Theatre Bristol Interview

Can you tell us about your new project Dances of Earthly Wonder?

Dances of Earthly Wonder is a series of new performances I’ve been commissioned to make by Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) in South Bristol. I’ll be making four new performances over the next couple of months for specific groups in the community – they’ll inform the making of the performances and be responsible for documenting them, using an interface developed by Dane Watkins and I over the past year or so.

Is this the CONNECTION / TIME interface? How does it work?

Yes! CONNECTION / TIME came out of the Whose Data residency I undertook at KWMC last year, alongside Dane, who’s lead artist-in-residence there. We were interested to find ways of using social media to stream the ‘live data’ of performance events, and to find ways of integrating audience experience into documentation. With Dane’s technical expertise and my experience in performance, we developed a web interface that brings together live Twitter and Flickr feeds so that audiences (or documenters) can upload photos or tweet commentary during a performance.

How has it gone?

We’ve gone through a series of phases of development – using a prototype version at KWMC last year, and then refining it through an ACE-funded phase called CONNECTION / TIME in the Spring. For that part of the project we used it in a few different contexts – in a workshop at Arnolfini, & in a series of collective durational performances (with Phil Owen, H.Ren, Soozy Roberts, Steve Robins, Clare Thornton, Caroline Wilkins, & guests from ] performance s p a c e [ on Bristol docks, at KWMC and at Performance Exchange, SITE Festival, Stroud. We had some brilliant documenters photographing and tweeting throughout the performances, creating really interesting and textured performance archives, but realised we wanted more interactivity, so that’s when Dane developed the annotate function.

So how does CONNECTION / TIME fit in with you and Dane’s solo practices, it seems a bit different?

In ways it is a bit of a tangent – Dane’s an animator by training, and I’m a no-fi performance artist. But when we got talking about what it is we want to do with art and with people, we found rich common ground. Working with audiences that are unfamiliar with the experimental end of contemporary art, we wanted to find ways for individuals to create and articulate their own connections. We discovered that beneath our disciplinary differences, we share strong beliefs and passions about accessibility and empowerment in art. It’s been a lot of fun!

And what’s been the inspiration for the performances?

Knowle West is a really interesting place. It’s a working class residential suburb that on the one hand has seen its fair share of neglect and social problems over the years, but on the other has some fantastic grass roots initiatives and community pride – perhaps the latter has arisen out of the former. It has lots of green space (big gardens, allotments, a community farm, common ground where people graze horses and hunt rabbits) but still retains urban character. KWMC aims to develop cultural, social and economic regeneration, through digital and environmental projects, and media and arts programmes. The Dances of Earthly Wonder commission responds to the theme of harvest – directly, in work that I’m doing with the community farm and allotment growers, and indirectly, in ideas I’m exploring around cycles of work and fruition. Whilst a bit of a departure from work I’ve been making over recent years, in some ways it’s a natural progression. Queerness, shamanism and ritual has given way to morris dancing, which rings well with my usual slightly absurd humour (and isn’t a million miles away!).

 

How have the Dances of Earthly Wonder performances gone? Are there more to come?

We did the first one back in September, working with the young people’s photography group. It was great, the young people really enjoyed it (bribing audiences with cake usually helps) and it was really interesting how the act of documenting seemed to help some of them filter and engage with what they were seeing. The next performance was at WildFest in October, where I made a performance using food from some of the local growers in the ELM network, and the final will be at a lunchtime over 50s bingo club. For the uninitiated, performance art can be quite odd to watch. People don’t to know what to think, where to look or how to respond, so mediating it through smartphones seems make it easier. It’s funny for me making a performance for such a bespoke audience – be it half a dozen teenagers or 30 older female bingo players – but the challenge is invigorating. There are limitations of how ‘far’ one can go, but at the same time there comes a certain licence with being the odd one (out). It’s refreshing working with audiences with such different experiences and expectations, and both exciting and terrifying. But then the best things in life often are…

Further info:

Dances of Earthly Wonder continues until November. There will be a public event at KWMC on the 7th November involving a performance, a chance to see documentation from the others events, and an open long table discussion. All will be very welcome – a free minibus will be available to bring attendees up from town, use the contact form to book a place by MONDAY 5th NOVEMBER.

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Dancing into an Autumn of Wonder!

Summer seems but a distant memory, and that back-to-school, beginning of the Autumn arts frenzy feels in full swing.

As I mentioned in my last post, the next phase of CONNECTION / TIME has been commissioned by Knowle West Media Centre in Bristol. After the success of the ACE-funded R&D phase of CONNECTION / TIME in April and May, we’ve been taking the project forward with some exciting new steps and developments. KWMC have commissioned me to make a series of new performances in Knowle West, and will, in parallel, be further developing access to the interface. These new performances (the series entitled ‘Dances of Earthly Wonder’) will be solo works taking place around Knowle West, embedded within local community contexts, but streamed live online via the interface. The first dance took place earlier this week, and was documented by the brilliant NLarge young photographers’ group at KWMC. They generated some great documentation via the CONNECTION / TIME interface, the page for which can be seen here.

The series of performances has been created around ideas of harvest, and inspired by weird and wonderful English folk traditions, including morris dancing – over the summer I was able to do a bit of research at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at the English Folk Dance and Song Society as well as the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. It’s proving to be a lot of fun! The next performance will be on Saturday 13th October, at an event called WildFest – a celebration of nature and food production around Knowle West – on the Northern Slopes, followed by another (date tbc) at the lunchtime bingo club at Eagle House. Watch this space for details…. We’ll also have a closing event at KWMC on the 7th November, to which all are welcome.

Image

We have also been using the CONNECTION / TIME tool with Performing Documents (University of Bristol and InBetween Time) to document practice-based elements of their research project and symposia. Dane has also been building a home page to archive all of the CONNECTION / TIME events to date, which is currently on http://whosedata.net/connection/time/ and, in an entirely different but not unrelated project, setting up an interactive online reading group around Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, sign up if you’re interested!

Exciting developments

After the success of the recent ACE-funded R&D phase of CONNECTION / TIME, during April and May, we’re taking the project forward with some exciting new steps and developments. Knowle West Media Centre have commissioned me to make a series of new performances in Knowle West, and will, in parallel, be further developing access to the interface so that it will be more widely available to users anywhere. We’re discussing the  details of when and where these performances will be – they’ll be embedded within local community contexts, but streamed live online via the interface. I’m still researching and developing ideas for the performances themselves, but am currently looking into ideas of harvest and at weird and wonderful English folk traditions – yesterday I was at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at the English Folk Dance and Song Society, which was really interesting. I’ll hopefully be popping back in a couple of weeks, and might also try to get to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford if time will allow. I seem to be spending an awful lot of time travelling up, down and across the country at the moment, so we’ll see how long it lasts!

We’re also pleased to announce that ] Performance S p a c e [ in Hackney Wick will be one of the first partners to trial this phase of the CONNECTION / TIME interface. They’re hosting a month-long summer residency for an amazing group of international artists, and as part of the residency will be holding 12-hour long overnight research / reading / processing sessions. I’m not quite sure what to expect from these, but you can log in via the links below to see what the artists are doing. It sounds incredible!

] Performance S p a c e [ : Ritually Reading and Researching

8pm, 7th August – 8am, 8th August  http://whosedata.net/ct/ps1
8pm, 14th August – 8am, 15th August  http://whosedata.net/ct/ps2
8pm, 21st August – 8am, 2nd August http://whosedata.net/ct/ps3 

Debord thesis 18

Where the real world changes into simple images, the simple images become real beings and effective motivations of hypnotic behavior. The spectacle, as a tendency to make one see the world by means of various specialized mediations (it can no longer be grasped directly), naturally finds vision to be the privileged human sense which the sense of touch was for other epochs; the most abstract, the most mystifiable sense corresponds to the generalized abstraction of present-day society. But the spectacle is not identifiable with mere gazing, even combined with hearing. It is that which escapes the activity of men, that which escapes reconsideration and correction by their work. It is the opposite of dialogue. Wherever there is independent representation, the spectacle reconstitutes itself.

Thesis 18
Chapter 1 Separation Perfected
Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, 1967
Translation: Black & Red, 1977

DOCUMENTATION LINKS

The performance experiments for this phase of CONNECTION / TIME are now over. The documentation pages for each experiment are now viewable by following the links below or on the PERFORMANCES tab above.

  • Tuesday 24th April, 2-6pm GMT – performance experiment at KWMCby invitation only and viewable on the project website. See the documentation site HERE
  • Monday 7th May, 2-6pm GMT – public performance experiment at STATION artspace, Redcliffe Wharf, Bristol. See the documentation site HERE
  • Saturday 12th May, 2-6pm GMT – public performance experiment at Performance Exchange, SITE Festival, Stroud. See the documentation site HERE
  • Sunday 13th May, 2-6pm GMT – curated performance experiment with other groups atPerformance Exchange, SITE Festival, Stroud. See the documentation site HERE

Debord encore

Too much, too good…

“The society which rests on modern industry is not accidentally or superficially spectacular, it is fundamentally spectaclist. In the spectacle, which is the image of the ruling economy, the goal is nothing, development everything. The spectacle aims at nothing other than itself.”

Thesis 14
Chapter 1 Separation Perfected
Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, 1967
Translation: Black & Red, 1977

STROUD THIS WEEKEND, DISCUSSION ON TUESDAY

So this phase of CONNECTION / TIME has been flying by ! After some really interesting and enjoyable experiments in Bristol, we’ve the final two performance experiments this weekend, as part of The Performance Exchange in Stroud. We’ll be doing a CONNECTION / TIME one on Saturday afternoon 3-6pm, and then a cross-group performance on Sunday 1-5pm, with some of the other artists taking part in the weekend. It should be a lot of fun, and rich territory for us to explore in terms of the performance and the documentation interface.

We’ve had a crew of amazing documenters on board, who were responsible for most of the material on the Whose Data for Monday, and who’ll be coming up to Stroud with us. We really couldn’t have done it without them, and they’re all super nice to boot! You’ll also notice that Dane has made some changes to the interface, enabling comments and marking. As always, we’re open to feedback from anyone using it, so let us know what you think.

Always wanting to try out new things, we’re going to attempt to use the interface to document the Tertulia salon event in Stroud on Sunday morning. Do come along if you’re in town, or check in on the website between 11am and 12.30pm. We’ll also be using the interface to document the long table discussion event at Arnolfini next Tuesday 15th. All are very welcome to attend, in person or online, and we’re looking forward to a stimulating session of sharing, reflecting, reviewing and celebrating, so I hope you can make it!

NB The documentation interface at www.whosedata.net/connection-time will always show the current or most recent event – at present it’s showing the event from Monday 7th, but come Saturday 12th it’ll show a new one and the previous one will be archived at the link on the Performances tab.

More Debord

“To describe the spectacle, its formation, its functions and the forces which tend to dissolve it, one must artificially distinguish certain inseparable elements. When analyzing the spectacle one speaks, to some extent, the language of the spectacular itself in the sense that one moves through the methodological terrain of the very society which expresses itself in the spectacle. But the spectacle is nothing other than the sense of the total practice of a social-economic formation, its use of time. It is the historical movement in which we are caught.”

Thesis 11
Chapter 1 Separation Perfected
Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, 1967
Translation: Black & Red, 1977

Next experiment Monday 2-6pm!

 

Click the link here to go to the documentation site for the 2nd experiment at STATION

Guy Debord

Alongside the CONNECTION / TIME project, Dane Watkins has set up an online reading group of Guy Debord’s 1967 Society of the Spectacle. It’s a text I’ve dipped in and out of over the years but never read fully. Debord was a founder member of the Situationist International, a group-that-wasn’t-a-group, a movement-that-wasn’t-a-movement, that was perhaps better described as an idea or a set of practices. (I stand open to be corrected, by all means). Debord and the SI were certainly very interesting. Society of the Spectacle was Debord’s most famous text, and one that’s had influence from the radical uprisings of May 68, through to much cultural theorising and artistic practice ever since then. It is a critique of the mass media and commodity fetishism in late capitalism, in what Debord sees as the colonisation of social life by the spectacle of consumer society. As part of Dane’s reading group, I’ve been receiving a short thesis of Debord’s (Society of the Spectacle is made up of 221 of them) every day by email (addressed from Guy Debord himself). Some of these seem incredibly (and ambiguously) pertinent to some of the concerns we’ve been dealing with in CONNECTION / TIME.

Thesis 1: In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.

Thesis 4: “The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.”

Chapter 1 ‘Separation Perfected’, Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, 1967, Translation: Black & Red, 1977
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