Sarah Dahnke

: A performance installation that consists of a series of videos, reactive audio elements and live dance performances depicting various elements of psychological attachment. Each piece of the installation tells a small part of a multi-faceted, intimate story.

Attached includes a series of videos and movement-based duets that occur simultaneously to each tell one piece of a narrative. The audience is invited to walk through the performance space, viewing each piece in the order of their own choosing, weaving together the narrative as they go. In one duet the two dancers are enveloped in a large piece of Lycra, while in another two very still performers are harnessed together at the waist. In a third duet, a wearable circuit augments the dancers’ vocals as they push and pull against each other.

Inspiration/Psychological Research
Psychologist Nancy Newton Verrier calls this common thread a “primal wound,” since all adoptees, at once point or another had to be taken away from their birth mothers. Her studies of adopted children and adults have led her to state that this wound is “physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual, a wound which causes pain so profound as to have been described as cellular by those adoptees who allow themselves to go that deeply into their pain.” She also writes that the wound is caused by the separation of the child from his biological mother, “the connection to whom seems mystical, mysterious, spiritual and everlasting.”
Mother/infant attachment is central to a child’s development, as noted in the studies of John Bowlby, who described attachment as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” He determined attachment encompassed the desire to be near those we are attached to, feeling safe with the attachment figure, and the stress and anxiety that occurs when separation from the attachment figure is realized. Bowlby described this attachment as a necessary part of evolution, and as a result, believed a baby’s attachment to the mother is a bond that naturally develops through communication between mother and child. It is also believed to be an important part of an infant’s cognitive development.
Gregory Keck and Regina Kupecky, authors of Parenting the Hurt Child: Helping Adoptive Parents Heal and Grow (quoted in The Encyclopedia of Adoption), write more specifically about why adopted children are likely to exhibit attachment disorders:
“The types of problems that adoptive parents see in their children are most likely the result of breaks in attachment that occur within the first three years. They are problems that impair, and even cripple, a child’s ability to trust and bond—or attach to other human beings.”
Children who suffer from attachment disorders can exhibit a list of abnormal behaviors, including but not limited to:
• Sleep disorders
• Intense rages
• Above or below average tolerance to pain
I have attempted to harness some of these themes in the various components of Attached, literally referencing the idea of attachment through three duets.
In the Blue Duet, the two harnessed-together performers generate a vocal soundtrack to their increasingly violent movements. The performers begin audibly breathing together as part of the same unit, a nod to Buddhist monk and scholar Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on nondualism. He writes that “both sides belong to you, the good and the evil. Evil can be transformed into good, and vice versa.” Breath is used to focus the meditation. As you breathe in, you are to recognize all of the opposing emotions inside of yourself and release your fear of them. “We do not turn ourselves into a battlefield of good versus evil,” he writes. “The insight of nonduality will put a stop to the war in you.”
Recognizing this battle, the performers verbally praise each other, but they are not yet at peace. Their dialogue escalates to more aggressive, rage-filled speech and continues to move within each of these three transformations for the duration of their performance. Their audio is constantly recorded and looped back via a soft, wearable circuit outfitted with switches that are triggered when the performers come into contact with each other. Their vocals sometimes stutter or are distorted with noise, causing fragments of words or sentences to be played back. This duet ends with one performer detaching herself from the harness that bounds the two, leaving one performer alone as vocals continue to loop and play back. This causes the dualism of this duet to transform from a literal representation of two people into disembodied voices from the past accompanying one body.
In the White Duet, two performers are physically attached at the waist with a harness. They lean very slowly and subtly away from each other, sometimes returning to their original, neutral positions, other times fully relying on the counterbalance created by leaning away from each other. Once this counterbalance is utilized, they are fully dependent on each other in an extremely vulnerable way. This demonstrates a physical dependence on one another, much like a baby has for his or her mother.
These duets are book-ended by videos portraying unconditional love, therapeutic screams, and stifled screams, which attempt to give the viewer a multi-layered experience, allowing this installation to become more than a simple portrayal of psychological studies through dance and allow them to experience a conflicting flood of emotions similar to the deep-rooted, cellular pain that Verrier describes.

lovers of performance, movement, dance, video art; humans