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DOING FASHION PAPER TEXTS: THE STAGED BODY

CONVERSATION BETWEEN NILS AMADEUS LANGE AND PHILIPP RUTHNER

12 February 2020, recorded in the studio of the bookshop Liber777, Domgasse 8, 1010 Vienna

NILS AMADEUS LANGE

is a performer, artist and teacher. Following drama stud-ies at the Hochschule der Künste Bern (HKB), he cul-tivated his theatrical practice by specialising in dance and performance, collaborating on numerous projects with visual artists. The body forms a core element of Nils’ work where it is used as a means of deconstruct-ing conventions, social models and gender stereotypes.

PHILIPP RUTHNER is a movement scientist and Feldenkrais teacher. He has been engaged in neurological learning and teach-ing methods for two decades, working with actors, performers and artists in groups and in individual les-sons. He has been teaching at the Institute of Fashion Design for ten years.

N

What can body-related forms of teaching achieve in the Institute of Fashion Design?

P

An example would be Isabelle Ginot, a dance journalist from France, who also has Feldenkrais as her background and who works both scientifically and practically. She is a good reference. In her work, Ginot proposes to differentiate between the word body image and body scheme. In doing this, she refers to Gallagher, an American philosopher. Ginot believes that body image encompasses perception — the perception of one’s own body. Further, everything cognitive that one can know about the body, maps of the body, skeleton, structures, fasciae, nervous system … There are always trends in time.

As a third point, she mentions the emotional attitude towards one’s own body. This defines the body image. The body scheme includes aspects that are precon-scious. Ginot uses the word 'tacit'. In the movement and sports sciences, it is perhaps situated under the category of motoric programmes, things that are almost unconsciously present, an action you have little access to in everyday life.

My work with the Feldenkrais method is very much about: how do you change behaviour? How do you get through to these body patterns and change your be-havioural processes? To work in that sense is probably too big of a topic for the university context. In other words, what you can refer to is the body image. Namely, really on the perception side of it.

Where is the body in space? Where does it end? Where, then, are there differences in relation to the dress? Where does space begin? Also to clarify the kinesthetic sensation. This is the process; to research with targeted attention.

The superordinate in my work is certainly the steering of attention. Through this, something rises or is highlight-ed. Ideally, also things that are perhaps left out of your own image. This is interesting for the design process. What if I always left out the pelvic region? What does that mean for the design process?

N

To put the question differently: what is lacking for stu-dents who do not practice Feldenkrais?

P

They lack direct experience of their self and differenti-ation.

Does the research question come directly from within myself and my mechanisms or from a superior ideal?

To put it back to a biology that is basically the same for everyone in the world. What am I in this, in this whole? And then to say: what is the cultural layer above it? That’s what’s interesting. Where does culture lays itself above? Anthropologically or for fashion in turn: where do I get my references from? I think it is im-portant to clarify what is coming from one’s own. What is one’s own, what is absorbed? Do I always start from myself, from my own peculiarities in the design process, or do I always think very much from the outside?Once again: what will be lacking is — in a time that is strongly visualised and conceptualised — the process of the own, the own feeling, the body as a design pos-sibility or “body as a tool” — this term comes from Dr. Bettina Köhler.

N

Who else should be practising Feldenkrais?

P

When it comes to my work with clients or groups, a different process is in the foreground. In those mo-ments, it is really about improving possibilities for ac-tion. This can be on a really dramatic level — stroke or MS or slipped disc. How do you smuggle in new ideas? However, it can also be on a high performance level, for example someone from the Burgtheater, a theatre actress. How does she find neutrality in her stage pres-ence? How can you expand your scope of action? Or an athlete: how does he get to his missing hundredths of a second? That would be my idea of work. But it relates it very strongly to these unconscious programmes and to how you can influence them.

N

Do you know of other schools or other people in fashion who work with Feldenkrais?

P

No, it is unique at this university that the body is brought in so strongly as a medium.

N

Can you provide examples of students whose collections have been influenced by Feldenkrais?

P

Well, you can actually always see it straight away in the implementation. And there is a further development all the way to the collections.

N

I remember the collection of a student who, after your investigations of comfort and discomfort, experimented with tying off body parts. From this example, I under-stood how your lessons could become a clear part of the design process. Can you elaborate on this in more detail?

P

The translation is of course individual. What we have conceived over the ten years together with Professor Bettina Köhler is to draw attention to one side of the body, to bizarre bodily sensations or fragments of the body and to question taboo zones. This is precisely what is useful in the design. Nevertheless, it presupposes that one must first learn a basic vocabulary that allows one to perceive oneself in space.

N

What do you want from fashion yourself?

P

More kinesthesia! Thus the turn to the sensual body.

N

What do you wish for the students?

P

A more multifaceted focus and stronger possibilities for differentiation. And I would really see it as an onion, that one says: who am I in space? What are my biological functions? What is basic or what is basic for humanity, or what is special about my body? Then I have to know, do I start from my own physicality or from an ideal that comes from outside? In terms of performance that is also important, I think.

N

When you speak about performance — what do you mean by that?

P

For me, it actually starts with the pose, in the context of space or with a counterpart. From there on a staging already begins.

N

We first met in a workshop that we developed together with Bettina Köhler. It was a wild mixture of body, theory and performance. What advantages do you see in such constellations?

P

The strength is the synergy from all these areas. One’s own experience needs some context or extension, also a scientific context, historical reference, language. There are more ways to play. In relation to that, I would be interested to know what tradition you come from and what you bring into fashion from the outside.

N

I actually come from theatre, at the drama school in Bern two extremes meet: the seriousness of learning a craft, while also actively opposing it in certain phases. I still believe in that. I have taught in many different contexts, but to put it simply:

it was and is always about learning to be able to act; to have the courage to make decisions. Because only if you make a decision you can change your mind again. Apart from that, I offer students the opportunity to express themselves differently through performance. And of course to examine individual pieces of clothing with regard to their performativity. I would also like us to ask ourselves the simple, yet so difficult questions of performance.

P

Give me an example — what are difficult questions?

N

What does it mean when I walk from one side of the stage to the other? What does it mean when I stop, raise my left arm or the right? Such questions are indeed difficult questions.

P

Performance is becoming increasingly important. How do you see this within this Fashion ARENA?

N

It is an immense privilege that the Institute of Fashion Design is so strongly concerned with performance; in contrast to other institutes where fashion is presented on standardised bodies on a catwalk. This creates an anonymity that we want to break. The fact that the stu-dents work on performances, offers the opportunity to tell a story that might otherwise not be told.

P

I think that’s beautiful too. But you have to know your essence!

N

Apart from that, performance offers a completely differ-ent kind of directness. It is an immediate thing, which is at best irrevocable — a thing that arises in the here and now and which constitutes a new reality; something that a catwalk, for example, can hardly achieve. We know the reality of a catwalk too well. But performance can open other spaces and make assertions, tell stories, be immediate.

P

One idea of Feldenkrais is restriction. How can such a limitation of possibilities for action, of scope, boost creativity? One can ask oneself: what does this frame of a catwalk so to speak, have as a limitation of potential?

N

If you see the catwalk as a limitation, it can of course offer a lot of potential. If you just take it for granted, it does not. However, exactly this limitation is a big issue for both of us. Only when you set limits for yourself you can rise above them. Often however, the catwalk is not the border for people, but simply the given.

P

N

For Priska Morger, the concept of a holistic under-standing of fashion is particularly important. What does holistic mean to you?

P

Priska has extended the fashion terminology. The nar-row fashion term, which perhaps again only encom-passes this catwalk, encompasses a look, encompasses an outer shell, is juxtaposed with a larger idea. The ex-pansion to almost cosmic dimensions has a tradition in Switzerland, think of Monte Verità or Rudolf Steiner and the anthroposophists with the Goetheanum. But whether it can be institutionalised in this way is the big question. I think it’s good to expand in form. It’s still about people who wear it, about personal stories. And the broader the framework, the more enriching it is as a draft concept for the whole world.

N

Does bodywork have anything to do with spirituality?

P

It doesn’t have to. Moshé Feldenkrais doesn’t, he comes from a Hasidic-Jewish tradition, is a physicist and ju-doka, is very, very worldly related. I like to expand it for myself. Whether spiritual teachings have a place in this context would have to be discussed. Perhaps yes, in order to expand this personal narrative.

N

Is Feldenkrais a craft for you?

P

It is a craft, but not only. This return to the sensual body is crucial. At a time when attention is so focused on the outside.

How does the reference for your work change through teaching?

N

First the negative: as I give a lot of instructions, offer help, express criticism and unfortunately have to give marks, I suddenly become much more reflective, which can make me shy. On the other hand, I have less time to experiment, so I have to develop strategies to work more effectively alongside teaching.

The positive thing is that I have learned to look at my work from a distance. I have a different feeling, I sharp-en my own vocabulary and no longer find myself in this maelstrom of obsessive work.

Even though neither of us has studied fashion, our re-lationship to it is incredibly strong. My love for fashion was, until I came to the institute, somehow in hiberna-tion. Teaching makes it much more important to me again. Of course, thanks to Priska I suddenly realise again that fashion can be understood holistically. For a while, fashion just pissed me off. It was all about shal-lowness, quickly produced stuff that had no soul. This has changed a lot for me.

P

We have a lot of buzzwords or themes like sustainability or the environment, but I believe that the holistic idea as a vision goes beyond that. It has to. Of course, you can look at how something is produced, but there are even bigger connections.

N

I find the word sustainability super exciting. Because sustainable is not just about goods.

Relationships or bodywork can also be among the most sustainable things of all.

P

It’s nice how you use the word in a different sense.

N

Bodywork is extremely well invested money, because it can change the character, the movement, the thinking of a person.

P

I think it’s great that you use the term sustainability in that way as well. What would be sustainable in terms of a show / a memory / a performance?

N

I often ask myself what is sustainable about my perfor-mances. Of course, I try not to create unnecessary stage sets and stuff like that.

But what is much more important to me in this respect is that the audience and I share an experience. So, I am interested in shared rather than informed experiences. I want to offer a togetherness, to redefine terms together.

This is sustainable for me. Well, togetherness …

P

Great, let’s have a drink together.