Jamila Johnson-Small

Primary page content

Jamila Johnson-Small's MPhil/PhD Art project

Oracular practice and the choreographic machine

A project led by embodied research into dancing as a psycho-spiritual practice of divination. I am thinking about and through processes of choreographic dissemination towards inscribing my approach to dance practice into some kind of object that others can access and interface with, which I am calling the choreographic machine.

A person wearing a red tracksuit is standing with their back at the camera and holding their head with both of their hands. A crowd is seen in the background.

SERAFINE1369 'II' at CLUBS, Barcelona, 2023

Working through a practice-based approach that uses the cycles and temporalities of a (this) body and the decomposition and metabolising of somatic experience as guide, I am considering the therapeutic and prophetic potentials of dance practices through modelling and testing possible forms for the choreographic machine. I work from some experiential realities that might be thought of as a diasporic inheritance, around cyclical and nonlinear time, interrelation and cosmic entanglement, consequence and fate. I consider these realities within the frames of a Hosting and Haunting, as processes through which bodies become oracular, reaching towards existing systems for reading bodies rooted in divination and somatic healing modalities. This is resistance work, where dancing and then choreography, are considered to be wayfinding practices. The choreographic machine is curious about the knowledges that bodies already hold and the complexities of authorship in relation to felt-sense and experiential conceptions of bodies as being implicitly, consistently, choral, collaborative and operating across multiple timelines.

Within my practice, choreography becomes a system for exposing internal and external networks of relation through dancing in collaboration with fate, distinct from improvisation, where the emerging constellations become available to be read by the dancer as oracular text. I am interested in the potential of choreography to simultaneously read, and in its unfolding, also write what lies ahead of it. I understand the labour of the choreographer to be transmitting an embodied synthesis of somatic methodologies and practices of listening, towards facilitating the surfacing of embodied knowledges in others, extending invitations into dancing emergent relational choreographies. I am interested in what might be opened up in releasing myself from this labour of bodily/psychic holding and transmission, and delegating it to a machine.

My research triangulates between internal processes with myself as test subject, relational practices with others, and associative enquiry. Through it I speculate on ways that this choreographic machine could be an accessible, communicable framework, talisman, ritual tool, map or constellation for making more tangible the nonverbal, physical, emotional, energetic, multi-directional communication that happens between dancers, environment, spacetime, choreography and audience/witness. It reflects on the implications of mapping the machinic onto the bio-organic, the delegation of labour to machines and the ways art emerges in the attempt to articulate complex systems of interrelation. It happens around and through the tensions between the choreographic mobilisation of bodies and the instrumentalisation of identity politics and healing practices within Art.