Report submitted Dec 2019 after receiving funding and completion of Artists Mentoring scheme.
the possibilities of different geographies
It is not possible to step twice into the same river according to Heraclitus, or to come into contact twice with a mortal being in the same state
Plutarch  91a in Graham 2019
The Possibilities of Different Geographies is the title of a series of works made in collaboration with the dance artist Jane Carr. What started initially, in 1997, as a performance work has morphed into a participatory performance installation in which the artists offer situations in the world presented as instances of ‘performance’. In recent iterations, presented alongside Queer activism, it has served a a vehicle to explore non-binary identities. Yet throughout the changes over many years, our site of investigation has remained the significance of the embodied dimensions of inter-subjective experience.
As described previously (Carr and Sharp, 2018) the work is structured though a series of simple scores that are presented as ‘recipes’ (eg Figure 1a ) selected from a ‘menu’ (Figure 1b).
The artists act as hosts and facilitators, handing out snacks and drinks to participants, disseminating menus and recipes and encouraging people to choose and perform a recipe. Using digital technology we also operate the sound and lighting that I created to structure the participants’ performative expression
Once a’ dish’, is selected from the menu participants are given the ‘recipe’ - or the details of simple movement scores that aim to cut across those binary divisions that shape typical every day actions in order to offer opportunities for those present to consider questions such as:
What is a performance?
What are the bounds of the performance?
When is the performance?
Funding from Artists’ Newsletter enabled me to further develop the work with mentoring from Professor Adrian Heathfield whose background in curating and writing in performance practice and critical theory informed discussion regarding how to structure the participatory elements.
The first mentoring session took place in early June. This was a ‘getting to know you’ few hours where, I described the nature of the work and then explored some of the issues that had emerged previously in terms of structuring participation in the work. Heathfield asked for a simple presentation of basic frame elements of the piece to be made available to allow him to watch and then to participate in the work - to get a feel for it so to speak. Thus during the second session with Professor Heathfield, a couple of weeks later, he tried out and watched some of the ‘recipes’ and, recognising how the format only truly actualises in the social, we discussed the best means of situating the work to document it for future discussions . (Figures 2,3 and 4).
(Figure 2: Run, Walk, Skip )
(Figure 3: Stand )
(Figure 4: Working with Adrian Heathfield )
I spent the next few weeks in July and August looking for an appropriate venue. Perhaps due to my experience of performing in alternative spaces in the early 1990’s in the UK and Germany, I sought a ‘messy space’ which carried the marks of being lived in. We found such a venue in Peckham, South East London: Safehouse 1. (See Figures 5 and 6). This run down terraced house, sandwiched between the Bussy Building complex and AKO Barbers and Hand Car Wash not only bares traces of the lives that have inhabited it but of many exhibitions staged there. The internal structure having been partially dismantled, the house also reveals what lies behind the domestic facade. The fabric retains the ebbs and flows of its history yet in places it is barely holding together having lost much of the outer surfaces to expose the skeleton of the building. This then made an ideal environment within which to probe the underlying structures of everyday action.
(Figure 5: Safehouse 1 interior )
(Figure 6: Safehouse 1 exterior )
The presentation and documentation of the work at Safehouse 1 replaced the originally planned third mentoring session. The previous sessions with Adrian Heathfield had brought the relationships between doing and thinking into focus so that both after and within performative instances I became more aware of the complexity of how individuation is experienced.
We are accustomed to refer all individuals in nature to one genus which is called the most general, that is, to the notion of Being, which embraces absolutely all the individuals in nature.
In developing the work for a new space I was more conscious of the nature of risk in choosing a recipe, of going into the spotlight and the willingness of the individual to accept the chance to move away from the habitual
We are habits, nothing but habits - the habit of saying I
Further critical evaluation, informed by the opportunity to attend seminars at Roehamption led by Heathfield, also opened the way to a deeper reflection upon how to situate the work. The staging and lay out of the general structure of the work was worked out within the empty shell of the house: the 'cafe ‘setting with tables, chairs, ambient lighting, sound system and background music in which non-alcoholic drinks and snacks were to be served was in one ‘room’ (Figure 7 ) that opened into a separate space for ‘performance’ (Figure 8). This social milieu then provides the situation for performative interpretation in which the recipes provide the stimulus for very different movement responses that are set slightly apart yet still within the social setting.
(Figure 7: the Café)
(Figure 8: the performance area)
The socialised space temporarily hosts being.
The space, called ‘cafe’, unfolds becoming into becoming.
Conditions of trust (shelter) in becoming into becoming; potentially. By attuning the attention, in a space as social, the habitus unfolds.
The sense of we, in terms of performer and audience, was cemented into the whole experience. The reciprocal audience/performer relationship is written about but often overlooked in practice, in favour of the “I”. At no time was that sense of ‘we’ lost. There was always a sense of collective. This was due to a filter down effect in which the more-confident ‘passed on’ a sense of have a go to those not-so-confident. The ‘unexpected’, brought to the performance by the latter, negated to some extent the habits that often become the fall back solution.
Through this collaborative process I have been pursuing a non-object based performative art practice. Images slip and slide and through the work. Words, though precisely printed onto the pages of the recipes, merely act as spring boards. Through the embodied person, different iterations spread out from the moments of resonance that occur after the initial stimulus of reading the recipe. These responses are further nuanced by adjustment at the fulcrum where space, audience and sound intersect to achieve a means where conscious intention and un-conscious/reflex produce a way of ‘worldmaking’ (Goodman, 1978).
While my recent concerns with regard to this work had been to consider ways of exploring non binary identities, reflecting upon this event as part of the mentoring process I came to understand the importance of embracing the many different ways the recipes were interpreted:
It [the objective meaning of a linguistic ‘product’] is only completely realised as a message …. If it is decoded … [and] … That the schemes of interpretation used by those receiving the message in their creative appropriation of the product may diverge, to a greater or lesser extent, from those which guided its production.
For example, the recipe no. 5 (Hair) engendered very different responses including quite complex relationships between two participants who decided to work as a duet. While perhaps the most surprising response was one participant who interpreted the recipe for no.10 (Stand) by deciding to ignore most of the score and instead mime setting up and getting into a hammock (Figs 9 - 14).
(Figure 9 & 10: Hair solo)
(Figure 11 & 12: Hair duet)
(Figure 13: Stand)
(Figure 14: Stand)
With Heathfield, I also discussed how sound could be further used to disrupt people’s expectations regarding actions so that the space and time of performance may become a place of active imagination - what Corbin (1964) would describe as the imaginal or mundus imaginalis.
Central to any conversation about the imaginal realm are the figures that dwell in that large and mysterious region, not a literal worl
with defined geographic co-ordinates, but a place better described as a dynamic and real place of experience, a locus inhabited by
multivocal, multivalent beings.
Sound scores/music are abstract yet physically emotive. As the composer of the sound scores, my primary concern was to produce supportive, yet idiosyncratic sound scores. No.6 Smile, for example, uses sampled extracts from an old wax recording of Faure’s requiem, to accompany and unsettle the experience of extended and exaggerated smiling. To similarly shift the ordinary from the everyday, the lighting was deliberately over saturated with colour. Inspired by examples of expressionist film lighting, I aimed to avoid naturalism in order to engender awareness of the role the habitual plays in performative acts. Using LED lighting helped to over emphasise colours while open white spot light profile lights then cut through the colour to focus attention on details of action. These technical elements and their operation were placed in full view making visible the theatrical apparatus that shapes the actions for all those present to further signify the performative dimension of even the simplest gesture.
I am the type of visual artist that thinks in the empirical. How does it look? What if I put that next to that? The domain of the academic, I realise, lies well away from my own strengths and abilities. However the experience of being mentored by Adrian Heathfield has given me pause to question both the process and outcomes of my practice. The language of the academic provides the structure for reflection upon the process of art making and this has been the product of our discussions over the past few months helping me to make some sort of bridge between our different world views. Here, as in my previous investigations into the performative and interactive dimensions of human world-making, I came to an exploration of the tensions between the artist as individual and the academic as ‘other’. As an artist I have come to recognise the possibilities of different geographies to open up new creative spaces by drawing upon academic discourses.
(Figure 15: Tasting Menu)
1. For this iteration of the work we decided, with permission, to document some of the responses to the recipes so that we could continue discussion of the work with our mentor.
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