jana1: nice to see you. how is it going?

jana2: hm. not sure. I struggle.

jana1: with what?

jana2: I struggle because I feel I m in-between. I mean: I used to choreograph large group works. I was into MAKING. not I don’t do this anymore. but also I am not really an expert in a particular branch of philosophy or so.

jana1: is that often the dilemma when doing artistic research?

jana2: ja – identity disappears. but without that it is very challenging to do stuff. Artistic research is in my case a bit expanded expansion.

jana1: which is also the title of a work by Eva Hesse.

jana2: right.

jana1: what has this to do with breath and the residency?

jana2: well the residency is a residency in artistic research, not a residency where it is about mere making.

jana1: right.

jana2: and breath? well…..I wanna change subject here.

jana1: ok.

jana2: I keep reading about climate change and I had also conversation with Lisa about it. Lisa said that it is a matter of policy makers to figure climate change out. rather than me as individual turning vegan and not driving a car anymore. I am simplifying what she said. It was interesting to hear that from Lisa because I think far more about my individual responsibilities to contribute to saving the world kind of.

In Helsinki climate change and non-human agents in performance is THE TOPIC in the arts. I feel this is quite different in Freiburg. But that s not the topic now.

The topic is that reading about climate change – mainly newspaper articles – it feels strange to work on breath. I mean: Heidi´s sister who is a circus artist clearly says „no“ to having kids because she is a climate activist.

And working about breath brings me to think about climate change, cause for sure there is of CO2 emission even that I know that this CO2 is part of the natural cycle. I mean: I dont add really any CO2 to the atmosphere.

but still, somehow ecology and climate comes to my mind when working on breath. maybe that is because breathing is such existential thing, such existential practice. and these days I really wonder whether the kids of the kids of my kids will really be able to live on this planet.

but maybe these questions also come up simply because I can t make just choreography anymore.

this sounds really drastic.

jana1: ja. it does. are you sure of what you re saying?

jana2: well, I think I could make something maybe with others together, in some sort of equal terms, but this idea of single authorship in the arts is nothing that turns me on anymore.

jana1: ok.

I still wonder where you are at with breathing?

jana2: Yesterday I was thinking about breath in relation to the energetic.

But before I try to think with you about this:

I think the question of dissolution of identity as artist these are core questions of artistic research.

artistic research does not make you a better artist, but it can, like in my case, expand the practice to a degree that you really sort to wonder about what you re doing and with which effects. And that is regardless of theory.

jana1: ok.

jana2: but about the energetic and breath.

I looked into this recent publication of Sabine Huschka and Barbara Gronau. Energy and Forces as Aesthetic Interventions. It s published with transcript.

Breath is part of a discourse about energy. Barbara Gronau writes there in her essay How to talk about energy? about „energy as a circulating «in-between« force, i.e. as a medial and transgressive process the establishes connections between subjects, objects, bodies, thoughts and distant space.“ (page 26). I makes me think how Petri Berndtson (PhD, dissertation title: Primacy of Breathing) talked to me on a walk in Helsinki how we are all connected through breath. This is normally a rather female attitude towards the so-called Other: Men most often dont go for integration and connecting. Heidi said that Merleau-Ponty talks in a similar vain about breath than what Petri is interested in. Petri´s PhD is also largely including Merleau-Ponty s considerations on breath.

The thing is that when thinking about breath, I struggle with this idea that breath creates connections.

jana1: really?

jana2: actually , I m not sure.

hm. I need to think a bit more.

jana1: ja. should we speak further after your lunch break?

jana2: ja. see you.



jana1: you seem to be really into self-interviews.

jana2: no, I am not. They just help me to dare saying something. this little bit of fiction helps me to get going somehow.

Yesterday in the workshop with Heidi, someone said that breath is so existential. I keep thinking about this.

jana1: what do you think?

jana2: hm.when I hear existential I immediately think of my artistic doctorate, because I think what I did there partly was to come to terms with existence. That is maybe a vain attempt. But I like attempts. One of my post-doc fellow at Uniarts Helsinki said „attempt cant be institutions.“ I don’t remember whether this came from him directly or whether he was quoting someone. But in any case, attempts and failures are good ways to put oneself on the path to come to terms with something.

now, I lost track a bit.

where were we?

jana1: existence.

jana2: right. so existence – being here. ja, that is interesting. sorry for being cryptic.

jana1: it s ok.

jana2: existence as a being here in the context of performance (dance, theater etc.) brings with it the notion of presence.

I feel always shy using this word. Presence. It seems too essentialist. But still, there is something of HOW people enter the room. Using the word presence helps me to find some wording for describing this HOW.

jana1: do you think these type of thoughts are relevant really?

jana2: relevant to whom?

jana1: well, I mean, it feels a bit like you focus very much on your self, instead of tackling hot topics like climate change etc. Why don´t you bring breath in connection to ecology?

jana2: ja, you re right. I should. I feel I have not read enough in this area.

jana1: hm, sure. that s a problem.

jana2: hm. ja.

jana1: should leave it here for today?

jana2: yes. I need to think.

Is this enough to answer to this?

jana1: I think it is. As long as you stay engaged it is ok. And you know Donna Harraways „Think we must“, right?

jana2: ja. she got it from Virginia Woolf.

but I think she means something else by thinking than what I mean when I say „I need to think“.

jana1: this is interesting – this concern for thinking and how to think.

jana2: ja. and how to materialize this thinking. And is any thinking ok to be put on display? I mean: any thought an artist has is relevant for the work?

jana1: I have to think now of this article:


jana2: the value of art?

jana1: ja. I think I am haunted by this. and therefor I enjoy thinking about thinking as artist, or in other words: I enjoy questioning artistic craft, the craft of choreographing, of making. It since some time now that I wonder about art and choreography and their purpose or relevance or need in this world. and there is a connection to breathing. if I consider breathing the smallest movement there is, I always move and possibly dance, and don´t need to externalize anything, any movement. I can actually just do whatever and have a clear sense of dancing, or some sort of artistic production.

jana2: hm.

jana1: hm.

jana2: it seems you radicalize this idea of Bruce Nauman: anything an artist does in his studio is art.

jana1: what do you mean?

jana2: well, when listening to you I came to think of the following: you basically say anything an artist does is art. you leave the studio but remain with the rest of Naumann´s sentence. I m not sure if decontextualizing is helpful really, but ok, I can stick with you for the moment.You also look at this „anything“ an artist does, and say based on the idea of „primacy of breathing“ (Perti Berndtson), that this „anything“ is at its very root breathing because breathing is the very bottom line.

jana1: hm. ok. thanks for this. I need to think about this.

jana2: sure. no worries. we can pick up on it next time we meet – if you want to.


self-interview 5.12.19:

jana1: how do you feel?

jana2: I dont know. I am in Freiburg, on a residency at Südufer. I try to work on breathing with all this background I have in dance and choreography, in artistic research.

jana1: what do you mean by artistic research?

jana2: difficult question. not sure what you want me to answer now. I can tell that there is a clear difference being here in Freiburg, instead of being in Helsinki. In Helsinki people are very very well informed on artistic research because there is a third cycle in the arts at the local art school. Here in Freiburg is even not a Bachelor in dance or live art or choreography. It feels a bit freeing to be in Freiburg. I am less worried of not doing the right thing, or not quoting the right person.

jana1: sounds nice. as a frame to work, I mean.

jana2: ja.

jana1: what did you do today?

jana2: I was actually moving in the studio. I have not been moving in a dance studio for many many years. I have not been in a dance studio for my own work for almost 6 years. my motherhood and finishing my doctorate had left little space for that. But today, after having brought my small (second) daughter to my dad, I came at Südufer and started moving. I am not sure if I was dancing, but I was moving. It was interesting. My body remembered immediately how I had moved six years ago. I mean: there was the same Haltung to myself then like before. I moved in accordance with my breath. I relied on my experience with Ilse Middendorf breath work. I practice this on and off since 2003. So, this morning I moved guided by my breath and my performative Haltung and interest. I keep liking „still acts“ (Lepecki). Then, I doubted myself and thought that maybe I needed some music. But music exhausts me so quickly when moving. And also, I lost connection with my breathing.

jana2: is this where Kate Bush – the video you posted above – came in?

jana1: ja. I liked the video, because Kate Bush seemed to have worried for war and destruction of the world and out of anxiety she wrote that song „breathing“.

jana2: why are you interested in the topic of breath?

jana1:when I discovered the middendorf work in 2003, it was clearly therapeutic. It was a way to recreate some corporal flow , some contact to myself that I did not have at that time. Now, when I practice Middendorf, I still get a sense of empowerment. I guess, to a degree working on breathing, and that includes doing breathing , helps me to deal with anxieties. Practicing breathing and thinking about breathing the world cracks less quickly; I keep a clearer connection what is around me. I have to think of the PhD of Magdalena Gorska, that I started to read more carefully this morning. Or: I started to read more carefully the second chapter, on breath in relation to anxieties and panic attacks.

„Anxieties distort reality – not into an “improper,” “broken,” “failed” representation of reality in the traditional, stigmatizing and devaluing meaning of these terms. In my experience, they distort reality by cracking open spaces for the actualities and potentialities of difference, and in doing so enact multiple ways of being in the world. They are protective, resistive and political in breaking the world down. They are forces of failure that challenge expectations in order to enact vulnerability as a possibility. Anxieties enact a deviation from the norm, which I see – as it will be discussed later – not as a space for stigmatization and pathologization but as a reconfiguration, an opening for possibilities of change, for norm breaking and for spaces of multiplicity and resistance within apparatuses of hegemonic normativity – deviation which simultaneously is not simply joyful and happy but often excruciatingly painful, hopeless, tormenting, destructive and scary.“ (Gorska, Magdalena. Breathing Matters. http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:930676/FULLTEXT04.pdf (last retrieved December 5th 2019).

jana2: nice quote. but what has that to do with what you did today in the studio?

jana1: hm. I find it interesting to transpose this concern of anxieties as „forces of failure“ into the context of stage and stage fear.

jana2: why?

jana1: I guess, when reading what Gorska writes and thinking how I have felt terrible about performing, of showing up on stage, it helps me to kind of deal and accept my fear of showing up in the moment when people are watching – like in a theater performance situation. I m not sure if that makes sense to you. does it?

jana2: I think it does. I need to think a bit about it.

But I think it does.

jana1: I gotta go now. I hope my English was kind of ok. I mean, I am not a native speaker but living in Helsinki and doing work always in that type of international English, it just felt „natural“ to rather have this conversation in English instead of in German.

jana2: no worries. see you.


©Jana Unmüßig
Lisa Densem gives a workshop on breath and movement at Südufer Freiburg.

Lisa Densem was yesterday with me in Freiburg. Lisa is a freelance dance artists originally from New Zealand but living in Berlin since over 20 years. She is a prolific dancer and performer who keeps performing Sasha Waltz´piece Körper. Lisa has also been engaged in working processes by Sergiu Mattis, Hanna Hegenscheidt, Laurant Chetoutane. And she performed in several of my works. In addition to her performing and dancing practice she also teaches BreathExperience – a variation on the practice of Ilse Middendorf Perceptual Breathing.

Thoughts after yesterday:

  • I make this distinction between three ways to deal with breath in performing dance: 1. representational mode when the performer performs the mainly the breathing out just a bit more audible than what it actually is.they project the sound of breathing out into the audience space. 2.breath is made tangible (audible, perceivable) because the performer is pushed to such physical and/or mental limit that their dancing is exhausting the body. the physical / mental exhaustion renders breath tangible for an audience. (I think of the work of e.g. Meg Stuart) 3. breath is used to synchronize with the other. (I think of the work of e.g. Jared Gradinger/Angela Schubot)

The question: What can I contribute artistically with breath if I don’t wanna do any of the three in my eyes predominant ways of dealing with breath in contemporary dance and choreography?

The question is how to talk about breath in a non-essentialist way? Without going too esoteric and yet acknowledging that there are effects of breathing that touch on the somatic at least?

Talking yesterday with Lisa we discussed how and how not working in choreography and dance with perception, included breath, is or is not actually ethically possible. More on this in an other moment.