(Syn)aesthetics and the Visceral 1
T]he senses . . . become directly in their practice theoreticians (Karl Marx qtd. in Michael Taussig, 1993: 98).
There is a mind in the flesh, but a mind as quick as lightning. And yet the agitation of the flesh partakes of the mind’s higher matter (Antonin Artaud, 1978: 166).
It would be interesting to develop a language that reflects the immediacy of the experience. I’m interested in words that describe and aren’t necessarily academic structures, language that’s spontaneous and descriptive and inventive (Maxine Doyle, 2007: 4).
In opening this paper, I am reminded
of a student of mine who, reflecting on her recent experience of Punchdrunk’s
Faust (2006), drew attention to a desire to be able to articulate
her response in an academic setting and her frustrations at not having
the analytical tools to do so, stating simply, ‘I have real trouble
talking about it’ (in Barrett, 2006: n.pag). During this discussion
as a whole it was noticeable how my students and I, along with the critics
whose reviews we referenced, turned to metaphor and analogy, highly
charged descriptive language to help make sense of our experiences of
the work. It is such an approach to talking about the work, thinking
about it, (re)creating the experience of it (without losing the immediacy
of that experience), that I intend to hold on to in this discussion.
By examining the (syn)aesthetics of Punchdrunk’s
site-sympathetic work I hope to demonstrate that within the fused approach
of (syn)aesthetics lies a discourse that defines simultaneously the
impulse and processes of production and the subsequent appreciation
strategies which incorporate reception and interpretation. (Syn)aesthetics
endeavours to embrace the sensual immediacy of the performance event
via highly charged vocabulary that is embedded within academic analysis.
It thus enables a talking about it that plays with the senses,
in the very act of that talking.
(Syn)aesthetics, which adopts certain
diagnostic features of the physiological condition of synaesthesia as
put forward by Richard E. Cytowic (1994, 2002) and A. R. Luria (1969),
is a strategy of analysis that prioritises individual, immediate and
innate processes of recall. It provides a mode of analysis for non-genre
specific performance which harnesses ‘the visceral’. (Syn)aesthetic
analysis comes into play where the form and content of the artistic
work is executed in a way that fuses the somatic (‘affecting the body’
or ‘absorbed through the body’) and the semantic (the ‘mental
reading’ of signs) in execution and reception. As I will go on to
illustrate, with (syn)aesthetic work, subsequent processes of intellectual
analysis thus rely on an individual’s corporeal memory of the piece.
It also embraces intertextual practice, thereby celebrating the ludic
play between, and flux within, the linguistic, corporeal, visual, aural
and technological.2 Following this, arguably, in responding
to performance work which resists closure, so too does the (syn)aesthetic
mode of appreciation and analysis resist closure (see Machon, 2001a,
Punchdrunk – Experiential Performance
Image courtesy of Punchdrunk: Sam Booth in The Firebird Ball (2005). Photo: Sam Holden.
Punchdrunk’s work exploits the multi-dimensional,
multi-sensual possibilities of the (syn)aesthetic hybrid and the presence/prae
sens of the actual body as text is predominant in performance.4
Punchdrunk also play with textual sources, pushing the spatial, temporal,
conceptual and corporeal dimensions of these visceral-verbal texts to
unusual and exhilarating ends.
Punchdrunk’s work is committed to a
multi-sensual performance that explores a somatic/semantic exchange
at every stage of the process. The initial aim of Felix Barrett, the
founding artistic director, was to challenge and to change the nature
of the audience experience; to ‘focus as much on the audience and
the space as…the performers and the text’.5 This took
him out of conventional theatre spaces to alternative sites where the
emphasis was on the space itself; the imaginative transformation of
the space and its relationship with the audience:
I was very interested early on in installation, just as a word. I didn’t use it as an art-world definition but more to define space that is inherently theatrical and yet has no performance within it…I’m a firm believer that every space you go into is saying something, there are echoes in the walls. All we do as a company is draw those out…It’s about making that theatrical, letting that wash over you, so that that triggers the audience’s imagination (Barrett, 2007: 4).
With a Punchdrunk event, the space invites
you to interact with it, has its own quality and ambience, without the
performers. Punchdrunk rejects the passive obedience expected of an
audience in more conventional theatre experiences in favour of the audience
rediscovering ‘the childlike excitement and anticipation of exploring
the unknown…of adventure’.6 Barrett experiments with
an entirely sensate connection with space. In Punchdrunk work;
space speaks to you, you create your own world within it – space becomes alive and charges the imagination – your imagination then flavours the space – you draw on a database of sensation in the experience’ (Barrett, 2006: n.pag).
As this suggests, Punchdrunk’s (syn)aesthetic
hybrid is created in such a way in order to produce a visceral
response in the audience. Punchdrunk render an explicit recreation of
sensation within their events
via a fusion of visual, physical, verbal, aural, tactile, haptic and
olfactory means.7 Such a manipulation of the sensual capacity
of installation encourages the making-sense/sense-making process
of (syn)aesthetic appreciation throughout any journey taken through
it.8 As Barrett explains above, it also manipulates the imagination
to such an extent that a ‘(syn)aesthetic sense’, which draws on
the noetic and ineffable, may be achieved.9
This fusion of the senses in the visual,
spatial, aural and olfactory design demands an engagement of the senses
in the immediate experience of the work. Barrett asserts, and as the
Faust example below illustrates, the sensual details of the design
‘give the audience the chance to really become part of it’ (Barrett,
In addition to this, in Punchdrunk work
the audience also adds an architectural dimension within the space.
This is heightened by the Punchdrunk prerequisite that all members of
the audience wear a mask. These masks at once allow for anonymity and
a sense of (role)play within the performance itself. As an audience
member the mask allows you to take risks, to step outside of yourself
and enter into the adventure of the event.
In all of the Punchdrunk events that
I have experienced I have always taken delight in the way in which the
audience, included in this way, frame the sequences as they watch. It
is often breathtaking to become aware of the way in which fellow audience
members have, unwittingly, choreographed themselves into beautiful,
carnivalesque sculptures. These masked, still bodies looking on, literally
become part of the architecture. Furthermore, the mask becomes another
ludic element which destroys the traditional divisions of conventional
theatre and ensures the audience actually become part of the (syn)aesthetic
The mask is the most crucial part in a way. a clear division is established between audience and performers yet you’re allowed to get as close as you want. It allows you to probe further then you would do. The mask allows you to function as a voyeur, as a camera because you’re more aware of where you’re looking, what you choose to see and your peripheral vision is slightly affected. Other audience members don’t necessarily inform your experience, don’t affect it because they become part of the space. They’re ghosts, you can forget about them. They can melt into the aesthetic or they can form walls (Barrett, 2007: 9-10).
The fusion of elements, within Punchdrunk’s
work thus foregrounds the playful prae sens
of the human body as space via this audience engagement and ludic
composition. Additionally, Punchdrunk also focus on the performing body
within space. The predominance of the human body as text, specifically
as translator in a very real (re)writing of the body from text,
is a crucial making-sense/sense-making signifier in Punchdrunk’s
Performing Bodies in Space
Image courtesy of Punchdrunk: L-R Geir Hytten, Robert McNeill, Elizabeth Barker, Hector Harkness, Gerard Bell, Dagmara Billon, Mark Fadoula, Andreas Constantinou, Sarah Dowling in Sleep No More (2003). Photo Stephen Dobbie
In early Punchdrunk work, Barrett identifies
that the images he created became more evocative than the words in the
dialogue he had directed. As a result he sought out a choreographer,
Maxine Doyle, to work with in order to explore the power of a physical
language and the eloquence of the human body within the space. Doyle
is inspired by ‘the dancers’ ability to feel the space, touch spaces
textures surfaces, temperatures’ (2006: 1). By giving in to the haptic,
multi-sensual qualities of space the choreographed body is enabled to
more than human…to use the architecture as a springboard for different possibilities to jump, to fall, to crash, to bang, to impact, to place themselves within an already existing physical context (Doyle, 2006: 1)
So as much as site is all-important and
the space dictates what to do at every point, from the moment that the
space is agreed and as the rehearsal process begins, the space also
yields to the performers’ interaction. Space as site/sight and body
as sight/site of performance thus begin to merge.10
Doyle is particularly inspired by the
play with proximity; the exciting exchange that occurs as a result of
the proximity of the audience to the performers:
[T]here’s no concession to the physical of the choreography in relation to the audience’s proximity to it. And that’s a challenge. Audiences have to become part of the choreography, have to engage on a kinetic level in order to survive. It becomes quite Darwinian. If you’re not responding on a physical level you lose out – sometimes physically – you have to develop your physical intuition. You see it in audiences, you see audiences who are not aware of their physical body, who aren’t aware, and then you see audiences who are really on it (Doyle, 2006: 3).
This corporeal play is most apparent
in the ‘final’ sequence in Punchdrunk’s Faust; Faust’s
descent into hell, a full body impact piece where Mephistopheles hurls
himself around the space in an aerial display of choreography. Aside
from the felt energy of the sequence generated by his movement, the
haptic experience of the locomotion of his body in space, swinging from
his rope, he will actually kick those not spatially, corporeally aware.
As this illustrates, for the duration of Punchdrunk’s Faust, the individual audience member experiences space and bodies both internally and externally. This provides a reciprocal exchange of feeling within this communal event. Such shared feeling, activated by haptic reciprocity, comes to the forefront in the experience of the tactile and kinaesthetic moments between performer/s, audience member/s and space. It is the immediacy of this embodied engagement in the actual moment, which cites the experience in the perceiving body and ensures an equivalent corporeal memory is triggered in any subsequent processes of recall.
Playing (with) the Text
Image courtesy of Punchdrunk: Fernanda Prata and Geir Hytten in Faust (2006). Photo Stephen Dobbie.
Punchdrunk’s approach is to play with
the presence of writerly text within the experience. In early productions,
Barrett became dissatisfied by the way that the dialogue, once met by
the audience, lost the power that it had on the page or in a more conventional
theatre setting due to the fact that it was overwhelmed by the space
and the atmospheric journey towards the text that the audience had taken.
As a result, for Barrett and his audiences, the dialogue served only
to destroy the magic and mystery of the event. Consequently, Barrett
resolved to be less concerned with the content of the play in favour
of playing with the content of a play. He chose to pare verbal
text right down, irrespective of the fact that the sources that he was
turning to were weighty theatrical tomes such as Shakespeare, Chekhov
Although the dialogue is almost absent
in Punchdrunk’s recent productions, the complexities of these rich
literary sources remain, due to the philosophical challenges and visceral
lyricality that is embedded in the writing and brought out by the space
and the dance. As Barrett puts it, the choice of such rich source material
is as much to do with the ‘detail, the minutiae of the text’ which
‘is then scattered over the piece’ so that it provides the maze-like
pathway, the ‘complex journey through’, as it is about;
[T]he time and place, the way the pentameter has an atmosphere in itself because it is so specific to that particular era. It feels as if it’s from another land, it’s otherworldly…[I]t’s that atmosphere that lies within the text. We try and flush out, deconstruct and scatter that across the building…making that atmosphere three-dimensional (Barrett, 2007: 10-11).
The space allows the text to be opened
up on a multi-dimensional level. In this way, the text itself becomes
entirely visceral. Characters that only have brief moments in the original
play extend these moments in a three hour run. In Faust we can
remain with old Faust in his study, stay with him as he leads us along
his own journey to hell, until the point where, powerless, he looks
on as a ghostly trace at Gretchen’s tormented demise. We can sit at
a bar as a, previously silenced, previously frozen, Edward Hopper subject
makes sparse conversation, pours us a shot. We are able to enter the
seedy motel rooms, root through drawers, piece together clues before
we are drawn out into the heady, carnivalesque Walpurgis dance; all
the time experiencing different tangents, unseen moments that exist,
unbeknownst to us, in the source material.
This ludic, deconstructive play with
the text causes time to kaleidoscope. All the characters are under scrutiny;
all of the characters exist in the space all the time for the full 180
minute run. Focus shifts away from one protagonist. Narratives and experiences
are to be found on different floors, behind every door. Only the narrative
of the space is, for each individual member of the audience, a constant
This focus on the multidimensional text(ure)s
of the site enable the company, and thus the audience, to become aware
of details and texture in the narratives, themes and concepts of the
textual source as much as the space. Key to this approach is the fact
that, for both Barrett and Doyle, the meat of the textual source, its
very essence, exists in ‘the unseen words’ (Doyle, 2006: 3). These
unseen words are made manifest in the multi-sensory exchange that occurs
in the special (syn)aesthetic hybrid that is Punchdrunk work.
Space, dance and the ‘ineffable’
Image courtesy of Punchdrunk: Geir Hytten in Sleep No More (2003). Photo: Stephen Dobbie
The multidimensional potential of the
space as manipulated by Punchdrunk allows a drawing out of the ‘unseen
words’ and experiences that exist in the textual sources. As a result
a very real experience of the ineffable is made pr(a)esent within
these productions. The merging of space and bodies as site/sight/cite
of performance brings about a ludic and unusual confrontation with the
concepts and stories within the source material. In particular, in relation
to the dancing bodies that interpret the text, in turn interpreted by
the perceiving bodies, the space itself allows access to something sensual
that exists with the psychology of the characters and their narratives.
As Doyle puts it, the space ‘ helps you solve the conundrums’ (2006:
In Sleep No More  the performer playing Macbeth was having real difficulties accessing the psychology of Macbeth before he kills Duncan. He just couldn’t get it in the rehearsal studio. But as soon as he discovered this room, with spikes all over the walls he was instantly able to find something that opened that up for him. The spikes and the claustrophobic dimensions of the space, allowed him to unlock what he should be feeling and communicating at that time. So the space offers up more possibilities for the performer to interpret their role beyond the immediate and beyond the studio. It offers both physical and psychological dimensions (Doyle, 2006: 1 ).
The body moving in space thus ensures
the intangible is made tangible. Similarly in Faust, the performer
playing Faust was experiencing problems interpreting the emotional and
psychological wilderness that leads to his final damnation. Doyle made
him return to the play text and, in ‘playing in his story’ (Doyle,
2006: 2) he found a dark stairwell, his own hell, where suddenly his
textual narrative became truly physical because of the space it was
in. Furthermore, ‘when the audience came in to the equation it became
bigger – grew organically (Doyle, 2006: 2). Thus, in Punchdrunk’s
work the site not only works out the internal experiences via external
means but also enables a sensuous interpretation for the performer as
sight/site/cite, which is in turn sighted/cited in the corporeal and
intellectual experience of the audience. This visceral experience allows
for the intangible psychologies present in the narrative of these sources
to be made tangible. Ideas that exist in the text are literally fleshed
out, presented and appreciated corporeally, which demands a sensate
involvement from the audience. This ensures the making sense/sense
making process of (syn)aesthetic appreciation is called into play.
With Faust, Barrett and Doyle grappled with how to communicate some of the more complex academic ideas via the language of space and movement; ‘how do you clarify the detail of quantum physics’ via movement language (Doyle, 2006: 3, emphasis original)? Barrett translated those ideas into the space, allowed the space to speak the concepts. Dense artistic and philosophical narratives are actually made tangible, the prae sens of the literary is truly felt. As Doyle puts it, ‘you enter the space and you can see the equations and touch the experiments’ (2006: 3). Thus the sensual potential of Punchdrunk’s (syn)aesthetic hybrid makes the complexity of all that is available in the words more apparent. These moments become like the scene in the film Bladerunner (1982) where we see the protagonist insert a photograph into a hi-tech piece of equipment which allows him to go behind the image, see into the corners and crevices of the room in a three-dimensional way, in a way that the standard two-dimensional image does not allow. In a similarly evocative and highly imaginative way, Punchdrunk open up the multi-dimensional possibilities that exist in the source material which enables the audience to experience the narrative from inside itself via this clever and sensate deconstructive play.
Punchdrunk’s Faust – 21 Wapping Lane…
Image courtesy of Punchdrunk: 21 Wapping Lane, London. Photo Colin Marsh
Punchdrunk’s Faust (2006-7)
is exemplary of their work. At the forefront of this event is the engagement
of the senses and the imagination. The audience becomes aware of the
fear and uncertainty even on the journey there. Senses are switched
on to the presence of adventure, of discovery, of the unknown. Wandering
through dimly lit streets and housing estates towards the derelict warehouse
that is 21 Wapping Lane only serves to fuel this sense of trepidation
From the outset, on entering the seedy
down town bar you become aware that this Faust is firmly located
in 1950s small town, Southern state America. This is an ominous, unsettling,
liminal realm that is otherworldly and dangerous. Jive music echoes
around the building’s corridors, girls with bright red lips and coiffured
hair, full skirts with petticoats and pump shoes run past on their own
journeys. There are cold forgotten rooms filled with shelves that contain
religious and philosophical books on wisdom, faith and the supernatural,
illustrating the human capacity to desire knowledge beyond all knowledge.
In eerily musty, deserted offices, antique typewriters are left unattended,
midway through transcripts of biblical text; a subversive setting, accentuated
by explicit references to the echoes, overtones and menacing imagery
of Edward Hopper and David Lynch.
Throughout the journey taken, there is
no sequence of events imposed upon the experience; the audience are
dropped off randomly at various stages (unless you should happen to
annoy the lift operator assigned to take you down to the pits of hell,
in which case he decides at which level you are ejected, and whether
or not you will be thrust into the unknown alone). The only condition
is the wearing of masks; carnivalesque masks which play on the divide
between performer and spectator, simultaneously enabling each individual
to lose a sense of inhibition by having their identity taken away, entering
in a world where we too become other-worldly. These masks, as well as
being a Punchdrunk trait, serve to add to the supernatural and religious
overtones emphasised by the many posters proclaiming that tonight is
Walpurgis Night, a night of ludic revelry, a night of witchcraft and
Punchdrunk’s Faust and the audience experience
Image courtesy of Punchdrunk: Fernanda Prata and Geir Hytten in Faust (2006). Photo Stephen Dobbie
One need only glance at the many reviews,
extolling the power of Punchdrunk’s Faust to note the language
used to describe the work; intoxication, senses, discovery, play, these
are examples of words repeated throughout each critique. Rachel Halliburton,
a first time visitor to a Punchdrunk event writes:
Often the sensation of entering a room is that of being swallowed up into the darkness, with the floor uncertain beneath your feet as you try and decode the sounds, sights, and symbols that become clear as your senses gradually reorient themselves…Sometimes it feels as if you’re in a dream, sometimes as if you’re stumbling through a horror film set – being confronted by a range of phenomena …. In one particularly evocative installation, you’re greeted by the smell of fir trees, before you make your way through a glade that opens up to reveal scenes of eroticism and violence in a bar at the end of it (2006: n.pag)
Such a summation of the event illustrates
the quality of felt experience at the epicentre of the work. It is an
intoxicating experience that is truly (syn)aesthetic, at once as disturbing
as it is exhilarating. As a result the making sense/sense making
of the work becomes paramount in this analysis. The whole experience,
played on a loop so that time itself is ludically controlled, allows
for a feeling of transcendence, out of body experiences, which engage
a (syn)aesthetic sense in the constant moment(um) of appreciation.
Punchdrunk’s Faust embraces
sensation. The experience arises from the atmosphere established from
the outset by the unique (syn)aesthetic hybrid rather than an intellectual
pursuit of narrative. The human body is engaged as an holistic entirely;
body and mind experience the work together:
You can open the drawer, you can root around, see the pen that wrote that letter, smell the ink…. A lot of it’s to do with…that extra sense and the power of the imagination (Barrett, 2007: 5)
In this way, Punchdrunk events make the
audience aware of a (syn)aesthetic sense, where the intellect yields
to the power of the body. For the performers, it makes every event equally
challenging as each night has to be played as a game in relation to
the audience’s participation in that game:
I’ve seen the dancers becoming really skilled in changing the movement language in response to other bodies and other bodies in space…they become part of the spatial composition. And the other thing is that sense of the potential excitement of that experience for the audience; to really feel a body moving in front of you, behind you and around you. I think that’s really exciting (Doyle, 2006: 4).
Individuals are made acutely aware of
their participation in this game in the one-on-ones (should you be so
lucky as to experience one). These are moments of chance meetings where
suddenly, randomly, you may be taken into a room with a lone performer,
whether a protagonist or a ‘secondary’ character. This character
will place the individual audience member in a space, the bar, a motel
room, an office, a beauty salon and interact only for you, without words,
just briefly, but causing time to be suspended as he or she does so.
Here, sometimes, the audience member’s mask is removed, which serves
to make the experience even more electric. This direct physical engagement
ensures the experience of bodies as site, sight and cite of performance
is made manifest. Furthermore, this predominance of the body as site/sight/cite
allows for a real reve(a)ling of and in the text.
Imagination and instinct is key in a
Punchdrunk theatrical experience, ‘your synapses are constantly firing’
(Barrett, 2006: n.pag). As this suggests, the sensory stimuli within
the work, from start to finish, allows for a remarkable igniting of
This giving in to sensation, imagination,
instinct and experience, was most charged for me in the sequence conveying
Faust’s descent into hell: initiated by a lone, powerful female
voice singing, swelling in the crumbling chamber, which smells damp,
fusty, like it is decaying around you; the temperature is cold yet made
strange by the clammy heat of others’ bodies in the space; the chill
down my neck, along my arms caused by the singing and the imagery around
me as much as the cold, dank air. In front of me I watch Gretchen’s
demise in a cage, the loss of her child, as old Faust looks on, then
I am literally spun round by a member of the company to see Mephistopheles
hurling himself at young Faust, spinning, and swinging through the air.
Faust naked and vulnerable, utterly human, in a chair. The soundscape
builds, becomes unbearable, we are plunged into darkness and when the
lights come up we are left alone, together, in the space.
(Syn)aesthetics and Site-Sympathetic work: towards a definition of visceral performance
In talking about the show afterwards
with my students we used language like walking in limbo, entering a
decompression chamber, forgetting about the outside world, entering
a trance; of acclimatising to the performance, of walking through a
nightmare. One student stated ‘I felt like I was living someone else’s
nightmare…as a piece of theatre it was true, honest, I wasn’t in
the audience anymore, I was in the performance’ (in Barrett, 2006:
n.pag). We all concurred that we had stepped into the multidimensional
world that Punchdrunk had created. This descriptive language alone highlights a certain dreamlike inhabiting of
tangental states within the appreciation experience of (syn)aesthetic
work most evident in the experience of Punchdrunk’s Faust.
With their focus on a spatial and physical
approach to the adaptation of a textual source, Punchdrunk’s work
enables a multi-dimensional, multi-sensual access to the ideas
as well as the narratives present in the text. This ensures that a corporeal
analysis is required in appreciating and analysing the work. Over the
last four years, Punchdrunk theatrical experiences have grown in size,
both in terms of the spaces employed and in terms of the audiences that
visit the event. A consequence of this is that their work is being discussed
in critical and academic circles. Indeed, Punchdrunk have been cited
by James Purnell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, as
artistic innovators, producing work that, deconstructs canonical subjects
in a ways that is both accessible and highly challenging (see Higgins,
2007). I was interested to know from both Barrett and Doyle how, if
at all, the analysis of their work impacted on their approach to creating
I think it’s crucially important in a way. For me as a practitioner, I know that the only way I can work is to rely on instinct. So it’s almost like the polar opposite, because if I think about it too much then I would question decisions. I think it’s so important that that analysis does happen elsewhere, so that the work exists in [that] climate. It’s fascinating, the responses that people have on different levels, from the pure, immediate response, because it is so experiential, so emotional, to the critical analysis, the deconstruction of how and why it does that. Considering that the work is all about deconstruction anyway, deconstructing a source, it stands to reason that the form then needs to be deconstructed (Barrett, 2007: 15).
Barrett’s response supports my own
thinking that exciting, innovative work that grows out of and exists
in corporeality requires a mode of analysis that is mutually sympathetic.
It demands a way of analysing that meets the workings of the performance
and allows that deconstructive play to continue. It requires an approach
to intellectualising the sensate experience that itself enters into
that corporeal play via the vocabulary of embodied analysis. I posit
that in applying (syn)aesthetic theory there is an endeavour to hold
on to the immediacy, the sensuality of the performance, that (re)creates
rather than destroys through the act of interpretation. Doyle concurs;
Sympathetic analysis can always open the work up to an extent. Dialogue is really important – especially with this work because the interpretations are multiple. With this work there are so many possibilities that if people can articulate their individual experience and acknowledge the differences of experience that they have that can only add to the work (2006: 4).
(Syn)aesthetics arguably presents a sympathetic
theory for such open and vital performance work as it contains the ineffable
within its very construct. Implicit within my use of the term is the
notion that such special perception is made unusual due to the unsettling
and/or exhilarating nature of the process of becoming aware
of the fusion of senses within interpretation which can be difficult
and unsettling, and/or, exhilarating and liberating.
(Syn)aesthetics is applicable to performance in general, but is most appropriate for any work, like that of Punchdrunk, where the body is prioritised, where the verbal is made visceral and where the fusion of interdisciplinary, hybridised practice is worked in such a way in order to produce a sensate response in the audience. Thus (syn)aesthetics enables the work to be (re)experienced in the act of analysis. It relishes the visceral, the corporeal, in the act of intellectual interpretation and explanation. (Syn)aesthetics thus enables the vitality of Punchdrunk’s practice and the immediate, individual response to it to exist in the subsequent academic appreciation of the whole experience.
Bladerunner. Director. Ridley
Scott. Writers. Hampton Fancher, David Peoples, based on the novel,
‘Do Androids Dream of Human Sheep’, by Philip K. Dick. Warner Distribution.
Faust. Director. Felix Barrett.
Choreographer. Maxine Doyle. Producer. Colin Marsh. In association with
the National Theatre. 21 Wapping Lane, London. October 2006-March 2007.
Sleep No More. Director. Felix
Barrett. Choreographer. Maxine Doyle. The Beaufoy Building, Kennington,
London. November 2003-January 2004.
Artaud, Antonin. Collected Works:
Volume One. Trans. Victor Corti. London: John Calder,
Barrett, Felix. Discussion: on space,
Faust and Artaudian practice, St. Mary’s University College, Twickenham.
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Higgins, Charlotte. The Guardian. Friday
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Machon, Josephine. (2001a ). '(Syn)aesthetics
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– a document by bodies in flight. Sara G.iddens & Simon Jones.
Nottingham: Far Ahead Publications. CD ROM.
Rodaway, Paul. Sensuous Geographies
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Punchdrunk’s latest event is The
Masque of the Red Death at Battersea Arts Centre, London. September
2007 onwards. See the above link for details.
Josephine set up the Physical Theatre Programme at St. Mary’s College, Twickenham and has recently joined the academic team at Brunel University. She has co-edited Performance and Technology: Practices of Virtual Embodiment and Interactivity (2006) with Susan Broadhurst and is in the process of writing (Syn)aesthetics – Towards a Definition of Visceral Performance. Her current practice is concerned with the playful encounters that exist between the body, text, space and technologies. Josephine is Sub-Editor for Body, Space & Technology.
1 I use
the term ‘visceral’ throughout to denote those perceptual experiences
that affect a very particular type of response where the most inward,
often inexpressible, emotionally sentient feelings a human is capable
of are brought about. The term also describes that which, simultaneously
or in isolation to the emotions, affects an upheaval, or disturbance,
of the physiological body itself, so literally a response through the
3 I have previously outlined
my theory in an early edition of this journal. See http://people.brunel.ac.uk/bst/vol0102/index.html,
Body, Space & Technology, Vol. 1/2. My thinking has shifted
and refined itself somewhat since this paper was written, as is to be
expected. The general outline does however remain the same.
5 Taken from www.punchdrunk.org.uk.
taken from Paul Rodaway’s usage, emphasises the tactile perceptual
experience of the body as a whole (rather than merely the fingers) and
also highlights the perceptive faculty of bodily kineasthesics, (the
body’s locomotion in space). This encompasses the sensate experience
of the individual’s moving body, and the individual’s perceptual
experience of the moving bodies of others. the haptic sense in particular
enables a very real sharing in audience appreciation due to the ‘reciprocity
of the haptic system’ of perception (Rodaway, 1994: 44).
8 The fusion of sense (semantic
‘meaning making’) with sense (feeling, both sensation and
emotion) establishes a double-edged rendering of making-sense/sense-making,
which prioritises embodied knowledge. This play with the duality of
the word ‘sense’ is fundamental to (syn)aesthetics. The term ‘making-sense/sense-making’
highlights the fact that human perception, by its very definition, fuses
‘the reception of information through the sense organs’ with
perception as ‘mental insight’, that is, ‘a sense made
of a range of sensory information, with memories and expectations’
(Rodaway, 1994: 10, emphasis original). Thus, perception as sensation,
that is, corporeally mediated, and perception as cognition, intellectually
mediated (accepting that the latter also involves cultural and social
mediation) (see Rodaway, 1994: 11). Key to (syn)aesthetics is the notion
that such special perception is made unusual due to the unsettling and/or
exhilarating nature of the process of becoming aware of
the many fusions of ‘sense’ within interpretation.
9 Noetic (from the Greek
nous meaning ‘intellect’ or ‘understanding’); noetic sense
establishes a ‘knowledge that is experienced directly’ which can
provide ‘a glimpse of the transcendent’ (Cytowic, 1994: 78). Following
this, the ineffable is ‘that which by definition cannot be put into
words’ (Cytowic, 1994: 119).
10 The body as sight/site of performance is developed from Rebecca Schneider’s arguments (See Schneider, 1997).