Collaboration with Zofia Zaliwska on research-creation project, Ruminatus.

In March 2015, I was invited by Zofia Zaliwska, a PhD candidate at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto to collaborate on a project she was exploring within her doctoral research, Ruminatus, inspired by Nietzsche’s concept of rumination. The project engages issues around data and methodology, and in particular, the scholarship of research-creation, described by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as ‘an approach to research that combines creative and academic research practices, and supports the development of knowledge and innovation through artistic expression, scholarly investigation, and experimentation. The creation process is situated within the research activity and produces critically informed work in a variety of media (art forms)’.[1]

Her invitation was to invite artists, scholars and students whose work she has referenced in her literature review to revisit and ruminate on their publication(s) ‘to expose the activities and processes of reviewing literature, to develop more intimate relationships with “secondary” sources, and to possibly reveal the way we, as scholars, write about and teach culture in the humanities and social sciences’[2]. The invitation asked us to enact one or more directives she had compiled and document our activities in anyway we saw fit, ‘to explore what data-as-event can do to traditional educational research methodologies which still hold onto the constant desire to represent data as an unmediated capture [3].

The first directive I have undertaken is: Write out your paper by hand using cursive.

I have chosen to undertake the directive on the script that accompanies ‘Reflection on Digestion: A Performance Dinner’, 2013, the version that was enacted as a participatory performance on 17 December 2013. The action of scribing the text took just over six hours, over the course of two days, Sunday 24, and Monday 25 May 2015, and was documented through video and sound. The resulting trace of the action exists as a piece of writing/drawing, black ink on a roll of white Fabriano drawing paper, approximately 270 x 43 cms.


Background on the original text: ‘Reflection on Digestion: A Performance Dinner’ is a participatory performance in the form of a dinner and reading, which explores the processes and image of digestion through food and language. The event consists of six chapters, four of which are dishes prepared from offal originating in the digestive system, and are served alongside the reading of a text collaged from a variety of sources on the specific organs of digestion, the process of digestion itself, and embodied knowledge. For the creation of the script, I collected texts, and like a magpie, scoured the Internet and libraries for anything that sparkled with reference to the organs and processes of digestion and bodily knowing, plundering a variety of disciplines; literary, philosophical, artistic, historical, and contemporary biomedical research. The chapters of the script correspond to the subject of each course of the meal, which in turn, follow the order of the digestive process. To begin, there is an introduction in which I set out the premise of the piece, the rules (i.e. no talking), and frame the ideas for the participants to contemplate during the meal. An apéritif is then served, at which point I talk about different kinds of opening up and knowing through the practice of diatetics and dissection. Ideas concerning the mouth, tongue, teeth, and taste accompany the serving of tongue; discussion of the stomach is shared alongside a dish of tripe; tales of all things hepatic are dished up with liver; and Andouillette sausages are paired with an examination of the intestines and the fold.

I have recently been thinking about this act of collection and curation in relation to Nietzsche’s idea of reading and rumination. The Latin word for reading, lego actually refers to ‘a process of gathering or collecting’[4]. When I was collecting, I was working fast and felt as if I wasn’t really reading properly or going deeply enough into the texts: not really ruminating. But through the act of reading, re-reading, copying, collaging, reframing, and performing my understanding began to change and I believe I was actually ruminating. Now, by enacting this directive, through the act of re-reading and scribing my collection, another layer of rumination is occurring.

We take texts in, incorporate words, images and experiences, and we reflect and process them, we chew them over and we ponder, and then as artists, the way in which we understand is articulated in the artwork that we make.

Reflections on the continual line: I have enacted a similar method of writing/drawing that was also used in an earlier piece, the manuscript that was to become the printed ‘Reflection on Digestion’ monumental accordion book of 2012. Employing such a joined up text, each word tied to the previous, to the next, and to the subsequent line, running from left to right, and then right to left the other way up, connotes the diagrammatic image we have of the digestive system with its nine metres of twists and turns crammed into the body’s cavity. The intestinal mucosa, the folds of microvilli, are mirrored in the loops and tails, ascenders and descenders of the handwriting itself. Looking at the writing/drawing piece from a 90-degree side angle and softening your gaze, the top of the letters of pairs of lines that face each other describe the boundaries of a tube, further referencing the tubular digestive tract. The ascenders and descenders of some letters traverse the space between them, and are also like stitches of a piece of knitting and make connection to ‘Entrail Troyen’, a sculpture I have recently been working on: a tubular piece of French knitting, its form articulated loop by loop of threads pieced together from a collection of salami skins and sausage casings.

The act of collection and ‘knitting’ together of a narrative so it flows as a continual line of enquiry is embodied in the visual form of the writing/drawing piece, which resembles a long piece of knitting; the kind made by a beginner whose attempt at a scarf has gone slightly awry towards the end. It brings to mind the Knit Books of Cair Crawford, notebooks of pages of line drawings that suggest knitted panels, which she makes as products of the process of thinking when she doesn’t know what to do next. She writes, ‘they are a meditation on a thousand-thousand folds and an ironic commentary on the subversive nature of knitting/writing’[5]. The folds of my cursive hand are also depictions of language, but more specifically drawings of actual words, at the same time image and text. Naming the piece writing/drawing is informed by Tim Ingold’s, Lines: A Brief History in which he writes, ‘so long as writing is understood in its original sense as a practice of inscription, there cannot be any hard-and-fast distinction between drawing and writing, or between the craft of the draughtsman and that of the scribe’[6]. For arguably, until the invention of the printing press, ‘the very art of writing…lay in the drawing of lines, and both drawing and writing, materialise by way of the ‘gesture – of pulling or dragging the implement – and the line traced by it’[7].

An extract of the video documentation can be viewed on Vimeo via this link;

As the text was scribed, the words were read out loud. I tried to speak the words syllabically, and at the same speed as the writing/drawing action, complicating which came first the written word or the spoken one. The video documentation supports this, shot with an aerial view, focusing on the surface of the paper, the action of the pen inscribing the paper, my hand, arm and sometimes the back of my head, and the sound of the spoken words, -the originating script is not in view- and it is therefore not clear if the scribe is writing what is spoken or reading aloud what is scribed.

Durational work can always be deciphered through the language of the body. As well as the language of the text, scribed and spoken, this piece is also embedded with the language of my body. When one writes with a continuous line, connecting words, it takes concentration of mind and body: The scribe must keep the pen nib in the same place. She must pay attention to the pressure of the hand in holding the pen to the page: Too much pressure or holding for too long may take the nib through the surface to puncture or tear, whereas not enough pressure may make her lose her place or risk slipping and making a mistake. For me, this tension over the six hours of holding the pen caused some pain in my right thumb, as well as in my wrist. On the first day, my wrist was a bit sore during the action, but it wasn’t until I did yoga at the end of day two, that I noticed it more fully.

It is implicit in the final form of the wriring/drawing piece, that the body had to move around the paper in order to write the lines, up one way, round a tight bend and then back the other way, so I was not able to sit down. The physicality of bending over the writing/drawing surface meant that my body was more physically engaged than the usual wring position. This was evident in the aching in my upper and lower back, despite my attempts to hold my torso muscles (around the digestive organs) to support myself. Breathing was also affected. The continuous line from start to finish is like a continual breath, there being no punctuation marks or capital letters, devices that ordinarily directed readers to breathe, and where the scribe may suitably take a breath. Of course, this piece could not have been made in one breath of six hours, but I noticed that when I am writing by hand, I normally take a breath when I take the pen off the page, after a couple of words or so. However, in this piece, each word is connected, and so when can I take a breath?

Some other reflections on the action: Despite it taking just over 6 hours in total, it was undertaken over two days. I would have like to have done it in one go or in fewer yet, longer sittings, however practical reasons such as re-charging video camera batteries, and the space of my home, as I am currently without a studio, which had to be shared with my boyfriend prevented this! I also killed the video camera that was used during much of the shooting and so the final films have a different feel and are not visually consistent.

The action has pushed me to be more confident in my work, and I have decided that I will write to my major sources, (the alive ones, i.e. Annmarie Mol, Jan Purnis, David Hillman, Steven Shapin), and tell then about my work, why, and how I have been using theirs, and its impact on my development, thinking and the formation of the larger ‘Reflection on Digestion project, as well as to say thanks. So thank you too, for the opportunity to contemplate these things.

[1] Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Canada. (2015). Definitions of Terms. At: (Accessed 23 June 2015)

[2] Zaliwska, Z. (2015) Re: Requesting participation in research-creation project [Email sent to Amanda Couch, 26 March 2015]

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ingold T. (2007) Lines: A Brief History. Abingdon: Routledge, 15.

[5] Crawford, C. (s.d) Brooklyn Museum: Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: Feminist Art Base: Cair Crawford. At: (Accessed 1 June 2015)

[6] Ingold, 3.

[7] Ingold, 43.


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