Date of Publishing:
January 26, 2017

Navigating the Unknown, 2016 © Anderwald + Grond

Dizziness in Compossible Spaces

Karoline Feyertag

Previous and upcoming cross-disciplinary gatherings.

Dizziness is certainly not a commonplace. It is a phenomenon that is not yet adequately explained by medicine or neuroscience. It is a barely controllable state of the body and the mind, an experience that induces a similar, if not analogous, reflection – human thought might become dizzy when exposed to dizziness.So, how did we succeed to make dizziness a sort of commonplace? After several cross-disciplinary gatherings in the course of the research project Dizziness–A Resource, it became clear that the introduction of the concept of dizziness into divergent research fields created a compossible space, formed by our common interest in the experience of and reflection on dizziness.Referring to French philosopher François Jullien, we speak about compossibility when there is “a fundamental ambiguity, a non-separation of opposites, which is fertile because it enables an outside of our current oppositions, and from this outside other – new – determinations could result.” (Jullien interview)

During the gatherings that have already taken place in Klagenfurt 2015 and Tel Aviv 2016, this “outside” meant a cross-disciplinary outside: understood as the outside of a specific mode of questioning, reasoning, and researching. By alternating the formats of contribution – lectures, screenings, HASENHERZ screenings, music and spoken word performances, panel discussions – the compossibility of heterogeneous approaches construed a real space, a space of lived and shared experiences of cross-disciplinarity.

Kunstraum Lakeside, Klagenfurt © Anderwald + Grond

Especially, the upcoming event at Kunsthaus Graz in February 2017 can be viewed as the artistic practice of creating compossible spaces. Artist-curators Anderwald and Grond arranged the exhibition together with Katrin Bucher Trantow and invited a variety of researchers and artists to a one-day symposium within Kunsthaus’s art space. Moving-image art, experimental films, photographs and other artefacts will be shown at the exhibition, providing the visitor with a genuine perception and experience of dizziness. Similarly, the film screenings and performances at the preceding gatherings have proved a fertile strategy in confronting the “fears and pleasures of dizziness” from a safe viewpoint and immerging the audience in dizziness. Furthermore, the strategy of mixing artistic and scientific audiences helped establish these compossible spaces of cross-disciplinary theory building.“

Any communication implies misunderstanding, collision, opposition and separation. But it always creates a possible time-space as well, the possibility to exchange, to mingle, to mix up, to melt together – to “con-fuse” in a positive sense.”(

Communication was certainly difficult and not without any risk of misunderstanding. But the atmosphere of the gatherings was dynamic and freeing, giving experience and reflection enough space and time to unfold and mix and mingle. Philosophically speaking, it is possible to search for either similarities or differences in these experiences and reflections. When we do not want to choose either, we have to consider the implications of dizziness and compossibility. If we hold that both methods are necessary – searching for similarities and searching for differences – we oscillate, waver or wobble: we are realizing the act of ambiguity, “going two ways, hither and thither, moving from side-to-side.” By our very movement, we create a social space in which affirming and dismantling definitions, oppositions, patterns and behaviors at the same time becomes possible.

This compossibility of divergent or even contrary approaches toward dizziness is not only the object of our research-creation, as an effect of our gatherings it also became our method to enhance cross-disciplinary research and communication models. For example, we found that translations of the German term “Taumel” into different languages proves fertile for deepening the understanding of Taumel’s importance as a resource for creativity. The translational processes become creative exactly in the moment when the translations from one realm to the other fail, when there is some untranslatable form or content and when the need emerges to invent and create a new form of expression.

Charlotte Hug © Anderwald + Grond

Other issues that were discussed at the previous gatherings concerned the requirements for preparing for the disorientating experience of dizziness. The central question of the gatherings remains focused on how to navigate dizziness understood as the Unknown, engendering the Unknown because of its capacity to dismantle existing patterns of behavior, experience, and thought. On the political and philosophical level, dizziness is a reaction to crossing any kind of limit, norm, border or boundary – from crossing the chaotic expanse of international waters (cf. Ruti Sela and Maayan Amir, Exterritory Project, 2010) to traversing “the ocean of discourse” (Sarah Kofman) – dizziness implies the compossibility of active and passive movement. We have to prepare ourselves well in order to be able to let go. Navigating safely through the experience of dizziness requires active preparation through learning and exercise. Only the alternation of experience and reflection, learning and unlearning, experiment and analysis, leads us to the core of dizziness as a resource. Yet, a majority of artists and performers explicitly addressed improvisation as a technique or tacit knowledge which points to the problem of destroying learnt patterns in order to navigate to new shores.

Exterritory Project © Ruti Sela and Maayan Amir

According to creativity researchers Mathias Benedek and Emanuel Jauk (who collaborated on Dizziness–A Resource with Anderwald and Grond and will attend the upcoming symposium in Graz), improvisation forms part of divergent thinking. Benedek and Jauk refer to dizziness as an uncontrollable motion and a constitutive element of the unconscious thought process, called “divergent” because it elaborates on more than only one solution to a problem. Convergent thinking, on the contrary, draws all conscious brain activity to one possible solution and is compared to conscious memory, learnt knowledge, voluntary body movement, and deliberate action. Becoming able to navigate states of dizziness (for instance anxiety (cf. Mintz 2016) or inebriation (cf. Koller 2014)) therefore develops the individual capacity to keep balance and cope with aporetic or liminal experiences.

This capacity of enduring paradoxes, crises and tensions, which can also emerge from the collaboration of divergent disciplines, is necessary if we want to create a compossible space of dizziness research. The creativity researchers’ findings also connect with Maya Shmailov’s concept of boundary crossing as cross-disciplinary practice (cf. Shmailov 2016). Within boundary crossers’ personalities there is a need to think and experience any initial ambiguity and dizzying uncertainty in order to endure and to overcome these states of dizziness.

An example of how compossible space was shaped throughout the previous gatherings can be found in Shmailov’s spontaneous reference to Anna Jermolaewa’s video Trying to Survive (2000). Shmailov’s integration of this visual artwork with her own scientific research on the personalities of boundary crossers provided a fresh spin on the idea of dizziness. In Jermolaewa’s video we see roly-poly dolls wobbling on a white plane until they crash outside of the film frame. Shmailov identified these dolls metaphorically with the movement of dizziness to which creative personalities are exposed when crossing established boundaries:

Trying to Survive © Anna Jermolaewa

“It is like a roly-poly doll shifting from one side to the other, constantly seeking its balance but often getting lost, sacrificing one end of these continua to the other. For most who tend to seek balance, the lack of it leads to a state of crisis and loss of control; for explorers, boundary crossers, and creative personalities, this is in fact what drives their works. They become master roly-polys, embracing this staggering movement and learning to make the best of situations.” (Shmailov 2016)

“Staggering as Understanding” was the title of one of the panels in Tel Aviv. Staggering is part of dizziness’ phenomenology as it concerns the reflex of relaxing the unsteady leg and tensing the other leg in order to gain balance. This spontaneous act of balance does not require any reflection beforehand, only a functioning reflex and a quick reaction. Anyway, reflection might appear afterwards because we begin wondering what really caused our staggering. Therefore, dizziness is not a state to linger on, but it incites reflection in the long run. This reflective process might result in the creation of compossible spaces, which are also not stable and static constructions. As ephemeral social spaces, they are facilities for navigating dizziness.