Transparency in Siobhan Davies Dance’s ‘material / rearranged / to / be’

A performance installation at Tramway Glasgow 12-6pm, 22-30 April 2017 part of DIG 2017

I walk into Tramway 2. The air feels cool. A sense of openness. And of activity. Objects and people. My walking slows as I continue to enter, my gaze brushing over and across, absorbing this open-action-object space. My walking curves as my senses perceive a beckoning walkway – through a metal architectural structure with walls of transparency (1 + 1 : Variations on Alteroception by Emma Smith with Efrosini Protopapa). My gaze rests upon some words hanging in those transparent walls: “the air is not something I am in, but something I am made of. I am the air.” And somehow I am melding, becoming part of the transparency I am sensing.

1 + 1 : Variations on Alteroception by Emma Smith with Efrosini Protopapa

This is my arriving into material / rearranged / to / be a new work by Siobhan Davies Dance. It is a departure from Siobhan Davies Dance projects to date in the extent to which Davies has stepped further back from an overall authorship. The installation is a group show of independent artists’ work. Each work has been commissioned for the installation; each artists owns their work outright.  It includes works by dance artists Andrea Buckley, Siobhan Davies, Helka Kaski, Charlie Morrissey, Efrosini Protopapa, and Matthias Sperling; visual artists Jeremy Millar, and Emma Smith, and design duo Glithero (Tim Simpson and Sarah van Gameren). These works, in the vast open space of Tramway 2, hang together, belong together, and seem to welcome me the visitor into that belonging.  For in the invitation to explore the works, in my walking, gazing, talking and fidgeting – I keep on finding myself being part of what is happening.

The live calls loudly, draws me towards Matthias Sperling performing Loop Atlas 1. Sperling is spiralling – or  almost so – his torso twisting elliptically in front of a video screen. With each repetition of action the movement changes slightly. His movement is recorded. The recorded sequences is then played behind him while he resumes the ongoing task of his changing almost-spiralling round and round. This is recorded again and so it continues, piling up moving images of almost-spiralling actions that are always slightly changing. It’s a hypnotic performance of human bodily thoughtfulness filled with the purpose of the task itself. At this point Sperling’s work feels distinct – as if complete in itself. Until the moment when Davies lifts a plumbline that is suspended from the black metal rafters of Tramway 2, draws it backwards marking a diagonal line in the space. And then lets go. (Datum by Glithero with Siobhan Davies and Helka Kaski). The weight swings back and forth; Sperling continues his almost-spiralling round and round; the weight weighs away slightly from its back and forthing towards a curving trajectory, an elliptical orbit around where it once was; Sperling continues his almost-spiralling round and round, always slightly changing. Human body and metal body in a common task. Affinity across materials. The weight of the task, in gravity’s time. My own body slowing. I too am part of what is happening.

Loop Atlas 1 by Matthias Sperling

Nothing feels rushed. Boundaries are porous. Works overlap in my visual perception, reverberating together. The vast open space of Tramway 2 allows my gaze to take in the near and the far, to chose a trajectory of seeing and of seeing through, to shift that trajectory, to walk. Visitors are mingling, pausing. There are chairs that may be used by performers, but visitors sit there too – talking – gesturing. Unwittingly perhaps, these visitor actions become part of the work; they are gently present in a reverberating relationship with the works that form the installation – this perhaps a consequence of the project’s starting point. That starting point was the work and extensive image library of art historian Aby Warburg whose interests lay in gesture, in the placement of distinct images side by side and in what kinds of relationships such placements might reveal. As two visitors sit together, talk, shift position, pause in their conversation, they feel as much part of the installation as the works presented. It’s as if their unselfconscious gestures in this space are quietly offered to the consciousness of the visitor (at least this visitor) without any sense of invasion.

It seems like things are existing in this space with a virtual bleed around them. Protopapa’s film Disputatio 111 is a rearrangement and animation of images of arguing figures from Warhburg’s image collection. As I watch these static cut out figures in their fictional rearrangements that expose the communicability of gestural forms  (and clothing) from an earlier era, my eye seeps into the bleed simultaneously taking in two other figures performing different gestures. It’s Davies and Kaski gesturing across the space to each other as they negotiate and agree the trajectory of a line they are drawing in pink chalk across the gallery floor (using a bespoke tool also part of Datum).

In their collaboration Figuring a performance installation in three parts, Davies and Kaski actively investigate what they call their ‘embodied archive’ through simple choreographic situations. Each situation occurs in their attempts to embody postures and gestures from Warhburg’s photographic collection: in their negotiations with the impossibility of the task. In the first situation they are side by side, seated or standing or on the floor or in the spaces in between. As they actively investigate the ‘same’ gesture the watcher is witness to the body’s negotiation with its existing archive of postures and gestures as it seeks to move towards the unfamiliar. One by one Davies and Kaski offer a different embodiment of the ‘same.’ Gesture, removed from its association with language and from its communicative capacity when language fails, becomes stilled – distilled – unadorned – offered in its materiality. And yet remains deeply human.

Figurings by Siobhan Davies and Helka Kaski

Charlie Morrissey and Andrea Buckley each work directly with language and movement. In Morrissey’s Actions from the Encyclopaedia of Experience written ‘actions’ are projected onto a screen one at a time – each operating as an instruction that Morrissey carries out. His body is interpreting language. The actions e.g. “Actions made in bones” and “Actions controlled by the projected thoughts of an observer” and Morrissey’s interpretations are variously humorous, impossible, thoughtful. Here language comes first and the body ‘thoughtfully’ – and often exuberantly – follows. In Andrea Buckley’s In Tension (Body) Buckley explores movement of balance, shifts of balance and disorientation while a live video feed captures and projects the workings of her feet. And Buckley talks. I have to come close to hear – and I enter a small intimacy with the performer. I become aware that her spoken words come after an action – that her words are documenting what her body is doing. In contrast to Morrissey’s work, language comes after the body’s actions – in the little pauses as some action completes eg “shift”, “wait” “repeat“ and “drawing a line to … here.” There is a delicacy to this, a suspended quality as I listen close to catch her language catching up with her movement.

Jeremy Millar’s Melancholoy Mobiles at first seems lost as I look up towards it and then notice that it’s swinging in harmony with the rafters from which it hangs – both metal, black, angular. And there is something about its compositional play with interior and exterior spaces that has a formal resonance within the installation.

Something that I really celebrate in material / rearranged / to / be is its transparency. Nothing is pretending to be other than it is. Things – bodies and objects –  are present in their materiality and in their action-doing. This creates an atmosphere in which I become more aware of my own material body and its part in what I am experiencing/thinking/feeling. Throughout the day the arrangement of the works within the space changes. And throughout the installation I experience myself actively making sense – thoughtfully, bodily – in each changing moment of different arrangements, different perspectives, different ways of seeing.

The installation deserves lots of time. There’s much more to be said about this work – or rather these works that work together – than can be written in this review: about the ecology of the work(s); about the politics that’s implicit in that ecology. And how the longer I stay the more I come to understand an ongoing resonance between inside and outside. A resonance that echoes Emma Smith’s interest in Japanese architecture – transparency and a non-differentiation between inside and outside – that informed her 1 + 1 : Variations on Alteroception and impacted my feeling in entering the space. These things I plan to write about later on this blog

material / rearranged / to / be is at Tramway Glasgow until 30th April 2017 each day 12-6pm free admission

Image credit Figurings – Tim Nunn
Scientists and academics were also involved in the development of the project. Contributing fellows include Professor Jonathan Cole (neurophysiologist), Professor Guy Claxton (cognitive scientist), Dr. Scott deLahunta (dance theorist), Guido Orgs (cognitive psychologist) and Professor Anil Seth (neuroscientist).

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