Full essay

By Alexandra Pirici
With contributions by Maja & Reuben Fowkes, Paco Calvo, Raluca Voinea
Movement exercises performed together with Maria Mora & Mihai Mihalcea
Masks and set design for introduction lecture: Andrei Dinu
Project coordinator: Radu Lesevschi
Produced by Asociatia Solitude Project

* A longer introduction is available via the recorded lecture, in Romanian. 

The modern production of knowledge and truth about the world implied that the world can only be known, trully, through attaining a point of (masculine) objectivity; a supposedly “view from nowhere”, requiring a rational mastery of intellect over body (the two seen as separate), putting aside subjective, sensual experience. Regardless of the fact that the situated reality of the body is intrinsic part of any human or human-made process of observing the world, the natural and the sensual were associated with womanhood, with the non-rational, the intuitive, the inferior, in a long lineage of apparently uncanny connections between religious dogma, monastic brotherhoods of men, (military) technology and science academies. Copernicus, Galileo and then Newton apparently had no use for bodies and subjective experience. The body couldn’t feel itself moving with the Earth around the Sun; the body and one’s senses were unable to offer The Truth about the world, and were therefore deemed unable to offer any truth. 

Natural history begins by observing and describing the natural environment with the help of representation through drawing, but continues to take the processes of representation, learning and knowledge production further away from the whole body. The active involvement of the entire body and sensorial apparatus in knowing the world, with all its possibilities and potential, has become alien to mainstream science, where an orthodox cogitivism insists on ignoring contemporary strands that situate perception in action and in relation to the environment, knowing and perceiving the world as a process of the entire body moving and interacting with its surroundings (or intra-acting, as Karen Barad would say). Knowing with the entire body, not with a supposedly separated “mind” and admitting that the whole body is always involved in processes of meaning making, making sensible and refining one’s whole sensorial apparatus for making sense of the world, remain curiosities of so-called pre- or non-modern cultures, or a preoccupation of art. After myriad discussions on the Anthropocene, on global warming, climate apocalypse, naturalcultural disasters produced by reductionist rationalism, extractivism, militarism, inequality, exploitation, monocultures and toxic industrialization, it seems necessary to move beyond current limits and limitations, to imagine a new kind of knowledge, produced in different configurations and by different and complex methods, which can produce another image of the world and therefore the possibility to move and act differently in it.

The research project Describing in movement/Observing through embodiment proposes an artistic – choreographic form of exploring “nature”, a complementary method of producing knowledge and making sense of an encounter with the world. We could also think of Karen Barad’s agential realism or Niels Bohr’s scientific theory of complementarity and indeterminism, and his observations on quantum physics: the fact that experimental methods and frameworks of inquiry and knowledge-production are an integral part of the result; that the world is not made of determinate objects with predefined properties, independent of the specificity of the experimental practices that investigate their reality. Since light is both wave and particle depending on the experimental framework we use, as Dan McQuillan says: “the things we observe by specific methods do not exist in a form defined independently of the measurements and practices by which we observe them.” 

Niels Bohr’s observations shake-up and decenter Newton’s determinate and predictable world but even though the Danish physicist received the Nobel Prize in 1922, his scientific philosophy is yet to be seriously taken into account even today. The conclusion, nevertheless, remains: our devices and practices of observation matter.  

Complementary to modern methods and practices of producing knowledge about the world dominated by increasingly non-corporeal forms of representation, Describing in movement/Observing through embodiment aims to observe parts of the environment by engaging the whole body of the observer in relation to what is to be observed, attempting a full identification; attempting to become the observed object or subject. The artistic research needs to make no claim for an “objective distance”. Therefore we propose to come as close as possible, to incorporate dynamics, shapes, modes of functioning, movements of the environment into our own bodies, to host them; to observe them starting from an assumption of connection instead of a separation; a difference, but between interconnected moving bodies, instead of an ontological distinction. 

Describing in movement/Observing through embodiment thus implies a live encounter with the materiality of different forms of plant and animal life, and an attempt to incorporate forms and dynamics observed in these other bodies, to understand them through our own body. The performative translations of non-human dynamics and forms into actions of human bodies can, perhaps, expand the way we understand or imagine ourselves, our capacities for movement, for sensing, meeting, touching and/or collaborating and negotiating – with each other, with other life-forms and our surroundings. 

The social context has always had an enormous influence on the study of nature and the natural truth that has been revealed to us: as Alice Fulton describes in “Cascade Experiment”, 13 species of lizards from the Teiidae family, composed entirely of females, remained undiscovered until a little while back, due to social prejudice and limitations that prevented the imagining of their existence. Perhaps by approaching nature with a body that is willing to change – in multiple ways and not only because of economic/market imperatives, a body less anchored in fixed and rigid forms and dynamics, nature can then offer us a more complex truth and different possibilities for (co) evolution.

The purpose of the research is, therefore, also the translation of these sensations, of these encounters with the materialities of other forms of life, into choreographic actions or exercises / movement practices; instead of a graphic representation of nature, we propose an incorporation; instead of an abstract knowing by delimitation, a possibility of knowing by coming close. 

Since travel possibilities were limited by the pandemic, and the whole situation of this year’s projects has changed, we did most of the research trips in Germany. One part took place in Saxony and the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, on the Malersweg route, on which Caspar David Friedrich sketched and began working on some of his famous paintings, such as “Wanderer Above the Sea of ​​Fog”. In an area marked by the beauty of landscape and spectacular panoramic views, through which tourists move especially with the purspose to reach open spaces, open views into the distance, we wanted to look at “nature” from another perspective, in detail, in particular, up close. 

Another part of the research took place in the Black Forest mountains – an area that, although forested, was largely replanted industrially after exploitation.

Taking into account the natureculture of the respective areas, we decided to focus only on plants /on flora, and more precisely on the relationships between plants, not on the individual or on single species – something that was anyway already part of the project, an interest in mutualism, symbiosis or parasitic relationships. As a format in which to organize the experiences and information we gather, I proposed the framework of an “encyclopedia” – of course with a somewhat subversive intention, being an openly subjective and partial project. A small encyclopedia of relationships between plants started to take shape, therefore, with the scope of it becoming choreographic, embodied. 

As a source of inspiration I would also cite a part of “Friction” by Anna Tsing, in which the anthropologist, together with Uma Adang, a village elder Meratus Dayak from Kalimantan, tries to create a small encyclopedia, a list of animals in the area, in which the taxonomy is actually based on the subjective relationships of the locals with these other life forms – with which and through which they live. Thus the list includes descriptions that sound like: “a tough-stemmed fern that is difficult to get rid of; leaves are used for curing headaches; “a fish that is poisonous, though someone says it only tastes bitter”, “a lizard that needs a lot of effort to catch”, etc.

Based on the small encyclopedia of relations between plants, some exercises took shape – which can be practiced by non-dancers or non-performers alike, or even children, in different ways or with different degrees of complexity or difficulty. We believe that their practice, as far as we could see now, helps to rehearse forms of collaboration that are more abstract, which are not necessarily oriented towards a concrete and utilitarian goal (understood in the terms of today) but could be very important in the long run, in developing other relationships between us and the world: we move together trying to feel the other’s intention, letting ourselves be led by the other person, offering support to the other, moving in the space offered by the other person, in relation to others and other surfaces, within their affordances and limitations. 

A few of these movement practices are exemplified below (on the website). 

The small encyclopedia of relationships between plants contains, until now: 

Trees kissing while growing in a spiral; 

Crown shyness – branches of different trees avoid touching or covering each-other, growing together around each-other, negotiating space and access to light; 

Plants of different species blending together, producing hybrid visual patterns;

Stump growing mushrooms;  

Furry grass that twists and swirls, caressing itself; 

Small ferns and clover holding onto a rock;  

Roots meeting other roots across bulky rocks;  

Roots growing through other elements, like those of a tree growing on a dead tree in a lake, the roots of the young tree extending / protruding through the body of the dead tree, to reach the water underneath  

Moss interrupting liverworts  

Two trees supporting a third one that grew downwards on a steep slope, now growing upwards; 


A tree that used two others for support in order to adjust its growth direction;  

Conifer growing together with another flowery plant, the flower emerging through the conifer branches as if it belonged to the same trunk; 

Hanging plants or epiphytic plants, which feed independently but which in order to be able to grow, to move and to have access to light, need a support-body;

(feeling) the meandering trajectory of a vine in relation to a support surface; 

We also noticed that in the plant world there do not seem to be clear boundaries between territories, straight and impassable lines; everything infiltrates, constantly negotiating space and access.  

We also allowed ourselves to anthropomorphize the relationships between plants, operating with metaphors and comparisons to allow a comparison with human bodies, but only with the purpose to then try and change the relationships between human bodies.  

We also tried to move in such a way as to change our perspective, from higher up to closer to the ground, being as aware as we could be of the fact that the way we position ourselves in relation to something determines what we can observe.