Public Parking
A journal for storytelling, arguments, and discovery through tangential conversations.
Relaxing into Relation
Tuesday, February 12, 2019 | Ashley Bedet


Floatation is an interesting phenomenon,1 to lay in a solution of water and magnesium chloride that refuses to let a person sink allows for a feeling of weightlessness. Consequently, there are many purported benefits from floating as a form of therapy. The release of tension combined with the pain abetting powers of the salts allows people to enter states of deep contemplation and relaxation — sometimes even slumber. Some users relate that it reminds them of being in a womb. Alternately, it can cause great anxiety and panic, as people can feel trapped in their pods, filled with a terror of acknowledging the enormity of the universe, pestered by vicious repetition of daily anxieties and tasks. The mind can be a safe haven or a perilous trap pending the individual’s perspective — floatation can amplify this.



In Jin-Me Yoon’s workshop for M: ST Performance Art Festival Relaxing into Relation, she honed in on the idea of identity as a process that is based on relationships with our environment and the people around us, allowing for the imagining and formation of different ontologies. Yoon shared that this was stimulated through her study of Édouard Glissant’s Poetics of Relation.  From the onset of this workshop, Yoon dispelled the idea of a set outcome or objective instead she outlined a group experiment where relaxing would be used as a means of dissolving the boundary between self and the rest. Participants were invited to individual float sessions, afterward, the group would reconvene to converse and reflect on their perspectives of the world and potential imagining of alternative means of being. Yoon offered the floatation as a means to relax any harried auto-responses and loosen our minds.  This relates to the physicist David Bohm’s ideas around dialogue, and that it creates a space where ideas can be formulated. Ultimately, for Bohm, a conversation is a place where opinions are expressed without judgment, trying to reach a common understanding, even if that isn’t necessarily an agreement. 2

self / identity

Yoon provides these ideas as rootlings with us prior to the float. Afterward, we will graft, grow, and tend to these ideological rootlings individually, extending the interdependence between each of our individual geocultures. 3  But before that can happen we must each float, dissolve the stress and anxiety symptomatic of being alive, sentient and emotive. To do that we go to water, to dissolve the barriers of fixated thoughts.  Though it may seem self-evident that when shifting thinking away from rigid epistemic of identity —which includes a turn of mind to the unknown — a good approach to entering this endeavor would be to relax.  As always, easier said than done. It is a ritual of opening, but first, there must be a shedding. This act resembles a passage from ancient Sumerian mythology, of Queen Inanna (Queen of Heaven and Earth) who sojourns to her sister, Queen of the Underworld. To do this, Inanna relinquishes all of the corporeal delights and accomplishments she has to be reborn, not in sacrifice for anyone else, but for herself. She gives up each of the things she is known and associated with at each of the seven gates in her descent to the underworld. Inanna is made of many things: divinity, mortality, power, fertility, love, earth — it is in the releasing of these gifts that she can be reborn. Literally translated, Inanna sets her ear (which directly translates to mind) to the ground to seek wisdom. To do so requires both focus and sacrifice, however, in our cases we must sacrifice our daily noise and titles to enter the water — to transition from one headspace to the next, hopeful and in search of a different understanding of the world.

As we all are of this earth, the complexities of our identities and relations can often be compartmentalized to a degree that limits our selves. Glissant defines these compartments as stages, first to consider that identity is relational, and not based on conquest, dominance and colonial expansion. To approach one’s individual ontology from this lens proves expansive and destabilizing. As Glissant so beautifully puts it, in the chaotic network of Relation, rather than using the compartments created by hidden violence such as filial inheritance or title, identity is created by interconnected relationships that do not rely on those systems of power.5 Who a person is becomes less of where their family claims entitlement or where your people live currently, instead it becomes how they relate to the people, environment, and systems of power. What allows a person to exist in the world is not supposed to claim to any kind of genetic purity, but an interconnected web of people current and past, and influences of those relationships. When thinking about identity through this lens the distinct boundaries between a self and others start to become unclear. Philosopher Jean Luc Nancy speaks to this in his essay L’ Intrus (The Intruder) meditating on the stranger's strangeness, created by an intrusion, is what makes the other, this, in turn, gives the self a foil. However, as Nancy expands his metaphor to question the subject of ‘I’ he shares the need for a heart transplant. In order to continue living, he must accept the heart of the other because his own heart treats him as the other.6 How hard are the boundaries then, between him and the other as his body physically reconciles the two in order to survive? The dissolution of this binary appears to be the first step in considering identity and it is stressful, hectic, and even, as in Nancy's case — life-threatening.


This is what I meditated in my pod, floating in darkness. Even with eyes wide open the only thing to be seen was blackness, an eternal void. It's easy to start to contemplate the micro or macro when floating. You lose the reference markers of scale lying there in water - the substance that makes up most of you. The floatation space is private, safe, and meant just for one in that room at that time. This setting allows for a gentler focus as the recurring thought patterns loosen their grip on my thinking. Osmosis occurring between my dehydrated cells and the elevating water makes me consider the boundary between myself and the world. Skin as a membrane protects me from the world but also is permeable. The way water flows encompassing the planet is an impressive and an unstoppable force — it is in its movement that it creates and shapes the world I live in. It is the evaporation of the ocean into clouds that bring the rain that gets held by the thousands of gallons in grasslands and forests that in turn feed me, and eventually I will feedback into this same system. I suppose this is what Glissant means when the poetics of identity are chaotic. The breadth of the interconnectedness is astounding and humbling. To me it isn’t the relation that is confusing, just the words needed to articulate these connections get muddled.




Within the language itself, it becomes difficult to relate to one's own self and history outside of a rooted identity pattern when that is the dominant force within a community of people.  It benefits powers motivated to oppress and control to maintain this belief, and those who wish to maintain their identity outside of these defined parameters must navigate these waters carefully.  “How does anybody or group of bodies start to form new epistemic?”

Without the pressure of production, the workshop experimented with making space for 5 bodies to try to relate to one another and the world without maintaining rigid borders between ourselves and amongst the place we resided.  Exiting the pod and rejoining thoughts to my body I am intensely reminded of my diminutive scale in relation to bodies of water and land on this earth. Whole continents are connected by plate tectonics and landmasses form out of these rocks folding in on each other and spurting magma from the ocean, forming islands. Rock to water and water to rock, even solids and liquids can’t escape relating to each other.

Upon reuniting with the group our discussion expanded further. People felt calmer and could clearly articulate similar territories to those I had been meditating. Our understandings of place however still jarred all of us. Personally, I have always struggled to answer the fickle and invasive question, “Where are you really from?”. Insolence aside, using race, filial, or geographic origin as a qualifier for your identity is precarious. On a more local level identity qualifiers are murkier, people mingling from all and any cultures sometimes use politics to characterize themselves. Gentle and tentative conversation timidly moved forward as our group clumsily conversed about our experiences, discoveries, and then ultimately our fears and anxieties. To foster a different understanding of the world is no small task, it is mind-bending to find words failing as they hold old meanings and understandings that can limit new forms, connotations holding so strong as to undermine new elucidations.7

If I try to examine my own making I find it hard to tell if I relate to one facet of my ancestry more than any other. If you were to mate people from Russia and Ukraine, Northern Europe, Asia and the archipelago of Indonesia, you may or may not get a person resembling me. What I personally experience, know and relate to about the joining of these peoples may seem arbitrary from the outside. What’s more, I was born and raised, and know the land of an entirely different continent. Am I more of here or there? And if that be the case which here, and which there? If asked to think about the old world, I have to ask which one. Let’s talk about Indonesia: home of the great volcanoes, navigation, cocoa, and spices, that when introduced to the world at large were worth more than gold because it brought taste to the dull subsistence of life. Arguably the volcanoes themselves are the origins of life in their island forming nature, no doubt why so many cultures situated around these places often consider them as gods. How does such a place relate to the rest of the world? Seemingly isolated by water, what those islands hold draw the world to them, and push themselves onto the world. Think of 1815, when Mt. Tambora erupted, the ash and smoke filling our atmosphere affected the entire world, it caused 1816 to be known as the year without summer. Throughout Europe, America and Asia poverty spread as crops failed, and supplies drained because of unprecedented low seasonal temperatures. The dominant western sense of superiority would have no doubt been challenged, had they known the source of this destructive weather it may have caused a crisis in identity. These systems of relations are not so implicitly clear in their borders, to start to view the world this way can feel chaotic and overwhelming.

Let us hone in for a final moment then, stay on volcanoes, they who birth islands and such diversity of life. Yet even if they become inactive, and appear to have healed their gorging wounds, underneath their skin is blood boiling so hot its point of entry to our atmosphere is ineludible. Similarly, the volcano is not set to a specific system of an island, continent, nation or global relation. Tambora is connected through water and rock, it wholly belongs to the earth's own internal system. It also has a life unbeknownst to its inhabitants. Though many systems (ecological, social, political, geographic to just name a few) form our understanding of existence, even those we are unaware of can have the power to inform our ontologies.  While we may not know everything about each system, it is how we engage and relate to these systems of understandings — of water, rock, geography and each other — that in essence form our identities. Drawing the perspective near and far like a micro- or telescope instead draws a more full if not more lucid understanding of ourselves and the worlds we inhabit, leaving space for that which is unknown, what will be known, and what in our frame of reference, cannot be known.

1 Originally sensory deprivation tanks were used by the US military to torture people.

Philip Solomon et al., eds., Sensory Deprivation: A Symposium Held at Harvard Medical School (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961), 239-57.

2 For him dialogue is a space in between speaking to encourage contemplation, rather than rallies or debates. Bohm, David, On Dialogue (Routledge, 1996), 3.

3 Translation definition of ‘gives on with’ explain the connection between the translation of ‘comprehends’ and ‘grasps’ in the poetic meaning of the etymology which results in ‘gives-on-with’ in Glissant’s words. Glissant, Poetics of Relations, 212.

4 Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer, Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth  (Harper & Row, 1983), xvii. 2015mar28a29/done-compressed-2015mar28a29_djvu.txt

5 Glissant, Poetics of Relations, 14.

6 Jean-Luc Nancy, Corpus (Fordham University Press, 2008), 4.

7 Perhaps this is the great weakness of the English language, that it is the language of the colonizers, and in its great reckoning, it gobbled up means of sensing and articulating the world.

Ashley Bedet is an artist and writer based in Calgary who spends her 9-5 making animal simulations to feed herself and water the plants. She looks forward to hearing from you.