The first thing I saw was two women on the floor, slumped sideways, as if twins. Their heads were at awkward angles against the wall, their arms moving very slowly. The floor beside them was littered with little shiny plastic sheets like industrial confetti, light and dusty with footprints. One woman might tentatively start a series of gestures, travelling across the room; the other following along in unspeaking symbiosis. They were dressed identically, like high-fashion stagehands, a single flash of red in the lining matching one side of the four frame-like structures around and through which they danced. The two figures’ proximity is at once touching and claustrophobic as they provide each other’s shadows. Many of their gestures appear so emphatic that they imply some invisible functionality, although what function they might be performing exactly is not apparent; sweeping a very high cupboard, perhaps, or squashing something with their feet, always eschewing the elegant lines of traditional dance.
This is ‘A Setup’, choreographer Joe Moran’s collaboration with sculptor Eva Rothschild, the former situating this subtle performance of non-verbal intuition, ‘Singular’ (2011), around and through the latter’s abstract, black, green and red angular structures entitled ‘Inner Temple’ (2015). Moran’s performers moved their way in a series of continuous, unidentifiable motions among the sculptures, sending the flimsy sheets of paper flying up like leaves as they went.
‘Singular’, originally brought together with Rothschild’s work as part of a commission by Block Universe and presented here at Kettle’s Yard as part of ‘fig-futures’, is a work through which Moran proclaims to explore the possibility of a single consciousness existing in more than one body. In fact all of the works in ‘A Setup’ are concerned with this possibility. Gallery 2 houses looped screenings of Moran’s ‘In Land’ (2008), a video documenting two bodies in the landscape, tumbling over one another as if a beast with two backs, and Rothschild’s exuberant video work ‘Boys and Sculpture’. A joyous experiment in the destructive tendencies of small boys (or, perhaps, anyone given half a chance), the video documents a group of children invited to interact with her sculptures in whatever manner that they wished. The boys’ reactions to this invitation range from the slapstick to the frankly a little alarming, resulting in a fascinating complex of mirrored behaviours, giggling glances and mob mentality at its purest and most innocent as they transform Rothschild’s sculptures, which at first stand imperiously and seemingly untouchable in a white cube space, into a sorry pile of rubble. Taken in context of ‘Singular’ in the next room, the multifarious ways in which we communicate without words; that we absorb ourselves into a crowd; that we assimilate, confront us with an uncanny jolt. The boys mimic each other’s movements, as do Moran’s pairs of performers, raising questions around the many ways in which we know one another and communicate - the mob mentality of the subconscious leaking out into our gestures, our stances, our gaits.
The pairing was the first of the four-week leg of ‘fig-futures’ that is currently taking place at Kettle’s Yard, with a different exhibition opening each week and lasting for a week before continuing on its 16-week run across the UK. This dynamic format is borrowed from the original ‘fig-1’, conceived eighteen years ago when curator Mark Francis, with the support of art dealer Jay Jopling, found a way to present the work of the most exciting contemporary artists that still feels experimental today. Bringing one or two artists together in short one-week exhibitions with no forward scheduling and within the constraints of the space of Fragile House in Soho, ‘fig-1’ ran for 50 frenetic weeks with boozy weekly Monday night openings. Then, emerging artists such as Wolfgang Tillmans, Grayson Perry and Jeremy Deller were provided with a space to experiment outside the institution, a model that, if not entirely new, was unprecedented in its financial backing and scale, lending itself to the testing of new ideas and juxtapositions.
It is perhaps surprising then that it took as long as 15 years for the concept to be revived, although the sheer financial pressures of such short spurts of programming activity prevent most public institutions from being able to consider anything of the kind. Thankfully, ‘Fig-2’ arrived for 50 weeks at the ICA in 2015 thanks to the support of Outset and Art Fund and curated by the recently anointed member of Apollo’s ‘40 under 40’ Fatos Ustek. This iteration continued the radically interdisciplinary approach of ‘fig-1’ which encouraged new dialogues between media and art forms (one week, for example, was presented by the literary publication ‘The White Review’) and the tradition of refusing to programme in advance. ‘fig-futures’, a reconfiguration and touring 16-week version of ‘fig-2’, this time curated by Outset’s Yves Blais, set sail in early September to bring the innovative and joyfully protean paroxysms of contemporary art to the rest of the UK. The first four weeks took place in Blackpool earlier this year, and will travel, after Kettle’s Yard, to Leicester in November and finally Plymouth in March 2019. Breaking with tradition, this time the programme has to a certain extent been announced in advance and will feature artists including Anna Barham and Charlotte Moth.
In tight financial times, it is good to see this kind of generous programming, and the more concentrated format’s strength lies most especially in its potential for more intense, focused conversations between artists, artworks and disciplines as well as the opportunities for experimentation that such a short run provides. ‘A Setup’ exemplified this, a sculptor and a choreographer presenting an oblique exploration of instincts and interactions; of bodies and objects; of beauty and destruction, casting new light on both their work. If this is anything to go by, these conversations, however fleeting, are well worth having.