No Clear Pathway – Notes on an artist residency in Taiwan.

Here is a collection of notes, descriptions, thoughts, reflections, and links to others on the residency project; ‘Tree Tree Tree Person’ – a 6 week international residency in Taroko National Park, Taiwan, in which artists stayed within the homes of the Truku tribe and were asked to create new work inspired by the experience and place, for two gallery events elsewhere and one final event in the Taroko Mountain.

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The sound is traffic, the smell is food and garbage.

The rains fall unforgiving and brings in the surrounding forest.

– Taipei, Notebook.

 

I went to Taiwan for an artist residency. I went because I wanted to put myself in a new place and I wanted to think about and be in the dark. During my 6 weeks staying in Taroko (The home of the Truku tribe) I did find myself in very new places and spent hours in the dark, both literally and metaphorically. I met a community of indigenous people with stories to tell me, which uncovered the historical and current trauma of this place. A place of rising and falling clouds and turquoise rivers, a place being farmed and worked hard upon, a place being stolen for tourism and excavated and sold for concrete. I also met a family who took me in with immense heart and kindness without much language or understanding who became my sisters, my mother and my father, our dogs. And I met a collection of artists, from different places with different ways of engaging, processing, reacting to place and people, but all together trying to consider how art can be made here. Here we all were on an international, site based, community engaged art residency….and we were all like, what the fuck are we going to do?

 

We sit out for the moonrise, for the weightless star.

The place is awash, black, blue, silver.

My moon shadow is long and the dogs are flat out.

Taroko Mountain, Notebook.

 

Our time was split between the town (where the Truku tribe were resettled once forced to move from the mountain when it was turned into a National Park) and the mountain itself in the old villages of the Truku people where some people run guest houses. Whilst in the mountain I put my head and my experience into my chosen topic: the darkness. I will write a separate blog on this and link it here when it’s finished. Fed by the isolation and outstanding feeling of living somewhere in the sky – I could get some focus. This is my usual residency goal – some dedicated time and focus. But this residency was different – it was confronting…which was why it was so hard but also so interesting. Whilst in the town, I put questions to myself on my being there, the relevance of my work, is it possible to work with any of this new information, to respond to this place, does anyone want me to, should I? This thinking was triggered by many things but inspired by the group of artists formed through this residency, who were dedicated to honouring the true situation of this residency and what our presence means. For me some of the absolute central concerns of what it means to be an artist came up through this questioning – the role of art in society, the difference between aesthetic and purpose, the value of friendship, companionship, camaraderie, facilitated through event, the failure or pointlessness of art as social tool, the impossibility or poetry of translation, the artist as human – as friend, the artist as work – as information generator/communicator, the artist as present and interested – the impact of attention. None of this got answered, but it all got thrown up, tossed around and basically resulted in some depression, confusion and hearts wide open.

 

A meal cooked in the mountain: boiled eggs with bitter gourd cooked with garlic and chilli, courgette and carrot stirred fried in stock, greens cooked with rice vinegar, steamed chicken and fish, pork and bean soup.

– Taroko Mountain, Notebook.

 

Here is a note I made when trying to plan a performance for the end of the residency, a performance to be done in the mountain for a visiting group of tourists;

I am met with a feeling of responsibility in the opportunity to expose something or inform an audience about this place with the stronger want to say thank you, or goodbye, or make a gift, to the people and the place that have hosted and cared for me. These two tasks are complicated by other feelings of not being informed enough due to short time period and subjective nature of information, along with being an outsider and not committed or connected enough to this place in order to represent it, or its communities experiences, to others. It is impossible to make a clear pathway through this. But this is true all the time. We cannot make a clear pathway. The context of this place meeting the context of me will always be resistant and filthy.

 

On returning people have asked me questions…

WHAT DID YOU ACTUALLY MAKE? (most common question)

I made work about the dark. A topic I brought with me, a love I’d fostered the previous winter, on letting the dark season bloom, enjoying the qualities that darkness brings, investing in developing night vision, developing a distaste for torches and the bent will of humans to light everything. I brought this with me, but I also brought with me an intense grief that folded itself into this subject. I found relief in the dark, there was a lot to place in the dark, I wanted to be outside of life, I stood in the dark to look back on it, its light spilling to the edges of my feet. From this I made a small one-on-one performance for pitch black room, some writing and a 4am walk in the city of Tainan. I also made a fire in the mountain, for the end of residency programme, I made a fire with my friend Ania for our friend and Truko host Simat…we made a fire because ‘Last night Simat told us how she wishes there were more people living on the mountain, so that everybody could gather around the bonfire at the end of the day and talk about what they have done. So this is what we do’.

What did they think of the work? They – the indigenous people who hosted us, the community we met. Well they weren’t really there for the work. We presented in galleries in others cities, far away from them. Then we showed some work in the mountain, but they were working – cooking the meals. For me, I feel like our relationship to them had little to do with the artwork we were making, it seemed much more important to them that we were just there, interested, caring, understanding. Leaving was hard, we cried and they cried…but I feel like there was little said about any ‘work’.

Do you think what you did in the mountain succeeded? I think that the situation we were invited into was flawed, and that we dealt with it with intelligence and spirit. In a way no, there was no success – success is weird and unmeasurable. There is no success there, there is surviving. But we did get our heads together as a group of artists and decide on an agenda for the final showing, that pointed the invited tourists towards the Truku people in resistance to using the site as an aesthetic of nature, because if we had done so this would have been a major disrespect to the people and the true nature of the place.

WHAT ARE YOU LEFT WITH? A determination and interest to develop a form of working that is inclusive and much more open in aesthetic, and responsive to collaborations with community. I want to figure out of a community practice and how my profession as artist manifests in this position. 

A love for Taiwan. A heartstring to Taroko.

 

‘What we’ve found is a town divided’ –https://www.facebook.com/sheafandbarley/posts/1168941376544611 – Sheaf+Barley (other participating artists) post, an excellent description of the historical and contemporary situation of Taroko National Park and the Truku people very well.

‘I start with the place I come from’ – https://charlie49613017.wixsite.com/artist-home-swap/single-post/2017/11/06/Artist-Home-Swap-2017-ethical-and-ethnic-gaze-how-art-making-process-take-part – Howl Yuan’s (organiser of Artist Home Swap, that brought us to Taiwan) blog, explaining the context of the residency and his reflections and learning.

‘We show solidarity by being there as human beings’ – https://www.facebook.com/dorothywongg2/posts/10155834662460746 – Article from other participating Artist, Ben Ryser, on behalf of collective Island, including Dorothy Wong and Eva Lin. Brilliantly describing the questions we faced as artists and the relationships we made with the Truku people.

IMG_0223

Ania Varez (Participating Artist), Simat and Myself

 

IMG_0316

Taroko/Mountain

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Taroko/Town

Draw to look

I usually draw landscapes; a river through a moor, a mountainous horizon, a quiet harbour.

I draw to dwell in a place and out of affection.

Observational drawing to me seems like a practice of attention, that has little to do with skill and everything to do with looking and time.

What do we cultivate when we pay attention? when we spend time with someone? when we choose to look?

I wanted to make a performance on drawing that brought out its sense of occasion.

For ‘Draw To Look’, a new one-on-one performance and evolving exhibition, I am currently building a bespoke drawing desk made for the particular drawing exercise; draw without looking at the paper. I love this exercise and do it all of the time, it’s common place within life drawing and allows you to pay attention to the subject by letting go of your pressures, doubts and niggles about what your drawing looks like. I feel that so much is lost when people are told they can’t draw, and this exercise frees us from the judgement that crushes creativity. For this desk I will make a short one-on-one performance where myself and an audience member will draw each other, in the main gallery at the RWA…the rest is a secret.

___________

 

Ink leads to liquid looking.

It falls and glides with pleasurable ease.

My look pools in the dip about your eye, loiters,

Then rolls of the edge and follows fast the curve of your chin.

You become a surface to scramble over,

And I am the mountain stream.

 

Lead leads my looking to be sharp and keen.

It seeks out cracks and nooks, details to study.

My look is committed and close,

You are microscopic.

And this unravelling look, feels like choosing a pebble from a pebble beach,

Rolling it around in my hand, then putting it back.

 

Charcoal drags my look about.

It pushes up the climb of your forehead and pulls down the scale of your nose.

It scoops you out like clay, so I see weight, shape, shadow.

You are moulded, malleable but resistant,

like the cliffs shaped by the sea.

 

  • My notebook, January 2017, at Cove Park.

 

DRAW TO LOOK, 2nd April, 23rd April, 7th May, at RWA, Bristol.

For info > http://www.rwa.org.uk/whats-on/draw-look-0

For booking > http://www.drawtolook.eventbrite.co.uk

Draw To Look is presented in association with MAYK and supported by Royal West of England Academy and Arts Council England. With Thanks to Loft 6D, Interval, Cove Park, and the writings of John Berger and Tania Kovats.

Featured Image by Paul White.

making real noises

From a train from Bristol to Chichester, as Donald Trump became president elect.

I (Rachael) led a workshop today for some MA students at Chichester University. We talked politick and wrote songs and tried to make real noises. This is a provocation that I wrote very fast and a bit miserably on the train there. 

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In 2015 I formed a punk band called the Great White Males for my show Cuncrete. I have always gone to a lot of gigs, and have always wanted to be the lead singer in a band, despite being a bad singer and having no musical knowledge or skill, apart from a brief stint as 3rd flute in the school wind orchestra. I have always enjoyed watching the commitment, or perhaps ‘abandon’ of musicians as opposed to theatre performers. The rawness, the sweatiness, the frankness of music.  I vastly prefer the atmosphere of a gig to that of a theatre show, and had been thinking about what this form might lend us – in the theatre or live art world. What new level of real we might be able to access. No one in the Great White Males can play their instruments, but somehow with these props: a guitar, a bass, a dilapidated drum kit and a microphone; we had the tools to howl out a direct, clumsy, heartfelt noise.

Last night, whilst America went to the polls, Danny and I watched Sleaford Mods play at the o2 Academy in Bristol. It was a rowdy gig, with a mosh pit and people getting kicked out for crowdsurfing, people getting kicked out for ‘getting it out’. I’d say most of the audience were over 30. The Sleaford Mods are often talked about as ‘the most political band since… the clash/the pistols/the specials.’ And obviously that’s not true, but I spent last night trying to work out why people say that. Because there is something …vital feeling about them. Different from (for example) the young Nottingham duo [Cappo] who supported them, who also have ‘political lyrics’. And I think it’s because the Sleaford Mods sound like what they are saying. With ‘Jobseeker’, they somehow make the noise of being at the jobcentre; the particular brand of desperation that goes with that. And Jason Williamson does this sort of orangutang-like dance and it even, somehow, looks right as well. 

This morning on the train here, Donald Trump reached the 270 electoral college votes he needed to become the 45th president of the United States. The woman sitting opposite me – her on her news app, me on mine – exclaimed ‘Oh, fuck’ at the same moment I watched the number tip over. It was such an inadequate noise for the circumstance. I wished someone had started smashing up the train. Wailing. Dancing. And I wondered what would be the right noise. And how we would make that happen.

Rachael Clerke

The Song, The Singer and The Listener.

For the last three months I have been deep in books and documentaries researching song and singing, alongside dabbling with my own folk, soul, punk song creations!

This began in 2015 at a residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, and resurfaced this year as a collaborative research project with academic Dr Una Mcllvenna supported by The Exchange collaborative research fund. My main questions during this time have been; what is the purpose of song? and how does singing transform the singer and the listener?This blog is an attempt to pull together some of the thoughts and findings I have come across along the way.

THE SONG

What is the purpose of song?

Chant, mantra, ballad, recital. There is a constellation between the voice, the word, and the belief. We turn over the words, they grow with our voice and are expelled into the air. The song allows the subject to be renewed. By singing it is put it into the present, into the ears of others, letting it lie, letting it soar or stirring up what it will.

The song is the ritual maker; a condensed format to contain emotions, vac-packed and ready for release. The song is a particularly good ritual maker, crafting out a time and a focus, inciting or even requiring participation. The song is there to lead us through.

These are two introductory ideas on song, that particularly interest me.

Through research I have encountered several other thoughts on the purpose of song, which I have grouped here into; conjuring, carrying, comfort, and chronicle.

CONJURING

‘The voice conjurs what it speaks’

–  Brandon LaBelle, Lexicon of the mouth, poetics and politics of voice and the oral imaginary.

To conjure is to evoke through spell or magic. It is to call up, to summon and to command spirits. In the above quote LaBelle is reflecting on the very power of voicing. Throughout time the voice has brought ‘things to life, and named them’ (Brandon LaBalle, Lexicon of the mouth). It is by announcing what is that we create the world. We summon, we command. This can be understood conceptually, or physically such as the practice of shamans using voice to heal the sick or expel bad spirits. We lend great power to our vocal imagination.

If I sing the word sea, do I not conjure that sea, does it not thunder through the walls and swell about the feet. If I sing death, over and over and over, do I summon it here, do we all feel it’s deathly claws tickling our skin. – my notebook

The practice of keening (traditional irish lamenting over the dead) is not sung out of a funeral setting out of fear of conjuring death. The special sounding of the voice through song, weaves like a spell affecting our spirit. We often speak of the spirit and the soul in relation to song, the voice being that invisible part of ourselves, it is therefore capable of dwelling with the other invisible elements.

Spirit, is understood as the vital principle of conscious life, that which animates the body. What spirit actually is, is debatable; blood, energy, electricity. Either way, a song can lift or lower the spirit. The song possesses us, it takes up roots in our own body. Like something from the Exorcist, it occupies us.

I have often been overcome with a distinct emotion of joy, grief or sadness, quite uncontrollably. It’s like the song has pierced me very cleanly, found what it wanted, and pulled it right out, so my quivering self is on the surface of my skin rather than buried deep inside the flesh. – my notebook

It could very well be empathy that leads to this experience. Often a song is written from the perspective of an individual, and through singing the song we inhabit this individual. We literally speak their words, a direct practice of embodiment.

‘To sing in the voice of the criminal was to embody the experience of one entirely subjugated before the will of the lord’

– Dr Una Mcllvenna, Ballads of death and disaster: the role of song in early modern europe news transmission.

Possibly due to this ability to bring up the emotional and be possessed by the experience of another, song is extensively used as a means of spiritual engagement. Spiritual leaders; such as the Jewish Chazzan, will lead prayer through song which sustains a journey for the congregation, a climbing up or sinking down. Outside of religious contexts, the motivation of the spirit as that which animates the body is present in work songs. The work song, having parallels with prayer songs; is led by the shanty man or caller who sets and maintains the pace and intent of the song. The beautiful thing about a work song is that the rhythm of that song will be made by the rhythm of the work that needs to be done, generating the works rhythm into the body of the worker. There is both a practical efficiency and an emotional layer at play – to become physically better at the work and to withstand the drudgery and hardship of physical labour through the pleasure of singing. A pleasure coming from the joy of making sound, and the experience of exalting a soul and of an emotional life, within work that uses the human body like a machine.

To conjure can be to exorcise. But to throw out the devil you have to grapple with him first. Song is used to cathartically exorcise, share or process grief and hardship. A song makes public what can be cruelly felt in isolation. The creation of songs on the difficulties of life, share them as a public concern and through singing can expel them from being personally harboured.

‘We found a piano in quiet house and sent po’ Stack to hell’

– Alan Lomax, ‘Sinful’ songs of the Southern Negro. Quote on the well known Ballad of ‘bad man’ Stagolee, that tells the tale of a man who killed over a stetson hat.

LINKS:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJhRpSUE0Ks – Stagolee sung by Jesse Fuller

http://www.folkstreams.net/film,101 – Documentary on eight retired African-American railroad workers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TKc6lePCtQ  – clip of Chazzan singing

CARRYING

‘Calls and other signals function best as a kind of singing (or shouting with modulated tone) because they carry over large spaces better than speech.’

– John Potter and Neil Sorrell, A History of Singing.

A song carries over space and time. The expanding of our voices through singing hurls the song across the room, across valleys. The catching, exchanging and selling of that song carries it across towns and countries. The survival of that song, through singing over years, carries it across time. The format of a song is the original mass media construction. It is a simple method of containing information within a memorable structure that can be passed about orally, originating in our preliterate world.

Non-literate culture is essential to the creation and sustaining of songs. In early modern Europe a song would be written to inform the non-literate masses of the news; crimes, deaths, natural disasters. These songs would be pasted on the pub walls and sold by ballad vendors on the streets. And once one person was singing it, the song could spread throughout the public, and straight into people’s homes. Imagine life today, hearing a song about the Sports Direct 1m pound back pay through a song in the street that you then sang at dinner to your family. Songs in this way are tools of memory, using melody and repeated phrases to remember a story. Allowing information and belief systems to pollinate. But they can also be warped, within their oral public life words can be changed and misplaced at will. Such as newspapers today, a new song would publish information – when to publish meant to make public by crying aloud rather than putting in print.

A song compresses a statement of intent into a transferable form. A form that requires no written document, can be easily smuggled or transmitted in secret. Songs are mobilisers for revolution. The singer and activist Vuyisile Mini managed to sustain the revolution against South African Apartheid from within his prison cell, through the creation of new freedom songs to be sung on marches. Revolutionary songs are essential to the holding together of a committed group. The song embeds the intent of that revolution into each individual voice, they speak and therefore become that intent. The song figures the body as a carrier of that revolution, as an active part.

‘To be within speech, is to stand up within language’

– Judith Butler, within Lexicon of the mouth by Brandon LaBelle.

The voice is provoked to engage through song, to draw yourself forward as participant. This is the same for the establishment of religion through recital and Gospel, allowing an ideology to pollinate outside of literate communities.

A song is a commodity, many folk through history have built a living on song and verse. A new song can be a very attractive purchase, a 16th century street seller would only sing part 1 to incite interest from a buyer to pay for the whole item. A ballad vendor with a fresh copy of the lament of the criminal just about to be hung, might stand beside the fatal hanging platform, and on the drop sell their last words in solemn verse. But the true value of a song is created by the culture. The belief that the unwritten word is sacred, or that verse resides in the person rather than the score. An account of female keeners in Ireland tells of the possible nomadic life of those who carry verse;

‘A description of a keener, describes her wondering life, meeting a welcome everywhere with numerous invitations, based on the vast store of Irish verse she had collected and could repeat.’

– The Irish Funeral Cry, The Dublin Penny Journal, Volume 1, 1833.

Here verse is sufficient exchange for a bed, food and drink, because it is withheld by the culture as a necessary service and valued resource.

LINKS:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGjwR_DHm4s – Amandla! A revolution in four part harmony. Documentary on the role of music in the South African struggle against apartheid.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NJgAcJPnZk – Tom Dooley sung by Doc Watson, a popular hanging ballad.

londonmourninginashes

Featured image is a ballad broadsheet of ‘London Mourning in Ashes’ from 1649. Full title: Lamentable Narrative lively expressing the Ruine of that Royal City by fire which began in Pudding-lane on September the second, 1666, at one of the clock in the morning being Sunday, and continuing until Thursday night following, being the sixth day, with the great care the King, and the Duke of York took in their own Persons, day and night to quench it.

COMFORT

‘Learn this song and learn it well because you never know what tomorrow brings’

– A.L.Lloyd lecture on tape at Charlie Harper Archive, Birmingham Library.

A shepherd may sing, hum or whistle alone on the hill, as a source of comfort. A comfort created through a familiar tune or the creation of their own acoustic environment, to not lose themselves. The private (alone or within close relations) function of singing is often one of comfort. A woman croons to her cow when milking, to ease the cow, she believes the cow knows the song, and settles her. The use of singing to settle children, enfolds them in an sonic space;

‘Psychoanalyst Didier Anzieu suggested that this ‘envelope of sounds’ contains the emerging ego of the infant like a skin, becoming a replacement for the womb’

– Case 4, This is a voice exhibition at The Wellcome Collection – quoting The Skin Ego by Didier Anzieu

The creation of this familiar acoustic chamber can be applied to romance or other tender relations. The song is a tool to acquaint us with a particular voice, to recognise the prasody of their voice, and know that it is safe.

LINKS –

http://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Music-from-India/025M-RKDATX0078XX-0100V0 – Indian Lullaby, Olli Geet, featured in This is a voice exhibition at The Wellcome Collection.

CHRONICLE

‘Singing leaves no fossils’

– John Potter and Neil Sorrell, A History of Singing.

Songs chronicle history, detailing the events and feelings of human life, often specific to time and place – containing its language and attitudes. These chronicles then live on, as personally held by those who know the songs. Thus, creating a network of living history, that does not exist in fossils or the study of the dead, but as a practice of the living.

Songs are history makers, capturing the story around an event and crafting it into a song, like inserting it into a time capsule. The accuracy of this may be skewed by rhyme or reason, but it will travel the distance. Current song making is chronicling the time we live in presently. A reportage in song of 2016.

The use of song in relation to history, is a kind of archeology. Calling up the past to see how it looks in the present. This process dramatises our approach to history; to dig up and chart change. Songs as pieces of history often stimulate the need for collection and preservation, folk archivist Alan Lomax collected ‘out of fear that humans creation will be wiped of the face of the earth’ (- Saga of a folksong hunter). Song as a creative act in itself, but also containing the spirit and information of creation in all trades or lifestyles. To sing an old song is an event of re-enactment, like a reconstructed battle or a restaged play. Song inherently binds history, story and memory.

THE SINGER

Each person has an a unique voice print, as individual as a fingerprint. Nobody sounds like you do, and nobody can sing like you do. Our voice is constructed through mimicry and environment. Accent, volume, pattern, rhythm are acquired like scars, affected by where and with whom you have been. To sing in your voice, alerts to this uniqueness, it is pronounced (as long as you sing in your own voice).

But what else happens to us when we sing?

The action of singing is an aerobic exercise that uses the whole body as a sound chamber. It also animates several areas of the brain, including our motor neurons and emotional centres. Singing engages the whole body and mind in synthesis with our voice, rhythm and melody (and language if the song include words). In this way, singing is embodiment of a song. Singing physically shifts the energy of the body through distinct breathing patterns and vibrations. This synthesis of song and performer, leads to the common phrase the song sings the singer. An idea similar to possession, a kind of taking over. Chanting is a good example of how singing transforms, repeating phrases to achieve deep concentration or calm.

‘Singing monks huddled together as if for support, hardly opening their mouths’

– A History of Singing

Singing isn’t a means of projection, but an event of rendering the chant or song, becoming it, personifying it. In Indian traditional singing, such as folk singers of Rajasthan, the singers hands and arms will be very active. The shape of notes are physically drawn with the arms, and the end of a phrase is cut by the flick of a wrist. Within this tradition there is little separation between singing and moving, the song is supposed to be seen as well as heard. Singing is understood as a physical manifestation. The song transforms the body into a particular physical rhythm or melody, hence, the success of work songs.

In oral societies, where songs are kept in memory, the song resides in the person. Such as, traditional Finnish rune singing, the songs are up held by members of the community that commit to learning and maintaining them. The songs need to be passed on before the person dies, at risk of the song dying as well. The song and the person share life. The person is the carrier of that song, transforming them into a body as vessel, as something made for storing and keeping safe.

This person also becomes a particular figure within a community; the one who knows the songs. Often this leads to, or is essential to, becoming a chief of ceremony. Such as the Irish Keener, who leads the funeral party through a lament, they become emotional guide, and in this particular case a conduit between the living and the dead. This kind of role acquires status and power within a community, which can be disagreeable. For example, keening became a female practice, but the church didn’t agree that women should be conduit between this world and the next and so banned the practice of keening leading to its extinction.

‘the mouth expands to widen its social horizon; broadening its reach’

– Brandon LaBelle, Lexicon of the mouth.

Singing makes us larger, expanding our scale. To make known and heard, puts the individual into a state of presentness and agency. A singer is transformed into an individual of social affect, as they use their voice to spread a message that can carry beyond themselves. This message may be critical, creative of inflammatory. This voice may be in chorus with others, transforming the singing into a participant who puts themselves in alliance or agreement through the act of singing.

LINKS:

https://vimeo.com/ondemand/32053/137835083 – Beautiful documentary on finnish rune singing in which artist, Hanneriina Moisseinen, becomes a student of an old rune singer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CSHeWsFyLo – example of Rajasthani folk song with hand gestures.

THE LISTENER

To listen to singing, is to sing along internally. The neurological process of listening to a song is very similar to that of actually singing. The same areas of the brain are stimulated and connected; emotional centres, motor and memory areas. Also, a series of dopamine shots are released affecting our pleasure centres. Both singing and listening, are some of the most neurologically active and stimulating activities we can do.

The listener is a dweller, or loiterer in the song.

The listener automatically tags it with emotional meaning, based on melodic and vocal cues. In the womb the first information we receive is acoustic and hormonal. We hear sounds through the womb wall, and our mothers’ hormones (effectors of human emotion) seep into our bloodstream. In this way, the listener’s ability to connect voice and emotion is instinctive, and done without conscious thought, an intuition.

Listening to a song, and feeling its affects, recognises the body as porous. There is an invasive quality to song. The song can find its way into the body, like an infection. This nature of music transforms the listener into a body that is permeable and absorbent, opposed to sealed.

In my own experience as a listener, I find that the song locks moments firmly in my memory. To the extent that I can recall memories around a song better than others. The listener shelves song in their memory, as a time or place. It is filed along with its entire context; who you were with, where you were, what it felt like. Affecting the listener’s potential to remember a particular moment, its details becoming attached to the song.

So, if you want someone to remember – sing them a song.

LINK:

Some of the ideas in this section are based on lecture ‘benefits of singing in a choir’ by professor Graham Welch > http://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/the-benefits-of-singing-in-a-choir

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With thanks to Dr Una Mcllvenna for discussing with me and sharing her knowledge and expertise.

During this research time I have been running ‘Sing for your Supper’, a participatory dinner where each guests sings one song in exchange for a hot meal. See event here > http://www.hannahsullivan.co.uk/Sing-For-Your-Supper

Now, I aim to use this research as stimulus for new performance work, currently titled ‘I’ll sing from where I’m sitting’. For this piece I intend to adhere to the opinion of Sean Nos singer Joe Heaney, that ‘the real audience is around the fireplace’.

HANNAH SULLIVAN

回到節慶的本質: 淺評2016 Buzzcut Festival (蘇格蘭)

Buzzcut Festival位於Pearce Institute的交誼大廳 (Buzzcut Festival提供)Buzzcut Festival位於Pearce Institute的交誼大廳 (Buzzcut Festival提供)

 

/原承伯 (Howl Yuan)

位於蘇格蘭第大城格拉斯哥,Buzzcut Festival已經邁入第五個年頭。這個一年一度,以當        代表演為主軸的小型藝術節儼然已經成為英國表演藝術家們的盛會,為期五天的藝術節以劇場、舞蹈、行為藝術和裝置,縱切時間、歷史、性別、創傷、社會階級以及鄉愁等議題。多樣的觸角不僅豐富格拉斯哥以及蘇格蘭的當代藝術樣貌,更樹立英國以及歐洲激進表演藝術的灘頭堡。

Buzzcut Festival之所以與眾不同,正如它們所強調的,這是一個藝術家領導(artist led)的藝術節,並且反映在許多面向:在藝術節裡,幾乎所有的作品都是經由公開徵選(Open Call)的形式而來,這樣的方式使得主辦方作為策展的面相退居後位,同時也擁抱了更多的可能性:不論你是個人或者團體,來自何方,創作無數的藝術家或者第一次創作的年輕創作者,都能獲得同等的機會;而今年平頭剪藝術節也獲得蘇格蘭文化創意基金會(Creative Scotland)的補助,也讓許多執行上的困難更容易解決。

另一方面,相較於其他表演藝術節的演出場地散佈於城市之中,Buzzcut Festival則把演出主要集中在皮爾斯會館(Pearce Institute),觀眾可省去大把花在交通上的時間,在節目單的安排上也儘量避免同一個時段有兩個演出發生。會館內大廳則投影上現在正在演出的節目以及今日時程,除了有工作人員廣播節目異動,也搭配手語人員的翻譯;在大廳一角設置了兒童遊戲區、在會館外側則是設置帳篷搭建了有暖氣和幾張床的休息區(Resting Area),種種貼心的設計無非就是希望任何觀眾/表演者在藝術節裡盡情的交流,使其貼近節慶的本質。以下就不同的面向對藝術節內的節目做簡單的介紹。

以空間、時間向觀眾提問

蘇格蘭藝術家Gillian Jane Lees和Adam York Gregory作品PresentTense藉由簡單累加的肢體行動來彰顯表演者和觀眾之間的緊張關係。在空間內的一個角落,Gillian由外而內排上無數個捕鼠夾,每當她拿起一個新的捕鼠夾,或者調整其他捕鼠夾的時候,觀眾們總是屏氣凝神,深怕一個不小心Gillian會被夾傷,而這樣的氛圍隨著排列在地上的捕鼠夾越來越多而逐漸累加,終於,在Gillian把自己逼到角落時達到高峰:她試著小心翼翼的,從捕鼠夾之間的縫隙走出來。

如此如履薄冰行為對觀眾造成了極大的壓力,不敢直視;當最後她成功的從角落裡走出來,沒有踩踏到任何一個捕鼠器時,觀眾爆出一陣熱烈的掌聲,彷彿千斤重擔瞬間釋放。透過一個個排列在地上的捕鼠器,PresentTense不但視覺化了觀者壓力累加的過程,也以另一種形式,在“觀”與“演”之間,這段所有表演藝術中必然出現的關係裡,強調這段關係的當下性。

曾經擔任伯明罕暴烈藝術節(Fierce Festival)藝術總監之一的Harun Morrison,這次以藝術家的身份,與他的夥伴Helen Walker所組成的團體They are here來到平頭剪藝術節,並帶來以影像介入探討記憶、群體、以及重複性的Witness。表演一天數次,每次以四個觀眾為限,大家會先從皮爾斯會館被帶到高文碼頭(Govan Pier),在那裡觀看在同一地點所拍攝的,一系列動作的影片後(只能看一次),花十到二十分鐘做排練,並在同一地點,試著拍一段“重現”版的影片;而下一組人便會依據這段“重現”版的影片拍一段“再重現”版的影片,以此類推;在一天結束後,藝術家將一整天的影片做粗略剪輯,將所有影片串在一起,並在皮爾斯會館大廳播放。

作為行為參與者,在過程中深感以視覺獲取資源的侷限以及人體動作被完全複製的有限性;但在觀看影片時,又驚訝於在那些複製失敗的同時具備的創造性,將影片導向完全不可預知的地方。Witness展現以動作為種子,時間為土壤,以重複性作為灌溉的生長影像計劃,並把影像介入作為時間的切片,給觀者與被動參與者更全面、更自由的視角和想像。

自身歷史與認同的探索從未停歇

英國藝術家Ria Hartley向來關注歷史、文化交流以及自我認同。這次她為Buzzcut Festival帶來的作品Descansos是受到闡述女性自然與野性神話原型的Women Who Run with Wolves(作者Clarissa Pinkola Estes)一書啟發,透過形象化回憶與傷痛,探索遺落在記憶角落裡的時間片段。在表演空間的地板上,Ria畫出一條長長的軸線,由前至後的表出年份,彷彿時間的地圖;她身著白袍,在這條軸線上來回走動,邀請觀眾在不同年份的區塊寫下那段時間,屬於自己的傷痛,接著用磚塊圍成四方形,撒上土、獻上花、並點上蠟燭。經由標示出特定時間裡的傷痛,將那些遺失的、刻意被忽略的人生片段又重新再喚起。Ria透過Descansos讓觀眾與自己重新審視生命裡的黑暗,它們的原因,它們的影響以及它們的安息;並藉由具象化的時間,來提醒我們曾經經歷過多少傷痛、轉化和重生。

英國Foxy and Husk的表演Fox Symphony則是利用角色本身(半人半狐)來討論英國社會階級的流動以及自身的矛盾。跟一般的印象不同,狐狸在英國猶如台灣的野狗,出沒在城市以及鄉間,以老鼠、人類的垃圾為食,與其高貴的形象相衝突。在作品中,狐狸的形象便轉化為 “流落平民社會裡的貴族” (不只是財富上的貴族,也是文化上的貴族),透過自身的故事、人物訪談的影片和不協調的英國國歌(影片裡所有訪談的人物都帶著狐狸妝),Fox Symphony流露出對於階級流動、自我認同的矛盾和懷舊(nostalgia)。全場表演既有故事、歌舞、影片、樂器彈奏,但所有的聲音都是預先錄製的,包括表演者所有的話語;這樣不太協調的視覺以及能量流動,也同時對觀眾暗示著作品介於真實與虛假、主動和被動的不安,也反扣回作品主旨所延伸出來的氛圍。Fox Symphony以獨特的視角使得這個不斷被探討的主題耳目一新,而輕鬆詼諧卻讓觀眾更容易進入這個嚴肅的議題。

英國David Sheppeard所帶來的自傳式表演Hard Graft以追尋家族歷史來投射身為同志的家庭掙扎。在伯萊頓(Brighton)經營小小的表演場所,David始終和父親互動冷漠,也或許父親天生的性格就是如此;為了拉近和父親與家庭之間的距離,David決定和父親一同來一趟尋根之旅:從倫敦出發,前往父親度過大半歲月的地方,南威爾斯的礦坑。透過不斷被挖掘的故事、老照片和投影在牆上的地景模型,觀眾們也隨著David,踏上一場人與家庭/家族歷史重新再連結的旅程。在旅程的尾聲,David不禁問了父親 “Why you want to be a father?”,而父親如此回答“Because it’s the nature thing to do.” 如此誠摯,關於身份認同、關於家族的書寫,也有別於眾多圍繞自身觀點探討同志身份的作品,時代、歷史、回憶、身份、家庭彼此交織,Hard Graft是可以近觀遠望,又相當雋永的作品。

多面觸角呈現不同風貌

除了上述議題與作品,Buzzcut Festival也嘗試與不同觀眾對話。Live Art for Young Audience就是專門針對青少年所做的系列演出,包括給青少年的變妝歌舞秀The Other Kind、以及母子共同面對成長、親子關係改變的作品The Operation of Changing;透過讓青少年們參與演出製作,啟發他們對表演藝術多種可能的探索。此外,英國藝術家Lucy Hutson也用她/他的作品Bound來表達對於自身性別認同迷失,以 “I don’t know how to be a woman, and I don’t know how to be a trans-man either.” 貫穿整個作品,Lucy在空間內同時播放不同自傳式的影片,從自己束胸的經驗談到自己在不同時段、場合上的性別認同。

縱觀來說,Buzzcut Festival以藝術家為導向的操作方式造就了藝術節本身豐富的內涵,親密、舒適以及充滿活力的氛圍更是讓人趨之若鶩。更重要的是,主辦方努力克服重重障礙,試圖讓藝術節回歸節慶的本質。為期五天的藝術節原則上並不收費,只需要“Pay as you can”,把自己能負擔的金錢和任何想法回饋放入藝術節發的黃色信封,並轉交給前台人員,。Buzzcut Festival在每年的四五月,於蘇格蘭的格拉斯哥舉辦,並於前年底對於作品做徵選,更多資訊可參考以下網址:https://glasgowbuzzcut.wordpress.com

 

HOWL YUAN

Radical Craft – collaborating with costume

Over the last month I have been collaborating with costume designer Annelies Henny to develop new performance work ‘With Force and Noise’. This project has been about exploring the emotion of anger and has taken me too many places, costume and radical craft being a particularly inspiring one.

PERCEIVING ANGER THROUGH COSTUME

Through working with costume I was led to a world of craft and textile that opened a whole new angle on the emotion of anger. This angle is that anger motivates us to make something visible or witnessed, a possible route for this is what I am calling radical craft.

mst_2543-arpillera-denuncia-500

I have been particularly inspired by Chilean Arpilleras, an applique craft that documents the life of Chile in bright colour and fabrics including the torture, disappearances and imprisonments they suffer.Craft techniques such as embroidery, weaving and applique are associated with the domestic female. Through using them to document and disseminate violence suffered, the reality of anger and hurt present is witnessed.

BayeuxTapestry_2398754b

I also became fascinated with tapestry, and the writing of history in thread. I find that tapestry carries a sense of grandeur and finality, I think this comes from its size and usual depiction of grand battles. It seems to be that history acquires a literal weight when transformed into a fabric. This weight of history in relation to anger is something I have been experiencing personally. A feeling of being under or surrounded by a long story of anger and its consequences, that switches been a stimulation or suffocation of ones own agency.

Alongside these inspirations and thoughts also lies the use of craft and costume in punk and protest, the inventiveness of rebellion that embeds radical ideas and images into clothes and banners, again to make the unrest visible. The creative design of protest is something I came across at the ‘Disobedient Objects’ exhibitions at the V&A, and this became a key place of referral for me and Annelies to discuss the relationship between anger and a resourceful use of textile/material/costume.

Back-Bells

Another angle on anger that came through exploring costume is transformation. By looking into costume made for ritual performances, I came to understand the use of costume as a way of accessing the spiritual, an interconnectedness that goes beyond the recognisable. Anger has been understood as a kind of supernatural force, a change of the soul, or a possession of sorts. I feel that our use of costume within ritual performances allows us to summon something spiritual out of ourselves, which suggests to me that there is a constant source of emotion that lies dormant until it is unleashed, pulled out, or simply allowed to be. And it is the very experience of transforming from the recognisable to the other that we respond to. An inspiring reference for this is the Mamuthones of Sardinia, where the moment of transformation is serious and sacred.

This process has led us to make an embroidered tapestry suit, currently being made by Annelies, and some transformation prototypes to work with in the studio.

COLLABORATIVE WORKING

Working with a costume designer has been fascinating, fun and challenging. I found that we work best when we can talk through images and examples. It was by looking at the work of Nick Cave and his Sound Suits and the Chilean Arpilleras that we could form collaborative visual ideas. Without these images as reference points the matching of minds would of been problematic. In conversation we found that one of us would understand one word differently to the other, this made conversation really intense but worthwhile as we unpicked what we each understood. I generally would speak in concepts and purpose of costume, and Annelies would speak in real materials and images. Persisting with checking what we actually meant by the words we were using became really important. Testing things out is key to costume design, the craft comes through translating concept into material, colour and tackling logistics. Keeping an eye out for anything that may mislead the reading of the costume, what shoes, what collar, made me realise how much knowledge is held in these details, the choices completely craft a story and a set of references that will lead a viewer in a certain direction.

DRAWING A TAPESTRY

photo 5

To create a costume that is essentially an embroidered tapestry I embarked on the task of drawing that tapestry. This was unexpected but extremely enjoyable. There is a fluidity to drawing that I find very freeing, the images created came with little thought or interrogation, they became responsive translations of all the research I had gathered. It offered me another mode of expression within what is already a multi-channel project (also work with film and creating a bookwork). Through drawing I was allowed to fulfill my more abstract reflections on anger, or just allow the images to remain abstract. The drawing process allowed for the myriad of thoughts I have gathered around anger to fall out as a multitude of sketches. I feel that this outcome is very true to the experience I have had around investigating anger, I am not interested in one definition (I don’t think this exists or is of any use) I am interested in the multitude of sketches that create a mass – because it is this ‘mass’ that affects me. The very variable and personal nature of emotion.

WHAT NEXT

After a month of being based at Annelies’ studio drawing, talking and creating a design I will now go into the studio at Bristol Old Vic to look at how the text collides with the costume, and with my dramaturg decide how they intersect and what potentially leads the performance – the text or the costume?

This project is currently being supported by Arts Council England and Bristol Ferment.

With Force and Noise will be performed at Camden Peoples Theatre, as part of Sprint, on the 23rd and 24th March.

Hannah Sullivan

Kicking it up and letting it settle (making a show about anger)

Over the last year I have been trying to get my head and my heart around the emotion of anger, with a vision of asking an audience to sit with me, and spend some time with a possible representation of this particular emotion. During that year I have come across many inspiring texts, films and songs, but somehow I have held on to this extract from a happy ditty of a folk song;

‘What a pity it is to tease me to sing

When it does not lay in my power to do such a thing
but since you have teased me to try’

I started to sing it to my own tune. I sung it over and over again. Singing it higher and louder each time, I would reach a pitch of strength where I am full of force and noise, my voice would soar high and hit the hard notes, but as I keep going my voice starts to break and fail, it no longer carries and it starts to hurt. For me, these lyrics and this singing task are expressing something complicated about the emotion of anger. In order to be angry something has to provoke you, but before that you have to allow yourself to be provoked. Taking notice, caring, listening, watching, so you can see when you or others are being dismissed. But then the toxic visions that our anger stimulates, the impact that we wish to have, may in reality be unachievable, making us feel disempowered and immobile. But if you push by this, allow yourself to be fully motivated by the anger that has surfaced and keep moving with it then suddenly what felt unachievable before starts to become achieved. Dangerous, yes, but this level of anger can be extremely positive and affect change. But to regulate this ‘level’ is not very straight forward, I am not sure that we set our own dials like that. Which is why an urgent surge of anger can overspill into something inarticulate, chaotic and destructive to the self as well as everything in its surroundings…which could be perceived as a weak flailing animal threatening to ‘why I outta…why I outta!?!’…or maybe, just maybe, an eradication of everything because it is so totally and utterly…wrong? In your opinion…now I feel like I am in very dark woods…Anger, like other strong emotions, is an extreme clarity of feeling. It drives us to correct what we believe to be wrong. Which leads to the question, what is wrong, what the hell is wrong with everyone??! When I start to get angry about one thing, it tends to spiral very quickly into an undirected rage at the whole of humanity, and then I feel ridiculous and defeated and, like, maybe I just shouldn’t think about any of this. And there we have it, a full circle of disempowered to empowered and back again, the plight of anger which I see in that little ditty of a folk tune that I keep singing over and over again.

At this moment, I am half way, of maybe two thirds, through a process of making a show. I have been fed with a lot of information and opinion, excavated my own experiences, answered questions and listened back, felt something change, felt different from where I started, I have sang and marched and shook bells and kept quiet. Now, I am taking a pause, I am making a plan so that I can finish this piece with my dramaturg and costume designer, together. I am not scribbling in my notebook, or rehearsing my lines, I am letting it settle.

Blog by Hannah Sullivan

 

__With thanks to Alice Tatton Brown, Annelies Henney, Lou Cope, Sue MacClaine, Jo Hellier, Rachael Clerke, Ria Hartley, Dr Misri Dey, Dr Thomas Dixon, Dr Anna Bull, Dr Aurelien Mondon, Martha King, Shoreditch Town Hall, Bristol Ferment, Flare Festival and all of Interval for helping me get this far.

For more thoughts on anger, you can buy ANGER by Hannah Sullivan and Joanna Waterhouse here