type of project: fellow research project

published: 2021

by: Kiraṇ Kumār & Kai Tuchmann




Dear Dead Doctor

17 September, 2021

Transcript of presentation at Play On! Conference held at the Akademie für Theater und Digitalität, Dortmund

When we began our fellowship at the academy 10 days ago, we rearticulated our project for this public wiki. Basically the next 10 minutes will be a sort of performative-documentary gesture of ultimately writing out our research questions in this wiki after we have taken you through our thought processes, starting by sharing a brief project synopsis.

“The collaborative research between dancer Kiraṇ Kumār and dramaturg Kai Tuchmann is towards the making of 'Dear Dead Doctor', a work of digital and documentary theatre. In the form of an open letter to Kiran’s late grandfather, who was the first doctor of western medicine in his family, the project explores performative strategies of bringing medical and somatic knowledges into dialogue on stage. This address to the doctor is conceived through Kiraṇs grandchild: a parthenogenetic, proto-progenic being (P3B). P3B will be digitally materialized by drawing on 'data points' from yogic, dance and martial embodied practices. 'Dear Dead Doctor' re-imagines what 'being human in the world' could imply in its continuity across pre-modernities and futurities.”

One of the central concerns of our research is how to understand P3B. This is a complex concern with dramaturgical, technological and philosophical dimensions - which each articulate the concern differently:

Who is speaking with the dead?

How to speak with the dead?

Why speak with the dead?

Let’s be clear that speaking with the dead is by no way a romantic return to a past. Indeed it is a rational and imaginary gesture to reach outside modernity and towards an altered futurity.

Since Kiran is a dancer, we will make a key assertion that the bearing of embodied practices like dance, yoga and martial arts for our future, does not lie in a continued virtuosic display of skilled individuals. So rather than building our futures on recurrent stories of individual geniuses, through our research we propose that embodiment is a shared intelligence that is sort of compressed into an interpersonal storage mechanism, for example of a dance form transmitted from teacher to student, from performer to audience etc. This transmission of embodied intelligence cannot happen in a solid state of storage, like a fixed national culture or a singular artistic genius. Transmission of embodied intelligence happens through a sublimation of the self, an exchange of vaporous particles between us.

This is a 2 dimensional visualization of our digital starting point for developing P3B, depicting how data can be deduced from embodied practice and materialized in a pixel-cloud:

[Video Excerpt from Kiran Kumar`s work Im/material Beings]

We expect P3B to transcend the binary of exclusively being either a material or a non-material presence. Instead we qualify P3B as an im/material being and we will research here how to possibly bring it from this 2 dimensional state into the 3rd dimension.

The 3rd century Sanskrit text Tattva Bodham or Deep Materiality, offers a 3 dimensional conception of being-human. Moving away from the very binary conception of body and mind, this yogic conception instead describes a trinary materiality of gross, subtle, and causal dimensions of being-human. Our gross beings are bio-material substances, our subtle beings are psycho-energetic presences, and causal beings could well be our by now im/material ancestors.What we will do in the lab here at the Akademie is at first a Capture of images of Kiran`s gross body in yogasana/postures, dance and martial movements. Using photo, video and motion- capturing technologies, this will be a capture of the gross or bio-material dimension.After this digital capture of the gross body, rather than pictorial visualisation, we will move towards a pixelated visualisation in which the image is structured/choreographed using principles of the subtle body: sensory modulations such as touch of the skin and blink of the eye, using rhythms of breathing, using dream-images and visualisations.


[The apophatic body of the Jain ascetic. Collection Ajit Mookerjee, photo Jeff Teasdale. As printed in: Interpreting the Image of the Human Body in Premodern India, Dominik Wujastyk.]

Ultimately our creation of P3B will be a visualisation of a subtle body derived from data of a gross body. This data is primarily embedded in the living archives of embodied practices.But the troubling thing is: data, in contrast to evidence, is not something given. Rather it has to be extracted from evidence. In contrast to evidence, which can be binary: true or false, data is rhetorical; it is something constructed to create certain effects, therefore it has no truth value.Data is just the result of curating an archive. In this process of curation, data is transformed by abstraction, aggregation etc.  Data eventually will be that what Kiran and I take into account. So we will struggle with questions that are deeply connected to this very notion of data and its visualization. Questions like: What kind of data counts as knowledge? Is it all about counting?  What counts? Who counts? Can we blend counting and understanding in a meaningful way?

Yet even as we invoke such a dialogue of the philosophical with the technological, we are careful towards the Californian talks and promises around disruption through technology. Eventually this Californian perspective claims  thatconsciousness could exists independent of embodiment. And that one, for example, could upload the consciousness into a cloud and that it would exist there independently from the body from which it emerged.

We want to intervene into this perspective of a loss of embodiment, which is also symptomatic for the western discourse of posthumanism; We want to ask instead, how the embodied practice of theatre and dance can be expanded into a practice that thinks with and through data? This also connects to Kai`s research interesest into the field of dramaturgy. Which Kai understands as a practice that is constantly expanding the possibilities of theatre.

The following is an excerpt of the film LOSERS AND WINNERS by Ulrike Franke and Michael Loeken, which documents the dismantling of the Kaiserstuhl coke factory here in Dortmund and its shipment to and reassembly in China in 2005:

[Video Trailer of LOSERS AND WINNERS, Ulrike Franke and Michael Loeken]

We are introducing this excerpt here because it hints to a second biographical layer of our project. Because Kai was born and raised in this city and grew up in a workersfamily. Some of his relatives even were associated with the depicted coke factory- while he has moved to Beijing in 2016 where he developed a BA program in dramaturgy. Growing up here, he could witness the effects of the end of industrial culture on the local peoples minds: a loss of belief in any valuable future prospects, a rise of violence and xenophobia were very often the consequence of it. To some extent, we regard the city Dortmund as a symptom for a broader “western condition”, which we characterize through the three buzzwords: loss of identity, decline of western empire, transformation difficulties.

Seen from this perspective, Dortmund`s embracing of the digital (academy, port, university) points to questions around the sociological foundations of the digital: How can the digital be an opportunity for reinventing one´s identity as a city- or (in the case of nowadays Chinas) even as a nation? In our project, we are looking for ways to interact with the very concrete city that hosts us. We are planning interviews between P3B and local citizens of Dortmund, as well as with the global networks of media scholars and philosophers of science. The data collected through these interviews with P3B will then form the textual basis for the letter to the dead doctor.

Like we said in the beginning, we want to use this presentation as a performative-documentary gesture to write out our research questions in this wiki. And basically we have now oriented our research around the following 5 questions:

  1. What kind of knowledge can data produce? Is it all about counting?  What counts? Who counts? Can we blend counting and understanding in a meaningful way?
  2. How can we possibly bring P3B from his 2 dimensional state into the 3rd dimension?
  3. What Indic knowledges of the human body-mind did the doctor have to disinherit? And could these knowledgesbecome accessible through surviving practices of temple dance and yoga?
  4. How can the embodied practice of theatre be expanded into a practice that thinks with and through data?
  5. What does it mean when the digital becomes a medium for reinventing identity as an individual, as a city, or even as a nation?


19 September - 1 October, 2021

In order to prepare the visit of our programmer Matthias Härtig, whose expertise will help us in creating P3B, we started discussing the question of how to select from the living archives of Yoga, Kalaripayatt and Odissi-dance. We want our methodology to be transparent and consequential, which is even more important when one considers, that in contrast to Yoga and Kalari, Indian dance was completely reconstructed during the turn of the 20th century. Eventually, we decided just to focus on the pedagogies of Yoga, Kalari and Odissi- as they were taught to and are practiced by Kiran. In case of dance, we will draw, among other things, on Kiran`s training units. The following video displays such a unit that Kiran actually recorded for his master Bijayna Sathbathy during the time of the Pandemic (when personal training was not possible).

Kiran posesses several documents from his late grandfather: 5 pages entitled “Dates to appreciate and to remember”, 16 pages entitled “List of Patients”, several unnumbered pages and several wordless pages, and eventually the draft for an autobiography (pages 3-115). On September 30th we started to decipher, transcribe and read this autobiography, that we eventually put up on the stage of our lab.

  • projects/deardeaddoctor/start.txt
  • Last modified: 04.10.2021 10:12
  • by Kai Tuchmann