Heads Looking for their Bodies: A Report on a Lecture-Performance

Authors: Shahrzad Irannejad, Setareh Fatehi

30 APRIL 2020

Lenses and Projections, Literature and Medicine, Khosrow and Shirin. ©Setareh Fatehi and Shahrzad Irannejad

On the 22nd of January 2020, we had the pleasure to present a recapitulation of our artist-researcher collaboration project “Bodiless Heads” at the Orient-Institut Istanbul. Our lecture-performance was invited as part of the lecture Series “Human, Medicine, Society: Past, Present and Future Encounters” organized by Dr. Melike Şahinol. We have grown up in the same city, our passions have led us to different cities and different fields. Setareh is a choreographer in between Amsterdam and Tehran. Shahrzad is a researcher in history of medicine in between Mainz, Istanbul and Tehran. With the formal support of Arts Cabinet (UK) in 2017, we formalized our mutual interests in the conceptualizations of the body within the Perso-Arabic tradition in the “Bodiless Heads” project, presenting its various stages and chapters in artistic and academic venues in Tehran, Utrecht, Mainz, Edinburgh, concluding again in Tehran (August 2017).

It was a great opportunity for us to look back, reflect on the project, update and present it to a so far unique audience in The City which brings many elements of our scattered lives together – unique because the public lecture series at an academic research institute in Istanbul brought together friends and colleagues, artists and academics from Europe, Iran and Turkey together. This was the first time our “Bodiless Heads” were synchronically experiencing such a unique combination of gazes. We also had the chance to add another layer of “bodiless” audience members in the form of online guests hosted in mobile phones of physically present guests, as the Orient-Institut Istanbul and the organizer, Dr. Melike Şahinol, were open to experimenting with an unconventional medium and experimentation with the lecture spaces of the institute.

Embracing poor connections and glitches, to incorporate the gaze of friends and colleagues across borders.

Bodiless Heads is a research on traditions of [non-]depictions of the body in “our” cultural context; it is a metaphor, a hypothesis, an imaginary state that relates to the evasive, multi-layered cultures of courtesy evolved over time. We have looked at the impact of that certain [non-]visualization of body-image on the development of the concepts of the Body and its relation to Health, Performativity, Mobility, and Knowledge Transfer.

The state-sponsored body politics in contemporary Iran has been so imposing that it tends to easily monopolize the discourse around bodies. By refusing to be merely reactive to this discourse, in our recapitulation of our project in Istanbul, we hope to have moved towards reclaiming the image of OUR body – Bodies that are free from definition, explanation, and demonstration, free from conventions of health, gender, race and beauty. Bodies that for sure exist, but the manner of their existence is not forced upon them. We proposed embracing image-less bodies both as opposition to the state politics of eliminating [dancing] bodies and contribution to the image-saturated body discourse to which we are constantly compelled to respond. We called for flux of ideas, fluidity of borders and further nuancing the image of supposedly absent bodies, stressing that, after all, “The absence of an image is, in itself, a frame of thought.”

Bodiless Heads II: Borders, Bodies, Flux and Fluidity; Trailer ©Setareh Fatehi and Shahrzad Irannejad

Members of the audience were free to navigate the space and pick and share their own perspective. Footage by Fabian Riesinger

The artist-researcher collaboration “Bodiless Heads” continues to inspire our individual artistic practices and academic research, and we are more than glad to see that our questions and formulations continue to resonate with others in our communities – be it artistic, academic or civic.

Shahrzad Irannejad is a Ph.D. student at Mainz University and currently holds a scholarship at the Orient-Institut Istanbul. She is working on her dissertation project entitled “Localization of the Avicennean inner senses in a Hippocratic body”.

Setareh Fatehi is a freelance artist/choreographer, teacher, performer and the co-director of Stichting TUSSEN ruimte/پادرهوا for artistic exchange between Iran and the Netherlands.

Keywords:

human body; Islamicate World; Iran; Turkey; research project; performance; choreography; dance; History of Medicine; cooperation; OII-Human, Medicine, and Society