Dance Class Study
I went along to Julia’s Movement Class last Tuesday to draw, write and respond to it. It was a really pleasant experience. I took part in some of the warm ups and certain phrases, but could tag out to write notes or do a quick sketch if something popped into my head. No panic attacks ensued - huzzah!
Combining the physical with the cerebral was a lovely stretching of the brain and body simultaneously. I think the biggest benefit that I got from the class was listening to how Julia spoke about movement and the body.
Articulation was a key word and links in strongly to how I’m beginning to read dance:
As a conversation with bodies in space
This approach filters through in the language used around dance and in the methodology in creating movement based works.
We were encouraged to articulate our spines - stretching, arching and loosening them
A ‘phrase’ was a term used for a series of movements
The to and fro between bodies that shared a centre of gravity - creating a sense of both tension and togetherness - in the warm ups.
In Julia’s teaching, she would consult with the class and encourage a back and forth - altering the height of kicks or number of counts to better suit the collective
Contemporary dance/movement practice shares an aesthetic with my own practice that I haven’t put into words before. It’s pared back; the moves are sparse and uncluttered, props - if any - are minimal. There is an honesty of movement taking place and the drama doesn’t feel laboured.
That’s part of why I enjoy watching contemporary dance - it’s simple, meditative and elegant and allows you to appreciate the simplicity of the body without the dramatic ‘frills’ provided by intense costumes in the ballet etc. (Not that I dislike ballet - I’m a sucker for playing fancy, sipping wine and appreciating tutus and stage makeup; as long as I don’t have to pay for the ticket #sugardaddiesapplywithin)
Contemporary dance also has elements of the absurd and grotesque in it - there are glimpses of reality that flicker through - from frantic balloon patting to piling atop one another or grimacing while trying to haul oneself across a floor.
It’s not about beauty or being an object of desire and perfection. Some dancers engage the gaze of the audience straight on; offering a challenge or an argument. Works by (one of my heroes) Val Smith such as fuck me fuck you and Gay Shame Parade (Gutter Matters) introduce a strong sense of confrontation and discomfort for the viewer.
Fuck me fuck you - http://valvalvalsmithsmithsmith.blogspot.co.nz/p/fuck-me-fuck-you.html
Gutter Matters - http://valvalvalsmithsmithsmith.blogspot.co.nz/p/gutter-matters.html
I think also that dance, or any body-centred practice, has a strong element of feminism to it. I kept noticing how Julia would encourage us to stretch out, take a wide stance and big steps - to take up more space. There was also a lot of spinning involved - our hands became blades with which to cut the air around us, our legs whipped out and our knees snapped up at speed. There was a particular series of movements that took me back to my old Kung Fu lessons on delivering spinning kicks across the room (that’s right - don’t mess with me).
As women we are constantly taught to take up less space. To make room, to apologise for taking up more room than is deemed suitable. Allowing ourselves to unapologetically take up space and be the centre of our own universe is scandalous. It goes against the ingrained teachings of the patriarchy - we are taught from the outset to centre ourselves on the needs of others, never our own.
Here’s a light hearted but somewhat depressing blog on the matter of how men take up public space: Men Taking up Too Much Room on the Train - http://mentakingup2muchspaceonthetrain.tumblr.com/
And before the not-all-men-parade shows up ranting about “but testicles!” - I KNOW and I also know plenty of men who can sit without splaying their legs obnoxiously.
A super useful text on the women and the body in society - actually the first book on feminism, the body and society that I devoured in its entirety - is Unbearable Weight by Susan Bordo.
(It is problematic in that it’s all from a white, heterosexual woman’s perspective; but as an introductory, jargon-less book on body politics and feminism it’s great starter - to any younger women reading this post: let me know if you want to borrow my copy!)
Building on ideas about the body in public space, on Wednesday this week, Julia and I went on a drawing excursion around the central city. We took a series of photos, using our bodies as alternative lines and interjections in civic space.
Using VALIE EXPORT’s Body Configurations (1972-76) as a springboard, we produced a series of movements that re-read and subverted functional civic architecture (mostly newly installed as part of the rebuild).
VALIE EXPORT’s Body Configurations (1976) explored the private body as a public/civic citizen versus the expected roles and fitting in with the conformist culture of her native Austria.
“The failed conformity with the architectural structures, the geometric lines applied to the photographs, and the figure’s uneasy gymnastics emphasise the tension between the individual and the ideological and social forces that shape urban reality, registering the psychological effects of the but and natural environments.”
Another work that I realise was humming in the back of my head with this excursion was Fiona Connor’s as part of Scape 7. Her quiet installation Common Co-op Coop across the road from C1 Espresso explored the sculptural qualities of functional architecture and how they are used to create space and specific environments.
(At the time I found the work really cold and boring. I feel better about it now; but I would have liked to see it in a more activated space as opposed to an essentially deserted vacant lot. That’s the problems with installing art in public space, though - she probably had next to no choice of site.)
Julia and I had great conversations as the drawing developed. We meandered around the CBD, choosing objects quite intuitively.
At first, I had wanted to use sites of contention - the ill-conceived Convention Centre, the Cathedral, the empty site of the Majestic church etc. But it seemed a tad laboured with a narrow focus. It felt a bit like it’d be read as looking back and lamenting loss, whereas I want to look forward and create conversations - not eulogies. Making work in Christchurch is always going to be within a post-eq context - that’s unavoidable - this piece is more about how we can move forward together and examine where we’re at currently.
Fences, signs, bike racks, benches, hand rails - all presented sites ripe for interacting with. As objects they present a laden story of power, space and purpose. They are subtle methods of demarcating public space and the expected modes of operating within them. There were a lot of failed attempts at contorting ourselves to fit our chosen civic frameworks! From the physical impossibility of curving my spine around the brick ledge around a public drinking fountain to the incongruity between hard stone and prone form. Our playful, absurd actions disrupted existing spaces and presented new, abstracted readings of place and purpose.
On a formal level, it also allowed for casting fresh eyes over familiar spaces. I also noticed some parallels between the body shapes and the surrounds - yellow no parking lines lending and tram tracks in parallel with Julia’s facedown form. Yellow ‘danger’ tape sagging and swaying in the wind. Small armies of road cones, protecting work-in-progress upheavals in the pavement. The bodily proportions of gaps in bike racks…
In a city like Chch, where many changes are fast tracked and the public has not been a part of the process, an engagement and challenge of the status quo is essential. Fortunately, there have been enough voices to back the people and question the decisions made by CERA etc. Small but key victories such as the retention of the Town Hall and the use of The Commons for community activities are to be celebrated.
I’m not saying that our oddball poses - satisfying as they were - are going to change the city. They are more of a doodle, a teasing out of an idea in a visual sense for an alternative approach to where we live and how we incorporate ourselves in to it.
So this is it! This is the end of my research residency! I’m kind of sad to be losing the solid time allocated to research and making that this has afforded me.
I’d like to extend a HUGE thanks to Julia for her time, effort and support in this whole process. She’s provided a sounding board, a support structure, a spare body with which to make drawings and experiments, an in into a new and exciting community a fountain of knowledge in regards to the history of dance and has verified the importance of onomatopoeia as a communication method *purr purr*
The writing, thinking, moving and drawing has allowed me to create connections that I otherwise wouldn’t have made and got me thinking in new terminology. It’s also got me thinking about new works and possibilities.
I’ll be doing my research presentation on Tuesday evening at Sawtooth Studios from 7.30pm. Entry is by koha and there will be wine and nibbles.
Facebook event link: http://www.facebook.com/events/1501526586840396/
So if you’re in town, do please join us. I will be talking and mixing it up with performative and experiential elements and would love to have a variety of voices for discussions.
Thanks so much for having me!
I’ll start off by ending the cliff-hanger on the critiques from last week! I’m writing from my workbook notes and memory; so apologies if everything’s not spot on. Each performer came away with notes written from the discussions had after their piece.
The pieces were all like doodles, drawings and works in progress as opposed to finished works.
It was a really useful exercise for me - seeing how other people related to and discussed the movements.
I hope that Julia, Jenny and Phebe got something out of it too!
Come up with a short action or series of movements or dance incorporating one or several balloons. It can be up to 5mins long.
You can inflate, pop, deflate, fill or interact with them any way that you want.
It can be sad, happy, funny, odd, scientific… your choice.
Present it to the group and discuss in critique format.
Key words: describe, analyse and interpret
One person (not in the group being critiqued) will take notes for each critique.
The producers talk about the work addressing the following questions:
- what made you choose these materials and moves?
- did you have a desired effect/were you aiming to explore something in particular?
- were there any references to existing works/ideas/philosophies or things in real life (ie: clowns, nihilism, movies)
- what did you think was successful?
The group will take turns speaking in a circle, talking about what they took away from the work.
Everyone must say something. No value judgements, all observation and interpretation.
The group will further analyse the work, adding their own interpretations and giving constructive criticism or ideas for further developments or alternative readings.
- positive comments and constructive criticism are encouraged
- what do you think this is about or what mood is being put across by this work?
- does it remind you of anything you have experienced? Ie: analogy/metaphor
- ask questions of the maker, be open to discussion and small tangents
- Possible interpretations? Connections?
- What formal principles are engaged by the work ie: timing, drama, contrast, rhythm, balance, spatial concerns, repetition, harmony
Julia began her drawing by gathering a herd of balloons - about 20 of them - into a group in front of her. She began at the end of the space, butted against the far wall of the performance space.
At first she lay on the floor behind them, doing quiet roly-poly’s slowly towards the audience - she’d pause to gather any balloon escapees with an outstretched foot or arm, regrouping and then coming closer like an mist of optimism or a terrible attempt at camouflaged sneak attack on the audience.
It was quite uncanny how the height of the balloons at times completely hid her form behind them.
As Julia got to the middle of the room, she changed tack. Standing in a low stance and seeming to pet the balloons, she coaxed them back into the group as they caught air currents and attempted to billow away in different directions. Her gentle taps and the stretching a pulling of her body in opposing directions conveyed a sense of emotional labour in my mind.
The closer Julia got, the more chaotic and desperate her movements became. There was a tragic/comic desperation in her movements as she tried to ferret the balloons beneath her body - like a squirrel storing nuts. Contrasting with her graceful, slow movements from earlier these ones became clumsy and jagged; there was no sense of premeditation in them. It became simultaneously a space of amped up tension and a releasing of tension in the looseness of the movements.
With her body pressure bearing down on them, some of the balloons flicked out from under Julia - scudding along the floor and out of her reach. A sense of resignation from her came across as the first balloon became too far gone to recollect. The audience shared a sense of empathy for her - each of us tried to push balloons back to within Julia’s reach.
At the close of her piece, Julia clambered with her feet atop a balloon, hands balancing her on the floor and head down. There was an impressive amount of give in the balloon - the pop coming at an unexpected moment, despite us all holding our breaths in anticipation.
The work made me think of the pressure that we are under the futility of the effort to ‘have it all’. to achieve and manage the multiple elements - both mundane and magical - that make up every day life.
It was generally agreed upon that it made us all think about herding cats! Or multitasking and trying to do too much.
Phebe’s work incorporated a small bunch of balloons - all inflated to different sizes. Gripping them gently in one hand above her head, she began inflating and deflating one pursed in her lips.
Her movements travelled on a vertical scale - mimicking the balloon as it was filled or emptied of air. The controlled yet gentle gracefulness in her movements reflected the lightness and stretch in the materials and played on that embedded cultural memory of balloons as being something that rise and fall; helium-filled or no.
A range of floor work was involved and she dutifully played with each balloon in order of scale. Phebe seemed to maintain a set rule about keeping the bouncing balloon above her head, which I quite liked.
Once the final balloon was inflated, Phebe sat on the ground in a small nest of balloons to tie the final knot. Gravity kept the objects in place while she seemed to examine, cradle and affectionately ‘boop’ each balloon above her head.
Seeing the balloon bopping above her head made me think of thought bubbles - an idea being mulled over, teased out and growing.
The repetition and measured aspects of her piece contrasted with the playfulness of the material. Her work was contemplative and playful, with a slightly meditative feel to it.
Jenny bravely went first, settling herself amongst a flotilla of already inflated balloons.
She began by stretching her face, pulling at her cheeks in the same way that one stretches out a balloon before inflating it. This worked to highlight the similarities between the foreign material and the human body.
She inflated a balloon, then allowed it to deflate - she repeated this action several times. The sound was a key element of Jenny’s performance. The back draft of the performers breath racing past her face and rustling her hair. It made me think of bodily pressure, air pressure and the value of breath.
Jenny toyed with 4 uninflated balloons for several minutes. She stretched them to sit over her finger tips and make grotesque, bulbous fingertips which she splayed and tapped on the floor. The hollow floppy noises emanating from them were comical and slightly unnerving.
In an interesting and unexpected development, Jenny incorporated a pen into the performance, using it to create a pin hole in the sphincter of the balloon - allowing a controlled deflation of sorts. After a couple of attempts - the first two popped - she managed to wriggle her fingers into the partially inflated balloons and repeat the finger-tip tapping from earlier.
Her actions were exploratory and determined. There was a palpable sense of frustration when the materials didn’t behave as intended - two balloons popping in her efforts to make finger sized entry points. She seemed well in control of her facial expressions - a quizzical expression remained fixed across her tilted head as she went through the actions.
Once she had released her fingers from their bulbous yellow sheaths, Jenny went about re-inflating one of them using the new entry point. The impossibility of each task tied nicely into some of our prior discussions of failure and the setting of impossible tasks for ones self.
Jenny’s use of the balloons like bodily extensions or adornments made me think about jewellery and its relationship as a performative object.
Jewellery/props as performance
Uncannily tying into this thought-strand, I stopped in at The National on Wednesday and had a really good conversation with Caroline about balloons, jewellery and performance.
I had this picture in my head of the way that some contemporary jewellery (for example work by Lisa Walker) is almost unwearable, and one needs to alter the way you move your body and interact with space to wear it. The object becomes an extension of self and seems to take on a life of its own or effect the way you hold yourself.
I first met Caroline while she was running Host A Brooch - a fantastic project that changed the way I understood contemporary jewellery.
I feel as though people in the dance community would be able to wrap their heads around this a tad easier than most.
There are some really interesting relationships set up between art/music/jewellery/performance. An example that Caroline put me onto is Lisa Walker’s collaboration with Chicks on Speed at City Gallery in Wellington 2013 - check it out for badass babes and jewellery/installation mash ups.
I am keen next week to incorporate a sausage-string of balloons like a necklace-cum-body-extension and see how it effects my strategies of self and movement….
Curating Under Pressure
This week, I have spent a couple of days (with another one to go) at the Curating Under Pressure symposium - an international meeting of curators, writers, artists and enablers to discuss the practicalities, problems and philosophies about curating art in post-disaster scenarios.
There’s been a lot of talks, panel discussions and group thinking. It’s been intensely engaging, but also quite emotionally heavy - dredging up past experiences of the last 5 years and examining them in a public context.
I feel that curating and choreographing are similar practices. They’re both about enabling, arranging and encouraging conversation between (literal or figurative) bodies of work.
I was intrigued by the intuitive and bodily response I had to Tim Veling’s series of photos Support Structures which is on show at the School of Fine Arts Gallery at Ilam currently.
It put me in mind of VALIE EXPORT’s series Body Configurations 1976.
Her inserting of her body alongside architectural structures in an absurd yet poetic exploration of how the personal fits into the ideological and socio-political landscape.
As a side project I wonder if I could re-perform them in sites around the city - giving a ChCh perspective by using sites that are ones of conflict (the town hall, road cones, around the STILL existing fence on High St with the messages of protest on them…). It might be a little late; though I do think that a continued engagement with the cityscape as a political site is important.
Perhaps I’ll hope for fine weather and a helpful photographer minion for a few hours next week!
After a frantic week filled with Halloween (my one religious holiday of the year: dress ups mandatory), Dr. Sketchy’s, funding application deadlines and double bookings, it was really lovely to have an afternoon spent with likeminded ladies, essentially playing with balloons!
I had been really worried about the Movement Lab, but it’s because I’d been approaching it all wrong. At first I was thinking ‘what can I teach dancers? What dance stuff can I make this relevant to?’, but after sitting down and thinking about what exercises I wanted to do and what I was actually interested in spending my time doing, it made a lot more sense.
I spent a couple of hours last week writing up the plan - listing exercises and discussion points, thinking about bodies in space, props, timing and shared experiences. It was really calming - I think one of the things that appeals to me about performance art - it’s something that you DO. Undertaking an action means you have to stop (over) thinking and just commit to doing it. Once it’s done you can analyse it and make better sense of it.
Most of the time, I need to enact a work to get a better understanding of what I’m thinking/talking about. The bodily experience is part of the digestion of an idea and transforming it from the raw materials into something else.
(This reminds me of Matthew Barney’s merging of athletics and art and the theory of resistance training. I have been searching for a diagram by him that somehow makes the human digestive system a metaphor for the process of art making… it essentially conflates art with poop, but I like the honesty of it…)
The movement lab was about conversation, play, problem solving and experimentation. Having other people around gave me the opportunity to step outside myself and see what movements look like and see how they approach similar problems was really helpful. It was also encouraging to hear that my own approaches and understandings and attractions to certain movements and materials are not just me.
Below is the movement lab plan - a loose structure of how we spent the afternoon. Feel free to re-enact it!
I started the lab with an altered re-performance of my Deflate piece. This time lying on the smooth wooden floor, sans pool loungers. Plain yellow balloons; 25 of them.
I realized that the movement of the spiralling, whizzing deflating balloons in effect, choreographed the eye of the viewer in a short, simple way. I like the contrast of my heavy, horizontal body, wearing all black and anchored to the ground, breathing measured breathes into the latex versus the light, irregular and comic deflation of the balloons that whiz and spiral out from my lips.
I asked everyone to take some photos of the work while I performed; partly to encourage everyone to think about consciously framing it and looking closely.
Julia wrote a short piece in response to the work, which I utterly loved. It touched on many of the ideas I had in mind and added to them.
Warm Up Music
I used a bit of music for the warm up and ‘drawing’ sections of the lab.
Having the music on made things a lot more playful and less threatening for me (although it also possibly outed my love of some questionable music).
I’ve been trying to dance for this residency in silence, thinking about the sounds created by the body and movement more so than music.
I worried that if I tried to dance in time to music, that I’d lose tempo/time/skip beats etc and make myself more anxious. Silence helps me focus. In my performance practice, I generally perform in silence, or have a single key sound element (such as absurd balloon farts) that is important to the reading of the work. I listen to music when I’m drawing or teasing out ideas a bit, but not generally in the execution of the work.
In all honesty though, I worried that if I was boogying to Missy Elliot or Kelis, I wouldn’t be in as serious a mind-set…However, I think part of what makes art hard is when we forget to play and enjoy ourselves in the process of making it. You can make serious work without being super srspants all the time.
Having the music on loosened me up for experimentation and freer movements. I guess there’s a time and a place for blasting My Milkshakes versus really listening to your body’s cadences.
1. Standing, all Inflate a balloon until it pops
- tension, pressure, release, surprise, vulnerability, genuineness, unpredictable, visceral, fright, doing something usually discouraged.
2. Do it again, this time standing in a line and timing breath so it’s like a waterfall of popping one after another
Video for sound element; listen to breaths
- does it get any less stressful, how does the timing go? Lung capacity etc.
For exercise number one, I challenged everyone to inflate a balloon until it popped. I probably should have gone easy on us and bought some cheaper, easy pop balloons - the glaringly yellow helium quality ones had a lot of air capacity! The tension was palpable as the inflating began; we were all waiting with baited breath for someone else’s balloon to pop yet trying to inflate our balloon to popping point.
The unpredictable nature of the pops made me think about trauma and surprise and if you go through a shock enough times, at what point to you get desensitised? When does it no longer take you by surprise? The popping, for me, never ceased to get my heart racing and inflict a twitch of fright!
I’ve attached a video of me from last week, looking like death #don’t’judge and popping a balloon for your veiwing… pleasure.
Make a herd of inflated balloons and move around them, trying not to touch them.
Next, herd them with bodies - use breath and air movements caused by your own movement to move them
Attempt to make a ‘bed’ of balloons with 1 person sleeping on it
- is it impossible? How do you do the impossible? When do you give up?
Once I’d tested everyone’s capacity for loud noises, we inflated about 25 balloons and left them to bumble around the space for a bit as we discussed them.
As sculptures they stood alone really well. Gently bobbing in the breeze like little yachts at sea, the balloons all faced the same direction; rounded prow facing the back of the room and puckered tail the front.
I was interested in seeing how the body could indirectly influence their movement - via wind tunnels, exhaled breath, sighs and vortices of action.
It ties into making the invisible visible. Which is what I see art as largely about - illustrating the ties that bind society together and the constraints placed upon us by ourselves and others.
The most efficient non traditional way to make the balloons move seemed to be lying on the ground, cheek to the floor and blowing then across the room. I also liked the way that despite my flailing exertions of flapping my arms and legs to the balloons, they did nothing in response, yet when I lay on the floor and exhaled - mimicking their method of inflation, they responded.
I was stoked that it proved physically possible to make a (temporary) balloon bed, like in the drawings I made a few weeks ago. Thanks to Jenny for embodying it!
Pop balloons using your body. Experience a ‘lack’ where it once was.
- how hard it is to pop it?
Something that recurs in my practice is a reference to my fear and frustration at my ‘biological destiny’. We had a great chat about motherhood and childbearing, the body, pressure, experience and surrogacy.
It related back quite well to a work that I did at Artspace where I spent a solid afternoon attempting to unravel the guts of a lovely fuzzy pink jersey, while discussing thoughts on motherhood, society, identity and biology with other women while sitting on a nest of more fuzzy hand knitted jerseys.
Sometimes I wonder if the drive to produce artwork is something that is tied into human nature - we are driven to reproduce, and what are artworks if not tiny precious extensions of ourselves? People say that art is self indulgent, but so too is choosing to have children, surely? I’m not hating on parents in this statement. I think that ‘self indulgenct’ is a bit of a vilified term use to be dismissive and is actually relevant to many things in life.
Alone, come up with a short action or series of movements or dance incorporating one or several balloons.
It can be up to 5mins long.
You can inflate, pop, deflate, fill or interact with them any way that you want. It can be sad, happy, funny, odd, scientific… your choice.
Present it to the group and discuss in critique format.
In the final part of the lab, each of us made a series of works and held a critique in a visual arts format.
I’m going to leave ya’ll on a cliff-hanger about the outcome of the crits, as I’m still percolating some of the interesting and playful outcomes and discussions that we had from them.
Needless to say, everyone that came along was utterly lovely and made me feel very comfortable. I came away with a really great sense of give, take and discussion - Julia, Jenny and Phebe did a walking linear dance with the balloons for me to watch and take notes from; they all brought their own perspective and areas of interest to the space. This is the kind of thing that you can’t get from a lone practice and why these sorts of labs and exchanges are so important.
For now, thanks for engaging with me and helping me tease out some key ideas! More to come soon!
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