Tuesday, 21 April 2015

BODYSTORMING: An event to discover the physicality in science and thinking in dance.

Can body think and brain act? Bodystorming, a play on the word “brain storming”, nudges us to conceive “body” as a site for thinking, reflecting and communicating. The concept materialized when Carl Flink (Dancer) and David Odde (Scientist) from the University of Minnesota realized that they could get new insights into the common idea that they were exploring by being open and receptive to each other’s language of thinking. Bringing the two deceptively distant disciplines together, bodystorming gained momentum and was hosted as an event in many places across US and Europe.

This April, NCBS is bringing Bodystorming to Bangalore, where scientists will collaborate with contemporary dancers from across India, in an effort to exchange and understand the other’s world. Moving according to rules that govern movement of particles within a cell, the dancers gain a ‘lived experience’ of microscopic- cellular level processes. For Aparna Bannerji, an Odissi dancer who also heads the Science and Society department at NCBS, “Such an engagement can help a scientist arrive at new insights into processes that cannot easily be ‘visualised’. Bodystorming helps to visibilise the invisible.  For a dancer, the source of inspiration comes from a life-process and a scale that would not normally be explored, allowing for a new extension in their practice.”  More importantly, this concept challenges the conventional idea of science as being solely a logic and proof driven process, and opens up the importance of intuitive and inspired insights that often lead to the breakthroughs in science.

Bodystorming, draws attention to the “doing” or “practice” of science by moving it to the realm of experience. The practice of science, often pigeon-holed under the labels of thinking and theorizing, is distanced from it’s very physicality. Aparna also adds, “Thinking, investigating, creating, walking the path of inspiration that leads to new insights are all 'physical activities.” For her “There is no abstract notion of a mind that can 'think' if the body does not exist - so bodystorming helps make this connection.  If one can 'think' with mind and body aligned, then what happens to the type of knowledge that we can produce?  This is the real question I have for the process of bodystorming; will the use of a different practice, produce a different kind of knowledge?”

A scientist when she engages with her work also engages with it bodily – as she does an experiment or even as she cracks a formula. However, in Bodystorming, one is practicing science or doing science in a much deeper sense than experimenting or cracking a formula. This is because the material of bodystorming is the experience of being the object of study and not observing the object or experimenting on the object. Darius, a dancer and a Research Fellow at NCBS, emphasizes on this aspect of bodystorming “For me, bodystorming is a way to bridge the gap between me as a scientist/ observer and the object under study (a set of proteins, a cell, an organism) as you become a part of the study object.” The distance between the person and the work almost collapses as one becomes the object to be theorized about, - making body the site of scientific practice.

Science is often perceived as a body of knowledge which is separate from the scientist (the one producing the knowledge) while dance necessitates the presence of the dancer. The common epithet – of ‘Can you separate the dance from the dancer?’ can perhaps be extended to the scientist as she engages in this process.  Dance is not mere movement but reflects the relationship of the dancer with the dance. Similarly, scientific work embodies the nature of scientist’s engagement with her work. For example – we might have a better insight into Einstein’s theory of relativity if we understand his life, his reasons and the conditions in which he proposed the theory. Bodystorming exemplifies this relationship between scientist and science by addressing the process of the work. Looking at science as practice automatically entails the presence of a practitioner. The work itself embodies and is inclusive of the people involved in it.

According to Shabari Rao, a dancer and documenter of this project, “Non-scientists often tend to think of science as product as they are ignorant of the processes that are involved in the making of science. Similarly, non-artists tend to think of art as product rather than practice.” The week long residency that is organized as a part of bodystorming provides a context for dancers and scientists to understand art and science not as disembodied entities but as a way of understanding the world, as practice. Bodystorming in some sense goes beyond drawing conclusions about the cellular activities. It is a space for dancers to see science as a physical activity and for the scientist to see dance as a thoughtful activity. It is about drawing a distant world closer, familiarizing the unfamiliar and connecting the disconnected.

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