Artist-at-Work: ‘uneasiness’

An update on This Moving Reading Body an alternate book-club, three Thursdays in June at Cecil St Studios, 6.30-8.30pm, reading Artist at Work by Bojana Kunst, published by Zero Books (2015).

It was a cold and blustery night. We lit the heaters at Cecil St Studios and started with a 3-minute breathing space in which we lay wrapped in blankets and tuned to the sounds inside/outside.

[Pause]

Then we sat together in a circle and I talked about the ‘frame’ for setting up this Moving-Reading Book-Club, how I’m interested in actively ‘non-doing’ as one response to grief / grieving and how I think this is a key text for that kind of ‘doing’; also that theory is best read together.

We went around the circle and everybody shared what was ‘at-work’ for them right now.

Then we did a ‘score’ that I learnt some years ago from Alice Chauchat who has a practice she calls Social Choreography.

Then amidst almonds, hot water, and blankets we read Chapter 1: The Uneasiness of Active Art out loud, taking it in turns, sometimes repeating sentences. When we finished I proposed that we make a summary of the chapter by making a collaborative ‘score’ that we could commit to during the week.

This is what we came up with. (We boiled it down to a chorus).

Notice the uneasiness in the present moment

Notice the uneasiness in leaving the present moment

Notice the uneasiness in an imagine future

Notice uneasiness

Tilt*

Then we made a bed of uneasy sounds and sang our score.

Image result for michael jackson tilt

“The Secret Behind Michael Jackson’s Anti-Gravity Lean Was Actually His Relationship To Utopia”

Next week we move to Chapter 2: Production of Subjectivity.

We’ll more or less do the same: breathe, tune, dance, read, talk, score, sing.

Come!

*to tilt is to move your body into a sloping position – off-balance

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REPLAY with Ezster Salamon, 2018

REPLAY
Choreographic lab with public outcome led by ESZTER SALAMON assisted by Boglàrka Börcsök
FOR 10 FEMALE PERFORMERS*

In the history of dance, the communication between dancer and audience has fascinated a lot of choreographers, dance makers and dancers. What defines the communication between the one who dances and the one who watches? Eszter Salamon questions the power of the gaze of the dancer and audience, and at the same time the performative body.  Is what we see what we get? Is the body a construction of our desire or our fears? What do we expose by exposing our body to the gaze of someone else? Inspired by her previous work ReproductionREPLAY offers 10 Australian female performers an opportunity to explore these choreographic enquiries in a 2-week experimental choreographic lab culminating in a free public showing at Abbotsford Convent.

REHEARSAL NOTES from this choreographic lab or that which remained:

There are different devices for attracting the audience’s gaze; you are ALWAYS choosing where to look; even when you don’t look, that’s an intention.

Learn to separate your eyes from your head, and the relationship between your head and your body.

The movement phrase is no more important than how you’re constructing it; the phrase is only a tool.

Be mutable; every shift of weight is an event.

Take your time.

Insist on time.

Be in this intention; specificity of your attention is so much more important that remembering the movement; for example, you need to bring much more presence into your hand; really touch her.

Your dancing is almost just behaving; your presence, your posture, your gaze; how your face and eyes participate in the score is essential; the pathway can suspend at any point; it’s not about slowness it’s about intensity.

Think about pleasure.

Use your head in the weight shift; don’t block it; move in a non linear path to get to the next part of the phrase; you don’t have to be in the continuity of the phrase; that’s not what’s interesting; so what else is there other than your dancing body? other than yourself?

Find the ease. Soften your jaw.

Bring your concentration to your strength; to your pleasure in moving; design your intention; inhabit every moment.

What is the relationship between touch and the gaze? How can you make the audience feel your touch?

Address your movement; become a bit animal; when you construct a body you can go through it;

Not the unapologetic gaze but a bit ‘I don’t know’; the gaze needs to have more weight; insistence but also calmness; it’s a doubleness; the gaze must be insistent and also distant; this is how you can become more complex; more real.

REPLAY by Ezster Salamon

Image by Pippa Samaya, courtesy of Dancehouse, 2018

 

 

 

Artist-at-Work: an alternate book club

 

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The Weaver by Diego Rivera (1936)

In 2015, Artist-at-Work, Proximity of Art and Capitalism by Bojana Kunst was published by Zero Books. This book is a critical, joyful, challenging, and urgent provocation entreating us to think about the contexts that we (artists) find ourselves working in; our modes of production; the value of our practice; and what kinds of labourers we are, especially as performance artists.

If you’re interested in grappling with ideas on artistic freedom; the production of subjectivity and how to deal with the precarious situation and exhaustion that comes with living the artistic life then come along to Artist-at-Work: This Moving Reading Body where we will read Chapter One: Producing Subjectivity from Artist-at-Work, Proximity of Art and Capitalism by Bojana Kunst. We will also dance, and sing together.

Here’s a Lecture on Artist-at-Work by Bojana herself to get your mojo workin’.

This Moving Reading Body is an alternate book club that involves moving and reading. This one is especially relevant for artists and cultural workers. Wear loose and comfortable clothes. Bring water, and a copy of the book – which you can buy at Dancehouse or Readings or from the publisher, Zero Books. And bring a friend.

It’s $5 on the door to cover cost of hiring the space and photocopying. I’ll have a couple of printed copies in circulation on the nights.

The book is dense and thick and tangled and marvellous. Best read and grappled with together. So come! The more the merrier, and warmer.

Let’s bring down Capitalism this winter!

 

Fieldwork: THE BRAIN-BODY POETRY KIT

Week two of my Responsive Residency with Critical Path and IO Myers Creative Practice Lab, UNSW. July 2017.

Both heaters are on, a bright neon orange light warms the large, cavernous theatre space. I am standing at a table cutting up words with a pair of sewing scissors. Snip. Snip. Under my fingers float neurons under my finger float attention under my fingers float swallow under my fingers float process. I am sorting words into lists of nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions and pronouns. As I snip I learn more about grammar, about how language works, how perception works, how sentences come together and shape thoughts, actions. It feels so choreographic to snip!

My father up until the very end of his life, even when all his mobility had disappeared – where did it go? all those micro signals between the brain and body where did they all disappear to? – would play word games; endlessly staring at a scrambled list of letters and putting then together to form four-letter, five-letter, six-letter words, and I had to write them down because his fingers didn’t move and he couldn’t hold a pen. Now, four months after his death I am standing alone at a long white table in a large, cavernous theatre snipping words with the emerging thought to make a brain-body magnetic poetry kit. Under my fingers float continuously under my fingers float dangling under my fingers float ancestor under my fingers float time.

Last time I was in Sydney I was in a different large, cavernous theatre space – at Drill Hall by Rushcutter’s Bay with boats bobbing in the harbour. Here at UNSW I am surrounded not by shipyards and white yachts but by ancient fig trees and construction sites. What is it to be in-residence as an ‘interstate artist’ coming in for three weeks, once in June, once in July and once in September, re-inscribing that well-worn pathway between Melbourne and Sydney again and again, to research by dancing, writing, reading, thinking and encountering the connections between brain and body: the incessant signals they send each other for the simplest of actions, like snip. Under my fingers float software under my fingers float evolution under my fingers float principles under my fingers float idea.

My idea was to be in dialogue with Dr Brindha Shivalingam, a neurosurgeon who lives in Sydney. In my application for this residency I wrote:

I have known Brindha all my life. She is a family friend. We grew up together in Colombo, Sri Lanka. In 1983 when the riots began we lived a very particular traumatic period at the start of the war together. Our families both migrated to Australian in 1984. Brindha and I share lives in two continents and a childhood shaped, amongst other things, by war. I am wanting to research pathways and scales by investigating relationships between micro and macro mobility. How does fine motor coordination exist in relation to the pathways enacted by economic and political migrants? This research investigates the pathways between body and brain and the pathways taken by each of us – neurosurgery and choreography – with the thought that perhaps both the micro and the macro can speak to the creation of hybrid identities, economies of practice and kinaesthetic heritage.

This is my first science-dance investigation – can I even call it that? In week one, Brindha and I spent a lot of time together. I stayed in her home and invited her to Drill Hall. We walked along the harbour and talked about our lives, about her work, about her path as a Bharatanayam Dancer, then Doctor, then Surgeon. And my pathway from theatre, to dance, to architecture and design. We talked about love and relationships about family and expectations. We talked about money and power we talked about the surgeon’s theatre and the performer’s theatre, the unlikely connections and vast gaps between the two.

In week 2 I am trying to make sense of these discussions, how they might translate or transform into ‘tests’ or ‘shifts’ in my practice. I listen to our conversations recorded on my iphone, I listen to podcasts from brain surgeons and neuroscientists talking about the human brain. I make lists and lists of words. And then I cut them all up. Under my fingers float touch under my fingers float stimuli under my fingers float down under my fingers float small.

The idea of a magnetic poetry kit on the Brain-Body emerges as a choreographic object, a way to make non/sense of these sediments floating up through my fingers. The next day a group of young Indigenous Australian high school kids come into the theatre to meet with the artist in-residence i.e. me. I tell them a story about my childhood in Sri Lanka and my family friendship with Brindha. It’s a story of war, and fire, and refugee camps, close escapes, and high achievements. Their mouths are open listening to every word. One of the girls puts her hand on her heart. It’s so satisfying to tell stories. I LOVE this feeling – like binding a spell, like weaving a web. I catch them in my sticky, silvery words, and they are all mine and I am all theirs and under our fingers float syntax under our fingers float tangle under our fingers float I under our fingers float sensing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

C is for

C is for Cecil Street

C is for chorus

C is for constellations and chairs

C is for crazily

C is for can’t believe I live here

C is for cooking in a small room

C is for cockroach

C is for curtains – three layers that don’t block out the light of the streetlamps

C is for city-living

C is for cabin-fever

C is for container-ship

C is for the caged bird that sings

C is for the calendar by which we schedule our comings and goings

C is for it’s a lot like camping

C is for it’s alot like camouflage

C is for it’s as unfathomable as the grand canyon

C is for cavity, weak gums

C is for caterpillar

C is for capsize

C is for cognize

C is for cauliflower which I rarely ever eat

C is for cowboy-movies that I watch late at night

C is for cave art, a bit like how I draw on the windows

C is for the flying carpet that somehow brought me here, to this

C is for the antique cupboard that took Man with a Van about an hour to haul up the stairs

C is for capture

C is for centimeter

C is for centigrade

C is for how cold this room is about to get when winter comes

C is for the crescent moon I saw the night my father died

C is for circle

C is for kissing your cheek each night each morning

C is for jaws that catch

C is for can’t

C is for comma

C is for chop, clap, crawl and cry

C is for czardom, that is the power of the czar

C is for cosy

C is for coop

C is for cope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would like to begin again

Dear Reader,

I would like to begin again, with you. I would like to invite you in. I would like to invite you into my home. I would like to make a disclaimer. I am regretful to tell you that to enter my home you will need to take your shoes off. I would like to say sorry for this. I would like to say sorry for this because I really like your shoes, and I like shoes in general and I would like to say sorry because I don’t always take off my own shoes even though I should. I would like to unlock this gate. I would like to unlock this white gate but I don’t remember the code on the padlock. I would like to think it’s 007 but I can’t be sure. I would like to assure you that it doesn’t really matter because I have my own set of keys on a red tag with a silver whistle. I would like to walk behind you as you enter. I would like to put our shoes neatly on the shoe rack. I would like to point out the numerous outdated flyers on the noticeboard and to tell you that I am thinking of creating a public artwork called NOTICE/BOARD. I would like to clear all the flyers from this corridor and these boards and leave only this note for you all folded up and neatly pinned. I would like to you to have discovered it when you least expect it, a small and yet big surprise. I would like to regretfully acknowledge that no one leaves notes for each other anymore. I would like to ask you if you ever passed a note secretly at school, or later in life in a meeting? I would like you to ask what you wrote. I would love to have told you what I wrote but I can’t remember. No, really I cannot. I would like to invite you to put your bag down on any one of these wooden chairs by the door. I would like to walk with you around the studio floor. I would like to point out the two bathrooms, and the kitchen behind the black curtain. I would like to give you a glass of water. I would like to stand on the chair while you hand me the long black lighter and wait with me while I light the old gas heaters. I would like to lie beneath one of these heaters with you and listen to the falling rain for a long long time. I would like to roll with you, turn with you, rise with you, stand with you, walk with you, run with you, fall with you, bend with you, receive with you, hold with you, dance with you. I would like to walk up the white staircase with you and take a moment to look at our reflections in the cast iron mirror hanging on the hook outside the door. I would like to open the door of the room where I live and invite you in. I would like you to sit on one of the hand carved chairs my mother shipped from our childhood home in Colombo to our new home in Melbourne in 1984. I would like to put the kitchen light on but I know that if I put that light on and the kettle on at the same time it will blow a fuse. I would like to play you some of my favourite piano music. I would like to sit on the lounge chair with you and talk about how the plants in this room are thriving against all odds. I would like to smell with you the lemon-geranium I took from the neighbours garden to make last night’s bedtime tea. I would like to show you the hole under the pillar where I twice saw a mouse run in and out, in and out. I would like to know if it was the same mouse. I would like to smile here with you. I would like to listen here with you. I would like to drink whiskey, make some plans, spin some cotton into gold in this room with you. I would like to tell you how I came to live here, in a dance studio. I would like you to know that last year someone was murdered not far from here. I would like to show you the syringe I nearly stepped on when I stopped on my walk to tie up my shoe laces. I would like to tell you that walking home late last night I nearly bumped into a man rummaging through the garbage bags left outside the Salvation Army store. I would like to admit how little I know this neighbourhood, how I circle outside on Friday nights waiting for the five rhythms class to finish. I would like to say that living above a dance studio is a continual process of becoming. I would like to think that this very living is an act of dancing. I would like to know if you are dancing now. I would like to think that I am dancing now. I would like you to write something on my body, a kind of impermanent tattoo. I would like you to write each now becomes another now. Yes, and I would like you to write I write because I don’t trust myself to remember. Yes, and I would like you to write  after, across, between, until. Yes, and I would like you to write, she is wearing red lipstick, her hair is up.

 

one year on: some thoughts on ‘home’

It will soon be my one year anniversary of leaving England and returning ‘home’ to Melbourne, Australia. I came with a return ticket – couldn’t face buying a one-way – what if it all didn’t work out? What if? What if? It’s funny how in this year, one of the many adventures I have had was returning to UK and heading up to Findhorn to dance in a choreographic lab with Deborah Hay (and 20 others). What if? What if? If you’re familiar with Deborah Hay there’s no more to say. If not, then I could leave you with one of her fantastically generative, dancing questions:

What if it is not what we do as dancers but how we engage the billions of passing moments in the space where we are dancing, either in solo or group work, we will learn to practice the how of performing?

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Amaara Raheem, Hestia, Asia House, London, 2014

Here I am channeling Hestia, the Greek Goddess of the home, the hearth. Here I am channeling Hestia in an old, colonial London mansion-house that has been turned into an arts and cultural venues called Asia House. Here I am in 2014 dancing through the process of deciding ‘yes! this is an end of an era’. Note how the fireplace in this ornate room, the site of Hestia, has been taken out. Is that a coincidence? Am I someone who has forgotten the rituals of putting out the home fires? Probably. Often when I left a ‘home’ it was without awareness or true intent. The first instance (Colombo – Melbourne), I was only 10 years old and it was in the midst of a civil war, so forgivable. In the second instance I was 27 years old and thought I was just going backpacking for two years (Melbourne – London). By the time 15 years passed I really didn’t know if I would find the way back ‘home’. Surely, the birds had long eaten my trail of crumbs? Maybe, but it didn’t matter, Hestia helped me remember. So, here I am calling upon the Greek deity of colonisation, stability, home-making, to guide me back, or is it forwards? Here I am having lived more than one lifetime, having loved in more than one place, having the kind of accent, face, demeanour, presence of a person from nowhere in particular and, everywhere in general. Not displacement exactly rather, ‘multiple belongings’.

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that my PhD in the School of Architecture and Design is addressing ‘home’. In yet another iteration of writing that attempts to understand and name what I am doing I say:

The discipline of dance is a ‘home’ and I have mostly known ‘home’ through the act of leaving it and situating myself elsewhere in relation to it. Artists in exile making work about ‘home’ has a long history and it is with this in mind that I position myself as outsider or ‘border artist’ (Gomez-Pena) in the School of Architecture and Design. To work philosophically and kinaesthetically with the following concepts – ‘becoming’, ‘equivalence’ and ‘difference’ – sits at the heart of my doctoral projects. Here, the relationships between movement, language and ‘home’ are offered as a continuous sites of becoming; spaces in which to subtract or multiply ‘self’; where the personal is political, the political is personal and the borders between fact and fiction merge, meander; where the body is offered as surface for place-making. 

This blog is not the place to write everything, if such a thing were even possible. But carefully and methodologically – if for no one’s purposes but my own – I’d like to reflect upon this year: February 2015 – February 2016: a year of becoming, a year of BIG surprises, a year of adventuring, a year of departure and arrivals, a year of being under the Southern Sky.

Some different kind of writing that can be offered as Ariadne’s thread – a secret passageway through the maze of lived history – to tell the stories that only I can tell:

subterranean metals shimmer like firecrackers; performing subjectivity they snack on insects, bittersweet; this is a message-in-a-bottle bobbing on a sea of silence; I am in a wilder space now, I am re-wilding – not language as Robert MacFarlane does – but this surface called my body; it is a passage of time tucked inside itself – a russian doll of selfs, so to speak; flyweight to heavyweight she is feeling the weight and the wait of the PhD; it takes the time it takes (smile); the gravity of new beginnings means uphill climbs are difficult but necessary; remember how crossing Mt Graham was surprisingly tender? she has returned back to the drafting table to build it all over again, this time straight and true. 

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Amaara Raheem, Hestia, Asia House, London, 2014