The past four weeks we’ve been developing Movement Alphabet during a residency at GAS Station in East London, a light-filled hall in a former Victorian school. In this next stage of the projects, we’ve been working with the voice to connect abstract portraits of movement with personal stories of their subjects.
Residencies carry opportunity with limited time and this creates pressure, which is usually a productive force but can make open exploration difficult. After a few days of sticking paper themes to the walls, post-it note ideas to the paper, chalk task breakdowns to the blackboard, we settled on what would be our main intention for our time here: finding a way to share the one-to-one participatory performance beyond the interaction pod without disrupting the personal intimacy of the interactive experience that we’d crafted.
The logistical challenges of creating a performance that can only be experienced by four to six participants an hour had not escaped us. In July, we exhibited a prototype of the work in the Raphael Gallery of the Victoria & Albert Museum. It’s a large echoey chamber with a steady throughput of visitors primarily interested in the Raphael Cartoons hanging imposingly on the walls. We knew few of our audience would feel comfortable sharing personal memories through movement of their body unless we could create a private, safe and snug space. But then what of the experience of those who don’t get to participate or are just passing by?
It was my friend, the architect Ciarán Grogan, who proposed the need for a translucent barrier, inspired by the hazy figures that shine out through the windows of the cafe at the Tate Modern.
Through many brainstorms, we arrived with our interaction pod formed of translucent corrugated roofing plastic.
Jan and I tested a small prototype at the V&A to good effect. Outside, a TV screen showed the portrait as it was created in real-time. Alongside some portraits were exhibited as framed prints.
But it wasn’t enough. Many people, on finding there were no more participation slots, left disappointed, as if they had missed the whole work. They didn’t seem to connect with the images on display, or the gradually emergent portrait on the screen. We needed to give them more – something that connected these abstract images with the living person inside the pod.
Movement Alphabet in the Raphael Gallery of the Victoria & Albert Museum, 16 July 2016.
To do this, we’ve returned to our earlier lengthy studio process. As before, Jan leads our subject through memories, habits and how they move. But this time, we’re recording the sound alongside their movements. Our intention with these Story Sessions is to create animations showing the portraits as they are drawn, so you can hear the participants speak as they move and give some context the imagery it creates.
Patricio Forrester participating at the Victoria & Albert Museum, 16 July 2016.
During this process, I’m sat at the control desk. I have a grid of buttons on a phone to press to record the current moment into a corresponding grid of the image. But now I’m listening more closely. My notes are more detailed, and I know exactly the words that were being said as each of the nine scrawling moments in the portrait were captured. Afterwards, the three of us go through the images, with me sharing a short quote of what they said for each one. This juxtaposition of words and lines is a significant change in itself. It shifts how you look at the image, giving you a frame in which you can start imposing your own interpretations of what you seen in the lines.
Tim Murray-Browne, 6 September 2016.
Jan with Catherine de Lima during the Story Sessions at GAS Station, London, 31 August 2016
Jan with Kay Scorah during the Story Sessions at GAS Station, 2 September 2016.