My site specific performance was held in the Great Central Warehouse Library at 5:15pm on the 7th May 2015. I greeted my participants outside the front to which I then affectively gave them an “audio tour” of the library itself, ranging from the first floor right up to the second. During this tour I performed a number of tasks that symbolised factual information involving the past and present uses of the building itself. Rather than using objects as my main focus, I used myself with the assistance of objects or spaces. As I spent my previous year of university studying dance alongside drama, it was suggested to me that I used my body and dance to create a contemporary performance using my body in ways to reflect the knowledge I learned from studying the library’s past and present uses. I felt that this was a huge risk as the way in which I would dance would be to a particular taste meaning there was a chance the participants could get bored or might not enjoy or appreciate the way in which I was moving and the reasons why.
The particular focus of our group’s piece was the use of audio and how you worked with audio as a performer. This helped us to create a piece in which we communicated directly to our participants through the audio recorders and feeding them instructions to help direct them through our performances. I wanted to give the participants tasks to do through the audio to help them use the factual information that I had given them in a more creative way than just listening to words being spoken on a recorder.
As I decided to use my body and dance as another main focus for my piece, I was inspired by was Cie. Willi Dorner’s ‘Bodies in Urban Space’. This project focused on a group of dancers who used still movement and bodies to create a site specific performance. They created this piece in a public area, moving in unison with each other around buildings and spaces. After reading through Govan’s ‘The Place of the Artist’ (2007), I felt that some of his points were relevant to Willi Dorner’s ‘Bodies in Urban Spaces’. “Contemporary public places present particular problems for the performance maker. Augé develops de Certeau’s notion of non-place and defines non places as different from what he terms ‘anthropological places’ in that they ‘cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity’ (Augé 1995: 78). Augé identifies airports, railway stations, hotel chains, large retail stores and leisure parks as non places that put the individual in contact only with another image of himself’ (Augé 1995: 79)” (Govan, 2007,127). Much like mine, they used contemporary forms to show what they were trying to portray to participants, audience and passers by. They folded and adapted their bodies to fit certain architecture, buildings and spaces in the city they were exploring. During the video displaying this performance, it was interesting to watch the reaction of the passers by who automatically became involved in the performance. The passers by became participants and became the audience as they followed the group of dancers round the city as they broke off from their sculptured format that they had created with their bodies. It was amazing to watch as each dancer in the group unfolded their body from the morphed position so that each member of the group got out from the space safely. It looked rehearsed however it wasn’t known whether it was rehearsed or not. My intentions with my piece was to create the same reaction from my audience, I wanted them to be intrigued and captivated by what was going on as I developed a story through the movements of my body.
Analysis of process.
Joining the module late was daunting as it was decided that I should work on a solo performance rather than a group performance. Initially, I was apprehensive of this idea due to the fact that I had missed out on vital information that had been explained to the whole group in the previous few weeks. I was also concerned about the work load and the pressure that I would put on myself to create a piece of sight specific work on my own. I found the audio part the most daunting as I knew that my talents didn’t include technology, so I felt the most apprehensive about using the programme audacity. Having know prior knowledge of audacity or how to Feeling unsure, I started off by going on a drift walk around Lincoln to look for possible locations that I could use for my piece. My intention was for it to not be a clichéd area, as I wanted my performance to be unique and exciting. My initial thoughts were to find a well known area in Lincoln so that I could create a thrilling performance using information that I could find on that particular location. I thought a well known location would probably have a lot of information on it thus creating a range of ideas to explore for my piece. I ruled out the cathedral due to the fact that I believed it to be too clichéd as I’d heard of a lot of site specific performances that took place at the cathedral. Even though my piece wouldn’t mimic others’, I wanted my location to be simpler so I could create more effective ideas surrounding an unadorned location spot. As I left for my walk, I didn’t have far to go till I found the location that I decided on, the universities library. I found this the most intriguing due to the fact that it could’ve possibly had more uses than just a library, so I investigated into this further. What I discovered was that the Great Central Warehouse Library lived up to it’s name as nearly 100 years ago, it’s main purpose was not a library but a grain Warehouse. This automatically got me thinking about how I could combine movement with the uses of grain and harvest, work that goes on in warehouses, machinery used in warehouses and the uses of a modern day library.
The planning stages were the most challenging stages, as I had to create ideas that linked with my original thought process. I also had to keep in mind the use of audio and how that would fit in with my over all performance. I had to decide whether I would be the only performer or if I was going to synchronise my movements with another performer or multiple performers. I decided to perform as a soloist as the type of dance I wanted to do was improvisation that involves creating the movements on the spot at the time of the performance with no rehearsals. The movements are portrayed through the emotions you feel at the time therefore it cannot be rehearsed or choreographed. I wanted to create empathy through the movements so it had a meaning rather than just a body moving in an obscure and absurd way.
My planning process started with reading through Mike Pearson’s ‘Place exercises’, to which I plotted my ideas through four stages of exercises that relate to site specific performance. “In the studio, on location, after visiting location and into performance.” (Pearson, 2011). These helped me to create a more stable route for my performance and to help me think more in depth about the ways in which I would approach certain tasks and how they would reflect my ideas. Delving deeper into the library, I found books relating to the past and present uses of the library which was perfect for my work. The book itself was ‘The Great Central Warehouse University Library/ University of Lincoln’ by Andrew Weekes (2006). The book told me about the different uses of the building and informed me on the history and development, restoration, the new library and the future. Reading through these sections to gain knowledge and factual information on the site, I discovered more descriptive and poetic parts to the book which I thought would be perfect for my performance. ‘Once it’s stout brick walls echoed in the din of the railway goods yard, the clank of the crane and the hiss of the steam locomotive. Now the noises of a bygone industrial age have been replaced by a much more studious sound: the clicking of fingertips on computer keyboards, the riffling of pages in a book and the low murmur of voices engaged in hushed conversation…’ (Weekes, 2006) I particularly liked the onomatopoeic words such as ‘the clank of the crane’ and ‘the hiss of the steam locomotive.’ I instantly knew I would have this piece of writing being spoken through the audio recorders, as a monologue, whilst I was dancing. The onomatopoeia used could help me create movements and shapes with my body that would relate to those words, for example, when I think of the word ‘clank’ I would associate it with heavy yet sudden movements that are almost sharp and direct.
After having more of a clear idea towards my actual performance, I started to adapt these ideas and think more about the areas of the library in which I would be dancing and how long for. I hadn’t yet decided whether I would be dancing throughout the whole performance or just a certain section. I thought it would be interesting to split my performance into sections, one which involved me feeding the participants information through the audio recording, the next where the audience actually participated in the performance themselves by responding to instructions through the audio, and the final being the audience simply watching me move around the space in response to the monologue that was playing through the audio recording. “It proposes that artists predominantly respond to a place from the perspective of an outsider and considers the problems and possibilities that this affords to the creative encounter. At the core of the enquiry is an examination of the place of the artist both literally in terms of the locations that they inhabit and the philosophically and psychologically in terms of the social functions the artist may perform.” (Govan, 2007) Govan’s point relates to my some of my ideas as I want my participants to respond to certain parts of my performance as well as myself. I decided on the idea to have my different sections on different floors of the library; the factual information on the first floor, the audience participation on the second floor and the dance improvisation on the third. I wanted the improvisation to be on the third floor as I thought it would create more of an impact due to the area being deadly silent. The only noises that the participants would hear would be the whispered monologue through the headphones as I moved around the space.
To make my performance unique I wanted to create a certain element of shock to the audience. I thought that this would be most suitable in my improvised section as I could use props to help explain my motive through movement and use of the props. This got me thinking further about the use of grain and harvest. Due to expense I had to think what I could use to substitute grain yet it still looks effective. I decided on using cereal, however as I wasn’t choreographing a dance, I couldn’t choreograph or rehearse how I was going to use the cereal in my improvisation so I left it till my actual performance to see how I would use it.
Layering my performance also meant layering my audio clips on audacity. I had assistance from Richard Black due to the lack of knowledge and understanding I had of the programme. I firstly explained to him my ideas and showed him the script that I had written prior to us meeting. I explained how I wanted certain sound effects to overlap the speech so that there was never full silence, however at some parts I had a low murmur of background noise which classed as near silence to help create the effect I wanted on certain parts of my piece. The main concern that I had was getting the timing spot on as I wouldn’t be wearing headphones myself. Richard showed me the different techniques on how to use audacity and the simplest ways to transform my recordings into an over all recording which flowed and fitted together without any mishaps. I wanted the sound effects of the combine harvester, the steam locomotive and the background hubbub of the library to link with the different sections of speech to help break the piece up. I found this to be effective due to sound effects being linked with the contrasting uses of the building during the past and present.
I was apprehensive about my final performance due to how unpredictable the library is. It is risky as passers by in the library could disrupt my performance or move props and I would be oblivious until I reached that stage of the performance. If this happened I would be thrown and would have to improvise, this was my main concern. Another worry that I had was the time keeping and whether I would rush my performance due to nerves so be behind on the recording.
My first encounter was when I greeted my participants outside the library. I was wearing a chequered shirt with bare feet to symbolise a farmer who would harvest the grain. I chose to have bare feet so that I could move around the space more efficiently during my improvisation without having to take shoes off. I carried a wicker basket on my arm, in which I held the cereal to represent grain and books that I would be using in my performance. After greeting my participants, I briefly explained how I would be guiding them around the building explaining factual information through different performance techniques. The audio recorded began with clear instructions for the participants, telling them to follow me throughout the journey through the library. I chose the sound effect of the library hubbub to use as we ventured up our first flight of stairs, I wanted to create a feeling of intensity and uncertainty as to what would happen next. On each of the flights of stairs I created a small pile of the grain, this was to symbolise the many different piles of grain that would be created in the warehouse. I performed this on every flight of stairs we went up; I did this to show the repetitiveness of the process.
On the first and second floor of the library, I wanted the audience to think and feel completely contrasting things. Whilst I was feeding them the factual information through the audio recording, I created a slide show of images showing what the building looked like when it was a warehouse and what it looks like currently. I then handed the participants books to which I then instructed them to open via the recording. The timing here was crucial which was extremely challenging to get completely accurate. As we progressed up the next flight of stairs I repeated the process of creating a pile of grain. This time I used the background noise of the combine harvester to show a complete contrast and as I had now informed the participants of the history of the building, they would be able to understand the reasoning’s behind the noises more. The next section of my piece involved the participants drawing an image or symbol that represented a word they had in the book that was handed to them in a colour to which emotion they thought fitted the word. One of the books had words which represented the feelings that surrounded the library such as stress, or anxiety. The other had completely contrasting words which linked in with fields, harvest and grain. These included words such as freedom. As I had hoped, both images completely contrasted each other which depicted the difference in the uses of the building. I feel like I could’ve done more on this floor on the basis of the fact that I didn’t do much myself, it was more speech from the recording.
I repeated the same process through the next level of stairs. Upon reaching the third and final floor, I simply wanted the participants to watch and listen to the noises and motions that were taking place in the space. I handed the final book in my basket to a participant. I was most apprehensive about here as I was completely improvising this section. I wanted my movements to represent a combine harvester, harvesting the grain. I used slow movements to start with to show the machine starting up; as I sped my movements up I threw the grain in the air and started to roll around in it to show how the combine harvester was harvesting the grain. Following this, I created more piles of grain on the side, repeating my previous process; I then swiped the grain with my arm and watched it scatter all over the floor. This was to represent the library taking over the warehouse and how the buildings past use is now completely unknown to the present users. To end my piece, I selected books off the shelves and placed them in a circle on top of the scattered grain. The participant holding the book was then instructed to interrupt what I was doing and hand me the book, which I then placed in the centre of the circle. This book was the main stimulus of my piece, ‘The Great Central Warehouse University Library’ by Andrew Weekes. Here I wanted to show how the books had replaced the grain as being the main purpose of the building.
I found this to be my most successful part of my piece as I had completely improvised it. However, I felt like I should’ve analysed the space better due to the lack of space I had to move. I didn’t feel like my body was free enough to move in the ways in which I wanted it to.
When entering this module, I didn’t find excitement or thrill in the ideas behind audio. However, as I progressed, I realised how the performance didn’t have to be boring or simplistic, and that I could use so many more performance techniques than I first thought. Having the advantage of being a dancer helped to make my performance different. I wanted audio and dance to stand hand in hand with each other as a main focus of my piece and I feel like I achieved what I wanted initially wanted to portray.
Word count: 3,134
Dorner, W. (2014) Willi Dorner: Bodies in Urban Spaces. [performance art] Biel/Bienne, Switzerland.
Govan, E. (2007) Making Performance: Devising Histories and Contemporary Performance. Oxon: Routledge.
Pearson, M (2011) 3b. SOME EXERCISES TOWARDS RELATING PLACE.
Weekes, A. (2006) The Great Central Warehouse University Library. Lincoln: Andrew Weekes.