Shrinking and Expanding Space

Since mid-March 2020, the space in which I physically move around has shrunk to an area of about 6 square kilometers. It stretches from Hasenheide in the North, along Hermannstraße to the East, down to the end of Oderstraße in the South, crossing Tempelhofer Feld towards Columbiadamm and up to into Lilienthalstraße in the North-West.

For a month now, I’ve been roaming and exploring this territory. And surprisingly – or maybe not surprisingly – even though I’ve lived here for eight years, I’m discovering it now anew. I walk along paths I’ve never walked before. I sit on spots I’ve never sat on before. I look at things I’ve never looked at before. Every now and then, I circle my territory by running around its outline, in competition with myself and with time.

This morning, while roaming and exploring my flat, I looked at the spaces between the grooves of the radiator in my kitchen, and I discovered that they were dirty. Sticky dust has accumulated there over the past years because the vacuum cleaner doesn’t fit into the narrow gaps.

Anyway, now it’s clean.

The sky in the window above the radiator looks clean, too.

Surprisingly – or maybe not surprisingly – since the territory which I occupy as a moving body has shrunk, my inner space has expanded. I’m roaming and exploring myself, and I’m discovering movements of body, thought, and emotion that I’ve never looked at before. I wonder if my inner space is actually endless. I mean, actually endless. This is where I experience the boundaries of my imagination. I’ve also experienced my inner space as being narrow, at times. Many times.

The best location to expand space is the cemetery Lilienthalstraße in the North-West corner of my territory. It was built between 1938 and 1941. Initially, it was meant to bury and honor the soldiers of the German Wehrmacht, but then it became the grave for thousands of people that died in the bombings in 1945. So many bodies. So many lives. Again, the boundaries of my imagination. I wonder if I’m supposed to feel that this is a sad place. I don’t feel that. At this moment in time, it is a peaceful place. It’s where the noises of the city, like construction sites roaring, sirenes howling, cars growling, children screaming, church bells ringing, dogs barking, people chatting, music playing, train doors beeping, mute into a distant murmur. It’s where I hear a woodpecker pecking, crows crowing, a squirrel rummaging in the bush, birds singing, wind passing through the trees. It’s where I hear sounds. It’s where I have space. Sometimes, I walk along the long rows of gravestones, and I read all the names. Reaching out into these past lives makes me feel I’m expanding in time. I mean, actually expanding.

I wonder what kind of space is the internet. Is it a space that we inhabit or a space that inhabits us? The Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan thought of technology as a means to extend human body parts. In the 1960s, he predicted that humankind would eventually invent a technology to connect us all globally, and that would thus function as our collective nervous system. Damn, Marshall!! Not even Jesus or Mohamed topped that prophecy.

If the internet is a tool that extends our internal individual nervous systems into an external collective one, I wonder if we have already learned how to use that tool. I mean, if you don’t know how to use a hammer, that’s bad, right? But in fact, we also don’t know how to ‘use’ our internal nervous system the way we know how to use our hands. It just operates on its own agenda, sending and receiving and uploading and archiving and erasing data. It’s a highly complex system and highly sensitive as well. Nervous, indeed.

I wonder what kind of space we have created with this blog—one for sharing and communicating, for sure. But I cannot quite grasp yet what this is, how it works, what it means.

As a dance artist, I know well that the blog cannot replace dancing and performing in front of a three-dimensional, physically present audience. We are experts of sensation, experts of listening into our bodies and the ones present, experts in understanding the space, experts in making something happen with the information we receive at the moment.

As a curator of this festival, I’ve reacted to a given situation – ‘no public events allowed’ – with a merely practical decision: A decision that enables us to carry forward with what we’ve started, a decision that justifies paying fees, a decision that keeps us all occupied.

And now, as a human being thrown into this experiment, I feel the decision is more extensive than I was aware of at first. I feel that I actually feel the people involved. I feel care, responsibility, and love. I feel a space for reflection opening, both individual and collective. I feel timid; I feel proud.

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4 months ago

Wow, a beautiful description of why graveyards feel so special!

Makes me think of this particular set of streets around Westhafen/Nordufer that I noticed recently really appeal to me. They are not filled with trees, animals and grass, but rather with industrial buildings, Grossmärkte, and car dealerships. For a while, I pondered why I felt so at ease in that environment. It brought to mind some sprawling industrial neighborhoods that I used to biked around in San Francisco. These big, old, falling-apart buildings and empty streets. This sense of freedom and openness. And then I realized that it is the lack of people that made me feel so comfortable. Even alone in my apartment, I can sense the presence of the people in the apartments around me. Beyond hearing sounds/voices and smelling food, I feel the presence of the people restricting my body. I should be relatively quiet, so I don’t sing or scream or stomp or play music too loudly/often. I should be careful not to walk around naked when my lights are on and it’s dark outside so that the neighbor (across the courtyard and two floors up) doesn’t keep on watching me from his window. Windows facing windows. I can make my room as beautiful and comfortable as possible, but I will still never feel totally 100% at ease there. Or in any apartment perhaps. Unless it’s in an industrial area, where when you look at the big block buildings, you know that there is nothing inside except space and things. No people. And now I realize that this is similar to the feeling I get in graveyards, which is funny to say because really they are filled with people.