Bodyminds in Movement: Embodied Cognition in the Practice and Discourse of Contact Improvisation
Yotam Shibolet is a student in Utrecht University’s Media, Art and Performance RMA program. He is currently undertaking a research internship on narrative authoring tools at HKU’s Interactive Narrative Design Professorship. Yotam’s central interest is the interplay between phenomenology, narrative, embodied cognition and meaning-making in interactive media and new forms of experience.
Contact Improvisation (CI) has grown into perhaps the most influential form of contemporary dance improvisation, yet is relatively seldom reflected upon in academic discourse. This article argues for a closer understanding of embodied and environmental aspects of consciousness and lived experience in the study of CI. Broaching the challenge of capturing such corporeal insight in the form of written analysis, this article is an attempt to reflect upon CI’s potential contributions to humanities thought on embodied cognition. Embodied cognition theories assert that embodiment constitutes a fundamental and inseparable part of human cognitive and perceptual capacities, and thereby of human consciousness. CI calls to experience the body as “an intelligent practitioner rather than instrument” (Novack 1990, 185), with no full separation between “physical” and “mental,” nor between sensation, perception, and thought. CI may thus offer a highly potent territory for manifesting and further examining the radical inseparability between minds and bodies. First, this article provides an extended introduction of CI, discussing the difficulties of defining the form, the interconnectedness of its practice and discourse, and the challenges these pose for “objective” or “unbiased” academic analysis – which CI does not allow for. Next, I turn to the link between CI and the writings of two central philosophical thinkers on embodied cognition: Alve Noë and Brian Massumi. This article proceeds to examine, through the link to CI, key tensions between Noë’s and Massumi’s framing of the inter-relationship between the somatic experience of movement and vision, perception and navigation. Understandings of this inter-relationship relate to the question of whether highly attuned embodied experience can potentially escape the limits of phenomenology. The article concludes by laying out arguments for both answers to this question, fusing Noë’s and Massumi’s positions to the tensions between conceptualizations of CI as “physics” and “chemistry.”