The world around us is in flux. With each passing day it feels as if we move further away from fixed structures and predictable phenomena, upsetting preferred modes of interaction with the world. Such growing uncertainty plays havoc with normal input-process-output models for interacting with the world, through which we construct meaning from external stimuli and use them to plan our behaviours and responses.
The Body Weather (2021) project took the experience of risk as its starting point and invited participants to describe their perceptual imaginaries and visceral reactions to an uncertain and ambiguous threat. By capturing these “naive” descriptions, it sought to construct a prototype visceral language of the perceptual experience of risk. Moving beyond the traditional categorical measures of ambiguous (and unpleasant) stimuli used by the medical community, such as the visual analogue scale, Body Weather makes use of the full palette of perception to create a more embodied representation of responses to risk.
Drawing on the Japanese performance practices of Butoh and Body Weather, the relationships between bodies and their environment, speculative futures and neuroscience, Stine Marie Jacobsen worked with researcher Aleks Berditchevskaia to playfully recast a labatorial space in response to an imagined pandemic. Privileging situated, embodied understanding, the work questions the ‘objectivity’ of assessing risk, and the interpretation of science and research activities in relation to everyday experience. The future method of speculative design is used to create a plausible scenario for participants to explore these questions.
“Like sticky jelly candies or gummy bears which have been in water too long. It looks hard. It’s spinning. The virus has a spiral around it. Like a larva, like an incubator. A cocoon. Like a spider. The virus is inside the spider web. The inside of the virus looks like some sort of jelly. The virus is inside and it’s protecting itself. It has a plan. It’s not sleeping – it just looks like it’s sleeping. It’s a little bit more simple than the other one. It has more vibrations. I think it tries to find the form of us humans. Like an egg that wants to hatch. It’s fascinating because it’s changing all the time, and I don’t know what will happen next. I think it’s, it’s so intelligent, that it will one day be able to change our reproduction. Like the genitals or the reproduction cell. Maybe the virus is the beginning of a new Genesis for humankind. I don’t mean we humans won’t exist anymore, but maybe the virus has a plan”.
(Stine Marie Jacobsen, Body Weather, 2021, quote from the animation film).
For the first part of Body Weather, a group of participants (aged between 30 and 60) were transported into the speculative fiction using a world-building object: in this case a news article about an imagined future pandemic. After establishing this foundation for the speculative world, Jacobsen delivered a narrative that cast participants in the role of research subjects presented with three isolated virus mutations. They were told these could be transmitted through air, touch, and food; and were then asked to describe their visceral reactions and sensory experience of the mutations in colour and shape. Mindful of established research that points to the priming of perceptual associations through the Bouba/Kiki effect, the participants were asked to describe their raw sensory reactions in response to the narrative without any visual or object cues.
Building on the discussions and sensory portraits created by the participants, an animated film was produced, and given its premiere at an event in March 2021.