“To consider your limbs and parts of your body as separate objects and tools, and in reverse to love objects as if they were your own body; here lies the great secret of the origin of Butoh.” – Tatsumi Hijikata¹
Props are qualias materialized. We can hold them or physically engage them with our tactile and perceptive body.
To Richard Schechner, all objects have a performative quality. In Introduction to Performance Studies he states, “To treat any object, work, or product ‘as’ performance – a painting, a novel, a shoe, or anything at all – means to investigate what the object does, how it interacts with other objects or beings, and how it relates to other objects or beings. Performances exist only as actions, interactions, and relationships.”8
In treating objects as performance, we build a stronger resonance with them. Where we can discover an object’s mundane actions, interactions, and relationships, we can also step outside the scope of the object. One object can remind us of other objects (all qualias have this property). This object-shifting skill is what makes prop-based improvisational theater magical.
Grotowski spoke of this prop magic. He said, “Worlds are created with very ordinary objects, as in children’s play and improvised games. We are dealing with a theatre caught in its embryonic stage, in the middle of the creative process when the awakened instant chooses spontaneously the tools of its magic transformation.”9
An object-shifting resonance is very much connected with defamiliarization and child vision (seeing something as if for the first time). Defamiliarization breaks down mundanity. This is at the very basis of Viktor Shkovsky’s view of art. Shkovsky notes, “The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.”5 Kazuo Ohno did just this with his performance “My Mother.” In it, the table was his mother in varying relationships.
The goal of resonating with the visual channel is to leave the visual channel. It is only a starting place. To Yoko Ashikawa, the visual image can be the stumbling block for going deeper (getting caught up in visualization) and can limit internalization. The point is for the visual channel to provoke endless other qualias or channels.7
Ways to Perceive Objects by Michael Maso Ellis
The following list comes from an Australian artist Michael Maso Ellis.² A few additional terms/commentary were also added. I also add that a prop can also be perceived as a part of the body (especially if isn’t yours).
This first list set involves simply noticing and is more passive.
Sweeping – When we first enter an experience, the phenomena/objects that we are first aware of (this could be external or internal).
Sensing– This is the first time we notice a specific object or phenomena.
Focusing – This is really focusing our attention, giving it enough time to take effect.
Attuning – Imprinting the phenomena, or object in the neural map (memory).
Remembering – Recalling the phenomena/object and making it present.
Spacing – Focusing specifically on the space between objects and others in proximity, the negative spaces.
Sizing – Noticing how big or small a thing is compared to it’s neighbors (or oneself or anything else)
Volumeizing – The space the object takes up.
Detailing – Focusing on particular details.
Tracing – Following lines and edges.
Coloring – Noticing particular colors or contrasts in a field.
Lighting – Noticing the way light reflects.
Shading – Noticing the absence of light and shadows cast.
Relating – Comparing and relating one or more objects or phenomena.
Weighting – Noticing/feeling the weight of object/materiality.
Materiality – Noticing what the material is made of.
Histrionic Kinesis – Feeling the kinetic sense of the actions required to arrange/build/manipulate the objects and materials.
This second list is more active and involves shifting/altering perception or space-bending.
Scaling – Shifting the scale of the object/space, experiencing it as an enormous landscape or very tiny.
Dimensioning – Shifting the object to 1d, 2d, 5d, or other dimension other than its usual one.
Timing – Related to scaling, we can alter the time of the object by noting that human time is purely conceptual: the object exists in eternity.
Physical Imagination – Placing oneself in, on, near or holding the object/phenomena. [This can also be viewed as a form of vaporizing.]
Object Manipulation – Manipulation of the object using the body. Sensing weight/size/temperature/texture. [For the purposes of this section, utilize with physical vision, else, open up the other vision–the third eye. This will help cultivate synesthesia.]
Disappearing – Resonating with the object or phenomenon so heavily that it disappears. Think of when you repeat a word over and over and it loses significance.
This third list opens up the thinking or psychic channel, and allows more of judging or discerning.
Enchantment – Engaging with sense of intrigue and mystery.
Significance – The object or phenomena has specific meaning or associated narrative to the context.
Personalizing – The element is associated with a person, entity or character, or has its own autonomous personality.
Emotionalizing – Association, catalyzing with a felt emotion.
Autonomizing – The object/pheonomena is making itself known to the senses of its own accord: an omen or a messenger. [This can also be the realm of synchronicity, coincidence, and/or serendipity or all together.]
Blessing – Full acceptance and cherishing of the phenomena/space or object.
Deifying – Treating as Sacred or Divine with the awareness.
Attachment – Admitting or assigning importance to the phenomena/object, to an identity.
Identification – Identifying with the object/phenomena: identity in some way defined by the existence or condition or character of the object.
Naming – Classifying, labeling. Also the reverse is practicable (removing labels).
Unification – The object(s)/phenomena are one and the same with the psyche/identity, to a greater or lesser degree.
Disassociation – The object/phenomena means nothing and the psyche is not resonant.
Exercise 1: Child Vision
With any object, go into its every dimension without passing any judgment. Forget even its use or title, unless you are creating a new name or title for it. Lose yourself in the object. Become the object. The object can be the center of your world. In a hologram, any part has within it the information of the whole. If you stare hard enough, the item may disappear. Resonate deep enough and a dance of the totality of The All might emerge.
Exercise 2: Everyday Mundane Object Ritual
This is an exercise to do everyday or for a period of time and cultivates resonance with the mundane. It is also connected to deifying. Each day, find one mundane object, e.g. paper clip, rock, bubble gum wrapper, or a coin, and place this object on an altar or area of reverence. The exercise can also provoke any of the other various object resonances above.
Exercise 3: Diego Piñón’s Object Resonance*
For some of Diego’s exercises, he makes use of props, such as fruits and vegetables. The purpose of the exercises is to enter deeply into the object quality, to have it dance you, instead of you dancing it.
In a final exercise of one workshop, the participants found within themselves five words of special personal meaning, and then chose the fruit or vegetable representing each word. Then the fruits/vegetables were placed into a line on the floor, and the participants were made to perform a walking path of these vegetable/fruit worlds.
Exercise 4: Body and/or Costume as Prop
As said in the Hijikata quote at the beginning of this page, we can treat our body parts as props/inanimate object. I expand this to add costume and hair.
Exercise 5: Resonating By Color
Pick a color and any object in the space of that color is what one will choose to resonate with.
One-on-one: Constructing a Live Image on Someone Else by Guillermo Gómez-Peña
The following comes from Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s book Exercises For The Rebel Artist:10
One person is “the performance artist” and the other one is the “raw material” or “human artifact.” […]
First, engage in a brief multi-sensorial exploration of your partner. Remember: incorporate sight, smell, hearing, and touch with sensitivity and care. Begin investigating the shape, limbs, height, skin color, hair texture, scars, tattoos, jewelry, and clothing of your partner. Discovering all these details will provide you with important information for the process of constructing your first live image.
Examine your partner as an anatomical (and symbolic) figure. Examine their bone and muscular structure and then “activate” their body to see how his/her joints, pelvis, head, and torso rotate, move, and bend.
Step back occasionally and notice the interesting iconic images that emerge as you manipulate his/her body into various positions and shapes. After 5 minutes begin carefully to construct an image with your raw material, by shifting the position of their body and working their individual parts (head, arms, legs, etc.) into interesting and dynamic shapes. You should avoid verbal direction.
Manipulate their body until they understand the position you want them to assume. You should make use of your collaborator’s whole body, as well as his/her clothes and accessories, to create “an original still image” based on your own aesthetics. […]
When the “performance artists” feel that their live image is complete (no more then 10 minutes in total after the exploration), you may walk around and observe the creations of your colleagues. After a few minutes, you may “intervene” and make minor alterations to the other creations (i.e., slight changes to the position of the head, an expression on the face, the twist and tension of the body, adding or subtracting a prop, etc.).
Incorporate props and costumes: Provide a theme for the exercise. After exploring and handling the body of your partner for a few minutes, go to the pop archeological/artifact installation and take one prop or costume item and incorporate it into the live image. Make sure the relationship between object and image is not a literal one. In subsequent parings you may work incrementally with two, three, four, and finally as many props and costume items as you feel necessary. It should be a gradual process. Don’t add so much stuff that your partner ends up looking like a human Christmas tree in a Tijuana storefront!
Add simple movement: After practicing this exercise a few times, you can give your creation a small, repetitive, obsessive, enigmatic, or contradictory action to add layers of meaning. Try to avoid complex choreographies and literal or theatrical connections between action and image. Remember to avoid verbal directions. Manipulate their body carefully until they understand the action you want them to carry out. They will tacitly collaborate with you by making it easier for you to manipulate their bodies.
Think of the body as a blank canvas or text: You can begin to use makeup, art supplies, and body paint. You can “mark,” “decorate,” “draw,” “tag,” and write on the body of your “raw material.” Use eyeliner pencils, lipstick, waterbased markers, and body paint. Use emblematic words, short poetic phrases, or simple drawings, designs, or symbols. This is a great method for complicating, narrowing, or altering the meaning of an image.
Incorporate yourself into the image: Whenever you feel that the image you have created requires your own participation, you can insert yourself in it, turning it into a diptych.
Theory of Embodied Perception
“Art is thinking in images.” – Viktor Shklovsky6
Shannon Rose Riley developed a unique method in which to cultivate perception. The following is a list given at her workshops:4
1. The mind is not just the brain, but comprises brain, body, and environment in an ongoing dialogue, or thought process, that is already coded as image. [This in turn does away with the mind-body dualism, unifying both into one flowing and communicating system.]
2. An image as not merely something (a picture) held in the mind but is embodied, fully sensual, including smells, sounds, etc. [“Image” shares a close resemblance to the idea of qualia. Qualia may also be the ground to these images.]
3. There are two kinds of images, recalled [via memories] and perceptual [via present moment]; and there are three types of perceptual information: (1) proprioceptive: sensation of muscles, joints, bones (2) interoceptive: sensation of breath, organs, heartbreat; (3) exteroceptive: sensation of other people, space, warmth.
4. A somatic marker is a kind of shorthand way to describe a process by which recalled imagery and perceptual imagery become connected, or marked by a feeling about the body (like “a gut feeling”).
5. The basic concepts of dialogue are attention, or listening, and response—rather than expression. This is important because it keeps the actor from a more solipsistic, or purely self-expressive, movement practice.
We can utilize ink blots on paper (Rorschach tests), clouds, and a number of readily available sceneries to take a glimpse of what the subconscious is currently curious about or fixated upon. Once we see the patterns or visual interpretations, we dance the qualias.
Exercise 1: Shifting Optical Illusion Perspectives
This is a prerequisite to the next exercise. Once we learn to shift from the perspectives of two or more images from an optical illusion or visual pun, we can expand our shifting.
1. First shift from one image of the visual pun to the other.
2. Then shift from seeing both simultaneously as if it were a chimera. For instance, in Figure 2, we can force both images to become one, so the young woman’s necklace will automatically also be the mouth. It’s a mouth-bracelet. A mouth-bracelet is one solid thing just like the ear-eye. This will create a new (or child) image of the two images in the visual pun.
3. Now shift between the two images in the visual pun to the chimera image. We are now shifting between three different images.
Exercise 2: Jumping Wild Vaporizing
This is a pattern recognition exercise, and is not easy likely for most. Once we find an image that the subconscious mapped out, then shift to the next image. This requires a massive amount of focus and allowing information to enter.
By limiting the two usual eyes, we exercise the third eye (doorway to the subbody), which is the pineal gland. Any number of activities and obstacle courses especially, will exercise the third eye as well as sense of body equilibrium.
Find any various edges to trace such as ropes or small tubes. If you have several hula hoops, align them on the ground forming a line of hula hoops. Blindfolded, you can travel along the hula hoops making a sine curve, but you can also circle around the hula hoop as much as you wish. What feelings or qualias came about when engaged in this exercise?
We can always use fine art to inspire a dance. According to Kayo Mikami, Hijikata was very inspired by the following European painters: Goya, Moreau, Munch, Redon, Bosch, Bacon, Turner, Bresdin, Beardsley, Michaux, Vermeer(?), Delvaux, Volce(?), and, Fautrier. Some of these artists are literally named in many of his butoh-fu (butoh scores).³ See Hijikata’s 16 scrapbooks of pictures/artists here.
To enhance your museum or gallery experience, instead of just looking at the work of art, dance it.
Contemporary Metaphor Theory
“Whatever is, is a thing.” – Kotarbiński11
In terms of contemporary metaphor theory, the prop (like qualia) is in resonance with what Aleksander Szwedeck claims is the most elementary image schema, or the image schema that lies within all or most image schemas: OBJECT.12 Image schemas to Lakoff and Johnson are “recurrent patterns in perceptual-motor experience that derive from our bodily interaction with the physical world.”13
Just as the beginning quote from Hijikata hints at, we can carry the idea of prop beyond its daily world interpretation. Anything physical at all can be viewed as prop, so this means that the floor, wall, stage, set, landscape, costume, and body can all be treated as props.