What do sea slugs and crochet have to do with anything?

| October 26, 2010

I did an advanced training, a while ago, for Feldenkrais Practitioners—the Feldenkrais Method is a kind of movement education based on our ability to learn to organize ourselves more effectively. I called the training, somewhat provocatively, “Escape the Grid,” and we were looking at alternative modes of thinking through embodied learning. If you were there, you know I got a bit excited about this video about crochet (above).

What does crochet have to do with anything?!

That, it turns out, has to do with Sea Slugs, of course. And in fact, during the June weekend Sea Slugs became a nice shorthand reference for dynamic relational movement. Once you see it, it will begin to make more sense. So here’s another video. Aside from the breathtaking variations, notice the whole-body movement. In particular, keep an eye out for the fast mover at the three minute mark…

Clearly we are not sea slugs, but what I love about seeing that display of function at the three minute mark is the way in it is so clearly organized while obviously not being gridded. It’s moving organization is organic and dynamic. And we have more in common with them than we might at first think.

So what does this have to do with crochet, and what does any of it have to do with our embodied selves? That’s why I found that first video so exciting. It turns out that there is good reason to believe that this kind of dynamic movement is best explained by a different sense of space than we were taught growing up. Gridded three dimensional space, it turns out, is a less than direct and efficient way of accounting for the shifting relationships of complex, dynamic movement. There is, however, a compelling alternative.

What I love about Wertheim’s talk, aside from the sheer amazingness and beauty of their project, is the way it demonstrates so elegantly the power of getting off the grid.

Take her last words, on the “Play Tank”: that we must literally, physically play with ideas.

It is the abstraction from the physical dimensions of play, skill and movement—away from crochet, the viral effortless education of their project, and the “Play Tank” as she puts it—that threatens to leave us like the mathematicians she also discusses: unable to see our own box, missing all the organic models right in front of us, because they don’t fit our assumptions.

Or as she put it, so eloquently, while thinking hyperbolic space is impossible, organic life has simply been getting on with it anyway. And it is our loss.

We have yet to fully register what this loss is yet. Partly I think because we do not yet have the kind of playful skill that will allow us to really understand alternative models. Not yet.

But I take this video to suggest where we, as educators, and animate beings, can look next.

And to do so not just mathematically, or even in crochet, but by recognizing that what hyperbolic space describes is the flexible, dynamic, real, organic space of life itself. And the challenge is for us to understand this not abstractly, but skillfully. As she says, the natural world is full of hyperbolic wonders, and their reef project in many ways parallels the story of the evolution of life on earth itself.

It remains for us to truly tease out the full ramifications for that, to see the real workings of this flexible organic space for the dynamic human form.

And again, as she put it, it is in the little deviations, the skillful embellishments, that we come closest to understanding the natural form.

If I could just end with her call for a “Kindergarten for Grownups,” I would like to point out just how powerful Froebel’s initial kindergarten was. In many ways it shaped the modern world itself. In the book, Inventing Kindergarten, such luminary graduates of Kindergarten are highlighted as the massively influential urban planner and architect, le Corbusier, Frank Loyd Wright, and Buckminster Fuller. Not to mention artists such as Piet Mondrian, and Wassily Kandinsky. So we should take the power of this educational idea seriously. We are living its effects.

What remains to be done, however, is to move this educational force from the gridded space of euclidean solids, to hyperbolic space of organic life and the feminine arts.

Can we find a way of working with the sensory, dynamic space of the human form, and that is not so much “outside the box” as just other than the box. One of the beauties of this video is that it shows that when we leave this behind we are not left with mush, or nothing to work with. But on the contrary that it leads us to a dynamic, skillful, tactile place of play and possibility. The very fundamentals of organic life itself!


PS. I’ve been doing some hyperbolic crochet of my own. Let me know if you are interested and I’ll post some pictures.