Bodies on the move: Responses and Reflections
Bodies on the Move was a public workshop exploring the experience of migration through film and movement. Part of the Brighton Fringe Festival’s Migration and Refugee Film Festival and hosted by the University of Brighton’s Centre for Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics, it was co-conceived by Elona Hoover and Kate Monson, both doctoral candidates, and Dr Claudia Kappenberg, Principal lecturer in the School of Media. Fellow doctoral student Bethan Prosser joined us to co-facilitate on the day. The aim was to explore what is often a polarising and paralysing issue by engaging with it through collective, embodied experiences, and attention to both human and non-human movements.
Interested in developing a model of a film event different from the more typical ‘watching it; discussing it’ format, this session combined watching selected film clips with discussion, movement exploration and drawing exercises, to investigate how moving images can ‘involve the onlooker’ in issues, questions and experiences, and to encourage participants to experiment with alternative and unexpected ways of knowing and getting to know.
The session began with introductions and a check-in before Claudia, Kate and Elona, introduced and screened a short clip from each of their chosen films as a way to coax conversation and reflection. The selections were inspired by prior discussions on the topic of movement and migration. Elona chose to focus our attention on the complex collaboration of bodies in movement required to transport a lunchbox from the creator of its contents to its consumer across bustling Mumbai; with a selection from Island of the Hungry Ghosts, Kate encouraged the group to consider the multiple and shifting precarities of human and nonhuman migrations; and finally Claudia took us into the claustrophobic and confusing world of Mulholland Drive, where closings and openings confounded our expectations and sense of place. As a group, we discussed our experience of each of the clips, relating them to the theme of the workshop, and drawing unlikely connections.
This was followed by movement exercises, led by Claudia, which were designed to bring ourselves into the space, connect with the room, with our bodies and with eachother, to become attentive and sensorially engaged. This included exercises that play with the mental and visual focus, and with shifting attention. After exploring movement on the spot and moving into space, participants gathered around one large sheet of paper on the floor, each following the tip of their pencil as it travelled – or migrated – across the paper, gradually creating a communal landscape of lines and shapes. Executed in silence, this exercise also drew attention to the sounds of the shared activity. The movement patterns and visual map echoed the film clips whilst also creating a canvas for the following actions…
After this activity, the group moved into a playful engagement with movement and migration that took us out of the Sallis Benney theatre and onto the streets of Brighton. Before setting out, participants formed small groups, pairs, or opted to work alone, and chose from a selection of brown envelopes, inside each discovering a ‘constraint’ that guided their activities in the public space…
Follow the wind
Allow your mind to be embodied and your body to be curious
Always be able to hear each other’s breath
Crossing must be completed with at least one other body
Match your movements to the sounds around you
Led by their constraint, participants tried to make it towards the sea. After 40 minutes (or so) of exploration and play in the drizzly and damp May weather, we returned to the room, and to our drawing canvas. Elona asked us to write words and/or short sentences into the map inspired by the experience, which we then transformed into a collective poem by reading fragments out in rounds – one, two, three, one more, four, maybe five. The activity generated a playful and poetic piece, and a sense of shared experience, through words, sounds, breaths, and repetitions, something like…
Curious body makes me do things my mind doesn’t think OK
Breath breathe breath breathe
Stop and start stop and start stop and start
Clap clap! Splash splash!
Bethan then facilitated a final discussion, weaving together the different elements of the workshop. The embodied experience of going out into the city generated intense responses; the constraints were freeing for some and uncomfortable and awkward for others. Reflections on suspension and timelessness, invisible infrastructures created by our constraints, the difference between desire and destination, the possibility of playfulness in public spaces, repetition and relentlessness were shared.
What did we learn?
We took a gamble in showing only short clips of what might seem quite different films – the contextualising of the clips was important and having a short and intense audio-visual experience seemed to open up different ways of making connections. Some participants readily contributed, while others found it a little intimidating to engage in discussion about quite a wide topic from such short clips, feeling that it might be something media or art students are ‘better at’ or more ‘well versed in’. It might be helpful to think more carefully about the introduction to the workshop in order to dispel this (myth). Or find other ways to structure this starting discussion, such as talking in pairs first before the bigger open group discussion.
The exercises and the process of ‘getting into our bodies’ were challenging due to the prolonged focus and period of silence they required, yet it provided participants with the tools required to fully engage with the constraints and tasks that followed. Even when alone, all participants were willing to get out of their comfort zone, brave the wet weather and do some quite strange things in public places. Sharing this experience subsequently in a poetic way also worked well as a transition into the final more ‘reasoned’ discussion. The large Sallis Benney setting allowed enough physical space to fully explore movements with our shared experience, preparing participants for the explorations outdoors. Thus the suitability of the venue and the group size is worth considering for future formats, especially when thinking about transitioning to the activity outdoors.
Bodies in migration often have no, or very little, control over the conditions of their movement, and the constraints were an effective way to evoke this. The constraints were carefully developed in advance, prompted by reflections on the audio-visual material that we were working with and how we felt these could be related to movement and migration. Participants were given freedom in interpreting the constraints, some combining two or three together. For example, one person ventured out on their own to ‘follow the wind’ and found themselves pulled towards rustling leaves and rubbish rolling down the street, only catching a glimpse of the seafront. One pair didn’t make it to their destination after becoming so enthralled with being close enough to hear each others’ breath: they ended up in a photo booth together, with a memento to bring back to the group.
While these activities did not ‘simulate’ many of the more negative and enforced aspects of migration, combined with the embodied exercises they created rich experiences and took participants out of their comfort zone. We think the constraints might be interesting to develop in future workshops that explore contexts of movement and migration, and that the model of using ‘constraints’ following initial prompting activities might be a fruitful model for other critical and playful ways of becoming involved with film.
The event incorporated a mixture of individual and group experiences, from shutting our eyes or moving individually in silence, to collectively scrambling around a large piece of paper, to breaking out of the room in a small group. This blend enabled a variety of interactions and experiences to emerge, whilst also drawing us together at the end for the final reflections. A single, three-hour session however has its limitations and challenges, and the extended discussions in response to the film-clips at the start required us to jettison one exercise and shorten the final reflective discussion. Working with such time constraints then becomes another aspect of the journey, and the schedule was adapted as needed. It felt like minds and bodies were on the move.
The workshop was co-conceived by Kate Monson, Elona Hoover and Claudia Kappenberg and organised with Bethan Prosser. Thanks to the Centre for Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics and Brighton Fringe for supporting the event.