Appendix 4

Practising Presence - the event.

Contributors: Mina Kaylan, Katie Duck, Scott De La Hunta, Larry Lynch, Tim Steiner (Quartet Electroniche), Gregg Whelan (Lonetwin), Jo Cripps, Sharon Smith and Felicity Croydon (Max Factory) 

This two-day conference-event brought together nine artists and artists groups in the context of performance research. It presented workshops, performances, seminars and conversations from within the inter and cross-disciplinary trainings and practises of live art. Artists performed their work, spoke about their work and shifted between reading, presenting, witnessing and ultimately taking part in a conversation/improvisation/collaboration held between the artists and between the artists and the audience.


The participating artists make live work that is aesthetically and conceptually diverse. I invited them because I felt there to be something common in the way they engaged with their various text-acts. All of these artists engage me, as a spectator, primarily by how they do what they do, and what they do, I consider later. Their physical presence brings me into the work, incites a certain commitment, inspiration or even desire in me. Theirs is a politic of presence that I prefer.

The event offered a generative and involved environment that tried to excavate knowledge from in between the artists and their performance practise. This was not a conceptual discussion of what the work might have meant or tried to mean. It was an attempt to illuminate a certain occupancy and engagement with the performance act, to see if these practitioners could find any common ground that might propose a politic of presence and to share the knowledge gained through the experience of performing, through stories about the experience of performing, no matter how 'unsophisticated' or partial those stories might inevitably need to be.

The event did not wish to map out a field of practise or to claim or label a territory. It wished to identify commonness within a mode of engagement, a shared politic of presence that precedes and moves beyond aesthetics.

The event was entirely supported by Chisenhale Dance Space, London. I wish to extend special thanks to all at Chisenhale for making the event possible.

I would also like to thank all the artists who contributed to the event; Louise Stevens for documenting, Selvin Cooper for technical support, Sarah Gray for her catering services, Sophia Lycouris, Michael Green and Sarah Giddens for their supervision and support of this research, friends and colleagues who continue to think great things and make great work and everybody who attended this event.

 

This is a transcription of a conversation between practitioners and audience members who had attended the event Practising Presence. The conversation was not a smooth one. After setting up a clear frame and watching the performances and presentations sit easily in close proximity to each other within the given themes of the event, the conversation, in comparison was a collision, a semantic minefield. Within these junctures and friction's lie illuminating insights into the contesting and converging discourses that surround the performing body and the performing artist. 

Sharon Smith

Firstly, if I think about my own work within the max factory, if anyone saw T.W.A.T.S. yesterday, our positions or our politics as artists form the work we make. I was unsure at first about including the artwork in this event. I did not want this discussion to be lumbered by aesthetics. What I realise now, and why I am very pleased that we did see these artists work in close proximity to each other is that our conversation is hopefully moving relationally between the artists and their work.  What I think this work shares is that it is not primarily aesthetic. None of it is designed, but rather has come to be out of the realisation, by the artist of the concepts and themes that they explore. The work in this event was aesthetically and generically diverse. There is a politic of presence that I believe to be common between these artists. The way they inhabit their work feels similar to me as an observer. It is this presence within a live art practise that I hope we might touch upon here.

If we reflect upon the weekend program we see that some of the work is explicitly practising improvisation, Katie Duck and Quartet Electroniche present their work as improvised.  To begin this conversation I will state that: No matter how formal or set a piece of work is we can read it as an improvisation. There is this space, this launch from the performer to the activity that they perform. Whether we like the word or not, we could argue that this movement is always improvised as it is a movement through time and space.

The reason why the max factory drink, for example, is to shift the way people might observe what we are doing, and to push forward a 'how' we are doing what we are doing, how our bodies are coping with what we are doing. The work tries to foreground this 'coping'. Coping is another word I could use instead of improvisation... we make the movement between our 'self' and the 'actions' purposefully complex... so that that's where the meat is.

Katie Duck

I think the only thing about coping is that sign -'main space' (written on the door of the studio that we are sat outside). That's all I can say about coping. It's a procedure. It's part of the whole text. It's improvised, is it? That's so complex. That sign 'main space' that - for me, already positions us.

Guest 1

Your drinking Sharon, do you think it puts you in a vulnerable place, where possibly you're allowing yourself to be more present, through that vulnerability, and is that where your saying that improvisation is a tool in the work. Are you saying that improvisation allows your work to become more live...?

Sharon Smith

I do believe that our vulnerability opens the text of our work. At the same time though, we are in control of being out of control. I actually feel stronger as a performer because we can't 'go wrong'. I believe we can't go wrong because we are physically prepared for anything to happen. We have developed a frame, or a situation or a mode of performing which means that no 'mistakes' can happen as such because what we are working towards is chance.

We want to expose the cracks in things, the misunderstandings, the sound of the room etc - there is no preciousness then in the work, and so in a way we aren't vulnerable. I do think that this set of actions could be done in such a way that would make us vulnerable - which is why 'what we do' is not a good way to talk about our work. What we do has always been purposefully less important than how we do it. I don't think of improvisation, in this case, simply as a tool. I think there is space and time. The movement we make through space and time is always improvisation. It is implicitly there and I believe a performer is more or less conscious or aware of this state. People watch us drinking, and therefore can see or imagine our physical state and our state of mind are being affected or changed. In this case the drinking is a vehicle for turning up the volume on how we do what we do. Drinking makes the how louder, more important than the what - so in a way - yes, the drinking foregrounds the live-ness of what we are doing. It highlights the gap and the space and time in which we are improvising comes into focus. There is always improvisation, and your either good at it or your not good at it. Here I am stating my claim for good and bad work. This practise one can develop an awareness of ones 'performing' self. When I say improvisation is implicit it is because I am suggesting that there is a gap between the performing body and the actions it performs. I think this launch off one towards the other is so embedded in the live moment itself that it isn't something that can be known in its essence at any other moment than that of its becoming. In this respect we can prepare and we can practise but we cannot know until we get there. This is improvisation.

Guest 2

Are you talking about this thing being able to be taught?

 

Sharon Smith

I think you can practise presence yes. I correlate improvisation somehow with presence. Katie has been teaching improvisation for about a hundred years now and so we must be able to practise it. The fact is that Katie works in the field of dance, she's a dancer, but her principles are transferable to all live artists who need their body to perform. I've studied with Katie, and there is a very formative practise of certain principles that absolutely apply to the way I perform with the max factory, and we don't dance. I think through Katie's work I have practised presence. I have better understood that there is me, and then there is what I do, and in between and around those two 'facts' is the live event. I can only 'improvise' here - and the more I know about that, the more I understand that, the better.

 

Guest 2

I didn't understand what you meant by you're either good at it or you're not good at it.

 

Sharon Smith

Firstly I thought about 'Grain of the Voice'. Roland Barthes describes the grain of the voice, differentiating between the pheno-song and the geno-song. Mina Kaylan talked in her presentation about meaning being found in the gap between the performer and the text. Something in the way a performer invests herself into the text-act. Anybody could have done the actions that Felicity and I did yesterday, some body else could do what we do (they could show two women going through those actions, of drinking, eating, drinking again and turning...) indeed many artists have gone down that road of 'altering states' to explore the realms, dimensions and boundaries of the body and of performance. The thing is that if two different women performed those actions it would be a completely different piece, but not only this. It would, I believe, mean something very different. It is not the actions themselves that withhold the meaning, and we don't attempt to control the meaning of what happens. Meaning is definitely happening in our relationship with and to the text-act and back on our selves. Artists decide to 'do things' for all sorts of reasons, which become apparent only in the way they perform those actions. The performer is present, is bringing to the activity all of themselves. An acute awareness of this self is imperative. So in this sense, personally, I value work that has an awareness of this relation. I do not value work that has no awareness of this relation. I see lazy performers and performers locked up in their own private experiences and I see politically correct performers too scared to signify anything at all. I personally don't value the work if I don't value the way it is performed.

 

Jo Cripps

When you talk about your experiences of going to Amsterdam and doing improvisation (studying with Duck at the S.N.D.O. in Holland) you seem to say that the practise is to really learn to know what is actually happening in the room at the time (when performing) not getting carried away with some kind of solid/secret thing, not not paying attention to what's going on. And, I suppose that's something that you can only get from practise. Going back to me, to when I first started performing, and I think, and talk about the rush of the shy person, and having to go through that, I think now, I can focus on my hands, I can hold a microphone still, stuff like that. I don't think that my work will disappear into some sort of self confidence, but…

Sharon Smith

The sub title of this event is 'it's not what you do it's the way that you do it'. I spoke to Larry (Lynch) about this recently in a festival in Berlin and Larry said that he never thinks about 'how' he's doing what he's doing, he only ever thinks about 'what' he is doing. Larry is, however, very conscious, through a literary focus of this 'gap' between the two. As author of the text, maybe in his work as I read it, he is extending the 'act' of language. He's placing his live presence in between his impetus to write, and the ultimate text. Larry, there is something about your body in your work. It has to be you. So for example, to get a trained actor for example, to do your installation for you, you'd see him or her perform it and you would surely want to direct them, to make sure they perform it in a certain way? Would you not be compelled then to consider their presence within the work, and so consider the 'how' of the performance, about 'how' it happens?

 

Larry Lynch.

When I said I don't think about the way I'm doing it, it doesn't mean there isn't a way of doing it. When I'm making the work I'm not focusing primarily on the way I'm doing something, there's a fairly open sense of what the work can mean - but to link that back to what you said about improvisation, I agree with that. In relation to my own stuff, and it's true of work that I've written about in this context. For me, it is writing more than improvisation.

 

Sharon Smith

Yes it is true to say that the max factory, do not construct the 'how' we do something. We foreground the becoming - but we don't construct it. When you say you don't focus on the way you do something I understand - It is not to be contrived, it's not a direct or manipulative focus - So anyway - writing as opposed to improvisation? What about these two words? You think writing is a better word for describing this movement of presence?

 

Larry Lynch

Yes, and the reason being to do with what might constitute writing... the problems that come up when you're talking about improvisation is that whole thing about work. Predetermined ideas within social, physiological, cultural context informs decisions. It's really decision making. There's a whole set of materials which will become your alphabet and/or your objects. Taking on board the concepts you just mentioned you set decisions, and there's a piece of work - and that basic principle that I'm engaged with when I'm writing is exactly why I mention improvisation. Over a period of time that is contemplative or that is studio time or whatever, I see the basis of a language that is made up of objects and materials. A performance piece is simply a process/practise of writing. That model can be placed on other work, if you want to think about them in that way. There is a strong theoretical and/or critical framework that presents writing in this way - through a series of presences and absences. If we are going to talk about practising presence or the fundamental importance of (a performers) presence, the dynamic or the impact that that person will have, the only relationship to that presence is through a series of absences.

Sharon Smith

In my own work I see my performing position as a hyphen between opposites. Mina speaks about a tension between opposites, a suspension - this moving, oscillating place. So if I were to write me in literally, I would write presence-absence. Larry then wrote presence. As a visual representation of, or a better way of thinking about presence-absence. Which is exciting to me, you're making a mark to strike through presence. The act of striking through presence demonstrates an appeal for absence - here we introduce ideally our position as 'authors', an appeal for absence through an inevitably constant presence. As a live performer you can never not be present - but maybe what this negotiation with improvisation-writing brings forth is an acknowledgement of 'death' in an authoring sense.

Mina Kaylan

Presence is not a static state - while you're doing it, whilst you're experiencing it.

 

Larry Lynch

When Sharon and me had this conversation I was thinking textually about how you would write the dynamic between two things in a linear structure. As with Heidigger, whenever he wrote the word 'being' he always had it crossed out, as far as I understand it this is the act of not being within the word being.

 

Mina Kaylan

As someone who came late to the whole event, I would find it helpful to know what the questions were that came with this event and perhaps what might have changed.

 

Sharon Smith

These are some questions I had written down. Never necessarily with the intention of asking them directly

1)            What do you understand by the term improvisation?

2)            How do you relate to your text-activity when you perform?

3)            What is your major skill (how) is it visible in your work?

4)            When you 'dislike' the way a performer performs, can you say why?

5)            Do you ever replace your self or consider someone else (embodying) doing what you do when you perform?

 

Scott Dela Hunta

When Sharon proposed this weekend, and that we would have a conversation like this one framed by the themes of the event, at the end, I did find myself filtering the various things I watched, through this framework of 'notions of presence' which is not something I contemplate very much in fact because it hasn't been a useful devise for me in my own research, to be concerned with presence, because you see it in so many places. My own work has tended to research the area of visual technologies. The materiality of those things begins to, or requires one to re-materialise in some way in order to speak about that. One of the things I was trying to ask in my presentation was - how do we negotiate these new materials? I have been quite influenced by Katherine Hails proposal that we have a shift from all the dialogues between presence and absence to one of pattern and randomness, in an age of information, as a way of reading, so I kind of play around with that. I was really intrigued by a number of things, and by watching the performances and different presentations. Intrigued by notions of improvisation within this context. Say for example where Quartet Electroniche are working with these instruments clearly improvising to the extent that their response is not predetermined (although their response mechanism is rigorously practised) but the materials within the context say, as instruments or machines, always, I such a different thing from the improvisation that max factory are doing, and I'm intrigued by that. Also I have thought alot about what Gregg (Whelan) proposed in his presentation. He said that people go away from this durational work knowing that a performance is still happening. This made me think about folding presence... folding different presences in a way, into everyday life, throughout that twelve hour period of time. This weekend I thought about Larry (lynch) doing actions at different times throughout the day, and these folded into my own experience of watching other things. (In 'ones' experience of the whole event, presences are folding into one another)

Katie Duck

I experience a kind of a high moralisation within different areas in the arts right now that allows everyone to be sentimental in ways that need bigger questions. So like, what still seems, to me, sentimental, and not really getting to the point about presence and space, is for example, when we get into this position where everybody starts applauding. There's something sentimental about all that and still the challenge of every performer really dealing with that. Maybe words like improvisation lose their simplicity - and I like it in terms of how it means that I transform something or it transforms, or better, I get out of the way and something happens. And I like more the areas of improvisation that mean I don't know what the fuck I'm doing and I don't know my future and my memory is incredibly abetting in the way that I can perceive the possibilities of future - you know - it's the in-determinates that are fascinating, not the determinates. A frustration of determinates as we look at them in our present, in our situations with systems, or because we are viewing things from such different points of view - we are trying to figure out what the fuck, what is our relationship - it is somehow over analytical in its realities. In other areas it doesn't get as complex as you really want it to get like for example the applause moment. No matter what - it's a set up. That for me is the simpler question that I have from this weekend. Applause. I watched everyone in their own ways, using whatever areas of technology they want to engage and, my limited area within that, being an artist working within one of the toys of my land (laugh). What excites me are communication devices and networking, I mean I just love that, what can happen - We're all researching the body. I am very interested in how the ear and how the eye works right now. These are my technologies. How do the eye and the ear work? The technology that I'm looking at is 'how do I'?

 

Sharon Smith

Can you expand on this eye and ear thing - How do you bring it into your own practise?

 

Katie Duck

Actually Magpie (Katie Ducks improvisation Company) is different. Magpie is trying to work out what the fuck is its show biz problem. It's a set up. Magpie is stuck in space. It's not succeeding, it's failing every, because we always come out at the end and do this (action of bowing), and not only that, we feel obliged to. We're working on it, but I think everybody is busy with that. I had a great time over the weekend seeing that everybody is examining that - what the hell is that, about the set up, the space? Improvisation in practise is so simple, and to speak about it without practising it is so complex.

 

Guest 3

This is a kind of improvisation though isn't it? We are all improvising right now.

 

Scott Dela Hunta

(To Katie) Are you talking about where the sense of your work manifests?

 

Katie Duck

There are different levels. One is that I need to make a living. It is a very basic thing. I don't have money so I do this from a very particular point of view, which is the only reason why her and I (Sharon Smith) get along actually. It's a class thing, so there's one level there. The other level is to do with pure, utter frustration with the availability to actually put into practise what I'm up to as an artist, in collaboration with the people I'm doing it with.

 

Sharon Smith

Improvised dance, within the scheme of things, is undernourished in the dance world because it doesn't have a choreographer, it doesn't have a director, or a singular author?

Katie Duck

(Interrupting) I don't think it should be nourished, why should anyone nourish improvisation 'fuck me' dance?

Sharon Smith

What I'm saying is, the reason why it's undernourished, and why it does matter, is because it doesn't have these authoring positions, so it doesn't comply, rather it upsets the pedagogy upon which the dance world is build. So Magpie gets read or valued on the wrong terms, not on the most appropriate terms.

 

Guest 4.

(To Sharon) What do you mean undernourished?

 

Sharon Smith

Katie's way of speaking about the work is embedded in a lifestyle situation and this is totally implicit within the practise, this lifestyle forms the work.

Guest 4.

I still don't understand what you mean by undernourished.

 

Sharon Smith

I mean professionally. The only time improvisation dance really 'works' (for the money) is when you get all the dance 'stars' together and it doesn't matter whether they practise improvisation or not, because audiences and promoters want to see them do fancy dancing and they don't care or even understand improvisation. Improvisation is most commonly watched as a kind of sport. When I improvise with Magpie, I feel a division in the audience. Some will want to watch the nature of improvisation itself, the practise of it as an experiment, or an experience. Others will want to watch their favourite dancers out dancing each other. I can feel the difference whilst I'm performing. This is improvising only in the sense that someone is 'making it up as they go along', but they are just showing off, taking centre stage and doing their tricks. This has nothing to do with the real time state of affairs, with the live event itself, and yet this spectacular dancing is what gets 'seen'. When I speak about improvisation as undernourished, I mean that the stripping down of the performance act to just the act of writing itself, without aspiration to inscribe, or to author a text, to give weight to what is happening in the site of the event more than what my body is able to do. This specific enquiry into the live doesn't fit into existing art funding systems for example. There are no boxes to tick.

Katie Duck

Economy is one area, and then you have to look at what the fuck you are doing and there's a big contradiction in there - in what you're saying. I don't think improvisation dance should get money.

 

Guest 4.

Is it because people just don't want to go and see it?

 

Sharon Smith

The funding issue is complicated. The reason I mentioned it is because I believe this economic state does effect how and who are willing or able to research or experiment in this area.

Mina Kaylan

'Whose Line Is It Anyway (TV stand-up improvisation show), was one of the most popular shows on the television for a while.

 

Sharon Smith

I would put 'Whose Line Is It Anyway' next to the' dance stars' performance although you're right it was popular.

 

Mina Kaylan

O.K. well, explain what you mean by that then, this will help - this isn't a challenge - I just want to understand.

Guest 3

There is a big possibility, if something is improvised more than it is set, for it to fail, to fall flat. If you go and see someone who has practised something, who has been working on it all their life, then, you think that they are going to give a 'good show'.

 

Mina Kaylan

Is it to do with safety?

Katie Duck

Going back to the idea of a good show - in accordance with what space? A good show is qualified by where the audience is placing value in space. That's the problem right there. You're always going to be under that scrutiny until space... hierarchical structures... it's a set up. I am set up already for that situation.

 

Guest 5

We are focusing on improvisation and much of the work hasn't been improvised. Maybe we could move the discussion more directly towards authorship.

 

Sharon Smith

Well this is the problem with the word Improvisation, maybe Writing is a better word, less problematic. As far as I'm concerned, as soon as we perform in the live domain we are on some level improvising. I believe that as a performer becomes aware of this, as they 'write' in real time, letting site inform their activity, then authorship is already beginning to be surrendered.

 

Guest 5

A lot of the work is process based or has been very carefully written.

 

Sharon Smith

Improvisation was programmed into the event as an explicit process-product alongside processed based and carefully written work to purposefully encourage an illumination of the improvising/writing level of all live embodied practise. Jo Cripps explains this when she tells her stories, which are autobiographical, she is 'recalling' another time, or place but she is coping/improvising or writing in the here and now. In this event right here. The story works as a transaction between live bodies in a lived event. It is still addressing the notion of how it is read, how it engages with an audience, Whether a piece is improvised or set or whatever, improvisation explicates and foregrounds everything to do with the live and I am saying we cannot have too much authority here. We have permission, not authority.

 

Grainne Cullen

(To Sharon) You invited us here thinking that what ties us together was some kind of improvisation?

Sharon Smith

It's a dodgy word. We (Grainne and I) had a conversation in Berlin, about Grainne's relationship to performing. It was to do with... there were two performances side by side, one was Grainne's, and they were very similar in their form. They were both solo, sonic artists/vocalists, they performed in the same space, under a single spot light, and there was a brick wall behind them.... If I were going to describe these two pieces on an aesthetic level these pieces would sound very similar. I think Grainne's performance succeeded in a way the other didn't and it was to do with how Grainne performs, and I wanted to get her to talk about it in this way. We struggled with the word improvisation. I felt that the improvisation within Grainne's work was obvious because she makes choices, and succeeds for me, to do this quite clearly and visibly in time. And she sees me (her audience) when she performs. Grainne was uncomfortable with the word improvisation as it is too loose to describe the formality of her work. Also, Grainne has seen improvised work and has found it self-indulgent. She has seen artists use the frame of improvisation to 'show off'. It's loads and loads of notes. It's overkill.

Mina Kaylan

Why does it matter how we identify or locate this thing calls presence, why do we want to say what it is?

 

Guest 6.

I'd like to say something because I've got a thing about it. When I came across some of the thinking around presence and absence and absenting yourself, I found that very threatening. Not because I don't believe that the grain or whatever, shouldn't be there without the ego around it or something... but, you know what I mean, stripped of stuff. But the discussion of it, and I'll put myself on the line here, makes me want to fucking vomit. I find there to be so much fucking pretension around it. It is so slippery that you cannot deal with it. And it scared me. And it scared me so much that I couldn't fucking create. I went to Goldsmiths (School of Art, London) later as a mature student, having started in theatre, straight acting, equity, agents and all the rest of it. It did my fucking head in and I didn't like what I saw, how it affected other people too. They stopped being able to create, and it all went - get along, - consensual - blah blah - It did my head in o.k. Nobody will say anything because nobody knows what he or she is talking about properly. They don't read properly. They won't get to the nitty gritty of it, and look into Derrida's ideas, and if you do get into the nitty gritty, you see that his ideas of absence, being a Jew and blah de blah, are very different sometimes to what gets presented. He doesn't like the way the word deconstruction is used!

 

Sharon Smith

This is a critical point. But why should we get to the nitty gritty of Derrida before getting to the nitty gritty of what say Katie Duck is trying to say. Why do we have to understand theory in order to understand practise?

 

Guest 6

Derrida doesn't like the way deconstruction is used, people jut pick up on a few different things, and they write their own papers - sorry - I felt like, I've got a brain, but it doesn't work very well... slippery lines... yuk I'm a human being... This is what I hate in relation to the author. I'm sorry; I may be very old fashioned. I don't like what I came across... because I agree with acting. Why is there is a repellence towards the actor? There is repellence. There is just as much in art, when people are dumbing down and being slippery... what's the word... contrived and cool. Intellectually cool, intellectual. It's not natural it's not present.

 

Sharon Smith

I think that you are absolutely right, and that there is a misunderstanding that comes from the way information gets translated and transacted. There is a trend in performance; a mode of presence that is 'cool' or I would say 'lifeless'. There is a fear of self-expression that has arisen out of a negative understanding of the theories of deconstruction. That is a key motivation for me in the organising of this event.

Mina Kaylan

(To guest 6) What did this weekend do for you?

 

Guest 6

I found it very interesting because the work has all been quite different. I tell you what I thought of Quartet Electroniche. They were fully present but they weren't 'performing'. They were listening. They were full of concentration. I found that very interesting to watch.

 

Katie Duck

(To Guest 6) That says to me that you're not intimidated by the way we experiment with the use of the ear in a room, but you're still having alot of problems with the use of the eye. Your whole temperament tells me that you've come from your own cultural background and that that is really confronting you right now. I think we're really fucking with the eye right now... in the whole society of art. And that's where you are right now.

Guest 6

What do you mean fucking with the eye?

 

Sharon Smith

How do we get beyond aesthetics, or treating presence as an aesthetic 'application'?

 

Katie Duck

What I mean is, when the ear of the room is really being messed with in a space, you can deal with it. In music history, a word like improvisation has been discussed since way back, even in Bach's work.  We must be aware that improvisation is used by how we've tried to understand the power of a room. The way we can work with room... where we go in a room, make a room... And call it what? The use of the eye is a far out thing in our culture right now.

 

Sharon Smith

(To Guest 6) I think you really hit the crux of something in what you said about this 'mock cool' kind of thing. What it sounds to me like you're saying is that there is an appropriation or in this case a misappropriation, or half arsed understanding of certain theories, which then translates into this frigid, intellectual presence... or something? Maybe visual culture develops separately from this other culture? The reason that the eye is such a head fuck is because it is seeing within a cultural visual language, which bases value and meaning etc. on what it sees more than what it hears. At this point I can only say that the ear is the meat, whereas the eye is the flesh.

 

Guest 6.

I found it very interesting. All different types of stuff. I am interested in the discussion though and in how it relates. Where do people think they are coming from in relation to being present or not being present?

 

Guest 7.

I feel like the word improvisation is causing a loop here, and that we should just move on to talk about authorship.

 

Guest 5.

The Derrida thing, I don't know whether I understand, but I thought it had alot to do with un-decideables, between two opposites... I want to talk about intention, because that's what seems so curious here. Because it seems, with improvisation, you don't know what the intention is, so everything is undecided.

 

Sharon Smith

As I am aware of these un-decideables, I am intentionally aware that what I intend to do might not happen. This is a decision. This is an artistic choice.

 

Guest 5.

There is an intuitive response. In your work (the max factory) you have to respond to things at all times, and for me, as an observer it is about knowing what is your material, and what is just happening. It's quite difficult to tell if you like work or not if you do not know the intention of the artist, or if there is not intention. If something just happens, without intention... isn't this just error - pure and simple?

Sharon Smith

It is my attention to let things 'just happen' and to not to impose a hierarchy upon things I intended over things I didn't intend. (To Guest 5.) How do you feel about error?

Guest 5

I think error is often the most interesting element of the work, depending on how the performer responds to it.

Sharon Smith

I want to move towards authorship. I think here we are touching on the moment where the improvisation issue meets the authorship issue. Acknowledging that the live event is unpredictable is giving more weight to the phenomenon of the live, than to the determined path of the text-activity, the plan, the score, the dance, whatever... It is giving more weight to the act of writing. This is an authored choice. To mention an audiences 'not knowing' what my intention as a performer is... Do we intend to drop a prop, was it meant to happen? Does it matter? The fact that structures will build in 'impossible tasks' that rid the body of the ability to 'present' or pretend to 'control'. These are also implicit issues of authorship. I think it says alot about the audience member who needs to know whether something was intended or planned or just happened etc. When a piece of work has a 'caring less' for these factors and the controlling of these factors, it is the witnesses negotiation of this which is informative. This is often something that we (the max factory) across when we perform. It can be frustrate some people to not know whether we meant for something to happen or whether it just happened. It frustrates them even more when they realise that for us it is not important.

 

Guest 8.

I think we generalise the body in improvisation. There is this difference between dance and body in writing. We are dealing with nature and culture at the same time but predominantly nature... senses, ears, body, dreams everything. And, we are writing a text that creates other texts, which become a textual structure. For me, that's about it. Because you just allow this presence, without the ego, to just be in the space, be in or out of it, and then you start doing it, it takes you somewhere else you follow a pathway, you come to a different one, and you relate texts within texts.

 

Katie Duck

I don't understand your question Sharon about authorship other than, why do I give a fuck if anyone likes it or not? On the other end of the spectrum you know, if I'm going to get paid, I'm going to do my gig. If the producer doesn't like it, he or she made a big mistake. I do my gig and I leave town. I made a living. I did my thing and I didn't compromise. Improvisation is driving me nuts. It's challenging enough. There is a miscalculation between what I'm actively doing in space, and in my work, and what I am in other circumstances, considering the compromise... is it what your going to be doing in that space that is compromised? Or is it your ability to get paid?

 

Guest 5.

Are you saying that people take great steps to fixing the material to make sure that it will be liked?

 

Katie Duck

I think there are different strategies, economic routes...  As artists we make those contracts. They are not essays or dissertations. They become titles. It is through these strategies that you have or have not, money to spend on a project. What it was in the past that you said you were going to do in the future, as an artist is you know, where you are right now. You are indebted to that. Slowly and surely in a system like that you get into a position where you can put something in a space - or, in several spaces. In Holland - you'd find yourself on a really dumb tour in Holland.

Jo Cripps

Can I just say that, I don't know whether it's because we are a bit younger, but not really any of us here do art for money.

 

Sharon Smith

Katie doesn't put herself in the middle of her work and say 'I am Katie Duck and this is my work' and present herself as a dance star, as an author, or with an authoritative attitude... Because she does not follow these strategies for funding or whatever, she simply doesn't get funding. So, there it is. In order for artwork to be visible it has to work within certain strategies. There is a reason why most artists here don't work for money.

 

Gregg Whelan

I would be very interested to hear from other makers here about notions of authorship. Already we are starting to trip up on what we as artists mean by the word authorship. Me as an artist, as a careerist, I will author that: where I go, how I get there, what I'm paid, you know, in a Barthesian sense, I am author of that. That cheque will be paid to me, that is my work, thank you. This has nothing to do with the content of the work. This has nothing to do with what I am trying to achieve inside those things. I have to look after myself. I'm like Jo. I don't do it for the money. I don't need to live from it, I don't want to live from it, I just want to do it, so I will construct other things around myself to support that, I will take a job, have a profession around that practise, to succeed in other ways economically. This idea of authorship in terms of laying claim to the work that you make is very different to the Barthes' idea of the presence, the originator of the moment of an idea, or a collection of texts or those types of things, and we shouldn't get caught up on this other idea of author. Career, and how you deal with yourself is very different. This is a literary idea.

 

Sharon Smith

I don't believe that these two things are separate. This 'literary idea' dominates the cultural ideological frames of the society we live in. Indeed it is this state of things which inspires the literary idea. It is not true that we go where we want and we do what we want, and we say how much money we want etc. You (Gregg), and lonetwin have had great success, visibility, funding etc. 100% more than Jo Cripps or Katie Duck for that matter. Maybe your perspective on this matter is slightly narrow? I believe your success to lie in your ability to write articulately and athletically around you practise. You fit in to these structures. These strategies make sense to you.  I think you are right in so much as we are trying to speak practically about performance itself and the body in it, and how we author that, and it gets too wide and not constructive to keep slipping into the me-in-the-world- issues of professionalism and institutions... but then again, why should they be so separate in this discussion? They are indelibly related, as they exist within the artist's body as experience. One feeds into the other.

Katie Duck

What does your artwork serve, in your life style? Are you saying that your work has an element of hobby?

Gregg Whelan

It is a hobby yes. And it's like sport or... I talked alot in the presentation I gave this weekend, about the work of lonetwin. I was talking all the time about line dancing, not about durational performance art.  My reference was to the people in Colchester who we danced with for a long time, and we feel very close to those people, we do what they do, we do it in different frames and things but yes, it is a hobby. That's my choice and I think it's a good one. It works for us and it might not work for you. I don't demand a living from it in that sense, and actually I do want time to do other stuff. So, sometimes it's a hobby and sometimes it's the main thing.

Katie Duck

Different models... Yes, someone like Steve Paxton, he is a professional farmer who makes

Scott Dela Hunta

I see the efforts of the more self-reflexive practises that do tend to frame what they do in such a way that they present an openness around what their doing. There is an open, generative space around the processes of making work that shows the processes as well as the work etc. It's interesting when you (Sharon) mention the work that the max factory makes and you say anybody could do that work, for example, and then of course it would be different, and that would be one reading of a recapitulation of that work. But another way to look at it is that there is an openness, that there are structures involved there that could be shifting the way in which one might look at a work and discover aspects of its making. I mean it's intellectual property on some level, and its shared. It does occur to me that people could take some of that information and use it creatively in a different context and that intrigues me. This weekend I saw these certain works side by side, through this frame, and within this work was embedded the mechanisms and the ways of making that work, and these are shown - not exactly of course... Because I have become interested more in the processes of making work than the product, a weekend like this juxtaposed work which revealed through a certain frame, new information around that work, so here alot of different questions about authorship come up. Issues of collective authorship come up

 

Guest 5.

But isn't that the point... that the process of making the work becomes assimilated into the work and it can't be separated from it?

 

Tim Steiner (Quartet Electroniche)

In the quartet we work as a very traditional outfit. We regard ourselves in the tradition of a quartet. A string quartet is the performance vehicle. They perform repertoire. They perform other people's work. That is how we view ourselves. Our interest as performers is within that tradition. There are other issues that I won't go into now, about working with electronic technology and bringing that into the tradition of chamber performances. We use samplers, and what samplers do is take other peoples work and they replay them, so with a sampler, you record something that someone else has done and then you chose...  you press a button and it plays something that is the work of someone else. In our performance today, there were moments of recognition from the audience when they were thinking 'oh I know that tune, that's from so and so'. Then it is really questionable - how are we the authors in that? It is absolutely clear to me that we own all of that stuff even though we could never legally sell a recording of what we did tonight because we would be sued. It is clear that they are not the authors of the music that we are playing.  Within that the only difficulty we had in the performance tonight, as a quartet are the beginning and the end of our performance. There was a terrible moment in our performance tonight. We didn't know when the performance had started. We started the sound before the audience came in and that was there and that was set. We hung about on the fire exit - and then we made our set list, which we ditched, and then there was this moment when we thought - should we go and start now? I came in, and then the others wondered in. and then we sat down and we sat for a while without doing anything and then eventually we started doing something. All through this I was thinking 'are we performing yet?  Are we beginning to 'own' the thing that we are doing? Is the audience starting to? Do they know that we've started? And then came the end of the performance. We ended our performance in a way that we have never done before, in a gradual decrescendo... things gradual dying out. We never do that because it is a real cliché, certainly in electronic music. We did it tonight. It was really surprising and exciting for me to think 'fuck we ended in that shit way' I was left really wondering where did the performance start, where did it finish because we didn't know, how much you as an audience saw us as performers and as authors of the work, because the biggest recognition we heard from the audience was our inclusion of bits of other peoples stuff. It was to do with recognising other people's work, not us, so I think well... what did we do?  All performance is improvised whether you play something classical in a string quartet, or whether you play something that we did tonight, it's just about a different set of limitations. So for us it's that we will start and we will stop. When you play Mozart, you start and you stop. In the middle you have to play certain pitches and dynamics, but the art comes in an understanding that this is improvised and that's life. For us, we play electronic samplers, but that is irrelevant. What is important for us is that there are four people on stage and that we, as individuals, respond to each other. That is what the group is about. The fact that we play samplers, and electronic equipment is actually irrelevant. We could be dancers, we could be actors. It is the interaction that is important for us, and we don't know what that is until it happens.

 

Katie Duck

And it always happens within some kind of set-up. This is our first frame.

 

Guest 9.

Whenever you go to see 'theatre' or something organised for public viewing, you have to walk through the door, there is always a set up.

 

Guest 10.

Isn't that a bit about the removal of authorship? Isn't that giving some sort of permission to whatever is being created? If it's a book or if it's a performance or whatever... Isn't the removal of the author giving a kind of permission or a space for the audience to find a meaning, whatever kind of meaning that they care to find?

Sharon Smith

Grainne, could you say something about your processes?

Grainne Cullen

I don't have any agenda whatsoever when I stand in the space. I am not trying to communicate an emotion, I am not trying to symbolise or represent anything - although obviously a woman in a corset with a dental contraption forcing her mouth open could represent and conjure up images for people. But there is no intention on my part. What you see is what you get, what you hear is what you get. So, if I try to discuss my presence, and this isn't something I've really worked out before...  Someone can get so much out of what I do. You might hate what I do... You can get whatever you get out of the work because I am not giving you too much. I am working with a very strict set of perimeters that I have set up for myself. Whether it's in terms of physical apparatus, like wearing the corset to support my voice, and I work with that... I'm limiting, setting perimeters for myself. With the dental contraption in my mouth I can't make any plosive sounds obviously because I can't close my mouth, I couldn't move my lips. I was working with facial muscles. I am working very internally. I get into myself. I go into the space. I start. It's very obvious when I've started. I picked the dental contraption up, I put it in my mouth I turn around, I gather myself, I took time to breath, to relax, time to wait for people to stop laughing at this funny thing in my mouth, and I tuned into myself and started to do the formal thing that I'd set out to do. In that time, in that space is a formal shape, there was a pitched space, there was a certain set of timbral vocal things that I had decided I would play with in real time, not on an (explicitly) improvised level, although you could say it was improvised because there is a free shape within a very strict set of perimeters. There is an improvisation going on in the work, although I'm not very comfortable with the word. I stop and it's over. I have had all sorts of comments, that I'm a banshee... or feedback, the image of this woman in a corset, screaming, conjures up all sorts of things for people.

 

Guest 11.

There is a highly layered, montage of imagery in your (Grainne's) work. Extraordinary objects, like the mouthpiece and the corset, having nothing to do with each other as objects, and you stay with these simple images, which give enough time for me to dream my own meanings. It feels very clear how the layering of devices or images that people use opens up the space and doesn't prescribe - actually it does the opposite.

Scott Dela Hunta

I'm still seduced by this idea about folding presence. Every presence is a moment for me, when you are simply describing you are presencing a moment layered. That time with this time. Even this slightly more interpretative measurement of certain values from within and without of the piece is another kind of folding in. (To Tim Steiner) I knew precisely when you had finished because you told me, you gave a very slight nod of the head, and then it was definitely over.

 

Guest 7.

There was a hierarchy. It seemed to me that the group were watching you for the ending.

Tim Steiner

That nod was definitely more of a question than an indication. It felt more like a question. (To other members) Was it a question?

 

Guest 12.

Is it not the audience that makes the decision?

 

Gregg Whelan

I like applause.

Katie Duck

I could see that from your presentation. Applause is important to you. I'm curious why you like it?

Gregg Whelan

When I got a beer just now from the bar, Sara (the lady selling drinks) handed me the beer and I said thank you. And I like that. It's like that idea of folding out of a performance. It is that moment that is continuing the work around you for a short while after it has stopped... it's a moment of dialogue and maybe the most personal reason why I would make performance. Not so that I will receive applause but that that moment would occur somehow in the world, this idea of exchange or dialogue or meeting, and of honouring that and thanking that and acknowledging that as important. Larry (Lynch) didn't get applause, because he finished his work earlier than scheduled and everybody was elsewhere watching another piece. Larry's work finished with him by himself. If there is a problem with applause, if there is a problem with receiving that moment, we can work to make it so that it doesn't happen. Larry never gathers that around him. He doesn't set up an applause moment. He seems to avoid it. This is a device. I understand also that Larry's work has some kind of organic progression.

 

Larry Lynch

There were a few people there.

 

Gregg Whelan

Whether it's a device or whether it isn't, he's saying it isn't, I've almost nearly always missed the end of your (Larry's) work. You stop me from doing that... from applauding. This has been considered, incorporated and presented in the room. So it's quite a silenced or uncomfortable... the audience think 'how long should I stand here before I applaud, should I applaud? Should I just leave? The applause moment is somehow then still functioning... I don't think performance it is precious or difficult or sacred. Because if I think about that idea of applause and you know, thanks for the ride home in the cab, take it easy, a set of decisions made and followed through - well done, badly done, don't care how they're done... it's improvisation or it isn't depending on how we understand those words... it doesn't seem to be a precious thing. In fact, this idea of folding out that we re always trying to do in our work, this is a directly approaching that... it's around me; It's not something which needs special attention in that way.

 

Scott Dela Hunta

Larry, I came in and I said 'I missed it' and I asked you to describe the last image. I wouldn't usually do that. Did you find that an odd question?

 

Larry Lynch

No it wasn't an odd question at all because, and I've only sussed this out quite recently, but what's been happening over the last four years or whatever, since I've been making work outside of college, where no one knows the work very well, is that even though I'm making pieces that do have this fairly loose structure, there is room to negotiate in there. In my behaviour and the treatment of my materials, whether it is something I do, or whether it is something that the materials evoke in me, a strong narrative begins to develop for me almost every time, If you look at the work and ask me about the last image it might be similar to you not quite hearing the last line of a poem or something like that. When you watch a piece of work where there's obviously quite a lot of investment into where things are put and in what relationship to other objects and the way they are etc.... this is obviously going to have some significance.

 

Jo Cripps

Why don't you make it so that people can be there at the end?

 

Larry Lynch

I only have, back-to-back say, about 45 minutes of material. (The installation happened over three hours) If I just run it off pat I don't think it would be very good work, very interesting work. So what I think the most potentially interesting or generative thing about the work is my decision-making process. If I made those decisions before hand and string them all together, I would be making an a-b-c performance. In an ideal world this performance would be for an indefinite duration. In the contexts in which I show work it's not helpful when somebody asks how long the work is to say 'I've no idea'. I have to have a vague idea. I have to work within the 'set-up' of the event. I just came to an end a little early. I didn't make that happen on purpose.

 

Guest 5.

How much is decided then afterwards or during? If you went into the space and just did one or two actions and then felt that that was enough would you stop if that felt right?

Larry Lynch

I think I might do, in principle yes. There are actions that are set - but it's not a case of what order I put them in - there are other things I decide - I give myself time to do other things on top of the things I have planned.

 

Jo Cripps

I always thought I was being a bit of a fraud. I learn my words and I tell my stories again and again. Nowadays I understand more that the event of each performance is always 'new' to me. So the stories are never the same...

 

Guest 12.

Something that struck me after this weekend was the commonality and sense of community that the artists share. In different ways they have all opened up a space, made an offering to me as an observer and as an artist, which I feel is really needed and it is really a relief to experience that so fully this weekend. I'm really thankful for that. That has come out of something social, it's a very social thing for me. I need that, and there's not alot of that. I'm curious to know... Gregg mentioned community in his presentation. Lonetwin wore blindfolds and you said that enabled your audience to come a little closer. I am very interested in community, maybe this is too broad a question to ask at this point but who do we perform for? What about you Larry, who do you imagine will come to see your work?

Larry Lynch

I have always shown work at either an art or at a literature event to a tiny subject specific community. Obviously, everyone I'm sure would agree, the more people that would come and see our work, and get excited about it, that would be great. As it is at the moment I'm working very much in an arts for artists place or poet for poet... basically... in general though I think the point that you just made is ideal. The importance that Gregg and lonetwin place on community in their work in the way Sarah just described it...  and I'm imagining that dance environments and perhaps Katie, and magpie and improvising dancers from the workshop over the weekend, the idea of collective or communal creative drive is quite important. I think this is a deeply political position to take. In relation to that but also a separate political dynamic that is carrying all of the work that we've looked at this weekend, is this openness. Commonness in the work is that it generates spaces rather than closures. I think this is a really simple politic, but as far as I'm concerned is the most important one. It is against consuming, it demands a lot from its audience, it demands that you work as hard as the person making the work. That's what makes people say that some work is exclusive, but it isn't exclusive, it's just that people don't have the opportunity to get into a position where they can work that hard. I think important that we make work that continues to pushes away a consumerist politic.

 

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