‘material / rearranged / to / be’ is a performative installation by Siobhan Davies Dance that completed its tour at Bluecoat. Daily performances took place throughout the day in the galleries and adjacent corridor. This was a complex proposition with new works by six choreographers, two visual artists and a design collective to create a landscape in flux. At different times it inhabited the gallery spaces with live performance, technology and objects, some of which moved with the work whilst others were suspended in spaces of their own, site lines of which were occasionally disrupted by the action taking place around them.
Siobhan Davies Dance pioneers. Since 2009, their work has continued to explore the interface between contemporary art and dance. With additional expertise in non-art fields – in this iteration: neuroscience, cognitive science and psychology - their ongoing multi-disciplinary collaborations with research is pioneering and highly experimental. This exhibition invites its audience to explore how the body and mind may work together to communicate through action, gesture and exchange.
Jeremy Millar (one of the two visual artist collaborators) proposed Aby Warburg’s ‘Mnemosyne Atlas’ provide a communal starting point for this work. Warburg’s extensive image ‘library’, amassed in the early twentieth century, was designed as a means of exploring representation and gesture. The collection of images (photographs, illustrations and newspaper cuttings) were arranged on large boards and positioned next to other images which had a relationship to one another in terms of their formal and relational values, allowing hidden or otherwise unseen relationships to emerge.
This bricolage of bodies influenced this new work most evidently via the interplay between the different pieces, the re-playing of a series of improvisations that were modular, minimal and sophisticated. Graceful, lightweight grey framed screens were assembled and re-assembled. Free-standing texts positioned atop similarly grey poles acted as signposts for audiences as they moved with the works from one temporary installation to another.
‘Actions from the Encyclopaedia of Experience, a performance’ by Charlie Morrissey, was performed by the dance artist in front of a series of projected statements: ‘Actions defined by gravity’, ‘Actions experienced through other bodies’, ‘Actions not thought’ and so on, with each action taking place in response to the changing on-screen cues. Drawing upon discussions with neuroscientist Anil Seth, this work proposed a presentation of bodies’ capability for actions constructed by the imagination.
In the same space, ‘Datum’ featured two large-scale, parabolic drawings in neon chalk by design collective Glithero (Tim Simpson and Sarah van Gameren with Davies and Helka Kasi). The enormous, parabolic drawing was created as part of a performance using plumb lines suspended from the ceiling. A curious mapping of the space, this flat disruption struck diagonally across the gallery, drawing audiences into the centre of the space from its edges.
‘Loop Atlas I – III’ was both live and re-presented. I saw two versions, the first with the choreographer and performer Matthias Sperling alone in the corridor space; repeatedly circling the same series of gestures. The later version utilised a relayed audio punctuating the same live gestures, this time taking place in front of a screen with the projected back drop of footage of himself re-playing. This technique enabled a kind of re-editing in situ, the complexity of the technological interventions contrasting the minimalism of a body, a projector and a screen.
Davies and Kaski’s ‘Figuring’ involved the two figures moving on and around two chairs which they occupied, orbited, moved away from and returned to sequentially. This conversational piece was entirely silent; actions instigated by one of the dancers would be adopted, almost instinctively, by their counterpart who in turn would start to explore it. Their bodies were sometimes entirely in-synch whilst at other times one of them might take longer to digest a physical notion – gesture as cognition.
Siobhan Davies Dance test relationships between audience and performer, and this work is no exception. If there were any perceived (or otherwise) boundaries between the audience and the performer, such tensions would dissolve by the ways in which the works in this exhibition moved bodies through time and space with other bodies.
Emma Smith’s work ‘I + I: Variations on Alteroception’ was located in the final gallery space and comprised a large copper and steel structure displaying transparent scores of observations and instructions. This visceral language provided provocation on the ideas of alteroception – the perception of body orientation and the movements of others. It enabled experiences beyond looking alone and in many ways amplified the relationships between audience and performer.
This exhibition embodied invention and adaptation and whilst not all of the references identified were necessarily recognisable here, choreography was as much curating as it was research.