As we go into winter (can it really be December next week??), I reflect on the whirlwind of a mightily, excitingly, busy few months. After a summer full of all the right things (work, play, sunshine), September plunged me into a host of newprojects to develop, proposals to write, funding applications to submit, etc. I always find such activities quite exhilarating – it’s largely a very creative process, from generating ideas to working out the nuts and bolts of resources (I never knew I could enjoy spreadsheets so!) It also saw the fruition of a wonderful collaboration with Bristol based artist Clare Thornton. As artists overlapping in a number of contexts, Clare and I have developed a rich friendship and connection with each others’ work over the years. It seemed timely then to embark upon something together, to see what happens when we make manifest the many dialogues – verbal and artistic – that already take exist. It’s a nice to place from which to start acollaboration – a solid bedrock of understanding, reciprocity and respect. And humour, much humour…!
The project that Clare and I undertook was A Lexicon of Labour Movements, co-produced by Knowle West Media Centre and The Showroom Projects, as part of their In The City series. Clareand I undertook a period of research visiting small enterprises, business and tradespeople in South Bristol, with the intent of collecting their ‘labour movments’- the gestures and actions associated with the tools that they use. The process involved a lot of talking with people, of being shown things and trying them out, and people were really generous with their time. We had such a range of businesses – from brickies to horse rescuers, scrap metal dealers to tool fabricators -, each with their own stories and their own work. Many people lent us their tools, which formed part of the exhibition that Clare and I created as well as material for use in the performance we devised. Working in the studio at KWMC and at the Parlour Showrooms, we created a number of ‘chapters’, or ‘tracks’ inspired by the tools, actions and stories that we collected, which we put together as a score. This formed the basis for a half-hour long performance that we showed both at the Parlour in September, and at KWMC in October, where the exhibition was reinstalled, with expanded elements.
Clare has a very interdisciplinary practice, working across installation, sculpture, performance and print, but also has an interest in dance and movement, as – I realise – do I. The pieces we made for A Lexicon of Labour Movements ranged from precise executions of mechanistic actions, to more expansive improvised experiments in space. The body was (/is) always central, in its relation to the tool, to the material, to the other body, to space. As well as the performance we also made and exhibited some incredible light drawing photographs with the inimitable Kim Fielding – an old collaborator of mine from Cardiff who’s not only a fantastic photographer but an absolute scream to work with. It was great to reconnect, and hopefully it’ll be something we’ll take forward in other ways too.
We have been talking about doing a book work relating to the project, and I’m currently in the middle of making a book work in relation to Foodscapes, which I did earlier on in the year. (I say “in relation to”, as I like the way that bookworks can respond, reflect, extend or crystalise the ideas of a work, without needing to be directly ‘about’ it). I’ve been interested in the possibilities of book works for a long time – when I bumped into Québecois artists Carl Bouchard and Martin Dusfrasne in Toronto last year, I was reminded of my first, made at art college 10 years ago, which I gave to Carl and Martin when I met them in Cardiff at the time. And perhaps being in Leeds, and meeting a lot of artists interested in the form (and participating in a workshop with the brilliant Louise Atkinson, who’s involved in Leeds Artists’ Book Fair) I’ve just gotten ever more enthusiastic about it. (Mr P and I are even making our own Christmas book for nieces and nephews, with one of his [epic?] poems, father-out-law’s illustrations and my paper folding / screen printing skills).
Which is not to say that I’ve given up on more conventional writing and publishing forms. I recently wrote something for Debi Withers and Alex Wardrop’ very exciting sounding Para-Academic Handbook, which will be published by HammerOn Press next year. It’s a collection of writings by and for people who operate “alongside, beside, next to, and rub up against, the all too proper location of the Academy, making the work of higher education a little more irregular, a little more perverse, a little more improper.” And I’m currently finishing off a second draft of another article for an academic journal, which should also be published in 2014.
And whilst I feel like I’m getting to the end of this post, there’s so much I’ve not mentioned (I am, once again, reminded that I must blog more regularly). Like The Terminal, produced by PUSH and curated by Something Human, which took place in London at the end of October. It was a very intense and strange 3 day durational performance event, in which the 10 artists involved submitted to strictures and rules agreed in advance with the curators. We had to give up our phones, laptops, money, we couldn’t leave the building (except to walk, en masse, to our sleeping quarters at night), we could only eat at set meal times when take away food was delivered to the space, and the whole thing was streamed live on the internet. It was a really interesting experiment, raising all sorts of interesting questions about borders, about in-betweenness and ‘non-spaces’, all terms we come encounter in art discourse, but never experience in quite this way. It was really rich, and wonderful to meet such a nice bunch of curators and artists. There was also a comprehensive video screening and talks programme, most of which I missed (as I was performing), but some of which still remains on the project website I think.
The work I made was very simple – my intention was to simply try to continue moving for the duration of the event (the symbolism of which was purely personal – reminding me of a particular friend – and aethestic, but which I have since read to mean, in the Victorian language of flowers, resignation and departure). In the space I moved naked, with closed eyes and holding a potted cyclamen. The temperature of the space meant that I couldn’t sustain this for more than 2-3 hours, so I would intersperse this movement with periods fully clothed (including hat and scarf, it really was that cold!) doing the same thing. It took me back to a five-day Locator workshop I did with movement artist Simon Whitehead in West Wales, to practices of authentic movement and the awkwardness and vulnerability I can experience when moving in front of people. It provoked thoughts about dance, and rekindled a teenage aspiration I had (on watching Ballet Rambert, whilst at college) to be a contemporary dancer. There’s a tiny chance I could still retrain, but I suspect I would never have the sort of moves that still astound me. But I do find something very interesting about exploring the way my body moves, a body that has trained and moved and performs in quite different ways. And I wonder how what I often do, as a body moving in space to sound (usually bodily sound rather than music), differs from what we call movement or dance.
I had the pleasure last month to present a new work in progress at the University of Worcester, on the invitation of the wonderful Lee Hassall. It was great to reconnect with Lee again after a number years, and to meet some of the great colleagues and students that he has on the Art and Design course there. I presented a new work, partly a development of a piece I presented at Emergency in Manchester, and partly inspired by experiences and experiments on the Performing Men Retreat, a LADA DIY project with Peter McMaster in September. I could write a whole post on that experience, such a rich and deep weekend that it was. Some of us will be talking about it at LADA’s DIY picnic in December, so perhaps I’ll see you there, otherwise watch this space on news of how that, and other projects develop….