METABOLIC ENCOUNTERS - reflection on the graduation performance 

In July 2021 I completed the MA in Solo Dance Authorship at Hzt Berlin, with a site-specific performance called 'in someone else's shoes, metabolic encounters'.

Starting from the research question: “What kinds of art would an ecologically minded person enjoy?”, the aesthetics of the work were shaped by its ethics, in turn inspired by two philosophical concepts: ecological thought and vital materialism.

Ecological thinking is profoundly about understanding that ecology is not just about non-human things, it has to do with the way we imagine ourselves as part of nature (Morton 2010).

Vital materialism (Bennett 2010) proposes the call of things as the agential power of non-human over human perception, reflecting on how the world is made up of relationships, rather than separable individuals.

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PH© Alicja Hoppel, 'metabolic encounters'– SODA WORKS 2021 Uferstudios

These analytical refections informed the methodology that shaped 'In someone else's shoes, metabolic encounters': a site-specific, participatory performance (duration 1h) of footwear and smartphones belonging to present and absent audiences. Its accumulative creative process, interdependent to its social context and environment, becomes the set for extended choreographies and interactive generative music. Its public presentation places the relationships between the audience and the space into the foreground, since it was premiered during the Pandemic, the Corona regulations, became integral to it.

Participation: “metabolic encounters” uses the direct engagement of the audience through different media, at all stages of the creative process, as a symbol of human interconnectedness to the ecosystem. At the time, only my colleagues and professors of the university could physically attend the presentation. As they came into the space, they were asked to take of their shoes, which were incorporated into the installation for the duration of the performance (circa 1h). To the public who could not attend, I asked, during the months previous to the graduation, to donate shoes as representatives of their absent bodies in space, (they could attend to the event only via streaming). At the same time, both present and online audiences were interacting with the sound score via their smartphones. An algorithm, was performing the sound score, which the audience could alter live by sending pictures of their shoes to a Telegram bot (called METABOT) connected to the algorithm. The pictures were translated into sound and altered our collective sonorous experience. This element represents the way in which our most common daily activities (like using communication platforms and buying shoes) have a huge impact on the world, in often unknown or unforeseeable ways.

Materiality: the installation is made up of materials that are not new and not purchased by me, but belonging to those who experience the work. I was interested not only in the objects themselves but in the relationships with their owners, I chose to address these intimate relationships with footwear and smartphones, as a way to explore the affective power of non-human agents on our daily experience of the world. Footwear and smartphones are for me the interfaces between our bodies and our direct surroundings, whether physical or cognitive, carrying apparent traces of our relationship to the world: how we walk, communicate, experience reality and how we consume. Conceptually, these objects became proxies of globalisation itself, beholding the stories of the many actants of our consuming society.

Perception: the use of very familiar objects, in unfamiliar ways and within the art context, plays with human imagination and perception, aiming at opening spaces for self-awareness and ecological awareness. How can the audience project their own bodies back on their objects, and experience a sense of belonging, that goes beyond ownership? The audience who could attend was seated on highly elevated platforms at the side of the stage, while the streaming of the performance was filmed from a camera hanged from the ceiling. This offered the viewers the perspective of a bird’s eye view, a colonial view of creating pictures that look down on a dominated world. This perspective is extended and abstracted to our phone screen through google maps, and other devices that define our perception of time and space, while we are scrolling at the screen.

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PH© Alicja Hoppel, 'metabolic encounters'– SODA WORKS 2021 Uferstudios

WHAT IS METABOLIC?

In the video above i experiment with the repetitive movement of spinning together with an elastic string and different shoes i collected on the street. What interests me is the interplay of forces that arises, and the different affect that it produces on me. In the motion of spinning the shoes steer my body through their weights and in relation to the elasticity of the stings, that bounces us in different directions. When stopping i try to go with the feeling of dizziness, letting it resonate on, as a physical sensation.

My balance and capacity to hold the repetition going depends a lot on the location, the surface on which i stand, the surroundings. 

Metabolic is commonly known as the kind of relationships existing between an eater and an eaten body (human-food), and the process of transformation, digestion and assimilation of substances. In my writing I am interested in using this term in the metaphorical sense of reciprocal transformation, and assimilation of for example information and ideas. Similarly to the concept of an ecology of mind, what happens to our ways of thinking when we look at them as biological processes?

My understanding of this term is also informed by Boyan Manchev's essay “What Do The Things want?” where he talks about Lisa Hinterreithner & Jack Hauser’s series The Call of Things (2014).


'Creation of metabolic system, system of trans- formation and exchange—a complex dispositive of dynamic agencies, working with specific set of material conditions, in which the things cease being ›themselves‹, while becoming other— agencies, human-things, humans, other-than-things: metabolic ontology.'


Published in SCORES NO 6 no/things,(14-18) A Tanzquartier Wien Publication 2017

The video to the left is archival material from the previous semester which i rediscovered while going through footage. It is included here because it represent how i came to be fascinated by the essential relationship between body and environment in creating movement material. Here i was improvising with the task of never lifting the shoes from the floor, to see what physicality is produced out of friction and resistance. 

How to think ecologically in body-based practice?

In this extract from the written part of my thesis titled: "Metabolic writing on Ecology and Art", i explain how ecology inspires my movement practice. 

2. On Ecology and Art

◦ Theories in a nutshell

I was initiated to the Ecology movement of the 1960's by the following ecofeminists writers: Carolyn Merchant, Vandana Shiva, Maria Mies and Ariel Salleh3. They bridge feminism with environmentalism, associating women's oppression to Earth's exploitation, denouncing the reductionist or mechanical paradigm of Western society for bringing many ecosystems to the brink of extinction. 'Nature' needs to be saved from 'Men' by 'Women' and their alliance with oppressed and indigenous communities4. From my encounter with their ideas, despite the dualistic essentialism of some of their claims, I ran with a regenerative thinking about the relationship between human and environment.

The misconception that 'Nature' and 'Culture' are separate entities, is at the core of most discourses on Ecology and its ethics. To address the issue of dichotomy embedded in the very use of language, Donna Haraway coined the word natureculture. In a similar spirit Eli Clare, uses bodymind as a way to resist common Western assumptions that body and mind are separate entities, or that the mind is “superior” to the body.

The problem of the severing between body, mind and environment is deeply rooted in Western society, and “one thing that​ modernity has damaged, along with the environment, has been thinking”.5

Ecology theorist Timothy Morton, goes as far as saying that there are no clear boundaries between organisms and environment, as we are all interconnected with other life forms at a molecular level (symbiosis) and at an evolutionary one6. The porous interconnection at the surface of our skin with 'a vast sprawling mesh' should be the basis of contemporary ecological thought7.

His approach aligns with that of Deep Ecology, which describes a more spiritual approach to 'Nature'. To not fall short of deep ecological consciousness, resulting from a more sensitive openness to oneself in relation to non-human life, this movement too argues for a different use of language. Poetry seems to help readers becoming more sensuously present to their surroundings.

In his poems Gary Snyder expresses an aesthetic paradigm to dismantle perceived and illusory boundaries between himself and the natural landscape. Philosopher Jane Bennett analyses Walt Whitman's poem “Leaves of Grass” through the sentimental lens of sympathy, which she defines as a 'transindividual affect comparable to gravity'8, opening doors to a radical rethinking of ecology.

In her book “Vibrant Matter” she argues for the vitality of all things, their affective power and the necessity for a shift towards a distributed agency among human and non-human. She starts her refection from her quotidian relationships with ordinary things, like garbage on the street, opening up existential questions on how to renew our obsolete dualistic division of living and non-living matter. In my personal life and artistic endeavour I have picked up on her questions and those of the above-mentioned thinkers, following leads into different ways of thinking and performing ecology.

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Footnotes: 

3  The Ecology movement sparked from environmental concerns first addressed in books such as “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson 1962. This movement inspired the ecofeminist movement active from the 80's till present. During the 90's ecofeminism faced a critique by academic women for being too essentialist in its conflation of women with nature, implying not only that women’s nature is to nurture but also that women’s role is to clean up the environmental mess made by men.

4  “Ecofeminism is the only political framework I know of that can spell out the historical links between neoliberal capital, militarism, corporate science, worker alienation, domestic violence, reproductive technologies, sex tourism, child molestation, neocolonialism, Islamophobia, extractivism, nuclear weapons, industrial toxics, land and water grabs, deforestation, genetic engineering, climate change and the myth of modern progress” Ariel Salleh in the foreword of Ecofeminism by Vandana Shiva and Maria Mies 2014

5  Timothy Morton, “Ecology as Text, Text as Ecology”, The Oxford Literary Review 2010, 1–17 Edinburgh University Press

6  By we I mean humankind, as we are too organisms interdependent with our environment.

7  Timothy Morton, “Ecological Thought”, 2010, 8-9 Harward University Press

8  Meaning an affect that applies to all individuals, both human and non human, much like the law of gravity. By affects she means: states of mind and body that

are related to feelings and emotions (Spinoza). Lecture by Jane Bennett "Anxiety, Whitman, Sympathy" Delivered on October 2, 2014, Binghamton University. https://youtu.be/P-lggQdkIIA