Amphibious Trilogies

Movement in a pandemic

One of the key feature in responding responsibly the Covid-19 global pandemic has been to do with movement. Where one’s washing hands frequently is a needed act, the enactment of ‘social distancing’, that entirely virus tagged term, concerns movement in the world in relation to others. Across the globe health and survival guidelines have asked citizens to engage in social distancing that in effect has shifted from maintaining a 2m distance, then more recently 1m distance from another person. Examples of social distancing have appeared widely in online news sites and for example in collections in Pinterest.

Two earlier art projects come to mind. In an exhausting event, Marina Abramovic and Ulay walked The Great Wall of China  from opposite ends (only to divorce), their collaborations often centring on proximity and distance. Lawrence Malstaf’s piece Compass (Malstaf, 2005) provides an orientation machine to wear around one’s waist to guide one when walking through a virtually programmed physical space (with the choice to resist or follow given instructions. These works highlight the nature of bounded or navigable space and our expectations and repulsion of participation in riels and expectations, forces and attractors.

Consequently, public venues such as shops and cafes have marked their floors with routes and signage as to where to stand and how to pace the flow of customers. However, this is not that complex in comparison with people who are on the move: runners and joggers and exercisers in gyms. This distance, less social than earlier proximal collegiality or the physicality of desire, has been problematic for the teaching and practice of dance and movement. Rave’s have been held in forests and declared anti-social, while crowds have worn masks to protest Black Lives Matter. 

Fish restaurant bumping tables on wheels

(See: Ocean City restaurant, Fish Tales, makes social distancing look fun with new tables. Photo credits: Courtesy John Middlebrook/Facebook)

Everywhere we have still needed to move across the globe: yet we have understood that the virus itself is also a moving entity. It may mutate (though this appears not to be a massive threat currently), and it is airborne, an aerosol of danger, a set of particles on the move, falling from our bodies into spaces, more virulent when fresh, however, lifted by movement and circulated within rooms with poor ventilation, commercial airlines refreshing their cabin air every 2 minutes or so, with only research suggest a 1 in 7 700 chance of infection on a long haul flight.

Seducing a neighbour to come on a date

(See: Confinement: he seduces a neighbor with a drone and then meets her in an airtight ball. Photo credit: Instagram screenshot / @jermcohen)

Then there are the curves and spikes and lockdowns and shifts between categories of self-isolation, shielding, front line working, daily briefings, rising cases and fatalities. Being able to literally breathe has been critical as air has needed to be forced into the lungs of the critically challenged via respirators and life support systems and bodies have struggled to fight the advance of the virus. Internationally, politicians in denial have resisted the donning of masks and appeared in public not at a distance but apparently remote from the march of the virus even as they deploy military metaphors and nationalist blame across distance.

However, people make do, make fun and make the best of what they can manage to tolerate and support. Countless images online of social distancing rules and practices have served to heighten how central movement has been in our daily lives, often unacknowledged in its ordinariness or self regulating as urban commuter sprawls and swarms. Now we look to see if someone is too close or moving too quickly towards us. Humour about movement is also part of acknowledging how we need to make visible our news modes of access and proprioceptive behaviour.

(See this image on Pinterest: Red and Howling Free Pandemic Posters! Image credit: ©RedandHowling )

In AT we have tackled these times in two ways we had not originally envisaged would quite develop. In response to the pandemic, we have focused on 1) language and movement and 2) the development of an online design fiction.

In our first response  first we have worked together on developing online learning resources on the topic of movement and language in a futures literacies view. This has been a result of collaboration between Amphibious Trilogies and the FUEL4DESIGN project at AHO, a project partner. We have developed self-supporting learning units, such as  FUTURES DESIGN AND MOVEMENT. We’ve also gathered and focused on a set of FUTURES DESIGN MOVEMENT WORDS and verbs in FUTURES DESIGN DISCOURSE MOVES. These we have taken up in choreography master’s workshops as pedagogies of the pandemic.

Our second response has to continue with earlier work on the persona OCTOPA and with a partner in France to develop what has become an online activity called OCTOPA’s JOURNEY. Centred on the Northern Sea Route (NSR), users need to toggle between movement and verbal choices as they move with OCTOPA through the past, present and future of the NSR. 

These two initiatives have brought home to us how important movement is in daily life and how we need movement vocabularies for the future.

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Featured image: Social distancing office. Image credits: Weston Williamson


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