Thank You! by Nathan Webster

Thank you to all who came to our performances series "A Tonal Caress" at Utah Museum of Fine Arts this last weekend! A few photos below by David Newkirk...



Empathy is the language we mammals use to communicate with one another, before the strange ways we bend meaning into words and arguments. When you think about words and animals, words suddenly seem like a strange arrogance we humans use to draw a line. Like our species’ VIP rope so we can sit up here by ourselves. Words can be a strange form of dominance. We have this emotional hotline of the body, but use words to cordon ourselves off even from other humans. We pretend we are different from people who come from other cultures, or speak different languages.

Dance hops the rope of language. When I watch dance, or a good visual storyteller, I feel it faster than I can make words to describe it. Watching dance, there’s a string of communications that I really can’t take in with words-- it’s not about words. There is something that even the most beautifully crafted, carefully chosen words can’t do that lives in the realm of gestural communication. The line gesture has into us is faster, more immediate, and more directly connected to our deep animal understanding of each other. Empathy is experienced through gesture. We reflexively talk with our hands--it’s like an emotional subtext I give you to show you what I really mean as I say this string of clumsy verbs and nouns.

Listening and watching are as closely linked as the head and the heart.

MIRRORING - by Amie Tullius, on A Tonal Caress by Nathan Webster

Gesture, it turns out, is a key element to empathy. If you get hurt, my body winces. My body reacts to your body’s movement. I’m not forming these thoughts into words and sentences and arguments. I want to tell you that our bodies understand all of this before our minds do-- I want to say that as I’m watching dance, or his hands, there is a conversation that is bypassing my head and happening directly with my body. But all that is mediated through neurons in the brain. Mirror neurons, they call them.

“We use our body to communicate our intentions and our feelings," says Marco Iacoboni of the UCLA Brain Mapping Center. "The gestures, facial expressions, body postures we make are social signals, ways of communicating with one another. Mirror neurons are the only brain cells we know of that seem specialized to code the actions of other people and also our own actions. They are obviously essential brain cells for social interactions. Without them, we would likely be blind to the actions, intentions and emotions of other people. The way mirror neurons likely let us understand others is by providing some kind of inner imitation of the actions of other people, which in turn leads us to “simulate” the intentions and emotions associated with those actions. When I see you smiling, my mirror neurons for smiling fire up, too, initiating a cascade of neural activity that evokes the feeling we typically associate with a smile. I don’t need to make any inference on what you are feeling, I experience immediately and effortlessly (in a milder form, of course) what you are experiencing."


Liz Ivkovich List: A Tonal vs Atonal by Nathan Webster

A Tonal Caress

- a hands-on adjustment during hot yoga
- my 2-year-old's morning breath
- the coffeepot’s moans and drips
- Gregorian chants
- stumbling into a Drake song on the radio
- text notifications
- Jo’s belly laugh
- anybody's belly laugh
- making people laugh
- red wine, decanting

Atonal Caress

- wind chimes that clink together
- Hershey’s chocolate kisses
- side hugs
- accidentally giving a side hug when someone is giving me a frontal hug
- hugging people (side or front) when I don’t feel like being touched
- voicemails
- texts that are just appointment reminders
- cold stethoscopes
- nighttime noise machines
- when people play the guitar like they’re leading a praise and worship song
- my 6-year-old's morning breath
- my 6-year-old turning the TV up too loud
- George W. Bush massaging Angela Merkel’s shoulders at the G8 summit

Liz Ivkovich, on SCALE by Nathan Webster

My Grandma once broke up with a boyfriend because he brought a book to breakfast. 

She’d met him online during the eHarmony boom. After a few dates, he was invited to spend the weekend at her Mid Michigan bungalow. On Saturday morning she made eggs and coffee to share. And this is where I guess it fell apart -- he sat across the table with a book in his hand. 

It’s never the sex, is it? It’s the weight of a thousand tiny moments of drifting attention. 

In 1993, a core of bedrock was drilled from beneath the thickest part of the Greenland ice sheet. These are the only rocks ever taken from that place. Joerg Schaeffer’s equipment wasn’t sensitive enough to gather the climate data he knew the minerals contained. He waited. (I wonder, did his attention drift?) Decades later, he finally knows what the rocks know; that a million years ago, when the Earth was as warm as it soon will be, these rocks met the sun. 

This tiny rock under that magnificent sheet of ice means a few degrees Fahrenheit means a melted ice sheet means 23 feet of sea level rise. No climate predictions have accounted for this. (I apologize for sounding apocalyptic.) 

Small things at orders of magnitude become unimaginably heavy. Our thousand drifting attentions carry us from breakfast to breakfast on this planet that exists in millennia. The pace at which we live is a matter of incompatible scale. 

But I can’t comprehend millennia, I live in urgencies and soundbites and five-minute intervals.

Constantly in search of something to anchor me in a scale of time that is not my own. Today there is the way the light hits your nose across the table, the gravel of your voice, the weight of your head in my hand.

The above text is by Liz Ivkovich as part of a series on communication, related to NOW-ID performance A Tonal Caress.

Fruit and Not Fruit:  by Nathan Webster

Imagine the most fruit-like fruit you can imagine. We all have these archetypal fruits, like pictures on wooden toys for toddlers that make up the blocks with which we organize the world. Which of these things are alike? Which of these things do not belong? 

Once I saw a picture of a window full of cakes in a bakery in Korea. There was a chocolate cake in the display case covered in strawberries, raspberries, and cherry tomatoes. I can not tell you why, but I can tell you this-- vehemently-- my whole body will tell you this: tomatoes do not belong on chocolate cakes. 

Weirdly, someone studied this. They found that our internal ideal fruit becomes the fruit against which all others are measured. The further you get from the picture in your mind of the archetypal fruit around which all other fruits revolve, the less fruitlike the fruit seems to you. This is a kind of measurement-- in our gut we each know the distance between a banana and a kumquat. In the Red Delicious solar system, the cherry tomato has to fight for even Pluto status. 

It seems benign, this produce tribalism, until you are not talking about fruit anymore. 

The above text is by Amie Tullius, as part of a series on communication, related to NOW-ID performance A Tonal Caress.