Overlaps of virtual, physical and real … during lockdown

Unfolding the Invisible, Social Presencing Theatre online practice, during Covid-19.

Each Saturday, a group of SPT practitioners, co-facilitated by Uri Noy-Meir and Marina Seghetti, dived deep into an online exploration of how awareness practices and social art can relate to the collective challenges we, as a global community, are going through and sought to perceive how our inner practice increases our capacity for making a contribution to the world.

We encourage any of you to participate in this reflection and dialogue in order to keep the question alive. This way we can create a safe space for everyone and perhaps answer the questions:

“How can we create meaningful relationships in a global community? What types of dialogue, process work, and awareness will bring us closer and what will serve the greater whole?”

When we explore together as practitioners, every question that comes up creates a ripple effect on the whole field. As our collective presence gets clearer, there is an acceleration in the growth process for every individual.

That’s the beauty and functionality of a community of practice: the individual and the collective work together and support each other.

We learn together, reflect together, grow together.

Welcome to Unfolding the Invisible!

Zoom windows direct our gaze beyond the planes of walls to an outside that we cannot touch. We are simultaneously framed and framing, as we seek to define the new terrains of perception. The rectilinear frame of the screen becomes our entrance to other worlds. Negotiating these thresholds, balancing the outside and the within, we build relationships through a vibrational sensitivity. Through this unstable balance we approach the shifting terrain with corporeal questions:

How do we find balance in this world? How do we calibrate between physical & virtual conditions? How do we activate embodied longings for a sense of safe place?

What happens when we transpose movement from the in-person laboratory into the virtual field? And what happens from the virtual, back to the in-person?

This experiment leads to unexpected accidental discoveries. You have to concentrate on landing back within yourself, inside your body. In order to move forward, you have to re-centre and re-balance yourself.

Careful acts of recalibration are necessary in times of crisis, research and innovation. The potential of our movements, which is never fully present, makes spatial and temporal operations in the virtual field strange.

At Unfolding the Invisible I was interested in how bodies are able to feel/sense where representation falters. As a group, we shift perspectives, bend time, make stories malleable. Our task was to develop a process that embodied not just somewhere else but something else. Our use of the technological tools produced an altered sense of the field: an expanded field for shaping a different way of belonging through mind and body. As we played on the edges, a fractal sense of embodiment emerged, blurring the real. Online we were like figures in ecstatic trance, tracing pathways, holding multiple memories, overlapping places, feeling the contradictions and disjunctions in the spaces in-between.

Being present in the way one space talks to another, being alert to a moving panorama, an elsewhere, we listened to what was emerging on the journey, while keeping our resistance alive so as to reconnect in the real world!

Emergent conversations in movement

From the beginning of the lockdown we started meeting once a week, proposing the basic practices of Social Presencing Theater which were sometimes inspired by the questions that emerged in the group or by a proposed text. Uri and I found ourselves working together for the first time. This required some shared reference points to begin with, but the simplicity and sincerity of the offering and the truthfulness in the unspoken way we reciprocally held the space became our points of strength. These allowed the creation of a fluid nourishing atmosphere.

I had been reading the work of Wendy Wheeler on biosemiotics where she explains that every environment is abundant with signs.

“An environmental niche is always also a semiotic niche. Every environment is, at the time, and necessarily, rich in ‘information’: sounds, odours, movements, colours, electric fields, waves of any kind, chemical signals, touch, etc. On this view, life is primally semiotic” (1).

Wheeler describes the entanglement between organisms and the environment as a kind of evolving conversation, explaining that this semiosis takes place from the level of simple life forms to the complexity of human cultural life (2).

We were intrigued to experience how meaning making might evolve in a virtual environment. We wondered how this virtual landscape might shape us and our interactions and if new narratives would/could emerge. One of our learnings was that “our online semiotic niche” did have an impact on our processes of meaning-making. We realized that when making intuitive unspoken decisions in action, our ability to follow these decisions required an attention to what was happening (rather than forcing outcomes), an attentiveness to what the material limitations might be, and to how these might determine the development of the process.

Adapting the method of translation between physical and virtual dimensions

Transposing movement onto the flat surface of the screen was challenging, not so much for Uri but for me. I resisted the new virtual medium. This gave an imperative to the movement, pushed my balance toward precarious stumbling until I gained familiarity with it. Hesitant, I could not touch or feel what was real. The overlapping of different visual stimuli to uphold the embodiment practice produced in me a kind of defamiliarization with what was real, which led to a finer tuning of my visual perception. I found myself looking at the real world through strange eyes.

Gregory Bateson in his discourse on transcontextuality recognized the interdependence of living systems. Through this lens I discovered the mutual texture of seemingly distant places and spaces. Resisting the flattening of things to a single plane or context opened up entirely new dimensions to experience. Like in a kaleidoscope, many perspectives were swirling in the field.

Affective resonances emerged through

Over time Unfolding the Invisible became a language of movement through which we communicated our belonging and shared our understanding of this ‘here and now’ as an ‘everywhere at once’. Although our physical senses indicated the opposite, we felt not only the richness but also the fragility of the “virtual landscapes” we were walking through.

Even little bits of movement sequences through the virtual landscape seemed to constitute a sense of the whole, as if these fragments referred backwards and forwards to each other. We were not always ‘in’ the current global situation but references to it were always present and the events that took place during the practice continued to resonate long after we had each returned to our own separate places.

I described this experience as follows: I’m touching with my eyes, yet feeling rather than seeing, drawing from my motor activity continually updating my position in the “in-betweenness” thereby echoing Nicholas Salazar Sutil’s reflections,

‘It is only by being in between that the knowledge of both subject and object, of both here and there, of self and other, of myself and that which is not myself can be integrated.’