Constructive Amnesia

Feb 5, 2023

The improvisational performer has one job, and that is to resonate simultaneously with the internal (body) and external environment. Resonance alone is what makes the performer.

For the butoh artist or experimental improvisational performer (EIP, pronounced ape), the ability to break from the human domesticated world existing within and outside of the body serves as a means to unlock our inner artist, creator, or child. Every single person has this ability, and so is not limited to those who identify as “artist,” “actor,” “dancer,” or “performer.”

Viktor Shkovsky, a Russian literary theorist, is known for using the term defamiliarization to describe the overall technique of art. Objects become unfamiliar or less accessible to perception in order to inspire artistic creation. (1)

Space Not Place

In both geography and architecture studies, there is a distinction made between space and place. To Yi-Fu Tuan, a Chinese-American geographer, place has a cultural and/or historical association (an understood reality), whereas space has freedom and potential.(2)

To view a place as a space is to defamiliarize the place. To do this is to instantly open up a playground. A kitchen will no longer be a kitchen but a somatically experienced or danced vague space as if never before seen by a baby or extraterrestrial species. Cabinets open into new universes. Countertops are eager dance partners. Tiles are thin ice on a frozen lake.

Or these aspects of the space are beyond terminology or beyond the recontextualization into other forms of known place. We get lost in the space.

Children had it right all along. Domesticated grown-ups are the one who have fallen from grace. We must forget again in order to return to artist or performer.

Object Not Artifact

Using the analogy of space and place, we can say the same of object and artifact. Like place, artifact also carries with it cultural or historical significance.

To view an artifact as an object is to defamiliarize the artifact. The artifact becomes an empty prop teeming with endless resonance patterns based in the object’s form such as shape, structure, color, density, and sound. A broom is not a broom, nor a hat a hat. We get lost in the objects, forgetting their previously understood reality.

These objects, pregnant with potential, are body extensions or dance partners. Like space, they too, can coexist beyond terminology or beyond the recontextualization into other forms of known artifacts.


Constructive amnesia is a way to transform the participant into a butoh artist or EIP. The world is viewed as vague spaces and objects. Space becomes like an empty canvas and objects like wet clay. Both act as catalysts for embodied resonance.

(1) Shkovsky, Victor. Art as Technique. Essay. 1917. Page 2.

(2) Tuan, Y. Space and Place: the persepective of experience. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. 1977. Page 4, 7.