Bodily Possibilities Workshop

27 January 2014

It isn’t often on a Sunday morning that you see twelve people, old and young, roll across the floor and find new expressions within their own bodies. It is this kind of event that makes Wellcome Collection so unique, fusing ideas of science and art with the body. Kate Gosling was one of those people and discusses what was involved.

The workshop (part of a series of events accompanying Foreign Bodies, Common Ground), led by Nana Dakin and Kage, evolved from the residency of B-Floor Theatre at the Wellcome Trust-Mahidol University-Tropical Medicine Research Programme in Bangkok, Thailand. The residency explored research into malaria and other tropical diseases, and the parasites and other illness-giving agents that can take over our body and cause it to react and change in a way that might be completely new to us. The ideas of these bodily possibilities, which originate when we are well and when we are ill, used ideas of movement to bring these ideas to life.

 Bodily Possibilities Workshop

Kage showed the group how to move their stomachs around like there was ‘a worm’ or a disease in them. He talked them through this new sensation, making it seem real to them through the dialogue and story he presented. It was new to them, this disease, they had never felt it before, and then it started moving all around their body and making different parts of them twitch in different ways. Eventually it hit their brains and their face. The ideas of cerebral malaria came to mind in what went from a gentle mime to one that gave terrifying fit-like movements. Eventually, although it was not explicit, Kage asked that everyone imagine they held it in their cheeks, thousands of these ‘worms’, and then spat them out. And he said, “Well done, you are all healthy again”. They had been through an illness without being ill. Could they connect with some of this feeling of being well again on a cellular level?

 Bodily Possibilities Workshop

Creation ideas and ideas linked with evolution followed. Kage had a powerful way of presenting movement through the idea of becoming other animals. Everyone was crawling on the floor like an amoeba, a one-cell creation. Nana and Kage started everyone playing rock, paper, and scissors. When you won you evolved into multi-cellular animals, and everyone went from amoeba to worm, frog, monkey and human in a game that playfully followed in Charles Darwin’s footsteps! I thought it was funny that people seemed to have a sense of pride in becoming human and staying human. Although one woman said that the workshop had helped her feel closer to all living species.

The second part of the workshop used objects: tools as an extension of our bodies and us. The participants were given objects and Kage asked them: if you were a cellular body other than a human, how would you interact with this object? Some had colourful hula hoop pipes that could spiral into a DNA-style helix; others had balloons, scarves, jumpers and plastic bags. One of the bags is featured in a video currently showing in our Foreign Bodies, Common Ground exhibition.

 Bodily Possibilities Workshop

In sets of between two and four, participants who had only known each other a few hours performed together for the others, showcasing their new movements and the new bodily possibilities that they had created and found within themselves. There was lots of humour as well as serious elements and everyone seemed to work well together without self-consciousness.

I asked Nana what B-Floor might be doing next. She said that they hoped to continue this kind of workshops because the time they had on the residency had been a real journey. The success of their workshop was evident and many of the participants asked if we were repeating this type of event.

 Bodily Possibilities Workshop

In terms of the bigger picture revealed within Foreign Bodies, Nana expresses the idea of research and the implications within the community as “zooming in and zooming out”. That phrase really appeals to me. She says a big theme in B-Floor is the sense of examining tiny things under a microscope and also looking at the larger social and political impact.

Nana says: “we want to know how it works. Why is it that way? How does it connect to these circumstances, these structures, these environments, these people? And how can I explain this to someone else? How can I convince them that it is valid? We gather information, we make conclusions, we make hypotheses and we ask more questions. We wonder if our work will have an impact; will it change the lives of people around us? Will it alter the lives of those who come after us? We zoom in and we zoom out.”

Foreign Bodies, Common Ground has been extended to 16th March 2014.

Kate Gosling is a Visitor Services Assistant at Wellcome Collection.