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“You don’t know what you need until you’ve done it”

“You don’t know what you need until you’ve done it”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Sacha Ruland

Training the senses with Marres

What do a surgeon, a chef and a hat maker have in common? They all work with their hands. As this was the theme of the Training the Senses held in the Brandweer Kantine last Wednesday, it made sense (pun intended) to invite exactly those people to be the hosts of the evening.

Training the Senses is organised by Marres, a contemporary culture institution in Maastricht. In this autumn series – two more sessions will follow – Marres aims to explore different senses, such as taste, touch, hearing and your awareness of your position in space and time, with experts from different areas of science and art.

On Wednesday night Roger Kneebone (the surgeon), his wife Dusia Kneebone (the hat maker) and Jozef Youssef (the chef) start off by talking about how to work with a new skill or in an alien environment. “The first time I walked into the operating theatre, one of the nurses said to me: ‘don’t do that’. I had no idea what it was I shouldn’t have been doing. You have to find out, even if you don’t know what you don’t know yet”, says Roger Kneebone. Dusia Kneebone recalls the first time she stiffened a felt hat. “I asked my teacher how much stiffener I should use. ‘Until you feel the whole hat is covered’, she said. But I had no idea what I should feel; I couldn’t tell the difference between fabric that was already covered and fabric that wasn’t.” “It’s the same with whipping egg whites into stiff peaks”, Youssef chimes in. “Stiff peaks, that’s a ridiculously ambiguous term. You don’t know what you need until you’ve done it.”

Our senses need time to get used to new sensations, to distinguish them from one another and to interpret their meaning. Only then can our instruments become an extension of ourselves. “You develop a strong emotional bond with them”, says Roger Kneebone. All three speakers have brought their tools to show the audience, although Youssef left his knives at home. “I travelled by Eurostar, I wasn’t sure how they’d feel about them.” He has, however, brought certain spoons and a spatula. “They have tape on them, because these are my spoons. If they accidently get mixed up with the other cutlery I can find them easily.”

Both men feel strongly about what they call the mise-en-place: everything in its place. “I’m not that meticulous in other areas of my life, but at the operating table everything has to be in a certain order. Confusion arises easily”, says Roger Kneebone. “Even when you use an emergency kit, you always lay down the instruments in a certain order. Otherwise you’ll end up with a mess.” Youssef doesn’t want to waste any time looking for things. “Everything I need for a certain dish will be on the same shelf. If it’s not there, it’s not in the kitchen – I’ll have to improvise but I won’t start looking.”

The floor opens up for questions from the audience. For starters, how do you teach someone a certain sense? Dusia Kneebone: “It’s very hard to articulate what you mean. I think it’s down to the student to ask the right questions. What are the right questions? Just keep on asking them and they’ll come along.” What extra sense would the experts like to have? Youssef: “We always focus on the top five senses like hearing and taste, but there is a list of twenty senses we as humans have. Things like balance, the ability to tell where your body parts are, your movement in relation to space and time. I would love to explore those more.”

More Training the Senses

The hearing body – Wednesday 4 October, 19.00–21.00 at the Brandweer Kantine

The performing audience – Wednesday 15 November, 19.00–21.00 at the Brandweer Kantine

Tickets and more information: www.marres.org

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