduces the term ‘displace diagetics’ – when the sound from one place is added to another place.
The term evokes Joseph Rock3 playing Operas4 on his gramophone to the public in various locations in Yunnan.
1 See also Flatland (1884) by Edwin A. Abbott
3 Botanist and Explorer and one of the main characters in Mueggler’s book ‘The Paper Road’.
4 Operas came about during the 2nd half of the sixteenth century, because of a revived interest in the role of the Greek Chorus. Monteverdi, who wrote the first opera L’Orfeo, excelled at producing ‘a vocal style that is at first merely like dry declamation and only on repeated hearings begins to assume an extraordinary eloquence’.4 An Opera places words and emotions in the foreground. It’s characters live, breathe, love and hate and the music is an integral part of the work rather than decoration.