The Embodied City: How far can the city become an embodied experience; Exploring actual design methodologies which seek to emulate the body in the city.

Posted: November 27, 2010 in body theory, choreography, landscape, movement

This exercise becomes a spatial mediation for participants and space users; seeking to enable a notation of the spatial use schemas to become dynamically re-enacted in order for it to be more carefully considered.

Practising Space has now taken place in numerous locations; in some locations it was received well, for this I will define such reception not as a performative intervention, rather as a social tool which actively enabled people to interact with each other and the landscape; this raised the question as to; How do certain architectures facillate or hinder the presence of the human voice . Sennett espouses through detailed observation the spaces in ancient Athens which were constructed with the particular notion to allow space for certain citizens voices which enable certain voices to be heard in way which will enable other citizens to hear them more clearly and places them in a socio-architectural stance which facillates better understanding of their presence. If we are to take such notions into modern spatial planning and architectural develop as instruction to locate the human at the centre of the out put of the design process, this may lead to principles of ‘embodied’ place.

‘The space thus sustained a single voice, its words unfolding; the sound form focused the councillors attention upon that sound. The space which concentrated attention on the voice also created a regime of visual surveillance; because of the raked seating, councillors could clearly be identified as to how they voted.’ ( Sennett)

Within this research, Sennett explores how the body, reviewed as functioning social and political apparatus, is considered as a key consideration within construction; to the extent the architecture becomes further tool to highlight the body as social function.

‘Could the shaping of stones provide men some control over the heat of their flesh? Could the power to reason be built in the city?’ ( Sennett)

In this sense the design of urban space becomes mechanism for the exploration of the social position of the body in space, the dynamic interrelation between space and user and the subsequent affects which the body may have on the space and the space may have on the body. Sennett places a great deal of weight between the divide between the body and space; and how far the relationship emphasis has shifted and changed between the two, this debate remains critical to the essence of Practising Space, as it seeks to place the space user’s body, routine and interaction as a frontal consideration, not so much to observe the affects of architecture, rather to learn as to how space use codes can in some way become universal.

‘In the modern era we often think of the mind-body spilt as a matter of arid mental constructs repressing the sensate life of the body. But at the opening of civilisation the problem was reversed; the body ruled the world, and estranged men’s power to live rationally through the unity of word and deed which Perikles celebrated in the Funeral Oration. The heat of the body, as expressed in democratic rhetoric, led people to lose rational control in argument; led people to lose rational control in argument; the heat of words in politics lacked as well as the narrative logic which it possessed in the theatre.’

The city remains my canvas and my studio for my research; cities in their diverse and complex make up; the body becomes muse; for this enquiry the action of the body as it passes through urban space becomes complex dialogical form; the routes the human follows and creates; the paths which the human may take great pleasure to follow; the paths which the human may avoid for fear of action which they interpret the space to manifest. The body places an overlay on to the city; the city becomes personified through the human experiences of its terrain.

To attempt to form generalisations as to how people are moving through and using space; to impress upon daily motions a choreography which in reality may be a subjective projection towards daily routine allows a language of representation to form which may in turn disappear as soon as it comes into fruition. In this sense to make a choreographic language based upon these naturalistic habitual patterns is to archive modern movement. Gathering and collating actions and reactions through dynamic physical and photographic documentation which can be stored, in time used for drawing parallels and on the wider schema of progress to develop a movement archive for the city as it exists in the particular time and space from whence the movement language was derived from. Here the seminal importance of the documentation alerts, for the memory of the performer may decline; the body may change, decay or die; hence the evidence of such observation survives thus only through the image. The image becomes thus an in this context an object of anthropological functionalism; as although the body may in turn remember what the mind forgets; the image can stand as evidence and testimony to the fruit of such observation.

Here lies the opening to the failure of dance and performance as undocumented pure expression to create a historical archive of historical action; creating momentary insights as to potentially profound social observations which are existent only in the moments they are created and then left as fragmented pieces of unresolved memory in the minds of those who witnessed their fruition and decline. This raises the question; how far does performance rely on documentation and review to create a social legacy? Can the sheer intensity of viewing a ‘profound’ performance actually generate a series of appropriate social changes and impacts?

Questions: ( asked to the participants of Practising Space)
-How far does your body become spectacle within this exercise?
-How far can this exercise be pedestrian or performance? Can you play with the boundaries between these two?
-what the space necessitate you to do? How far are you ‘happy’ to obey the social codes which the space emits; how far can you actively dismiss them?
-how far can you engage passers by in what you are doing? How far can this communication develop into physical dialog?
– explore how far you can take this exercise as a social performance task or an architectural intervention task?

This simple research exercise is an example of passive activism. The participant of Practising Space becomes a fluid body, a vessel in which the codes of the space can be carried, repeated and learnt. The movement vocabulary which the participant learnt from the locations were remarkably simplistic, as explored in Part two of this paper, the body executes simple movements of sitting, standing, walking, minimal gesture and avoidance of unknown interaction. The participants in this exercise acted as a muse, for others to contemplate how the space is used by their bodies and by the repetition and staging of the ‘routine’ which the participants learnt from the space and how the space users were acting, the simple pedestrian performance they executed became a further vehicle for contemplation.

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