Last week I spent at Towner Gallery, Eastbourne, working in response to Leap Then Look’s exhibition, Play Interact Explore.
As an interactive exhibition it feels perfectly whole, balancing sensory elements, prompts and freedom; providing real permission to play.
When filled with life, it is a fabulously busy space. Even without the people it never feels empty, because structurally it hangs and rests on the edge of movement – to me, despite being made up of solid materials it has a liveness, maybe because its very essence is its potential energy.
This strong sense of potential for movement in stillness, is something I’ve always hoped I can one day capture in my own performance.
Image by Bill Leslie
I was one of the four associate artists who would spend a week responding to Play Interact Explore, with opportunity to activate the space and facilitate workshops.
Some of my interests, some of which materialised through the week:
Togetherness: how people might experience the exhibition in relation to and with awareness of others visiting the exhibition.
Uncertainty: what is it to not have ‘a plan’, alternatively discovering through time and experimentation – again with the openness of others influencing or initiating a change of course.
Memory: the short-term histories of the substances we handled, particularly who else has interacted with them and what configurations have occurred before. I found that this was especially present in material that holds memory in its shape, such as the pieces of wire.
I was also curious to see how different methods of giving information would manifest: written instruction, audible information, physical presence/actions. The intention wasn’t for control, rather how I might influence and consequently frame visitor’s experiences.
Retrospectively I think the question leading me was, how can we share space and time here?
It was about connecting, and this week I landed on building one connection at time.
As a dancer working with improvisation, developing and performing scores is an integral part of my practice. Early on, it became apparent that this terminology is unfamiliar or ambiguous for most people – I found myself struggling to articulate exactly what I meant by a ‘score’ (which was only relevant as I was hoping that everyone entering the exhibition would join me in following one…).
I suggested ‘questions’ or ‘rules’ as an alternative, but to me neither of these are quite right. Scores provide a framework that gently hold you, an anchor or root that you can come back to, or sometimes restrictions that enable you find new possibilities or focus on something specific.
I’ve been reminded since by a colleague that ‘parameters’ is a good alternative.
Here are some of the group scores I suggested:
It was great having the freedom to change form. These group movement scores soon became audio scores, as I recorded and looped them in the space (using a microphone and loop pedal).
I wanted to see how people responded to instructions through sound and what the possibilities for layering and quietness were. In a loud, movement filled room, how might we draw attention through stillness and quietness, making space for the loudness to re-enter? I crave for there to be an availability for contrast.
Here I started adding the actions I saw appear in the space, to the questions from the movement scores.
The looping gave a sense of the echoes of past makings.
They then shifted into writing.
Images by Bill Leslie
Playfulness in movement often has the dynamic of push and pull, or resistance and acceptance. It’s that slight tension and unexpectedness that is joyful.
It seemed that people were happy to play with their own parents, children, friends (anyone they already knew), and at a push, people wearing lanyards. But not strangers – I was surprised there was no overt group play.
Not only am I an ‘artist’ and wearing a lanyard, but I’m a youngish white woman who can slot right in because our bias society deems me as soft and unharmful. I am granted permission to play with others, but even I am on the edge of what suddenly feels like a friendship group. And my thoughts are with those who would be fully excluded.
Lucy reminded me of the more subtle ways people were connecting – there were reverberations through the space and people inspire each other, but being discreet about it is often the easiest way.
In my unsuccessful attempts to get visitors engaging with people they didn’t already know, I was overwhelmed by the openness of under 3s. I shouldn’t have been surprised because at this point in development their availability to absorb information is superb. It was really refreshing.
I was hyper aware of the balance between connecting and making people feel self-conscious. Playing without abandon has been conditioned out of most people long ago.
But there is something about this tension that is fascinating and has the potential to facilitate the play.
It can be about the performance of it. This might sound obvious, but it was highlighted when I was speaking and looping, perhaps because I am not so adept at using my voice I couldn’t be quite as subtle. On listening back, I could instantly tell whether the instruction/question/statement I had made sounded confrontational, whether the frequency, tone, pitch, volume or expression was inviting or intimidating.
In movement I am more practiced, which was relieving to rediscover. The length of time you stay with someone, judging in that moment whether to be attentive or nonchalant, to stick with something or let it go. This was where the tension reappeared, that occurs when the scale slides between paying attention to individuals and letting them disappear into the crowd.
Returning to the rhythm of resistance and acceptance.
Because the room was so busy, it did give me permission to follow movement scores and somehow still blend in. If I were a child, I expect I would have gone completely unnoticed.
Conversations I had recently with some experienced artists about invisibility, power, choice and the attributes that give you visibility were very present.
There is freedom in disguise – but also in being seen, as that allows to you to play to a crowd.
And there is no better disguise than performing.
Images by Bill Leslie
Thank you again to Leap Then Look, and those at Towner Gallery. PLAY INTERACT EXPLORE is an interactive exhibition open from 7th Feb - 5th March 2023.
It was supported by Arts Council England, The National Lottery Community Fund, Towner Eastbourne, Brighton CCA & University of Brighton, a Communities Fund grant from Brighton & Hove City Council and West Rise Junior School.