Stephanie Gottlob, improvisational movement artist

I’m delighted to host this post from Stephanie. We’ve been corresponding for several months and I love her writing, photography and process.

“Is art an imposition of order on chaotic Nature or is art a matter of discovering the grain of things, of uncovering the measured chaos that structures the natural world? Observation, reflection and practice show artistic process to be the latter” – Gary Snyder

I am an improvisational movement artist.

A year ago I left the life I had been living in Toronto to follow a calling of embodying the various natural biomes of North America. I bought a truck camper and for these past 12 months I have been living and dancing in remote parts of Nature exploring movement improvisation, creative process, and somatic experiences on, and with the landscape. Each biome that I have thus far explored – deciduous forest, freshwater lake, arctic tundra, swamp and grasslands – reveals something new about somatic embodiment and artistic expression.

While in Nature I improvise with various elements of the landscape: water, color, mountains, sounds, rock, mud, grass, heat, roots, wind, empty space. It is a somatic approach to creativity and art.

A few things have emerged from these investigations:

Improvisation is a Somatic Experience

The body is a landscape and the landscape is a body.

For me, improvisation is about merging with the qualities of Nature, rather than the objects of Nature. It’s the flow, movement, density and textures that pass back and forth between us. Through improvisation I try to embody these qualities… her arcing, sparkling, darting, expansive qualities. And it goes the other way too. Sometimes I turn inwards, towards my somatic felt senses and notice how I feel in relation to the smells, the soil, the empty space. This leads to improvisational connections as well. To me, these inner felt senses and nature’s outwardly expressed qualities are the same. We are the same inside and out.

Improvisation Animates

The land is an aware and active canvas on which to create movement art.

During improvisation, Nature animates. She comes to life in the creative moment. This happens when we are in relation, in a creative relationship. The creative choices we make during the improvisation feels like a co-emerging process. During these moments of creativity, the landscape seems to toss, unravel, support and express independently, like an improvisational partner. Landscape and I… always a duet, at least a duet.

Improvisation is a Process of Finding through Imagination

The process of improvisation with the landscape is more about finding aesthetic moments as opposed to creating them. These artistic moments, for me, seem hidden or veiled. It is something Nature and I find together. We uncover them. We wait for them to be revealed.

One of the most important ways these moments are revealed is through the imagination, between I and the landscape. By imagination I mean a creative consciousness that is beyond thinking, doing, using, or even being. Imagination is an innate capacity in all things to transcend and express meaning. This meaning, is more of a non-specific meaning, a meaning such as presence or sacredness, beauty or individuality.

Improvisation Reveals Place

“The only mythology that is valid today is the mythology of the planet – and we don’t have such a mythology… Myths must be kept alive. The people who can keep them alive are artists. The function of the artist is the mythologizing of the environment and the world.” Joseph Campbell

When improvising in wildness, theses aesthetic moments can begin to have a sense of story of place. Or even myth. There is a necessity of expression emerging from place. From this particular place. The expression, to me, does not feel like an ancient indigenous myth or fairy tale. It doesn’t feel narrative. It feels new. More like a process of emerging-myths expressing themselves as movements, as images, as sounds. Between human and wildness. These aesthetic moments in improvisation do offer one way of capturing mythic moments. Human and Earth.

Improvisation and Somatic Meditations

A deepening of meditative experience, is a deepening of aesthetic experience.

The somatic meditative or mindful experiences I encounter in Nature are very important in developing, deepening, and creating nuance in how I improvise with the land. Aesthetic experiences are very much linked to a state of mind. They are an opening into the unknown. They are a layering of the senses. They bring the imagination into the reality of experience.

Some of the somatic meditative experiences encountered in Nature:

the nuance of distance between the extremes of near and far revealing itself in the open tundra

silence experienced not as the absence of sound but as a landscape of feelings

an internal experience of natural objects morphing while drifting in a canoe on the swamp

the subtle differences between ‘walking’ and ‘wandering’, between ‘here’ and ‘place’

how boredom mysteriously leads to insight and freedom

These somatic mindful experiences, to me, are an integral part of the creative process. They reveal the wildness, the vitality, and the mystery of the connection between human and landscape.

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20 thoughts on “Stephanie Gottlob, improvisational movement artist

    • Dear Adrian,
      (Directed here from the embodiment conference!) Thank you so much for the inspiring ecology & research program that you’ve curated there.

      I was particularly taken away by Stephanie’s work. I would very much love to see her other work by (as she had recommended) contacting her personally, if possible.

      Thanks again. All the best! 
      — Esin

      • Hi Esin,
        thank-you for your warm feedback. I’m delighted to hear that the Ecology and Research Channel was enriching for you. Stephanie is away at the moment but I’ll make sure she gets the message!
        Warm wishes,

  1. Today more than any other time in this world we need to connect with the nature of this planet
    Stephanie evokes all the senses and places herself and by proxies us into the very essence of these biomes as well

  2. Pingback: Dancing the biomes: movement improvisation and the mystery of connection. – David Key

  3. Hi Stephanie! Just got to see your interview at the embodiment conference! I love what you are up to and I’m doing some similar work and would love to connect!

  4. hi, I’d love to be in touch with Stephanie… saw her talk and would love to see more of her work. thank you!!

  5. Dear Stephanie. I have just participated in your talk in the Conference . Your work is intriguing. It resonates so much with the work I have been experiencing through Authentic Movement! One year ago I danced in the forest , in the sea and in the dessert in Israel. The caos of the lives in the forest was overwhelming !! The sea elicited endless joy and I found myself making sounds with my body and shouting to cope with it’s strength. The stillness of the dessert was surprising, only the shadows changed. I would love to see the video of the swamp! Could you share it with me? Thank you so much for your invitation to contact you.

    • Hi Mara,
      at the moment Stephanie doesn’t have a blog, so I’m very pleased to have been able to provide this space for her. I’ll certainly ask Stephanie to write another guest post here when she gets back from her current adventure in to the wildness.

  6. Dear,

    I have seen the talk with Stephanie on TEC and would love to be in touch with her and see the videos again. Your work inspires me. Thank you.


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  9. Hi. My son is a former student of Stephanie back in Toronto and I would really love to connect with her. Can you forward her my message or provide me with an email I can reach her?

  10. Pingback: Embodying Nature: A conversation with improvisational movement artist Stephanie Gottlob | Body Mind Place

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