Interdependent with Imagination, Instilling Embodied Understandings
Dewey’s (1934) notion of the “live creature” (p. 3) as being in touch with context, moving and acting accordingly, comes alive in Heather Raikes’ (2011) performance artwork, Corpus Corvus (see http://www.heatherraikes.com/). The body of the raven (Corpus Corvus) forms the relationalities where the immediacies of situation meet and interact. Absorbed concomitantly in thought, emotion, sense, and purpose, wholeness is continually negotiated and explored, binding the live creature to its environment. It is this ongoing pursuit for wholeness that is the work of imagination understood as a way of thinking with potential. Through Raikes’ work, I gain greater cognizance of the body’s role within all sense-making and how embodiment and imagination concomitantly unify and vivify alongside inciting speculation and the possible. Dewey (1934) explains that imagination entails imaging forth interpretations living at the intersections of situation and interaction, derived from one’s experiences moving into new experiences. He characterizes imagination as a “gateway,” consciously adapting the new and the old (p. 267). Imagination is freed from strict understandings of static images and more fully experienced as a catalytic presence permeating the act of sense-making. This invigorating imaginative presence challenges persistent understandings of imagination as a special faculty of the mind, or a particular human gift. Instead, imagination permeates all conscious experience in varying degrees. But it is a slippery notion because of its complexity. Egan (1992) explains that imagination’s complexity goes largely unseen even though it brings together “perception, memory, idea generation, emotion, metaphor, and no doubt other labeled features of our lives” (p. 3), the interactive workings of which are impossible to wholly articulate and unpack in words and distinctive qualities. In retracing the history of imagination, Egan (1992) identifies myths’ age-old capacities to envelop engagement in powerful ways that infuse memory and emotion (pp. 10-11). Contemporary physical-media artist Heather Raikes (2011) does just this, providing a way to access the fused makings of embodied imagination. Turning to the west coast Indigenous myth of the raven, she creates openings for the study of embodied imagination. Myths through the ages are sacredly tied to time and place. Multiple myths of the raven are known through their oral tellings within ceremonies, rituals, and social gatherings. Indigenous peoples tell many versions of this myth along the west coast of North America. The myth of the raven is central to Pacific Northwest Native American spiritual beliefs. Here, the raven is both a god and thief who steals the sun and creates the universe. The oral story-telling tradition of myths reveres time and place, and thus each telling renders versions that are creative, responsive, and relationally interdependent with time, place, and all participants. The myths’ communicative tellings unfold through the developing reciprocities and ensuing connections, specific to each experiential encounter. Egan explains that such oral stories hold much power, extending beyond describing human qualities to embodying these very qualities. He states: “They [stories] hold up for us, and
draw us into, thinking and feeling what it would be like to make those qualities a part of our selves” (p. 55). Raikes’ (2011) performance artwork brings the myth of the raven into the mediums of contemporary dance and technologies, similarly positioning all involved. Akin to myths’ oral tradition, Raikes’ performance artwork is tied to time, place, and participants; it is creative, responsive, and relational in mode, and a multisensory experience emerges for all involved. As Dewey (1972) conveys, such participatory practices are interdependent with imagination, instilling a physical and material belongingness that “seize upon the permanent meaning of facts, and embody them in such congruous, sensuous forms as shall enkindle feeling, and awaken a like organ of penetration in whoever may come upon the embodiment” (pp. 172-173). It is a belongingness cultivated through immersive opportunities to make sense that O’Loughlin (2006) terms “a way of embedding one’s particular engagement with the world and its materiality in the embodied imagination” (p. 110). Raikes’ work is a living account cohering such understandings-a “sensible thing”—holding together itself, embodying a unity of sense (Merleau-Ponty, 1968). Such coherence is Dewey’s (1938) principle of continuity that embodied imagination so wholly revealed through the ongoing search for unity. Raikes’ performance artwork is a telling of such a sensible experience, and in doing so, the body is the experiential ground of all sense-making, enkindling embodied imagination.