This is a subjective account of my residency in April and May of 2008 as animateur in residence for the INDELIBLE: Every Contact Leaves a Trace exhibition at Fabrica.
It’s now a few months since my residency at Fabrica ended and is still resonating with me now. The residency had a significant effect on everything I was working on at the time, and has proved to be a catalyst for a continuing enquiry into, and a shift in, the focus of my work.
From my first conversations with Liz Whitehead, I was encouraged to see the residency as an opportunity to explore my own practice – to see how working in the gallery and interacting and entering into a dialogue with the public, gallery staff, other artists, volunteers and the exhibition itself, might inform my work, rather than to attempt to contrive a series of events solely for the purpose of meeting an education brief from the gallery.
My understanding was that the gallery wanted me to spend my time exploring the things that interested me in relation to the themes of the exhibition, and to make room for other people to have some access to and interaction with that exploration. This was both a licence and a challenge for me; A licence to spend time doing what I do within the context of the gallery and the exhibition taking place in it and a challenge to look at how I could meaningfully engage with my own work and the themes of the exhibition whilst interacting with people in ways that might inform and expand what I was doing.
Most of my experiences of practice, research and of making work take place in private – mainly in a dance studio or rehearsal space – either alone or with a group of people who are all engaged in the same activity. Here, I was in a very different space and one which required a different approach in order to be engaged in a real, and not simply, cosmetic process.
My working context
I have been involved in quite a wide field of performance, working in many community, educational, avant-garde, contemporary dance, carnival and theatre contexts.
Over the last few years, I have been trying to focus my engagement in my work; to really identify what interests me and to define more of a language and practice around that – to stop being a Jack of all trade’s and to work towards becoming a master of one.In trying to make sense of what one is doing – in trying to give form to ideas, I can find myself closing as many doors as I open and so, being in an art gallery and being faced with other people’s questions and the form they give to their ideas offered me a new lens.
It led me to engage not only with the work, but with questions of how and why the work had been made – how the artists got from here to there, and how this might relate to my own process of developing ideas and making work?This context highlighted something about being an artist – and led to an engagement with myself as an artist whose practice happens to be concerned with the body, physical interaction and the experience of perception in the body. It’s an important point to me somehow – I think that when I look at myself like this – it shifts how I feel about what I am doing – When I think of myself as a dancer or as a performance maker, I feel a certain constriction – one which is somehow not present when I think of myself as an artist – as if an artist uses what s/he needs in order to explore what s/he is exploring… those needs change depending on the subject or idea. Somehow this idea liberates me and creates a new space for me to move into.
At the time of the residency, I was in the process of creating a new solo performance. The residency changed the course of this work and I think that the piece I made was very much a affected by my research at the gallery – in particular the workshops and the Moving Dialogues series, in that they both highlighted the act of engagement with an group of people. There was something about the directness of talking to an audience about what I was doing –a simplicity and honesty about proposing something and then doing it, or proposing something for people to explore and then them doing it. I was saying that I am interested in something and I’d like to share that.In the Moving Dialogues, I was saying “this is an experiment in exchange – me and this person will move together and talk about our responses to these questions and ideas, and we see whether something interesting takes place.
We don’t know what will happen.
We’d like you to observe and ask questions, or make observations about what we’re doing and what we’re talking about” – As simple as that – an offering and an experiment.
This really bled through into my performance in which I worked with a simple score: When I say “on”, the lights come on and when I say “off” the lights go off. Working with this simple idea I was proposing that meaning would develop through the exploration of this one simple device, and that I would compose a performance from these two calls, the activity of which might reveal something about being human, about seeing, action, and the imagination’s role in forming reality.
While at Fabrica, I was looking for situations in which, what I do and my process of doing it might be revealed – both to people who came into contact with it, and to myself within the gallery context.I set up a series of what I called Moving Dialogues – events in which I invited different people to engage in some kind of verbal and physical dialogue with me and I thought this would be a way in which the surface tension between the performer and the audience might be reduced; Talking and moving as a way to reveal more about the moving and for the moving and talking to perhaps reveal more about the moving – a physical and verbal dialogue explored simultaneously which might lead both viewer and player to notice different things – both about what was happening and about the ideas explored within the exhibition.
I invited people who were involved in different aspects of the study of the body and movement. The people I invited ranged from a former performer and artist now re-training to be an osteopath and an Aikido practitioner through to an actor/free-running (parcour) practitioner and a contemporary dancer.
The events took the form of conversations between me and my guest, most of them while moving in contact with them, and one in which the audience learned a section from a dance called Accumulation created by American choreographer Trisha Brown and taught by Theo Clinkard.
The dialogues were part interview, part conversation, part performance. They were very interesting to me and became the centre of my exploration in the gallery. I never expected them to be as performative as they were. They were short relatively informal conversations, but performances all the same. I also expected to feel the relationship between talking and doing more clearly or for one to affect the other more directly; in fact, it was difficult to fully engage in either thing: to really be focussed on the movement, or to fully engage in the conversation.
But there was something very direct about talking about what I was doing as I was doing it, and to feel the different rhythms it created in the movement – and the dialogues were a context for a very relaxed and straightforward relationship with the viewer.
The different modes of engagement with groups of people are really the most obvious way in which my residency at Fabrica have affected my work.Working through the puzzle of presenting thoughts, ideas, my work and my impressions of the work showing in the gallery to the different people I came into contact with, was a delicious conundrum and really made me look at what I was doing; at what actually interests me and is important for me to explore.
Working alongside the exhibition was very rich for me.
Liz Whitehead, who invited me to take the residency asked me to do it because she knew that I was interested in the idea that the body is a container – an archive of it’s physical and emotional experience, and so it was clear that the subject matter was of interest to me.
The whole subject of how the world marks me and how I mark it is endlessly fascinating to me and it just kept on opening up as the exhibition progressed.Seeing notions of exchange explored in such depth and in such diverse ways by the two artists really provided me with a source of food for thought that added different dimensions to my own exploration of how we mark and are marked by the world. It also brought up questions about the possibilities for the exchange that takes place in performance between player and viewer.
The works in the gallery were both challenging for me in different ways. Carol Hayman’s installation was so direct somehow – a series of video’s telling us about how they felt about something that had actually happened to them. The accumulation of these stories left so much to the viewer to explore – they left one with many questions and a search to make sense of it – to somehow integrate what we had seen into our idea of the world.
One of the delights of being at Fabrica was in developing a relationship to the work on show over time in a way that I would never do normally. It was great to keep visiting the space and to allow the work to creep up on me – not to search for meaning or connection to it, but to allow it in over time, and in this way, it made me really wonder about my habit of engagement with art in a gallery – I so often wander in and if it grabs me I stay for some time and if it doesn’t, I leave and maybe don’t give it another thought.But I don’t often make room for my relationship to something which hasn’t grabbed me to develop over time.
It reminded me of a Henry Moore sculpture sited in the gardens at Dartington Hall in Devon where I studied dance. When I arrived, I really didn’t like it – it just didn’t interest me, but over time, I grew to love it – it’s presence eventually became profound to me. And this speaks to me about something of the experience of the artist within this – the artist spends time developing an idea – often living for some time in the world of that idea – making connections, developing thoughts, methods and so on, creating something. The subtle aspects of this might be more or less apparent to the viewer… some work shows itself very quickly, but other work takes time to even begin to understand it or have a relationship with it.It’s such a puzzle for me, as someone who makes work that may only be seen once – or it is done in different places to different audiences – how or if is it possible to bring all of that thought and process to those few moments in which an audience are present?The time relationship is so different in many cases – an audience for performance follow the time line as it is presented to them, whereas in a gallery, that aspect is open for the viewer to improvise with – to see only a part of something, to go away, to come back, to move around it and so on.
I think there was something about all of the above that brought me to making the solo I made. I wanted to make a piece which communicated something about the act of theatre, and that that visibility of that act within the work might itself be revealing.
Working with volunteers in the gallery and with the public, in an informal setting – one where I could address them directly, was very liberating and overcame some of the more oblique aspects of making movement performance.
The piece I was working on was in development long before my residency at Fabrica began, but it really fed into the piece – the simplicity and directness – the matter of factness of my interactions with the witnesses and participants really stayed with me and became present within the work I made – there was something about really wanting to make something in which what was happening was really visible, so that the audience had time and space to really see something being made.
Working with the gallery staff/volunteers provided me with an opportunity to experiment. I wanted to bring attention to the ways in which we perceive the world – to the apparatus of perception as a way to notice to all the ways in which the world is entering our bodies and to our greater or lesser awareness of those means of perception.
It was interesting to ask a room full of people who were primarily visual artists engaged in creating things outside of themselves, to engage themselves physically in exploring ideas of perception and projection – to be the subject of their exploration. The instant feedback was so interesting – I could see that for many people this territory made them feel uncomfortable and this in itself was a puzzle to deal with.It was also interesting to be in territory in which I was really searching for something to become clear – I didn’t know the outcome, but just proposed things that I was interested and thought other people might also be interested in.
This workshop began with simply drawing attention to the eyes, to the sensation of movement in the eyes and we did a series of exercises I learned working with American dance maker Lisa Nelson, which have to do with moving the eyes in relation to the skull, to looking at things, and so on. The exercises bring attention to the activity of looking and seeing and to how much we make choices about where we look and what we see.We then worked with the eyes closed, moving around the gallery alone exploring the space through the lens of sound and sensation… feeling our way around the gallery.
We talked about the experience and then played a little with a very simple ‘single image score’ again something I have practiced with Lisa Nelson. The score is very simple: We identify a space that we’re going to work with and then all stand and look at it, taking in the details. Someone imagines themselves somewhere in the space and then, with their eyes closed, they go to that place and come to a still position. The watchers again take in the space with the person inserted into it and once someone feels that the image has resolved – that they have seen all they need to see, they say “end” and the person leaves the space.
The exercises were designed to provoke questions about how our perception shapes the world we see and to how we are shaped by our interaction with the things we come into contact with.The workshops were not about me leading people to a conclusion, but more about working with our experience of perception and letting that work lead us to wonder about what we’re doing when we look at the world.I was very taken by the notions proposed by the other artists exhibiting in the gallery – ideas about our imprints on the world and about how we affect and are affected by our own and other peoples actions – how we are impressing and impressed upon at micro and macro levels. We discussed the exhibition through the lens of the work we were doing in the workshops.
It seems to me that the frame for the residency was a very mature one – to invite an artist to explore their practice within the context of other artists work and in a situation where interaction with other people might inform and contribute to the development of the work.
There was something about how it was presented to me that really made me do what I think is so often missing from situations like this:It made me ask “How am I going to use this time? How can the engagements with different people contribute to the work I’m doing? How can this be useful to me? What is the point of me doing it?
It’s often too easy to take a job because it’s a job, and try to bend what you do to fit the brief, but in this situation it felt more like bending the job to fit my work, and in this way, I think it was more useful for both parties.In think the space and support made available and the trust in me as an artist meant that there was room to really consider the most meaningful way to proceed with no pressure to have to demonstrate it’s value, and enabled me to use the opportunity to its fullest. I think it might have been good to have had a longer lead in time in order to be able to organise other guest speakers, artists etc. This also might have meant that I could organise my timetable around the project so that I could attend some of the things I was absent from.
The whole experience was very rich for me and I’ve had a lot of feedback from different people I came into contact with over the course of the residency who said it had been very rich for them, and with whom I’ve had some great conversations generated by the different interactions proposed in the gallery.
The residency offered me an opportunity to explore and to question, to propose experiments and to engage with different people and ideas.Those explorations, questions and experiments continue and the residency continues to support and inform my work.