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Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Echoes_Gabriela Karolczak: Phantomic Sensation by Kristóf Farkas

The power of metaphors 

In the framework of VARP-PA program, residents got the possibility not just to create a performance but also to do theoretical research in different topics of performing arts, just like the research presented in the workshop Phantomic Sensation. Gabriela Karolczak, Martyna Lorenc and Marysia Zimpel (who was unfortunately absent at the time) gave us a lecture based on theory of cognitive psychology and neuroscience, explained through physical (dance) exercises. 

But what does the title of the event mean? What is ‘phantomic sensation’? Does it exists or is it just a hypothesis we can use for further research? Is it maybe only a metaphor to examine a phenomenon from a different, visual point of view? Phantom sensation exists, and it is scientifically proven, but the term ‘phantomic’ was generated by Gabriela. Instead of trying to give an answer to the above questions, it is easier to describe the process the research was about. 
In the first part of the workshop, we received comprehensive information on “correlates of sensation and movement of the body in the brain.”  Briefly, quoting Gabriela again: „if you lie relaxed, and I touch you here, maybe you can feel some tingling in another place? What will be the next place where you would like to be touched? And then… how can I use this kind of information to inspire my dancing?” That is to say, the sensation map with its newly discovered couplings create a whole new body picture we can call the phantom body(?), the body of the homunculus. This is not equivalent with but is connected to the phenomenon of the phantom limb, namely when the phantom, the “missing” body part is itching or aching. 

The research tried to give a summary of the way we feel our own body. But the problem is, if it is a problem at all, that the tutorial class named itself Phantomic sensation while all the time everything we heard or did was about experiencing the real perception of the body and not the image the brain creates of it. In my opinion, the latter could be explored in a complex but useful exercise, for example through treating/imagining the body as mutilated or even dismembered. This cruel sensation is the converse side of the research, through which the aim of going deeper into our own sensation and perception could be completed. But for now, let us examine Phantomic Sensation. 
“Call for touch – feel it, observe it.” 

One of the exercises was aimed at the „storytelling” quality/ability of the reflex generated by the touch. The perception and the afterlife of the touch can be described metaphorically, although it is “only” a neural impulse. The described sensation doesn't happen literally, but it is evoked by the sensation of connections between the cortices' electrical stimulation. 

Closing our eyes during the exercises helped us to focus and strengthen our self-reliance. After getting comfortable, my partner could touch my body at any point and Gabriela said: „Follow what comes, follow your sensations.” My first thought was that the dancer always knows that one single impulse has an effect on the whole body, even if he/she feels the desire to react to it with a total different part of the body, in a total different quality, or even if he doesn't move at all. This statement is also legitimate in this situation, with a slight difference: it has a scientific verification (see the pictures above). A simple movement exists in its „pure” form only written on paper or by articulation, but after the dancer performs it, it is filled with him/her and is materialized, ending its limited existence by being determined in a physical body's physical gesture. An exercise deepens this experience, which is the most basic knowledge of a dancer, but in this case, it only tries to come close to an action based on phantomic sensation. The connection exists, but this is nothing more than a warm-up exercise and not a phantomic sensation-specified act in my point of view. 

The previous condition – the fool's paradise 

What are the advantages of making conscious what could have been half-conscious before? Here, fool means the basic instinct reactions encoded in the knowledge (talent, practice, school education, etc.). If a dancer participates in a duo, he/she will know where he/she touches the partner and why, and performs it with the whole apparatus of his/her technical skills. In this case, the “follow your sensations” sentence predicates nothing more than what is obvious, and the “integrate it to your connections” instruction is far-flung. Is it really that easy to discover the effects of each cortex on the other? Your body is your own again – well, the truth is, it was mine the whole time. To focus specifically on the leading ability of the somatosensory cortex via the motor cortex is not unilateral, the action-reaction between them is simultaneous, and we are not able to give priority to one of them.  
Whom would I recommend the workshop Phantomic Sensation? 

What was very important during the whole workshop – and this was maybe left unaddressed – that we can't separate the two cortices from each other, only speak about their mutual work. Drafting these feelings could be the main point which could make the sensation profound. The last exercise was the best example for this, when one person touched the other, who followed the sensation and talked about the pictures the touch generated. Meanwhile, the third one was listening (showing his back to them) and sketching the heard impressions on a piece of paper. After it, we discussed our experiences. 

Indeed, the lecture was not merely theoretical but to focus more on the visual aspects, to stress the importance of imagination and the context the movement was nested in, the only possible language with which we can talk about it, the metaphoric, would render the lecture into a dance in education (DIE) workshop. The research is intriguing, but in this form I would recommend it not to professional dancers, but to anybody who wants to lose himself in the inner world of dance. 
Kristóf Farkas - KÖM by L1 Association

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