The bodies we are (not): A choreographic research on practicing self-distancing

In her artistic-scientific dissertation, Antje Velsinger examines the role of the body in Western neoliberal society and develops choreographic strategies for becoming unfamiliar to the own self and play as two means for emancipating the body from the neo-liberal imperative of optimization and control. Theoretical and practical artistic perspectives are in constant dialogue throughout this work. Based on the sociological observation that in Western neo-liberal society, the body is increasingly used as an „identity project“ and „designable object“ (Gugutzer) focused on self-enhancement and self-optimization (Villa, Abraham), the dissertation investigates how the choreographic field could be used as a gray zone between theory and practice (Hewitt) to imagine, propose, and rehearse an alternative approach to the body. Based on the concept of the two-fold body (Plessner, Gugutzer, et al.), the thesis hypothesizes two main strategies of emancipating the body from the social imperative outlined above.

1. Becoming unfamiliar with one’s own self:

Based on Gallagher’s concept of the body image, becoming unfamiliar with one’s own self is investigated by exploring strategies of consciously recreating individual body images. In this context, Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological concept and Butler’s constructivist and performative concept of the body are discussed, and Hegel’s gap between sensory perceptions and their naming processes is considered as a creative potential for recreating and transforming body images in a self-determined way. The first artistic research project ”The bodies we are” draws on this creative potential by experimenting with the physical appropriation of unfamiliar actions, perceptions, body descriptions and methods (e.g., Method Acting).

2. Playing with one’s own self instead of working on it:

Following Schiller’s understanding of play and Sennett’s findings on the changing bodily concepts in 18th, 19th, and 20th century societies, the second artistic research project ”Let’s face it!“ focuses on practicing self-distancing by playing with evading and blurring clear forms of identification. Considering the face as the central reference point for body identification, ”Let’s face it!“ develops choreographic and performative strategies for distancing oneself from one’s own face by experimenting with masks and playing with the functions of the face.

    The choreographic strategies for practicing self-distancing developed in the artistic research projects enable a specific attitude towards the body that distances itself from the neoliberal notion of the body as a place of self-optimization. Here, the body is conceived as a sensitive container that becomes a place for playful and experimental construction, de-construction and re-construction of different temporary body images. In this context, it not only becomes possible to integrate those bodily aspects which the neo-liberal logic of self-optimization must reject, but also to develop alternative desires, interests and imaginations regarding one’s own body and self. Thus, practicing self-distancing is proposed as a strategy to expand the potentials of the body beyond the logic of optimization and control by initiating and rehearsing alternative, albeit unfamiliar self- and body perceptions.