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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