Ma (間) is a Japanese word which can be roughly translated as “in-between”, “gap”, “space”, ” pause” or “the space between two parts, sounds, objects or movements”.
In Japanese, ma, the word for space, suggests interval. It is best described as a consciousness of place, not in the sense of an enclosed three-dimensional entity, but rather the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form, of being and non-being.
Ma is not something that is created by compositional elements; it takes place in the imagination of the human mind who experiences these elements. Therefore, ma can be defined as an experiential place understood with emphasis on interval.
Ma has also been described as “an emptiness full of possibilities, like a promise yet to be fulfilled”, and as “the silence between the notes which make the music’.
In-Between: the middle of something or between two things, a space or interval, a break in continuity.
Buddhism uses the word ‘bardo’ to describe the transitional state between any two states. It is mostly referred to as the transitional state between life and death, but the concepts much wider than that, such it can be applied to the transition between any two states (past and future, having and losing, knowing and not-knowing). Through attentive practices we can dwell in this in-between state and allow dualities to feed into each other.
Bardo is an interval, a hiatus, a gap. It can act as a boundary that divides and separates, marking the end of one thing and the beginning of another; but it can also be a link between the two: it can serve as a bridge or a meeting place, which brings together and unites. It is a crossing, a stepping-stone, a transition. It is a crossroads, where one must choose which path to take, and it is a no-man’s-land, belonging neither to one side nor to the other. It is a highlight or peak point of experience, and at the same time a situation of extreme tension, caught between two opposites. It is an open space, filled with an atmosphere of suspension and uncertainty, neither this nor that. — Francesca Fremantle, 2001
Buddhist philosophy also states that the mind (our consciousness) has gaps and breaks Although Western psychology in general perceives the mind as a river, a continuous flow, a stream of consciousness, the Abhidharma philosophers state just like the river, ‘the mental stream is always changing […] but the stream of consciousness is made up of discontinuous and discrete moments of awareness’ (Thompson, 2015, p.35). According to Thompson consciousness includes a gappy sequence of moments of awareness. (More on this in a following blog).
In our current society we tend to pack up space – and time as well: every moment is filled, every experience is full (or fully lived) and every space is inhabited. More and more, we are packing up our lives, our experiences and the spaces we inhabit. With this lab we aim to ‘unpack’ the space in between human beings, things and the environment.
With this research lab we aim to create pauses, gaps and periods of openness, where we’re not trying to fill up (mental) space, but we’re just seeing what happens next.
With the gap, we also refer to Nancy Stark Smith, a dancer and founder of Contact Improvisation that introduced the concept of ‘the gap’ in dance improvisational practice. She writes the following on the ‘gap’:
Where you are when you don’t know where you are is one of the most precious spots offered by improvisation. It is a place from which more directions are possible than anywhere else. I call this place the Gap […]. Every time I want a cigarette and don’t have one I’m creating a gap. Moments that once were easily and automatically filled have become uneasy and consciously unfilled. By leaving them unfilled, I’m not only breaking a ‘momentum of being’, a pattern of behavior, but I’m bringing attention and charge to a moment that would have passed without remark. (Smith, 1987, Contact Quaterly 12(2), p.3).
The gap or in-between is a moment, a place, a possibility, ‘an existential state, a suspension of reference points in which new experiences become possible’ (Cooper Allbright, p.259).
The in-between creates passages from the actual to the virtual, thereby opening up a continuum of multiplicities. It enables us to engage with potentialities. Manning (2009, p.3) refers to this as the elasticity of the almost, ‘the intensive extension of the movement, a moment when anything can happen’. Openness, engagement in the here and now, flexibility and sensitivity are needed to tap into the stream of potentialities that emerge in the moment. In the in-between new associative frames arise.
According to Ann Cooper Allbright this ability to open oneself up to possibility, to engage with what is yet to come,t can help us in facing the cultural and environmental challenges of the 21st century. Only by opening up our minds and bodies to uncertainty, and only by acknowledging that not one singular answer or solution can be given to these wicked problems, only by opening up we can create other future scenarios. In order to do so we need to engage in the ‘here’ (the internally felt experience) and the there (what happens out there). Only then we can establish connections between self and world that are not stable or fixed, but in a constant flux.
‘I believe the potency of bodily practices today lies less in the opening up of more movement options, but rather in understanding how to encourage a willingness to cross over into uncomfortable territories, to move in the face of fear, of what is unknown. The willingness is made possible by the paradoxically simple and yet quite sophisticated ability to be at once external and internal – both open to the world and intensely grounded in an awareness of one’s ongoing experiences’ (adapted from Cooper Allbright, p.259-260).
In the in-between we enter a fluid zone, an unstable borderland of differences. According to Williams, this in-between space is not ‘a unit but an axis, not an entity but a state of being, less a relationship than an act of relating’ (1996, p.26).
In the In-Between Lab we engage in a fluid, relational practice that includes play, improvisation and yoga/mindfulness. We reside in this fluid zone that is full of potentialities, of becomings and of relational forces that trigger vitality affects in us. Through the artistic practice we tap into corporeal experiences , as a way to explore our own embodied positions and relationships to one another, and to the environment, in always provisionally located ways.
Manning, Erin (2009), Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy,Cambridge: MIT Press.
Cooper Allbright, Ann (2003). Taken By Surprise: Improvisation in Dance and Mind. In A. Cooper Albright & D. Gere (Eds.), Taken By Surprise: A Dance Improvisation Reader(pp. 257-267). Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press.
Fremantle, Francesca (2001).The Luminous Gap in Bardo. Tricycle, Meditation and Practice, Winter 2001.
Stark Smith, Nancy (1987). Editor Note:Taking No For an Answer.Contact Quaterly 12(2), p.3).
Thompson, Evan (2015). Waking, Dreaming, Being. New York: Columbia University Press.
Williams, David (1996), ‘Working (in) the in-between: Contact improvisation as an ethical practice’, Writings on Dance, 15, pp. 22–37.
Image: Glen Carrie