Body in A Box
Goethe Nairobi in March 2018.
Concept and performed by Jared ONYANGO.
Body In A Box is a multi-media performance that juxtaposes different media materials in one space as a world in a potential state for an apocalypse. The performance happens in body movement, a song, video installations, written prose and poems. The title expresses a metaphor supposing that a body is in a box and by asserting that the body is in a box, a comparison between body and a box is drawn conveying an understanding about the mechanics of the box and those of the behaviours of the body within it or those that resembles being in a box. Thus the statement has two parts; a subject (a body) to which attributes are ascribed and the object (the box) whose attributes are borrowed. The performance is presented in distinct compartments as parallel scenes running simultaneously on projection, installations and dance that is improvise and diffused across the space. The different media materials exist as mini-performances in a common space.
I have been working, enquiring and researching on inter-related themes on pedestrian walk, everyday movement in urban city spaces, traces and historical actions. The works on this category include: Jua Kali Pedestrian Project and Goree Island Project which are designed for presentation on the streets, museum halls and theatre spaces. These projects also involve documenting the experiences in writing, video interviews and performance.
Here are the respective links: KLAArt.org | https://onyangojaredo.wixsite.com/jaredonyango/post/jua-kali-pedestrian-project-in-kampala and https://onyangojaredo.wixsite.com/jaredonyango/post/nomadic-pieces.
I am far more fascinated by sight of Nairobians criss-crossing city, enduring long journeys to their work places. Since majority walk on foot daily, they are generally labelled the „Walking Nation”. Historically, Nairobi’s urban planning, the industrial areas - which were economic properties of colonial government and so were placed far away to keep them from the natives. Workers enduring long itineraries to their work places today is a direct consequence of this hierarchical plan.
The colonial project in Africa has been to control free movement of native Africans by creating nation boundaries. We have seen serious ramifications to this where families and tribes were split and separated from each other by state boundaries especially in times of political crisis and border tensions. Nationalistic leaders too seek to control free movements of people between states. Hagar Kotef, a political theorist argues that state is the enemy of people who restlessly move around, that such people are considered as an unassimilable other. You can not assimilate them because they are constantly on the move. There are colonial repercussion to all of these. The biggest problem of the colonial state in the context of Africa from the 19th century onwards was to make sure Africans stayed in the same place. It had a hard time achieving this though since Africans were constantly on the move and so were ‘un-captured’ consequently un-taxable - you can't tax moving people.
Many views offered on mobility and freedom in the context of post colonial Africa have been based on the land as what is to be conquered. Believing that dividing the land is ruling it. That mapping and dividing the land is measuring it, splitting it into minor units - if you can divide it, you conquer it. But dividing is a violent act which involves ordering space and movements of bodies within it. Ordering movements is ordering freedom.
The following are descriptions of the project:
JUA KALI PEDESTRIAN PROJECT
Jua Kali Pedestrian is an on going project on the theme of Nomadic Pieces which looks into how pedestrian activities leave traces on public spaces - pedestrians being persons with direct or indirect contacts with the public spaces, people whose activities are regarded here as artistic practices worth exploring, deconstructing and reconstructing. They include but not limited to - city preachers, city dwellers, commuters, hawkers and joggers to mention a few. Central themes which Jua Kali Pedestrian project deals with include mobility, history, human traces and landscape appropriation. The project is being carried out in multiple cities to search for experiences unique to every city and country with regard to urban spaces, architectural design and how these contribute to urban culture. Jua Kali tries to capture, reflect and build on the multiple sensorial registers of the places / cities — smell, touch, taste, sound, texture and ephemerality - also as a way of critically engaging with the intersections of time and substance through which the cities contingently emerge and become.
The interdisciplinary dance project "JUA KALI" draws its inspiration from pedestrian walk in public spaces and the understanding of walking in contemporary dance. It uses the act of daily walking of both the citizens of Nairobi and Berlin as a case in point and puts its focus on their individual perception of the city. Central themes in this project are: mobility, the impact of history on human behaviour, people’s appropriation of a cityscape.
The city of Nairobi with its particular histories and cultures is ideal place to achieve rich experiences by comparing and contrasting its citizens' movements and perception in public space. I am interested in how the act of walking is articulated, how the city- specifics, political circumstances influence this typical human activity, and which possibilities exist to transpose a pedestrian's experience - including those to avoid the walking altogether into an artistic space.
The project feeds from a variety of aspects which all contribute to the artistic process in equal amounts: cultures and languages, personal stories, historical facts. Jua Kali as the Kenyan method of creative re-use, representing an inventive reaction to the daily burden of having to walk to work, will serve as our guideline in terms of the project's aesthetics and realisation methods.
I live in Nairobi, where - every early morning - I see groups of people criss-cross the city, making long journeys to their work places. And in the dim lights of the Nairobi streets at sunset, the exact reverse happens.
The majority of Nairobi residents walks on foot daily. They are generally labelled the „Walking Nation”.
Historically, Nairobi’s urban planning is a colonial design which was to create a distinct separation between the colonies and the natives. Workers enduring long itineraries to their work places today are a direct consequence of this hierarchical plan.
The industrial area which used to be colonial economic property is located at a great distance to its workers’ quarters. It takes at least four hours to and fro on foot which is a huge cost on production time. Hence the metaphor „Walking Nation”, meaning long hours walking and less productive working. These colonial urban designs induce a whole series of effects in the public sphere; they crystallise into institutions, they inform individual behaviours, they act as grids for the perception and evaluation of our everyday life.
To take an example: in Nairobi, it is just not practical to sit on benches within the Central Business District (CBD) and rest or read in public parks as a social practice like it is so common in other cities. There is simply no time for it, as the time is taken up by walking.
THE ACT OF WALKING
There are layers of meanings to walking. In a situation of the city, groups of bodies constantly pass through, push and bump into each other while bringing with them their memories and histories, each constituting a particular bodily remainder; a trace, a footprint or a mark. This bodily remainder, trace or footprint is an excess that is experienced alongside every actual production of meaning in an instant of walking. And bringing this knowledge to the notion of pedestrian walk makes pedestrian walk not only a simple activity of appropriating the city landscape, but a complex multiplicity that constantly moulds and remoulds the city-fabric and the very bodies of its occupants.
Walking in dance - whether it is Japanese Butoh or contemporary dance - is often loaded with meaning, and perceived as a „carrier of messages and emotions”. As a dancer I am trained in many ways „how to walk on stage”, as it is directly related to our performative presence. Some cultures has idealised walking as a leisurely activity, which helps the walker to indulge in the surrounding environment and dwell in his or her own being.
In every day life, however, walking is a plain necessity, stripped of any kind of additional meaning. It is our primary experience of mobility and - as an human activity in the 21st century dictated by technology - notoriously frowned upon as slowing us down in our everyday life. Therefore technology has been created to prevent us from walking - public transport, cars - and, thinking it even further, to not even leave the house - computer, internet.
THE SOLUTIONS - JUA KALI
Residents of Nairobi - have come up with their own solutions to avoid the long distances, the time spent in transit, the exhaustion of transiting. „Jua Kali” is one of them: it is the term which describes the activity in small shops in the suburbs of Nairobi where people repair and mend second-hand objects, making a living and thereby allowing them to stay in their neighbourhood, rather than having to walk to far-flung work places.
I am inspired by this creative entrepreneurship, and - by referring to the term „Jua Kali” in our project - I plan to create a dance project that operates within the same ethics as Jua Kali does.
This project tries to capture, reflect and build on the multiple sensorial registers of places within a city — smell, touch, taste, sound, texture, duration and ephemerality - as a way of critically engaging with the intersections of time, substance through which places contingently emerge and become.
If we are to see, sense, touch the transforming fabric of a place as a canvas, what sensorial orderings, visual restraints and material disciplines must we employ to recognise, or rather stabilise to get hold of the substance of that place as walkers within it?
The inspirations for movements come from photos I took of myself doing a movement phrase. In making the dance, I mimic the postures and join the postures to form movement sequences which can be presented into a performance. Depending on the arrangements and with little adjustments, I made variations and threads of movements which I then spread on a spiral path pattern.
The pictures of positions from the movement phrases
The dance is therefore composed from body movements and space, the movements traverse each other thus creating paths on the space. These paths ran from extreme opposites end of the floor, crossing through the centre then back to starting point while always maintaining the same circuit. The movements are looped, repeated over and over till they spill all-over the floor in spiral geometric patterns.
Experimenting with steps at Ecole des Sables in Toubab Dialaw, Senegal.
Imagine yourself standing at a point in a square, trying to reach all four corners of it with all your body, extending extremities: your feet, knees, hip, legs etc. One of the questions in this research being, how do you start? Do you start from plié or by elevating yourself? Where and how do you shift your body weight? Do you initiate movement from your hands and allow body to follow? How else would the movement be affected in the sense that you are looking also for purity in movement. Movement that is true, pure and sincere. Though purity of movement in the context of Africa is also as problematic. Africa with its colonial legacy and in this case Africans are hybrid in many instances.
Exploring the relationship between the feet and the floor, knees and ankles and how they relate to the pelvis, hands, elbows, shoulders and torso - how body movement articulate itself in this complex relationships between upper body and lower body. In this enquiry, I use patterns of dialogues to merge stepping with different movement phrases. Imagining movement as a form of speech such that, if the mouth is the leg and that we speak with the leg, which modes of exchange inspired by such conversation illustrates what the movements can mean? And do we respond to it by either repeating it or questioning it?
Imagine a step as a print, a mark we leave on a surface - a trace we make on a surface.
Printing and stepping, printing a surface without stepping – movement of the body initiated from the leg or elsewhere then followed by body weight or better the body takes you to the movement.
Feigning jump – jump as a very much clear perception. One jumps but only end up wishing it, taking off but aborts the jump immediately after the take off so that the process is incomplete. Whatever comes out of it is the intended result. Build a movement poetry, start from a leg stepping, then straight away develop it by adding movement variations.
Performed at CDC L’Termitier, Ouaga dou gou, Burkina Faso.
Choreography: jared ONYANGO
performed by Fatou Samb, Marie-Bede Koubemba, Romuel Kabore, Nadege Ametogbe.