Tracing the horizon: iLanding as radical archive practice and pedagogy.

Author:Kennedy, Christopher
Position:Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Art, Nature and Dance - Essay


Tracing the Horizon

We sit together in the foothills of the Taconic Mountains as dusk descends. The sounds of summer surround: cicadas, crickets and owls. Within the hour, the moon rises like a torch, bright and full of possibility.

Jennifer begins to walk toward a small ravine to the east and, instinctively, we all follow behind. Together, we enter the edge of the forest. The moon's light begins to fade and it's difficult to find sure footing.

We continue through a bramble and I can feel prickers catch my legs, spreading their seed, entering my skin. We emerge on a recently plowed cornfield. The earth is soft and supple. I've never seen the moon this bright before. Our shadows are suddenly noticeable and we begin to dance and move along each earthen ridge with laughter and excitement. A shadow theater of the land.

Soon the quiet of the eve deepens and Jennifer points to the horizon. All four of us intuitively form a line. She signals for us to begin a score: a transect or eye tracing score. Focus on a point on the horizon furthest from you. Slowly trace a line from that point towards you touching every surface as if your eyes were a magic marker.

We all trace the horizon with our eyes and I feel a deep calm extend through my body. We stand transfixed for what seems like an hour, noticing, observing, being in place together. As we enter back into the forest we whisper to each other, speculating on the sounds of insects and nocturnal routines taking place all around us.

While we had walked many of the same trail paths before, there was something about the eye tracing score that brought the land and all of its rich layers into sharp focus. The score had enabled us to be fully present in our bodies, opening a space for dialogue, for ecstatic encounter, and improvised movement--all with little or no verba! communication.

Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Art, Nature and Dance (iLAND)

The purpose of this paper is to highlight an example of how a group of artists/educators/researchers involved in the Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Art, Nature and Dance (iLAND) conceptualize their practice as both users and producers of archives. iLAND is a dance research organization based in New York City. For over ten years, iLAND has brought together movement artists and scientists, visual artists and designers for intensive arts-based research and performance residencies. While each iLAND residency is unique, collaborative groups submit a proposal that identifies an area of research and a project that will use movement, research and a project that will use movement, dance or practices from other disciplines such as architecture, urban planning or biology to be used for understanding and responding to ecological phenomena in and around NYC. The duration of each project varies, but typically lasts 3-6 months, and includes some form of public engagement such as a workshop, happening, or culminating performance. The output of each residency are scores (Score.1), which the organization describes as a set of instructions that tune one's observational senses to a particular aspect of an environment, which we might not otherwise notice, or be attuned to. Walking tours of lower Manhattan that trace original waterways; dancing with street trees in Harlem; foraging for mushrooms in Chinatown; dancing alongside migratory routes of birds in Corona Park are just a few examples.


Score 1. Listening and Movement Score

With a partner, speaking in whispers, walk around the room facing each other trying to maintain the edge of being able to hear each other. Conceptualizing the iLAND archive

With a decade of transdisciplinary knowledge-making that foregrounds somatic, kinesthetic and choreographic approaches in relationship to a variety of disciplines, the residencies have generated a robust collection of artifacts and materials that respond to changing environments. This documentation is particularly significant in light of our descent into the "Anthropocene," a geologic time period in which the earth's systems are significantly altered by human activity.

Recognizing the archival value in these materials and approaches, iLAND founders have decided to preserve and share this documentation for its research and pedagogical value in the form of an archive called iLANDing. The process of developing the archive has sparked an interesting discussion amongst iLANDers about the fragility of ephemeral, site-specific, and time-based movement data generated by iLAND participants. Figuring out how the archive should be assembled, organized and made available has blurred the boundaries between the ephemerality of time-based art and preservation as well as the archival processes used to capture it.

By definition, an archive is a site for housing unique materials (primary source or original documents and artifacts) to be preserved in perpetuity for continued use (Society of American Archivists, 2008). The iLAND archive consists mainly of scores from a decade of participatory performance projects, documentation and reflections, images, and narrative descriptions of projects. An open access physical field guide and website (iLAND, 2016) is in the process of being created to both contain, share and dialogue about the content with a diverse set of users interested in it for research, teaching, learning and art-making.

Score 2. Bone Tracing Score

(In pairs) One partner holds still, while the other, using their fingers, traces the bones in the hand, arm or body of their partner. Let it be said that we are non-archivists. We are two artist-educators, teaching undergraduate and graduate level courses in art and design education. One of us is an artist involved in iLAND, and the other's research has long been focused on questions of the possibilities and potentialities for using and accessing archival materials for art and pedagogy. We do not intend to appropriate the term "archive" (Theimer, 2012). Rather, we seek to suggest ways for artists and teachers to engage and use an archive representing...

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