Embodied knowledge captures those thought processes that emerge when the brain and the rest of the body come together in a meeting of minds: the cerebral mind’s metacognitive eye coupled with the corporal intuitive wordless thoughts. The brain is not a vat of knowledge that works in isolation, depending on a mutually beneficial relationship with the body. They interact with the world and are shaped by the environment they inhabit because all thoughts move, whether they are wordless images or they are pictures and sounds that are accompanied by words. The environment affects the way in which these thoughts move, influenced by the substrate, the morphology, the atmosphere, the ambience…
Thoughts shimmer and change through space and time, depending on our emotional well being and our current perspective, capturing fleeting moments in the active process of memory and mental time travel~ travelling backwards and forwards in the mind’s eye to reflect upon the past, inventing new futures and creating new ways of thinking. Sometimes these strategies are deliberate and mindful, where the brain has conscious access to the thoughts we create; but sometimes these thoughts arise de novo as a result of unexpected triggers which may be manifest as insight and intuition, created through improbable connections and surprising parallels, and sometimes the body knows these things long before the mind is afforded conscious access to them.
The body remembers as well as the brain and therefore it is interesting to contrast those two types of memory. Psychologists differentiate between procedural memory (body memory/corporal thoughts), and declarative memory (mental memory/cerebral thoughts). With procedural memory, the body acquires the knowledge of what to do and how, but there doesn’t have to be conscious access to the process through which the information was acquired. By contrast, declarative memory depends on conscious access, when the mind is well aware of what it knows and remembers. Mental time travel is an especially important process because it allows us to constantly reconfigure our memories and thoughts, supporting our need to contextualize the present and make it our own, because it is controlled and constrained by who we are – past, present and future – and in turn it creates our identity, our sense of self and a sense of self-involvement. As the famous American psychologist William James remarked “For a memory to become my memory, to own it, requires more than the mere dating of a fact in the past. It must be dated in my past.”
A powerful way of experiencing these features of memory is through movement, and especially through contemporary dance and other forms of conceptual art. This ‘mental time travel’ feature of memory makes it great for creativity, allowing us to think outside the box, engage in divergent thought and explore new ideas. However, there is a downside to this process. Our memories are not accurate repositories of what really happened.
There is another feature of memory that is all about movement, namely suppleness. We use the past to create the future, and when we recall the past it is the suppleness of our imagination that allows us to create and recreate those memories. This is a powerful creative tool, particularly when the physical suppleness of a dancer meets the cognitive suppleness of the mind. It is this physical and cognitive suppleness that allows the dancer to engage with the choreographer (the person who invents the dance) in a deep sense.
So memory is not static, nor is it just focused on the past. It is forward-looking not backward, and it is flexible not fixed, which is precisely what allows it to be supple. These ideas are the very things that are expressed in Mark Baldwin’s masterful art. All of the images move in the mind of the viewer because even static images can capture movement, and they can tell a story, reminiscent of the paintings of lions and horses in the caves of Chauvet and Lascaux created by our early ancestors to capture the vitality of the living form. Mental time travel is an essential feature of the human mind, one that may have originated before our ability to read and write.
Mark’s art is all about ideas and why and how they move. His creative process reveals the complexities of how to use a transferable skill across domains~ the conceptual visual artist, the choreographer, the Renaissance man inspired by science and the arts: they are both the same and different.
Movement in Mind
Mark Baldwin and Nicky Clayton have been collaborating for the past ten years, exploring the exciting commonalities between science and art, about ideas expressed through the medium of movement. For Mark it’s about the dancer and the choreographer; for Nicky it’s about the crow and the scientist fascinated by their manners and movements. There are in fact many parallels in the practice of an artist and a scientist: they use different tools and methods of inquiry, but many of the questions remain the same. How can we represent complex abstract ideas through the medium of movement without the need for words to represent and explain these things? What might mental time travel be like in the absence of words, and what kinds of evidence might we look for in such an endeavour?
What happens when our worlds meet and we create something new together? Typically for us these are ideas that have inspired seven new choreographic works including “Comedy of Change” to celebrate Darwin’s bicentennial and the 150th anniversary of “On the Origin of Species” or “Seven for a secret never to be told” with its emphasis on the importance of play for cognitive development in young children and other animals, notably crows or “The Creation”, which was inspired by the origins of life in the universe. These ideas of our mutual ways of working are expressed pictorially in this series of watercolours painted by Mark, ideas that evolved mutually from Mark and Nicky’s discussions, questions that grew and emerged organically through a decade of exploring and playing with ideas together.
Movement in Mind investigates the creative process through a series of open-ended questions, in the hope of inspiring new questions and new ways of thinking and working.