Transmission in Motion

Seminar Blogs

“The Gesture of Letting Go” – Laura Jimenez Rojas

The last TiM seminar of this year “The Art of Performing Science” brought a new perspective to think of the meeting of two -apparent- separate worlds: art and medicine. Roger Kneebone, professor of surgical education and director of the Centre For Performing Science at Imperial College London, presented how by the gathering of artists and medical doctors, the physical act of experimentation might be enriched.

Kneebone started by pointing out the necessity to cross borders between science, performance, and craft. This crossing is an idea that Kneebone along with some of his colleagues have already thought of by asserting that “laboratory knowing takes place at the intersection between materials, tools and a researcher’s body. Its rhythms differ from those of simply absorbing facts.”[1] The lack of this crossing or intersection is what they have called the “haptic gap”. It is the deficit in skills of touch and object manipulation, a dexterity common to a great number of practices.

Then, the question that arises is how to overcome the haptic gap? One way to start thinking about it was proposed by Kneebone by questioning: What is to become an ‘expert’? The answer is a process that entails three steps. First, the level of ‘apprentice’ is where the person gets used to a particular material. Then, the ‘journey’ is when the person learns to “see” the materiality through touching. Finally, the person arrives at a level of ‘mastery’, it is the time to develop the person’s own voice. However, Kneebone stressed that in this final level is more than the “own voice”, it is also, and perhaps more importantly, about the work that remains, be it the patient treated or the artwork.

This process of achieving expertise is experienced by people from different fields. Kneebone shared some examples of a series of workshops where people from different backgrounds and expertise in using tools communicated knowledge based on gestural language. One example was thread management by both a surgeon and a tailor who bespoke suits. The idea of the gestural meeting of the two worlds was that the former could have the experience of the latter. This exchange of manual gestures was characterized by Kneebone as “thinking with your hands”, as an understanding that is achieved by doing, rather than describing.

In this process, the experience that Kneebone described, as the surgeon experimenting with the tailor threads, was a strange feeling, out of his expertise zone. But far from being a negative result, it was presented as a potential to extend the “haptical” experimentation. This unused meeting made me think when Richard Sennett in The Craftman reflects upon the physiology of shame as the muscular tension that the artisan undergoes when the self-control is not fully developed, thus generating a lack of freedom. Sennett says that “well-developed muscles in the body are equally more capable of release. They maintain shape even when they let go.”[2] Perhaps, these gestural meetings amongst science, performance, and craft are a new way of exploration to develop paths of the letting go, and by that generating other understandings about the creation of a particular expertise.


[1] Kneebone, Schlegel, y Spivey, «Science in Hand: How Craft Informs Lab Work», 188.

[2] Sennett, The Craftsman, 170.


  • Kneebone, Roger, Claudia Schlegel, y Alan Spivey. «Science in Hand: How Craft Informs Lab Work». Nature 564 (13 de December de 2018): 188-89.
  • Sennett, Richard. The Craftsman. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2008.