Friday, 7 September 2007

Small conversations in Opera House Lane West: Wellington City Centre and surrounding environs.

video

7 comments:

Simon said...

Am struck by the VERY strong aesthetic decision to fade yourselves in over the top of the 'background' (as it were). the magical appearance of two people out of nowhere. time travellers. from another world.
and then, once again, reminded just how 'other' the act of (contemporary?) dancing is in our community. it pushes againsts all kinds of assumptions about normal movement (and behaviour). i want to ask (from such a distance), "are you OK?". but find myself remembering those cases of bystander intervention (and lack of) - most famously Kitty Genovese (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitty_Genovese).
And I think it might be safer to remain within my boundaries. To not tresspass, or transgress.
What will you do to me if I check?
At yet, bizarrely, it's an intervention that doesn't seem to intervene with passers by. Such questions of audience, and the privileging of a witness's perspective fascinate me. "What do I have to do to make you stop and look?"
But, perhaps, the conversation in homes around Wellington after are where the intervention occurs (a small delay in transmission). "You know, dear, I saw these two people rolling around the arcade on my way home .... they seemed in their own worlds", or perhaps "Is it Fringe Festival time?"

One thing - I wonder how I ought to look at the material. As a dance on screen project? As a silent witness to something that I can imagine seeing/passing by? e.g. Is this simply documentation of an event? Or is the video (on blogspot) the outcome unto itself?

nomads.hat said...

Thanks Simon. Great to hear from you. I introduced the fade in at the beginning and the man walking out at the end of the clip to facilitate that sense of 'open' composition within this context of time-based, conceptual thinking.

I want people to remember us - our presence, in the space - either that night around the table at evening meal with family, or in a bar with friends and perhaps, of equal importance; that sense of loss - or relief at not finding us there the next day, or next time Opera House Lane is used as a shortcut - or glimpsed out of the corner of the eye on a walk past the lane entrance.

I am not yet settled on deliberate useage of devices, be they dance-edited in real-time or video-edited, to express or describe my sense of manifesting the vagueries of self in a space. My notions of identity are still very experimental and because to a large extent, they are dependent upon improv decisions in the dancing moment influencing the underlying structures in the 'field work' carried out in-situ and then the day`s work subject to my post-site critiquing, I think it will take a little time to arrive at strategies which I feel are convincing. Convincing in the task of subtle intervention (more of that in a moment), convincing in accomplishing a type of communication, through movement alone, which is enabling for the passer-by to contribute to without being too obvious or overt. Maybe I will come to that. 'Obvious' is a relative assessment. Ultimately, at this stage I want to be only just noticed, whether from an intimate proximity or from a distance, because I am interested in what people might take away with them as being inconclusive.

Why? Because I want to make comment on how our perception skids and slides, glosses over and abbreviates our daily traversing of spaces and interactions with people in spaces - some spaces more than others.

'Virtual' moments are common, I believe, in our day and as Mark Hansen, in 'Bodies in Code' Routledge, (2006) asserts and I am inclined to agree, we are ourselves, entities who are not reliant on a computer platform/software to take excursions into the virtual. We do it all the time - our bodies serving as antennae for the process - we just don`t recognize that we do.

Merleau-Ponty, the phenomonologist, in Nigel Thrift`s Spatial Formations,Sage pubns,(1996) and Zimmerman are quoted in their understanding of 'being' as manifesting as a social, collective experience rather than simply a state evidenced in the individual. In Merleau-Ponty`s view: '... being is not an entity but a way-of-being which constitutes a shared agreement in our practices about what entities can show up' and Zimmerman; 'humans are not entities but the clearing in which entities appear'. Surely, here, within the context of social interaction on the street, there is a little elbow room for an alterior aspect of the self to be demonstrated? Whether this is most suitably catalyzed as a perceived 'virtual' moment through a dancing body or not, I am not yet sure.

If we, through our dancing presence in the space can create, through introducing a subtle tension in brief interactive tableaux or 'small conversations' with strangers, a reminder to a passer-by that there might be more to their 'known' everyday description of the world, then I might begin to be satisfied. But how to tell? Can I call what I am doing empirically-based field work if there is no clear method of assessing the success of that with which I am engaged? Another critical aspect with which I am currently engaged.

Back to intervention.

Yes, this is an area which in my work, I think is critical not to marginalize. My understanding of Kitty Genovese is of a definitively appalling example of bystander intervention - or the lack of it, through inertia/fear on the part of the witnesses. I believe the subsequent study asked questions about the apparent inertia being caused by a diminution of responsibility felt by the individual witnesses because there were so many people watching - someone else will do something. So Genovese was killed 'in front of' the neighbours over something like a 45 minute period of repeated attacks and the police were not even called until it was over.
Abdication of responsibility. Some, in our current environment, might even call what occurred where the exponents are immune to the real suffering going on in front of them, as a virtual - an XBox moment; held in thrall to 'an event' which is happening 'just over there', similar to our watching the narrative of the first gulf war - the first digital, captured-in-the-moment armchair theatre war, which we could turn on with the daily news and see how things were going?

I am positioning myself at the other end of a situation which might require any kind of public bystander intervention. If this were to occur, where a member of the public stepped in to stop us from doing what we were doing, it would alter the focus of the work and my ethical intent, but ultimately, would be a legitimate description of 'conversation' in the space. However, I have an ethical responsibility for the safety and dignity of myself and dancers as well as to the public in this situation. Interest or curiosity precipitating a verbal encounter, or someone wanting to join in would all be another kind of stimulus in the space and constitute a 'conversation'between strangers.

Your observation that our intervention did not seem to intervene was extremely accurate. I want to make work which only just intervenes. People notice us. Is this intervention? People choose to walk around us. Is this slightly more interventionist? I do not want to create openly confrontational situations with the public. I want to make work which is only ust memorable, not National Newspaper headline stuff.

But you are right to bring up the questions implicit within our behaviour. Each time we inhabit a public space this issue surfaces to be investigated. How are we intervening without intervening. Should it be called something else?

Audience perspective. Do we have a responsibility to a given audience in terms of making the work accessible to as many as possible?

My work is being made under the umbrella of everyday street activity and perspectives. Questions have been brought up which have been similar to your comment, 'Is it Fringe Festival time?' in the sense that in many ways the public aesthetic is much more discerning and tolerant now - perhaps more than ever before. At this stage in my thinking, I am moving and thinking in public for all who may encounter us - not just for folk who possess a discriminating contemporary dance/performance eye. Does it matter whether my behaviour is categorised as 'Oh, it`s ok, just more performance in the street'? I am honestly not sure yet. There will be as many perceptions about what I am doing as there are people to have them.

Your final questions about how you ought to look at the material, let me try and respond to the last, first.

Yes, undeniably, video transforms a performance or event. Once again, we are looking at real and virtual time and never the twain shall meet? I am still asking myself the same question, 'Is the video (on blogspot) the outcome unto itself?'

I would like to answer, yes, it is. But at this stage, I am going out of my way to minimise special effects at the editing stage, so that there is a documentative capturing of the event as it happens.

I have to ask myself, am I making this work for the screen? Because then it is different from making work in real time which I happen to be recording. Yes, I am making the work for that silent witness - the witness on the street being videoed and teh witness watching the screened event. I am aware of pitfalls existing in trying to make work which crosses these borders.

I would like to hear more about what you think of these grey areas of making.

Thanks again for a great post, Simon.

Simon said...

Quick response - I've quoted you and then responded. I haven't tried too hard to be 'subtle' either, so hope I don't come across too strong.


---
You write, "to facilitate that sense of 'open' composition within this context of time-based, conceptual thinking".

What does this mean? I read it, and re-read it, but just don't know what you mean. In short, HOW does a dissolve do this?

Regardless of why YOU did it, it is still a dissolve of two movers over an empty street, darkly lit, etc etc ... (see other other comments towards end of post).

---
You write, "Why? Because I want to make comment on how our perception skids and slides, glosses over and abbreviates our daily traversing of spaces and interactions with people in spaces - some spaces more than others."

I wonder then WHY you choose dance/improv to do this (other than simply b/c that's what you do)? Is dance the most appropriate method for this? What is it about your practice of dancing that makes it ideal for this interest? (as opposed to making a virtue out of necessity).

---
You write, "But how to tell? Can I call what I am doing empirically-based field work if there is no clear method of assessing the success of that with which I am engaged? Another critical aspect with which I am currently engaged."

This was very strong for me this 'problem'. It would set you off down an entirely different method, but perhaps (very likely) beyond the realm of practice-led research. It's always a significant tension I think -- between considering an audience's experience, and knowing (deep down) that they bring to performance (even as they pass by) their histories, meanings and perspectives that are FAR beyond your capacity to imagine what they'll be. My take on this is to tend towards, banal as it may sound, simply making a work that I would like to see ;-). Yes, I want others to engage, and be engaged (or to 'like' it), but I am less concerned with audience, and have little desire to know what they think. But, the (BIG) caveat is that my work is invariably about how audience perceive work. More tension. Gulp.

---
The word "marginalize" jumps out at me. My intuitive response (from watching video) is that your actions are first and foremost marginalising - both yourself, and the viewer. Can there be anything more on the margins than performing contemporary dance in a street?

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Another term, "ethical intent" --- what do you mean by this? How might YOUR ethical intent have anything to do with the ethics of viewing for the person passing by, who is far more focused on beating the wind and the rain, and getting home to a Sauvignon Blanc? (Hope I am not being too harsh here).


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I find this fascinating: "I want to make work which only just intervenes. People notice us. Is this intervention? People choose to walk around us. Is this slightly more interventionist? I do not want to create openly confrontational situations with the public. I want to make work which is only ust memorable, not National Newspaper headline stuff."

Am really engaged by how small an intervention might be (as you say) - the microintervention. How are these registered? How do you as a performer register the intervention in the actions and senses of the viewers?


---
You write, "everyday street activity" - and being under the umbrella of it. And yet, WHAT you are doing is so far away from the quotidian that the umbrella ceases to protect you (sorry about extending the metaphor - rather clumsy).


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You write, "minimise special effects" - and yet, playing devil's advocate, my entry into the video is via a dissolve (probably the first special effect in the history of film). Don't get me wrong, I love a good dissolve ... but, it is still a strong choice, with other histories, and other meaning potentials.


----
You write, "I have to ask myself, am I making this work for the screen? Because then it is different from making work in real time which I happen to be recording. Yes, I am making the work for that silent witness - the witness on the street being videoed and teh witness watching the screened event. I am aware of pitfalls existing in trying to make work which crosses these borders."

BIG question. One way to look at it is does the work 'stand up' as a screen project? You can choose what you think 'stand up' means in this context. What are the precedents for presenting 'screen' work as (mostly) unedited video on blogspot? You then get into a world of low-fi (fascinating stuff) - which is very much how a lot of video is becoming - youtube, bitorrent video TV shows etc.

But, again responding intuitively, the sense from the material is of it being a 'record' of something else. This is strong in the way it is shot ... like clandestine documentary. This is not necessarily problematic, but it does open up that old 'documenting dance' can o worms.

Cheers
ske

nomads.hat said...

Hi Simon, no, you are not coming across too strong at all. This is all very relevant and appropriate. This is why I am using this forum.

To respond to your first quote:
By 'open composition' I am talking both conceptually and visually. 'Open' conceptually in the sense that our visits to these locations are transitory, our actions ephemeral, and I wanted my use of the cross-dissolve and walk-out at the end of the sequence to jog/'facilitate' a response consistent with this, aligned with a consistency in how the public also treats this space. You could say that with no dancers in the mix, the public populating the space at any one time, constantly moves in and out of an 'open' composition - in essence, in itself, equally transient. Also, the nature of the space is a walk-through, an open-ended tunnel - a place of transit, which was what I was looking for. A 'surface' upon which/within which to create a flux point which is not standing still. So we as dancers (beneath the improv) entered the space with this in mind, before any editing took place in the Final Cut suite.

Visually and this is an 'umbrella' because obviously there are many permutations on this, if I had wanted to use a 'closed' visual conctruct, I might have panned the camera or had a dancer move to a wall to close the sequence, or to the floor, almost anywhere which emphasizes a static or passive texture, form, structure, surface which 'traps' the viewer in the sequence, but I didn`t. I focussed on us, to use a term from Harry Potter, 'apparating' into the space - I could have had us simply walk in and I did this in other sequences, but it has a different kind of effect - which in turn, produces a different kind of 'affect' - that strong sensation which creates a lasting impression of the work.

In response to your lower down 'minimalise special effects' ref, you are right. The sequence does start from a cross-dissolve, a classic effect. In fact, I have (and will continue to) experimented with effects, but as I said, I consider that a cross-dissolve (which after all is technical device to allow transit from one image/sequence to another and so is conceptually consistent)does not an 'effect-dominated' video clip make in the sense that it is not my intent to be 'clever' with my editing for its own sake. I take your point though: To enter into the sequence using this device is not a small matter.

'Why?'

Because, yes, improv dance is part of what I do as an artist. However, I trained and carried out my Hons Degree in Fine Arts majoring in painting and for a number of years worked as a multi-media (non-digital) artist. I have worked quite extensively in a collaborative, cross-discipline way with poets, musicians, other kinds of dancers in my previous works and I have mono-printed and drawn, builit installations and used digital projection all in the same work, so I may enrol other, collaborative elements into the work. It is still early days.

Why improv through CI Dance? Because, without being glib, I think that encounters in the street on an everyday basis could be called a kind of improv dance/interaction. My focus is conversing with 'strangers' (see my earlier posts) in an effort to identify and investigate those marginal moments of communication which happen between us. Also, it could be argued, that the essence of public interaction as it occurs on the street, is realized through ongoing improvisation. I am empathetically aligning myself with this. The issue of identity within the CI duet is also relevant here, as a fractal of the public interaction taking place. (See ealier post, Investigating notions of identity in CI Dance Practice).

So I am exploring this correlation between CI as improv, as a vehicle apt for the task of investigating a context which is itself, essentially manifesting as a chain of improv moments.

As appropriate as I feel this is, admittedly, there can be problems when entering a context which in nature is so similar to that vehicle which you are using yourself to carry out the measuring/reflecting/critiquing within that same context. To seperate the 'wood from the trees'.

'How to tell?'

I agree with you. I think it is legitimate to make work for yourself. It happens all around us.
But I think as artists we have a responsibility to identify at the outset who the work is for, otherwise it can become an aribitrary event. So yes, the work is for me, irrespective of what the witness brings to the space. But I am also interested in what the witness may take away with them too. This is what I meant by 'How to tell?' I am drawn to work in this way (have been working with site-specific, content-specific and audience-specific concepts for the last few years) because I am interested in that diversity which the audience does bring to the work. In the past though, I have put in place post-performance comment and question-time with given audiences to keep the enquiry current and gain a sense of how the work sat with the audience - where did they locate themselves in relation to us, the performers and the installation/space? Often these works involved inviting the audience in to the space with us.
The work for this project though, is taking place in a space constantly on the move, without formal parameters or agendas communicated to the public transiting the spaces being used - without a 'captured' audience. Perhaps there should be more steerage employed? I am not sure yet.

'marginalising'

Yes, if you turn around what I am doing and say, 'Why are you not making work in the studio about this?' in comparison my work only captures the audience interest for brief moments, not for the duration of a more orthodox performance and in these terms you could say that the work is marginalised. But I want to make work about those 'margins' - in-situ. The whole ethic is based upon the premise that I go to those spaces which I identify as being appropriate as 'liminal' spaces of transit. I began my research looking hard at Marc Augé`s 'non-places' - spaces where the level of 'belonging' might be ambiguous because I was interested in the tensions of sociation - the subtle dynamics generated in behaviours by 'strangers in a strange land' (this is very open to debate. The spaces or 'non-lieux' to which Augé was referring are defined as such using criteria which ultimately is very subjective. One traveller`s 'non-place' is another traveller`s place of belonging) likely to be produced in such spaces.

What I meant by 'ethical intent' was a concern as a professional that I demonstrate a responsibility in a public place, to firstly keep myself and my dancers safe. Secondly a responsibility to the other public users in the space in terms of their safety in relation to what we are doing. No, I am not required to seek permission from passers-by in public spaces, to be doing what I am doing. This should only occur if I am targeting individuals in privately/commercially owned establishments. But my work is still not about promoting reactions from the public to openly- confrontational behaviour. The quotidian as a framework of the everyday is, as I have said above, where I need to locate myself to work in the way that I am. I give myself permission to be included in a description of the 'everyday' in this way. This is the notion I am exploring: Our 'everyday' from time-to-time is punctuated by half-noticed micro-events; murmurings of difference, inexplicable subtle references to the virtual.

Measuring or recording or simply registering subtle connections with the public - 'micro-dramas':

I am fascinated by how small a moment of engagement might be. This in turn, is why I am equally intrigued by the level of intervention required to create an 'intervention'. We are indeed, only just intervening. To encourage a passer-by to approach and navigate their way around our presence, is for me a level of engagement, a negotiation by the passer-by of our behaviour in the space which is altering the terrain for them to cross. This, to me is interventionist. This is enough. And I wait each time, with bated breath, to see how this will unfold. Each engagement, each encounter is different from the last and the one to come.

This is why I am videoing the work. To study it later as a record of the time spent and what actually transpired. To document the nature and quality of the interaction.

Also, to initiate a process of assimilation and ownership of the concepts being explored.

Also, because ultimately, videoing the work provides me with opportunities to make choices about the material, what I am doing and why I am doing it - and what I could be doing with it. I said earlier that I am focussing on making principally, an unmanipulated record of our movement interactions. This is true, but I may take this record and project it back into the space, which would immediately change its status as a projection, to an artifice, prop, installation within the work. What I need to consider are the implications of these actions, on the concepts with which I am working and on the kind of practice that my work becomes. It moves the work from 'dance' captured by video for a screening, to dance and video, which is what my abstract states I am using to bring about the work.

Does the work 'stand up' as a screen project?

I do not feel that I am making 'performances'although the work locates itself perhaps in this genre more readily than any other.
I do not feel that I am making a documentary although the work, as you say, contains references to a 'record' and the events I am recording are being documented through video, this blog site, my ongoing notes and my Masters documentation, culminating in my thesis year next year.

Yes, I am making work as dance for the screen. I hope the work will be sufficiently compelling to be able to stand alone as an investigative event in itself. That I am showing fragments of what I am doing on a blog, I think is fitting given the nature of my investigation: small slices of what I might call intimate distance within the everyday. As you say this is internet territory and very much current in its useage of video as a communicator of information, personal aesthetics, perceptions and perspectives. The internet has become a legitimate 'surface' (after Ranciére) within which to broadcast work. It is not inconceivable that my final works may stay on the net. That this blog itself could be 'the thesis work'.

Thanks Simon. I really appreciate your interest and your immensely engaging questioning.

nomads.hat said...

Reading through my response to the last post from Simon, I felt that I had not responded adequately to one query in particular:

'Am really engaged by how small an intervention might be (as you say) - the micro-intervention. How are these registered? How do you as a performer register the intervention in the actions and senses of the viewers?'

'How are these registered?'

In many ways, this is the crux of the concept, in terms of finding a way to show or demonstrate that an interaction has occurred, however small. We register, veiled looks, hooded eyes, uncertain smiles, efforts to not-engage, glances, discreet avoidance, focussed on-task walking, double-takes, suspended 'hovering', open curiosity, verbal engagement, laughter, scorn. A certain amount of reaction/engagement is unseen by us but picked up by the camera.

'How do you as a performer register the intervention in the actions and senses of the viewers?'

My assessment of a viewers reaction to our behaviour in the space in terms of it being 'interventionist' rather than the engagement simply being an 'interaction' is not easily separated. An interaction may not be the product of intervention, although an intervention usually provokes an interaction. On one level, we as dancers are consciously, through a structured improvisation intention, setting up an intervention in the sense that we are putting ourselves, 'in the way' of the viewer`s ongoing day. We are 'intervening' through incongruity, in their perception of the peopled space through which they are travelling, and/or in their physical space that they are travelling through.

ptrebus said...

have you considered capturing the responses of the participants of your intervention without using the intervention as the point of reference ?

nomads.hat said...

Hi Pete, Thanks for the comment. Could you elaborate on your thoughts?

Yes, I am considering a range of points of reference at the moment. I am interested currently on the notion of attaining a 'purchase' on the disappearing (re: Bergson) moment within each encounter, using my interventionist strategies.

Just as I am curious about the degrees of engagement in a meeting between strangers which may constitute a dialogue, so I am also curious about how little intervention may be interventionist.

The notion that while I am instigating an activity or dynamic into the space I am inhabiting, it is the activity on the periphery which is the material captured, definitely has potential.