Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Connections at our fingertips

Most of the work that goes on in the Centre for Rural Economy involves the brain rather than the body.  You might hear conversation, the tapping of keyboards, a kettle boiling, a clatter of cups.  We connect via spoken and written words, using all kinds of communications technology, or meet face to face over cups of coffee.  We may move books and papers around, but none of this requires a great deal of physical effort.  So when Claire Pen├žak, who has been our artist in residence over the past year, came to talk to me as part of her evaluation of the residency, I wondered why I hadn’t taken more advantage of her presence in CRE.  Claire uses choreography and visual art in her practice, while I use words.  Suddenly the idea of bringing these together to consider “connections between choreography and social science” seemed like a really interesting idea.  I always favour the surprise element in any presentation or event so this was an opportunity to shake my colleagues out of their expectations about what a seminar is.  We decided that this seminar wasn’t going to be about brain work alone.  Claire and I devised a very simple format.  I asked the participants to write down three words about connections.  Then, without sharing these, everyone took part in a choreography exercise, led by Claire.  We worked in pairs, balancing bamboo canes between us.  The trick of is to learn how your partner moves, to push forward and give way in time with one another.  In doing so, each pair keeps their bamboo canes aloft; if one person exerts too much power or fails to respond to their partner, the canes fall to the ground.  Then, when we had (more or less) mastered this, everyone in the workshop worked as a group to balance the canes between them.  It’s a fascinating exercise in respecting others’ space while working together to achieve an objective.  Afterwards everyone wrote another three words about “connections”, and shared both sets of words with their colleagues.  It was interesting to see how this second set of words was subtly different from the initial thoughts: words such as “peace” and “friend” and “interdependence” and “reciprocity” appeared rather than “email”, “buses” “wires” and “links”.  
Finally, everyone wrote a few lines on the theme of “connections.  This is one example:


Sensing the direction

through new pathways

knowledge at our fingertips

yet poles