Knowledge and Movement
Dr Jodie Allinson, Drama
University of South Wales
We learn through our bodies. Cognition, language and movement through space are intricately entwined. This world of which we are a part is continually evolving in the same way. Second wave cognitive scientists state that how and what we know is bound up with the specifics of time, space and the environments and cultural contexts we develop within, i.e. ‘a view of cognitive capacities as inextricably linked to histories that are lived, much like paths that exist only as they are laid down by walking’. Knowledge is not a fixed thing ‘out there’ waiting to be grasped, but is an emergent property of our interactions within the world, and so processual and contingent. We are beings in constant motion, and our knowledge evolves through every physical and spatial interaction we have throughout our lives. From this perspective, our relationship to an artwork becomes an encounter in/as process. The potential knowledge that will emerge (of the self and the object) from that encounter can be unknown and surprising, and can transform us in ways we cannot predict.
In every encounter there are limitless possibilities for the emergence of knowledge. However, perceptual habits, like frequently walked pathways, guide our interactions in familiar ways. We can disrupt these habitual modes of knowing by changing how we move and use our body within the space and in relation to the artwork. As a body we approach the artwork, we spend time with it, and then we leave. This physically, spatially and temporally-based encounter is also a journey of cognitive understanding. The possibilities for the kinds of knowledge that can emerge during this journey can be expanded by changing how we move.
Interpretation of an art object:
Begin by noticing your habitual ways of moving in relation to the artwork. Do you like to approach the work immediately, or spend time observing it from a distance? Do you take a position of stillness or do you prefer to move around the work? Do you prefer to be close or distant to other people in the space? Observe the changes in the nature of your experience when moving around the object, towards it, or away from it. Notice any memories, associations and thoughts that arise.
Next, set yourself tasks that disrupt these habitual ways of moving. Change your position or perspective, be near instead of far, be still instead of moving. Pay attention to the sensations in your body as you carry out these tasks, and notice what is revealed to you about the artwork and your relationship to it. How are you ‘knowing’ the object differently in this new encounter?
Varela, Rosch and Thompson 1993: 205, original emphasis.
Allinson, J. Training strategies for performance and landscape: resisting the late-capitalist metaphor of
Further Reading about and around ‘Knowledge and Movement’:
Tim Ingold, Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description, London and New York: Routledge, 2011
Mark Johnson, The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding, London and Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007
George Lakoff, and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By, London and Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003
Francisco J. Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch. The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience, Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 1993