‘Each living body’, according to Henri Lefebvre, ‘is space, and has its space: it produces itself in space and also produces that space’ (1991: 170). Derek McCormack asserts that Lefebvre’s work on Rhythmanalysis (1992) proposes the production of bodies in time, ‘always composed of rhythms, and these rhythms interact in ways that give a certain consistency to the spacetime of bodies’ (McCormack, 2013:167). Bruno Latour suggests an approach that opens onto a performative reading of space and time:
Deeper than the question of time and space is the very act of shifting, delegating, sending away, translating. We should not speak of time, space, and actant but rather of temporalization, spatialization, actantialization (the words are horrible) or more elegantly, of timing, spacing, acting (Latour 2005: 178).
Timing and spacing are choreographic notions, ‘a means of registering and apprehending changing relationships between [bodies] in motion and the place they occupy’ (Hannah, 2019: 13). Embodied modes of sense-making conjoin performative ideas of timing and spacing with the rhythms inherent to individual and collective bodies. There is a resonance the develops between people who come together for a common purpose. However, that resonance is delicate. As capitalist subjects, our capacity to connect with one another is hampered by the privatisation of experience. According to Garcés, the isolated “I” experiences itself as fragmented and impotent, but to move from the ‘I’ to the ‘we’ involves passing through a terrain of great vulnerability (2008). To enact the common, practices of commoning must pay attention to, and make space for, that vulnerability and its extension into collective action.
Part of the motivation behind the strategy of the choreographic in the work of this research was to find a way to pay critical attention to the delicate resonance of the deliberately assembled ‘we’, to respond to Negri’s account of subjectivity as
. . . a production of ‘being’ . . . a practice of freedom and . . . something that transcends any identity. The subject is non-identic . . . [it] is formed in the collaboration, in being social, and it is something historical (Negri, interviewed by Gielen and Lavaert, 2018).
Aesthetic actions were oriented towards making space for the emergence of what we don’t yet know how to perceive or have not yet begun to imagine. The strategies described here were put in place to pick up unanticipated modes of being-through-collaboration. By making the idea of the choreographic explicit in the preparations and dialogues for The Laboratory of Common Interest , the community of co-producers were invited to pay critical attention to the haptical, sensory dimensions of our coming together, to discern aesthetical and ethical dynamics immanent to the spaces that develop between bodies, objects and structures in the ‘real-time composition’ of socially engaged aesthetic work.
The choreographic also has a macro-political logic. Andrew Hewitt has argued that every social order has a choreography, a way in which it structures the movement or non-movement of bodies, both individual and collective. Hewitt’s idea of social choreography has been picked up and developed by practitioners and scholars (Cveić and Vujanović, 2013; Klein, 2013; Milohnić, 2013) as an expanded idea of choreography, the function of which
. . . has shifted from a set of protocols or tools used primarily in dance (or applied dance), to an open cluster of knowledge production concerned with the organisation of bodily movement in social, political and even economic contexts (Salazar Sutil and Whatley, 2018).
Echoing Rancière’s articulation of the distribution of the sensible, the choreographer Gabrielle Klein also takes up Hewitt’s proposal, arguing that
. . . the aesthetic is embedded in political and social practices and social figurations – precisely because these practices and figurations, with their norms, rules and customs, already control perception by spacing people socially, allocating them social and political manoeuvring space, and thus regulating social perception (Klein, 32).
Choreography is understood by some as a medium rather than a discipline (Forsythe in Gagosian, 2017), an investigation and animation of ‘intersecting spatial, corporeal, affective and informational dimensions of being entangled with the world’ (Adash, Cnaani and Schmitz, 2020). The renowned choreographer William Forsyth makes a distinction between choreography and dance, ‘two distinct and very different practices’ (Forsyth, n.d.). Speaking of what he describes as a ‘proliferation of choreographic thinking across the wider domain of arts practice’, Forsyth recognises the choreographic as a form of ‘potential organisation and instigation of action-based knowledge’ (ibid.). The choreographic also denotes a mode of poiesis that is haptic, embodied and emergent, involving clusters, points of connection and voids. It suggested a way of thinking about a commonist aesthetics as a post-optical phenomenon.
Adash, M., Cnaani, O., and Schmitz, E., 2020, Choreographic Devices, London: Institute for Contemporary Art, Available at https://www.ica.art/live/choreographic-devices, [Accessed June 1st 2020].
Cveić, B., and Vujanović, A. (eds), Social Choreography TkH Journal for Performing Arts Theory 21, December 2013.
Forsythe, W., interviewed by Louise Neri, 2014, Gagosian, Available at https://gagosian.com/quarterly/2017/10/23/william-forsythe-choreographic-objects/ [Accessed August 29th, 2020].
Garcés, M., 2006, To Embody Critique, Some Theses. Some Examples in Transversal, European Institute of Progressive Policy, Available at http://eipcp.net/transversal/0806/garces/en [Accessed July 2018].
Gielen, P. and Lavaert, S., 2018, The Salt of the Earth, On Commonism: An Interview with Antonio Negri, in Open! Platform for Art, Culture & The Public Domain, Available at https://onlineopen.org/the-salt-of-the-earth, [Accessed August 30th, 2020].
Klein, G., 2013, Bodies of Protest: Social Choreographies and the Materiality of Social Figurations, in Cveić, B., and Vujanović, A. (eds), Social Choreography TkH Journal for Performing Arts Theory 21, December 2013, pp 29 – 33.
Latour, B., 2005, Trains of Thought; The Fifth Dimension and its Fabrication, in Perret-Clermont, A., 2005, Thinking Time, Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe, pp 173 – 187.
Lefebvre, H., 1991, The Production of Space, trans. D. Nicholson-Smith, Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.
McCormack, D., 2013, Refrains for Moving Bodies, Durham: Duke University Press.
Milohnić, A., 2013, Choreographies of Resistance, in Cveić, B., and Vujanović, A. (eds), Social Choreography TkH Journal for Performing Arts Theory 21, December 2013, pp 15 – 20.
Salazar Sutil, N., and Whatley, S., 2018, The Social Choreography Network, 2018, How is Social Choreography? Controlling the movement of the displaced, Available at https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A2=MECCSA;d3d8ec1e.1810 [Accessed February 10th, 2021].