Learning from the distance

Unfolding the Invisible for me is an opportunity to collaborate with practitioners from across Italy and the world, holding space for research and exploration. Together we experience the possibility of connection and shared awareness from a distance, transcending the physical space limits and tuning into the awareness possibilities that the social distancing and lockdown have sent on our ways. I feel the practice supports my capacity and will to bring this work to broader and more diverse groups of people, also locally. To recreate this type of knowing and learning spaces which can support communities and society, as it is facing the current moment of great transition and transformations.

Lockdown measures in Italy started early March, holding us in place, and nudging us to explore the different ways of connection and practice. Italy has been my adopted country for almost nine years. It is a historically and culturally diverse and vibrant country, every town and city seems to have unique cultural components. This diversity affects the perception of distance. And so it sometimes feels that Milan and Rome are further away then Milan and London.

The opportunity of Unfolding the Invisible is to connect those different parts inside as outside. An enriching and creative experiment to test and check the limits and the possibilities of connecting without touching or seeing. As I practice, I’m attending with a soft gaze to the awareness which lies beyond the screen; I become aware that eyes can lead us as they can mislead us. I feel the aliveness of this research when we tune in to each other, sharpening our capacity to “see” the invisible social landscape of our encounter. Sensing our collective presence, even with eyes closed or with a poor internet connection.

Descartes’s “I think. Therefore I am” (cogito, ergo sum) is a landmark in western scientific thought and philosophy. Yet who is doing this thinking actually? Where is this thinking coming from?

Social Presencing Theatre practices invite us to listen to the embodied experience of being right here and now. To attend to the “we space” in which as human beings we constantly attune ourselves to the unfolding movement between layers of reality and imagination, dreams and societies. As thought is emerging from how we perceive here and now, this sensorial perception of the present moment tells us who we are. Exploring SPT research is opening us to the subtle, pre-verbal experience from which thought emerges from being, moment after moment.

With the intention to connect the virtual online learning experience to a physical offline practice. The lockdown measures have been relaxing after 3 month of lockdown and so I reach out to the small group I practice with near where I live in Lake Trasimeno. We meet to practice at “Campo del Sole”, on the shores of Lake Trasimeno, the largest lake of centre Italy.

On 20th June 2020 members of the Trasimeno practice group met again in “Campo del Sole”, a sculpture garden in the shores of Lake Trasimeno, in the centre of Italy.

The last time we met as a practice group was almost a year ago and with the previous months of Social distancing and COVID-19 outbreak, it seems that all of this was ages ago. Three of the members are teachers, and as we gathered around the stone table shaped sculpture in the middle of the field, they started to share their experience of online teaching. It was interesting to note the different experiences of quarantine time. The high school teacher was exhausted and spoke of long days and hours in front of the computer. The middle school and elementary school teachers have, on the other hand, spoke on lighter workload and time to spend in nature and with loved ones. Another member shared that ironically in the lockdown she has found a new job, designing a herb garden for a rural estate. I share my experience of the lockdown, slowing down of the local project working with regional authorities for social inclusion of migrants, and an explosion of online gatherings, events and practice groups I was participating in, holding space for and co-creating with others around the world.

It took time for us to move into the actual practice, it was “a long pause”, and the will to verbally unpack our personal experiences was noticeably felt. When we finally start to let the body speak, making images with our whole body, “living sculptures”, of how we are, a new quality of silent presence arises. We are sensing into each other’s images, naming both the visible as the invisible. “I see fingers touching the ground”, “I feel the ocean”, “Thank you.”

We move into a practice of “duet”, in this practice, we work in pairs, in which, one by one alternate movement and stillness, a dialogue without words. The pairs then shared their felt experiences, one of the pairs described an emotional experience in which it is as if one was a balcony from which the other can be looking out. “We did not want to move.” “We could have stayed longer”. The conversation starts again, a group member who teaches in a kindergarten shares a frustration when interacting with a foreign parent of one of the children who does not join the activities.

I suggested doing a “micro” 4D mapping to explore one of the themes that came up in our conversations. We decided on three roles to explore (Teacher, Foreign Parent and Child) we moved to an empty patch of grass and one by one I invite/call-out one role at a time:

The teacher moves to the middle and turns outward with hand forward, her sentence is accoglienza “welcoming”. “Parent”. The parent moves into and then out and far to the back of the teacher and the imaginary circle we have to expand in order to include her new image.“Pupil/child” both the two remaining members raise their hands. I decided to go with that and invite both an “Italian pupil/child” and “Foreign pupil/child” roles to enter one by one. After they added their sentence the image started to move.

The movement begins with the “teacher” that turns toward the Italian pupil, the “foreign pupil” starts to move on the ground and then turns towards the parent. The parent seems to be trying to pull with an invisible thread the giant cement column standing in front of her. The image finds a second sculpture where the teacher and Italian pupil are near to each other and on the other side, the parent and the foreign pupil are near on the other side in the shade of the great cement column. I invite a sculpture three, as I feel more “wants to happen”, teacher and parent face each other, the Italian pupil sits with its back to all “Che Noia/what boredom”. Sharing in our WhatsApp group the video, Marta (who took the role of the foreign parent) adds, I now see I was always in the shade. Only in the last sculpture, with much effort, I moved out slightly to get my child.

What are the learnings from this time? What potential could be found in this period of physical distancing? What is the highest future possibility that can emerge from our period of distancing?