Blog Post 2 — Re-orientation Exercise

Blog Post 2: Re-orientation Excercize

For this exercise, I began by trying to pinpoint the exact location within the space of the movie theatre that corresponded to when I felt the most comfortable or ‘at home’. I realized it’s not when I’m seated within the auditorium watching a film, but rather the moment and place of descending the long flight of stairs as I make my way through the entrance of this space. As I go down the steps, in the act of reaching toward this object of passive leisure, my body “trails behind” me. It does this because my body is one that inhabits positions and orientations that make my visit to this place natural and unnoticeable.
For instance, I live in close physical proximity to Cinema du Parc, and while this convenience is a reason I frequent the place, it is not born out of randomness and bears implications. This proximity indicates that I live in one of the uptown urban neighborhoods that are in walking distance from the theatre (Plateau/McGill Ghetto/Mile End) which as a result of general gentrification are not accessible to all bodies. Another proximity stems from my participation in higher education, and because Cinema du Parc is a borderline art-house theatre, the mark of artistic/academic bodies in shaping the institution itself opens up as a point of inclusion for me. Higher education and box-office cinema are both institutions that are shaped by white bodies habitually passing through them, and this is also a reason why my act of entry into this space may go unconscious and unobserved because mine is a body that inhabits whiteness. My body may be background to my action as I walk into the theatre, but once I am in and participating in the space, I find that this does not always stay the same.

view of off-limits space from stairs

view of off-limits space from stairs

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Continuing with Sarah Ahmed, the movie theatre is a “space of social interaction that reveal the orientations of specific bodies”. After a film has finished and everyone begins to leave, some people will linger in the lobby, forming little groups to share opinions and experiences of the film. As a phenomenological experiment, I try to focus just on just the sounds in the lobby. I notice that the sound of men’s voices are often more frequent and audible in the noises of these gatherings. I am reminded of the all-ages punk shows I went to in my youth, of standing outside in circles like these discussing the music with my friends. The bands were predominantly boys or men, despite a growing level of diversity within the community. I am acutely aware of my voice when I speak and the way my tongue shapes the beginnings of words I may or may not let pass. In these cases I am made aware of my body because the space I am in is formed by the habitual actions (eg. speech/making noise) of bodies unlike mine. Although formal exclusion isn’t taking place, there is still a feeling of negation that is informed by how my senses perceive which bodies act habitually, in the background, to produce and re-produce a space.

In order to create a differential space out of this movie theatre, a disruption of the spatial practices that make it a designated point of leisure would have to occur. I though perhaps of staging a week long slumber party inside the auditoriums where people could collaborate on interactive artistic projects which could then be displayed or performed at any point in the day. This would blur the lines between work, leisure, and rest and also perhaps create new categories for ways to spend time.

References:

Ahmed, Sara. “A Phenomenology of Whiteness.” Feminist Theory. Vol. 8, No. 2 (2007). 149-168.

Lefebvre, Henri. “The Production of Space.” The People, Place, and Space Reader. Ed. Jen Gieseking and William Mangold. London: Routledge, 2014. 289-293.

Reorientation- Yoga Space

In my introductory post, I talked about the yoga studio that’s close to my apartment that I like going to. I said yoga studios are typically designed to put the body at ease, and it’s a statement that I’ve come to qualify through multiple perspectives.

First, I find it interesting that the practice of yoga in itself is predicated on a practiced and deliberate acknowledgment of the body, which makes analyzing this space all the more interesting. Personally, I symbolically separate the studio from the other spaces where I lead my “normal life”, or the life where I’m largely unconscious of my body. This space is special in that it’s reserved in my mind as a place for me to practice acknowledging my body.

Lefebvre’s spatial triad is really useful in breaking down the space. The physical and quantifiable spatial practice of the studio includes the small size of the studio, its facilities, the careful decoration put into it, the comfortable heat levels, and soothing lighting. I would argue, however, that there are overlapping spaces at play here; the official space of the studio is a communal one, but it also contains highly personal islands of space marked out by individual yoga mats. While the studio classroom is one collective group (engaged in communal breathing and learning), every person has their own mat and corresponding individualized embodied experience, which is encouraged by yoga discourse about respecting your own body’s limits.

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Islands of personal space in the studio

What I find the most fascinating is the social production of space and its reproduction. People take off their shoes before entering the studio to “respect” the space, which reproduces it as a space of spirituality or sacredness. I think this also reinforces the idea of “separating” this space from the daily urban experience. That simple act of taking off clothing before accessing a space is really interesting- on one hand, it puts everyone on a sort of equal footing (pun only somewhat intended), but it also makes some assumptions about how clothing affects people’s experiences with their bodies. There’s also a bit of a tension between the different social relationships in the space- there’s the notion of yoga as a collective and collaborative process, but it’s still a classroom with a teacher instructing a group of students.

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Some of the goods for sale in the background

This space is also ripe for discussions about the reproduction of capitalist space, which feeds into ideas about whiteness as an orientation. There’s a discourse in the studio that centers around mental health, good vibes, and community, but it’s hard to ignore that the Western practice of yoga has produced an incredibly successful market for accessories. In fact, the studio’s reception area has a little boutique that sells journals, yoga mats, and all kinds of goods loosely associated with yoga practice. The space also definitely doesn’t come cheap- memberships are expensive, and prices just rose at the beginning of the year. In that way, the studio reproduces and perpetuates the market for yoga accessories.

In terms of racialized bodies, there’s been a debate over whether or not Western yoga is cultural appropriation. In short, according to Sara Ahmed, bodies are shaped by histories of colonialism and create an inherited white orientation (156) ; in this case, the white colonial system has co-opted a practice created by non-white cultures and then translated it into a practice easily accessible for white bodies. How many stereotypes are there about white suburban moms who do yoga, for example? Of course the question of demographics in my neighborhood matters, but I mostly see white bodies at the studio, and the capitalist reproduction of yoga accessories mentioned above has certainly aided in making my studio a part of the “reachability” that white bodies inherit.

Finally, I realized my comment about negotiating the space in a tense way as a novice relates to performativity. I think that by performing the bodily repetition of being in the studio and doing the yoga poses, I create an identity as a practitioner of yoga and member of the community. The more I physically place my body in the space, the more I identify as a legitimate (or “authentic”) user of the space. My performed legitimacy is also dependent on other bodies- if I’m in a class with more inexperienced students, I perceive my legitimacy and confidence to be higher, while that changes when surrounded by experts.

Lefebrve, Henri. “The Production of Space.” In Gieseking, Jen J. And William Mangold, (Eds.), The People, Place, and Space Reader. (289-293). London: Routledge.

Butler, Judith. (2009). Bodies that Matter. In Mariam Fraser and Monica Greco (Eds.), The Body: A Reader (62-65). London: Routledge.

Ahmed, Sara. (2007) “Phenomenology of Whiteness.” Feminist Theory 8(2): 149-168.

Blog post 2: re-orientation excercise

I have previously described my parents’ space as being private because it has created a sense of intimacy that I cannot find elsewhere. However, this is entirely circumstantial; this space, in comparison with all of the other rooms in the house, is very public. This is why there are moments where I love spending time in this space and there are times when I do not. Instead of reorienting myself in the space geographically, I now attempt to resituate myself in time, and I notice many differences in mIMG_20150304_112609y lived experience of the space.

The main component of this space is the baby grand piano. The function of this piano in this room is of a very large ornament, as it is a space that is mostly shown off by my parents. My own function in this space when I am alone is solely an interaction with the piano. However when I am not alone, my body adopts functions similar to those of the piano; it becomes an ornament that my parents can flaunt to their family and friends and its purpose is to entertain. The space becomes a stage and I am no longer comfortable, I am no longer spending an intimate moment with myself and with the space. Essentially, not only is this space constructed in accordance to its social purpose, the embodied experience entirely depends on the other bodies interacting within it. I wish that I could go back and live within this space in the same way that I used to without having the awareness of exterior judgment on my body; I am however not permitted to do so because as soon as I sit down and feel around the instrument someone comes to watch. I have never noticed this circumstantial shift in the way I experience the same environment that has simply happened over time, and it is quite depressing. I must soon try and go there alone, to see if I can engage with the space the way I used to before I moved.

This is directly relatable to Lefebvre’s triad as it allows for the possibility to re-evaluate the nature of this space in different social contexts. It is ultimately part of a home, however I find Lefebvre’s notion of perceived space most intriguing when applied in this context because it is suggesting that these social constructions allow me to have a multifaceted sense of embodiment towards this simple living room. The space in this context symbolises the cultural obligation of self-disclosure that I am aware of whenever the situation arises, however it is also symbolic of practically therapeutic moments that I have had with it in the past alone with my own thoughts.

As I no longer live in this house, I believe that the relationship I once had with this space is now rejected. I cannot be alone in this space anymore as my parents are always there when I visit; I would not authorize myself to put up the tail of the piano as it is no longer my place to do so. Subconsciously, my body has been in a sense rejected, I am no longer fully allowed to act and be the way I used to, my lived experience has changed in this space. I must behave like a visitor, and by doing so perhaps I now experience this newly positioned living room as a public space.

WORKS CITED

Lefebvre, Henri. “The Production of Space.” The People, Place, and Space Reader. Ed. Jen Gieseking and William Mangold. London: Routledge, 2014. 289-293.

Hansen, Malene Vest (2002). “Public Places – Private Spaces Conceptualism, Feminism and Public Art: Notes on Sophie Calle’s The Detachment.” Konsthistorisk tidskrift/Journal of Art History, 71(4): 194-203.

Blog Post 2 – Re-Orientation – Airports

The space I had chosen for my first blog post was airports. I mentioned they were my favourite because of the amount of stories they witness and emotions they hold. I saw it as a rather positive space, where people experience the pleasure of returning home, or leaving for the unknown.

My explanation had however totally made abstraction of more negative elements. Indeed, I did not pay attention to the prominence of control, surveillance and power existing within that space.

For instance, one thing I notice when I think a second time are the constant directions put in place to guide us through the space. Departures, arrivals, international, domestic, check-in, customs, baggage claim, numbers, arrows – these, all together, control the ways in which we circulate. There is not much freedom as such in an airport. These places are strongly organized, to help the travelers of course, but also to exert a better control on the populations. There are very specific strategies put in place in order to maintain order and regulate movement, and developing tactics to avoid them involves a high risk of reprimand, potentially legally affecting. Plus, trying to avoid control could lead into greater control upon us. Thus, it is rather difficult to become a flâneur and visit the different areas freely, unless we get a particular permission and do so with a security guard.

(Photo courtesy of CNN)

(Photo courtesy of CNN)

Moreover, divisions within the airport are only accessible to those who are in the right. You cannot get to the boarding zone until you have checked in and passed the security gate. This certainly needs to be understood in a post 9/11 context, which caused a massive increase in security. In my personal experience, I can hardly compare post to pre 9/11. The first time I flew was in 2002, and it was a domestic flight. For me, security has always been part of the airport process, and it is difficult to imagine it without. Yet, one could assume that regulations in airports during the 1960s, for example, were less severe than those of the 1980s, which were less severe than those of 2002. Additionally, improvements in technology have an important role to play, as they allow a better surveillance (cameras, ePassports, tracking…) If it can protect us from potential threat, don’t we often, ironically, feel threatened by it? As if everyone was first seen as bad, and then confirmed as good or not. Where has trust gone? Trust, like one of those initial good “airport feelings” I was talking about – humans who don’t necessarily know each other, but who share similar emotions during the same period of time, over time, as it never stops. If we’re actually so similar, why couldn’t we trust each other? I could enter into the question of “racial profiling”, but that is surely and unfortunately a too big subject for the length of this post.

(Photo courtesy of Time Magazine)

(Photo courtesy of Time Magazine)

To keep going with the question of accessibility, the airport itself can also be “hardly” accessible. Often located in the countryside, airports are mostly reached by car or bus, sometimes train and metro. Thus, airports are not strong by-foot destinations. Was this decision taken as to, inter alia, prevent the homeless from occupying the space? Airports seem like obvious shelters for the homeless: they could sit at the entrance and get some warmth. Yet, I don’t remember seeing one in such location. Was this even thought of? What would happen if an itinerant squatted the airport space? Would he/she be kicked out? Yet, as comparison, their presence is mostly allowed in places such as metro stations – which are just another mode of transportation. [Note aside, why putting so much surveillance in airports, but not in the metro and buses? Terrorist attacks were counted in these as well…]

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In a similar manner, airports seem to favor a certain social class. Taken to a further level, we find the economic and business classes within the waiting lines and airplanes, thus reinforcing social disparities, showing off a “I can afford this, but you can’t afford that” mentality. The capitalistic ideology within airports is reinforced as stores invade the space, as if shopping was the only pastime available. Of course many people still read, listen to music, play games, or sleep, but (window) shopping prevails – we are easily tempted. Sometimes I wonder: why don’t we use these (previously) vacant spaces for something else? Instead of promoting the spending of money with stores that sell (for most part) futile things, we could support culture: art exhibitions, concerts, film screenings, plays, etc. It could also be spaces organized for the practice of various sports, thus allowing people to stretch and move before sitting for long hours, this encouraging a healthy lifestyle. I acknowledge that even these often have a capitalist ending (for example, would musicians playing also sell records and make profit out of it?); it is not to say that the capitalist wheel would stop spinning, but at least it would not be intensively encouraged. I also believe such ideas would help creating a sense of community, which would in turn build a stronger sense of generosity and trust, which could only be beneficial to our society.

Blog Post 2: Re-Orientation Exercise

In my introduction, I spoke about the “stage”. The “stage” – as a space, however, can have many meanings. In academia, one might say that the classroom or lecture hall is the stage; and in the hospital, a doctor might consider the operating room to be his or her stage. With this notion, I recognize the stage as a moving a mental construct. In writing this reconsideration of sorts, I wanted to better understand the way a space preconditions specific bodies and actions.

Its worth noting however, that I tried to avoid writing this response in a concrete manner because, to me, the physical realm of the stage is less important than the sets of meanings which it produces. To illustrate this – I’ve attached a photo below of the last stage I played a concert on; if you ask me today what space comes to my mind when I hear the word “stage” – it would be the space you see here. However, if you had asked me that same question a day before that same show – I would have surely considered another space which meant something to me at that distinct time.

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Photo taken at l’Abreuvoir

In referencing Henri Lefebvre and Merleau-Ponty, Sarah Ahmed discusses this relationship between space and action, stating that “the space of the study is shaped by a decision (that this room is for this kind of work), which itself then “shapes” what actions “happen” in that space” (52). In focusing upon the concert stage – it is a space designed for a select few individuals to play music for a larger mass of individuals. The space is created for this purpose and is quite different then the stage in a Theatre for example. In understanding this, I immediately thought about a story one of my audio engineering friends had told me; he was recently asked to control the live audio for a dance show in the same bar which I played a show in last week (above picture). He told me about how awkward the show was because the space simply wasn’t meant for dancing, an activity which, in most cases, is better suited to a completely different type of stage. The result was a group of uncomfortable dancers whose lacklustre performance failed to resonate with an audience that was equally uncomfortable in the misused space.

I also found it interesting to look at the work of CRESSON, the Centre de Recherche sur l’Espace Sonore et l’Environnement Urbain and compare their architectural approach to the design of a stage and music venue. A professor, J.J. Delétré mentions that “sonic quality is not a parameter ready to be programmed and conceptualized” when considering architecture and building practices (1), however I must somewhat disagree in that the recording studio and music venue might qualify as exceptions to that generalization. Keeping in mind Ahmed’s notion of how the space predefines actions – any recognized music venue has put a significant amount of effort into creating an acoustically-sound environment and an appropriately sized and placed stage. I won’t get in to the details of how this accomplished because it would take another entire blog post, however, every aspect of the space is often considered.

The objects in the space are just as important; Ahmed states how an object “also provides a space, which itself is the space for action, for certain kinds of work” (55). The old rug placed on the stage is waiting for a drum set to be sat on top of it and the amplifiers are waiting to be plugged in and played out of.

Perhaps my final project might subtly touch upon the borders of this space? Along the lines of the Dancing group I discussed, failing to impress the audience in the bar – maybe I could use this preconditioned space – the stage – to perform what Guy Debord describes as a “détournement” and to further study the audience’s preexisting expectations and their post-“performance” reaction.

Works Cited

Ahmed, Sara. (2006) Queer Phenomenology Ch. 1: Orientations Towards Objects, section “Inhabiting Spaces” (51-63). Durham: Duke University Press.

Debord, Guy. (1959) ‘Détournement as Negation and Prelude’, Bureau of Public Secrets.

Delétré, Jean-Jacques. (1995) How to integrate the sonic quality to architectural design… Florence (Italie), Alinea (1-8) (http://doc.cresson.grenoble.archi.fr/opac/doc_num.php?explnum_id=297)

BLOG POST #2 – RE-ORIENTATION EXERCISE

I first wrote about the floatation baths at Ovarium. People come to this place of business to attend a treatment session or to work there, so in this sense, the Ovarium environment has been constructed as a public/private space for its users, yet it is not an openly public space like a public swimming pool or a beach. It does not constitute an entirely public space because it has been produced and shaped as an experience “product” for a certain demographic of bodies, which is then reproduced by its staff and reproduced again by its users. A spa environment is, by nature of its capitalist business model, a space that entices a mostly middle- to upper-class clientele with disposable income to purchase its therapeutic treatments, products and services (and is usually the kind of place where I feel very uncomfortable, as if I don’t belong there). If you happen upon this space and have the economic means to enter as a client, then you are welcomed in.

It’s interesting to consider that the floatation bath at Ovarium is all about embodying an inward experience of gaining access to your own representational space while floating in a private, liquid, womb-like enclosure, but it now makes me think about how this state of “doing” intersects with the concept of phenomenology to turn such an experience into a commercial product. Given the steady commodification of health and wellness as a luxury service instead of a state of “doing” to achieve or aspire to, perhaps it is telling that Ovarium is located in a building that used to be a bank.

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Ovarium is a place designed to be a healing and quiet sanctuary from the hectic pace of daily life, yet there is a noticeable behavioral practice in place. The staff gently enforce the behavioral dynamic code between producers and users of what Henri Lefebvre would term this representation of space by speaking in hushed tones and maintaining the smile of therapeutic calm at all times, thereby imposing and shaping the owner’s ideology of tranquility and sensorial wellness in its spatial practice as to how a body is to behave in this space, as well as the desired experiences and/or outcomes of spending time here. Anyone who is loud or boisterous or arrives intoxicated would certainly be directed to tame their behavior and actions or would not be permitted to engage in this environment, thus reinforcing to which bodies and characters this space caters. Two people using one floatation tank at the same time is not at all allowed.

This environment hosts a very mixed clientele; no bodies that I have seen in this space are discriminated against on the basis of skin color, age, gender, or sexual orientation, yet the massage therapy is reserved by law for bodies aged 11 years or older. Although the entrance and many of the services at Ovarium are located at street level and assumedly accessible by most bodies, its spatial arrangement now makes me question how a person with physical mobility limitations, i.e.: a body in a wheelchair, could assert their independent agency to access these services as they are intended to be experienced in this space. In research, I discovered that the floatation baths are in fact not accessible to bodies in wheelchairs, although massage therapy and pulsar light treatments are accessible with advance notice to accommodate. I originally thought about how floating weightlessly in a tank of water for an hour would be a pleasing sensorial experience for any type of body, but just as Sarah Ahmed asserts in her essay A Phenomenology of Whiteness, I’ve now realized that “spaces also take shape by being orientated around some bodies, more than others” (157). If certain bodies are restricted from being able to indulge in a space like the floatation pods based on physical ability and economic stature, I have now begun to think critically and liken these simple floats to an exclusive amusement-like ride for a few privileged bodies among us.

Works cited:

Ahmed, Sara. “A Phenomenology of Whiteness.” Feminist Theory. Vol. 8, No. 2 (2007). 149-168.

Lefebvre, Henri. “The Production of Space.” The People, Place, and Space Reader. Ed. Jen Gieseking and William Mangold. London: Routledge, 2014. 289-293.