after the weekend of ropes

Jochen has a beautiful workshop in Ohlauerstr, near the Görlitzer Park, an old and vast Fabrik dressed in olive green windows and red brick. His second-floor theatre-building workshop stretches two-thirds the length, windows along both sides, catching the sun in the morning from one side and through the evening on the other.

Dasniya was rehearsing Burka Bondage there before the tour to India, and we’d been talking with Jochen recently about our upcoming projects fitting in to the rear third. Earlier in the week we turned up and with his help drilled a couple of bolts into the ceiling.

Lewis arrived just as I did on Saturday morning, all the way from Amsterdam, having successfully escaped both Wellington and Adelaide. Along with him were five others, making a small group of seven for the two days of yoga and shibari.

It’s been a while since Dasniya has had a space to teach this combination of techniques and coincidently Saturday was the 5th, marking exactly two years since I first found my way into her classes. And to say, mmm yes, a very pleasant return. I haven’t done yoga for a while, though feeling the need for it, and her approach, as I pushed in Adho Mukha, I remembered has given me more to think about on a finely detailed level than any other teacher I’ve had.

I thought also, while in Vriksasana, loosely wiggling my fingers in my peripheral vision and noticing how that (I was staring at a black curtain wall so had little to hang onto with my eyes) helped me balance, and wondering if attentiveness to peripheral vision, which causes a certain ‘unfocus’ in my central vision is what is meant by ‘keeping your eyes soft’, and if that also there is something in how the peripheral vision affects your balance, and so thinking again as I have so often of writing all this down …

Tamara has returned to our Shibari. Dasniya tied her just after untying me, so she could go on and be untied by Parsifal; a figure binding her arms and torso in an improvised though quite systematic process (andrew needed certain things at certain times to fit into his singing). There is something coming out of this that I said to a friend, “feels like we just transcended something …”

For the last two years I’ve learnt various figures, taken workshops with teachers of quite different styles — Osada Steve, Kinoko, and Arisue Go — gone from being mortified of Takate Kote to tying Hojo Hishi Nawa blindfold, and for the past few months felt something growing that was none of this.

There is something of this in the improvised messiness of Dasniya’s Tamara figure, and something of it too in what I’ve been playing with, binding ropes with no knots, cinches, hitches, keeping them fast by their own biting into each other. I was thinking of something of Hana Tsutsumi, and the cord used in this (took a while to find the name), Mizuhiki. Though even this isn’t quite there, something also in where the game Zen Bound (originally called Zen Bondage) came from.

The Tamara figure starts as Hojo Hishi Nawa does, before taking off into a following of the rope. For people who like technique and figures, this is where it can get frustrating. That there are no rules or technique is not true, but understanding what these are, or which set of rules or approaches according to how it’s progressing is something not tangible as say, regarding a Takate Kote and rating it according to an idealised, perfect figure.

This then is certainly where I am in regard to rope and Shibari, and somehow Dasniya also — we seem to talk a lot about this. It’s not strict Shibari as the books and teachers show, though I find something of it in Arisue Go’s ropework — and it’s absolutely not American commercial bondage, which I find I am less and less interested in for its obviousness and predictability.

We also talked a lot about the person being tied and dismissing the notions of ‘passive’, ‘submissive’ and so on. This is something I began more coherently formulating while in Brussels, while reading about pain receptors and the variety of other senses besides the commonly understood five.

The second day, between conversations around the large table Jochen made, and piles of rope, I had some very enjoyable experiments with both Dasniya and Lewis. Two years of these things with Dasniya and we have something quite nice in how we play with these ideas. As for Lewis, well maybe to say that he is rather good at all this.

The next day…

To think of the rope as a tool, for example as a hammer is, or a pair of chopsticks, or a musical instrument — there is a dexterity added to the ability of the hand by this, and it is not simply an addition, which is to say, ‘I’ am not merely ‘using’ a tool. The ‘I’ that gains familiarity with an object ceases to delineate between ‘me’ and ‘that’. These things become part of us and in turn we extend ourselves into them. The rope is my fingers, or perhaps to say the rope is my tactile organ, somewhat prehensile also. I do not merely feel through the rope, acting as an intermediary, sensation being communicated along it towards or from me, I feel through the rope as its qualities are to touch what my skin is also.

The rope allows as well, for a degree of deferral. This can work both for and against communication, depending on the people at either end. However, the deferral in itself is somewhat neutral; it causes a possibility of communication that by its tangible intermediary status is not what or how one would commonly interact with another. It instigates a pause in thinking, a space for possibilities.

True, this could be anything, but there are certain qualities of rope in the consciousness of culture that make it particular. Irrespective of BDSM, rope is for binding, tying, restraining, lifting, fixing, lashing (in both senses); it is used as a tool as well as as a punishment. It may lift cargo onto a ship, but it also may lift a person by their neck, or break their fall on the gallows. We tie our shoes every day, restraining our feet, and over a lifetime changing them as surely as 缠足 did a Chinese woman, we also bind our damaged limbs or bodies with cloth bandages in equally specific patterns. At whatever level of consideration, this exists in thoughts when handling rope. It is almost as if we do something close to forbidden by taking this object of use and turning it to play.