POLYPHONYJournal of the Irish Association of Creative Arts Therapists
Words Performances

Sensorygraphy: Performance Poetry as Artistic Intervention

Published on Feb 07, 2020 by Diviane Helena


“All the senses awaken and fall into harmony in poetic reverie.”

Gaston Bachelard

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Sensorygraphy (2018) [Performance Workshop]. Location: Curitiba/Brazil - Auditório Bento Mossurunga. 26 May 2018.

Sensorygraphy integrates dance, writing practices and verbal interactions with a focus on sensory awakening (from the senses, feelings and imagination). The participants are encouraged to open the channels of a sensitive communication and to exchange, while creating, allowing their peculiarity to manifest. Language experiments are developed during the session, with questions, phrases and invitations to move their own ideas on the path of seeking words that are not usual, bureaucratic or utilitarian. We are exercising a language that is more imaginary, more playful, more poetic.

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Sensorygraphy (2018) [Performance Workshop]. Location: Curitiba/Brazil - Auditório Bento Mossurunga. 26 May 2018.

This investigation emerged from the concept of the subject as living poetry. A subject capable of being poetry not only in the texts they write but also in the way they move, in the way they speak, in the way they live their own lives.

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Sensorygraphy (2018) [Performance Workshop]. Location: Curitiba/Brazil - Auditório Bento Mossurunga. 26 May 2018.

We immerse ourselves in experimentation of the six senses (touch, hearing, vision, taste, smell and movement) in a sensitive, inventive and relational way, developing our sensory expansion and strategies to refine their capacity. We welcome each other’s poetics, integrating personal experiences, patterns and transformations. It is a silent pact of love between the performer(s) and the uncontrollable reality outside, intending mutual responsibility and trust and an intimate relationship with space/time/other.

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Sensorygraphy (2018) [Performance Workshop]. Location: Curitiba/Brazil - Auditório Bento Mossurunga. 26 May 2018.

In Sensorygraphy sessions, the participants live bodily experiences of movement, speaking and writing in order to generate access to the imaginary through the sensations, seeking to construct new forms of relationship between the subject with themselves, the other and the world. There is an operation of translation happening constantly. The participants are invited to translate an experience to the spoken word, to the writing, to the movement and to read it with another lens.

Figure 5

Sensorygraphy (2018) [Performance Workshop]. Location: Curitiba/Brazil - Auditório Bento Mossurunga. 26 May 2018.

This experiment has led me to a territory where it is possible to feel and relish the moment of being with others in a sensitive encounter, inhabiting the word, living a notion of an extended time. It is a personal subjective position generated to amplify an experience, to allow the creation of sensitive bonds and more vibrant interaction with the other.

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Sensorygraphy (2018) [Performance Workshop]. Location: Curitiba/Brazil - Auditório Bento Mossurunga. 26 May 2018.

This exploration became material, in the form of performance-poems (“looking slowly”, for example), workshops, regular meetings in individual sessions or group sessions, and permanent artistic investigations.

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Sensorygraphy (2018) [Performance Workshop]. Location: Curitiba/Brazil - Auditório Bento Mossurunga. 26 May 2018.

This study is inspired and nourished by the work of professionals from diverse areas. Key concepts (for example, multi-sensory, by Juhani Pallasmaa; polyphony of the senses, by Gaston Bachelard; movement as the sixth sense, by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen; “the unconscious is structured like a language”, by Jacques Lacan), compose an integrated theoretical collage that make the foundation of this practice. I didn’t create ideas by myself from nothing. Sensorygraphy is a compendium of several voices mixed with factual observation, sensorial studies, and experiential work continuously elaborated dynamically.

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Sensorygraphy (2018) [Performance Workshop]. Location: Curitiba/Brazil - Auditório Bento Mossurunga. 26 May 2018.

This article shares pictures, concepts, testimonials and stories about this journey of collecting different sensations, ideas and words to create a Sensorygraphy, intensifying what pulsates in human interaction.

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Sensorygraphy (2018) [Performance Workshop]. Location: Curitiba/Brazil - Auditório Bento Mossurunga. 26 May 2018.

Conceptual aspects of Sensorygraphy

“Everybody has the necessity of emotional relationships and words.”

Françoise Dolto 

“Sensory” emerged from questioning how we are living our senses - are we ignoring this human capacity? What can happen if we develop a refinement of them? The architect Juhani Pallasmaa (2005), in his book The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses, stresses the importance of considering all the senses to build an architecture. Architects can create spaces capable of merging with human interactions and sensory experiences. Pallasmaa (2005, p. 21-22) stresses that in technological societies the senses can be disregarded:

"I believe that many aspects of the pathology of everyday architecture today can likewise be understood through an analysis of the epistemology of the senses, and a critique of the ocular bias of our culture at large, and of architecture in particular. The inhumanity of contemporary architecture and cities can be understood as the consequence of the neglect of the body and the senses, and an imbalance in our sensory system. The growing experiences of alienation, detachment and solitude in the technological world today, for instance, may be related to a certain pathology of the senses."

Pallasmaa (2005) emphasizes the five senses. Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen (2002), creator of Body-Mind Centering®, works with the integration of body and mind, developing an experimental anatomophysiology focusing on healing thought the systems of the body. She includes movement as a sixth sense of the body. Linda Hartley (1994, p. 249), researcher in BMCSM, writes that “the perception of sensory information itself involves a motor component.” Children live the sensory process intensely, “In the early stages of developing a new movement pattern, the infant is very much involved in the inner, organic processes of sensation” (Hartley, 1994, p. 2010). This is not something exclusive to a phase of development. The sensory process generates the possibility of a dialogue with the world.

The activation of the senses can generate an embodied and memorable experience. This is the core of Sensorygraphy. This study focuses on the intersection between sensory process and the formations of language, including a curiosity to understand if it is possible to think about what “the body of language” could be.

“-graphy” emerged from its greek origin (graphia) that means writing. Sensorygraphy accepts the contradiction between the autonomy of the word and the responsibility of that singular subject who vocalizes it, someone who moves constantly. I am the word, the language reveals myself. We are made of the texture of language that has surrounded us over time. The voice is filled with the content of the marks of the subject's experiences.

The psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan worked intensively with language. For him, it is only possible to apprehend the unconscious insofar as it articulates in words. Lacan (1988, p. 45) states that: “The processes of thought, Freud tells us, are only known to us by words, the knowledge of the unconscious comes to us in terms of words.” He sought to unveil the formations of the unconscious by building an understanding of the structure of language. He writes that “this unconscious does not have, after all, any other structure but a structure of language” (1988, p. 45). Thus, the unconscious is communicable; the unconscious manifests itself through a structure of language.

Sensorygraphy is about language; be it verbal, corporeal or visual. It is about each embodied word that composes a poem, a text, a choreography or a speech. It is about what every single word carries in itself and collectively, alone and being part of something else. The subjectivity of the subject is implicated in the spoken words, written letters and movements. The word reveals and hides. The word here is an act capable of making a change in the way the subject situates themselves in a situation, how they perceive their reality, how they are in relation to the other. The word interferes in the moment and space, affects who is involved.

During the Sensorygraphy sessions, the performer, who is the external voice, invites the group to embrace gravity, to leave their weight on the ground, to melt more with each exhalation, and to breath listening to the micro-movements coming from their breath. Then, the performer invites the group to amplify the micro-movements slowly, to let them enlarge until they become noticeable externally. From this moment, specific practices of the awakening of the senses, of contact, of writing, of moving, of voicing can be introduced. It depends on the characteristic of the group. The idea is to generate a performative system.

This system carries a dynamic function that I call a poetry-function. The poetry-function creates new models of sensitivity. In the words of Pignatari (2005, p. 53), the poetry “situates in the field of sensitive control, in the field of precision of inaccuracy. The point of poetry is this: saying inaccurate things precisely. The arts create models for sensitivity and for analog thinking. New, innovative, original poetry creates new models for sensitivity: it helps to create a new sensitivity”.

It is related to a subtle surprise, a moment of enchantment or strangeness that asks us to live an experience differently. A speech, a movement or a text can have the instituting effect of something that was not present before. Or an act can establish a new symbolic place for the subject of the action. The subjectivity of the performer and of the audience are invited to be present, the senses to be amplified.

I started from the idea that a poetry-function would be linked to the structure of a dynamic sensory-proprioceptive language, which considers the subject and the structure of the word.

  • Word as a materiality (calligraphy, shape of letters, size, typography, material of the ink, color of the ink, position of the word on the paper or on the other material, type of paper or the material, vowel and consonant sounds, the syllable melody, volume of the voice, textures, morphology).
  • Word in its symbolic dimension (language, vocabulary, rhythm, metric, stylistic, phonetic, phonology, signifier, meaning, metaphor, metonym, images, associations, contiguity, syntax, semantic, semiotic, lexicology, etiology, cultural influences, social effects, patterns, slang, historical time).

All of those aspects will influence the position and the movements of the performer(s) in the space, the selection of the materials, the use of the materials, the structure of the text, the content of the text, the velocity of writing, the style, the spoken words, the level of interaction with the language, an intersection with unpredictability.

During Sensorygraphy, the idea is to not have complete control of the verbal material. The words just get away preceding any rationalization. They are alive and performed by the subject. We can try to find the words, to grab them. Sometimes this works, sometimes not. They cross and fit into speech or writing even before the time of choice. The word often imposes itself. It can arrive before any deliberate decision. At other times we extract the exact term searching various sources. The poet Manoel de Barros (2009, p. 70) stated that he did not use the words, but he allowed himself to be chosen by them, to be led by them. He confessed that he had no control over words, he was their slave. At the same time, it is exactly for this reason he attests to be himself in every single word: “I keep thinking that I am doomed to be myself in every word. I think running away from this is freedom. But I soon think it is suicide. The words control me. If I pass them, they call me. If I stop, they own me.”

In Jakobson’s (2007, p. 82) point of view, the words are not so autonomous, after all the writer makes decisions about what will compose his/her writing or not. The writer does have mastery of the writing process and is not entirely tamed by language: “Any meaningful poetic composition, whether improvised or the result of long and arduous work of creation, implies the choice of verbal material, which is oriented in a certain direction.”

In Sensorygraphy, we are constantly transiting from one to another, sometimes inviting and sometimes being invited by language.

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Sensorygraphy (2018) [Performance Workshop]. Location: Curitiba/Brazil - Auditório Bento Mossurunga. 26 May 2018.

Collection of Testimonials from the Sensorygraphy Workshop

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Sensorygraphy (2018) [Performance Workshop]. Location: Curitiba/Brazil - Auditório Bento Mossurunga. 26 May 2018.

“It's a very necessary proposal for the world we have today.”

“It was cozy, when we translated it was what we really lived.”

“Sensation of expanding perception in a way that goes into the world, it's in the body, it's in the world.”

“It's political what we're doing.”

“It was a space to let go.”

“Intense for me defines everything. Explosion! I think it has no way to define, because it is a very internal thing for each one. It was very deep. It was a totally unexpected thing. It was absurd, because I brought the worst of me and the best of me at the same time. A constant war of thoughts and philosophies and beliefs and things in my life. And I think that's just what I am, you know? ”

“The blue was me, the red was her, the pink the delicacy of the movement and the yellow the light that came in between.”

“To be able to feel the layers of the other's body coming from sensory movement.”

“When the paper came in, it was the synthesis of what we did.”

“Feeling outside sounds, sounds from each other, feeling if the encounter asks for a break.”

“People full of power and flow, a “sensoryzing”, kinesthetic experience with vitality and lots of vibration with reality and the social. This moment was amazing.”

Performance-poem: “looking slowly” 

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“olhar devagar”|“looking slowly” (2015) [Performance]. Location: Curitiba/Brazil - Praça da Espanha. February 2016.

“looking slowly” (“olhar devagar”, in Portuguese) is an artistic investigation about the intimate relationship between the process of writing, movement and speaking, lived in a specific time, in a specific space by a subject (performer) subjectively implicated in their acts and open to interaction. It is an invitation to visit the micro-sensations dilated by proprioception, awaked by the influences of the space, and to listen to their voices.

This performance names one sense (vision) and one specific quality of time (slow), but it is just a starting point. “looking slowly” happens around the city, in public spaces, with writings made in the experience of living the encounters that reverie, contemplation and extended attention can generate.

Positioned with amplified attention, the performer seeks to receive details from the first contact with that place, perceiving the whole and the fragments, generating a collection of sensations activated by the function of their sensory-proprioceptive system.

Those sensations inhabit the performer, who immediately generates an act. An act can be made of sounds, voice, movements, gestures, colors, lights, interventions using different materials. In this article I am focusing more on the process of performative writing.

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“olhar devagar”|“looking slowly” (2015) [Performance]. Location: Curitiba/Brazil - Ave Lola Espaço de Criação. April 2015.

The performer sits on the ground in a public space. The performer organizes the materials, intending to produce sensitive writing coming from a place of patience, of immersion in that environment. The performance is a moment of looking with listening, of delicacy, of approximation, of concentration, a relationship with details.

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“olhar devagar” | “looking slowly” (2015) [Performance]. Location: Curitiba/Brazil. April 2015.

I write with the typewriter or by hand with pen, ink or painting, on the paper or on the pavement. 

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“olhar devagar” | “looking slowly” (2015) [Performance]. Location: Curitiba/Brazil - Praça da Espanha. February 2016.

This performance has already generated different encounters with people who passed by the street and suddenly stopped, read the text, listened to a passage, asked questions. They talked about themselves. The performer offered paper and pen. Some have written a letter, their own story, a poem, words.

When the text is finished, the performer exhibits the text in the space and recites it.

During the performative writing, the performer “plants” letters one by one on paper or written on a space. I didn’t seek a description or a registration. There is no internal pressure to make a poem or an incredible text. There is an acceptance of the impacts of the space in the subjectivity of the performer and a permanent act of writing, moving or/and speaking, making a responsible commitment to that time and space and with others around.

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“olhar devagar” | “looking slowly” (2015) [Performance]. Location: Curitiba/Brazil: Ave Lola Espaço de Criação. February/2015.

The attitude of the performer impacts the space and the space is constantly affecting the performer.

Figure 17

“olhar devagar”|“looking slowly” (2015) [Performance]. Location: Chapecó/Brazil: Curto-Circuito de Performance. 14 October 2017.

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“olhar devagar”|“looking slowly” (2015) [Performance]. Location: Chapecó/Brazil: Curto-Circuito de Performance. 14 October 2017.

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“olhar devagar”|“looking slowly” (2015) [Performance]. Location: Chapecó/Brazil: Curto-Circuito de Performance. 14 October 2017.

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“olhar devagar”|“looking slowly” (2015) [Performance]. Location: Chapecó/Brazil: Curto-Circuito de Performance. 14 October 2017.

Diviane Helena

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Brazilian Artist and Counseling Psychologist who lives in Cork/Ireland and Curitiba/Brazil. Member of The Psychological Society of Ireland and cartelisand at The Irish Circle of the Lacanian Orientation - New Lacanian School of Psychoanalysis. Artist in residence at Teacher-Artist Partnership Programme 2019/2020, coordinated by Cork Education Support Centre. Masters student in Art Therapy at Crawford College of Art and Design, awarded The Government of Ireland International Education Scholarship 2018/2019. Post Graduate in Psychoanalysis Theory and Practice. Psychologist Training Course and Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, awarded The Scientific Initiation Scholarship UFPR/Tesouro Nacional. Five years’ experience in Counseling Psychology having worked in different institutions for treatment of mental health and private practice. Ten years’ experience in the arts as a performer, artistic director, writer, dancer and developer of artistic projects with children and adolescents. Researcher in creative process, poetic language and psychoanalysis with emphasis on an artistic investigation called “Sensorygraphy”.

Portfolio: https://divianehelena.wordpress.com 

Contact: divianehelena@gmail.com


Barros, Manoel de (2009) Caderno I - Coleção AmorÍmpar, Minas Gerais: UFMG.

Cohen, Bonnie Bainbridge (2002) Sentir, Ressentir et Agir, Bruxelles: Contredanse.

Hartley, Linda (1995) Wisdom of the Body Moving: An Introduction to Body-mind Centering, California: North Atlantic Books.

Jakobson, Roman (2007) Linguística, poética, cinema, 2nd edn., São Paulo: Perspectiva.

Jacques Lacan (1988). O Seminário livro 7 a ética da psicanálise, Rio de janeiro: Jorge Zahar Editor.

Pallasmaa, Juhani (2005) The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses, 2nd edn.,England: John Wiley & Sons.

Pignatari, Décio (2005) O que é comunicação poética, 8th edn., São Paulo: Ateliê Editorial.

Figure References

Figure 1 to 11: Sensorygraphy (2018) [Performance Workshop]. Location: Curitiba/Brazil - Auditório Bento Mossurunga. 26 May 2018. Workshop developed during the “I Seminário e Mostra de Dança do DANCEP”. May 2018. With performers from DANCEP - Grupo de Dança Contemporânea do Colégio Estadual do Paraná/Brazil, coordinated by Fernando Nascimento.

Figure  12 and 15: “olhar devagar” | “looking slowly” (2015) [Performance]. Location: Curitiba/Brazil - Praça da Espanha. February 2017. Photos by Pablo Contreras.

 Figure 13, 14 and 16: “olhar devagar” | “looking slowly” (2015) [Performance]. Location: Curitiba/Brazil: Ave Lola Espaço de Criação. February/2015. Photos by Francisco Camargo with Croquis Urbanos Curitiba.

Figure 17 to 20: “olhar devagar”|“looking slowly” (2015) [Performance]. Location: Chapecó/Brazil: Curto-Circuito de Performance. 14 October 2017.