'The body as archivist is one thing. The body as archive is quite another’.
(Lepecki, A. (2010) ‘The body as archive: Will to re-enact and the afterlives of dances’, Dance Research Journal, 42(2): 34)
Undertaken by UK based dance artists Sally Doughty, Rachel Krische and Lisa Kendall, Body of Knowledge is a research project that examines how the dancer’s body can be considered as a living archive by collecting, articulating and disseminating experiences – dance related and other – that reside in the body. Treating the body as a living archive challenges more traditional archives that contain tangible artefacts and documents, and emphasises the knowledge that resides in, and with, the dancer.
The project was initiated after Sally, Rachel and Lisa gave presentations at the Thinking Dance: Questioning the Contemporary conference at Leeds Beckett University, UK, on 6 October 2015. We each offered a particular perspective on our engagement with performative archives and post-conference, Body of Knowledge as a research project was born.
The initial aims of the project were:
To challenge traditional notions within dance and museums that an archive or collections contains only tangible artefacts.
To investigate the role that our personal physical archives play in our choreographic work
To open up a debate with peers around the body as an archive: what it means to document our histories and how transferable this thinking can be to a non-dancing body.
Phase 1 of the research (March 2016 - 2017) and phase 2 - titled Please Do Touch (May - December 2018) were financially supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, in partnership with Dance4, Leeds Beckett University, Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Derby Museums Trust (The Silk Mill), Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery, and De Montfort University.
We undertook residencies at Dance4’s International Centre for Choreography, The Silk Mill in Derby, Leicester New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, Leeds Beckett University and the Northern School of Contemporary Dance. Through our partnership with Derby Museums Trust we explored more traditional approaches to archiving physical objects and artefacts.
During the project, the Silk Mill was going through a process of redevelopment, with its archive being strategically worked through as items were moved and put into storage. Learning about these processes informed our thinking, enabling us to approach the research from new perspectives and challenge our assumptions and notions of the archive. For example, one distinction that we noted between a museum's and our corporeal archive is that the former is ostensibly public: it is visible to others and there is a conscious decision making process about what is included in that archive. Therefore, we question how conscious we are about what is stored in our physical archive, how this is stored and how much of this is on display to the public at any one time through our performance work.
We also explored the parallels between the decay and preservation of objects and bodies with osteopath Adam Richmond.
These activities have been aligned towards developing our understanding of the practices that exist regarding preservation, cataloguing and archiving so that we might begin to re/consider how to use our personal corporeal archives in the generation and performance of new collaborative dance work.
The Body of Knowledge research project has opened up debate and discussion around the synergistic notions of autobiography, memory and archive, and how we as dance artists might productively and consciously reference them to generate new performance work.
Please Do Touch supported us to take forward our interim findings from phase 1 to produce a performance that inhabited Leicester's New Walk Museum and Art Gallery on Saturday 1 and Sunday 2 December 2018. Locating ourselves in the museum space privileged the body, equating its value to that of the exhibits and gives rise to a reconsideration of how the dancer's body can be conceived of as an archive/artefact. The performance work, although located in the museum space, did not directly or explicitly respond to the exhibits on display in that space, but rather drew from our experiences - dance related and other – that have been collected by and remain in our bodies. Recalling and categorising memories allows us to develop ‘collections’ from which we generated new performance work specifically in and for the museum. Research into an innovative exhibition held at the museum in 1946 titled Please Do Touch challenged museum protocol by encouraging visitors to touch the exhibits on display, providing an interesting parallel for the project as a whole.
is an independent dance artist and Associate Professor in Dance at De Montfort University, Leicester where she leads BA Dance; MA/MFA Performance Practices and MA Arts and supervises Doctoral students. She has an established reputation as a facilitator and performer of improvisational practices and has choreographed and performed in USA, Berlin, Brussels, Paris, Estonia and UK. She is published internationally, with two recent articles in Choreographic Practices journal (Will you play? Implications of audience interventions in improvised dance performance, 2015, and The identity of hybrid dance artist-academics working across academia and the professional arts sector, 2016 and a book chapter on her work with Deborah Hay in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Improvisation.
has worked for nearly 25 years as an Independent Dance Artist performing and teaching nationally and internationally in a diverse range of creative processes and environments. Since 2012 Lisa has toured extensively with performance company Reckless Sleepers in their work A String Section and this year began research for a new work with the company, Happy. In 2015 Lisa joined the Performing Arts Department at Leeds Beckett University where she is a Senior Lecturer in Dance. Lisa is published in the journal Choreographic Practices 2015: Sawing the legs off chairs in Reckless Sleepers’ A String Section.
is an independent dance artist and Senior Lecturer in BA Dance and MA Choreography at Leeds Beckett University. With an on going professional career spanning 25 years, she has performed extensively, both nationally and internationally, collaborating with over 30 artists such as La Ribot, Wendy Houstoun, Deborah Hay, Matthias Sperling and Siobhan Davies. In 2002, she won the Jerwood Choreography Award with Ben Wright. Her current PhD research considers and reflects upon movement as a cognitive process, proposing that movement not only functions as making thinking ‘visible', but is ‘doing’ the thinking in itself. Rachel is published in the journal Choreographic Practices 2015: Meeting in the same space: Encountering, making, and performing archive in Siobhan Davies Dance Table of Contents.
I have a very strong and enduring memory that is key to my tacit understanding of who/what I am. The memory re-plays as a film in my head and it is of my father walking me to school*. We are on the loveliest section of the route (the rest is not so lovely), a quiet pedestrian cut-through where we let go our hands. A row of bungalows (where I wave at the old lady, like I do every morning when I pass her living room window) becomes an avenue of Victorian terraced houses with front gardens. These particular streets are significant, as an important part of the memory is the double line of cherry blossom trees, and then a double line of mature deciduous trees lining the avenue. The street where I grew up didn’t have trees or front gardens. Each season is marked with the absolute pleasure of swishing my feet alternatively through fat pink blossoms, dappled light, bright red and gold leaves, snow. My father is also the memory. The strong bit. He is ahead of me setting the pace as I dawdle in tree dreaming and leaf dancing. I see him clearly as if he is outlined in black marker pen or the Ready Brek glow. His body sturdy, compact, solid, calm, iron-like. And I can see and feel his gait in my body now as I recall this memory. I feel the easy swing of his legs from somewhere higher up his spine. I feel his buoyant propulsion forward, the timing of it, steady and even with firm foot planting. I can see him and a can feel me in him/as him – his bone structure, his cells, his swing, his iron. Somehow this is the cornerstone of my archive. My body is the driver and like my father, it is ahead of me. My archive is, that I move, as well as, how I move. My archive is metabolic. My archive is the DNA I was dealt. My archive is a container of time. It is what I have seen, felt, thought, tasted, encountered, done. It is petrol. It is buzzing and humming. My body is the driver and it is ahead of me and I am chasing it. My archive is both the engine and the snake venom that powers it.
* Apparently this is not unusual, according to the Living Streets campaign, the walk to school is one of those childhood memories that stays with us until we die.
When I talk about my archive I have a tendency to use my hands to indicate a pathway behind me to represent a spatial and temporal timeline upon which I am at a constantly regenerating precipice. I conceive of my present self to be moving forward, simultaneously adding to my archive which is constantly being built behind my, by me. I liken it to Walter Benjamin's Angel of History, whose,
‘…face is turned towards the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one catastrophe that keeps piling ruin upon ruin and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward’.
(1940, Theses on the Philosophy of History: 257-288)
In turning towards my past – to my archive - my history, memories and experiences inform my present and future self and propel me forward, both consciously and not. Consciously: in the way I notice my parents in me as I get older. I sit on the bed and know I am sitting just like my mum, just as I have seen her sit countless times. I make a comment and notice that it’s just the kind of thing my dad would say. I am becoming my parents. Unconsciously: as what has come before has shaped me as the 50 year old woman I am. I can’t know it all, yet I want to. I want to know what has informed me. I like to know.