A visual artist and a choreographer/somatic educator narrate the pedagogical processes searching for what they call “the place of non-intention”.
Both narratives are carried through the following questions:
How do we build a relationship with the image before it is produced?
How the somatic experience comes to be perceived by a group of people?
PHASE I. CONTACT
VB: To get to Tirana Kinostudio, I take the bus in Rruga Ismail Ndroqi, not far from Skanderberg Square. The direction of the bus says Kinostudio, which means I’ll get out at the last stop. The journey costs 40 lek, which you give to the ticket man and then a different one who religiously comes and checks it. I often stand up on the bus as it is highly frequented by students and workers crossing Tirana daily. I check my Albanian on the phone to make sure I formulate the right question when I ask the driver for my stop. Normally everyone on the bus would make sure you are ok if they understand you could get lost – although I did once before. After 20 minutes I alight at my destination, I walk the road that first takes you close to the Kino Studio Archives and then I finally enter the Academy of Film & Multimedia Marubi (AFMM). The curated garden with its décor made of sculptures, some donated by local artists, are mixed with a stage for open air screenings. When I am there I feel I am inside a memory that comes before the experience which would normally precede it. At the entrance, there is the picture of Pietro Marubi (Piacenza 1834 – Shkoder 1903), the photographer who gave the name to the school and next to him his history written in Albanian and English language.
I wonder if we could work on forgetting images instead of learning how to create them.
At the same garden I recall having a conversation with the academic staff on how I would carry on my classes and what I would call the course. We agreed to a learning process based on practice and the possibility of using analogue photography with expired film and the dark room. In a second phase, the original plan had to be sacrificed for the new Covid rules and regulations, and as I enter the school – through the ritual of banging my head on the floral vase hanging in the entrance – I wonder if the new experimental plan can work, or how, in case, I will be ready to transform the failures. For my lectures the academy staff has chosen the biggest room, the projection room, in order to provide everyone with the required physical distance. There is a desk for me facing the students, a chair and space for the computer from where I can project images. I have to wear a mask and it is the first time I meet the students. I cannot sit – it feels strange — and I cannot breathe under the mask. I stand up, I can move around them if they cannot move with me. I take off the mask, I can show my expression, although they cannot show me theirs.
MDI: When I find myself going to teach a class I first prepare myself to be in my own body and mind.
Body and mind merge into each other; inform and affect each other reciprocally.
The body is the place where physical and metabolic processes find homeostasis and balance, thanks to which we remain alive. It is the place where we can detect and trace sensory stimuli both from the outside and the inside.
The mind is the place where emotions, thoughts, imaginations, memories, and feelings are processed in an analytical and cognitive way and where sensory stimuli are perceived. We sense through the body and perceive through the mind. Perception is the central processing of sensory stimuli into a meaningful pattern. Perception is dependent on sensations, but not all sensations received from the body by its receptors (cells/structures) are perceived by the mind. Receptors are the cells or structures that detect sensation in various places of the body. For example, cutaneous receptors are sensory receptors found in the dermis or epidermis (skin).
I lay back on the ground to sense the contact with the floor, my weight, my mind and body at rest. I listen to my breath. Often, I find a sense of freedom generated by the unstoppable breath and circulating fluids in the body: bloodstream, lymphatic flow, cranio-spinal fluid bathing the bones of the skull and all the vertebrae down to the tailbone (coccyx), synovial fluid in the joints. All of them move in and out through tissues and cells. I can also feel support from within bringing my attention to the structural musculoskeletal system and the sense of volume and presence of the organs.
With this embodied dynamic landscape within me, I feel ready to leave the house.
PHASE II. IDENTIFICATION
VB: There I am, presenting the class what it means the title of the course that we chose: experimental cinematography. The responsibility of rolling out a list of film-makers who have experimented through the last century seems inadequate to lead the way towards a place of non-intention. “Experimental” cannot be defined by its own nature, but this does not mean that there aren’t methods allowing us to fully experiment with images before they are produced. The latter, the structure, is ever changing, based on the context where it is produced; it is up to us to figure out how to share it.
Meanwhile, the staff of the Film Academy tells me that it will not be possible to use the dark room with the group because of Covid rules. It could be a good departure point: how to use limitations as a possibility to overcome the everyday use of space and place? We are still in the large projection room; on the upper half of the walls hang large prints portraying black and white photographs taken by Pietro Marubi, the namesake photographer of the Academy. Some students are highly connected to their phones as I talk, and instead of telling them to put them off, I attempt to drag their attention by asking them questions unrelated to their course study. It works partially but not as well as I thought. The only possibility is to ask them to use their phone differently, to think of it otherwise. I start proposing a series of fast actions to observe how they would perform. I also do some with them when I don’t have to answer their questions seeking for a sense or an interpretation of what we are doing.
count 50 steps.
Ready with the camera phone,
take 50 pictures,
legs steady just move the upper part of your body while you take pictures.
One group portrait from 3 different angles.
Find words in the landscape,
Write a sentence with 5 images.
Find an image,
don’t take it.
Write about it for 5 minutes.
While we do the exercises, I wander through the corridors caring for the group to see how they are getting on with this cartography of the school. More posters of important film directors and their films in black and white, objects related to the history of filmmaking, cameras, projectors, adorn the walls. The group stays within the school boundaries. No one attempts to cross them, as if what we are doing can only make sense within the space designed for it.
MDI: When participants start to turn up I let them mingle in social conversations and/or wander around the place. After a few minutes I ask them to gather in a circle where we can all meet and see each other.
I ask the group to recall the journey we took to come to the workshop location: what did they do to get ready? How far did they have to travel? Which mode of transport did they use? Were they in a rush? Did they eat? Did they share the journey with someone? This allows us to share a personal journey and also exercise for orienting oneself within the group geographically (spatial awareness) and emotionally (self-awareness). After, I often suggest bringing the attention to our feet touching the ground to start to move into a process which I call embodied presence.
And I may suggest you to follow the below prompts as well:
Feel the tongue in the cavity of the mouth, feel the taste of it with the softness in the back of the throat.
Look around, noticing the dimension of the space, the distance between you and what is around you.
Go for a short walk in the space, do anything that feels good to do at this moment for your body.
Find a place to be standing and find stillness.
The soles of our feet receive the weight of the body and transfer it to the ground.
One hand on the abdomen, one on the chest.
The movement of our breath under our palms touching the body.
The air from outside comes inside through the nose, enters the lungs through the bloodstream, it reaches each and every cell of your body.
Each cell expands, condenses, breathes.
Hear the sounds of the space around, and within.
With the inbreath, feel the head reaching toward the sky.
Feel the gravity pull towards the centre of the earth: legs are rooting.
With the out-breath, feel the spine floating between your hip joints and the head.
Allow any subtle movement to happen in response to gravity.
We can start to perceive the dance of the body with the gravitational force traversing our body structure. We activated our receptors of sensory stimuli and expanded body-mind awareness. This is only one example of a first step towards the creation of the pre-conditions each individual to trust their body with as little as possible and hopefully without any preconceived ideas or thoughts about how they should be behaving in their body-mind. Each individual will observe their own instantaneous experience of embodied presence.
PHASE III. QUEST
VB: After the exercises, the students are eager to show the images they took and they are eager to project them. I counter-suggest to talk about what they did, and leave the images in the device. The group decides to read what they wrote about the one and last image they did not take. The observation started to change senses. Inside the description there were personal feelings, temperatures and some imaginary perspectives.
We leave the projection room and the surroundings of the Academy, the memories, and the photographs of the prominent film directors are entering our narrative. For the following class I ask permission to take the students outside the school. The week is cold and it is raining most days. Tirana feels colder than it is in the winter.
When the day comes, I find the group under the porch smoking and drinking their first morning coffee. They ask to stay in because of the weather but I’m confident it will stop soon. We depart by taking some rain. They ask me where we were going and I reply I don’t know. I really don’t, as I have a poor sense of orientation which I learn from. I think it could be a good idea to share it. I ask the group to choose a place they like and to stop there. We get into a residential area, characterized by communist-era buildings with red bricks. I ask everyone to form pairs. One covers their eyes and the other has to make sure the partner doesn’t get hurt. At that point the students regret having chosen that area as the residents are curious about what they are doing and keep staring at them, making them feel slightly embarrassed. They keep their phones to help them stay focused and take one image when they feel it is the moment to take one – without seeing it.
The group is focused, but there are also encouraging moments of play and laughter.
After everyone had taken both roles, the blind and the guide, we look for a bar with a space outside where we can sit together and have coffee, the second one in the morning. I ask the group what they think about marriage – a question that seems a bit out of context at first.
What does it mean to make a promise?
How do we perform trust?
Do we reflect on how we trust images whilst we are in the process of producing them?
Before long the group understands why we played the blind and the guide. The spiritual relation with the place that they had while they were blind could not happen without trusting their partner. The quest towards the non-intention begins.
MDI: Somatics is a practice of exploration and integration of the body-mind. It is not a formed system: there is no specific ordering or techniques that determine the work’s application. It is applied in the same way as is gathered – empirically through a process of dynamic observation and experience.
Pedagogically, somatics allows me to respond to momentary situations. A teaching-learning process is generated together with participants. I observe postures, gestures, movements and I perceive what people might need to access ease and awareness in their body. Each person is both learner and learning material with the potential to discover the pathway leading toward new discoveries and transformative potential. I’m attentive to the relational aspects between the smallest levels of activity and the largest movement of the body: inner-outer interplay and cellular presence.
Can we sense the relationship between the cellular movement with our wider movements
and our presence through space?
During a somatic pedagogical experience my main score is to create an environment where our mind is attentive to our-whole-self: between thoughts and cellular movement, including everything in between which each individual can name and identify in an infinite variety of ways. This space between is where we can access our unconscious mind and engage with its expression. Here, we observe our intuitions with the awareness of our potentials and power of choices of movement and actions. Here, the pedagogical process takes us in the place of non-intention.
I let this process last as long as needed by each participant, then I open the possibility to share individual experiences with the whole group, in small groups, or in pairs. I also bring in props or art materials through which participants can draw, write, sculpt or share their experience in any medium or ways they wish, including prelinguistic, non-verbal communication. This allows deep, experiential and relational learning. The space of non-intention opens possibilities for circularity, breath, exchange of knowledge and understanding beyond logic but incarnated with each and every intuition that arises from each individual.
A non-intentional approach can take us (facilitators and participants) to observe our inner knowledge and empower our ability to consider, filter, maintain, criticize, and observe the information given. This way we can relate in our own unique and creative way to what is offered by a learning context.
PHASE IV. THE PLACE OF NON-INTENTION
VB: The next time we enter the projection room after ‘the blind and the guide’ I leave the room dark and ask the group if they minded staying in darkness and silence for a while. They all agree. I’m not sure how long we stay there, and am surprised they do not reclaim their phones or other distractions. After a while one student starts to realize that his pupils are naturally opening up and he can visualize the white screen. Another one hears normally imperceptible bits of sound.
Time flows, indescribable.
Another student stands without us noticing because of the dark – he goes to the piano and plays some notes. Another while passes by. Another student stands, again without us realizing, and starts to recite a poem about place and belonging. When he finishes we are silent, except for a melody from the fine voice of the only female student. Another moment of darkness and silence. A member of staff comes into the projection room asking us if we are done as another class will soon take place here and we cannot not stay any longer.
MDI: Touch – including self-touch – is an irreplaceable medium of attending cellular awareness enabling deep and wide body-mind awareness, an essential precondition to enter the space of non-intention through touch we bring attention to the skin, the largest organ in our body, tissue which contains our body, a thin membrane between us and the world. We can start to relate to space from the senses of touch, proprioception and kinesis.
The skin is the oldest and most sensitive organ, our first medium of communication and our most efficient protector. Even the transparent cornea of our eyes is overlaid by a layer of modified skin. Touch is a sense which through time was articulated into other senses: therefore we can consider it “the mother of senses”.
We can train our perceptions by listening to the places of the body in contact with the floor, the air, textures, densities and qualities. We can feel the weight of the body on the parts that touch the ground, the density and texture of our own body as a tactile landscape itself; we can enter a dialogue with gravity and our proprioception; we can feel our own musculoskeletal systems in a dance of balance, stability and mobility though space. We move, and the space moves us.
The skin guides our journey into observing and exploring our environment embraced by peripheral vision, soft focus and non-intentionality. We are aware that there is an inner landscape we constantly sense and relate with and at the same time we can enter the exploration with the outer landscape and others through the skin. This is a constant unconscious process, a subtle movement, transitioning from one place to another via the skin. In this liminality we can access the space of non-intention: of pure observation and listening to the interior and exterior spaces.
The tactile sense is essential for our experience and understanding of the world, as the unlearning from the dominant sense of vision: a repatterning of our learning process.
I wish we can all meet cities, landscapes, people, ourselves through our skin allowing an experience of interiority in every space we inhabit.
PHASE V. RETURN
VB: We have one camera with a roll of 36 black and white photographs on a film expired in 1995, two years before the Albanian civil war in 1997. The students are too young to remember it. During the first class I asked one of the students particularly connected to his phone what he usually did outside the hours at the academy. He told me he is a boxer. It was January and soon the snow would fall upon Tirana, a rare event which makes everyone go in the streets and take millions of pictures to fill social media feeds. Our boxer is not scared of taking his shirt off despite the cold and we decide he will be the subject of our 36 frames visual narrative subjected to possible failure through the handmade developing process.
I am tired. I did not sleep much the night before, and I am finding a sense of this learning/teaching experience and the frustration of not having more than one and a half hours each week. As much as I try to push the boundaries of space, I cannot move the institutional schedule to break those of time.
Let’s discover how far we can go from here; or, better, how long we can hold on to the non-intention. I meet the group at the entrance of the school. Some are late but others are connecting with them to join us wherever we will go. On the way towards the Academy there ares the headquarters of a local television and on the opposite side a gigantic park for broken cars which can be reached from different directions. We cannot easily find the fastest way and when we finally manage to get there, it is already time to go back to the Academy. We want to try at least to get in and look at what’s inside. We try different entrances and we are rejected in all of them until we find a special one, which had also rejected us, but around it a liminal space was partially open for us to work together, or we will, for the next rendezvous.
MDI: The craft begins: creating postures, poetics of breath, sensed visions, optical transparency though never-ending layers of observations and tactile existences.
 Tirana’s Kinostudio (Film studio) – official name: Kinostudio Shqipëria e Re – was founded in 1952, and its first film was an Albanian-Russian co-production called “Skanderbeg”. The Cinematographic Albanian studios “New Albania”, since 1992 known as Albafilm, closed in 1996, leaving a legacy of circa 200 films, most of which are propaganda films. The historic building that once housed the studio still stands, a beautiful temple-like architectural landmark surrounded by carefully manicured gardens. Today, the building is used by a number of Albanian television companies.
 The Academy of Film & Multimedia Marubi was funded in 2004 by Albanian film Director Kujtim Çashku. To know more about the school visit the WEBSITE
 To know more about the legacy of Pietro Marubi visit the WEBSITE
Digging into archives and communities, Valentina Bonizzi’s work highlights issues of politics of narration by learning from specific contexts. Bonizzi holds a Master of Research in Visual Practices from Glasgow School of Art and a PhD (AHRC funded) from the University of Dundee (Visual Research Centre) for which she was nominated for the AHRC best research in film award. She has taken part in exhibitions in galleries and museums internationally and she is the winner of the 2019 Gjon Mili Biennial & Award curated by João Ribas at the National Gallery of Kosovo, in Pristina. Bonizzi has notably published on the “Journal for Flusser Studies” What Legitimates Photography? (2015); the Mauritius Catalogue at the 56th Venice Biennale: When You Realised You Were a: White. European. Male (2016), and more recently with La Belle Revue, The Potentials of Being Unfit, 3 stories and a finale from Tirana (2020).
Monica De Ioanni
Monica De Ioanni is a dance artist, performer, and educator working in the UK and internationally. She develops her work site-specifically with an approach to performance referring to Third Theatre and Body-mind practices. De Ioanni studied atISTA – International School of Theatre Anthropology and she trained in contemporary dance with Merav Israel and Julie Stanzac (Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal). She worked with Augusto Omolu from ODIN TEATRET Nordisk Teaterlaboratorium, Goossun Art-illery theatre, London. De Ioanni qualified in Somatic Movement Education at The School for BODY-MIND CENTERING and she is a registered professional member of the International Somatic Movement Education and Therapy Association (ISMETA). She is one of the founders of LaNua -Movement and Improvisation (2004 – 2014) and a member of Théâtre de la Camelote (France).