Early on in our preparations, Gavin posed some interesting questions for performance in visual art practice. For example, how did my own practice relate? Further, ‘whether making in situ is considered ‘performance’…how do others interact with that?’ And, in the daily, live performances to come, 'what would be my focus interest’?
In the latter, through ‘reflection-in-action’ (going live was unrehearsed and immediate), performance art as a ‘site’ for our ‘TTP’ collaboration held new possibilities for my individual practice. I had been inspired by, and identified with, Neo-concrete artist Lygia Clark (1927-2004) Blog 3: Clark’s early genesis evolving through her 2D wall works towards the later, fully autonomous performance pieces such as Divisor 1968, recreated in 2017 on the streets of New York at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My viewer-participatory wall work, LACUNA (developed during open studios event 2016) was a linear progression of transitions involving 2D work into performance art. My focus interest was to recognize different ways to relax this approach.
One of the cognitive highlights expanding an understanding of ‘site’ arrived in the form of echoing the ‘prosthetic’ of the musicians’ instruments, flute, viola and violin, by using a found object, a small crab’s claw and crab shell, (not necessarily from the same animal):
During one collaborative performance, moving behind the audience tapping the objects close to their ears, playing on non-visual, but auditory proximity and intimacy instead, seemed to alter the acoustic space and terms of the site. Exploring the switch between being performer and part of the audience, inside and outside, is a shift noted by Etchells in the work of Fiona Templeton, as a blurring of the ‘networks of narratives’ (Etchells 1994, cited in Kaye 2000 p. 199).
The trust, support and generosity of fellow collaborators enabled my practice to extend across different platforms from sound artist, to instrument maker, to image-maker performer. Also, challenging a familiarity with my previous (some of which is digitally recorded in time based media) audience based works using 2D traditional media such as collage, decollage, and ink on paper; similarly, the inclusion of residual materials from remnants of studio process, for example, the accretion of traces of paint patina on the floor. In his text, Kaye considers John Cage’s influence on performative collaboration site and spaces: the idea that layering performance content creates ‘works to prompt the viewer’s simultaneous perception of distinct and different spaces and perspectives’ (Kaye 2000: p 107). Cage emphasizing a works’ non-linear variable dimension unlike the formal, progression of a concept, its framework and narrative process which I previously relied on.
Making three, visual performance pieces as a response to Gavin’s original questions brought a new experience and engagement with the performance ‘site’. Performance one, drawing directly onto unprinted newsprint paper with a hybrid tool - a feather at one end a calligraphy brush at the other- then turning the sheets, lifting the 2D paper layers in one gesture into a ‘Hokusai’ like wave form in 3D (image 3). The second piece, using my breath and breathing to produce random marks on paper scrolls incorporating the Surrealist technique of blowing paint, ‘flottage’, in this instance, ink, to produce experimental notation (image 4):
The most interesting of the three interactive works, its unfamiliarity, came when I found myself using a tracing paper screen whilst fellow collaborators created experimental audio events incorporating Gavin’s stuttering flute notes, Nina’s growling, unearthly vocalizations, and the undulating landscape of tonal sounds created by Rachel on violin. The surface interplay of the visual movement between distant and close objects (a mat of hessian threads or colored panels) with individual sound performances located both a conceptual content and one with material presence and absence in the performance site, image 5 and [here…video to come]
Cage, reflecting on his collaborative performance of 1952 at Black Mountain College, notes, ‘space arises out of the fact that the works are super-imposed and accumulate their own spaces. There is no single space, finally - there are several spaces and these spaces tend to multiply among themselves’ (Cage and Charles 1981, cited in Kaye 2000: p. 107). Cage’s observations concerning space seem to give a sense of the collaborative, performative ‘site’ we - musicians, students, visual artists and the audience - occupied together throughout the project.
KAYE, Nick. 2000. Site-specific Art: place and documentation. London: Routledge.
Reflecting on personal and collective documentation including digital images and film, text, drawings, and from the collection of sound objects - did I really ‘play’ in the company of fellow collaborators, pieces of cling film, egg trays, a pair of cuttlefish bones and a loop of conger eel, fishing lines to name but a few of our found and fashioned ‘instruments’ to an unsuspecting audience? [Images 1-3]
One of the areas for personal research of particular interest in creative collaborations during live events was to experiment with the practice of viewer-participatory involvement. In this instance, experimental drawings through the gesture of inviting the audience to work directly onto prepared, off-set printing plates during the performances. In this fertile, participatory space, the drawings became a sympathetic medium to explore the conventional separation of spectator, potentially dissolving performer, observer and listener into an inclusive audience experience: the drawings in turn, becoming visual scores to play. See Image 6 below and accompanying sound here…
Off-set drawing, involves overlapping three layers of paper: the middle layer with its prepared, inked surface rests on top of the lower one (not restricted to paper, for example, textiles). Using a stylus, in this instance, a cocktail stick, the participant then scores virtually ‘invisible’ marks onto this upper section: the visible graphic forming itself via the printing ink in the lower strata of material. To an extent, this susceptible top layer (absorbing pressure marks of the hand), is potentially comparable, as visual artist Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) observed of his mono-chrome, White Painting –Two Panels 1951, with the light sensitive values of photography (Babington 2007).
The presence of chance, its operational qualities in both drawing and printing in this way inform the content of the resulting work. Combined with our audience-collaborators’ curiosity to engage in participatory activities, this immediate, playful and free form process embraces the accident producing marks which contain less self-conscious gestures imbuing drawings with movement and spontaneous composition. Image 4 relates to an individual author, similarly, image 5 to the instruments played depicted in image 3’s fish skeleton and blue plastic ‘vertebrae’ whilst, image 6 shows the outcome of a single plate circulated collectively amongst multiple authors.
Art historian, Lynne Green (2001: 118-121) indicates in her study of the St Ives based, Porthmeor Studios’ painter Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004), how Barns-Graham integrated similar transfer techniques direct onto canvas in her 1950 painting Glacier Crystal, Grindelwald as both preparatory drawings and finished components. Green noting that Swiss born artist, Paul Klee (1879-1940), first expounded the off-set process: the medium being brought to the attention of British practitioners by, for example, the Jewish Polish painter, Jankel Adler (1895-1949) whom came into contact with Klee in the 1930’s.
In introducing trace into the project through off-set drawing, creating new, real time relationships between the act of re-tracing the creative practice of Porthmeor Studios’ practitioners of the past, and the re-presentation of the process in the project’s collaborative live performances became a form of meta-reference and a deeply interesting and personal experience for further research.
BABINGTON, Jaklyn. 2007. Exhibition Essay. Robert Rauschenberg 1967-1978. [exhibition catalogue]. Camberra: National Gallery of Australia. Available at: https://nga.gov.au/Rauschenberg/[accessed 23 July 2018].
GREEN, Lynne. 2001 .W. Barns-Graham a studio life. Hampshire, UK: Lund Humphries.
There are so many ideas I could write about, so many moments I could reflect on...but here are the main things that have struck me over the past two weeks:
After our amazing, creative outpouring at Porthmeor Studios, I returned to instrumental pupils preparing for concerts and exams (making these lessons are a contrast to the creative freedom we gave the primary pupils during our workshops). Despite encouraging my pupils to be creative in their approach to music, all too often the majority of our time is spent on playing the right note...at the right time...for the right length of time...at the right dynamic...with the right articulation…
I am rethinking how I can bring more of the creative freedom into my regular instrumental lessons. One of my pupils is very musical, plays four instruments and finds the violin very difficult. They get frustrated sometimes, because they know how they want the instrument to sound, but are not at that level technically yet. However, they love exploring the instrument through improvisation. In our first lesson back, I played this pupil an excerpt from time - trace - place and they realised that improvising isn’t just a game we play in lessons. I could see their determination to improve return because they wanted to add tools to their musical tool-box so they could be more creative in their improvisations. They even promised to rope their sibling into improvising with them!
The traces we leave…
I spent a lot of my time in St Ives looking for interesting bits of rubbish to pick up. As Gary said, St Ives seems quite idyllic to those of us coming from Manchester but we still weren’t short of bits of plastic, chocolate bar wrappers and other assorted trash to use in our installation.
Because we were in such a picturesque place, we would have tuned out the rubbish if we weren’t looking for it. However, on arriving home I realised that I tune out the rubbish in Manchester for a different reason. There’s so much of it. It’s everywhere. And I think part of the reason that there’s so much of it is because we tune it out. I did have a vague idea of starting a project in which I picked up every bit of rubbish I saw while going about my daily life, but I quickly realised that would be impossible. I would never get to work on time and I’d have to carry around bags and bags of the stuff. However, that project has been tweaked into a project where I document the rubbish that appears in my front garden.
Back to normal life, creative ideas forgotten
It wasn’t until I listened to Gary’s reflections on the project that I remembered my intention to find a space in my home to continue the collage of creativity. Being flung back into normal life meant I had completely forgotten about this. I am resetting my intention. Watch this space...
A great last day: super workshop with 28 pupils from St Uny in Carbis Bay, who made us some excellent graphic scores that we really enjoyed playing (photos below).
Then we were joined by Judy Harington from Plymouth College of Art, who brought in energy & many ideas & helped us realise Rachel's concept of stringing canvas panels through the space, recalling sails, the washing that using to be hung out on the Island & at the Harbour, as well as more immediate artistic surfaces. This was the setting for our penultimate performance; we finished things off in Cellar 4, culminating in a ritual cutting of threads & an outing to a 4hr Frug session enjoyed by all.
Photos below, plus some audio from the 3pm performance here (2nd session to come in due course). Once we've returned, we'll post a number of unpublished photos, videos & audio int he following weeks, but for now, a big thank you from me to all the collaborators - Gary, Sarah, Clare (& also her partner Iain), Nina & Rachel, as well as to our workshop participants, the communities of St Ives who have adopted us into their activities, & finally to Chris Hibbert of Porthmeor Studios & the Borlase Smart John Wells Trust, whose interest & enthusiasm allows this project to exist in an amazing building, & to the artists & fishermen of Porthmeor who have made us feel so welcome.
A busy day: the tyre got a hot pink refit, but otherwise almost all the time was spent in the upper space, which, having been cleared for a yoga class earlier in the day, suddenly had a lot more space in it to play with. Nina led us towards rocks & threads, & building this into the space gave Studio 10 the volume we've been after. Rachel created another eroded notation drawn score, & this was performed by Nina as part of the 3pm event, which also included movement, with Rachel threaded in to place in a way that limited her ability to play violin, Nina gradually entangling herself in twine to 'complicate her situation', & Gavin using the flute to weave thread & sound through the space, reminiscent of net-setting or shuttle-weaving. Clare explored movement & close sounds in audience's ears, & we have another poem by Evelyn Holloway, as well as a responsive drawing by Susan Schneider (see photo below). One visitor called to mind the opening of Dante's Inferno, so these immortal words have now entered the installation:
Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.
Evening: an exploration of something we've been circling for a while - splitting the performance between the spaces simultaneously (with Rachel performing in-between spaces), with Nina & Clare putting the threads through their paces again (more thoroughly this time) in Studio 10, & Gavin working with flute & electronics in the Cellar.
Audio: excerpt from 3pm Studio 10 here; excerpt from evening performance here, here & here. Plus some water bottle gamelan ambience here.
Tomorrow is our last creating day before the take-down on Friday; we have a workshop with Y5s from St Uny in the morning, followed by one or two University students shadowing us in the afternoon, & 2 final performances. With the end in sight, here's a bit of reflective writing on a couple of themes:
Some notes on mess
One thing that has struck me during our work in both spaces is that it can often be difficult to work out what is just 'mess' taking up space on the floor, & what is material designed to be part of the work. With both the cellar & studio now environments as opposed to exhibition spaces, all areas of the room are fair game (floors, walls, ceiling & the volume in between), & the processes we use generate plenty of unused offcuts, fragments, sand, bits & just mess, much of which ends up scattered around the rooms. Occasionally someone clears up this 'mess' - & then the interesting thing is that it feels (to me at least) like something is then missing; materials one has become habituated to are removing into absence, without the relief of the cleared space one might normally expect..
The reasons for this are not too hard to figure out: our approaches to the project allow anything to be part of the work, & often this anything tends to be the flotsam & fragmentary leftovers we stumble across as much as the designed object, so 'rubbish' is a familiar & necessary part of the work.
Even more topically, the 'mess' we leave is a primary trace of our own activities, tracery evidence of actions, engagement, encounters of that day or the day before, & as often as not directly haunts whatever it is the leavings of (a negative, positive, remainder, or similar of something admitted 'officially' into the installation).
So, the mess is important & a physical part of the working & the work, especially for our topic, & for an installation like ours that can never be finished, only taken down, & each sweeping up is a mini-premonition of the take-down that will have to happen in a couple of days. But each tidying reveals another layer of traces underneath that will take us into the remaining days.
One of the big themes of doing up time-trace-place is collaboration, & it's been interesting ot see how this process has changed over the time we've been here - not only a linear change, but also different fluxes, eddies & whorls of collaboration that spring up here & there.
With 4 or 5 people all working without a particular brief or territory & in disciplines that necessarily overlap with everyone else's (whether their official specialism or not), navigating the concept of collaboration is an interesting activity; I raised the possibility before the start of the installation that each person might have to be open to others working over, through, around & with their own material, & that there should be a willingness to disrupt, entwine, & be disrupted.
In the first few days, we were all very polite - would you mind if I added text to your image here? Would it be OK if I drew through your assemblage there? Clare, our visual artist, provided the spur beyond this by saying "you shouldn't have to ask". We should trust each other to respect the work done even in the process of seriously disrupting it, & trust our own decisions to work through/over/etc others' materials. The result of this, for me anyway, is that any one thing done that might have stood OK on its own & be 'owned' by its maker has in every case been improved, activated, brought more into the ethos of the work by the interventions of someone else. Sometimes these interventions are immediate, sometimes at the remove of several days. Sometimes the changes are extremely subtle (Clare scoring over photographs with a pin), sometimes drastic (occlusion, accretion, even destruction).
Another interesting effect has been the emergence & dissolving of pockets of collaboration; with 4 or 5 working together, as with Sarah's shoaling concept, smaller collaborative groups form & fade, either to make something together, explore something together, to create something for somebody to interpret or use, with these collaborative temporary 'clumpings' always then becoming available to the whole group. Finally, it's important to mention the unexpected collaborative engagement of our audiences, whether through discussion, or writing poems as reactive collaboration with our performances, or doing off-set drawings during them (invisible & unknowable until revealed & often shared between different audience members for any one drawing), which we then use as scores in future playings. It's been a varied & rewarding process.
presence / absence
If the above highlights the potential value of disruption, one of the most disruptive moments of the duration has been Gary & Sarah leaving for work in the middle weekend & Nina arriving to join in. Disruptive? yes - by the time Gary & Sarah left, a group relationship had developed that could have had many more weeks to run before any fatigue set in, & their departure was certainly a jump in the tracks, & Nina had to arrive into this settled practice (including operating hours almost the opposite of her own natural schedule) & make her own place, with all of us having to 'rewire' for different approaches & interactions. As with the disruptions mentioned about, this has been an entirely positive thing for the work (even as we miss Gary & Sarah & what we might have done with all 6 collaborators here) - already this week we've explored things that the old group might never have hit on, & given the installation a continuing life that will take it on until it has to be packed down on Friday.
Another feature of this is the traces Gary & Sarah have left, & the traces they've taken with them to the North. A sound file from Sarah here, & a photo:
The day's photos:
Instrument-building a big feature of today: Nina experimenting with various designs incorporating movement/constriction as well as sound, with Clare exploring amplification of found & built sounding-objects. This resulting in a much more physicalised performance than we've attempted before, with audience members commenting on how close we were getting to choreography. Also, instrument modification, intricate eroded scores, exploration of the many traces occupation by artists & fishermen has left on the building. Evelyn Holloway graced us with 2 more poetic interpretations of our performances, & audiences members were encouraged to create off-set drawing responses as we performed - something of a fixed feature now.
2 more days = 4 more performances = 1 workshop with 30 Y5s = shadowing by Falmouth Uni & Plymouth College of Art students.
First day of week 2 reminds us that in fact we're only here for 4 more days, so diving straight back into the studio early morning, moving more traces on - Nina exploring sound traces, Rachel tracking light, Clare developing a really exciting shadow traces element for live performance, plus another response-poem from Evelyn Holloway which will be posted tomorrow.
Audio: a curiosity - abstracted audio trace of a performance here; extract of Studio 10 performance (Clare shadow-playing) here; recording of Cellar performance here, in its full 10mins as it's considerably different to other things we've done.
In a project like ours, a rest day mid-way tends to morph into a relaxed way to explore the themes of our work. Gary & Sarah's last morning before the train revisited the coastal path where the traces of wave, wind & human are clearly evident. Nina's arrival gave us the opportunity to re-trace steps & extend followed-paths in new directions, seeing new things. We also introduced Nina to the spaces, & her perspective immediately cast fresh light on materials & approaches - setting things up nicely for diving into our remaining 4 days.
A brief summary of explorations so far:
Light traces [cyanotypes, shadow tracing, reflection, refraction]
Time traces [historical layers of usage & design, diurnal & tidal shifts]
Material traces [human, animal, wind, wave, sun, fire processes]
Sonic traces [human, animal, material, musical analogue, musical digital - & absences of sound]
Smell, taste & haptic traces [cooking, mineral, textural, action]
Text traces [erasure, engravure, printing, writing, asemic writing]
Reactional traces [interaction between live mark-making & sound making]
Sounds: Nina's impromptu instrument building from buoy fragments & shells here
Sound of fisherman's harbour refrigeration unit here
Ringing the changes today - last day for Gary & Sarah, so some Tate & Hepworth inspiration before a final day's working & performing in the spaces. We explored Sarah's shoaling focus (see her earlier blog below), allowing Gary, Rachel & Sarah to move around the space. We also had Clare working live with ink & paper with the musicians using this as stimulus for sound-making (a video of this will follow soon), & finally a real treat - poet Evelyn Holloway, who we'd met a couple of days earlier at Frug, came to the performance, & made 2 poems while we performed, & then read these to further musical interpretation from us - the poems appear as the last 2 photos below.
& to round off the day, singer & composer extraordinaire Nina Whiteman has now arrived, ready to thread her own unique collaborative talents through the traces Sarah & Gary have left. Goodbye week 1, hello week 2!
Audio: 2 clips of an extended flute/electronics improv (elecs part only) here & here
Inky improv here | Shoaling improv here | Evelyn reads with us here