Text: Bill Psarras © 2014
In her book ‘Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory‘ (1995), Lucy Lippard describes an ambulatory practice related with emotion from Eskimos tradition. In particular, ‘an Eskimo [Inuit] custom offers an angry person release by walking the emotion out of his or her system in a straight line across the landscape; the point at which the anger is conquered is marked with a stick, bearing witness to the strength or length of the rage‘.
Recalling American psychologist William James (1884), emotions are ‘the subjective experience of physiological changes within our bodies‘ – yet emotions vary across different social and cultural contexts. What has also to be clarified is the difference between affects, feelings and emotions. Following Massumi (1987; also Shouze, 2005), affect is non-conscious experience, it cannot be fully expressed through language as it is outside our consciousness (what Spinoza termed affectus). On the other hand, feeling is something personal with a biographical attitude – based on a previous similar experience. Finally, emotion is a social projection of our feeling, which its projection is influenced by social and cultural factors.
Returning to the Eskimos’ example of walking their anger out through a straight line across the landscape – it is interesting how walking contributes in such spatial dimension of emotion. Feet and body – the kinesis – across the landscape becomes the channel of expression. Of course, it is not only the movement across space but the durative character. The walking of emotion is a very special way of expression in Eskimos. As mentioned above, we are all influenced and influence within a web of invisible affects – we all experience feelings of happiness, joy, fear, melancholy, anger. However, there are cultural differences on the expression of emotion as others shout, scream, cry, re-act or perform / spatialize it in different ways.
What I could add is that the Eskimos tradition of walking their anger out is deeply connected with a spatialization of it through the traversed landscape where the socialization (emotion) of their feelings becomes a spatio-temporal experience. It is performed and expressed through two primordial elements: the feet and a line. It is an action with potential poetic, spiritual and symbolic implications – if we think Earth’s geological surface as a landscape inscribed by myriads of emotional expressions. To walk our emotion out, is a matter of time – something I also explored in my walking-based work (Emotive Circle, 2013). It is a sensory process of reflection and repetition, an almost personal pilgrimage that each unnoticed detail of walked line becomes one more fragment to the spatialization of emotional experience. Emotions constitute an inner geological shift with friction – resembling earth’s becoming. Varying emotional earthquakes deep in ourselves that become expressed; changing bodily and outer landscapes.
- James, W. (1884). What is an emotion? Mind, 9, 188–205.
- Massumi, B. (1987). Notes on the Translation. In Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
- Shouse, E. (2005). ‘Feeling, emotion, affect’ M/C Journal 8(6) [online].
- Bill Psarras (2013). Emotive Circle, 43:47, audiovisual walking performance.