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Post #126 • October 13, 2003, 3:51 AM

This is from an interview with art critic Kenneth Baker by Oriane Stender on Artnet, brought to my attention by Modern Art Notes. As an artist, critic, and practitioner of t’ai chi, I agree with what he says completely.

OS: I understand that aikido is an important part of your life. Is it like a spiritual retreat?

KB: No, no, it’s central to my understanding of what I’m doing professionally. I teach a class in aikido at the California College of Arts and I do that because so much of the work that I see is too head-driven, and aikido is about, among other things, bringing the heart forward, both in posture terms and in terms of a source of action, a source of the spirit in which you do things.

It’s a heartless world, in all sorts of ways, and this kind of practice wins back some ground from that condition within which we all have to exist. And because it’s a partner practice throughout, with the partners always changing, it’s also a way of experiencing people in a kind of detail that ordinary social existence doesn’t permit. I mean you really have intimate contact with people in a way that continues and develops and becomes quite deep.

But it’s also impersonal, it’s asocial, it’s nonsexual, it’s ritualized and formalized in the sense that most of your attention is to the process. So much of what you experience on the mat seems to be completely cut off from language, but when I’m teaching I try to speak some of the unsayable, try to bring up some of that proprioceptive knowledge into the level of what can be shared.

OS: Proprioceptive?

KB: Proprioceptive. It means the internal experience of your own body and its position and motion. To me that’s very close to the exercise of critical perception. When you look at an object and you try to say something about why it stirs you, why it excites you, something that isn’t simply intellectual, something that really is at the level of feeling, then you’re trying to connect to language something that is basically nonlinguistic or nontranslatable.

So that effort to try and shine the light of language on these dark areas of our experience is very much connected to what I do in critical practice. It’s also about the challenge to the ruling values of this culture at the moment, when there seem to be these psychological billboards everywhere saying, “You’ve got to win at all costs” and “Take no prisoners” and “Yield to no one.”

It’s an alternative path around these hardened goals and priorities that are invisible or unarticulated, and really not what we want if we’re right-thinking people—you know what I mean?




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