What are the movements of our perception? How does perception engage our body? Do we see only with our eyes? Or do we absorb the surroundings with all of our senses? Most of all, perhaps, we connect through the kinesthetic; sensing the relationship between our embodied selves with space, time, other humans and more-than-humans, and the environment. The body integrates all of our senses, as well as emotions, thoughts and relationships. It is an instrument through which we connect.

This text will map the choreographies with which Zorka Wollny composes movements, senses and bodies in her artistic practice. In simplest terms, choreography involves composing movement and conceiving the relationships between bodies in time and space. Howewer, I will focus on choreography in its expanded notion, showing how the artist uses the social in the relation to the choreographic to make political claims on the arts as temporary spheres of freedom, dissent, protest, resistance.

Embodied in the figure of a master dancer imposing specific sequences, choreography historically has been an instrument for enforcing ideology and the dominant order, given its origins in the royal courts1. Choreography is understood here as an embodied apparatus. A framework for regulating the relationship between the ideological, the political, the social, the intimate, and the cultural components of our actions and our relationships with our environment. Choreography possesses emancipatory potential. In contemporary practices, choreography becomes the „polarizing performative and physical force that organizes the whole distribution of the sensible and of the political at the level of the play between incorporation and excorporation, between command and demand, between moving and writing. As these are central elements for all performance composition.”2 Today we understand choreography not only as the composition of movement of bodies in time and space, but also as a means to practice affective relations, generated primarily by parameters of affection, intimacy and empathy. As a means of controlling attention, choreography also can become a medium for experimenting with new practices of multisensual perception; a medium for political awareness. How do we adjust our own perception in conjunction with other bodies? How do we react to stimuli? And how do we process sensual cues? Are we fully aware of what regulates our attention? What are the qualities of our presence?

Bodies in the Museum

How do we know that we are witnessing a performance? Are we aware of how our bodies behave at a museum? What happens when our gaze slides slowly from the art work to the person that we are passing by while moving to see the next painting? Where does this behavior come from?

Let’s set the scene: In a museum, two young people are observing artworks while moving rhythmically. There’s a slight bend in the right knee, tilting the head slightly to the left, moving the gaze closer to see an interesting detail; then taking one step back to grasp the entire composition.

Wollny made her first museum performance in 2006, at the National Museum in Krakow3. Within this work she explored the relationship of bodies in museum spaces, observing closely the movements of viewers. She conducted a two-month research phase, scoring the piece with precise exercises for the performers. Based on observations of these repeated actions, she revised the piece by adding some slight interaction with the public. The score stated: „Watch the fragment of the exposition, pay attention to how your body behaves (a tempo of your movements, hands gestures, the way you approach the art piece, the way you bend over and straighten up)” and “see the same fragment again repeating your previous behavior – buck off, try to recall precisely what you’ve already seen. Are you able to watch carefully and ‚remembering yourself’ at the same time?” As we can see, the work is based on attention, observation and memory of one’s behavior. The choreographic tools work in delicate balance here, showing the ways in which one can compose their own behavior with full awareness and all the while appearing neutral. An important aspect of the score were suggestions to influence viewer behavior: „look at the object so carefully that you focus attention of others on it”, „try to trigger movements of other visitors around you” or „make a visitor next to you feel a bit uneasy”. Those indications prompt questions about the interactions between people in social spaces, such as museums, where from the beginning they must conform to institutional norms. As Wollny stated in an interview: „The Museum had an open character, based on the behavior of people in the institution, everyone actually played the role of a performer in the finale, every incidental event became part of it, and at the same time it was up to the visitors to decide what was a performance and what was not. The dancers’ task was only to emphasize certain things, to point out certain moments in order to focus the visitors’ attention and outline the rhythmic and choreographic nature of the museum situation.”4
This performance and two that followed – Polish Walk for the Collection of 20th and 21st Century Art5 (Muzeum Sztuki, Łódź, 2007) and Six Silhouettes Against the Background of a Collection6 (Muzeum Sztuki, Łódź, 2009) – tested the behavioral boundaries of what is allowed in the museum spaces; what is permitted and what is seen as even a slight threat to the safety of art works and visitors. Wollny gives directions that jolt viewers out of their usual and comfortable behavior in order to test the boundaries of those norms. Six Silhouettes Against the Background of a Collection was performed after the museum’s opening hours – viewers observed it though windows from a staircase connecting the three-floor gallery spaces that hold its avant-garde collection7. In the documentation we see the lifts and Contact Improvisation8 duets. It is well-composed, with movements that take place in the exhibition. But this time, we, as the public, are not amongst the performers. We can observe from a distance, through the glass that makes the museum’s choreographies more evident. We see it clearly, as on a screen, in real time. In these performances, Wollny treats institutional space as a social laboratory, using it to observe, analyze and make apparent structures and parameters of human behavior and interactions. She is rehearsing possibilities for the slightest disruptions.

Social Bodies of Labour and Protest

„Choreography is with me when I’m working with music and also when I’m working on demonstrations with sound,” Wollny told an interviewer. “I’m using it a lot because when I’m composing for a certain building I have to plan every move – where people are at a certain time and what actions they take.”9 She uses choreography to compose through bodies the sounds, movements, and their effects within a given space and time.

In other performances, she works with post-industrial spaces to address the issue of labour. With the materiality of a particular industry reflected in the effect that the performance had on its audience. Staged in the Gdańsk shipyard, Song at Work10 (2011) used efficiencyand ed itquietinterludes toat ,hersound aIn 2015’s an, in 2015 she arranged the viewers’ passage passed between through successive rooms in which the performers were interpreteding the different conditions of labour, in the past and in present. The choreography of the viewers transitions around the building reflected the nature of the textile industry as viewers became participants, weaving – we were the ones to intertwine the compositions’ elements in its progression as we were moving though the abandoned building.; intertwined with the piece’s compositional elements.

In the museum pieces, that I have recalled in the previous section of the text the performers were mute, submerged in the quotidian sounds of the exhibition spaces as. Zorka Wollny was testing the choreographic tools with the focused on the bodies and its movement. Adding the sound and enabling performers to use their voices fully unfoldedrevealed the political potential of her work; e. Especially when it comes to the its affective impact that it had on the viewers. Working in post-industrial buildings and on the streets allowed her to merge the political, affective, social and aesthetic even more strongly.

In Oratorio for Orchestra and Warsaw Citizens’ Choir11, Song of Resistance12, Impossible Opera13 and Polyphonic Manifesto,14 she worked with performers, , musicians, as well as and citizens inof Warsaw, Oldenburg andor Istanbul to explore the potentiality of social choreographies. As sociologist and dance theorist Gabrielle Klein summarized: „In my understanding, the concept of social choreography means creating a connection between the social and the aesthetic by attributing to the aesthetic a fundamental role in the description of the political and the social. Choreography is here understood as a performative structuring of body practices in time and space, as an analytical category that allows reflection of the social, as well as exposing the relationships between the aesthetic and the political, both in art and politics. (…) Choreographies do not exist separate from social norms and structures, but instead perform them. The concept of social choreography therefore does not primarily explore the social aspect of choreography in the sense of a social aspect of aesthetics. Instead social choreography broaches the issue of the aesthetics of the social as the organization of bodies in time and space”15.

Which bodies are forced to move? Wand which bodies can choose when and where to move? Who and what is dictating the parameters of that movement? Which moving bodies are genuinely visible to us? and Wwhat is the ethical dimension of the attention we give to some bodies but not to the others?

With her collaborative practice, ZorkaWollny is able to stage and analyze the dynamics of social tensions. She proposes a powerful ways to voice and embody the discords, hopes, doubts, angers and fear,s while letting us not only imagine but rehearse, the alternative ways of being together and relating to each other. She is very precise and elaborate to when integratinge the tools of choreography in the realms of theboth museum and the streets. With her public performances, Zorka Wollny amplifies the voices of the vulnerable, precarious and unheard. Choreography givesave her the tools to create build a supporting structure for the safe spaces, even for a brief moment, for those embodied voices and voicesbodies to appear. even if temporarily in the public spaces.

ThMoste inspirational value of the inspiring relationship between visual art and choreography lies precisely in posing questions on about how our bodies perceive and experience how we perceive and experience the everyday surroundings. with our whole bodies? Zorka Wollny works with parameters of space, time, bodily presence, voice and sound in order to reveal the political potential of embodied attention. She creates fragile qualities and structures that enable for the emancipatory communities to emerge, even if temporarily. As dramaturge and researcher Anka Herbut precisely put it,observed, the questionsthe for the full potentiality of merging the choreographic and the political must answer the following as a measure of its full potential are: „What remains of a fragile and ephemeral community when the crowd disperses? What happens to its very resistance? To which areas does it move and how is it further used? How do we prolong its action?”16 The eEmancipatory potential of bodily practices lies in the processual and attentive examination of the relationship between bodies and the way in which they are in tune in with their environment. How Wollny’s work shows us how we can we reshape the way we absorb experiences so that we may be liberated from sexualthe heteronormative, capitalist and patriarchal norms.? Her art enables us to How can we stay strong and resilient as we exert, havingan emancipatory influence on the shaping of how our future.

Katarzyna Słoboda, January 2023