Less Habitual Grip

Emma Bäcklund

What resist me, that is what I understand

Democratic body parts

Echoing thoughts in a space filled with air. Swelling. expanding. Exceeding my own boundaries. The not yet or just before. I am a growing form. I am growing a form.

At times, contraction enters my body as an attempt of withdrawal but the muscles inevitably surrender into dispersal. What resist me, that is what I understand. My little finger is touching the coldness of the concrete floor creating friction just as my heavy head, equally. The skin on the back of my neck tremble just as a wind found its way to the gap between my head and shoulder blades. It is an active rest surrendering into the floor while in turn the floor is supported by my mass. Everyone leans. I am not moving, but I am moved. My limbs all play equal parts. Energy stream from my hands and feet just as a snake investigates his reality with his tongue. My toes and fingertips have tongues, licking their way forward.

Little finger or torso? I keep wondering where I am and if I exist more in one body part than another. Is balance only a fictive concept as moments are built upon ongoing momentum? While laying flat I think of distribution of weight, hierarchy, social structures, fragmented values and shattered relations. How long does a finger need to be to reach the trigger, or stroke another animal? How far must it extend in space? I now activate my little finger and start to feel a stream of energy through my muscles and bones from the right arm up to my arm pit eventually landing in my torso.

Milky hands

The hands learn and repeat, learn and repeat. In an alienated gesture, the hands forgot their intention. Remembered to be forgotten was the intention all along. The hands make familiar of that which at first is obscure. Domestic hands can be tools to instruct function. Faceless limbs. The hands belong to the image-body. The hands present objects of display that activate desire. The hands are well manicured, pure and milky clean. Flawless, motherly. Hands greets, hands grief. Hands play and investigate form and space in relation to body. Hands form opinion. Hands seek. Hands tremble blindly. Hands grip and entangle with other hands. Hands knead. Hands mould form into being and sculpt bodies and thoughts. Bodies are massaged and healed by the hands. Hands stroke a scar repetitively. Pain enters the other hand, until it doesn’t. Pulverised pulsations.

To pat, to clap, to flap, to throb, to stroke, to knead.

Body memory

“If habit is neither a form of knowledge nor an involuntary action, what then is it? It is a knowledge in the hands, which is forthcoming only when bodily effort is made, and cannot be formulated in detachment from that effort”. (1.Merleau-Ponty)

Is the habitual structure of the lived body that which connects us to the world? Through repetition and exercise, habits develop. As Descartes noted, the lute player must have a memory in his hands, too, in order to play a tune with such skill (2.). Norm transcend from repetitive actions and if I perform a gesture several times it becomes part of my identity, body, language. Movement and language moves and are moved by similar patterns as language is bodily anchored. When something becomes habitual it penetrates into the fibres of oneself working its way under the skin and recalls something that just became familiar. Are these gestures my own?


I once went to a symposium with a dancer, a choreographer and a neuroscientist. They discussed techniques of the body without physical sensation and the conversation centred around examples of people who had lost a limb or had become completely paralysed in the entire body apart from the head and neck. The simplest movement of rising up from the bed became a very technical and challenging mission. The neuroscientist showed a video of one of his patients who were paralysed but despite this learnt how to walk again. He walked with stilted legs, without bending his knees as if his legs were wood splints. He walked into a food store, picked up a melon and pointed at a larger melon by the counter. “If I were to pick up the larger one I would fall over”, he said. The entire process of such banal situation became for him a very mathematical and technical one where every action existed in the head. Where to distribute his weight became the very challenge. The neuroscientist continued to talk about some of his patients who had lost a limb, for instance a leg. They had been asked the same question; whether they would like to have the leg back. “This has been a immense journey where I’ve created a new relationship to reality”, many had answered implying that they had adapted to this change. The inevitable obstructions causes new knowledge and forces adaption, cognitively and physically.


‘Dig where you stand’, someone told me when I felt stuck with several thoughts intertwined like braids entangled in my head. These four words echoes in my head still. I always thought it was a humorous expression which in ways connect a body to a spatial space. It further implies a physical action connected to a body and a ground, literally. Not just any ground but one that must be soft enough to dig through, one that would entail a quality of hardness and softness simultaneously. (Like those bamboo trees that are bendable but fierce in its texture.) One must have a body to dig and perform still activity. Per-form. Form - Per.


Zebra shake. When a zebra is chased by a lion, adrenaline surge and the zebra runs for its life (a flight response.) When the zebra knows it has reached safety, it instinctively “discharges” the remaining adrenaline energy by trembling, shaking, twitching, and jumping around. Because the animal completely discharges the excess adrenaline energy after the chase is over, it doesn’t hold the memory or the energy of the trauma in its system. This release forces negative trauma to exit the body. Can one choose what the body remembers?


I am sitting in a lecture which appears to be about the idea that the body is both absent and present. I think I know what this means and the statements which follow sound right. But now I start to wonder about this. I thought of my leg and that its certainly present but at the same time I know that I cannot touch my stomach or heart but does this imply that they are absent to me? I also know that one day I will disappear as a body but then what is the sense about musing about such things? If I perform something once then my body will retain a memory of this event so my body is a form of memory machine that records everything even though on the level of conscious recall I forget almost everything. Right now I am alternating between sitting and listening. Thought appear to interrupt this and shift me to an elsewhere in ways that fragment my attention. I muse on the idea that I am like a switching machine, sometimes in control but mostly not. Does my interest surround a need of control, as I linger ever so often in between a strong contrast of focus and non focus.?

Loss of control

That which is out of control is sometimes based on the need to control: a thin line controlling such a difference. Like silence within chaos, like losing body to find the horizon of another body. Loss of control slips away to surrender into irrelevance. I forgot what my intentions were, they became the moment and the intentions own intention seemed to be to change.

Thought fragment like crystals, materialised outside of the flow where the mystery of the interior and exterior of the body is reconfigured. In constant search for objectivity one abandon the objective ground of being. One is what one can never be, that implies looking into both angles simultaneously. Like a child playing with a doll house, moving objects in and out of the open space, rearranging the inside and dreaming of oneself in the outside.

Effort and release in a playful tease.


What does it take to carry ones own body weight and to what point does the body fall into itself? During intense physical moments of carrying ones own body, tremblings activate the smallest muscles and fibres. Muscles one perhaps did not know existed. Does carrying worn out or awaken? It is often within the still-stand one figure out where to move next. Stillness though depends on which scale one exists within. Trembling may appear calm and completely still but is the very resemblance of movement, spinning at full speed. Does collapse occur at the very edge of its counter-balance?

“An inner gesture, ‘enduring’. The term has a double sense. Enduring something means under going it in such a way that one is somehow able to bear what one is suffering, while at the same time, this experience of withstanding what one is enduring is lasting rather than momentary demanding persistence and perseverance. This double sense is also expressed in the Latin word from which the English word ‘endure’ derives, for although indüraãre - ‘to make hard’ - can be traced to the Proto-Indo-European root deru - (‘to be firm, solid, steadfast’. Thus to endure something requires that one become firm and strong enough to last it out, standing up to it and surviving it rather than succumbing to it, by offering sustained and solid resistance to it.” (3.)

Four Walls and a Figure

I am back in the white space…
sensing the limit just before falling makes me...
connect words with body parts

...or was it the other way around?

I sense my left toes, the back of my left foot, my left leg,
my right toes, the back of my right foot, my right leg,
the bottom resting heavy on the floor, the lower belly sinking deeper after
each breath, my left fingers, my left hand, my right fingers, my right hand,
my left arm, my right arm, my shoulder blades resting like two heavy stones,
my neck completely released, I am starting to float.

My lower back, my chest, my throat, the space between my teeth, my tongue entirely passive, my lips soft  ever so slightly open without strain, the space between my eye brows, the place behind my eye lids, the corners in my eyes. 


The weight of the pendulum swung from left to right, right to left placing ones ear near

one could hear, the sound of the swings similar to heavy wings

of owls flapping, in silence.

What is the nature of ‘spacing’? Perhaps it is a moment in-between, an unspoken void of gesture. A restless dance in a slippage of not yet and just before. It may be that which lingers around when one awaits for the event. Continuous endeavour is unfeasible as endeavour depend upon spacing to become something graspable, something one can touch upon with thought or bodily senses. The pendulum swings from one side to another, a force of speed and gravity. A state of a thing which embody both tension and release. In order to swing back it must momentarily stop at a point of suspension. This very moment inhabit extreme stillness. Stretched to the very moment of exhaustion, on the verge of collapse and at the tip of an edge, it repeats its action. The pendulum is hanging freely while bound to its own hanging point and limited solely to move between one side and to the other. Back, forth, forth back.

The life of images consists neither of simple immobility nor of the subsequent return to motion but of a pause highly charged with tension between the two. Thinking involves not the flow of thoughts, but their arrest as well. (4. Agamben)

Momentum can create entering’s and sculpt thoughts into matter, such is the interplay between two opposite poles.

- Does a thought matter more, as matter?

There are four points within this spatial momentum, A and B stretches vertically, C and D stretches horizontally. In a continuous, endless motion it travels while it never travels at all. It is still-stand within motion, passive within active, and so on. Neither A, B, C or D is compatible in solitude, not excessive alone but the relationship between these points creates momentum, a flow and rhythm. One could describe it as a concentration or a focus and that form can only be from movement.

A mixture of slowness and agitation. The moment just after - not yet.
A momentary bliss.


Breath into the ribs and the chest, exhale completely, draw navel into spine.

Breath into the ribs and the chest, exhale completely, draw navel into spine.

The length of my breath is the length of my movement.

I am lying on the floor again, my head is heavy and so are my legs. I am activating my abdominal and my thighs in order to sit upright, cross legged. For some reason I start to create circles with my arms around my own body, perhaps to explore my boundaries and test my limits. How far does my arms stretch to create a circle? In order not to fall back I must lean forward, and so on.. I move meditatively and forget about time, it is not of importance. I am in a flow of repetition, please let me be, don’t interrupt with your words or indication of time. I let the muscles in my spine move my arms, as if my arms were just a bi-product of the shoulder blades. Following. Mimicking. Technically it works similar to a pair of wings. Sitting there on the floor, appearing as if imitating a bird, trying to move as little air as possible, I sense myself from the inside and think further on ideas of boundaries. How much should I take, how much should I give? Where is my own space? How do I distribute my breath in and out, and can I develop a way to do this without being so aware and in relation to the flow of my wing-like movements?

Did you know that owls fly without giving away sound?

1, Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Phenomenology of Perception, (1945)

2,  Cornelia Müller, Thomas Fuchs, Sabine C. Koch, p.9  Body Memory, Metaphor and Movement (2012)

3, Elizabeth A. Behnke in Cornelia Müller, Thomas Fuchs, Sabine C. Koch, Body Memory, Metaphor and Movement, p.87, (2012)

4, Agamben, Giorgio Nymphs, (2013)

March 2018.

Emma’s work concern the body and the boundaries it inhabit. She works between photography, sculpture and performance. With a background in dance, interests in the body and spatiality continue to influence her ideas with focus between cognitive and physical experience. With her work she aims to question pre-existing forms, habits and structures and how to invent unexplored patterns of form, movement and thinking processes. emmabacklund.com