The Virtuosity of Paying Attention

Have you ever played with a child? I mean spent time with them building castles that are never completed? Repeatedly banged out the same tune, because each turn never stops being highly amusing to them. Children have an innate ability to just play, not to find the meaning of things, but to explore the pleasure, run with it a while and then change, move on, let go. It’s highly frustrating for an adult, because we’re so used to seeing the end game, or seeing the point of it all. I know I am.

The resounding impact of a 3 day workshop with the improvisation performer Andrew Morrish, was this realisation: perhaps I’ve forgotten how to play!

Andrew’s workshop was titled ‘Solo Performance Improvisation Practice’. It involves at least three of the most terrifying propositions anyone could face: performing, solo and improvisation. Imagine entering the space, facing a whole audience, no score, no pre-rehearsed movement, just you and the space and the audience. No props or other performers to lean on. Andrew’s starting point is always to think that the audience likes you, they’re on your side. But I’ve seen audiences walk out of theatres, so I’m less convinced.

As an experienced improviser Andrew admits that there’s a lot of bad improvisation out there. Improvisation is often the fall-back of choreographers and directors when they cannot quite fill a section of their work, or performers when they forget their lines or make a wrong move. “Just improvise” is an often heard comment back stage, “no one will know”.  But when improvisation becomes a practice in its own right, the result is a performance that is skilled, authentic, endearing, humorous, engaging. An improviser over-comes so much of the natural chatter that prevents us from fully revealing who we are, they place themselves in a place of ultimate vulnerability. The experience of being in this space develops new muscles of authentic communicating, which is what gives this work its multi-dimensionality. The good news is that it’s not magic, it’s a practice that takes time to develop. And the key to developing this skill is to pay attention:

improvisation is the virtuosity of paying attention”  – Andrew Morrish

To frame Andrew’s teachings, I’m going to use his own structure of Beginning, Middle and End.

Beginning

Beginning starts with noticing.

Andrew says that having ideas is great while you have them, but what happens when the ideas run out? The key to being present, is to notice what’s here, now. We’re taught to listen in to sensation, and become aware of where that takes us in terms of movement, sounding, talking, imagination. When you attend to what’s there in the room, you never run out of resources.

“Pay attention to the child”

Andrew relates how he worked on a project where his job was to improvise alongside a child. Paying attention to the child was his source material for his own role in the duet. I know that Andrew was talking about a specific event, but I couldn’t help drawing parallels with Julia Cameron’s suggestion that our creative side is a child. Suddenly this idea of tapping in to my inner child just opened up something for me.  I’m here in this workshop because so many years of dance training dulled down any real ‘presence’ in favour of physicality. We were physical beings, but not human beings on stage. And now I just find that presence so stale. I’m here to work out what it might mean for me to be present on stage. If I could cut out all the negative chatter that prevents me from making a fool of myself and notice what my inner child was drawn to, perhaps something more real would come out of me?

Staying in this childish space, Andrew suggests following your pleasure. The game is not to find something that’s “interesting”, it’s to find something that’s fun for us now. It’s function-less, frivolous. But if you find it then developing it is a pleasure too. It sounds like a good life mantra…

Middle: Developing what you’ve noticed

I’m very bad at the middle bit. I find myself wanting to know the outcome right from the get go. Only a few seconds into an improvisation task, I find my mind panicking to know the end point. I find  it so hard just to settle in, notice and develop what’s there, whatever that may be. I sense that Andrew knows this and one of his tools is to get us to move around the space.

“a solo is a journey”

Andrew places groups of people around the space, so that as we improvisaed solo we have to move from one audience to another, shifting ourselves spatially. Each new audience, or new sapce brings a new energy. Somehow, using this structure, we each do a 4 minute solo improvisation on the first day!

“Change!”

If the first job of an improviser is to find something pleasureable, then the second job is to find the next thing that’s pleasureable. It’s so easy to get stuck in what we’re doing, that sometimes we forget to change. Andrew suggests introducing something that prompts us to change, like a change of scenary or a change of focus. I think that my inability to change more frequently comes partly out of feeling very invested in what I’m doing, so that I find it hard to let it go, and partly in the fear of not being able to find the next thing. Andrew suggests the Andrew Morrish App: it follows you around shouting “change!” every 30 seconds. Sadly it doesn’t exist, but it’s not a bad idea.

“you need to feel safe to be creative”

There’s something about this remark that holds so true and yet is so little understood in the arts world. Everyone somehow expects artists to bare their soles, to be really ‘out there’. But that’s not a safe place to work from, and when you’re acting from a place of fear, you cannot really be creative, you can only do what you already know which is the opposite of being present. So how do you create safety when you’re facing an audience with no pre-known moves / score etc?

“supportive architecture”.

Andrew talked about creating supportive architecture. One exercise involved each of us performing with other members of the group sitting / standing around the space. When you’re in relation to another body the space feels less empty. More resources appear. Later Andrew suggested using our imagination to create that supportive architecture, or thinking about the audience as a supportive architecture.

Ending

“Be aware of what’s happened”

Finding an ending involves the ability to be aware of what’s happened and to somehow hold that in our body in a way that will lead us to an ending.

I don’t think I ever really found an ending. It would be safe to say that I’m still trying to find a sense of play. But each time my turn came to an end, I seemed to come out of performance and suddenly I was me. In Andrew’s words: how can I find more of her?

This blog is dedicated to my work as a dance artist and choreographer. If you're looking for my Pilates work, please visitmy Pilates website at www.margueritepilates.com

 

 

On Solo Practice

What are your thoughts, issues, frustrations, ideas around developing your work on your own? When you book yourself into a studio to finally get your ideas out of your head and into your body, or you’re super chuffed about getting a residency, you walk into the studio on your first day, all alone with your music and that bit of text you really liked…. then what? Does this way of working, work for you?

A few weeks ago I decided to take a week off from teaching so that I could get back into the studio and move again, bringing my focus back into my dance work. I’m starting a new piece as well as rehearsing an old one. It’s all solo material, plus quite a lot of tech, literally just me and the machine. Working in a studio is an investment. It costs time and money. Even when it’s free, it comes with some kind of a cost. So one does kind of feel obliged to ‘achieve’ something. Compound that pressure with all the problems that arise from working alone (distraction, boredom, self-doubt) and you have a recipe for the ultimate frustration. Working solo has to be one of the most difficult aspects of a dance maker’s practice. By the end of that week of rolling around on the floor, I put the above question to my fellow dance makers. Here are some of the responses I received:

 “I almost never go into a studio on my own. I always feel lost whenever I try to do that. I’m usually either making group work or if I’m practicing solo improv then I always share the practice with someone so I have an audience.” – Seke Chimutengwende.

“I never go into the studio alone either. No one should. All solos need a director 😉 as not to be left at some point – lying in a shaft of sunlight falling asleep in desperate lonely inadequacy – before then bursting into tears, getting inspired, coming up with something small; it’s hell.” – Sally Marie 

“It’s usually great for the first hour…and then I’m bored, not sure what to do next, messing with documentation and note taking instead of developing material… I’m not good in the studio alone but I also feel like it’s what I’m supposed to do to be a good dance maker, so I tend to make myself do it for a day or two at the beginning of a project.” – Kate Sicchio 

“For me, working on a solo is like learning a foreign language; you need to pass through the point where everything seems impossible, really push yourself and “learn the grammar” to finally let the body speak. And I go to the studio on my own because it is the only moment I feel my body is a subject and not an object. It is honest and a process that lets me connect with myself first.” – Danai Pappa

The bottom line is that working alone in a studio is tough. I’m curious about the combination of reasons that people chose to work in this way: sometimes it’s out of necessity, sometimes it’s just a starting point, sometimes it’s because of a feeling of obligation. I’m grateful to those who expressed that this way of working simply isn’t necessary in their practice at all. Working solo is hard work, so if you can avoid it then by all means do. I think it’s fair to ask ourselves, in the first instance: Why choose to work alone? Is it really necessary?

I started working alone partly for practical reasons: I got tired of asking people to work for free for me, it never felt good. But once I started working alone, I realized that actually working with others was even harder. The reason for this is that developing an idea from scratch puts you in a very vulnerable place to begin with. It’s all very raw and unimpressive and more importantly, it’s easily trampled on. Having another collaborator in the studio with me made me feel like the idea was threatened, partly by the presence of another person’s ego, partly by the fact that another person will bring their own baggage to the room. I’ve also become hyper sensitive to the way that someone else’s movement can take over the aesthetic of the work, and this probably has something to do with the subtle nature of identity in my practice.

After the first two rehearsals, working alone in a studio space, I found myself wondering whether I was really getting anything out of it. I came away and showed some images to my collaborator, who instantly saw the progress and encouraged me to keep working. If I hadn’t had that feedback I think I might have despaired.

What I realized is that some of what we think of as frustrations, may actually be a consequence of the continuous expectation of being productive. But the productivity scale does not reflect the value of what we are doing. Richard Newton puts this so well in “The Little Book of Thinking Big”:

“The cult of busyness requires a certain type of thinking. You could call it instrumental thinking. The consequences of the thinking must be instrumental in achieving value: sales, innovation, cost savings…wealth and power. This is valuable but it is narrow, focused and constrained.” – Richards Newton

In some senses, remaining in the undefined, non-linear space of creative practice is a quiet protest against the dominance of ‘getting somewhere’ in our goal oriented culture. There is something pre-verbal about solo practice (I read that somewhere) and I wonder about allowing it to remain in this space. How can I allow myself to roam in that initial idea without getting trapped in self-absorbed, self-conscious fantasy?

So the question isn’t “How can I get more out of this time?” but “How do we get better at being in this space?” by which I mean both the physical space of the studio and the psychological space of solo creative practice.

And another thing: shouldn’t it be fun? Why does it always feel like such hard work?

I recalled the writing of Mihaly Csikszentmihaly who talks about the state of Flow. Here’s what he says:

 “These are the eight main components people mention when what they do is fun and enjoyable: they have a clear sense of goals, they know how they are doing, their skills are matched to their challenges, their attention is concentrated on what they are doing, they operate in the moment, they are not worried about being out of control, or about how they look in the eyes of other people, time then passes fast and one is glad to be doing whatever it is that provides such an experience.”

The reason that I like this idea is that is suggests that if the first three principles are met (clear aim, feedback and skills matched to the challenge) then all the other frustrations disappear.

So how does all this fit together? I’m just at the very start of my research, but this is what I think we might need, to develop a better solo practice.

a.) The right approach.

I think we need to remember that working solo is a practice that takes time to develop. We need to approach each session with curiosity and kindness. We need to enter into the mental attitude of practice rather than achieving outcomes. We need to be ready to suspend judgment.

b.) Resources

In preparation for my workshop on Sunday, I’ve been spending time walking around hardware stores and stationers. I’ve bought ‘toilet reading books’ and searched through online resources for anything that resonates. Having a box of physical tools (I don’t mean hammers and nails), is a great oblique way of getting the mind focused on making. Resources don’t have to be physical. They can be simple constraints or tasks you give yourself, like using less space or trying to make 10 versions of something. You can tailor them to the ideas you’re exploring. Having small task based goals gives us something smaller than the bigger picture to get our teeth into. I think a lot of the time we’re so devoured by the bigger picture of what we’re trying to do, that we feel paralyzed by it. Finding a way to focus on something small, either related, or unrelated, is a good way to keep the analytical side of the brain engaged, so that the more elusive original ideas can surface.

c.) Preparation

I have this idea that if I’m about to spend 4 hours alone in the studio then I should spend at least 4 hours preparing in some way. Creative practice should be an ongoing process. Admittedly this takes a lot of discipline, but setting time aside in the week to go and look at something, or research ideas that you can take into the studio with you, will massively enhance the quality of that time alone in the space.

d.) RSPV

If you’re not familiar with Anna Halprin’s RSPV cycle, then I’ve written about this here. RSPV stands for Resources, Score, Performance, Value-action. We all know how to structure rehearsals, but what about structuring the process? I like to think of the preparation time before the session as a time to collect resources and set a score for how I want to work in the studio. The time in the studio then becomes the performance, which I film to watch later. I then evaluate what I’ve done by reflecting on my process and the documentation after the rehearsal. This allows me to refine my score and resources so that I can repeat the cycle in the next rehearsal.

e.) An observer

The most effective solo practice sessions I ever had involved working with the dramaturg, Chris Higgins. You can read about my experience here. What I realized from this way of working, was that having an external eye, not directing, but supporting me staying in the space, was the most conducive set up for my own physical practice. On Sunday 18th June I will lead my very first lab on the observed / observing practice. This presents a score for supporting each other’s solo practice by simply being present. I’ll also be exploring some of the resources I’ve been gathering to facilitate solo making. You can find more details on the workshop here.

I’m so grateful to all of my fellow makers who contributed their thoughts and allowed me to share them here. This is just the beginning of these ramblings. In the meantime let me know what you think. Do any of these ideas resonate with you?

A week with Anna Halprin- Arriving

Gate 1.  As you enter and pass through the gate leaving the driveway and leading to the studio, become aware of descending, of a procession and a change of atmosphere.

It’s Monday 20th June. After 5 hours in airports and 11 hours in the air, I arrived in San Francisco last night. The word ‘gate’ is a loaded one. I think about the gates I passed through to get here: tube gates, departure gates, arrival gates, the invisible policed gate that is border control, the Golden Gate Bridge and now this one. You cannot travel to the US without becoming excruciatingly aware of the politics of gates. Gates as a means of control, St Peter standing at the gate, “do you have your papers?”, “how much money are you carrying on you?”, “do you have proof of a return flight Ma’am?” I thought I’d negotiated my way through passport control quite neatly, but then another officer caught sight of my Maltese passport and sent me over to import control to have my bag scanned in case I was carrying any nasties. Lest you forget, let us make it absolutely clear that you are not welcome to over-stay your stay…oh and welcome to the US.

Anna’s historic Mountain home studio is nestled into a forest of redwood oak trees on the west slope of Mount Tamalpias in California’s Marin County. A long staircase takes you down from the driveway to the lounge area. A sign at the side of the entrance invites you to consciously attend to your descent: “walk slowly, pause periodically, look, listen, breathe, smell, touch.” It’s immediately clear that the users of this space revere the environment as much as they do the history of the studio. When Anna moved here with her architect husband, Larry Halprin, he knew that she needed a space to continue to develop her movement work. Together with Arch Lauterer (Martha Graham’s lighting designer), Larry designed the outdoor studio which was built in 1948 and later the indoor studio in 1950.

Anna and Larry’s work sought to redefine social structures in art and life. Their home studio became a seed bed for postmodern thinking in the 1960’s, attracting artists from all over the US to the West coast. This is how I had placed Anna’s work. Historically she is one of the founding artists of post-modern dance, a title she naturally refutes, along with the idea of choreography altogether. “We’re all choreographers” she says.

By 10am a group of around 30 of us have assembled in the lounge area, a hut space with kitchen and bathroom set on a lower level to the studio. Tomoko, one of Anna’s assistants, leads us up to the studio through a dance. Barefooted we’re invited to hold hands in a long line. We enter the space like a procession, ascending the stairs to the outdoor deck. In the far corner a frail Anna sits in a wheel chair. A minor injury means she’s a little less mobile, but she’s OK, they assure us. As we file passed Anna she asks each of us for our name and where we come from, and “please speak up ’cause I’m a little deaf”.

A leaflet they gave us on arrival spells out the significance of this space. It’s history is not lost on those of us present. A sense of reverence for the environment, for the people who have been a part of it and have literally sweated into the deck, takes over each one of us. As Anna explains:

This place has a long and fascinating history. It is here that the Dancer’s Workshop did its early experimental work..Artists who are now well known started here; dancers like Simone Forti, Trisha Brown, Meredith Monk, Yvonne Rainer, A.A. Leath, John Graham, Norma Leistiko, Shirley Ririe…; Musicians like Terry Riley, LaMonte Young; Ruth Beckford who led one of the first all black dance companies, Merce Cunnigham, Min Tanaka… all performed on this deck… And of even greater importance are all the many talented and wonderful students and teachers who have shared so many creative dances and laughed and cried together here.I believe there is a field of energy that keeps growing, bringing the past into the present, and giving this space its particular beauty and sacredness. I hope you will enjoy being here and that you will be able to experience the power others have invested into the Mountain Home Studio as an addition to your own creativity – Anna Halprin.

Anna’s words spin in my jet lagged head. I have no idea what time zone I’m in. I find the outdoors overpowering and cannot feel my body. Worst of all my feet are so dirty it looks like it will take a month of hardcore scrubbing to get them clean again. But in the back of my head I hear Chris telling to me to just go with the daze, to surrender to the unfamiliarity of it and who cares that you haven’t had a warm up.

As Anna says, life and art are never separate, and here I am on this creative journey negotiating with an unfamiliar space whilst a part of me frets about whether they’ll let me back in when I fly home. The Entry Score provides a welcome direction for my unsettled brain. The rules are clear, inviting engagement, framed/ held together by years of other entrances down those stairs. All gates have entry scores, I think… and then I wonder what airport gates might be like if people were invited to walk slowly, pause periodically, look, listen, breathe, smell, touch….

My trip to Anna Halprin’s Summer Workshop 2016 has been made possible thanks to the support of the Lisa Ullman Travelling Scholarship Fund. 

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This little patch of grass…

I think it must have been some time in 2007 or 2008, during ID’s crossing borders series of talks, that I heard this story from Heather Ackroyd. She had been going through a difficult time and withdrew into a comforting process that she had often turned to in her artistic work: planting patches of grass. The story is that at the same time an artist named Dan Harvey had begun making work using grass and was told by an associate that there was this artist, Heather, who was copying his work! The duo became Ackroyd and Harvey, sharing both a personal and artistic partnership and creating work using grass, such as their chlorophyll images ‘Mother and Child’.

Today I was supposed to complete and publish a post about the importance of glut balance for lower back health. But on the last day of work for this term, I felt the need for something more reflective.

A number of conversations that I’ve had in the last 3 months have prompted me to think about the idea of control. I think it’s easy to feel that we can have no control over events in our lives, in our relationships, in our profession, in our country, in the world. So much so that we resign ourselves to just taking what ever is tossed in our direction. Rather than being pro-active, we get stuck in re-activeness. Re-activeness is pretty safe. There will always be something to complain about, and as long as it’s someone else’s fault, at least our abilities, drive and focus are never brought into question. But if the ball is always stuck on someone else’s side of the court, then how will you ever serve an Ace?

In January I was scheduled to meet with a programmer who runs one of the major production venues in the UK. The meeting had been planned from two months before, so I was well aware of the need to be prepared to get the most out of the event. Naturally I was after some kind of commitment towards my next project. (It’s an irony that as artists we’ve clearly put the need to make money secondary to our drive to create, and yet we always seem to be asking for money…) I don’t know if I really achieved my aim. Asking someone to support you is very much like leaving things up to them, again placing the likelihood of my next project in their hands. But what I did receive was some extremely insightful advice. He said that opportunities are great and always worth applying for if they suit your needs. But you cannot build a sustainable practice on the back of opportunities alone.

We all know that selection processes are highly competitive. We moan about how closed or un-transparent these processes seem. How is it that some artists are always supported by certain institutions? The truth is that success is often down to an underlying relationship that has already been established and this is a good thing! In the past I’ve submitted tonnes of applications (I still do), carefully scrutinising the guidelines. I felt as though I was always answering everyone else’s questions and then getting genuinely upset when applications fell through (which I also still do). When I look back at the perfectly planned schedule that I set myself on leaving college back in 2003, I realise, now, how flawed it was. Almost every goal I had set myself relied on my success in open auditions and application calls. Each one placed the ball squarely on the other side of the fence, I was at the mercy of the elements, totally disempowered. No wonder I was so disgruntled!

I’m writing from the perspective of a dance artist, but it applies to a much wider community. I think we can become so desperate to prove ourselves, to gain validation and recognition or to find security through regular income, that we hurl ourselves all over the place, never stopping to think: what are my questions? Who do I want to work with? Where do I want my work to go? I think we could all do with tending to our own little patch of grass, sowing the seeds, watering, pulling out the weeds and watching it grow.

I’m writing this on the back of many fresh disappointments, and one surprising achievement in the last few weeks. It’s a frustrating business building a project from scratch. But as I retreat away from it all to rest, my aim is to re-focus the compass inwards on this little patch of grass that’s under my feet.

This is a Square / Strange Loop 2012

‘Strange Loop’ resulted from research carried out as a bursary artist at DanceDigital. It was supported by DanceDigital, Arts Council England and a number of Individuals who contributed to the project through the crowd funding platform WeDidThis.

‘Strange Loop’ uses live video projection in performance. The work was inspired by MC Escher’s Impossible Buildings. The first section is a play on perspective. It shows the translation of space from the real three-dimensional space to the flattened two-dimensional projection. The dancers interact with the tape lines as though they are the lines of a square. In the second section the dancers are caught up in a dialogue with the projection, which is a delayed video of their live movement. They appear to be instructing each other, instructing the projection and then taking instructions from their projection. The aim of this section was to create a loop whereby the projection could appear to be interacting with the live dancers in the present even though the movement was captured in the past. It is an attempt to re-dress the question of control, so that the projection isn’t merely a reaction to the dancer’s actions, but is actively engaged and, to some extent, in control of the live action.

 

#datadance – Our Technical Journey

Sicchio Galizia

#datadance is a collaboration between Marguerite Galizia and Kate  Sicchio, supported by South East Dance. This blog post was Written by Kate Sicchio

When starting this project, we really didn’t think that retrieving and inputing data would be the main issue we would come across. But of course, what you don’t think will go wrong, will go wrong. The main problem is around translating data into Open Sound Control (OSC) so it can be sent to Isadora where we are triggering sound clips that give instructions (the score). We want this to happen in real time and use a score of data where the information is updated regularly.

Temboo (https://temboo.com)
One idea in the beginning was to try to use Temboo, which is a website that has a library of APIs and will actually write code for you to use that API in a number of coding languages (SDK). One SDK is Processing, which in turn could then turn that API into OSC data. Or at least that was the hope. But the problem with Temboo is that most of the available APIs are not updated in real time or regularly or the ones that are require permissions. For example, one idea was to use Google Analytics and use the amount of traffic on a specific site as way of generating a number that would in turn play an instruction in the dance. However, getting permissions for Google Analytics actually prevents using this as a system. We would need to find a heavily trafficked sight that would be willing for us to use there data. Some of the Temboo APIs which are available and update in real time just don’t send enough data. One of these is the weather (temperature or severe weather warnings). But there is just not enough information coming in to change the score of a 15 minute dance piece. This data might work in other contexts such as determining something about the piece before it starts, or perhaps in a longer durational work. But in the process of changing a score in real time it is not as useful.

Other forms of data
Another approach we considered was GPS and how location of a person could change the score. However, GPS trackers tend to have a 60-200 feet of distance from the actual location. This means that location in a small space, such as a dance studio or theatre would not be tracked. But if someone was to get on a bus or travel around another place in the world, their information may be useful. But then there is a question of what these numbers are and if they are just slightly increasing and decreasing, would this make an interesting dance?

Satellites (http://science.nasa.gov/iSat/iSAT)
We found a source of satellite data from NASA that tracks the location and speed of various satellites. This site actually takes a list of data (http://science.nasa.gov/media/sot/tle/SMD.txt) and then calculates where the satellites are based on this data. It’s not real time but a real time simulator. So we found this data and we see how it changes on the website (the real time aspect is a seperate issue that we will need to address) but now we need to take this information and find a way to produce OSC data with it in order to create (trigger) the score within Isadora.

Javascript → OSC via Socket.io
Through Github (https://github.com/automata/osc-web) I was able to find a way to bridge web information to OSC via node.js in a programme called Socket.io (http://socket.io). And I was able to send messages by either clicking a button (such as in the Github example) or through refreshing the web page. This means that there must be a way to send further data, such as from a txt file or an updating txt file. And this is where we are stuck – without knowing much about javascript it is hard to understand what to code to allow this function to happen. More experienced coders I am sure could figure this out quite quickly. And it is most likely just one line of code we need for this to happen. But in the week we have had, this has eluded me.

When it all works
Once we have this bridge from the web to OSC then we can open up more explorations of data sources. For example, there is a txt of Solar Wind from NOAA (http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/ftpdir/lists/ace/ace_swepam_1m.txt) that updates every minute. This could use the same technical set up but send a different data set (this is also the data used in Helen White’s piece Solar Wind Chime http://blogs.wcode.org/2013/08/solar-wind-chime-listening-to-the-sun-using-spacecraft-electromagnets-and-x-osc/). But of course, this leads us back to one of our original questions in this work – what kind of data do we need? And how will that data effect our score?

Supported by South East Dance SED_Blue_298_Master_logoPRINT

Ta(l)king My Head Off

In December 2013 I attended Sten Rudstrom’s 3-day workshop ‘Ta(l)king Your Head Off. Here’s my account of the work.

An eclectic mix of people gather at the Buddhist Art Centre in Bethnal Green. We take turns round the group answering the inevitable question: Why are you here? I’m reassured by the number of people who admit to being scared of using their voice in performance, or who feel self-conscious at the sound of their voice. This is what we’re here to work on: to learn the tools that might enable us to ‘vocalise’ or ‘talk’ in movement improvisation. Feeling at ease I settle into a warm up. And then… the group erupts into what sounds like a spontaneous collective orgiastic choir: sighs, moans, mouth wobbles, hums and growls begin to fill the room, so that anyone walking past outside might be forgiven for wondering what we were “up to” in there. It took all the concentration I could muster not to simply burst out laughing.

Sten begins by asking everyone to notice the point when one activity changes into another. We’re all improvising our own warm ups at this stage. He asks us to be clear about when one activity is over and another one starts. The intention is not to layer one activity with another. My critical voice disapproves of the task: surely warming the body up is a kind of layering. It’s all one activity. ‘Let it go’ I think to myself. I’ve been well and truly distracted from my task of warming up. Not only do I find it impossible to follow my body with this interruption of making complete shifts between activities, but now the room is humming like a monster on heat.

Sten brings me back: the moments when you are within an activity we call ‘frames’. The changes from one frame to another are called ‘shifts’. Semantics reassuringly ground me back in the present. Frame – Shift – Frame – Shift. Further clarification: Why shift? What are you responding to? Sten pins down the reasons for moving from one frame into another:

– A bodily sensation

– A feeling / emotional state

– An association of the mind / idea

I notice that I’m married to bodily sensation, the feeling state is fuzzy in my head (I barely remember his example) and I never have any good ideas! Even though I remain quite silent, the sounds around me feel less distracting. The only real nuisance is the internal chatter box that keeps worrying about whether I’m good enough.

Another pause. Sten asks us how we’re getting along. How to stop the internal chatter? The left brain, he states, will want to qualify, to label, to reduce, all in the name of keeping you safe. He proposes a tool: let the internal chatter be the instigation for the next frame. It occurs to me at this stage that the language sounds quite similar to that used in meditation techniques. Perhaps because moving requires so little effort or concentration at this stage in my life, my brain is easily occupied elsewhere. It’s also a genetic thing. My Dad often wonders off into his own little world, and I notice that my brothers have this tendency too. So how do you bring yourself back to the present? I nearly deleted that sentence when I realised I’d written it in the second person. Sten asked us all to speak in the first person during the feedback sessions. So, how do I bring myself back to the present when my brain starts to drift elsewhere? How do I restrain the internal chatter? Sten’s suggestion is not to suppress it, but to use it. Give it a job. In meditation ‘anchors’ are used to give the brain a focus. Whether that’s by tapping into breath, or sensation, or finding a mantra to come back to. All these are techniques to, in Sten’s words:

“give the dog of the brain a bone to chew on”

He gives us another clue: ‘eyes’, the mirror to the soul. Sten says that if you allow the eye to glaze over you are retreating into ‘left brain mode’. I can’t be absolutely sure that this is the case. I know Sten highlights the left/ right brain split in order to create some clarity in the work, but I’m not convinced that he’s got it quite right. First of all, as far as I’m aware, the dreaming mode is more of a Right brain activity, whereas the left brain may well be responsible for critical thought. He seems not to have factored in the role of the frontal lobe, the area of the brain that inhibits us from carrying out actions that may not be acceptable in society. Still he’s right on one front: being present requires an active engagement of the eyes. In London we’re all particularly good at walking around with our eyes cast downwards. Not engaging. For the last few weeks I’ve tried to bring my gaze up, not meeting others, but at least not trying to cut off the world.

Sten feels that the eyes should be a part of the movement. This was a huge discussion when I was training. I was often accused of having great technique, but looking ‘dead’ and ‘expressionless’ in my face. Well, I never felt that layering on a ‘look’ could actually feel right. It just felt like a superimposed exclamation mark at the top of a moving body. The ‘eyes down’ mode is quite typical of contemporary dance aesthetic, letting the movement do the talking. But Sten’s understanding made some sense of this. He speaks about the eyes being a part of the movement. Keeping present allows me to use my eyes as an integral part of the movement, whereas retreating into my head will literally cut out my focus, draw me in… so the only way that the eyes can truly be a part of the movement is if I am absolutely present in the here and now. If I’m just doing something with my eyes but not really present, then that’s superficial. Why didn’t anyone tell me that 10 years ago!!!!!!!!

We split into pairs (oh god, I think) one person ‘directs’ by saying ‘shift’ whenever they want to and the other person carries on with the improvisation, shifting frame when directed. I move first. My partner Amara later tells me that I rarely move out of the sagittal plane. My focus and my body are either up or down, I never engage my focus when standing at eye level. I also tend to repeat an activity within a frame rather than allowing it to develop. I admit that I’m finding it hard to just stay in the present.

Sten brings in another tool. Don’t go with the first movement impulse that arises. The reason we fall into habitual or known pathways is another left brain interference (I’m beginning to think of my left brain as the enemy here). It’s an instinctive desire to contain, label, simplify and flatten a movement. He suggests using ‘spontaneous self interruption’ i.e.: pauses. “tune in to the sensation and then allow that to inform the movement”.

So far Sten hasn’t really spoken about making noises, though you wouldn’t believe that from the sound in there all morning. We come back to our partners after the break. One stands still, whilst the other massages their back, arms, legs, shoulders. (as a side note – massaging someone in an upright standing posture isn’t the easiest of tasks). ‘Make sounds’ Sten tells the people receiving the massage. My voice feels stuck in my chest. I have to breathe deeply just to let something out. Luckily I start to feel less self-conscious. At least Sten hasn’t asked me to dig deep for some unexplained reason to generate sound. He’s just told me to do it. Fine, I think. The rest of the afternoon is spent in different pairs, allowing sounds to lead into words and vice versa, using sounds as the initiation of movement. Sound IS movement, Sten says. Of course it is…

Day two arrives. It feels as though everything we could ‘learn’ was offered on the first day. So today involved more practice. Half an hour before the end of play and Sten asks us all to sit along one length of the studio. Oh no! … my inner scaredy cat starts trembling. And then, yes he did: he made each of us get up in front of everyone else and just improvise: movement/ voice the lot. Gulp.

Well having survived the disaster of my first solo improvisation, I walk back into the space on the third and final day. I finally click that the term ‘warm up’ doesn’t mean the gradual and considered layering of movement that we use in ‘training’ or ‘conditioning’ the body. It’s a chance just to get into the present, to tap in to the body and voice. Sounds/ words reverberate through my movement and vice versa. The interchange is so fluid, that I actually enjoy it! The day is spent with more exercises, more feedback, more thoughts circulated. We work in pairs and this finally starts to grate. I have partners who don’t quite ‘get’ the task, or who insist on giving me feedback (the cheek!!) The thing is, I realise, that being honest about what you’re doing isn’t always that easy. I start to get frustrated by the lack of rigour in other people’s practice. Not Sten’s of course. But other participants who are convinced that they’ve ‘got it’. If you scratch the surface you realise how superficial it is. We end with a solo improvisation during which I feel more re-assured of what I know. I’m not ‘there’ yet, of course. But after years of being chastised for being a performer who doesn’t ‘open their mouth’ I feel that I’ve proved to myself at least that the ability is there. It’s just that I never had a good enough reason to do it!

 

The Problem with Autonomy

My experience of the 2011 Interaktionslabor, Göttelborn, Germany, August 2011 – Marguerite Caruana Galizia

In August 2011 I travelled to the small village of Göttelborn, in the West German region of Saarland, to participate in the 2011 Interaktionslabor. The Interaktionslabor is a yearly event, organised by the multi-media performance artist and academic Johannes Birringer, during which a group of artists spend ten days living and working on the site of an old coal mine. The intention of the lab is to offer a space for artistic development, critical discourse and theoretical enquiry, precipitating a creative interaction and forging new professional relationships amongst the participants and their associated organisations. The particular focus of the lab is on work that involves a combination of performance and multi-media practice. The lab champions the notion of artistic and personal autonomy and implements this, though somewhat vaguely, through its open structure. Participants are invited to bring their knowledge and experience to the group and in turn to learn from other members in a peer to peer situation. Guest artists run workshops throughout the lab, however, whilst these workshops are selected for their relevance to the group’s interests, attendance is completely down to the individuals.

The lab itself takes place in a purpose built space. The guest rooms in one wing, with large potato shaped balconies, look into an open square space. (The largely working class community typically survived on a diet of potatoes and onions, which is why the root vegetable has become a local symbol.) The building operates as a hotel throughout the rest of the year, which accounts for the comfort of these rooms equipped with a writing desk, a small fridge and TV etc. On the ground level, the dining room and kitchen look into the expansive studio/ lab space on the lower level. The group cooked and ate meals together for the duration of the lab, and this communal space became an important part of the creative routine, where we could discuss the progress of the lab and put forwards new ideas and thoughts for the coming days. The lab space is located on the lower ground level, a large high ceilinged space surrounded by full length windows along one side with views out over the coal mine and a nearby power plant. The space could be divided into two rooms with partition doors, but these were mostly kept open so that we worked in parallel at all times. Johannes equipped the lab with all the necessary technical paraphernalia: lights, projectors and cables. We were given more or less free access to whatever equipment or space was available, which allowed us to pick a working time and routine that suited us.

A view of the coal mine taken from the guest rooms

There was no studio booking or rules about when to stop working. In fact many artists chose to work late into the night. An adjacent board room was used by artists who preferred a more contained working space, particularly those editing video footage and working on costume or sound devices.

The coal mine boasts one of the tallest towers in the region. Having operated since the nineteenth century, the mine had three towers of escalating heights, reflecting the need to dig deeper into the earth as demand grew and resources ran out. The last of these was only completed a few years before the mine closed in 2001. Despite its relatively recent closure, the space has quickly fallen into disrepair. Whilst some initiative has been taken to turn the outer buildings into what they call an Industriekultur campus, other buildings, such as the old shower rooms, have been completely destroyed.

The wheels at the top of the third tower

On a tour of the site we were given rare access to the main buildings, many of which are no longer open to the public. The miners would arrive in the morning and change into their garments before walking down a long corridor into the mine itself. One side of the corridor was the entrance file with regular paved slabs on the ground, whilst the other side was grated to allow the dust and dirt to fall off the returning miners’ shoes. Johannes took us into the second mine tower, a chamber full of cart tracks, pulleys and machinery. A lift took the miners underground into the tunnels (now blocked up), hoisted by large wheels at the top of the tower. At the tunnel gate a sign on the wall lists the system of knocks that was used for the miners to communicate with the ground staff in case the tunnel collapsed.

Footage taken during the tour of the second mine, where Johannes Birringer describes the “system of knocks” used in case of an emergency:

The coal was loaded into carts, hauled up via the tower pulleys and sent via the cart tracks to the washing room, where it was purified to different degrees before being loaded onto trains to be transported across the country. A large basin just outside the rinsing rooms would collect the soiled water which was carried into the drainage system. The chamber beneath this basin is a vast empty coliseum. Today these spaces stand empty, stripped of the functions they were developed to sustain. As a result they command a new attention from their inhabitants: a question not of what they were meant to do, but of what they can do. This empty, un-lit coliseum on the underside of the basin, for example, a space that simply existed by default rather than by intention, is one of the most acoustically rich sites I have ever experienced.

Some areas were less accessible and could only be entered by unlocking several gates (set up, one supposes, to protect the disused buildings from vandalism.) One such space was the main brain centre of the mine, and by far the most chilling of all scenes on the site: the central operations room. A board across one side of the room showed a graphic representation of the entire mine. A panel of radio control devices and dials covered the main desk. The floor was littered with notes, updates on the progress of the miners, reports and faxes. It seemed as though the normal operational procedures had simply been arrested mid flow, with no warning and no time to clear up, as though they fully intended to come back to work the next day. A power plant close by to the mine still functions. It uses solar energy generated by an adjacent solar field, but it also uses coal which is now imported from South America.

The central control room

Many of these buildings became the inspiration for work that emerged amongst the group members. Our surroundings, an empty relic of what was once a noisy industrial centre, now slowly being reclaimed by nature and newer, less dusty, enterprises, provided a rich source of material for our creative explorations. Sound and video pieces were developed by artists using the mine as their starting point. Others began working on pieces generated through their interaction with members of the group. The group began to organise itself in a more or less organic way, with small pockets of artists generating new collaborations that developed into new works. Ludmilla Pimentel and Bette Grebler (Brasil) created video dance works filmed on location. The fashion designer Michele D’Anjoux (UK) worked first with Bette Grebler and Sosanna Marcelino (France) on a video that involved climbing around a prominent stone jutting out of the small hill outside the lab space. She later went on to work with Sosanna Marcelino and John Richards (UK) on a new work incorporating wearable sound devices in choreography. Hana Ma (Germany) and Sonia Rodrigues (Portugal) collaborated on a video piece which was inspired by Hana’s pregnancy, in which a video of Hana moving on the grass was projected back onto her belly and re-filmed to create a video piece with an interactive sound component developed by John Richards (UK). Tania Soubry (Luxembourg) moved in and out of other projects before doing some work with her voice using short loops. Bernard Baumgarten (Luxembourg) created light sculptures and developed a video piece that grew out of his experiments with one particular light installation, where stage lights were reflected against a steel pane.

During my first few days I struggled with the general lack of direction in the group. As a participant I came to the lab with no preconception of what it would be like. I knew that I wanted to learn something and I wanted to immerse myself in a creative environment. I travelled there alone and I had not even met Johannes Birringer before I arrived on the Saturday night. During two evenings of participants’ presentations it became clear that few of the group members had much experience of working with technology, apart from the group of students from Saarbrucken who sadly became side-tracked by other work and gave up on the Lab early on. My initial frustration in being left to do whatever I wanted was not so much related to not having structure for its own sake, but a frustration with the limitations of my way of doing things. Recognising the need to at least start somewhere, I set up a work station in the main lab space where I projected onto one of the partition doors. Our group discussion earlier that day had concluded with the task of setting up a kind of algorithm in the form of some rules that could facilitate an interaction with the space/ object/ idea. A camera captured the movement in front of a second door in the space, which was projected back onto the first door with a short delay. The dancer’s task was to weave in and out of the two doors to create a situation where she seemed to be running after her own image.

We established two rules that led to the most interesting outcomes for the viewer:
1. You can go in front of wall 2 only after you go behind wall
BUT
2. If you go in front of wall 1 then you must go behind wall

I abandoned this project after the first day. Like most discussion points raised over the course of the lab, this idea of generating an algorithm disappeared into nothing beyond the first day. It is only with hindsight that I am able to recognise the value of this game like structure and wish I had kept on going further with it.

The group was joined by several guest artists. Marco Ciciliani joined the group at the start of the week. A musician and composer, Ciciliani’s recent research is in the combination of light and sound. He also creates some interesting compound tracks, where he superimposes all the tracks on a popular album over each other and slowly removes tracks bringing the initial noise down to just one song before building back up again. John Richardson carried out a dirty electronics lab, where the group used wires, batteries and empty tin cans to create instruments that use the electrical current through the body to activate when held in both hands. (Lifting off one hand would break the circuit and cut the sound.) We also had a presentation on the Kinect box. This inexpensive motion capture device has created quite a stir amongst digital arts communities. Whilst conventional motion capture devices remain beyond the reach of most arts budgets, this compact and cheap piece of hardware can be easily hacked into and used to generate data on the body’s location in space and time in a 3-D capacity rather than a regular camera’s 2-D. It still requires some programming knowledge to manipulate the data, and the main programme currently being used is Motion Builder, which is still beyond most artist’s budget, although it can be accessed for free if you work in an education context.

Three days into the lab a guest artist, Stefan Zintel started working with us on PD (Pure Data). This is the non-commercial version of Max MSP, available on open-source. Having worked with Isadora which is built on Max, this programme was like a raw version of the same thing. Whilst its language is slightly less user-friendly, it has many similarities to Isadora. We spent two days putting together these patches, during which time several participants simply gave up. For me these workshops were crucial. They allowed me a chance to look at interactive software in a slightly different way. One of my reasons for not working with a programmer and choosing to do the technical work myself is that, despite the less sophisticated patch work, having that hands-on time with the tools means that I cut out any potential filters in the form of another person’s pre-conceptions. Working with PD gave me a similar feeling. Whilst Mark Coniglio’s Isadora provides a number of interesting and easy to use tools, it has still been organised by him and, therefore embodies his viewpoint in some way. PD is slightly closer to a blank slate, less manipulated or tainted by another person’s ideas. Our very first patch on PD involved an ‘actor’ called a ‘Bang’. This generates an impulse when triggered, like many of the trigger actors on Isadora. To trigger the ‘Bang’ to send a signal to a note generator, we linked it to an impulse generator. The possibility of setting up an automatic trigger to carry out actions on a patch was always possible in Isadora. I later found the equivalent actor in Isadora, the ‘Frequency Generator’ in the sound tools, which formed the basis of another work which I will describe later. I also learnt how to develop a patch on PD for motion tracking and hope to be able to use this in future projects.

It was not until almost four days in to my stay at the Lab that a chance viewing of some video footage precipitated a conversation that then led to a collaboration between myself and two Luxembourgian artists Gianfranco Celestino and Anne-Mareika Hess. During those initial days I was not alone in my ramblings. Many artists moved around the space ‘scratching’ for an idea. During this time Celestino had taken some video footage of Hana Ma walking in a straight line in different locations of the mine. I instantly connected this image with an idea that had struck me whilst sitting in the Lab space on the morning of the first day as Birringer led a discussion amongst the group. Allowing my mind to wonder, I looked around the actual lab space and traced through all the available lines that the space had to offer. I then considered the possibility of filling in the gaps between the lines with video footage of the outdoor space and imagined a continuous walking pattern along these lines that would involve a dancer in the real space walking into a projection of themselves in the filmed space.

This rough sketch shows the setting for the MAG project with the intersections between the real space and the projected image

Over the next two days we set out to create MAG, a combination of projection in performance with a focus on drawing the design and architecture of the outdoor spaces into the indoor performance space. We created a story board of the different intersections that we wanted to create, based on the lines that we could see in the performance space. We then went outdoors to find the locations that fitted in with the lines we had identified. Whilst filming we aimed to achieve the neatest possible fit, so that in transitioning from the real dancer into the projected dancer the dimensions of the space and the height of the dancer remained consistent.

We found ourselves caught up in a conversation between the dimensions of the actual performance space and the perspective of the camera viewpoint. Our resulting work in progress was a very raw proposition. As a group we would like to develop this into a work that can be re-made on different buildings. We are also interested in the possibility of using an indoor space with projections of the outdoors during the daytime, and an outdoor space with projections of the indoors at night.

It was a natural reaction to the environment and the context in which we found ourselves to assume that all that was available was free to use. However, whether or not this applied to our own work, was not clear from the outset. The idea of using found objects, spaces and materials and re-presenting or re-contextualising them in an art work, was the basis of one particularly fractious interchange over the course of the lab. A dispute arose from the use of video footage taken by one artist of another artist’s work and being used as the raw material for a video installation piece. The specific details of the situation demonstrate the interwoven layers of relationships that resulted from the parallel creative practices – in itself an interesting result of our working structure. The video artist Sonia Rodrigues took some video footage of another participant, Sosanna Marcelino, wearing sound devices imbedded into a costume developed by Michelle D’Anjoux in collaboration with John Richardson. Rodrigues used the footage to develop a video piece that investigated the layering of images to produce a 3-D video effect. When the video piece emerged in the final showing, the costume designer D’Anjoux took umbrage at this use of her work without her knowledge, and requested that the work be removed and deleted from Rodrigues’ library on the basis of there having been no discussion on the usage of the footage. During a group meeting the situation was discussed resulting in a more or less unanimous agreement that the question of copy-right should have been raised at the outset of the lab. This could have been in the form of a contract signed and agreed by all on the nature of the forthcoming exchanges of information and ownership of material generated, shared and re-used by the group members in the course of the lab.

The group as a whole changed over the ten days, with people arriving at different times in the week and a large number leaving after just six days. In the final few days three UK based artists, Anne Laure Misme (France), Jennifer McColl (Chile) and Sandy Finlayson (UK) arrived with their video installation work that was projected onto a window pane in the lab space. They also began making a new work in the three days that they were resident at the Lab. As a result of the movement of people, the group dynamic changed several times, as did the relationships and conversations amongst the group members.

In the last few days, frustrations with the set-up of the lab came to the fore, with suggestions that some kind of structure could have facilitated a richer experience for all the members of the group. The key issue was the lack of consistency with which the term “autonomy” was applied. On the one hand the lack of formality was extremely liberating, but it was also at odds with the timetable of workshops and performances that required participants to at least work towards some kind of end. My own frustration lay in the way this ideal of autonomy, a concept that gripped and inspired me on my first evening at the lab, rapidly disintegrated. It gave way to a more sceptical concern that the term was being used in some way to justify a lack of any real plan. ‘Freedom’ and ‘control’ are difficult concepts to identify, and claiming to have either is never as straightforward as it may seem. To me freedom needs structure in order to support and protect it from being hi-jacked by known or unknown hierarchies. The problem with autonomy is that it requires an enlightened self-awareness, like an internal compass, to keep it on course against underlying currents.
Despite my frustrations with the lab, I am still re-assured by its existence and what it stands for. As an emerging artist I am often disheartened by the amount of applications and selection processes which seem to dominate my working practice. Money is short, and the number of makers is high. So selection is an obvious necessity. But it does feel important that there are spaces where artists can select to participate in a research project, as opposed to being selected by a panel. This self-selection is the basis for a bottom-up approach which I think will become increasingly important if we are to find a way to bypass the agendas and politics of organisations. By co-incidence, a few weeks after this Lab, I attended the Digital Futures in Dance Symposium in Bournemouth, where this notion of individual agency and empowerment was discussed in the context of open web platforms. Marlon Barrios Solano (a dance artist and founder of Dance tech. Net) called on artists to consider how they might make use of the web in order to generate and support a ‘Bottom –Up’ approach to the distribution of dance work. But this, he argued could only be achieved through some kind of ‘architecture of participation.’ My true disappointment with the Interaktionslabor was that it seemed ideally placed to provide a space for open interaction, but it lacked the direction to facilitate this in a meaningful and considered way.

By the end of my stay I began to view the space and its intention as a kind of proposition. It gave me one valuable resource that is hard to come by in London: time to think and try things out. During my last few days at the Lab I set up a series of patches on Isadora that involved delays, live capture and instant playback and used ‘Frequency Generators’ to trigger an automatic movement from one patch to another. Entering the first scene sets off a chain of impulses by which the software will automatically move from a delay scene, to a pre-recorded playback, to a real-time relay during which frequency generators start and stop a live capture and then returning to the first scene (the delay mode). Every time the second scene is activated a ‘Counter’ actor is triggered to increase the movie number by 1, which loads the movie recorded in the previous loop. When the movie comes to an end it triggers a jump to the next scene and so on. All this happens without the need for any manual actions on the keyboard. It generates a loop during which actions are played back, or recalled creating a constant forwards and backwards movement in the work.

On the final day of the lab Sosanna Marcelino worked with me for one afternoon to begin integrating this series of patches into a live movement piece. Due to the quick movement through the scenes, we focused on small gestures and decided to contain the projection and performance space by using a configuration of tables. We started off just placing objects on the table, an orange was added to the configuration and soon became one of the features of the piece. The choreography lay in the accuracy of timing and spacing with which we worked through the series of gestures and exchanges.

The set up for the final project

This all took place on the final day of the lab, when emotional and mental exhaustion were beginning to set in. It was also the hottest day of our stay, with temperatures of 33 degrees in the shade. But something of the neatness of the structure we were dealing with forced us to push through even though the work became increasingly complex. It grew to involve a dozen oranges, plates, knives and napkins. Our final sharing at 10pm that night, watched by the few remaining members of the group, Johannes Birringer, Claus Behringer, Sandy Finlayson and Sonia Rodrigues, concluded a journey through anxiety, frustration, inspiration, tensions and friendships that have come to define my ten day experience at this gem of a space. It was appropriate that this final work was set around a table and portrayed the exchange of food and thoughts. Our own eating space was a meeting place for ideas, cultures and practices, and so this virtual meal seemed a fitting note on which to end.

Notes and Credits

Interaktionslabor 2011 was held at:

Industriekultur Saar
Boulevard der Industriekultur
66287 Quierschied-Gottelborn
Germany

Links: http://www.iks.saar.de/
http://interaktionslabor.de/

Photos taken by Marguerite Caruana Galiza and Klaus Behringer
Video footage by Marguerite Caruana Galizia

My attendance was made possible through a DanceDigital Bursary. The travel cost of this project was supported by the Lisa Ullman Travelling Scholarship Fund.

International Interaktionslabor

In August 2011 I will be travelling to Gottelborn in Germany to participate in the International Interaktions Lab, lead by Johannes Birringer.

Located in a converted coalmine in the West German region of Saarland, the centre is equipped with technical facilities as well as live-in accomodation for artists attending the lab. It was set up by the multi-media performance artist Johannes Birringer, who co-ordinates and leads the annual research lab event.

During ten days in August, the international Interaktionslabor in Göttelborn collaborates with XMLab and Donlon Dance Company on creating a new PERFORMANCE ACADEMY, a shared platform of workshop spaces and research facilities for performance-media design, interactional and wearable concepts, and investigations of gestural processes, protocols, and social choreography.

With its partners XMLab and Donlon Dance Company, Interaktionslabor shares the sense that the concept of research should be opened up (again), and aims to acknowledge the relevance of experimental treatments of actuality – of forms of collaborative creation – that may take us beyond the perspectives and protocols of (established academic) inquiry as we know it. Which is why we have chosen gesture as focus of the inaugural workshop – gesture as practice that is at once aesthetic, corporeal, and political.

Interaktionslabor is a laboratory for interactive media, design, and performance, founded by Johannes Birringer in 2003 on the site of the former coal mine Göttelborn (Saarland), and developed over the past nine years into an annual summer residency-workshop for performers, media artists, filmmakers, engineers and writers from different artistic and cultural backgrounds, always open to participants’ ideas, processes and project proposals that nurture collaboration and research as well as the building of transcultural networks. At the end of the workshops, which are housed in the beautifully renovated industrial spaces of the Coal Mine (participants also live in new Guest House on the mine campus), Interaktionslabor has exhibited works in progress as well as co-produced new installations or performance later premiered in other countries. The lab has been invited to Brasil and the US, and now enters into a new phase of collaborative research exchange and partnership in the Greater Region.

Interaktionslabor 2011 Press Release

Birringer’s focus on the artistic questions that arise from working in a digital environment are particularly relevant to my work at this stage. My ten day stay will be documented on this blog.

The travel cost of this project is supported by the Lisa Ullmann Travelling Scholarship Fund. The research laboratory itself is covered by a bursary from Dance Digital.

Questions for fellow choreographers

How do choreographers do what they do?

Whilst watching Siobhan Davies and Matthias Sperling in rehearsal last week, I began thinking about the reasons / implications of this way of working. For those of you who did not see it, Davies and Sperling’s hour-long rehearsal / discussion was broadcast live via web link. The public was able to follow the discussion and contribute to it by posting their questions. I couldn’t help being intrigued by the number of questions that arose from two people talking about a dance performance that no one had seen. (because  of course it has not been performed yet.)

At the moment several choreographers and companies are trying to open up that studio process by allowing the public to interact via live screening of rehearsals. But does the time in studio constitute all of what we do? Many of us are lucky to be able to get into a studio and try things out, without having to fork out money to pay for space. So a lot of our process has to happen else where. Of course the time in the studio is important. But so too are all the endless hours leading to and preceding the work in the studio. A number of questions have come out of these thoughts. Have you got any answers?

How do you arrive at making?

I know Siobhan Davies proposed a similar question in a series of talks last year. My question is really based on physical exploration. How do you bring yourself to that creative space that is grounded in movement? Do you go to classes? Do you watch dance works? Do you think about movement?

How do you keep the studio time open?

How often do you invite external feedback into your process? How do you maintain some form of perspective? How do you remain relevant to the current dance scene?