The name of this curatorial project is a play on the term “kinestheses,” which comes from the phenomenologist philosopher Edmund Husserl. Husserl was deeply attuned to the close connection between life and movement. He described living beings first and foremost as animate organisms, and accorded a foundational importance for human consciousness in what he called the kinestheses. Maxine Sheets-Johnstone (2011), a contemporary U.S. philosopher and former dancer/choreographer, usefully describes the kinestheses as “the kinesthetic correlates of perception” (p. 119). In her reading of Husserl, the kinestheses “are, in their own right, perceptual experiences, the most fundamental of perceptual experiences, and as such are the very core of the constituting I, that is, of transcendental subjectivity” (p. 120). To put it simply, if we recognize and conceive of ourselves as individual “I”s within a larger world, it is precisely because we have a kinesthetic sense of ourselves as material bodies that can move through and inhabit space and time.
Sheets-Johnstone highlights how a sense of self is closely aligned with the ways in which we are animate forms. We do not simply have bodies that move: we are bodies capable of moving ourselves and of exploring our environment, imbued with sensations of touch, texture, temperature, and vibration, of weight, of position in space, and of the dynamics of motion. These tactile and kinesthetic bodily senses developmentally precede not only language but also vision, and they are essential to allowing our brains to make more of vision than simply a detection of light and dark or a spectrum of colour. What could a shape mean if we did not have a sense that we, too, have shapes? The kinestheses are the primal building blocks for shared meaningfulness, already contributing to our survival and development before we even leave the womb. It is through touch and movement that consciousness is able to discover and affirm basic concepts such as inside and outside that are essential to the notion of a self in a world. This makes our kinetic/tactile-kinesthetic body—as Sheets-Johnstone (1999) explains it—”the Ur-locus of experience” (p. 100).
As audience members, we often think of performances as being primarily watching and listening events, downplaying the role the whole of our body plays in making sense of what happens. KinesTHESES addresses this oversight by bringing together ten artist projects that offer experiences that are fundamentally tactile-kinesthetic. The title suggests that each of these projects can be approached as an individual thesis: a specific proposal for exploring or expanding our awareness of ourselves as moving creatures with sensitive surfaces, adapted and attuned to our surroundings and our fellow inhabitants. Each artist’s project tackles this challenge differently, reflecting interests and concerns related to a particular time and place for a particular live audience. As documented events, each of these projects is also open-ended, subject to individual interpretations and ongoing, potential, and changing applications. The digital toolkit is put together in a way that reflects my informed but subjective perspective as the curator who commissioned these projects with a particular set of intentions in mind. As a “toolkit,” however, these documents also invite adaptation and reassembly along other lines of inquiry.
There is, of course, a basic irony in the fact that the “tools” assembled here are texts and audio-visual recordings. As “records,” they operate at precisely the level of experience that this project is interested in digging underneath of. There is no easy way around this, since we don’t have a lot of viable, widely accessible ways of capturing movement, touch, and positioning for body-to-body transmission and reanimation. Nevertheless, what we see, hear, read, and speak always and already involves our bodies’ perceptions, memories, and imaginings, and therefore invokes, integrates, and constitutes living, corporeal, tactile-kinesthetic experience. Human bodies are not simply “receivers.” We are “responders.” We generate and inhabit tactile-kinesthetic experience. I invite you to remember that the materials compiled here—as well as the ways they have been compiled—are neither comprehensive nor complete; they are open invitations for you to find your own ways of moving, touching, and understanding: with, through, and/or against the impulses and directions they provoke.
Sheets-Johnstone, Maxine. The Primacy of Movement: Expanded second edition. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamin Publishing Company, 2011.