Contraction and Release
As I write, the very last trace of red lacquer stutters on a lone fingernail, marking the time that has passed since we gathered in Montreal for Into the Midst. These painted nails were one of the impromptu forms of "red squares" that marked the collective, painted by and on various hands during a quiet moment in the in-between spaces of the Dome residency. To write with this reminder seems apt, as it was these spaces "in-between", and the spontaneous forms of connection and creation borne in them, that are, for me, precisely where the Dome event was most alive.
The aim of the project was to intervene in the physical landscape of the Dome, and the behavioural dynamics this space engendered. But as others have also noted, the space and the socio-economic relations so dominant within it exerted a far greater pressure than we anticipated. One of the central constraints was the imposing and almost overpowering presence of the Dome structure. Armed with knowledge of this constraint – indeed, this was part of the very premises of the project – I was knocked off-keel by the force of this presence in the flesh. Prior to entry to the Dome, our days had been characterized by such energy, expansiveness and creative mischief – weaving elaborate webs in the sun-soaked park beyond its walls with berry-dyed yarn, cooking a feast of red delicacies together in the evening, developing new relationships through curious creative movement in the university studio. And yet, spilling into the SAT that morning from our preparatory explorations and shared excitement, almost without exception bodies were repelled from the Dome itself – dark, looming, totalizing – to the liminal spaces of the stairs and lobby. We had come from around the world to engage with this space, we had come equipped with such ideas and energies, and yet the Dome remained as ever, heavy and silent and vacant.
It was in these liminal spaces that movement seemed possible: entwining bodies caught by a scanner on the SAT balcony; darting recorders capturing the trickle of multi-lingual voices; the Morse-code patter of fingers on keyboards programming visuals for projection; a flurry of dance in the streets. There was the energy, the flow of spontaneous collaboration. Not in the Dome – not yet. We inhabited the space by inhabiting the in-between.
Every so often I would venture back into the Dome itself, and work to carve a space: standing stock-still, elbows tight against ribs, hands busy with the task of crocheting; sliding into the narrow river opened by Louise as she guided me gently through tai chi forms; cajoling a group to irreverently sculpt the snake-like seats into a mountain range. Always with purpose, as if needing justification; always furtive or bold, as if a child’s dare. I wanted to move, I wanted to continue to explore and expand the embodied forms of inquiry we had begun; I wanted to refuse the refusal of the space. And yet the cyclopic eye of the Dome seemed to push down, to flatten – the only sure space to lie prone on the floor, eyes up – to be no place at all. I felt that pressure propel me, perhaps like others, with renewed energy and the counterbalance of serious play, back into the in-between spaces.
This characterized most of the time in the Dome residency. Whether the warm flush of exchanging ideas, sharing meals, or a final meeting at Erin and Brian’s home to pool our propositions on a piece of paper destined to be too small, it seemed the contraction of the Dome provoked a release in the times and spaces between. For me, the most dramatic contrast during the week lay between the supple, generous dynamics of the people gathered for the occasion, and the rigid and brittle angularity of the spherical Dome itself. Certainly, there was something distinct about this group of people – I had, in fact, never encountered a group like this before in my life – but perhaps, also, there was something in the sheer force of the Dome’s constraints that provoked the intensity of this particular counterbalance. Forms of care, attentiveness, and openness borne to create a counter-Dome sheltering site that moved with us, most visible in the in-between.
It seems that the pressure of the Dome was indeed an "enabling constraint", but – perhaps predictably – in unpredictable ways. The pressure of the physical space, the pressure of technological expertise held coolly at bay by the stewards of the Dome, the pressure of performance, seemed to instigate a hard contraction from which we were continually released, propelled with renewed energy and focus to counterbalance. The invitation of the Dome was a refusal; our response was an invitation to all that lay between.
Emily Beausoleil, phd, is a Lecturer in Political Theory at Massey University, New Zealand, where she explores the conditions, challenges, and possibilities of democratic engagement in diverse societies, with a particular focus on artistic and embodied strategies to facilitate listening in politics. Connecting affect, democratic theory, neuroscience, and the performing arts, Beausoleil’s work responds to compelling calls to find new models for coalition and community by asking how we realise these ideals in concrete terms.
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