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The Matter of Fascia: Ecological thinking through embodied practice

Published onMay 19, 2021
The Matter of Fascia: Ecological thinking through embodied practice
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Abstract

Fascia, the connective tissue permeating every structure in the body, is described in physiology and referenced in dance practices, but could it provide a material strata for enhanced ecological thinking? Triangulating Karen Barad’s ‘Intra-actions’ (2012), Timothy Morton’s ‘Queer Ecology’ (2010), and somatic-critical dance practice lead to an image of thought that enacts fascia as a connector, not just of tissues but also the human body with its environment. In this paper, poetic reflections on practice-led movement research and articles/interviews by Morton and Barad that were folded into found poems are brought into relationship. By employing keywords of these three poems, I substitute a vague notion of ‘Umwelt’ with the multitude of selves speaking through fascia. The romantic desire for ‘Nature’ is unmasked as homesickness inscribed in fascia. In accessing fascia through movement and writing, its systemic nature becomes tangible, felt. Fascia becomes a model for an ‘ecological habitat’.

Keywords: Fascia; Other; Queer; Karen Barad; Tim Morton; Environment


What is the agency of the one who registers the imprints of the other? This is not the agency of the ego, and neither is it the agency of one who is presumed to know. (Butler 2004)

INTRODUCTION

the matter of fascia enquires into what fascia may contribute towards material thinking in relation to ecology, and more specifically, to self and other. This paper argues how the spatial dimension of fascial experience, in conjunction with Karen Barad’s and Tim Morton’s queering of phenomena (Barad 2012) and environment (Morton 2010), rethink the embodied experience of our habitats; allowing for a human to be at-home while acknowledging difference and multiplicities within us and around us.

In this research, somatic-critical dance practice as a method of inquiry that combines physiology, movement and touch improvisation – or in other words a somatic movement inquiry – was complemented with free writing and group discussion. A result of the inquiry was the place-based, participative performance the matter of fascia (whenever the performance event is referenced, it is written italicised and in lowercase), which took place at Lake Rototoa, South Head, Aotearoa/New Zealand in February 2019.

Somatic movement methods draw on a sensori-motor inquiry exploring and validating individual experience, enhancing awareness and enabling behavioural changes (Eddy 2016, p.14) and more generally learning through movement and touch. Research on fascia was conducted through practice-led research methods using a study group’s collective and individual somatic improvisations, their written and verbal reflection on embodied fascia inquiry and recent physiological fascia research. The study group consisted of seven dancers with a strong somatic background. In eleven meetings of about three to five hours length, we researched fascia with a somatic methodology: as a primer, a verbal introduction to a fascial topic set the tone. Movement and touch-based scores – improvisation rules that afford certain ideas and disregard other aspects, in order to become specific about what ‘works’ and what doesn’t – led us to our research findings, which then were shared and discussed in the group. For example, we used a rope to explore the pull aspect of myofascia, eventually leading to explore spatial relationships. A video assisted in reflecting the process at a later point in time.

Figure 1

The rope score. Exploring pull patterns and space. February 2018, Lake Rototoa, South Head. Videostill: Andreas Barth.

This paper triangulates this practice-led somatic research with philosopher and quantum field physicist Karen Barad’s ‘intra-action’ (2012) and the concept of ‘Queer Ecology’ by ecological theorist Tim Morton (2010), to explore the notion of nature and environment through the lens of fascia. Barad and Morton offer a conceptual frame for this research that speaks to the findings and helps me to articulate their relevance to contemporary issues of performing ecology. While Barad uses diffraction to look closely at relationships, how matter creates meaning, and how we might address otherness, Morton looks at ecology through a much wider lens, questioning the notion of environment, and similarly like Barad, emphasising relationship and otherness. Both call what they do ‘queering’; either dealing with “ultra-queer atoms“ (Barad 2012, p.80) or the dissolution of nature into a queer ecology (Morton 2010, p.279). Queering means here to both distance themselves from the habitual thinking of self/other; and of self/environment.

All three poems used here are found poems that I created drawing from Barad’s and Morton’s texts, and from the fascia study group writings. These were obtained by adapting Goldberg’s idea of freewriting (1986), which I used to connect non-judgmental writing to a fascia movement practice. Using Alys Longley’s smudge skittle cards (2018) to sample and use fragments of the original texts, the poems do not attempt to capture the complete thought world of their authors. Instead, they look at related key words and ideas that may assist in unfolding a material thinking process through fascia by using part sentences and key words of the texts. Consequently, I call the poems found poems, consisting of existing – found – text, in an assemblage with my personal associations to the original texts.

FASCIA AS INTERNAL ENVIRONMENT

What is fascia? A broad definition for fascia is “all collagenous fibrous connective tissues that can be seen as elements of a body-wide tensional force transmission network” (Schleip & Baker 2015, p.3). It is present almost everywhere in the body. Its shape, size and texture varies depending on the location in the body, on the specific function and on the applied local forces. A structural way of describing fascia is to call it the “organ of form” (Varela, Frankh 1987, p.73), as the tissue that defines a body’s shape. Untrained fascia looks like wire wool, entangled and disorganised; stretched and trained fascia is organised in elastic diamond shapes. Fascia organises the entirety of our organism to move. When we talk of fascia in function, not as structure, it makes sense to speak of myofascia: muscle and fascia are closely connected in movement.

A characteristic trait of fascia is that it is a thing in between – what is between two organs or muscles, or anywhere else in between. Fascia is a structural transition. In movement-based research, one stumbles upon the paradox when a thing in between other things becomes a thing in itself and ceases to be a transition.1 Inbetweenness promotes ambiguity and both-and, it allows for fluidity between things. As something in-between, it differentiates and connects at the same time. It creates relationships of distance, place and becoming. So does fascia.

The study group’s somatic writings on fascia express some of these aspects in this collage of a found poem:

GROUND SUBSTANCE

Floating compression, tensegrities and triangles.

Fascia talks to me as ‘we’, as the others inside me:

“We have friends that know you better than you”

A relief not to be human.

Surface and inside, also a lot of emptiness, in-between

Flocking water molecules create an environment inside us –

In this ocean there is a knowing about other beings’ perceptual range

The haptic intimacy of fluids asks:

What is the nature of contact?

Purpose is embedded in the relational matrix.

There is no point to communication other than transformation.

Fascia is in-between, connecting and differentiating.

From a subjective viewpoint of being one thing next to the in-between, fascia tells of the ‘other’; eventually, otherness rises, another quality of the in-between-thing. This otherness has risen in freewriting sessions after working with fascia. In these sessions the somatic-based writings follow a non-judgmental open stream of words, letting fascia speak of its experience. Fascia here often transforms into languages other than the mother tongue of the writer, or becomes graphic instead of letter- based, as the example in Figure 2 shows.

Figure 2

Freewriting of a participant in a fascia movement workshop. June 2016, Vienna. Photo: Kerstin Kussmaul.

In other instances, fascia emerged speaking as ‘we’, as a collection of others speaking to a self, bringing in unconscious aspects of the experience. It can create multitudes, as dance teacher Sibylle Starkbaum (2017) describes: “fascial life creates a social web, a sense of ‘we’ – and is nourished only by people´s physical presence. It creates a sense of boundaries, difference at the same time”.

What the in-between-ness evokes – a sense of otherness, multitudes, difference and connection, boundaries – is relevant for both Barad and Morton, as they articulate through the queering of their thinking. The otherness as expressed through the reflection of myofascia through graphics or through use of foreign languages point to another aspect both Barad and Morton attend to, the nonhuman, or inhuman, respectively. More on this later.

Fascia is a structure connecting and communicating through the whole body, and through modulating fascial tone, informs haptically about our surroundings. Modulating fascial tone can be done through changing the relationship (the amount of surrendering) to gravity. This modulation has spatial implications, in how the space within us and around us is being perceived. Strictly speaking both muscle and fascia is engaged when modulating the tone, so it is accurate to speak of myofascial tone.

For an experiential understanding, I propose this short exercise:

Close your eyes. Rest your arms somewhere – a table, armrest, floor... Let your arms be as heavy as possible (which equals low myofascia tone). Sense what your arm is touching without looking: Temperature, materiality, structure, weight, size, the relationship of the touched object to other objects. Also notice how much information you are receiving about yourself, such as position in space, breath, what else you touch etc.

Now raise the myofascia tone, make your arm light, without losing touch to where your arm rested. Attend again to your surroundings now – do you still receive the same (amount of) information? And how about what is revealed about yourself now? 2

In the experience of study group and in class with many groups of dancers and non-dancers, most will answer that a low myofascia tone feeds more information about what is beyond our physical boundaries, and high myofascial tone feeds more information about what is happening in ourselves. Fascia informs us about our surrounding by haptic sensation, composed of tactile and weight-related input. The higher the myofascia tone, the less prominent the feed from our surroundings becomes, and internally, muscular perception becomes predominant. This corresponds to the observation of dancer and contact improvisation cofounder Nita Little who coined this relation in an email conversation with the author (1/9/2016): “muscle tells us about ourselves, fascia about our environment”. Myofascia tone consequently becomes a mediator of our understanding of self within the environment. What and how we perceive, we are able to modulate through myofascia tone, and there seems to be a direct inverse relationship between the sensory feed of self and that of environment.

The physiological underpinning for this observation are found in the numerous free nerve endings in fascia, which lead to the anterior insular cortex. This is an area of the brain that is thought to be related to self-recognition, to the awareness of environment, and to the integration of feelings related to the body (Schleip & Jäger 2012). The numerous free nerve endings in fascia leads us thus to this interesting part of the brain and potentially suggests that fascia might also be related to these functions (Schleip & Jäger 2012, p. 91). At this time, physiology might not be able to fully explain the phenomena of myofascia tone and the perception of self/other. But physiology points to fascia as very relevant to homeostasis, the ongoing self-regulatory chemical and physical dynamics to maintain fairly constant conditions within the body. The current physiological and somatic research support the thought that homeostasis, interoception and the fascial sensorium are closely linked, and that spatial experience plays a role within this dynamic.

Fascia’s function leads beyond what is visible in fascia’s matter at first sight. As a sensorium, and with the ability to connect us to other, points to fascia as both matter and agent – and matter is agential, according to Barad (Kleinman 2012, p.80), creating affordances for interpersonal relationships. Gravity being a non-human agent, and myofascial’s modulation of gravity, it finds the non-human in us. It oscillates between a liquid becoming and reaching beyond an individual’s body, evoking ambivalences, otherness, touch and questions of boundaries. Fascia realises the paradox of what is an internal environment, swimming in its own ocean within us.

‘INTRA-ACTIONS’ BY KAREN BARAD

MATERALISING RELATION

I relate therefore I am. I did not pre-exist.

I materialized in intra-action, within our entanglements

and became part of a phenomenon.

Separate from you only within this phenomenon.

Now you and me are spacetimematterings.

Agential cuts let them emerge and dissolve.

We get our hands dirty in matter (which is not mere stuff)

Physics is an enquiry into the nature of touch.

What if nature herself is queer?

(and not the bedrock of dichotomy embedding a morality of exclusion)

Entangled, indeterminate, fluid identities, full of atomic critters.

We are balancing on slippery ground.

Questions become a practice of engagement.
Enabling responses of other (the inhuman), response-ability

Infinitive intimacy touching the nature of touch.

Cuts and entanglements.

What if fascia response-ables the inhuman?

(Found fascia poem by Kerstin Kussmaul based on Barad’s ‘intra-actions’ (Kleinman 2012)

Figure 3

Score. The liquid crystal of fascia in the matter of fascia. February 2019, Lake Rototoa, South Head. Photo: Hamish MacDonald.Figure 3: Score. Liquid crystal in the matter of fascia

Barad is relevant for my practice-led research on fascia because many of her aspects of agential realism – such as the other, the inhuman, the focus on relationship, differentiating and connecting, have emerged in my fascia research, and as they have emerged together, my hypothesis is that the phenomena of fascia is related to Barad’s image of thought as a whole. Her focus on the relational nature in phenomena draws also other dance artists to her work.

Barad unhinges the subject-object relationship, or to speak in broader terms, undoes cause and effect with her image of thought called agential realism. She does so by claiming an entangled world that becomes diffracted by these agential cuts. These cuts create individuals – instead of individuals creating cuts, as one might assume, and the diffractions create spacetime matterings (Kleinman 2012, p.77). They are not only substance, but also agents creating mattering, or meaning, entangled in and through their creation.

The idea of intra-actions emphasises how we enact temporary individuals. These are ongoingly reconfigured, an enactment. This is queering – a non-linear, non-binary coupling of events, a constant ontological becoming, and altering, and dismissing. Difference arises as a consequence of becoming of individuals. Mattering of matter becomes a “congealing of agency” (Kleinman 2012, p.80). Everything rises, exists, falls through relationship, intention, of entangled matters, including oneself. In an agential cut some things arise but something else may not become detectable. Instead of being inter-related, we are one entangled phenomena without subject/object divide. This lack of separation sounds messy, and Barad accordingly speaks of “getting our hands dirty” (Kleinman 2012, p.77).

How does Barad’s thought world relate to fascia? Agential cuts come into existence through creation of relationship. This is how the agential realism refers to fascia in function, as a connector and diffractor, as an enabler of relationship. Fascia as human matter of what in previous anatomy history was considered unimportant filling material – or what Barad calls “mere stuff” (Kleinman 2019, p.80). But it now comes into view as relationship creator, and starts to matter. Fascia is a prime example of how matter is an agent. It entangles us with our surroundings, the surrounding being the liquid life in us and how the sensation extends into the world around us.

‘QUEER ECOLOGY’ BY TIM MORTON

LIQUID LIFE

strange strangers: look around you!

a queer monument of othernesses

Nature is a process, not a product

fragmental and prosaic.

Non-totalizable, openended interrelations

that blur boundaries (also between life forms)

defying boundaries between inside and outside

mesh and entanglements

Others are under our skin

the spatial intimacy

a threshold rather than boundary

creating desires

We are a collective coexistence

but not a holistic community

What if we value intimacy with strangers

over holistic belonging?

(Found poem by Kerstin Kussmaul based on Morton’s ‘Queer Ecology’ (2010))

Tim Morton’s (2010) queering comes from a biological viewpoint, by laying out how dissolution of the binary can be argued through a variety of examples. His nonessentialist argument is for example based on the intermingling of DNA/RNA across species, how in DNA viral code cannot be distinguished from genuine code (p.274), or how “heterosexual production is a late addition to an ocean of asexual division” (p.276).

Morton argues that the notion of inside-outside is at the heart of “thinking the environment as a closed, metaphysical system – Nature” (p.274). Instead, he suggests, we should rethink environment as something that permeates us, that “confounds boundaries” (p.275), and as Barad speaks of entanglements and queer atoms, Morton considers the un-boundaried, un-comprising and unlimited notion of “queer mesh” (p.278). The conceptual separation of inside and outside is not supported, and thus his track of thinking aligns with the ambivalence of fascia – how fascia both relays information from surroundings and internal proceedings, and these are not opposites, but along a scale of myofascia tone modulation. The boundary between inside and outside in fascia’s experience is equally blurry.

The ‘Queer Ecology’ that Morton proposes complements fascia’s conversation with Barad’s ‘Intra-agency’ by the systemic aspect of ecological thinking. System characteristics are for example part interdependence, a purpose that is not inscribed in the parts, but in the whole, the tendency of systems to create self-stability, the focus on relationship and context, among other attributes. Morton warns to think of ecology as nature as a closed system that is based on an inside/outside perspective, and instead maintains that “interdependence implies differences that cannot be totalized” (p.278). Morton does not expand in further detail how his view of ecology is different from organicism, or systems thinking. The question remains if Morton equals nature with systems thinking as a holistic, or organicistic world view; versus systemic thinking as methodology. In the context of this paper, Morton’s contribution lies in the warning of the binary of inside/outside thinking, which would lead to a holistic view that ultimately negates our differences, or multiplicities. Binary thinking emphasises community – a congregation of inner sameness versus outer difference. For Morton, the concept of nature, and even more so the concept of wilderness, is a symbol for some pristine other, for the longing of union, in order to become part of a community. But Morton advocates collectivity instead of holistic community. Collectivity allows an appreciation of difference within and without, and thus of co-existence.

Fascia’s functionality is expressed as systemic as well. Fascia works as a tensile net made of a design principle called “floating compression”, as named by Kenneth Snelson (2012, p.71) or as tensegrity: a word creation by Buckminster Fuller based on tension and integrity (ibid). It means there are areas of compression in an ocean of tension (tonus). Fascia works as a complex system: synergetic, interconnected, and functionally complex. A change in one fascia-immersed body part can affect other body parts instantly, even over long distance. As a floating compression, fascia is swimming in its ocean of liquid crystals and becomes a biochemical and nervous transmitter, as part of the systems of communication and transformation that permeate the body. The fascia cell communicates constantly with its surroundings, the extracellular matrix, affecting, supporting and sustaining each other. Below (figure 4) is an image of a tensegrity icosahedron. It shows some of the tensegric, systemic attributes of fascia. As a model and thus only depicting certain aspects, it appears segregated from the surrounding. However, tensegrity models are scaleable - bigger tensegrity models can create an environment for smaller ones.

Figure 4

A tensegrity icosahedron, n.d. Photo by Kerstin Kussmaul.

INTERFACING INTRA-ACTION AND QUEER ECOLOGY WITH SOMATIC-CRITICAL FASCIA RESEARCH

Morton and Barad undo the classic view of nature by arguing the multiplicities of phenomena in nature, which is everything but binary when looking closely. Barad, as quantum field physicist, uses material examples of atoms and other small things, whereas Morton uses biological arguments for ecological thinking. They both blur the boundaries between the human and non-human (Morton) or inhuman (Barad) and unhinge the traditionally narrated nature/culture dichotomy with counter-arguments. This undoing of binary thinking concerns sexuality and life forms, puzzling our understanding of individual relating to groups, and thus also of what constitutes identity.

Barad’s intra-agency helps to understand the entanglement of matter and meaning in fascia. Her argument of subjective involvement provides a theoretical backdrop for somatic-critical research, which is the use of corporeal, individual, emergent intelligence as a source for creating knowledge. Morton’s systemic viewpoint complements Barad in regards to myofascia, seen as a complex synergetic system. His notion of environment attends to myofascia’s internal environment.

THE NOTION OF ENVIRONMENT IN FASCIA

The internal environment that fascia creates in our bodies is mirrored in Morton’s notion of environment which is not separate from us and affects us directly. Environment is inscribed in fascia: Fascia is environment – in our bodies it is constituted by a whole lot of ‘nothing’ and liquid, with a little bit of ‘something’ that does the wrapping, encapsulating, permeating, connecting and differentiating. Myofascia’s ability to modulate tone and thus work with gravity tells us about our environment, both internal and external. The fascial system shapes how we communicate with our surroundings, and it internally communicates about our wellbeing, through calibrating measures of homeostasis. Is the idea of an internal environment a paradox? Etymologically speaking it isn’t: the word ‘environment’ in the 18th century meant “the aggregate of the conditions in which a person or thing lives” (Online Etymology Dictionary n.d.). Conditioning is a word we use for bodily practices, for social and cultural environments, not just outdoor weather conditions. It refers to both within the body and outside. Dance conditioning is a subject taught in dance; training strength, balance, and flexibility (Franklin 2004). A body creates the conditions in which to live in, within itself and through permeation with its surroundings.

Fascia conditions, independently of any perceived or constructed boundaries of inside – and outside – beyond dichotomies. To think of fascia as a system includes considering both structure and function. The structure is a system within a body, but the function – the ability to inform beyond of what one perceives as bodily boundaries – creates a system with what is surrounding, touching it and being touched. Fascia attends to an in-between, not to an either-or, but to a both-and.

Figure 5

Rosie Tapsell visualising inside-outside relationship in the frog activation score in the matter of fascia. 21 February 2019, Lake Rotota, South Head. Photo: Hamish MacDonald.

In this example, the dancer in the matter of fascia negotiates her weight which includes slow transitions of leaning in relationship to her environment (figure 5). While having to employ a rather low myofascia tone, she still needs to work out verticality against collapsing while still being ready anytime for a cling wrap that may break.

FROM DIFFERENTIATING TO CONNECTING TO BECOMING

In somatic movement, learning to differentiate precedes integrating and connecting body parts or systems in movement. This is a result of specific attention and intention to perception and movement. Body parts or systems are then able to relate to each other and to the body as a whole. Fascia, or myofascia, is one of these corporeal systems, one that enables haptic perception of the surrounding world and letting fascia speak to and of each other. Similarly, Barad’s agential cuts create individuals as becomings in an entangled world – agential cuts create difference, and in due course relationships of becoming.

ENTANGLED FASCIA

Figure 6

Mesh and entanglements. Leah Carrell in the matter of fascia. February 2019, Lake Rotota South Head. Photo: Hamish MacDonald.

The image of fascia as wire-wool associates with Barad’s entanglement phenomena. Fascia, originally considered by anatomists as filling or stuff was just matter before physiologists discovered the functional agency of fascia as continuous web, communicator and relationship enabler. In this sense fascia speaks of how matter is mattering, how it is agent and matter at the same time. This relates to Barad’s idea of spacetimematterings – fascia as substances of doing, and more specifically, of creating relationships by diffracting, modulating myofascia tone.

A plastic substance, fascia’s form and appearance follows the demands of its use in movement over longer periods of time. The use shapes fascia’s substance, or matter, over time depending on how the agential cuts are being made. Matter is not a static given. Form follows function. Results are not one and for all – fascia is plastic and will respond to change. Healthy fascia responds at any stage in life to the asks in movement and touch. Matter and meaning are intricately involved with each other.

OTHERNESS/INHUMAN/MULTIPLICITIES

Both somatic-based movement work with fascia and intra-agency pursue ontological questions of the in-between, of becoming, relationship, and multiplicities, which lead to acknowledge otherness and difference within us.

Barad emphasises the processual nature of phenomena by introducing responsibility. It is an invitation for the other, a welcoming that leads towards a “response-ability” (Kleinman 2012, p.81). It creates affordances, a step-by step becoming. Barad emphasises how otherness is part of us. She speaks not of the non-human (which would create another binary), but of the inhuman: the inhuman critters of multiplicities, of appearing impossibilities.

When fascia arises to speak – riding the wave of just below the surface of consciousness that freewriting is – we offer the in-human and the multiplicities to emerge, such as in this participant’s writing in a fascia research workshop of the author’s (2016) in which a slightly humorous tone of the in-human appears:

Slime slime, long I feel and loose... all my tendons have stretched themselves. I am water I am elastic, because I am you are. I hold you together like the cheese holds the sandwich, am I in all living beings, only in humans or also in animals? Am I in plants. Am I a plant.

Connected to the in-human is the otherness, which becomes visible through speaking in foreign tongues in the freewriting, or in the image as discussed above (see Figure 5). This otherness also may going to a preverbal state, as captured in this writing excerpt of another participant of the same fascia research workshop (2016): “Wrapped in vibration, Shrouded by trembling, / In nothing / That I do not want to permeate / In silence / I rest in silence / Having lost my thoughts.”

Figure 7

Vivian Medina: The woman without face in the matter of fascia. February 2019, Lake Rotota, South Head. Photos: Hamish MacDonald.

In order to give the in-human and the others in us a voice, could we practice multiplicity, otherness and queer thinking through working with fascia in touch and movement, and letting it speak of its experience? This might become a material recognition of the inhuman within us, a start of allowing othernesses and multiplicities to reside in us. An example for the multitudes is this freewriting of a participant in one of another fascia research workshop of the author (2018): “Together with water we fasten the many. The manyness in our manifesto”. Fascia may assist in unravelling thingness. Accessing fascia in movement and touch experiences, again, the “both-and”, the otherness, the slightly conspicuous, an intimacy that is not bound to humanness.

There is a difference in Barad’s and Morton’s thinking: Morton (2010) speaks of the “open-ended concatenation of interrelations that blur boundaries at practically any level” (p.275). His solution to deal with other-nesses, with the non-human is to widen the circles of involvement, to never close them. He expands his scale of thinking with non-totalisable, open-ended interrelations, as in the poem, or when he negates worlds, which have horizons (2010, p.278); we are part of a never to be finished mess or mesh. Barad, on the other side, thinks “there is always something that drops out” (Kleinman 2012, p.81), questioning if it makes sense to continuously “widen the bounds of conclusion” (ibid). She wonders if the answer is instead to look inside us, to find the abysms and the othernesses within us. If physics is an enquiry into the nature of touch, as stated in the poem, it may be a start to inquire within us physically, within our materiality of fascia for example, in a somatic inquiry. “What if knowledge in general has an irremedially local dimension?” (Ophir, Shapin 1991, p.4).

THE RELUCTANCE OF INTERFERING

When Barad (2012, p.77) speak of getting hands dirty, it is an image describing the impossibility of being separate from the world around us, or from what we are invested to observe and study. It taps into theories that call the ‘subject’ into question.

The question of the subject has been explored in-depth by feminist, artist and psychoanalyst Bracha L. Ettinger in the book The Matrixial Borderspace (2006). Ettinger speaks of before individuation realises itself, and of the time when this process starts and comes into being, and thus of the question of subjectivity as in how we can not be separate from our agential cuts. She draws a haunting sketch of the not-yet-but-almost-becoming, how becoming involves an ambivalence (of not to be determined), an emergent phenomenon rising against the background of the undisclosed matrix, the womb. Both matter and matrix trace etymologically to mater, the mother (matrix, n.d.).

SAVING PENGUINS

Coming back to the subject/object divide, I would like to use the nature/culture divide as an example. This thinking of not being part of nature permeates many paradigms. Nature videographers, for example, are supposed not to interfere. This is considered “a cardinal rule”, says cameraman Doug Allen as quoted in a The Guardian online article of journalist Aamna Mohdin (2018). She reports of public discussions that ask if it was justified for David Attenborough’s team of camera operators to save a group of trapped penguins in a ravine by building a ramp. She quotes Mike Gunton, producer of the BBC series for which the penguin intervention took place, who said interfering might mean “changing the dynamics of the natural system or you might be depriving something of its food” n.p). But Gunton also says he thinks it was justifiable to intervene in this particular case as the camera crew did not upset the penguins; nor interfered with a predator chasing. This argument doesn’t hold up to closer scrutiny, if one follows the non-interference position among nature videographers. It looks like an attempt to have it both ways: Is making a colony of penguins survive who otherwise would not have been able to, not interfering? Is it possible that the delight in the bipedal and humanlike aspects of penguins influenced Gunton’s judgment – would he have done the same with a group of snakes in a pit? The situation becomes more curious when one looks at the opening video still that is connected to the article: it shows a camera man in bright red clothes in a white snowy landscape standing behind a major camera equipment on a hill. On the flats, behind the man is a penguin colony of several hundred birds which looks back in the direction of the man with the camera. The penguins clearly have taken notice of the human. How can one argue that being seen by wild animals does not mean interfering? Who decides when interfering starts? We simply don’t know the consequences, but we cannot pretend that we don’t get our hands dirty, as both Barad and Morton argue – we are always involved when we are present.

The position of not/interfering stems from the viewpoint of seeing the human as not being part of nature, or in this case, wildlife. I can not interfere with what I am part of. We yearn for untouched nature, untouched by humans, that is. To claim not to be interfering is to deny one’s own presence. What might nature filming look like when a film team considers itself as part of what is happening at the place they are visiting?

THE INVOLVEMENT OF PLACE IN THE MATTER OF FASCIA

the matter of fascia took place on a farm in the fragile ecosystem of dune lakes in South Head, in and water, pasture, and in pine forest. The audience was introduced to the interwoven human and the natural history, acknowledging the history of involvement that was already present. Through an account of place, a relationship with between audience and place could begin. The performance was set up in improvised scores that allowed the performers to adapt to the constantly changing conditions of the place. We did not try to fit the place into the performance, but rather asked the place what it had to say about fascia. As far as possible, we used materials from the site – such as dinghies present on the lake, a sculpture made out of kanuka trees sourced from the bush on site.

Cling wrap was used for the ‘frog activation score’. If performers moved slow enough, the frogs in the lake would start to croak, as they were not concerned with human movement anymore. The frogs thus became a measure for the quality of the slow-motion score. We accepted our presence as an alteration of the situation; at the same time we entered a dialogue, finding a role of co-existing, acknowledging the multiple others, materialising as flora and fauna.

We did not explicitly follow a ‘leave no trace’ policy – another expression of the nature/culture divide, or seeing the human as separate from the surroundings. This did not mean we left traces: rather, we attended to the place by sensing its quality of sounds, visuals, smells and other impressions over extended periods of time. With a respectful approach to the in-human, a leave no trace policy need not be addressed. By assuming ourselves as part of the ecosystem, we did not deny our presence but would not alter any aspect of the land and water permanently.

FASCIA’S EARTH

If we cannot interfere with what we are part of, as just discussed, we can deduce that we can only yearn for (or desire, in Morton words) of what we are not part of. To feel separated from our surroundings thus can lead to feeling homesick, in a wider sense.

In the five elements in the phenomenology of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), each body system is attributed to a certain element. Fascia and muscle are the bodily structure that articulate the earth element – everything that grounds us, makes us feel to belong, and express our being and living in relation to the earth that we stand on.3 In movement practice, the belonging of myofascia to earth is ingrained in the modulation of myofascia tone; it relates directly to the experience of gravity, and thus the ground beneath us. Maybe we could think of gravity as the first relationship we develop in utero, within the buoyancy of the amniotic sac.

Earth is a symbol for home. Following TCM practitioner Dianne Connelly (1993), “all sickness is homesickness”. Myofascia is part of the earth element and thus also related to home, or feeling to lack thereof. Homesickness and a sense of belonging are mutually exclusive. Is the yearning for untouched nature not another way of expressing homesickness? Of a relationship to earth as other, and also of within us, gone wrong or missing? And might fascia then become part of an agency to heal our relationship to the earth? In tensegrity design, cause and effect can switch places. Myofascia can be a victim of things gone wrong in our relationship to the earth, which may express itself as myofascia pain or other symptoms. As cause and effect are interchangeable, myofascia can also instigate healing. An appreciation of myofascia, a tender attention, a physical considering of ambiguities, multiplicities, helps us to understand the stranger within us, giving myofascia response-ability. To find the earth in manifold expressions will help to heal our relationships, to the human and to the inhuman. We create response-ability by working functionally with myofascia.

In the matter of fascia, the response-ability expressed itself by the audience staying on after the performance – they did not disperse, and instead kept engaging with each other and the site. Some chose to swim in the lake, despite wind and rain, immersing themselves in touch with their surroundings.

Having a sense of belonging is where touching other or self is safe and creates relationships. It allows intimacy with strangers, with the in-human within us and around us. Somatic myofascial work models the fabric of connection and belonging. Instead of environment, I propose to think and use the word ‘habitat’: a sense of how we create the world in which we belong, and how the world creates us. A felt sense of what is in us, touch us and around us, and in the blurry field in-between all of these, a spatial intimacy fostered by fascia.

Figure 8

Rosie Tapsell: Arch way in the matter of fascia. February 2019, Lake Rotota, South Head. Photo: Hamish MacDonald.


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