Sipping Water (2011-12)

Extract from

SIPPING WATER: an (ethnographic) encounter with theories of improvisation in anthropology and art

Dr Amanda Ravetz, MIRIAD, Manchester Metropolitan University

Presented at Panel 33 The Art of Improvisation, Association of Social Anthropologists Conference, Delhi 2012



Amanda Ravetz


Anne Douglas


Kathleen Coessens


With(out) words
Experiencing life in strange ways
Being a stranger in language
Being a stranger in gesture
Expressing my own strangeness
In this situation.
Inhabiting English
And drawing here
Instead of my mother tongue
And music.
Kathleen Coessens 2011

Eyes closed. Aware of wanting to sit straight, for my spine to be straight. There is a house alarm ringing continuously providing a constant background noise, and Roses’s music upstairs, the central heating is on and the wooden floor boards are responding creakily to the heat. In the midst of these sounds the now more familiar feeling of the water on my tongue and sliding across the back of my throat. I draw then sip then draw, all the time with my eyes shut.
Amanda Ravetz 2011

Tipping water in passively
Holding water – suspended in mouth –
Active – involuntary swallowing, but
Leaving water where it is
Deeply swallowing, letting go
11.10 just 30 mins.
Anne Douglas 2011

In the summer of 2011, while visiting Anne Douglas in Aberdeen I sat down and typed a score. It reflected fragments of the conversations and meetings we had had over the previous two days.

Woven into directions about drinking water and drawing, were oblique references to Calvino’s lightness in his 6 Memos for the New Millennium, the stillness explored by the composer Webern and my own explorations of reverie and play – all touched on momentarily in our talk of the previous two days.

I had drunk water slowly as part of Marina Abramovic Presents at Whitworth Art Gallery 3rd to 19th July in Manchester, and then again at a small workshop of anthropologists and artists led by the artist Bronwyn Platten.

On both occasions, sipping water focused my attention on the porousness between ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ worlds.

I offered the score to Anne and her collaborator and colleague Kathleen Coessens as a way for us to work together. During my previous visit to Gray’s School of Art I had attended their seminar on Calendar Variations in which researchers from the On The Edge group at Gray’s had revisited a score by the artist Allan Kaprow. Anne and Kathleen situated Calendar Variations between art and life, referencing ideas of the anthropologist Tim Ingold.

But if I wrote the score to work with Anne and Kathleen, there was a deeper impulse too: to find out what artistic approaches to improvisation might contribute to anthropology’s recent interest in the same subject.

In this paper I give an ethnographic account of an artistic encounter with anthropological ideas about improvisation. To speak of ‘ethnography’ is to foreground a relationship between situated experience and theory, where the latter reveals things in experience that might in turn re-cast theory itself.”