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Somatic Costumography : awakening material agency between costume-body and in the design-performance encounter

PhD Candidate Sally Dean's doctoral project

Academic summary

How does the costume choreograph the body/movement and the body/movement design the costume?

This research advocates and interrogates the material agency between costume and body and the primacy of the sense of touch in the encounter. My research as a somatic costumographer is positioned between costume-based choreography and costume design, where material agency and sensorial relationships are under-researched artistically and theoretically.

Somatics will be the bridge to experiencing, designing and choreographing between costume and body. Three key somatic practices from my training will be utilized: Skinner Releasing Technique with American Joan Skinner, Amerta Movement with Javanese Suprapto Suryodarmo, Environmental Movement with British Helen Poynor.

Somatic costumes, designed to illicit psychophysical awareness in the wearer, will be created collaboratively - synergizing costume designers, choreographers, performers, materials. Somatic choreographies will be developed from the somatic costume as ‘choreographer’ and ‘material agent’, a new materialism theoretical approach.

The methodology of ‘Wearing Research’ is applied to activate material agency through ‘Aware Wearing’ - bringing conscious kinesthetic awareness to effects of costume on perceptions of ourselves, others, and environments. Documentation of participant experiences and collaborative process will include sensorial and auto-ethnographic methodologies, inviting movement-based writing, drawing, discussions, documented through video, photography, voice recording. Anna Halprin & Lawrence Halprin’s methodology of Scores, ‘symbolizations of processes’ (Halprin 1970: 1) will be created for each somatic costume and its choreographic material.

The creative process involves three circular stages: design, workshop, performance. Artistic outcomes include designing three somatic costumes from each somatic practice; leading research workshops, walks, talks and artist residencies; choreographing three costume-based performances with end-of-third-year final exhibition. Additional outcomes include at least two peer-reviewed publications and practical handbook for costume designers/choreographers.

Often absent from choreographic and performance research/discourse, costume is a powerful resource affecting the body and movement, not just semiotically, but sensorially and kinesthetically. Why is costume’s material agency an emerging field of study? Examining attributes of this past neglect, such as the current anthropocene and western ocular centrism era, (in which the non-human is subjugated to the human, and visual, external experiences dominate the internal, tacit and tactile), will be examined. By proposing ‘wearing’ and ‘material agency’ as a gateway into the relationship between costume and body, my research challenges the current ‘social-cultural construction of reality’ (Berger & Luckmann 1967), offering alternative methods of designing, choreographing and living in this world.

Project facts

Project title Somatic Costumography : awakening material agency between costume-body and in the design-performance encounter
Project manager Sally Elizabeth Dean
Oslo National Academy of the Arts
Start date
End date
Project status Concluded
Department Design

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