Make a deep inhale and hold your breath for 10 seconds. Exhale
The prolonged lockdown enclosed millions of people at their homes. Covid-19 made us more aware than ever before that breathing is a privilege. We are scared not to be able to breathe, we are scared to breathe. To breathe today is to infect the other or to get infected yourself. To breathe today is also to manifest life and freedom. The borders between active and passive states became blurry, as far as you can breathe you are active. On the 25th of May 2020 an inhuman murder happened in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which was followed by protests in the United States and in Europe. A 46-year-old black man George Floyd was killed by a white police officer Derek Chauvin, who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes. George Floyd was constantly repeating: “I can’t breathe”.
The global lockdown due to coronavirus hit mostly the weakest parts of our societies and revealed various types of discrimination and oppression: refugees and migrants, the homeless, people of all genders who encountered domestic violence. Some people, who had a possibility to stay home, had a chance to experience a very different temporality. Neoliberalism immerses most of us in constant cycles of productivity and creativeness. For many of us the lockdown gave a chance to slow down, to breathe.
For some of us the lockdown opened up new possibilities. Almost for the first time, people with disabilities, who spend all of their lives at home, because our societies are still not inclusive enough, got an access to an online education, concerts and performances, and this made us realize how little we did for those, whose needs differ from ours.
In these times, when we are looking for care and healing it is important to understand that breathing is something that we all share. Breathing is a uniting and shared practice. Breathing does not distinguish human and nonhuman. Breathing makes the border between inside and outside blurry. While breathing we can stay together, recognizing our differences1.
LOCKDOWN MADE ONE THING MORE CLEAR – THE POLITICAL FUNCTIONS ON THE LEVEL OF THE BODY
When the lockdown started I went back home to Saint-Petersburg, Russia, to stay there with my family. As a freelance dance artist and a master student at Utrecht University, I was scared that I would not be able to financially support myself, because no financial help was provided to non-EU students and artists by Dutch government and educational institutions. As in many other countries, lockdown in Russia coincided with a tense political situation, that made me think of Body in revolt in the times of corona. How can we understand/practice active political position, solidarity, empathy, when in situation of social distancing and extensive governmental control?
During the lockdown I had to concentrate on my inner body – my room was too small to practice either ballet or floorwork. I decided to work from a somatic perspective mostly and was giving regular improvisation classes via zoom, in which I was guiding my students with voice instructions, because I was looking for ways to be together with people – otherwise. I was reading a book Breathing matters by Magdalena Górska, in which she studies breathing. She approaches it as both material and discursive phenomenon. M. Górska as a researcher is interested in feminist politics of vulnerability and in perceiving bodies as agents in intersectional politics. This accent on agency of a body, agency of matter gives her a possibility to approach panic attacks, depression and anxiety not from a medical model, that conceives bodies in depression as apolitical, incapable to act, but to understand these states as a the results of political living of a body, that hold a potentiality for change. This perspective helps us to rethink what we conceive as action and inaction, how big, how visible should be a movement, so it can make a change?
BLASPHEMY AS COMPLACENCY
As the measurements relaxed a little bit more, I was able to return to the Netherlands and continue my internship at ICK dans Amsterdam.
Right now artistic directors of ICK – Emio Greco and Peter C. Scholten are working on a new creation called Blasphemy Rhapsody. Andrea Božić interviewed the ICK dancers about the creation process and about their personal (also bodily) understanding of the idea of blasphemy when it is taken out of religious context.
Andrea Božić (interviewer):
What is a blasphemy for you personally?
Edward Lloyd (ICK dancer):
What I think about blasphemy today… It is complacency and a sort of inaction, unless you are actively non acting as a form of protest. It is only June, but all this stuff happened already. I realized that nothing is permanent, nothing is set and we cannot afford to rest and to not be aware of what is happening… Regardless of what is your position in a society or what is your experience, I would say complacency is a form of blasphemy. To be aware of what is happening in your personal sphere, nationally, internationally. And I know it is impossible to be everywhere at the same time, but it is possible to approach it as a practice.
ICK as a dance institution has worked a lot with a concept of Body in revolt. The kind of body that is sensitive to a rapidly changing economic, political, cultural, and ecological situation. The kind of body that is a priori social. On the 28th and 28th of May 2020 ICK hold an online festival Body Un(Mute) that was curated by Bogomir Doringer, who has worked a lot within a field of dance as politics. Thinking of dance as something that can make a social-political change Doringer has made a couple of projects. One of them – Dance of Urgency – was inspired mainly by club culture. In Dance of Urgency Doringer refers to a two-day rave-protest in front of the building of the parliament in Tbilisi on May 12-13 in 2018. This rave protest was caused by the brutal police raids at Bassiani and Cafe Gallery (techno clubs in Tbilisi). People were protesting against the dids of the far-right wing and for the support of LGBT+ community, techno culture and for legalization of drugs. In 2018 ICK also organized an event about the dance floor as place of protest.
Today we are stepping into the world in which we should redefine a concept of Body in revolt. The world after Covid-19 is more than ever about combat breathing. This term initially refers to ways how power relations can be incorporated. Combat breathing transforms our understanding of what counts as politics, as resistance, as collaboration. It is an embodiment of an occupation that happens in our being/living. Combat breathing is a potentially fatal exercise, when all energy of a subject is dedicated to a fight for a right to breathe, to survive. Many people are living in the situation of combat breathing: refugees, the homeless, people of all genders, who experience domestic violence, disabled people, people of color, people who has mental issues and many more. All of them encounter different types of discrimination and are forced to fight for their right to breathe, they are all familiar with “quotidian practices of breathing as a way of living in vulnerability 2”.
Before the pandemics we were able to gather and to dance, to experience the physical presence of each other’s bodies. As a dance artist and a dancer myself in a situation of corona crisis I again realized the political and social potentiality of dancing. Dancing as a way of experimental reassembling of various already existing ideas. As a way to reimagine and practice different futures. In the second part of this article I have asked three dancers/choreographers/dance artists about their personal experiences and thoughts on the current state of affairs in the arts field. Stay safe and stay tuned!
- Magdalena Górska in her book Breathing matters argues: “I attend to breathing in relation to its human corpomaterial commonality and as a phenomenon that has specific and pertinent patterns of operation across differences while being forcefully differential in its enactments”. Górska, Magdalena. “Breathing Matters.” Feminist Inter-Sectional Politics of Vul (2016), 28.
- Górska, Magdalena. “Breathing Matters.” Feminist Inter-Sectional Politics of Vul (2016), 306