Sunday, October 09, 2005

Been hugely busy with a fantastic holiday in Sardinia and now doing a bit of guest teaching at LABAN alongside my work at Roehampton – gearing up for this site-specific project at Guy’s Hospital as a part of the TAP programme (see 22 June 2005 posting) and the following question posed by the TAP group has prompted some thoughts on space and place. Thought they might be worth posting on the site:

The Question:
Evocative places carry the footprints, if not the ghosts, of the past. How do places and spaces impact on your work and practice?

The Thoughts:
I have a string of lifelong experiences of dancing in different spaces. Each one of these spaces has now become a place for me where there are remnants of the physical and emotional interchange that took place between me and that space, at that time. Space contains emotional qualities as well as physical properties between which an individual can form a semi-permeable membrane. The individual opens themselves to the space and the space opens to them. The emotional qualities that are contained within spaces partly has to do with the way that they are organised, therefore impinging upon us rules about how we are to operate within them.

“By physically dividing up and demarcating space we may classify and control places and relationships more readily. Walls, gateways and entrances serve to mark transitions between domains such as inside/outside, sacred/profane, male/female, public/private, enemy/friend, elite/commoner or intimate/unintimate.” (Parker Pearson, M. & Richard, C. 24:1994)

How we organise spaces and likewise how we then relate to these organised spaces creates a feedback loop between our opinion about ourselves and our opinion about the world. Philosophers throughout the ages have written volumes on trying to unravel the web surrounding the connections between time, space and the living human being. I will not attempt to do it here. Instead I will approach this issue from the perspective of a dancer, where the intentional act of moving in a space connects you to it in both a physical and emotional way. For example, if I stumble across a place where I have danced before, I know it. I feel it, and the shortcomings of language do not allow me to express it. The inadequacy of language to describe lived experience is an issue for another piece of writing.

Space only becomes place when we come to know it through our lived experience. Therefore it is possible that a space which is a place for one, may not be a place for another. There are however, ‘evocative’ spaces that because of their history, use, and/or organisation sanctioned a great deal of human emotion, thereby staining the space with its intensity. We can experience this residue of emotional staining in spaces such as graveyards, hospitals, war memorials and churches.

In the case of my own work and practice, I disagree with dwelling too heavily on ‘the footprints’ or ‘ghosts’ of the past contained in a space for the purpose of a performance event. Site-specific performances I have seen that do this reek of nostalgia and bypass the importance of the impact that the present day, or more to the point, that the present moment has on the lived experience of that space. When looking to make a piece of site-specific work, I am firstly interested in the lived experience of the individual(s) who will be performing in that space ---- becoming place.

In my past experience of making site-specific dance work I have looked at the following layers of the space:

1) The historical layer

2) The layer of what the space is used for presently and how visitors to the space interact with it and move inside or around it.

3) What the space contains objectively
a) How does the physical organisation of the space impact the potential for dance movement?
b) What are the naturally occurring sounds in this space?
c) What safety precautions (if any) need to be taken to insure that the dancers are protected physically (i.e. Are shoes necessary? If the space is exposed to the elements will the dancers be able to cope safely?)

4) What the space contains subjectively (these variables change moment to moment).
a) Sensorially (how do the textures, smells, temperature, sounds, colours, visual patterns make you want to move or effect your movement)
b) Emotionally

5) How all the elements discovered within the layers pertaining to the space, sound, movement and performer mix together to help communicate the overarching idea for the piece of work.

So, perhaps it is not so much that evocative places carry the footprints or ghosts of the past which impact my work with space/place but more that the experience of the moment in relationship to experiences of the past within that place makes and forms an artistic work.

Parker Pearson, M. & Richard, C. (1994). Architecture and Order. London: Routledge


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