The Portal

Embodiment: Practice as Research (vol. 3)

Photograph by Cori Olinghouse.

This course considers the role of embodiment in curating, asking what it means to center embodied knowledge as a form of research and practice. Theories of embodiment push against the Cartesian separation between mind and body and refer to the ways a person’s lived experiences are held within their bodies and shaped by a social point of view. In the context of this course, we turn to performance forms for how they structure collective relations and modes of thought. We will access ways of knowing that evade written and document form—focusing on ephemeral acts such as orature, improvisation, ritual, storytelling, and choreography that rely on body-to-body transfer and expand conventional notions of knowledge production. Melding theory and practice, this inquiry is designed to teach students to access their bodies as curators, think about the bodies of others, and consider an artist's embodied approach to their work.

Each week, we will explore theories and practices of performance through guided experiential activities that emphasize collaboration and attention. Taking up the subject of sensation through a multiplicity of perspectives, we will engage visual, aural, tactile, temporal, and kinetic registers, acknowledging that there is no one way to access a thing. The course will offer a range of embodied practices by way of the guest artists, which include choreographer Will Rawls, composer Samita Sinha, performance artist Sylvia Palacios Whitman, and club dancer Archie Burnett. Art historian Megan Metcalf will join us to discuss the Judson Dance Theater; curator Mike Sperlinger will collaborate with us on behalf of his work with artist Ian White to workshop a group project on performance conservation.

The course framework draws from feminist phenomenologies, Black studies, disability studies, and critical improvisation studies to generate a praxis that expands the soft skills of curating and the poetics of world building and description. Critical writings include texts by Donna Haraway, Laura Marks, Fred Moten, and Kathleen Stewart, among others. Additionally, we’ll trace the following parallel, but rarely intersecting histories: free jazz, postmodern dance, and underground club movements. Our focus will be on improvisation, choreography, and intermedia as a way to think beyond disciplinary categories. Out of this course, students expand ways of “reading” performance, while attuning to multi-sensory modes of perception that have ethical, communicative, formal, architectural, and design-oriented ramifications. Together, we cultivate ways of curating that move, adapt, care, and respond to the varied social realities of living and gathering.