This week I’ve been doing a lot of reading and looking, researching into methods and practices used by other artists. What a luxury to have the time to remember old art heroes, revisit works that I’ve seen overseas which has had lasting impact, research into how they made what they have made, search for new works, new artists, workshop ideas, exercises, and advice to mull over and refuse or adhere to.
Here’s what I’ve been looking at:
Immersive theatre: Punchdrunk
Punchdrunk is a British theatre company, formed in 2000, the pioneer of a form of "immersive" theatre in which the audience is free to choose what to watch and where to go. Artistic director Felix Barrett prefers the term "site-sympathetic" when describing their work.
Multimedia theatre: Robert Lepage/ Ex Machina
Ex Machina is a multidisciplinary company legend Robert lepage, bringing together actors, writers, set designers, technicians, opera singers, puppeteers, computer graphic designers, video artists, contortionists and musicians.
Installation, where the public is the performer: Forsyth - White Bouncy Castles
“ It was for us an extremely interesting and wonderful thing to be in the castle in this room of no spectators, only participants, and experience the arising of a choreography which was incapable of being false it was never false because of the parameters of destabilisation, unavoidable inconclusion in the event, the sheer absurdity and the fact that the castle lead you to move in a certain way created a situation where there was no room for actions that were not connected to the present. this is authentic reaction, something which often gets lost in the rigors of the ballet world, and yet without which ballet is utterly meaningless"
Artistic experiences using technology: Blast theory.
In works such as Karen (2015) we have explored how technology creates new cultural spaces in which the work is customised and personalised for each participant and what the implications of this shift might be for artistic practice. How are the economically and culturally disenfranchised engaged amid a culture of planned obsolescence and breathless futurism?
Devising: Theatre de Complicite
Complicite began life as a collective and this spirit of collective enquiry, of collaborative curiosity, has driven the work throughout its history. The Company is famous for making its work through extensive periods of research and development which brings together performers, designers, writers, artists and specialists from diverse fields to create the works – a process now known simply as ‘devising’.
Environments: Olafur Eliason
Olafur Eliasson’s art is driven by his interests in perception, movement, embodied experience, and feelings of self.
Environments: James Turrell
For over half a century, the American artist James Turrell has worked directly with light and space to create artworks that engage viewers with the limits and wonder of human perception.
& other things -
"It doesn’t matter where you begin. Anything can be a starting point in theatre – a gesture, an idea, a song, a line of dialogue. What matters is the next step – how to find the opposing force, the conflict, the tension. If someone is sitting in a chair, the scene, the act, the play will be about how to get them out of the chair. What force, what cajoling, what entreaties, what seductions, what bribes are strong enough to get that person out of that chair? … Once the oppositional force is established, theatre begins. The audience want to know what will happen and why. The question ‘what will happen?’ will engage them while the performance is in progress. The question ‘why did it happen?’ will engage them long afterwards” Stephen Jeffreys, playwright
"To create, you must empty yourself of every artistic thought.” "We try not to have ideas, preferring accidents.” - Gilbert & George
"Steve Dixon (2007: 563) defines interactivity using four stages: navigation, participation, conversation and collaboration. The fourth stage implies that we go further than interaction based on the pre-established limits of the work; the user distorts the piece of art and constructs ‘new art’ from the work, making each encounter between a participant and the work unique. This model is similar to the one which was published by Ryan in 2001 (2001: 205). Dixon’s model also identifies four levels: the first consists of ‘reactive’ interaction: the environment reacts to the participant’s presence without him carrying out any particular movement, for example using sensors. The second stage consists of a random selection between various alternatives. The hypertext illustrates this stage. The third stage sends us back to selective interaction, through which the participant strives to meet an aim. The fourth and final stage involves the participant actively producing something which has a lasting effect on the textual world, whether it is by leaving objects behind or through writing his story.” Catherine Bouko
Coming from a theatre and film practice, where devising work and rehearsing is always made up of a series of physical exercises within a group, I often feel discombobulated when making solo work. How can I, and is it beneficial to, apply the methods learnt in one practice (devising theatre) to a different one (interactive/experiential installation)? In the first case, the ‘bodies’ are the actors, who are trained in preparation for the work. We have organic, responsive bodies, we devise by creating, improvising, then honing the material made. We create work by physically trying things out, thinking with our bodies, moving unconsciously. In the second, I’m taking my body out of the work - the artwork is made of objects. How can I devise with objects in an organic, free way? How can I make experimentation in both audience participation alongside technical and spatial investigation easy? The public is one of the most important ingredients in the work. How, during the creative process to make the work, can I truly anticipate their interaction in the final work?
So my personal mission this week has been to formulate methods with which I can devise interactive installation works. I won’t go into the minute details here, but by and large I’ve come down to this:
- Devise, improvise, explore, create and simulate environments, with willing helpers (who may have to pretend to be objects)
- Choose warm-up excerises that put us in the right field of mind to work together, and then tweak devising exercises so that they deal with creating works /environments for other unknowing bodies, rather than for our own
- Fill the studio / devising environment full of objects and materials that can be used to create, speedily
- Aim to devise environments/ situations that engage people in these four stages: navigation, participation, conversation and collaboration
- Welcome technology into devising exercises at its simplest most manageable form, so that it enables the speed of organic creative process
- Test these experiments with demo public audiences throughout the creative process
I’ve found a lot of documentation around artists and works that I admire, though not as many practical exercises as I would like. If anyone out there has any recommendations, please get in contact!
This Residency is entitled Movement Art Practice. I must admit I am nervous as hell about approaching that first word, when it’s placed along with the other two. MOVEMENT art practice. I’m not a dancer, like all of the other amazing artists I’ve seen accepted for this residency. I watched with envy as they stood in front of the audience and talked and danced and moved about with ease. I felt sick with the thought that I might have to do the same during my residency. I really don’t like being in front of the public. I’m not even feeling very good about writing this blog. It was this sense of stage fright which at a young age whipped me out of ‘acting’ and led me behind the camera, the set, the lights, the programming. I love being involved in the performance space, but I hate being in the middle of it.
So, I begin this residency, and my initial question at the beginning of this research is, what is it about my work that has meant that I have applied and been accepted for a movement residency when I absolutely don’t move in any particularly special way? This, thankfully, leads quickly to a core question - and the objective to my research for the next few weeks - which is, how can I focus on movement, by not moving myself, but by concentrating on how others move? How can I manipulate spaces and situations in order to highlight, confront, and choreograph people’s movements, without being bodily present or dressed in camouflage?
In my part time job as Project Manager, managing websites and augmented reality apps, we often talk about CTAs. A CTA, in drawn out speak, is a Call To Action. It’s the button on a website or screen that is begging for you to click on it. You probably didn’t know that that button had a name, and you might not have thought about the fact that someone has put a lot of thought into what that button asks you to do, what that button actually does, where it placed, where it takes you, and how it works in the flow of the overall UX (User Experience) of the website or app.
I believe our lives are full of natural CTAs. I believe that many of these calls are unseen, unthought about, lost in the unending dilemma of our daily lives. I want to construct thoughtful, thought provoking CTAs for audiences, and give them both the time to take notice and the invitation to engage or to be confronted. I want to encourage people to move consciously. I want to heighten certain emotions by creating different spaces for them, by creating journeys for them, by setting up situations and objects which are begging for them to interact with.
I start by lining up these questions and desires. I conjure all of my interests and gather them around these questions.
I brainstorm through versions of CTAs. (Audio, lights, objects, environments, sensors, signs, directions, maps). I begin to have visions and plans.
I wander through the amazing series of spaces in the YMCA that I have to work in during this residency, and think about what their inherent CTAs may be and how I can draw them out. Think about what kinds of exercises and adventures and objects I have to set myself for next week, to help me discover the CTAs.
Mezzanine Stairs - CHCH YMCA
I let visions come to me, all these thoughts meshed through the YMCA spaces meld together creating wonderful scenes in my head. I talk with Julia about what’s better - having a vision and then creating the reason or theme behind it, or workshopping around the theme or reason in order to create? I believe more in the second, but I almost always create works that fall into the first. I decide to embrace this for this research. The two must be inevitably entwined at some point.
Thanks to Julia, I think about William Forsyth - yes, movement art, he’s a dancer! But I know him mostly for his installation work. I remember a piece of his that I came across at the end of 5 hours of walking through the Venice Biennale. Exhausted from plodding through halls full of the joys and horrors of art, ‘The Fact of Matter (2009)', was sweet, refreshing, playful, violent. It was an obstacle course made of rings, and I was invited to cross the room without touching the floor. It shook me out my rhythm. It moved me.
THE UN-DOING OF OLD SPACE
In a recent lecture at the Undisciplining Dance Symposium held here in Auckland, André Lepecki
contextualised western dance practices within a larger ominous framework of neo-liberal discipline
and power. Given the state of the world, the intense level of political taming and control of civilian
bodies, and the over-saturation and hyper-visibility of all information, the making of dance and
images becomes problematic, and Lepecki advocates for the necessity for us to take a break
from image-making so that we may re-legislate our lives through our imaginations….
An enormous call, but something that really resonated with me and echoed some of my recent
feelings and intuitions to just stop making stuff. Stuff. Extraneous stuff. To be thrown in with all the
other extraneous stuff out there. Stuff that at the end of the day is perhaps just temporary illusions
and/or fleeting referential images of empowerment and/or exaltations of The Artist to be packaged
and put through the consumerist machine. Is there another, more politically profound way for me to
use my imagination?
In attempting to rock my own art-boat, or perhaps take a closer look at the dark body of sea that
precariously keeps the art-boat afloat, or perhaps to transform the whole boat/sea picture into
something else entirely, I search for a paradigm upheaval - a more radical time-space for my
practice to occupy, in which I might be, as Lepecki puts it, “re-legislated” completely. Somewhere in
which my practices might be able to offer more than just small bursts of staged referential imagery, smoke and mirrors, detached middle-class musings.
MOVING TOWARD RADICAL TIME-SPACE
Moving forward I want my practices to share the same energy that I wish for the world - a warm
and inclusive yet challenging energy-space where difference can flourish and be voiced safely. I
am not at all interested in cold spaces. I am not at all interested in discipline and/or the disciplining
of bodies. I am not at all interested in ignoring people who are different to me. I want to transform
individualist art-making into something more profoundly communal in this overly individualistic
capitalist world. I want all people that I engage with in my art, my classrooms, my life, to be able to
sit comfortably within their own self-determined truths. I want all people to be seen. I want all
bodies to be welcome. I want to be completely open and attune to the rhythms of the relationships
that my practice and my life depend on. I want to sink so deeply into the crevices of those
relationships that I lose my current time-space. I want to dive wholeheartedly into the potentiality of
social-shared- space. I want the relationships to become the artwork.
People of the pacific have spent thousands of years researching ways in which to safely nurture
and tend to relationships, to ensure that we can meet each other safely in our difference. A radical,
politically relevant relational time-space that I am currently embracing for this research is the
Oceanic/Moana Nui notion of Le Vā. I really bloody love this concept. The vā refers to the
relational space between one another, a space of negotiation that must be acknowledged, nurtured
and cared for in order for communities of difference to maintain wellness and harmony.
“Vā is the space between, the betweenness, not empty space, not space that separates but
space that relates, that holds separate entities and things together in the Unity-that- is-All, the space that is context, giving meaning to things. The meanings change as the relationships/the contexts change. A well-known Samoan expression is; 'Ia teu le vā’, cherish/nurse/care for the vā, the relationships. This is crucial in communal cultures that value group unity more than individualism: who perceive the individual person/creature/thing in terms of group, in terms of vā relationships.”
- Wendt, 1996.
The ocean has often been used as a metaphor for the vā space, and I enjoy the description that
artist Pilimilose Manu offers, which was shared to him by his grandmother.
"The Ocean is a metaphor for the Va…the ocean that separates and the ocean that creates; a space which separates islands and creates individuality and creating connections to those islands. The sea reaches out and touches each islands shores, therefore the sea creates a sacred space of connection. So care for the Va; it is what connects each one of us".
- Manu, 2013.
RITUAL TIME-SPACE METHODOLOGY
During my time at the MAP residency, I am interested in developing tools that can be used to
open, activate, heighten, hold and nurture the Vā space between myself and other people that
might engage with this research. Refiti (2009) says that Samoan choreographer Lemi Ponifasio
suggests rituals readily activate this vā opening. To start with, I will develop ritual/ceremonial
practices through experimenting with things such as:
Architecture (how to house the ritual)
Gifting / Manaakitanga
Waiata / Song / Dance / Expression
Writing reflectively and reflexively
DAY 1: SELF-RITUALISING
There is not much space in my life. I move from one thing to the next to the next with not much
time for reflection, processing, preparation. This is the case for most mothers I know, and many
others. This climate is challenging. Today I arrived in the studio late and under-prepared, so I spent
the 1st half of my day trying to ground myself, trying to anchor into this research space, trying to
become clear. I found it really difficult at first, then luxurious, expansive, and almost emotional. Val
smith was online and there with me, offering some gentle and helpful provocations for clarity and
After some “morning pages” writing, and then some faffing and rolling around on the floor to try and get into some bodytime, there was a knock at the door and it was Kristian. I had invited Kristian into the space to come and play. This play turned out to be 3 hours and 3 coffees across the road at Odette’s, connecting deeply about practice, refining both of our current interests and ideas, laughing, re-opening the idiosyncratic space that we share, ritualising our relationship with hot drinks. This was valuable research.
Among much depth and detail, this ritual offered back some potent simplicity. Kristian asked me:
What are you actually doing?
Who are your rituals/ceremonies for?
Where have the people come from?
Consider the prior set up?
Kristian walked me back over to the studios and then departed on his scooter. I entered the studio
with a different energy. I tried to make the room as dark as possible. It was time to open up sacred
space, to have a ceremony of 1.
I anointed myself with oil to mark the occasion through scent.
I brought more consciousness to the space through karakia.
I welcomed my ancestors into the room through the placement of a photo of my grandmother in the space.
I took the talking stick and spoke, addressing how I was feeling, then I closed with karakia:
Deep Sea Dances
Showing and reflection
(A stream of consciousness review)
After a brief and kind of bashful introduction, Rebecca has given us some abstract but helpful insight to her research showing. Deep Sea Dances, a work that’s not overtly about the deep sea nor is it trying to create a representation of it, but looking at it as a model to help us be more ok with accepting that perhaps we don’t know all the answers. The things we value maybe aren’t necessarily the things that matter, the histories we document are not necessarily the moments that created change. Many events we archived as momentous beginnings are often the end of a long arduous struggle. Removing the glamour of activism and decreasing the scale of the “milestone.” Settling into something slow and confusing. Something where you take a step forward and you then shift a step back. Endless treadmills plunging deep down into something that feels as alien as space itself. Something that employs what I know and understand then moves through that understanding, revealing the banal practicalities of this process. Beauty found in strange places.
We are invited to partake in a sensory meditation come performance. I think of Nick Caves sound suits (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpNcmh3rxko) as I am handed a plastic Hawaiian skirt to swish around. I am told it is a puppet and an instrument. Soon the room is moving in multiple currents. A pool noodle with plastic bag in the end, bodies tentatively rotating around wine bottles half filled with water balanced on phone lights breathing through long straws combined with other long straws to make very long straws. An older man is given a jar with water and bottle cap, purple and silver plastic tassels rustle and a symmetrical unison duet is danced with two silver “disco” beaded doors.
Together through our tentative attitude toward participation, or was the hesitance a result of a direction from Rebecca? We move in slow motion. Forming something that looks like a low budget underwater scene, not unlike a play school improvisation. Or a creative dance class.
Dancing with trash. Dancing with shiny toys. Dancing with plastic. The materials are not biodegradable.
The quiet sounds accumulate into something quite palatable, like I feel it in my palate like an ASMR youtube video.
Hovering and never landing, it feels like something is going to happen. We are waiting for instruction or some sort of climax.
“Cumulus clouds formed heaven in the south like huge wool packs heaped in a picturesque disorder, Under the influences of the breezes they merged together, growing darker, forming a single menacing mass. They rocked to the emotions of the sluggish wave-less sea and in silence they waited for the storm.”
Bubbles are blown through long straws into wine bottles balanced on IPhone torches. Water and air seem to work together in this free jam.
What are the conditions to create a sense of delicacy and care? What are the conditions required to make people care about and notice one another?
A sequence of images. Each position is learned from a deep sea animal we are told so when we watch we can imagine which creature it is. Watching the dance becomes an exercise of the imagination, we are able to imagine familiar things because we feel comfortable knowing the movement is pretty much just a mime of something we understand.
Two audience members participate. They are dances. Rebecca teaches them moves in front of us. The music is out so drowns out her voice. We have to guess what she is saying but it seem like she is just teaching them moves. The 3 of them laugh together. I want to know what is funny. They end up dancing on the floor, even though they started standing. They all seem to be giving directions to the other two.
There are two groups of 3. This time we hear the instruction. Each person must dance the average/ median of the two bodies in their group. Constantly trying to dance movement that is a product of the point of difference between two bodies. Dancers look like they are in some kind of deranged feedback loop as they stare into the mirror trying to capture every detail they can from the other bodies in their group. A strangely frontal, stilted choreography emerges. Polite and snappy, changing constantly and never distinct.
In the final part of the showing Rebecca dances a dance where she attempts to distribute the same value to each movement. She looks like she is in a deep state of confusion, constantly falling, interrupting herself, never completing anything. We watch her through a screen, she becomes flatter as the movement continues, moving across a backdrop of deep sea trenches. She stops, brings up a new background of what just happened and continues dancing with a recent version of herself. A duet with a very present past. Like a barnacle lodged onto a rock, her dancing body seems trapped in a screen, or lost in a portal to something new. Maybe this is the next level, how do we follow her into the deep?
MAP invites independent artists to share their practice with written and video blogs.