Touch yourself from Somatic Experience Workshops (2013)
Feel your own body in three different ways. First, touch your skin lightly and focus on the texture of the surface, the oiliness, hair and press on it slightly to feel its thickness. Second, press a little harder and feel the muscle, fat, tendons etc. notice their thickness and density and how this might change in different places on your body. Think about the relationship between the skin and what is underneath it, how they move together. Third, press harder and feel the bone under the muscle. Think about the size and shape of your bones. Notice how the muscles fit around them, the joins in the bones, how they move together. Then, feel how the three layers are together.
Try this on different areas of your body. Notice the differences and similarities between these. If you can, try this on someone else as well and see how this changes the experience. What is different or similar about another’s body? How does it feel to observe yourself and another in this way? Allow them to do the activity too if you like. If you don’t have access to another body, it’s okay not to do this part.
For this task I thought it would be easy enough to do the activity with my boyfriend, however he’s never very responsive to something once ‘art’ is involved. I figured it might be better to just engage him in the activity without his knowledge. We were lying down on a Saturday afternoon, and I just started pressing his body the way Leena had talked about, using different pressures to first feel skin, then muscle, then bone. I tried to make casual conversation about how interesting that you can feel these different things, but he wasn’t really listening, though he did let me continue poking. The whole thing made me feel a bit sneaky and weird, as I didn’t reveal that the reason I was doing it was for the group meetings, so it almost seemed like a naughty thing to do, even though that kind of touching would have been completely normal otherwise. I justified not explaining it figuring he wouldn’t have been that interested, but then the next day he actually asked how the workshops had been going, I had a split second thought of coming clean that actually the day before I’d used his body for a workshop task, but then I didn’t. So there is a bit of guilt there. The sad part of it then is that I also didn’t get to have the experience of someone feeling my body in that way.
I completed this task by myself. No one immediately came to mind as a person who I would feel comfortable with initiating this attentive kind of touching. This is because it, as a deliberate act, is implicitly intimate to me. Viscerally and not intellectually, active curiosity about the body strikes me as being almost entirely sensual. I do not know if I would agree to the same situation if somebody else (who I was not already intimate with) proposed it, regardless of conditions or intent. This photo is of one of my elbows; it is the roughest skin on my body partially due to brutal encounters with concrete in childhood. When my arms are extended, and the skin becomes flaccid, it is totally repulsive to touch. The process of carefully feeling the composition of my body is foreign in itself. I try to not let it correspond to mental images of the internal systems that make it up, which unsettle me. I am self-conscious about my body in an abstracted, visual sense, and strangely not aware of it in physical terms.
It was nice to touch myself and feel my limbs in this way. I felt like an object to myself. Usually I feel like a whole piece or many disparate pieces. It takes time to truly appreciate the different bits that we’re made from. My foot particularly interested me. It has so many fragile little bones. I like it because I can pull it close to my face so I can inspect it properly. I enjoy its soft underside, like a gut. And the roundish bullish bits that go at so many angles when we walk and dance. I have a toe with a corner from wearing flat shoes with unforgiving soles. Sometimes I cut the corner off. I had a partner who was fascinated by it. He played with it sometimes. It was both enjoyable and freakish to him, I think.
Somatic Experience Workshops (2013) promoted discussion about bodies by experimenting with each participant’s attentiveness to their individual bodily experience and the experiences of others. The workshops ran for a six week period with weekly group meetings. Participants received a take home task to complete in their own time. Each participant was given the opportunity to share and reflect on their experience of the task during the meetings. Tasks included using a netipot, focused attentiveness, bodily enjoyment and observing bodily experiences of others. Participants were asked to document or respond to their experience in the form of a still image and/or written response. These responses can be read here.
The workshops were held during Leena’s residency at LEVEL ARI’s Residency Program, at Metro Arts from July-September 2013. The outcomes of the workshops were exhibited at the end of the residency at the exhibition More Human in October 2013.
Thank you to all of the participants who completed the workshops, LEVEL ARI and Metro Arts.