Monika Jaeckel, Berlin, Germany: Text for a talk /movement performance
In Dialogue 2014 / 2nd October – 4th October 2014 / Nottingham / UK
An International Symposium that interrogates how artists and researchers use dialogue in practice
The Touching Moment: touching matter – matter of response
“Touch moves and affects what it effects.”
is how Karen Barad, professor for Feminist
Studies, Philosophy, and History of Consciousness in Santa Cruz, California, summarizes her
conclusion that the aspects of touching upon something or being touched affect movement.
This conditional relation of touch also influences the way orientation is formed
. It may seem
as subtle as just to effect breathing, or as direct as to bump into something. Eventually, the
entire sense of being is affected, and with it the lines of movement, which define the ways of
our knowledge of and in this world.
Response is thus essential to touch. Imagine the pre-verbal infant, who just crawls and
explores their surroundings by climbing, touching, and eventually even trying to bite or chew
on things. In this state the infant quite literally takes the effects of touch as affective impulses of
world making. The emerging effect of touch sways knowledge through the experience of
contact. Limits may deviate from a presumed form or line, influencing thus movement per se or
a movement of thought which was expected to continue unimpeded.
Barad, Karen. “On Touching – The Inhuman That Therefore I Am”, in differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, 2012, p.208
Ahmed, Sara. Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others, 2006; see also her blogposts from 2014
- presented together with:
Jack Britton - performance maker and traceur (parkour practitioner) http://jackagbritton.tumblr.com/
Katherine Hall – interdisciplinary dance artist https://www.facebook.com/KatherineHallDanceArtis
Lewys Holt - freelance Dance Artist www.facebook.com/lewysholtdance
This response-ability of and towards others, and matter in general, constitutes each of
‘us’, is how Barad describes the interdependence of mattering and matter in general, which is
enacted in the process of an encounter. Defining matter and us in this sense of world making
and (world) becoming in a specific moment of interaction incites mattering as meaning.
Based on her background as a physicist, Barad’s interest for quantum mechanics led her to
specify interaction, through the neologism of intra-action. Her purpose but is not to simply
transpose quantum mechanics insights analogically onto the macro world, but to attempt an
epistemological and ontological approach to certain phenomena. The moment of a touching
contact could be seen as such an intra-action, as a ‘cutting-together-apart’
which is a defining
moment of difference.
Touch can be understood as the defining moment that creates contact and exchange. It is
a chiasmic entanglement of attractive-repulsive responses
(of contact) establishing a certain
structure of matter(ing). This relational constitution is often interpreted as a one-sided self-
definition by extending our anthropocentric view onto the world around. An act that is widely
understood as to be initiated and rationalized only by ‘us’, as if others, human or non-human,
would not play a necessary and important part
precisely because of their non-predictable
response-ability in the situation of mattering to which ‘we’ relate
. Contrary to this self-centric
view, matter and ‘the others’, are not just needed as a relational ‘background’ that allows
measuring and locating a lone (most likely western), human figure. It is the vital surrounding
that manifests matter/ing based on the mutuality of exchange and that needs such response.
Barad, Karen. Meeting the Universe Halfway. Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning, 2007, p. 394
With repulsion at the heart of attraction, electrons deliver a good example here, as Barad expresses it - > Quantum
While indeed evidence and extent of human activities provoked the term of the Anthropocene to critically address the human influence and
to mark to a certain degree the extinct of a culture/nature divide.
A point that accounts for extinction of certain animals or plants, as well as for the climate change.
Announce: - interactive sequence -
The philosopher Alva Noë points out a similar fact that dancers regarding their
engagement in respect of the audience enact an environment of possibilities for them. From a
different angle but in certain congruence to Barad he states that the environment is brought
forth by us. Our surrounding is one whose meaning is always specified relative to us and the
Even if a performance is staged in a predefined setting (like this one today), the resonance
called up by the movement of the dancers, opens a field of potential action
and that is why we
see the environment, when we look at dance.
Thus while sitting here, you are not only moving
through different positions on your chair, but are also ‘moved’ by the movement of others.
Even ‘staying in touch’ over a long distance, either in time or space entails a sort of
mutual exchange. As already the manifold meanings of the word (English) ‘touch’ suggest, it
does not necessarily need to be a literal way of touching to create contact. ‘Tap, tap, swipe,
tap’: being in touch, by remotely linking via a digital interface to each other, has become a
quite common experience. A literal relation created via technological devices that allow
interaction. Today this often implies to touch upon a screen to get in touch with someone else.
But the tactile experience of impacting the smooth surface of glass or plastic is almost ignored.
Touching a touchscreen addresses the responsiveness we desire but seems less affecting
than being pointed at with a red laser pointer. You might be annoyed by this fleeting spot
causing futile grasping but that cannot be caught. Still it is not unimportant what touches on
what, as only some materials react in the presumed way to each other.
E.K. Sedgewick remarks in her book ‘Touching Feeling’ that texture despite its
grounding reference with touch ‘involves more than one sense’ and consequently it has to be
considered that ‘the different properties, and radically divergent modern histories, of different
Noë, Alva. “Making Worlds Available” in Knowledge in Motion, transcript Verlag, 2007, p.126
“is that a body in motion is in an immediate, unfolding relation to its own non-present potential to vary.” B. Massumi, Parables for the
Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, Durham: Duke University Press, 2002, p.4
Noë, Alva. “Making Worlds Available” in Knowledge in Motion, transcript Verlag, 2007, p.126
perceptual systems […] torque and splay the history of texture as well.’ Albeit she states that
the sense of physical touch itself ‘has been remarkably unsusceptible to being amplified by
The sensational extension of affect enabled in current technology through
its prolonged connectivity
, seems but to mitigate the sensation of touch into routines of a
coded performance. In that it counters Barad’s definition that it is essential for the ability to
respond not to be a calculation that is performed.
Response-ability as addressed by Barad, entails an incalculability as touching does.
Even when acted out often and becoming habit, its affective side yields a response. The relation
to responsibility makes it a mutual exchange, a performative encounter of constituting. Its
affectivity might suddenly lead to an effect of something unprecedented, unexpected. Certainly
also your mobile phone can fail to react in the expected way, most likely by becoming
annoyingly unresponsive to your gestures.
The interesting twist that habit per se is a trained procedure, but can be intercepted
enables Parkour runners to perceive and approach an environment very differently than the
average person might do in a daily routine. Adaption to the built habitat is based on the
runners’ trained abilities allowing them to react in the instant of a momentarily movement-
interaction. In Barad’s words responsibility is an integral relation that does not apppear
‘through the realisation of some existing possibility, but through the iterative reworking of
im/possibility, an ongoing rupturing, a cross-cutting of topological reconfigurations’.
Extending these meanderings onto the proposition of this talk experiment asks to
consider also associations and thoughts as embodied. K. Barad states that thought experiments
Sedgewick, Eve K. Touching Feeling, 2003, p.15
especially on the basis of our audible and visual sensing abilities
Barad, Karen. “On Touching – The Inhuman That Therefore I Am”, in differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, p. 217;
“Quantum Entanglements and Hauntological Relations of Inheritance”, in Derrida Today 3.2, 2010, p. 265: Responsibility is not a
calculation to be performed. It is a relation always already integral to the world’s ongoing intra-active becoming and not-becoming. It is an
iterative (re)opening up to, an enabling of responsiveness. Not through the realisation of some existing possibility, but through the iterative
reworking of im/possibility, an ongoing rupturing, a cross-cutting of topological reconfiguring of the space of responsi-bility.
Barad, Karen. “Quantum Entanglements and Hauntological Relations of Inheritance”, in Derrida Today 3.2, 2010, p.265
are dependent on cognitive processes as they are situated and experienced in forms of intra-
action and thus equivalent to material matter.
The understanding of this underlying
movement-interaction brings forth differently layered tendencies of knowing. Theory or verbal
dialogues appear now as transpositions familiar with other forms of movement, which
constitute just different forms of mattering and matter (the one of ‘thought’).
To get in touch is to be in dialogue, which due to the paradigmatic nature of any
dialogical exchange is always transitory, as is the touching moment of response. These
encounters create a resonance of difference, a cutting-together-apart, of the self within the other
and the other within self, thus defining one self and the surrounding. Acknowledging the own
dependency on the relationality of things demands an ethics that respects the other ‘form’. It
means to see the environment.
To be open to response-ability means to perceive this wall as a Parkour person would,
not as confining but standing for a possibility to create an experience of bouncing off of it in an
unexpected way. Equally this presentation is informed and shaped by a proposition of motion
that accesses both a talk and movement as interdependent dialogical forms. It is an experiment
that attempts the fragile appearance and experience of this ‘touching moment’ as dialogical
matter of response-ability in a wider sense.
Finally to end with a quote I accidently came across in the leaflet of the recent exhibition of the
artist Danh Vo here at the Nottingham Contemporary. He states: “To me, things come out of the
continuous dialog you have with your surroundings…”.
Barad.Karen. “On Touching – The Inhuman That Therefore I Am”, in differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, 2012, p.208;
see also the research of E. Thelen,1994