James Batchelor & Collaborators

Elastic Terrain: A Mapping Practice

 

Introduction 

 

The following movement practice was initially developed as part of the creation Redshift (2017) and later expanded in Hyperspace (2018). It is indebted to many contributors who have generously invested their curiosity in its practice, particularly Amber McCartney, Chloe Chignell and Rebekah Berger. I have performed and shared this practice in workshops around the world and never grow tired with it. I learn new things from it every time as the library of tools and possibilities within it feel infinitely expansive. 

The practice can be performed anywhere, sitting or standing in a relaxed and comfortable position. The suggested way of practicing is to cycle through the different tools listed below, modulating between following your instinct and injecting clear intentional shifts. If you feel like your practice is repetitive or you have run out of ideas, you can cycle through the different prompts below to access new possibilities.

Complimenting the physical instructions below, I have also included some excerpts from A Strange Topology, a piece written by Chloe Chignell that I commissioned to offer some poetic provocations for this practice. The full text can be found here. 

 

The Hand

 

‘The hands have an immediacy with otherness, to touch is to make contact with an outside. In touch there is an undeniable multiplying of self: between two hands the touched and touching.

Could we imagine a hand, no longer as a hand, but as a winding folding surface, a landscape of peaks, valleys and fields? As our sense of scale shifts units of the body dissolve, through sensuality, into their fleshy composition. Once hand, now elastic terrain. Heat, texture and porosity are the nature of this touch. The hands become agents of their own exploration. Where skin is a landscape that through touch we can come to know again. A map of body, as body, made one to one with its terrain.’ 

1. Place your hand (either is fine) on your shoulder, with fingers held lightly together. Now slowly bring the hand away, keeping the shape of your shoulder in your hand. (a cupped/scoop shape).

2. Bring it in front of your face and scan its surfaces with your eyes, slowly rotating to try and see it from every angle. Alternatively or additionally, close your eyes and use one fingertip of the other hand to scan and feel the scoop hand. Try and let the ‘You’ of the scoop hand fade away, as if you are getting to know an alien object. 

3. Bring the scoop hand to rest on your belly button. Think of it now as a scanner, as it starts to move across the terrain of your body, always maintaining a light contact. Try rotating the scoop as you go, so that the sides, the back of the hand, finger-tips or thumb become the contact point with the body. Let the scoop hand travel freely from one part of the body to another. Zoom in to tiny details: perhaps trace the bones of the shoulder and collar-bones, or the delicate crevices of the face. Try moving around to the back side of your body to the harder-to-reach, unexplored or forgotten surfaces. Resist the urge to do too many ideas at once, move patiently and slowly through this process. 

4. After some time of following your curiosity, start to focus on the pathway that the scoop is taking. If (like a snail) the scoop hand/scanner were leaving a silver slick behind it, what would the pattern look like? Perhaps it travels in gentle arcing curves, intricate loops and folds or straight zig-zagging lines.

5. Now think about the speed the scoop is travelling as if it is a volume dial on a speaker. You can dial the speed up or down in a circular way, passing through the infinite number of possible increments. Notice how time can start to take an elastic quality, expanding and contracting, suspending and releasing. 

 

The Eye/x

 

The term eye/x was a poetic provocation by my collaborator Chloe Chignell and artist/writer Sven Dehens that offers an expanded way of thinking about the gaze in this practice.

‘The eye/x is often the metaphor and even mechanism of perspective. It is a position from where we look out upon the world and look upon our own body. The eye/x with its new incision (the slash) produces a crack in order to imagine a possible reorientation towards another kind of perspective. To think I have only seen myself through my own eye/x is at once true and unbelievable. The eye/x brings forth the conditions for otherness and the unknown. It holds an alterity that makes it possible to feel the eye itself: the eye/x, our interior otherness.’

The following instructions offer some different possibilities for working with the gaze through the relationship between the eyes and head to the scanning hand. 

 

1. Follow with your eyes/head the pathway of the scanner as it moves around your body. 

2. Disconnect the movement of your head from your eyes, so that your head is still and it is just your eyes moving in their sockets to follow the scanning hand. 

3. Now try the reverse. Lock your eyes to a point in the space or the floor, and follow the hand with just your head (as if your head was one large eye). 

4. Close your eyes and follow the sensation of the touch, as if your hand is a super-sensor (a combination of hand, eye, ear or nose). 

 

Further Possibilities 

 

1. Keeping the hand detail as your main priority, allow the rest of your body to be soft and responsive. Shift and bend to allow the hand to travel to new places on the body landscape. If you have been standing, try sitting or vice versa if that is available to you.

2. Try pairing a body part/s with the movement direction of the hand. For example, the sternum echoes the movement of the hand. You can pair with any other part of the body you can think of. Think of micro-points such as one rib, tip of the nose, tail bone. 

3. Bring your attention to the space being carved around the body. What are the contents of this space, and what is its thickness? 

4. Imagine your hand is inside your body, passing through the blood stream, around organs, muscles, tendons and bones. 

5. If you are using your dominant hand, switch and use your non-dominant hand. Try using both hands at the same time.

6. Allow the scoop shape of the hand to be morphed by the journey into slightly different shapes and textures.

 

Partner Practice

A really nice way to do this practice is one-on-one with a partner. Person 1 begins the practice while Person 2 witnesses. After 2-3minutes have passed Person 1 takes the hand away from their body, which signals Person 2 to begin. Now Person 1 witnesses as Person 2 performs the practice. Continue relaying in this way many times. You can choose to respond to your partner by demonstrating back what you saw, or perhaps use them as a prompt to explore new ideas. 

 

Partner Practice: Touching Variation 

This is a possible alternative for people with a vision-impairment to the previous partner practice, but can also be practiced by anyone. In this variation, Person 1 maps the body-surface of Person 2 and vice versa. Be sure to have a conversation first about conditions of touch and what/how each partner is comfortable touching/being touched.

 

Seated Variation

The practice can be performed sitting on the floor or in a chair. Try including the chair or floor as part of the landscape that you are mapping, as if an extension of your body.