Copyright
Rights of the articles on No Man’s Land are reserved to the original authors or media. No Man’s Land is authorized to reproduce and distribute the articles freely. Users may distribute the articles on No Man’s Land accordingly to the above terms of use, and shall mark the author, and provide a link to the article on No Man’s Land .
「數位荒原」網站上文章之著作權由原發表人或媒體所有,原發表人(媒體)同意授權本站可自由重製及公開散佈該文章。使用者得按此原則自由分享本站收錄之文章,且註明作者姓名、轉載出處「數位荒原」與網頁的直接連結。
Contact
Please fill out your information to contact No Man’s Land .
The information you supply will only be used by No Man’s Land .




Subscribe No Man's Land
Please fill out your email to get the latest from No Man’s Land .
The information you supply will only be used by No Man’s Land .
Unsubscribe No Man’s Land
The Strange Gestation of Gestures by ila & Syaheedah
ila與Syaheedah:關於姿勢的奇異溫床
October 27th, 2020Type: Residency
Author: ila, Syaheedah Iskandar Editor: Rikey Tenn
Note: This article contains the email exchange between ila and Syaheedah Iskandar in Singapore during the COVID-19 pandemic period, and the photos on their "gesture manual" – both of the article and the manual are first produced for Dance Nucleus Micro-Residency 2020. In preparing the exercises for the Workshop: Nusantara in Future Tense (initialed by Nusantara Archive) and Pulau Something project (initiated by soft/WALL/studs), the two artists started the "phantom limb(((o))): Unpacking gestures through personal sharing" together and hosted an online Zoom meeting on 9 Aug 2020, trying to explore the hidden aspects (or the "embedded knowledge") of the personal and the cultural gestures.

In 2032, collective physical gestures are disappearing at an alarming rate due to our dependency on screen mediations to express ourselves. In an effort to preserve this rapid decline, we invite you to submit a gesture that holds a special meaning for you. Think about the ways you can instruct other people to perform this gesture step-by-step, how it embodies you and what kind of meaning it has for you.

“phantom limb(((o))): Unpacking gestures through personal sharing”, ila & Syaheedah Iskandar

1.0 HOLDING A SNEEZE (performed by ila, 2020)
1.1 Raise the index finger on your right hand./ 1.2 Bring it to your lips.
1.3 Place it on the curve of your upper lip also known as the Cupid's bow.

Salam temanku tersayang,
my dearest friend, Syaheedah,

Now that we have finally shared the same time zone in the last few months, it seems so strange to be writing this to you. I could ask how you are doing but we’ve checked in with each other just hours ago. As I sit here writing this to you on my cold cement floor, I acutely notice that I am rubbing my feet together: a gesture that serves two functions which is to keep me warm and awake. I remember too, at this moment that you rub your feet against the sheets to fall asleep. In the last few months of us trying to unpack and categorise different gestures, I have become more aware of my own gestures and of those around me. Throughout the entire micro-residency I keep thinking about the Centipede’s Dilemma:(註1)

A centipede was happy – quite!
Until a toad in fun
Said, “Pray, which leg moves after which?”
This raised her doubts to such a pitch,
She fell exhausted in the ditch
Not knowing how to run.

This poem also is a reference to the centipede effect, which is a psychological syndrome that occurs when a normally automatic or unconscious activity is disrupted by consciousness of it. I ask myself now, has the knowledge that a gesture that has been passed down from my mother to me (which is to lick the index finger when I am unable to eat the food that I am craving for or find time to eat the food prepared for me), which I found out that I have been doing wrongly (I am supposed to touch food / drink and put a little bit in my mouth). But what is right and wrong when all that matters is that I believe that it works for me, maybe? There seems to be no disruption as some of these gestures are so natural, it feels like muscle memory. Maybe that is what embodied knowledge is, something that has formed inside the body that I don’t second guess it. It comes out in how I sit, when I am angry, when I can’t sleep; these gestures gestate inside me, coming out of me even before any words could form in my mouth.

Remember when I asked you about the first time you learnt how to jeling? And who taught it to you? I think about my three year old daughter, Inaya giving us the slow eye roll when she was only a few months old. How much of these are something we’ve learned and how much of these have always been there? I keep thinking too, how do we learn these things? How is this knowledge shared if it was taught? I keep thinking about the attempts at performing the gestures that other people have shared with us and feeling silly. I tried to control my bowels by licking my thumb and inserting it really deep into my belly button but all I felt was an even greater urge to empty them out. I remember laughing when I shared this disembodying experience with you. Maybe I need to do it over and over again. But I knew at that moment that it was something my body rejected and it just didn’t work for me.

But why gestures my friend? How did we get here from thinking about the body and its phantom limb(s)? In our proposal, we addressed a kind of  bodily dissonance – being in a space where we are a part of but are also excluded from, but in these months I realised that the dissonance is also inward, that even what remains natural, for some of us at least, has lost its origins. I may be able to trace back jilat jari to my maternal grandmother, but where did she learn it from and how much of the knowledge that it used to carry is lost, and is that loss even damaging? Maybe the body knows what it needs to know and that the knowledge in which it carries remains amorphous, forgetful and forgiving.

stay open and keep close,

ila

4.0 STOPPING HICCUPS (performed by ila, 2020)
4.1.1 Hold a glass of water with both hands./ 4.1.2 Bend your body at 90 degrees.
4.1.3 Take a drink of water in that position.

Option 2 ➞

4.2.1 Pronounce Fan out loud.
4.2.2 Pronounce Ta out loud. Repeat from 4.2.1 onwards until hiccups disappear.

Salam kawanku tersayang,
My dearest Ila,

When I first expanded the theories of my own sense of embodied knowledge, I used your practice as one of the entry points to discuss in my dissertation. I do not remember when the idea hit me exactly, but I remembered feeling excited, like a bulb in my head going off. The following steps of articulating these concepts into words was not easy, and many times I found myself second-guessing its irrationality. Perhaps it was the reminder that I was in a time zone that has not been kind to our ancestors, that irrationality opposed the very foundation of “Enlightenment” thought, the prelude to all colonial legacies.

It was in this time zone that I understood the repercussions of visuality being a dominant sense – the need to “see” beyond the limits of our sight – which as real history tells us, has engineered their obsession to dominate lands that do not belong to them. But it is also in this timezone above that I found how to articulate its opposition, the unseen, the knowledge(s) that continue to veil itself as secrets, entrenched with locked meanings (or even no meanings) within the confines of our body. In my attempt to understand my own psyche as being disconnected to our ancestral lands, I argued the need to look inward, to use them as tracings to our past. For me, embodied knowledge became a romanticised idea (for better or worse) that I could one day read the stars at the back of my hand as I navigate the seas.

When you so graciously invited me to collaborate with you on this residency, I honestly never imagined the processes to end up this way. I got far more than the initial hypothesis. That through working with you, and in your emphasis on how we feel, I realised the extent of my own introversion towards emotions – relying mostly on what I could see or rationalise. I had become complicit in codifying embodied knowledge. Perhaps my self-imposed social isolation (before circuit breaker) after returning to Singapore played a role in exacerbating this, of trying to rationalise my surroundings. Either way, it was still fruitful because it was in that discomfort, that the realisation of my own threshold between the public and private became more pronounced.

In the beginning, I choose to focus on cultural gestures. Cultural gestures were easier to unpack because of its public meaning, but when you insisted to unpack gestures as a whole and to view it as part of embodied knowledge, I admit, was a path I was hesitant with. I thought it might broaden it up to the point that it would be hard for us to define what we were doing exactly. But maybe simplification is not the answer, that to avoid simplifying is to avoid systemising – and that in itself becomes an act of unlearning. In extending your hand to the private, you made space for personal meanings to also have a say in embodied knowledge. By allowing it to be said in public, the private gestures become conscious as we are made conscious of them.

The centipede effect is a perfect analogy. I think there were points where we both felt unsure but I guess, it is also in that uncertainty that we found its virtue – its complexities, intimacies and dare I say, absurdity. To answer your question – why gestures? Maybe it is the first step of unlocking other embodied knowledge(s). By giving consciousness to its everyday counterparts, that something else will begin to stir inside all of us.

Dengan ikhlas,
With love and kindness,

 Syaheedah

Footnote
[1] "The Centipede's Dilemma" is a short poem that has lent its name to a psychological effect called the centipede effect or centipede syndrome. It occurs when a normally automatic or unconscious activity is disrupted by consciousness of it or reflection on it. The psychologist George Humphrey referred to the tale in his 1923 book. See: Humphrey, George (1923). The Story of Man's Mind. Boston: Small, Maynard and company. p109.