Pondering ‘STILL LIFE’

Author: Geen reacties
still life zine

Reading the zine STILL LIFE published by Hamish MacPherson, made me think on a deeper level what it physically means to live together with yourself and with other people. I am now more conscious of how my body feels in interactions and how our bodies react on each other. I thus think that STILL LIFE is realizing what it can mean to need care, to give care and to receive care.

The maker: Hamish MacPherson

Hamish MacPherson is a choreographer who creates environments for people to think, learn and be together. He is inspired by care ethical theory and his zine((A zine is a noncommercial often homemade or online publication usually devoted to specialized and often unconventional subject matter. www.merriam-webster.com)) STILL LIFE is one way to contribute to these kinds of environment. In another article I interviewed him about his motivation for the zine.

The zine ‘STILL LIFE’

In October 2018 the third issue of the zine was launched. STILL LIFE is ‘about relationships and configurations in which one person is still while others are not’. It is therefore relevant for thinking about situations of care. The zine is about care, power, vulnerability, agency, bodies and the knowledge that people have stored in their bodies and how they interact together.

Reading the zine made me consider movement and silence in everyday life. As a former dancer and a graduate of the Master Care Ethics myself, I am struck by the link between living in a society and movement, or being still, and the contribution of thinking about this to care ethics.

Thinking the human body

The second issue, for example, contains an article about lifting people in care situations. It contains a blogpost from a previous nurse and an interview by Hamish MacPherson with two nurses. Lifting in a care situation is about vulnerability of both patient and the caregiver, who takes over what the patient is not able to. This blogpost makes me aware of what the difference between touch by a human or touch by a lifting machine could mean.

For example, one of these nurses said (in the article ‘The nurses’): “There was one instance that I never used a mechanical lift. When transferring a patient’s body to the morgue cart. I always felt obligated to personally, with help, move the body onto the cart.”
This makes me wonder. If human touch is found to be important even for lifting a dead person, than would it not be especially important for lifting a living one?

In another article: ‘Less Habitual Grip’ Emma Bäcklund contemplates the body that moves, or that is still. She works between photography, sculpture and performance with a background in dance. “I am a growing form. I am growing a form.” And: “I am not moving, but I am moved.” I think she is saying that even if you are still, you are moved by your surroundings. For example the floor which is holding you (“Everyone leans”); and the energy flowing through the body.

still life issue 2
STILL LIFE issue 2

Freud’s couch

What becomes apparent to me while reading MacPherson’s zine, is that bodiliness has everything to do with being alive and thereby with interacting with other people‘s bodies and the environment. Living contains relationships, vulnerability, needs, sexuality and caring. But that is not only the case for living beings. In an article in the second issue of MacPherson’s zine we read about the couch of Siegmund Freud, the well-known psychotherapist.

This article contains an interview with someone from the museum where this couch is displayed. Hamish MacPherson and this person speak about the meaning of the sofa. They also talk about very concrete things like how to conserve meaningful objects. This has implications for my thinking about the couch: this thing is not just a material object. It has a meaning, therefore we want to keep it the way it is. It needs careful conservation, by experts, because a couch is not a static object that stays the same over time. If we let it, it will change, and ultimately fade away.

So, although this couch seems a thing simply to sit upon, it has a deeper meaning. Because of the people who used it and the role it played in the history of the development of psychoanalysis. It moves in time, and by that time and the interactions with people the couch changes. It could even disappear if we don’t care about its conservation.

Care ethics

The zine explores different angles of issues that have to do with the body, the relationship between body and environment and the movement of the body within that environment. This is done with such an open mind that every angle is taken seriously, which gives me surprising (new) insights about bodiliness.

The topics in the zine remind me of care ethics, because of the multiple different perspectives of looking at relations between people. Eva Feder Kittay(( Kittay (1999). Love’s Labor. Essays on Women, Equality, and Dependency.)) for example describes what caring means from the perspective of the caretaker. Annelies Van Heijst((Van Heijst (2005). Menslievende zorg. Een ethische kijk op professionaliteit.)), among other care ethicists, formulates what the relationship between caregiver and care receiver can and even should entail.

Thereby, the zine makes clear that living together entails more than the interaction between two or more people. The surroundings and physical environment of the interaction is also an important part in interactions. This is in line with the way Joan Tronto((Tronto (1993). Moral Boundaries. A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care.)) defines caring as something we do to maintain, continue and repair the world we live in.


“Even if you are still, you are moved by your surroundings

Emma Bäcklund

There is more

It seems to me that Hamish MacPherson succeeds in a deeper exploring of a (caring) practice than I have experienced from care ethics until now. He unravels and disentwines that particular situation to a new essence. He does that without the theoretical concepts about needing care and giving care, organization, power, politics, and even ethics. What happens when we focus solely on the physical interaction in a caring practice?

The interaction gets a new essence: the shaping, the meaning and the experience of the subjects in that specific interaction. By focusing on this interaction, the zine shows us another kind of meaningful knowledge. It makes us aware of knowledge that is not (only) rational, but on a deep level physical and embodied.

That knowledge is not only part of our acting. Hamish MacPherson shows us that in not acting, in being still as a person or an object, a source of knowledge is found as much as in active reactions. Being still is also a meaningful part of an interaction. That is useful information for care ethics and can stimulate us to explore our field of research from a new perspective.

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