“The breathing, sensing body draws its sustenance and its very substance from the soils, plants, and elements that surround it; it continually contributes itself, in turn, to the air, to the composting earth, to the nourishment of insects and oak trees and squirrels, ceaselessly spreading out of itself as well as breathing the world into itself, so that it is very difficult to discern, at any moment, precisely where this living body begins and where it ends.”
– David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous
The virtual iteration of Our Wandering Nerve takes place on Twitch.tv, a live streaming website, as a series of interactive durational performances. The performances feature a performer walking/running on a treadmill with the backdrop of slowly shifting time lapse videos of landscapes.
Additionally, the performer wears a heart rate monitor around their chest, and the heart rate is connected to Twitch in real time.
The viewer also hears a custom sound composition commissioned by Houston based artist Lisa Harris, titled “Undulated Vector Raise-Song for Earth”. The composition acts as a guided meditation throughout the full 30 minute duration of the performance.
As viewers continue to watch the repetitious gesture of the performer, they notice the landscape moves in time with the performer’s feet. A custom built sensor connected to the treadmill senses every time the performer takes a footstep, which triggers the next frame in the timelapse video to be played.
Viewers are able to participate and interact with the performance in real-time through coded Twitch Chat commands. When viewers type “!changescene” into the chat, the timelapse changes to a new scene. The timelapses were collected and filmed from various places Dittrich's travels have led to including Houston, TX, Provincetown, MA, and Grand Haven, MI. All imagery focuses on having aspects of land, sea, and sky with a clear horizon line.
Our Wandering Nerve creates a meditative experience that encourages the audience to slow down, engage in sensory perception, and find poetic refuge in moments of crisis. This multi-sensory experience uses the body’s circulatory system as a means of fielding questions about close listening and ecological healing. Our Wandering Nerve offers participants (and viewers) an opportunity to meditate on how the pace of our bodies’ physical processes are often determined by our surroundings and serves as a reminder of how our body participates in the larger ecosystem (e.g. as we breathe in oxygen, and out carbon dioxide, plants take in carbon dioxide and give us oxygen).
The title of this project was inspired by the body’s vagus nerve (“vagus” translates to “wandering” in Latin). The vagus nerve is the longest of the cranial nerves and connects to the brainstem, pharynx, heart, lungs, stomach, gut, and spine. It is responsible for the regulation of internal organ functions, such as digestion, heart rate, and respiratory rate, as well as vasomotor (blood vessel) activity, and certain reflex actions. Through deep breathing, exercise, and singing, one can stimulate the vagus nerve to de-stress the body.
Our Wandering Nerve was part of The Tender Interval exhibition commissioned by DiverseWorks, Houston, Texas and curated by Ashley Dehoyos as part of DiverseWorks’ Body of Politics 2020-21 programming that explores the body as a resource and inspiration for political and cultural investigations of movement, health and wellness, and the environment. The exhibition was originally planned to be presented in the DiverseWorks MATCH Gallery, but due to Covid-19 was adapted to a virtual setting. The project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Texas Commission on the Arts, the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance, Midtown Houston Management District, the Brown Foundation, Inc., the Houston Endowment, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
Undulated Vector Raise-Song for Earth, composition by Li
Engineering assistance: Devon Bray
Studio assistance: Turner Gillespie
Performance assistance: Erick Benitez