Lived space (spatiality) is felt space. Lived space is a category for inquiring into the ways we experience spatial dimensions of our day-to-day existence. – van Manen (2011)
Lived space is difficult to explain as our experience of lived space is largely pre-verbal, that is, we do not ordinarily reflect on it. And yet we know, the space in which we find ourselves affects the way we feel (van Manen, 2011). For many of us, the digital shift, further accelerated by the covid-context, has meant time online largely shapes our everyday life. Irrespective of the benefits e.g. maintained contact or freed time from long commutes, the true impact of this state is yet to be fully understood.
This week some ‘downtime’ with my children at Swansea’s Glynn Vivian Art Gallery and the Oriel Science Project triggered reflections on this very issue. I ‘noticed’, through my phenomenological lens, as I surveyed the children’s active engagement in the varying artistic and scientific immersive installations, a fresh awareness of my own daily ‘taken for-grantedness’ of space. The notion incentivising me to scan for what I could learn or import from the energetic unfolding before my eyes.
Just to give some background context to my musings, I share I am engaged in co-writing a phenomenological paper on the lived experience of the Zoom Break-Out room. To date, the importance of ‘embodiment’ has been revealed, and specifically, themes of disembodiment, disorientation, and surveillance.
“Although it is recognised online interactions seemingly take place in a virtual disembodied arena” (Osler & Krueger, 2021), phenomenology to date has said very little about interpersonal encounters online (Kekki, 2020), instead focusing on the embodied face-to-face kind. As a frequent participant in online discussions, as well as designer of digital learning spaces, I support the reassessment on how embodiment and spatiality potentially enter into and shape our online encounters with others (Osler & Krueger, 2021); interested in what new forms and intensities of betweenness is brought into being in these spaces.
Such thoughts floated in my mind as I moved around the art and science venues. Studying the children’s heightened physical and sensory engagement within these learning spaces, independently and as a group, stirred me to consider whether a high-tech diet in lieu of face-to-face interaction, despite its virtues, has tipped the balance towards a ‘decorporealisation’ of our lived spaces. And so I began to unpick some of my own personal dis ’ease’ with a lack of, or dilution of three-dimensional encounters of space in my own daily routines. A thought that prised my educational research and practice, bringing to the fore some personal concern for what may be lost from an existence heavily wedded to screens – in affective engagement, through to deeper sensory response.
It’s not that I cannot see how rich interactions can develop in an online context, that the devices we employ can constitute a lived space rather than simply a “communication system that embeds spatial metaphors” (Löw &Weidenhaus 2017, p656). Indeed, I call to mind many high-quality expressive, dynamic, and responsive I-Thou interactions with family and friends using instant messaging and other technological tools. Yet, in some online spaces, I can feel detached, diluted, and disengaged. And I ‘wonder’ again, as what induces one to live more meaningfully in one type of online space over another. The physical curated spaces before us, had clearly designed ‘in’ an embodied experience of their spaces, recognising their augmenting qualities. A gallery and exhibition space that exuded more than its informational properties. I sensed a powerful lesson from the connection and complex interaction between senses and experience, and their potential cognitive and emotional impact.
It would be time-consuming to credit all the individual pieces triggering the rich outpouring of feedback from my brood – comments I interpreted and banked under themes of sustainability, compassion, and imagining. As example, the children were collectively animated by the Visual Artist Carlos Bunga’s structures and interventions created from everyday materials; resonating strongly with their own joyous use of cardboard, tape and bright coloured paint. Installations that encouraged them to be ‘part of, rather than simply view the world’ (MacKinnon, 2021), invited a fully embodied experience of space and the gallery’s architecture.
Carlos Bunga’s Reflejo is a series of cardboard cubes on the floor. It looks like so many open boxes, or an apartment block lying face up with its verandas poking out, creating obstacles and small spaces. There is a sense of wanting to leap between the ‘containers’, like a game, to test the limits of space and its divisions. The excessive organisation and limitations seem to be a challenge to the viewer, who needs to deconstruct boundaries and inhabit space. Only children seemed to live out what was felt around the room, as they jumped about through the installation ignoring the stares of gallery assistants (Borges de Camp, 2019).
The boxes became a town, a city, and then individual homes. The children running between the spaces, as if down narrow streets. They hid in their selected ‘homes’ and then challenged boundaries by jumping into taken spaces. We talked about scale and temporary homes, that people make cardboard homes to keep warm on the streets…imagining what it would feel to have the tiniest or temporary space to call home. The structures having a powerful influence on imagination, empathy, and perspective-taking. These moments and the intensity of their shared mean-making, for me, contrasting sharply with some of my own experiences of online interactions.
The sensuous aspect of art is only related to the two theoretical senses of sight and hearing; smell, on the other hand, taste, and the feeling of touch is excluded from the springs of art’s enjoyment. … These senses cannot have to do with objects of art, which ought to subsist in their actual and very independence, admitting of no purely sensuous or rather physical relation. The pleasant for such senses is not the beauty of art. – G. W. F. Hegel
Over at ‘Oriel Science’ the children were treated to more high quality ‘lived spaces’ which engaged and inspired, and credibly delivered on the exhibition’s promise to offer a ‘visceral journey through a scientific theme, ignite their curiosity to explore that theme, and leave a lasting legacy in their imagination’ .
I was induced to draw on my reading of phenomenologist, Tetsurō Watsuj’s ‘aidagara‘ -which emphasises the essentiality of the spatial dimension in human existence, an interesting contrast with Heidegger’s prioritising of temporality (Higaki, 2016). ‘Aidagara ‘ or “betweenness” captures the interrelation between subjectivity, intersubjectivity, and space. In layman’s terms, the field of possibilities, in which individuals co-exist, communicate, and construct different ways of relating to and understanding one another (Krueger, 2016). This turn in my thinking, overlaying insight cultivators with lived experience of immersive play, teased me with potential for my online dilemmas. What could I apply to enhance online learning or engagement spaces…what could I extract to enhance connection, and negate the decorporealisation of online spaces?
Through this lens, I entertained more questions than concrete answers…
- Is there more we can or should do to facilitate or enrich the ‘aidagara’ of the relationships or experiences that take place in our lived ‘online spaces’?
- Beyond the education context even, what can we do to bring the ‘body’ back into our digitalised lives?
At least the aforementioned experience of the interactive installations suggests a more creative engagement with the environments that comprise our shared world may be called for. One that more deliberately shapes ‘the space of betweenness and how we connect with others in and through it’ (Osler & Krueger, 2021). It at least invites me to prioritise the pursuit of the improved quality of interaction ‘spaces’ between people online, be that in a learning, work, or social context.
“When we touch a surface, we experience immersion and inversion fully, and reciprocity is a quality of this touch (Lipps, 1903). There is a haptic rule of thumb: when we touch something or someone, we are, inevitably, touched in return. When we look we are not necessarily being looked at, but when we touch, by the nature of pressing our hand or any part of our body on a subject or object, we cannot escape the contact “ – Bruno (2014, p19)
Thank you to
Carlos Bunga https://elbabenitez.com/artist/carlos-bunga/
Glynn Vivian Art Gallery – Swansea’s City Museum https://www.glynnvivian.co.uk/
Swansea University’s Oriel Science https://www.orielscience.co.uk/
Berger, V. (2020) ‘Phenomenology of Online Spaces: Interpreting Late Modern Spatialities’, Hum Stud 43, 603–626 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10746-020-09545-4.
Borges de Campos, B. (2019) ‘The Poetics Of Space: Ana Santos & Carlos Bunga At MAAT, Lisbon’, The Quietus, 16th February 2019. Available: https://thequietus.com/articles/26042-carlos-bunga-ana-santos-maat-lisbon-review.
Bruno, G. (2014) ‘Surface: Matters of Aesthetics, Materiality, and Media’, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
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McKinnon, K. (2021) ‘Carlos Bunga: Terra Ferma’ https://www.glynnvivian.co.uk/whats-on/carlos-bunga-terra-ferma/.
Osler, L., Krueger, J. (2021) ‘Taking Watsuji online: betweenness and expression in online spaces’, Cont Philos Rev (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11007-021-09548-7.
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Van Manen, M. (2011) ‘Spatial reflection’ (online). Available: https://www.phenomenologyonline.com/inquiry/methods-procedures/reflective-methods/guided-existential-reflection/spatial-reflection/.