I am sitting in an old church that is now a performance space. The light is dimmed and through the audience members in front of me, I see three large monitors in front of the red brick walls of the church. A red carpet with ornamental structures lies in front of the monitors. The monitors are depicting an introduction: they shory the visually generated fragments of the memory of an artificial consciousness that remembers humans after a relocation from earth into space. Then, into the moving images, a human body figure enters the carpet, lays down. It utters fragmented narrations – the voice is metallic and multilayered, the words hard to perceive. As fragmanted as the speech is the movement: quick, fragmented patterns, robotic movement patterns. They captivate my eyes through the rhythmic repetition of movement that is marked by isolated bodily motion, interruptions and moments of freezing. The words are uttered and echo in space; sometimes the body on the carpet seems so light as if it is barely touching it - and only mildly exposed to gravity. The repetitive moving errupts from the body, just as the fragments of speech are. My eyes flicker; I switch to the slowly changing images on the monitors that stand in contrast to the moving figure but extend its utterances into a spatial dimension. An artificial memory with its own order, an assemblage of memories that switches from virtual reconstructions of museal rooms with sculptures and paintings and abstact moving forms that break the rooms apart. Sometimes I notice the audience members in front and next to me, they switch sitting positions or the angle of their head, there is ongoing movement that I recognize. Then my gaze moves back to the figure. While concentrating on it, the video installation flow in their abstract spatial dis/orders and sprawl over the monitors. Over time, it seems as if space itself is turning around the figure on the carpet.

The piece ARK 1 is a “post-human fiction about the visions and hallucinations of an artificial consciousness”, describes Sadler herself. It is an immersive melting together of the performance space in its materiality, the bodies of the audience in their (all too human) non-stillness and constant movement, the soundscape created by the figure SLS (Synthetic Life Systems) on the carpet and the video installation with its factual and multidimensional graphic movement. The piece is about 40 minutes, and over time, l am captured by this performative invoking of an artificial consciousness; When I exit, I feel all the more: “Surely nothing had happened but time”. But what about this piece has entered into my consciousness, my memory?

ARK 1 is a piece that triggers dis_orientation – which is a notion that I have been using as an analytical tool again and again: What do I see, feel, perceive? What are/were my expectations?  How does this encounter intervene into my perceptive habits? What are moments in which my orientations crack? Or: When is something happening?

“Surely nothing had happened but time” [1] – it was time that happened in this piece, a moment to moment attentiveness on my side, a moment to moment de_composition as performative fiction.

I want to take this experience as an entrypoint into thinking about what an aesthetic experience is and how it may be not only a momentous epiphany or experience but how we could regard it rather as a ‘being towards the world’. Aesthetic experience, often held to be the aim of arts education, is based on a sensual exposure to and interaction with the world, a (transformative) experience of the self-world-relation.[2] Its foundation is the embodied ‘being towards the world’, the living and lived body as site of encounter with the world. Aesthetic comes from the word ‘aisthesis’ which describes sense-mediated perception and is a way to conceive of the immediacy of perceptive processes. In this way, the processes of perceiving marks an embodied presence that is responsive to its surrounding - and is a way of knowing. In this process, the sense-based and bodily experiences are not only a continuous responding to situations, they are also transformed into an embodied memory. They become the materiality of the body and constitute our experience of the world as a cyclic continuum of experience and embodied memories:

Sense-based embodied experience is a continuous worldmaking.

However, perception as multi-sensorial responsive process is not to be understood as bound to individuals, more so it is constituted by and entangled with a collectively shared repertoire of practice-based de_sensibilisations of perceiving.[3] As such, the continual process of sensual perception is as much bound to a single body as it is collective. The experiences and memories both are embedded in a social field of im_possibilities and social orders. They are oriented as Sara Ahmed argues (2006). Historical, social and biographical dimensions of experience intra-act, they are co-constitutive. This brings me back to the piece ARK 1: the created human figure performs as an artificial consciousness which is composed by an archive. We realize that its archive – or memory – is as fictional as it is precisely the creative force of a reality. And this is captured too well by SLS on stage in the following two phrases:

"Everything is more vivid in the place where you are now." 

„It must be remembered that you are not yet in that real place.”

The statements can co-exist and do not erase each other. As audience, I took both utterances as momentary captivations of SLS’s experience. The utterances are reminders that my embodied experience, too, is an intricate web of memory, perception and material environments that intra-act and have a performativity. My way of knowing, as mentioned above, can crack and be altered by this performance. I exited St. Elisabeth - from the performance space into daylight - in a haze in which the atmospheric experience of the piece diffused into the observation of my immediate surrounding. They merged and propelled me into a space of wonder: How does the light feel in my eyes? How do the bodies around me move? How do they orient themselves? How do I begin to walk and how do I feel the ground echo through my spine?

It was this wonder that dis_oriented my ‘being towards the world’ – as a moment and a reminder of the potential of exposing oneself. Was it the memories, the sensual perceptions, imagination that were creating this moment?

I remember how I thought: “Time is contained in its memory” – Time is passing, but it finds a rhythm in the memory and experience of a (fictional) body. Is aesthetic experience then only momentary? Yes and no. It is based on the sedimentations of past experiences and collective de_sensibilisations and yet it is a time of becoming aware of the process and performativity of their working. It is an experience of perceiving 'in the making' - and the piece ARK 1 expressed just that: Perception is oriented, but in a state of wonder, moments of dis_orientation may generate other ways of sensing and perceiving the world.

[1] All citations, except when marked differently, are part of the piece „ARK 1“ by Colette Sadler, Tanz im August: 13.08.2021, St. Elisabeth Kirche, Berlin; https://www.tanzimaugust.de/produktion/detail/colette-sadler-ark-1/

[2] Brandstetter 2013/2012; https://www.kubi-online.de/artikel/aesthetische-erfahrung

[3]  This is argued by Hanna Katharina Göbel and Sophia Prinz in their book on “Die Sinnlichkeit des Sozialen” which stresses that individual perceptional capabilities are embedded and conditioned by social orders, practices and materialities; https://www.transcript-verlag.de/978-3-8376-2556-1/die-sinnlichkeit-des-sozialen/