Saturday, March 25, 2006

I have just finished the year-long TAP (Teachers and Artists Partnership) programme and written the following paper which talks about the project that I did with a teacher from Guy’s Hospital, London. It talks a lot about space and place, something that has always interested me.
A new piece of exciting news…I have found the site where I will present my final choreographic work for my PhD (which, fingers crossed…I will finish this year!). The site is a fantastic Gaudi building in the centre of Barcelona called La Pedrera. There is a beautiful interactive website all about La Pedrera at: but here are some pictures of its exterior, rooftop and attic...

If all goes according to plan I will be dancing there at the beginning of July. In the meantime, have a peek at the paper for TAP and you’ll start to see some new thinking around the idea of non-performance…apologies in advance as I haven’t scanned in any of the appendices or pictures that accompanied the original paper.

A creative collaborative project at Snowfield’s Adolescent Unit (SAU)
April Nunes
20 March 2006

This paper will investigate how spaces impact one’s sense of identity and how, through this collaborative teacher-artist project within the TAP Programme, Clive Niall and myself, in our roles as teacher and artist respectively, aimed to deepen a sense of self-identity for mentally-ill adolescents resident on a secure unit at Guy’s Hospital. The issues that will be uncovered in this paper are three-fold. Within the philosophical branch of phenomenology the term ‘lived-experience’ is used to talk about the human body as it is experienced and how it experiences (Merleau-Ponty, 1962). The term lived-experience will be applied in this piece of writing to shed light on the reasons why our project took place outside of the secure educational unit within the hospital. The idea of lived-experience highlights our mind-body connection in the moments in which we perceive and inhabit spaces and places. A space becomes a place when we come to know it through our lived-experience. Therefore, the first issue underlying this project concerns the lived-experience of space. The lived-experience of space relies on the presupposition of a non-dual perspective of mind and body as well as the notion of embodiment. These two areas: non-dualism and embodiment, will be discussed in the following section, but only to the degree that will contextualise lived-experience of space and its relevance to the project. The second and third issues sit beneath the umbrella issue of lived-experience. These are the issues of non-place and non-performance. These two inter-related components will be unravelled in light of the ideas presented in the following section on non-dualism and embodiment.

Making Connections: Lived-experience of Space, Non-duality and Embodiment
Spaces impact our sense of being. Moving from a darkened narrow street onto sunlit rolling hills will have an immediate affect on the thoughts, emotions and physical movements of any human being. Lived-experience verifies that experiences such as these are true and it is a primary focus of this paper to unpick how space impacts one’s sense of identity. In order to do this, lived-experience, non-duality and embodiment, which have served as the underlying components to my formative decisions within this project, must be introduced and further explained in terms of their connections.

Drew Leder (2006), a professor of philosophy at Loyola College Maryland, USA draws a comparison between ‘mindscape’ and ‘landscape’. Mindscape categorises all things that man has made from his mind. Landscape encompasses those things that are naturally occurring. Leder shares that the thoughts one will experience from walking along a beach will be a direct result of the interdependent relationship with that particular landscape. In contrast, the mindscape environment of working at a computer, for example, produces an interdependent relationship where the computer dictates that the human being must also work like a machine; confined to access information through precise sequential ordering. Lived-experience is that exchange between our whole being and the space in which we inhabit. Merleau-Ponty comments upon this primordial inter-relationship that we have with space: “Space and perception generally represent, at the core of the subject, the fact of his birth, the perpetual contribution of his bodily being, a communication with the world more ancient than thought” (1962, p.254). What Clive and I attempted to do in our project was to promote in the students this pathway of communication between the self and the world that Merleau-Ponty describes. In other words, to give the students a lived-experience that would open for them the possibility to experience themselves in the world; thereby deepening their sense of self-identity through the experience of contextualising themselves within a space. The difficulty Clive and I encountered with this aim was in working within the confines of a hospital space that was constructed (as Leder identifies) as mindscape but to treat it as landscape. The details of the spaces that we chose for project and how we approached them are detailed in the section on ‘Contextualising the Project’.

I draw a connection between lived-experience and a non-dual perspective in terms of the relationship between mind and body because, as an artist, working in the medium of movement and though my own experience of life and through my lifelong experience of dance, I know that my body and mind do not operate as two separate entities but instead as one ultimate unity. Laban (as cited in Redfern, 1973, p.31) says in support of body-mind integration, “The impulse given to our nerves and muscles which move the joints of our limbs originates in inner efforts.” In no circumstance does the experience of movement occur outside the body-mind complex. The concept of mind-body connection is evidenced in texts as old as the Upanishads (ancient yogic texts written 800-400 B.C.) and the term ‘the thinking body’, now integrated into the vocabulary of the dance world, has been used by movement practioners since the beginning of the 20th century. So this non-dualist approach concerning the indivisibility of body and mind in relationship to the act of moving comes from an old strand of reference that aims to examine the amalgamation of being. It was my own personal strong belief in non-dualism which acted as a primary influence on how I approached the tasks that Clive and I created for this project.

Embodiment is embedded in the non-dual perspective and lived-experience is embodied. “Embodiment of movement involves the whole person, a person conscious of being a living body, living that experience, giving intention to the movement material. It involves perceiving oneself in the space and hearing one’s sound, with kinaesthetic awareness of creating and controlling the movement” Preston-Dunlop (2002, p.7). When Clive and I worked with the students in the spaces that we chose I remained open to the idea that even though the students were suffering from mental illnesses they were still working with some sense of embodiment. “Embodiment represents the subject’s own view of his or her body as it has to be lived with subjectively” (Bullock, 1977, p.265).

Non-performance and Non-place

The concept of non-performance is one of great interest to me as an artist who negates representation and celebrates individualism within my medium. It occurred to me very early on in the collaborative process of this project that Clive and I were not aiming for a performance product. In fact, we had to relinquish our attachment to a product on both micro and macro levels. Because many of the students’ illnesses were quite severe (ranging from eating disorders to schizophrenia) and many of them were also heavily medicated, most of their behaviour was unpredictable and we could not at any stage in the project make predictions as to how they would interpret the tasks we set for them. We took a broad goal to challenge the spaces in which the students inhabited in hopes that their pervious perceptions of these spaces would also be challenged. So, on a micro level, as we completed hour-long sessions with the students and on a macro level of the three-month duration of the project, Clive and I were in a constant state of forgoing the ingrained educational habit of looking for a desired outcome. It was near the end of the project that I realised we were working in a state of non-performance.

Nagatomo defines non-performance as “an arresting of ego consciousness in the midst of performance” (2006). Although Nagatomo says this with reference to artistic performance, his view is relevant to how lived-experience works. Because Clive and I took students out of their traditional classroom setting the students’ conceptions about behaviour and learning were up-heaved. This parallels Guy Claxton’s views on learning through immersion. Claxton highlights the importance of “steeping yourself in experience” (2003, p.2). This is what Clive and I were hoping to provide for the students at SAU; that students would be immersed in the lived-experience of the spaces which were located off of their secure unit. There were however, underlying problems to our aim of offering the students a space that we hoped would become a place through their own lived-experience of it. One problem was, that these students were living and learning in a non-place. According to Marc Augé, Director of Studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, “…non-places begin with unrootedness… (Augé, 2000, p.9). Our lives are full of non-places; airports, motorways, petrol stations, trains and places that:
“…involve no sense of identity and have no ability to establish relations with others. These are the sites that Augé critiques in his work, believing that, the more time we spend in transit from one place to the next the more a new form of solitude provokes questions of new identities” (Read, 2000, p.325).

The students at SAU are transient. The nature of the place to them is one of transition. The unit itself consists of a network of security barriers: a corridor with a series of locked doors, with the exception of a common area in which the students can eat, read, socialise or watch television. Throughout the three-month duration of this project, I rarely encountered the same group of students. Augé gives a poignant example, “…migrants, refugees – all of these people have direct experience of non-place, and the act of establishing colonies and of settling in new areas is related to the growth of turning space into place” (2000, p.9). It is however, fundamentally problematic that the students at SAU are either, never resident there long enough to feel ownership of the place or, in the cases of severe delusional illnesses, students are unable to allow the places to exist for them in the context of this reality. Augé continues, “A non-place comes into existence, even negatively, when human beings don’t recognise themselves in it, or cease to recognise themselves in it, or have not yet recognised themselves in it” (ibid). In looking at the ideas surrounding non-place I became interested in how the self-identities of the students were inter-related with their experience of the hospital spaces. It is important to mention however, that the hospital spaces for Clive, including the secure unit, were places; places that contained layers of meaning for him as a result of working for years at Guy’s Hospital. Auge says, “…the same place can be looked upon as a place by some people and as a non-place by others, on a long-term or a short-term basis” (ibid).

Contextualising the Project at Snowfield’s Adolescent Unit (SAU)
The aims of the project were bold considering that we were working with adolescents with severe mental health conditions, some heavily medicated and all living temporarily on the secure unit at Guy’s Hospital. The ‘education room’ on the unit was open during a few blocks of time in the day and students were encouraged to participate in educational sessions during this time. These sessions were the moments that Clive and I used for our project. Over the duration of three months we took as many as nine students at once into the atrium spaces. Hospital staff always supervised the students and sometimes up to as many as four staff members would accompany us into the atriums. A glance at the floor plan of Guy’s Hospital (appendix 1) illustrates the rigidity of the overall space. However, the three atriums were spaces that, albeit in an artificial fashion, contained aspects of natural landscape: trees, ferns, flowers, dirt and natural light. In fact, all of the images upon which this text is printed are copies of photographs taken from the atrium spaces at the hospital.

The atrium spaces were chosen for two reasons. Firstly, because the atrium spaces could facilitate a type of human interaction and physical movement potential that was not possible in the traditional classroom setting at SAU. The atriums were expansive and light, dotted with benches amongst the plants and trees. Two of the atrium spaces held grand pianos and we were fortunate enough to have one of these being played when we were holding one of our sessions. The spaces lent themselves to socialising and many of the students spoke more to each other in the atrium spaces than they did in the classroom setting. The atriums were also so large that one could literally ‘take a stroll’ inside it, something impossible to do in the classroom.

Secondly, the atrium spaces offered students an alternative experience of the hospital. It was though the alternative experiences facilitated during the project that we aimed to challenge the students’ previous perspectives of these spaces, promoting a deeper sense of self-identity within them. Although this academic writing can attempt to explain lived-experience through descriptive wording, it cannot serve as a substitute for the experiences themselves. It is for this reason
that the following section, where I attempt to account the lived-experiences of our work in the atriums, is written in a more informal format, collaging excerpts from my journal that I kept during the creation of the project. This decision has been taken to provide you, the reader, with the lived-experience of reading, moving through text which is textured with my personal notes on our processes.

A Non-linear Methodology: What we did…

Throughout the duration of the project, Clive and I worked in a fluid, intuitive and often spontaneous way and ironically, the creative processes that Clive and I worked within were completely free despite working in an environment of absolute non-freedom. It became evident that our processes for working were contrary to any traditional teacher / artist “collaboration”. At the very beginning of the project Clive and I ‘took stock’. I had already visited an education session on the unit and made some observations (see Appendix 2) so I knew that our situation was fairly delicate as we were dealing with transient students, some heavily medicated, some with a history of violence and some with severe delusional disorders. Nevertheless, at our first meeting Clive and I made a list of aims and finally concluded that we wanted to know, “How far could we go?”

We started to think around the boundaries of acceptable risk-taking. When I first visited Guy’s Hospital the only spaces that felt welcoming to me were the atrium spaces and I was keen do some work with the students in there. It was a risk to take students off the unit but it was not inconceivable. Clive was supportive and we decided that we would go ahead and design a series of activities for the students to engage in during a series of visits to the atriums.
I knew from the onset of the project that movement for movement’s sake in the atrium spaces was an abstract theory that the students would not accept it. They needed a motivation to move and it was from this standpoint that Clive and I devised tasks that would enable this.

I started to ask myself questions concerning intention behind movement and thinking around movement in space…
How does space impact movement?
What would students perceive to be safe movement?
I came to the conclusion that movement needed to happen out of a necessity, out of some sort of task driven activity.
Out of the acknowledgement that the movement needed to follow a straightforward, logical reasoning, Clive and I drew up a list of questions to ask the students when they first arrived in the atrium space. We thought that the questions themselves might encourage the students to move around the space in search of the answers. For the most part, this was true.

However, the students responded to the atrium spaces in varying ways. Some students milled around the space as they would as if they were inside the secure unit and it appeared as though the space made no impact upon their sense of embodiment. One anorexic student took the liberty of using the benches and small walls as an exercise obstacle course and began running around the atrium space whilst jumping on and off the brick walls. Another student took interest in looking inside the office windows that shared the atrium’s inner walls. Others sat almost still; moving their hands over the textures of the brickwork, some even manoeuvred their hands around in the potting soil which surrounded the trees and flowers.

On another visit to the atrium we took charcoal rubbings of different textures in the space. One student in particular who already has an interesting inter-relationship with the spaces she inhabits used her time in the atrium to move slowly around the perimeter of the space with her index fingers extended out in front of her. She uses these fingers to trace the shape of each object that comes into her path before she walks on. She suffers from delusion and moves in a dream-like state, often smiling to herself. Her interaction with the atrium space was not dissimilar to how she relates to the space on the secure unit where she also ‘traces’ objects in this way.

Observing this student in the space allowed me to begin to hone the theories that were underlying the project for me. I understood that I needed to address the concept of the lived-moment as experienced by each individual student in the space and further, that this lived-moment or lived-experience was linked to my belief in the unity of body and mind.

An activity that I now suspect was influenced by this student who traced objects, which Clive and I called ‘Taking a line for a walk’ was a task that would prove to be our greatest success in cultivating the lived-experience of the atrium space. We gave students photographs of the atriums (the same photographs that serve as a background to this text) and asked them to start drawing a line over the photograph, tracing if they so decided, lines that were already present within the image. An example of this can be seen in Appendix 3. They took the pattern of their line and then transposed it onto the floor of the atrium, drawing it with charcoal (see Appendix 4). Together we walked the spatial pattern on the floor, tracing with our steps the charcoal line. In the case of the anorexic student however, we ran. One student, accompanied by a staff member took photographs of this activity from above but due to confidentiality issues I am not able to present photographs of this experience.

The fruition of our project coincidentally coincided with the opening of the new Evelina Children’s Hospital in Waterloo. It is a beautiful new building with a façade of glass, echoing the aesthetic of the atrium spaces at Guy’s. With much preparation, Clive and the team at SAU arranged for the students and myself to visit the new hospital. With a bit of negotiation, it was agreed that our students could give a small presentation for the students and patients based at Evelina’s. Our presentation was vibrant. Our students played drums, blew bubbles, shared their artwork and ate cakes with much younger children who were also in a hospital setting of non-place. However, our visit to Evelina’s was exciting for me because it was here that I finally saw a deepening of self-identity within some of our students.

The visit to Evelina’s provided something that the atrium spaces at Guy’s could not. In this lived-experience, our students, because they had left the place where they themselves were patients, were able to interact with very young children in a way that allowed them to express their own identities. The simple act of human interaction in the space at Evelina’s enabled our students to make meaning out of their identities as students at SAU. Taking them out of SAU allowed them to give meaning to what had previously been a meaningless place. In other words, the space of Guy’s Hospital was becoming place for the students whilst they inhabited Evelina’s. “A place is a space where relationships are self evident and inter-recognition is at a maximum, and where each person knows where they and others belong” (Auge, 2000, p.10).

The actions and events that unfolded in the atrium spaces acted as groundwork for our visit to Evelina’s. It is my hypothesis that the students at SAU were only able to experience a deeper sense of self through their inter-relationship with the surroundings and with others during our visit to Evelina’s because of the work that we had done previously in the atriums at Guy’s. Tilley says, “…places themselves may be said to acquire a history, sedimented layers of meaning by virtue of the actions and events that take place in them” (Tilley, 1994, p.27). I propose that this is exactly what we did in the atrium spaces at Guy’s; created layers of meaning through our repetitive visits and actions there. As a dancer, moving in a space is the method I use in order to understand it. Moving in a space also allows me to contextualise myself within it.

“Movement through space constructs ‘spatial stories’, forms of narrative understanding. This involves a continuous presencing of previous experiences in present contexts. Spatial knowledge requires the coupling of an accumulated time of memory to overcome an initially hostile and alienating encounter with a new place. Flashes of memory, so to speak, illuminate the occasion” (Tilley, 1994, p.28).

Tilley articulates here what Clive and I were hoping to offer the students of SAU. To re-present the atrium spaces in a new light for the students, so that a sense of ownership emerged out of the result of simply moving in the space.

Looking through the lens of the experiences gained during the collaborative project with Clive it is clear that the project did offer students opportunities to gain glimpses into themselves through their lived-experience of non-performance in which were initially non-places. The moments of coming to a deeper sense of understanding of oneself though another or through the lived-experience of space, are deeply rooted in the non-dual reality of mind and body. This truth is sustained even though mental illness.

The project at SAU has taught me to perceive movement in a different light, gaining an understanding of the value of non-performance. It has deepened my enjoyment of movement for the sake of necessity as opposed to seeking an aesthetic ideal.


Augé, M. (2000) ‘Non-places’ in Alan Read (ed.) Architecturally Speaking: Practices of Art, Architecture and the Everyday. London and New York: Routledge

Bullock, A. and Trombley, S. (Ed.) (1977) The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought. London: Harper Collins Publishers

Claxton, G. (2003). Creativity: A Guide for the Advanced Learner (and Teacher) In National Association of Head Teachers’ Leadership Papers (adapted article).

Kwon, M. (2000) One Place After Another: Notes on Site-Specificity. In E. Suderburg (Ed.), Space, Site, Intervention: Situating Installation Art (pp 38-63). USA: University of Minnesota Press.

Leeder, D. (2006). Shape Shifting: Keynote Lecture at The International and Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Changing Body in Training and Performance, January 6-8, 2006: Conference papers: University of Exeter, UK.

Leonard, M. (1953). Architecture and Dance, Part Three in The Laban Art of Movement Guild News Sheet. No. 10 / March.

Merleau-Ponty, M.(1962). Phenomenology of Perception. London, New York: Routledge

Nagatomo, S. (2006). In Praise of Non-performance in the Performing Arts: Keynote Lecture at The International and Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Changing Body in Training and Performance, January 6-8, 2006: Conference papers: University of Exeter, UK.

Preston-Dunlop, V. and Sanchez-Colberg, A. (2003). Dance and the Performative. London: Verve Publishing

Redfern, H.B. (1973). Concepts in Modern Educational Dance. London: Henry Kimpton Publishers

Read, Alan (ed.) (2000) Architecturally Speaking: Practices of Art, Architecture and the Everyday. London and New York: Routledge.

Tilley, C. (1994). A Phenomenoloy of Landscape. Oxford, Providence: Berg Publishers


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