Susan Kozel, ‘Somatic Materiailsm: some implications for archiving’

Photo: Jeannette Ginslov. Dance: Wubkje Kuindersma.

Photo: Jeannette Ginslov. Dance: Wubkje Kuindersma.

Susan presented work in progress relating to the ongoing Living Archives project. Susan and other members of the Living Archives team had just recently returned from two presentations of their work. The first was a presentation by Susan on the topic “Performing Memory” at the LARM Audio Research Archive Conference on Digital Archives, Audiovisual Media, and Cultural Memory at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. The second, AffeXity: Passages & Tunnels, was a socially enacted performance involving mobile phones, augmented reality and dance given at the Re-New Digital Arts Festival 2013, also in Copenhagen. Key themes in both the presentation and the performance are those of affect, bodies, performance, materiality and archiving, which Susan discussed further in this seminar.

What is an archive?
One issue which the Living Archives is working with is the question of “What is an archive?” Susan referred to Jacques Derrida’s addressing of this question in his book Archive Fever, the way in which definitions of archives can be understood as being policed by numerous actors and institutions in relation to any given subject matter. Archiving and the digitisation of archives has become a very hot topic across a range of fields both in academia and within society in general. The need to try to take stock of the current situation and ask why it is that our culture appears to experience a sort of crisis of memory at this particular moment? The Living Archives team is currently focused on approaching such issues not so much from the standard launching point of simply providing a digitisation solution for analogue material, but rather by exploring a variety of different archives and archiving practices, with one common theme being a focus on possible participatory modalities that both digital and other methods can enact with any given archive/archiving practice. The frameworks that open data movements provide have also been of particular interest to the group.

Augmented Reality – affordances and constraints
The performance given at Copenhagen, AffeXity: Passages & Tunnels, looked to “expose somatic and affective layers of our urban spaces through dance improvisation and screendance.” In working with augmented reality (AR) technology, the Living Archives team has been striving to bring an improvisational, affective layer to various AR interfaces on mobile phones.

This hasn’t been easy. Early AR technologies didn’t allow for video and the general aesthetic and interface elements of AR software have been overwhelmingly geared towards commercial, postage-stamp layerings of one image upon another in a fashion that leaves little room for aesthetic exploration. In trying to develop an “augmented choreography,” the team has currently been using the free and socially-oriented Aurasma app for Android and Apple devices. In order to achieve the sought after affective layers of aesthetic engagement, the team has been using Adobe After Effects software to edit the videos in such a way that they can move beyond the basic postage stamp layering effect to one of a more transparent, soft-edged quality that begins to give a sense of an affective or somatic quality to the material. The team is also looking to make these videos freely remixable for others who would like to further develop on the existing materials.

From a perspective of materialities, the team experienced some interesting material challenges during the Copenhagen performance, including the struggle of attaching vinyl posters (for the triggering of the AR videos) to wet brick during the week of the hurricanes in the region. It has also been interesting to see the improvised social choreographies that develop on site as each of the audience participants readily cluster together, looking over each others’ shoulders to see how it is done, collectively combining the flashlight functions on each of their phones to create the required visibility in evening performances, etc.

Somatic materialism
In introducing this part of her research, Susan mentioned recent findings on genetic memory and how something like a traumatic experience can affect and even recode the DNA of an individual in such a way that this genetic memory can be passed on from one generation to another. In drawing from research around somatics, Susan is interested in the sense of immanent, internal events as they are experienced by the body. The soma of somatics refers not just to the body but also to those things that are held and remembered via our body, often of which we are not necessarily directly aware of. Somatics research can be a confusing field to navigate since it encompasses methodological, analytical, ontological and scientific dimensions. Philosopher Edmund Husserl was an important early writer on this, with his situating of somatology as the science of animate organisms, focusing in particular on the materiality of this animation. Gilles Deleuze’s book on Spinoza is another important reference point, with its emphasis on how “bodies exist in a range of speeds and slownesses.”

By looking to address forms of knowledge and memory that we aren’t necessarily aware that we hold, a somatic form of archiving might try to bring about affective transformations that emphasise these somatic modalities. Such transformations would not only relate to forms of remembering but also of performing and even forgetting. From a somatic perspective, one would look to explore the way in which the body can be understood as mediating and recording events, taking into account and even trying to trigger the cycles, speeds and slownesses of these somatic registers.


In taking up issues of recording in relation to archiving, it doesn’t take a huge leap to relate this to contemporary issues of surveillance. Being aware of certain dominant logics of the archive and how these might readily encompass and coevolve with certain logics of surveillance. The ongoing question of who is archived and who is not? Who is designated as archivable?

Summary of Q&A
Q: Interesting to see the development of the aesthetics of the AR videos from design fiction style prototypes to workable solutions for the mobile AR browsers.

Susan: In the most recent Tunnels and Passages performance there was a genuine sense of the brick surfaces used for the AR projections as dissolving within and across the augmented visual layers. We are incredibly somatically encoded by these rectangular screens. Exploring what happens in the dissolving of such historical, material layers.

Q: In what ways do such performances of somatic materialism take on any of the therapeutic dimensions of somatics research?

Susan: Not trying to bring the therapeutic into art. The soma is not just in the body; it is the relational exchange of forces of the outside world – not the typically closed off world of the therapy session. Trying to identify the somatic exchanges we have with people all around us. Somatic qualities are quite liminal, but affect doesn’t have to be as oblique.

Q: Seeing the recut video with the dancer (Oliver) makes one want to know the dancer’s own impression of this recut that presents an affective impression of his performance – whether seeing the video makes him aware of what is happening with the archive of his body.

Susan: That would be a good loop to follow. Many points of entry in the somatic loop. How passive we are in the face of the archive and how one might become more active in this regard. Interesting research to be found on this in the field of memory studies.

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