5.1 INTRODUCTION: ON MEDIATIZATION AND PERFORMANCE ADDICTION
All across the modern world, the human being is malnourished—and
I am not referring just to the poor. In Western nations, even
the bodies of the obese, the rich, and the highly-privileged betray
obvious signs of starvation, both physical and spiritual. We certainly
have no lack of stuff to fill ourselves with, yet spiraling consumption
of things devoid of nutritive value only whets our hunger. Wasn’t
‘consumption’ the 14th Century name for a disease
of wasting-away? Today we are not so different: consumption is
Even culture and the arts have been commodified into an item we
purchase. But the bland fare of modern pop culture is as empty
of soulful nutrition as bag of Cheetos, and about as addictive.
In the frenzy to sate our cravings with media, we often forget
that this hunger for performance is an ancient one, a deep human
need for participatory, unmediated ritual and ceremony, for cultural
transformation--the original purpose of the arts.
Cut to our contemporary scene: legions of the culturally anemic,
voraciously consuming lonely performances on iPods and laptops,
Youtube and Twitter, attempting to capture the magic on our cell
phone cameras, in a collective gasp for the nutritive value of
the arts . Yet, because we can never be “virtually”
satisfied, the cycle of addiction rambles on. Performance scholar
Baz Kershaw asks:
Is drama now an unconscious addiction, a programme
so deeply ingrained that we do not even recognize it as a need?
And is performance becoming an addictive matrix of consciousness,
a new kind of paradigm crucially inherent to human ecology?…It
arrives in a very personal guise through anxieties about our own
performance--in career, lifestyle, love…Or we become fascinated
by the performance of people we will never meet--in the media,
sports, politics. Or we are drawn to more abstract domains of
performance—the FTSE, the GNP, the RAE, the hundred best
of everything, the ten worst... The perfusion of performance…then
generates various pathologies of perception of social process.
We are a culture obsessed with performance. Perhaps this fact
can shed some light upon where our needs truly lie? I believe
that we can remedy the addictive mediatization of society by returning
per-form-ance to its roots—giving tangible and actual form
to the sustainable and healthy culture we so desperately need.
My own work as a embodied artist seeks to mitigate the intense
flood of media and hard technology into our lives by renewing
a performance tradition which truly nourishes, truly transforms
our people and our culture.
This video “essay” provides a view into the Bcollective’s
site-specific performances in which we are invited outdoors to
physical connection with people and place. We recover the art
of meaningful work in the landscape, the art of honoring the body,
the of art of actively building and sculpting a vision for a healthy,
A friend and colleague, Tamara Ashley (Newcastle, UK) is currently
researching her phD in dance with a focus upon artists for whom
the land and landscape is an integral part of their work. This
summer (2009) she asked to visit the Bcollective in order to document
my work as part of this research, and I agreed.
She received a grant, bought her plane ticket, and arrived on
a hot day in July. We spent two weeks together, dancing in the
garden, at the beach, even on old military grounds, where we had
the distinct intention of helping to transform a place built for
guns and war into a place for art making. Many conversations were
had about the role of performance and art in people’s lives
today, interviews recorded, videography captured.
In working with her I have been given an incredible gift: by seeing
my life reflected in the eyes of a witness, I have come to view
my activist work as a type of durational performance, one which
has as its aim the creation of a model for an ecologically sane
and humane way of living.
5.2.1 WHAT IS DURATIONAL PERFORMANCE?
performance is a performance format in which the very agency of
time is brought to the forefront...A durational performance is
designed to let time physically affect or thematically inform
the performer's practice of his/her art form, as well as the audience's
reception...By exceeding the normal time-span of the performance,
which in Western culture, is 1.5 hours...durational performance
challenges habitual Western patterns of consumption of cultural
products...Thus, durational performance could be consdiered as
a culturally healthy pause from the 9 to 5 routine, a break for
bodily refelction upon existence.
ecosomatic work is working towards ever-greater respect for the
“body” at all levels—the individual body (soma),
the social body (community) and the greater body of Earth (Gaia).
This respect which favors the natural rhythms of seasons and of
the body often comes into conflict with the commoditization of
time and body in our society:
society] attempts to break the barriers of nature by lengthening
the working day beyond the limits set by the sun, the seasonal
cycles, and the body itself….Marx....sees the alienation
from the body as a distinguishing trait of….transforming
labor into a commodity....the worker "only feels himself
outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He is
at home when he is not working and when he is working is not at
home.” (Marx, 1961) This too leads to a sense of dissociation
from the body... 
Ever since I committed to using the tools of the embodied arts
to guide how I live (I rarely use an alarm clock!), I have been
astonished at my increasing inability to distinguish between work
and play, between life and art, between ideals and activism. In
a world which tends to keep rigid walls between disciplines, this
synaesthetic blurring of lines between art and ecology can be
quite disorienting. Putting my integrative work in the context
of durational performance has been a most comforting remedy.
A related coping strategy I use frequently is to remain open to
continual revision of my definition of art. Recently I have discovered
art to be a technology that evolved with the human species to
help keep us healthy, attuned and calibrated to a rapidly changing
world. If art (like everything else) is subject to a whole-systems
analysis, then for me, anything that does not help humans to attain
a sustainable and just culture cannot be considered art. For this
reason, I keep goals of ecological sanity and social justice central
to my art making process.
I recommend adding these strategies--a whole-systems view of art,
and the ability to view ecological activism as a durational performance—to
a kit of tools for surviving in a today’s compartmentalized,
commodified world. My collaborations with Tamara Ashley have helped
me to see my work with the Bcollective as a type of extended
performance in which we practice getting back in touch with our
bodies, in touch with community, in touch with place.
Site-specific is a type of performance in which artists and audience
interact with and gain a deeper connection to place.
In recent years, there has been a surge of interest
in the use of non-theatre spaces for performance: from empty garages
and automobiles, to underground tunnels, cafes, lakes, laundromats…the
list is practically endless.…As a general rule, “site-specific”
is a term used to describe artwork that has a relationship with
its surroundings, architecture and/or landscape. Its many permutations
intersect with land art, performance art, conceptual art, installation
art, community-based art, public art, and experimental dance and
theatre. It is a practice with many modes of actualization, disciplinary
and interdisciplinary approaches. 
With this definition in mind, it may be helpful for ecological
place making and village building projects to consider how they
might incorporate the arts to engage more deeply with a place.
At the Bcollective, we are experimenting with this concept:
designing healthy social ecological systems by using the arts.
Please watch the following videos (sections 5.2.4 and 5.2.5) for
examples of place-making ritual performance.
5.2.4 VIDEO: “de-composition”
editing: Nala Walla
camera: Tamara Ashley and Nala Walla
performance: Tamara Ashley and Nala Walla
This short film was the result of a weekend-long exploration of
a decommissioned, decomposing military base near the Bcollective
homestead. This place holds a very deep place in my psyche, as
a place of beauty and power, but also a place of displacement
Historically, since 1857, the US Navy spent decades clearing native
people, trees and animals from this and several other strategic
sites in the area--arguably some of the most beautiful places
in the world--and importing millions of tons of concrete to bury
massive bunkers, guns and munitions in the Earth. The idea was
to protect the waterways from foreign invasion, but the bases
became obsolete with the advent of air warfare after being open
for just a few years. Not one hostile shot was ever fired.
Though the trees onsite have grown back considerably, the landscape
has been drastically altered and the masses of concrete will remain
in a state of slow decay for a long time. Ironically, the bunkers
are popularly used today for singing due to their resonant qualities,
and in our case, for photography and film.
For me, one of the purposes of my work (and play!) there is to
help transform the place from one dedicated to war, to one dedicated
to art, healing, and possibility. I have often envisioned a village
of people thriving there in turning the old barracks into villager
housing, the parade grounds into permaculture gardens—those
underground bunkers would make ideal root cellars to store all
the food that we’d grow! So may it be.
A site has history. People have owned it, lost it, died
on it, made love on it. It is not the neutral black space of
the theatre stage, which excels at make-belief. However, it
doesn't mean that site-specificity is all about actuality. Sites
have histories, and this certainly informs the production. However,
the job of theatre is to imagine a possible history (and hence
future) for a site. Theatre can uncover memories and stories
hidden in the space which no humans have witnessed and documented
This video contains footage from a day-long site-specific dance
on a beach very near the Bcollective Homestead, a sacred place
to which I often come for refreshment and renewal. We spent most
of the day in silence, bathing in clay, seaweed, and the sounds
of wind, birds and sea. It is very important to me to get in touch
with the elements in this way.
The images in this film serve as a reminder that every human being
has indigenous roots. Although, for many people with European
ancestry, these roots have been obscured by successive waves of
colonization over time, it is possible--and indeed essential to
our health--to begin the process of re-indigenization. Although
we may never experience relationship to the landscape in the same
way as people who have resided in a particular place for thousands
of years, we can create rituals to connect us again with Earth,
and re-establish the respect of place that characterizes indigenous
thinking and cosmology.
SITE-SPECIFIC PERFORMANCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Every year during autumn, the Bcollective organizes site-specific
performances to honor the turning of the seasons. We usually gather
an enormous amount of leaves to incorporate into the ritual, a
fun, and pleasant-smelling activity. And, when the performance
is over, we have the added bonus (stacking functions) of mulch
for our garden, effectively creating a biodynamic preparation
from the energy harnessed by the performance. This year, I decided
to experiment with sharing a site-specific performance (which
is by nature a very local experience) with the outside world by
using web cams and SKYPE. Please watch the video in section 5.3.1,
then read the “behind the scenes” information on the
here to view photos from Outside In (2009).
5.3.1 VIDEO: “Outside-In”
editing: Nala Walla
camera: Jane Hawley
Aura Muunta Dean
Leigh Senna Wheaton
In October 2009, Tamara Ashley and I continued our work together
by creating a collaborative performance which used web casting
technology. Tamara organized an urban venue in Newcastle, UK (Dance
City) for creation of a globe-spanning interactive performance.
The outdoor, ritual performance in Port Townsend, WA was projected
upon a 16 foot tall screen onstage at Dance City via
Skype. The UK dancers were able to let the movements of the US
dancers influence their composition, effectively creating a duet,
in real-time between the two groups of dancers.
For the live audience in the UK and the US, the attempt to bring
"outside in" as they viewed an outdoor dance landscape
superimposed upon the indoor urban landscape, highlights a feeling
of being "out-of-place," and the awkwardness of substituting
a "virtual" connection for a physical one. In Port Townsend,
the “outside” was brought “in” through
a very different experience--one of being embedded within and
related to place, though participation in an autumn ritual. The
juxtaposition of these two calls all who were involved to questions
our relationship to place and to technology.
It amazed me that we were able to carry out the technological
requirements of this experiment with nothing more than a couple
of laptops, a projector, and a high-speed internet connection--tools
which are commonly available in Western Countries and easily operated
by laypeople. As far as we know, this may be the first dance experiment
of its kind. The resulting images in the UK were dithered and
blurry, which added a certain kind of dreamy effect. However,
it might be interesting to try this experiment again with expert
web and video technicians on both ends of the “wire.”
For me, the most compelling part of this performance was my participation
in the ritual with my friends and peers—feeling the wind
and rain on my face, being buried under autumn leaves, connecting
with place. Whether or not cameras are involved, I will continue
to make work which creates a sense of place in community.
The Waterhouse was the second ecosomatic, durational
performance collaboration between Mark Lakeman and Nala Walla.
The first, called Dwell, occurred in August of 2008,
at Earthdance’s SEEDS (Somatic Experiments in Earth, Dance
and Science) Festival. In Dwell, a sacred teahouse was
built over a week’s time by a group of dancers. Embodied
practices were part and parcel of the construction process on
this "somatic job site." In this reweaving of art and
architecture, both disciplines experienced their roots in place
making, sacred ceremony and village life. Click
here to watch Dwell: The Reweaving
The Waterhouse Project was a similar durational performance
project that took place on the Bcollective Homestead
in July 2009. By bringing the body-centered skills of dancers
onto a natural building job site, both these projects are hands-on
examples of applied ecosomatics. For more information on Ecosomatics,
please see my multimedia report: "playGROUND:
Ecosomatics At Work and Play in the Landscape”
We explored movement repatterning both in the sense of our personal,
bodily “movement”-- squatting, lifting, bending, hammering,
sawing, etc-- and in the sense of the larger sustainability “movement,”
as well. We shared song, story, dance, ritual, food together;
live drawing, painting, a hammock for napping, and a bodywork
table were set up as different “stations” to visit
throughout the project. All of these things are designed to add
play, enjoyment and celebration to our movement, making it ultimately
more healthy, and more sustainable. Please watch the Waterhouse
video below, in section 5.4.2.
5.4.2 VIDEO: “Waterhouse”
editing: Nala Walla
camera: various participants
artistic director: Nala Walla
architectural director: Mark Lakeman
performance: various participants
One specific technique we used for repatterning was so simple,
it deserves special mention here: the mindfulness bell. At the
beginning of the project, people agreed to participate in a game--a
bell holder would to ring a soft mindfulness bell every five minutes,
at which point, everyone on the job site would take a pause for
a breath, and to check-in with their bodies, even just for a moment
or two. Each person would serve in the role of ‘bell-holder’
for a half-hour before passing the bell on to the next person.
For me, this score was very effective, staying with me for weeks
and even months after the event ended. Though, there is still
much room for improvement, as everyone noticed a desensitization
to the bell after a period of time.
In addition to rotating the role of ‘bell-holder,’
we also rotated the photography and videography of the event among
participants. This gave a variety of people the chance to step
back and view the project from a visual arts perspective. Instead
of having a designated videographer, many people got to expand
their capabilities in this area. The camera also gave people a
reason to take a break from some of the more strenuous tasks,
as we shared all the different roles involved in the collective
effort to build the Waterhouse, as well as document the
process for the benefit of others.
5.4.4 GOALS, CHALLENGES AND ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Several goals were achieved during this project:
•The intimate connection between art and
activism was explored.
•Conventionally separate disciplines were rewoven.
•The moving arts demonstrated their practicality to village
building by applying ergonomic knowledge to the building site
in a pragmatic manner—i.e. how to best use a shovel or a
drill without injury to the body.
•Architecture took on a kinetic aspect, deeply rooted in
place-based ceremony instead of merely cold abstractions of straight-edges
•Both disciplines explored a rediscovery of their original
roots in village life, where no lines between dance, song, storytelling
and the daily labors of shelter and sustenance were drawn.
All in all, I found this project both invigorating, and challenging.
We all enjoyed one of the most lighthearted and playful work parties
we’d ever been to. When a couple of people began dancing
with the building materials, someone joked, “usually this
is the point at which the boss says, ‘you’re fired!’
” Everyone laughed. However, I had assumed that dancers
would be able to apply embodiment concepts to a job site more
easily, but this was not always the case. Perhaps this is not
surprising, since dancers are not immune to the deeply ingrained
cultural patterns which separate dance and architecture. However,
we all could see how much work still needs to be done in this
If you are interested in this research, I invite collaboration!
inviting me and my colleagues to your area to convene an embodied
village building project such as the Waterhouse.
• Consider hiring me as a project mentor in your Gaia U.
or other college program to explore what matters to you about
ecosomatics, arts and ecology, the role of technology and more!
• Pay me a visit! Let's see what we can co-create!
project, I sent participants a feedback form in which I asked
several questions about the Waterhouse experience. Below, I have
sampled some of this feedback in order to outline some of the
main achievements, as well as the main challenges and room for
WHAT WENT WELL/WHAT WORKED FOR YOU?
•the opportunity you are providing for others to contribute
and feel like they are part of something bigger than each individual
is rewarding, as well as being part of a long term useful creation
that will sit on your land for many years. Everyone can look back
on the structure as a reminder of their participation.
•the way you inhabit your body, walk dance, chop, showed
me more about a potential bodily relationship to strive for than
all of our learned exercises combined.
•the bell and the morning exercises were the most potent
experiences that made the Waterhouse construction different from
a typical barn raising.
•To have the exercises and discussion in the morning helped
me to create a tone for the entire day and I would heartily welcome
as much of that as you could fit into the building process.
•The Bell was a wonderful tool. No matter which sweet thoughts
and ideas were stirred during the morning exercises and conversations,
it was difficult for me to hold onto them through out the day.
When the bell rang, it reminded me of my intentions, and also
to see our friends take a moment and respond to the bell was a
WHAT WAS CHALLENGING?
•It was unfortunate that we all seemed to gain a tolerance
to the bell, so that we stopped taking moments, stopped ringing
it as frequently and seemed to have a more lackadaisical response
to the bell's request. Too bad, not sure how to address this,
but if there was a way...
Perhaps if it seems that a group is becoming less attuned to the
bell, to gather everyone around and renew a commitment to it...
•During the last work party there was very little physical
room for everyone interested to participate and so some were out
doing supportive tasks, while the majority of production was done
by a few men.
•It seems to me that you are interested in developing a
community building paradigm that currently does not actually exist,
and so there is very little to grab hold of to pull it forward.
•I knew we were crunching on time so was reluctant to ask
to learn the use of a few electric tools (like a chainsaw or skill
saw). It seems that at most workshops the guys take the lead because
they already know how to do the stuff we're doing.
•I felt a bit crowded in that smallness of the building
•I also didn't feel safe with tools resting overhead on
the skeletal roof.
IMPRESSIONS DID THE PROJECT LEAVE YOU WITH?
•Of course, many hands make light-er work. In an ideal world
we would help each other to build , as it is a heavy and impossible
load for one person.
•I was impressed with how all the wood was easily put in
place and joined in such harmony. I loved smelling the freshly
stripped wood and the forest. It really is amazing to see what
was accomplished with natural wood guiding us. I was left with
the spirit and beauty of the project from impressions captured
on paper. The awareness of how we use our body in everyday use
is still present as I sit typing this.
•Speaking to the Earth's ability/willingness to consume
our tension. (brings a beauty and depth I can't really write to,
but it feel like a slice of some glorious pie I want to live by,
could dance my whole belly round.)
•The commitment to inhabit our bodies, to listen when they
need to stretch, sing or dance, wildly exciting possibilities
- perhaps we could live forever, or at least stay healthy in our
bodies for much longer.
•The communal aspect, working with each other to correct
posture, massage, breathe, remember presence.
ANYTHING YOU'D LIKE TO SEE INCORPORATED INTO FUTURE PROJECTS?
•More body and singing exercises. I would like to have seen
a sketch of the project/building/idea for what is to be constructed
and the opportunity to speak/hear any input from everyone on their
ideas as well.
•In order to facilitate a freer expression of creativity
I would like to see the least experienced and those most uncomfortable
with their building skills work more on the next phase of hands
on construction. During the last work party there was very little
physical room for everyone interested to participate and so some
were out doing supportive tasks, while the majority of production
was done by a few men. Lets put the guys in the kitchen and let
them feed everyone, at least for the first several meals, and
let the women see what kind of associations they form without
the guidance of a “boss”. Let it evolve like a birth
process where delivery is supported, not controlled.
•Respect each contributor even if they never pick up a tool
or a piece of material to place within the sculpture. Everyone
is valuable no matter what they do, even the visitors who only
watch and say hello.
•I realize that Mark is a powerful resource and a focused
accomplisher, but even he will benefit from sitting back and watching
so that his greatest talent, which is his creative imagination,
can romp, rather than be occupied with the next piece of wood
that gets screwed into place.
A hearty thank-you
to everyone who participated in the Waterhouse project. Please
stay tuned for future ecosomatic work parties!
“We put the party back in the work party!”
5.5 CONCLUSION: BODY AS PLACE
“In almost every culture and civilization,
dance was born out of agricultural life….
Farm work, in a creative sense, is closely connected
with dance. That our body is exposed to the outside
environment, to wind, light, heat…is in itself
a creative factor…..A place….is, in this
sense, an archetypal landscape for dancers. So there
is an economical and pragmatic merit, but also a creative
value in being exposed to and a part of the natural
process of reproduction. The whole process may be
---Min Tanaka 
bodies are indeed our primary home, any endeavors for creating
a healthier a sense of place must include strategies for getting
to know our bodies more deeply. As infants, our sensation of gravity
provides our very first experience of a sense of “place.”
Our relationship with Earth is primary, forming the basis for
development of every other movement we make. Accordingly, any
sound ecological habitat design will plan to optimize bodily health
and strive to take basic bodily patterns into careful consideration.
By serving the health of body and community, the embodied arts
are very useful tools to place makers, to cultural regenerators,
and to village designers.
Through ecosomatic, site-specific performance, we take responsibility
for the fact that thriving, sustainable villages and gardens will
not build themselves. Ours is no armchair movement. We cannot
simply sit back while someone else does the “dirty work”
for us. To create ecological habitats, we will need to rid ourselves
of the outdated stigmas attached to manual labor, including the
silly notion that this work is a "chore." Village building
projects can be the most enjoyable and meaningful work of all.
Because the embodied arts can make village building fun and healthy
they are an essential practice for ecological activists. And because
the arts, like everything else, are embedded within an ecology,
ecological thinking an essential practice for any artist. Viva
1- from Baz Kershaw, Theatre Ecology: Environments and Performance
Events (2007), Cambridge University Press.
2-from Silvia Federici's, “The Struggle Against the Rebel
Body,” in Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body, and
Primitive Accumulation (2007) Autonomedia, NY.