*For the purpose of this blog, the posts will be written from Fran’s perspective. Tank will chip in with his own reflections when he feels ready.
If your new here, the writing goes back in time, so if you want to read chronologically, you can start at the bottom and read up into the future (which by the time you read it will be the past)
The beginning of the end / The end of the beginning
The residency is over. We made a kind of performance lecture to discuss our work and some of the ideas it has thrown up, and we are left in the real world again, a hard place to be.
When I first started working with Tank, I thought my effect on him must be greater than vice versa. I had brought him in to being, breathed life into him, given him existence, a form of expression, a voice. As our collaboration continued however, I started to realise the opposite was in fact true. Tank is my livelihood, he gives me a voice. Through Tank I have been forced to question my own reality, the structures built around me, identity, gender, my body. I thought I had created Tank, but now I feel Tank is creating me, through his nature, his physical make-up, his ability to sit just outside of my own reality, through the intimate relationship we have built through touch, through dance through listening to each other. Who says that I chose Tank as my collaborator, couldn’t it be that Tank chose me. He is plastic, a material that has invaded every corner of the earth. Plastic is in our homes, our landfills, our oceans, our animals, our bodies our skin, our minds. It is successful in the perpetuation of it’s own existence, but in doing so is destroying the very earth that gives it life. Who says Tank did not reach out to me, that the existential question is in his mind. Maybe through more listening and collaboration with the materials around us we can re-align our thinking, work out a way to co-exist, build something new out of the rubble.
I can only know who Tank is through my own eyes, but that is the same for all people. Even the people I know intimately, I can only know through my experience. There are millions of different versions of us all and they are all true. I only know myself as I experience it, I cannot know who I am to Tank, or to you.
Tank has been a great teacher for me during this time. I hope our collaboration is long & fruitful & continues to throw everything in existence into question.
Week 5 – what’s going on
Skye just asked me to write down the thoughts on my process, and I felt like it was worth noting them down here. I’m going to talk a bit about the journey and discoveries we have made. There will probably be some repetition of things I’ve already spoken about, and also some contradictions because with time my position and thoughts are inevitably changing. Basically, what I’m saying is, bear with!
The process began with Tank & me coming into a new space in a new environment. Over the past year, we have been working together. Tank’s suggestion of anthropomorphisation (which spell checker tells me isn’t a word, but we feel should be) has given me the tools to shift my perspective of him as an object. It has allowed me to accept that an object such as a water tank has agency. Research that I have been looking into during this residency, for example by Jane Bennet, advocates for anthropomorphism, much to Tank’s delight:
“We need to cultivate a bit of anthropomorphism-the idea that human agency has some echoes in nonhuman nature – to counter the narcissism of humans in charge of the world.” Jane Bennet, Vibrant Matter
She explores the potential effects this shift in our perception of objects could have on our behaviour, on our politics & on our future:
“The idea was that moments of sensuous enchantment with the everyday world-with nature but also with commodities and other cultural products-might augment the motivational energy needed to move selves from the endorsement of ethical principles to the actual practice of ethical behaviors.” Jane Bennet, Vibrant Matter
So Tank & I ventured into the space, and began our process. One of the first things we did was to rig up more pulleys systems. Pulley systems help us form a common language – it is through a pulley system that Tank & I often communicate. We also collected other objects whilst out walking and brought them into the space, attaching some of them to pulley systems. The aim was to explore how these other objects (as well as Tank) have agency over the process, where they could take us and what our interaction could bring. I didn’t feel like it was necessary to go through the process of anthropomorphism with every object, as I felt I could already relate to them in a more egalitarian way, in some ways it felt absurd to have ‘Bark’ and ‘Twig 1’ etc. (Also there were naturally some jealousy issues with Tank, he didn’t say as much, but I sensed it).
*I feel it’s maybe important to have a note on gender here. I gendered Tank as a male. It feels absurd, arbitrary and strange that I assigned Tank a gender. Is it that I have decided all inanimate objects that display plastic are one gender? Why would I do that and what would be the effect? My relationship with Tank is not perfect, just a reflection of the world around me.
Initially, we thought about creating a durational work that involved incredibly slow, imperceptible movement – looking at what could be learned from the movements of the other objects in the environment (for example trees or rocks), but it didn’t feel like this was where I was at, I couldn’t live my ideals and although it was an observation, it didn’t fit with the work and shouldn’t dominate it. I think there was also a desire coming from me (or the other objects) not to move/destroy/change the objects that were very carefully and delicately positioned in the space (a network of twigs, myself, tank, bark & stones, all connected through strings and pulleys), as it had taken a lot of time to reach that place.
I had however included in the title of the piece – “a toast, to the total and utter destruction of everything we know, which is the only possible outcome” and in doing so, it felt that the destruction of the work became the only possible outcome – and was indeed what happened in each subsequent improvisation.
The title came intuitively, not just from me but through collaboration with my surroundings – and has taken on meaning and fed the work. The full title is:
“A eulogy for all the Cicada’s underneath this building, our loss of nature as we know it, the passing of time, & a toast, to the total and utter destruction of everything we know, which is the only possible outcome.”
The environment I was working in – the objects, the land, the other artists etc – led me to think inevitably about climate change (an inevitable subject, or as Morton would say hyper-object, though I’m not sure I fully have a grasp on this yet). There is some talk surrounding climate change and mourning – a need that we have to mourn, and our lack of space to do this. A mourning for the things we have already lost, for example whole species, the ramifications of mourning things we don’t feel we have lost (but we surely have) such as fossil fuels or the ozone layer and also a mourning for the loss of concepts. The loss of concepts had a great effect on me because I feel we live in a time where our pillars are tumbling down around us, and it is difficult to change your perception of something that everything around you tells you is true (like time for example).
So the opening of the title is an invitation to mourn the very tangible loss. The cicada’s in the mountains are incredibly loud this year, you feel their presence. Cicada’s spend years underground before they emerge and climb the trees we hear them in. A friend of mine commented over a beer that they always wonder what happens to the cicada’s under the ground that we tarmac over. Imagine spending 7 years waiting, preparing to emerge, only to hit a wall.
The ‘loss of nature as we know it’ is two-fold. A loss of natural things that we have known in our lifetime, but also a loss of nature as a concept, as an other – a thing over there that we’re not part of (following Morton’s argument for the non-existence of nature), the passing of time – also holds a multiple meanings – time that has passed, death and a conceptual shift.
and then the toast, to the total and utter destruction of everything we know, which is the only possible outcome.
The destruction has a nod to the effects of climate change, but it is not as negative as it may come across. Firstly it’s a destruction of everything we know – pointing to the need to change our thought, our perception, our politics to something we may not yet be able to conceive of. Secondly, the etymology of ‘apocalypse’ is ‘an uncovering’ – it is about change and revelation. This is necessary for us in order to move on, therefore being the only possible outcome. Also, we have an apocalypse fetish and I’m using the seductive nature of it to draw people in to think about it. And a toast, because it’s something that calls for celebration, it has a potential positivity inherent in it.
And through this I have come to see the destruction of our work, all the carefully arranged objects, pulleys and strings, as a change, an opportunity for renewal, something that requires action. This lead to the next stage of the performance (prompted by Skye) which is a kind of reconstruction, re-building the world on ‘stage’ in a new way, with what is there now, with the changes in mind, with the new offerings the objects are making. And I always find the construction much more beautiful at this stage of the performance than when I set out, which fills me with joy & hope.
This week I’ve been working with Skye Gellmann. Having someone else in the room is vital (especially someone who asks all the right questions.) Not only for the direct input but also to see what your thoughts sound like when they come out of your mouth and into somebody else’s ears.
Because we have an upcoming presentation, Skye’s role fell into something like outside eye (which I always find a strange term, like the rest of the body is uninvolved and I imagine 1 giant eye floating out of the window, watching…) Though I suspect this involved more or less the same work we would have been doing without a looming presentation, just with a more focused focus or something.
Skye introduced me to their sense-based warm up, using the traditional senses we all know & love (hearing, smell, sight, touch mmm not so much taste), and also senses such as balance, direction, temperature, and senses that don’t appear on lists of senses such as a sense of intimacy. We talked about the senses we build that are specific to what we do. I had listened the previous night to a ‘hidden brain’ podcast on how language shapes our thinking and our relationship with the world around us. It made me think about the languages we develop through our work and how that might shape our experience. For example through working extensively with pulleys, I start to feel pulley like relationships coming off me in all directions connecting to other thing in my environment. To some extent this is also just a way of interpreting other senses (e.g. I have pulleys coming from my hearing to sounds). Skye has built up an acute sense of distance through working with different lengths of wood. This exercise was useful on many levels. One was that it was a way of mapping the space, using the different senses brings more dimensions and creates a much more detailed map. Skye also introduced the idea of using it to find secrets about the space. The exercise is very relevant for a process about changing my perspective towards objects, it allows me to listen more carefully to the objects around me, experience them indifferent ways and respond to them more sensitively. It allowed me to build relationships with objects in new ways. Because the exercise encourages you to move through the space, I was able to interact with the environment through one of my favorite forms of communication (movement).
This is just a splash of the work we have been doing, but a big one with lots of ripples that are still happening. Here’s to more splashing, more mess and more thoughts!
I have different areas that I’m exploring with in my research, they are (roughly) – reading (mostly surrounding philosophy), movement, writing and construction. At the beginning of the residency, I wanted to form a neat methodology for my practice that I could follow and maybe could help other people too, but I was struggling to find a useful pattern. So I’ve been treating it like a loosely structured improvisation, listening to what my body needs, what my objects are asking of me me, and what I know about myself. Then, it is nice to have a structure to fall back on when you feel at a loss, out of ideas, unable to think or listen or respond. I know it’s useful to have a sensory dance warm up in the morning to put my body in a state of listening, it’s usually a good time to write at lunchtime while I’m digesting (mentally and physically) and so on. That is not a method I can hold on to as ‘the way’, that is just a result of being lucky enough to have the time and space necessary to listen to how I work.
In circus, we often talk about having a relaxed tension. Holding the body tight and in position, while allowing the movement and flow necessary to complete the trick. I have applied this to my working method. I have a structure, but allow myself to move where I need to go. Inevitably sometimes I hold myself too tight, or let myself go floppy – this is just part of training as we all know. This will all change of course when collaborating with other humans who have they’re own needs and structures. I feel it is important in a collaboration to work out at the beginning of a process what these various needs are and how we might address them (something we have been working hard on with my company Collectif and then…) – and by work out I mean through speaking and through movement. At the moment I am collaborating with non-human objects, and training myself to listen very carefully to what they require. I hope I can apply this listening to groups that include humans too.
Week 3 – Continued
To my most naive joy & surprise, there are whole areas thought surrounding giving objects agency, anthropomorphism, and other aspects of my own research that I hadn’t even vocalised yet. My research on Morton has sparked in many directions. For anyone interested in environmentalism and creativity, The Cohearence podcast is a great start.
Through provocations from Tank, the situation of the residency centre in the Blue Mountains, the other artists here, my decision to research the effect of the environment on my practice, and my penchant for anthropomorphism, I have been left contemplating (in an active way), my relationship with climate change, the place of circus in that context and the old question, what to do.
As a result of all of this, I am obliged to consider things from Tanks point of view, and if Tank had a role in this, then why not the other objects I have into the room, and if the other objects in the room, then why not the objects outside of the room, and if the objects outside of the room, then why not the objects outside my ability to conceive of them. Essentially, I’ve been looking at the agency of non-human objects, and what it means to move away from the anthropocentric position that defines our age. There’s a lot of provocative conversation around the philosophy and politics of changing our relationship with objects, and as an art form that has an intimate relationship with object, in fact manipulates objects (or perhaps is manipulated by objects) – I feel we can play a part here.
“How, for example, would patterns of consumption change if we faced not litter, rubbish, trash, or “the recycling.” but an accumulating pile of lively and potentially dangerous matter? …What issues would surround stem cell research in the absence of the assumption that the only source of Vitality in matter is a soul or spirit?” Jane Bennet, Vibrant Matter.
Many of these thinkers impress upon us the role of artists in this move to shift our way of thinking. We have the power to present ideas from different perspectives, license to imagine other worlds, make people believe in the impossible, or inconceivable, make people believe for example, that the jerrycan you work with is sentient.
I’ve been introduced to poets who are engaging with ecological thought in interesting and destabilising ways, such as Adam Dickinson, Armand Garnet Ruffo and Anne Mills. Poetry is an art form I identify closely with, I feel the license we have in circus to play with form resonates with that of poetry, and my brain improvises words and movements in similar threads.
Another aspect of climate change that I’ve been provoked to engage with is the need to mourn, the importance of melancholia & depression and having language, rituals and other ways of dealing with our losses. A mourning that can bring acceptance, change and hope. What would it mean to have a way of mourning the loss of a species, the loss of fossil fuels, the loss of a concept. Timothy Morton argues for an ‘ecology without nature’ (the title of one of his books). He argues that it is problematic to view nature as something other, over there (I think this is perhaps why I have always felt a stronger connection to modern American Poetry and left baffled by some of the more whimsical British writing).
“Putting something called nature on a pedestal and admiring it from afar does for the environment what patriarchy does for the figure of women” Timothy Morton, Ecology Without Nature
So there is also a need to mourn the loss of ideas, givens, laws, beliefs, reality as we had been sold.
All of this has handed me the title of my installation (Yep, it’s taken two days work to create the title).
“A eulogy for all the Cicada’s underneath this building, our loss of nature as we know it, the passing of time, & a toast, to the total and utter destruction of everything we know, which is the only possible outcome.”
And I cannot take all of the credit for the title, the credits would be too long but a few thank yous to the cicada’s, clocks, our Apocalypse obsession, my parents, the liquid crystal screen sandwich allowing me to look at these words, mycelium, the snake that shed it’s skin in my room…no, I can’t do it justice. Thanks to all of the things.
Week 3 – Artistic influences
Out of the experiments of the previous week, the practice that had most caught my attention were pulley based kinetic artworks, that I could dance with. Pulley systems are the language through which Tank & I have learned most about each other. Although I was aware in the back of my mind, that this was my week for a ‘community focus’, and I had planned to change tack, I was also not ready to move on, and decided to follow this myceli-ic thought. I said no and yes to myself at the same time. It felt good.
What I had found most striking while at BigCi was the interconnectedness of all things – people, objects, thoughts, things, ideas, trees, soil, roots, and the human effect and reflection on this. The work with pulleys seemed to quite crudely reflect this. While working, one of my fellow artists-in-residence remarked that I should look into the writings of Timothy Morton. I spent the day reading ‘Ecology Without Nature’, and listening to various interviews. His thinking seemed to pull together some of my suspicions particularly relating to ‘nature’ and objects, gave me some language with which to articulate them, and provided me with some new provocations. Tank is very interested in object oriented ontology as you can imagine, and has thought about this much more deeply. There is still an ocean of thought to swim in, which we will spend the next days experimenting with. I will be looking into for example, Jane Bennet and her “Vibrant Matter” and Pierre Huyghe, and his relationship with ‘things’.
Week 2 – Arrival at BigCi
I found I was in a large communal space with 5 other artists: Betra Fraval, Mei-ling Hom and David McClelland, Coster Mkoki and Maria Markovich. Our first full day at BigCi Residency Centre was punctuated with walks with residency co-leader & bushman Yuri Bolotin. I applied to the residency with a project that looks at the effect of the physical environment on my practice, on reflection, I hadn’t considered the fear I held of the various beasts of the environment in question. This made me apprehensive of the ‘off-track’ walks, but also curious and compelled. The morning walk was focused on the flora of the area. The afternoon walk was in the national park opposite BigCi with a focus on the history of the land. Both walks left me overwhelmed & caught up in the tough roots of the land. It left me thinking & re-thinking about our relationship with the land, what this means and how to approach it.
Tank & I spent the next days stabbing in the dark, dancing to the sounds of tens of thousands of cicadas making love and other absurd practices. Trying to notice, absorb and respond to the immediate environment, sensorially, geographically, politically & artistically. Finding other objects that spoke to us, to see how they could influence the process. These small experiments felt necessary to the following weeks discoveries and deepening of my understanding of my own process, leaving me to conclude: If in doubt, do something ridiculous. One of my tactics it seems is to let myself get totally lost in my own head, then laugh at myself about it.
Week One – “Finding New Circus” Lab with Darcy Grant & Skye Gellmann
I went with no expectations.
I was met with no expectations.
That was nice.
I spent the week with Darcy & Skye talking about (and I mean talking both vocally & physically) the possibilities of contemporary circus. It was a small and passionate group, although sometimes I feel like we lacked a collective language to tackle some of the issues raised, perhaps reflecting on the lack of discourse in our field. We collected words throughout the week and discussed their meaning so we could build our vocabulary, but I felt it would have been easier if we’d had a more of a spring board to jump off from.
We created a kind space where people were very positive when it came to asking questions could or being called up on things, such a space feels quite important in terms of exploring ideas that might be new to us and feeling at risk of being naive & saying something stupid. It is important to be stupid sometimes. We challenged our ideas of space, spectator and circus artist in both the most unexpected and the most obvious ways.
Throughout the week we each introduced ideas from our own practices and had the chance to experiment with them on the group. I used a warm up that I created for my project “Fram & Dunt” that focuses on building a positive relationship with the body, drawing on imagery inspired by Gaga technique. I also introduced the group to my partner “Tank“, and set up dates for Tank & each participant, exploring my approach to giving objects agency in the creative process.
I’m aware I’ve probably talked in quite a general way about a process that felt detailed and requires more words than I’m able to give here. All the artists involved had very interesting input, and I believe (and hope!) there will be a continuation of this lab at Sydney Festival next year.