The Body Acoustic


For the second time, the Collaborative Arts Program at UMN is offering a course entitled The Body Acoustic under Dana Reitz and Leslie Van Duzer. It’s a three week intensive course the meets on three consecutive Saturdays at Minneapolis art institutions (the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Guthrie Theater) to explore the…I’m sure the official description will do the course better justice than I.

“The Body Acoustic aims to heighten awareness of the reciprocal relationship between the built environment and our senses. As with sound and light, distances, height, volume, surfaces, angles/curves and a symmetries all affect one’s movement through space; one’s movement, in disciplines of architecture, design, visual and movement-based art. The Body Acoustic provides an ideal opportunity for student from all of these disciplines to engage in inter-and trans-disciplinary research and practice. This course will allow students to study the physical sense of place in three major cultural institutions in Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, Guthrie Theater and Minneapolis Institute of Art.”

Last Saturday was the first meeting of the course, at the Walker Art Center. The variety of students present is exciting; majors represented include architecture, dance, Japanese, studio arts, art history, and theater.

Our discussions and exercises focused on mindfulness and noticing. How do you notice things? What do you pay attention to? What I learned is that the body has many sensory organs that don’t fall into the typical five of sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. From the back of your head and your knees you can sense color (the work of James Turrell have used/use this). The ability to sense space behind you without seeing it is a valuable tool for all designers. Acoustic, in this case, takes on a broader definition that expands beyond the auditory to encompass complete physical awareness.

To open the class, we began by massaging and feeling our own feet and legs to warm up the muscles. We then stood and walked with these “new” feet with heightened awareness of our connection to the floor and space around us. The first exercise of the day involved memory maps of three connected spaces in the Walker galleries. Understanding with all senses how the spaces felt was a key component of the exercise.

We continued the day by considering the threshold. The Japanese concept of ma is the complement and companion to these sensory abilities of the body and was a key sensory factor in our discussions of threshold. The definition given by Reitz and Van Duzer for ma was the spiritual fullness of the space between experience and structure. They emphasized that designers of all types have control over these thresholds of between: sound, light, colors, shadow.

The students in the course will be constructing a temporary threshold in Rapson for class on Thursday evening, and I’m curious to see what materials they choose and how they will engage/perform their thresholds.

I look forward to the remainder of the course and thank Reitz and Van Duzer for allowing me to unofficially participate in the class.


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