Tanja Erhart and Katharina Senk are currently in the middle of a creation process for their new work j e n g a – a choreographic exploration of pleasure as a radical interface in the discourse between disability and feminism. But unlike many artists who are suddenly turning to digital media, these two have been using online formats as part of their artistic research way before the pandemic started: from intimacy to Skype, accessibility to care practices, they share insights on their digital and sensual working process.
As we gather to chat via three computer screens, I ask the two colleagues to introduce themselves in their own terms. Tanja proceeds: ‘I would usually begin a digital meeting with an audio description of myself for participants who are blind or visually impaired: I’m a white woman with blue eyes and long light brown hair and I’m currently sitting on my olive green bed in London. My pronouns are she/her, I’m a dance artist, pleasure activist, cultural anthropologist and I identify as Crip (Disabled and chronically ill). I think of myself as a being with three different bodyminds – with my wheelchair, one-legged, or three-legged with my crutches – using each of their unique potentials in my movement practices.’
Katharina continues with this approach: ‘My pronouns are she/her and I’m a non-disabled white woman currently talking from Vienna. My friends and colleagues call me Senki, which I love because it’s a less gendered version of my name. Next to me is my dog Chili and I’m sitting on my living room floor, surrounded by green plants that I very much enjoy keeping alive. I’m a dancer, choreographer and facilitator. My movement practice is deeply influenced by my love of martial arts and sports and I’m interested in the intersections between post-humanism, feminism and social justice.’
The two artists met at a conference in Berlin in 2017 and have been collaborating ever since, developing unique methods along the way. Being based in two different countries, they have become experts at digital rehearsal processes, working from their beds, and long-distance intimate relationships. Tanja explains: ‘For us working online was a necessity, for ecological and economical reasons: We wanted to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible and also we didn’t have the money to travel back and forth between Austria and the UK. The decision to work on Skype was an easy one, because we both were equipped with laptops and a fairly good internet connection.’
Katharina elaborates on the embodied layers of their digital approach: ‘For our first collaboration non_yielding we rehearsed and performed online via Skype. In this setting we used Tanja’s crutches not only as an animated dance partner but also as a connective tool to bridge our different physicalities. This strategy became a baseline of our collaboration. In one of our performances Tanja moved with one of her crutches in Berlin and I moved with one of Tanja’s crutches in Bangalore. Of course we were very dependent on the technical set-up, but knowing that both Tanja and I felt the cold metal of the crutches on our skins simultaneously, gave me a deep sense of connection. So in that way we were clearly nurtured by our online experience.’