Final Submission Outline
- For CSM Alive I have been working on a collaborative dance project exploring ideas of consumer culture, image, tribalism, and masculinity through the familiar image of the suit. The project builds upon an earlier experimentation from Dance Lab in Year 2. Ella, Kristina, Mo, and I created an 11 minute dance piece build by experiments around a clothing rack full of suit jackets. This piece explored ideas about image and masculinity, but was much more of an experiment. Kristina, Mo, and I all wanted to return to the piece, explore deeper, and expand on the ideas we had developed. In organizing the project we also connected with Emily, Charlotte, and Cathy Mou from fine art, who were all also interested in developing a dance piece exploring these same topics.
- Much of our research came out of exploring cultural representations of the suit jacket. The film American Psycho quickly became a core element of research, both in its visual style, and in its cultural ideas. In approaching the suit jacket we were uniquely interested in its relationship to tribal identities that form around groups who wear suits. Bankers, lawyers, or other professions in which the suit becomes a uniform, signifying identity, power, and expertise. American Psycho became a great example of this, detailing the deep connections between clothing and the cult of masculinity these fictional Wall Street investors had formed.
In addition to looking at cultural examples, a lot of our research came out of our own anecdotal experiences and investigations. At the beginning of every devising session we would sit and talk about our ideas surrounding the suit and the themes we were interested or touching upon. In addition to the discoveries that came out of these discussions we would also engage in improvisation sessions which focused on specific ideas or themes. Through these we would often make conceptual discoveries about the piece which would influence our approach. For example, the piece did not initially explore themes of consumerism, but in a specific improvisation we began exploring images that looked like shops full of suits, and the image of sorting through piles of suits on the floor. These images brought to mind the connections between self image and consumerist culture, and how buying and shopping is so deeply connected to aspirational ideas that we want to present to others. This conceptual discover, which came out of this experimentation (as well as other similar discoveries) shaped our conceptual research in much the same what that looking at images and histories of suits in film and television did.
Another core part of our research was specific to artists making dance work. This thread of research began during dance lab, in which recurring histories of dance making and dance technique impacted our work each week. This research helped to build the initial piece which we expanded out of. It also continued within our new group, and we began to look at not only artists making dance in interesting ways, but artists exploring clothing, suits, or social ideas of identity in a similar way to us.
- Our technical approach to making the work was very much built around ideas of experimentation and improvisation. Interwoven with our cultural research and discussions were much more free form experimentations. In our first weeks we began building the work through session of improvisation. Following a discussion about the piece and its themes we would set specific concepts to investigate, and create different physical frame works and specifications through which to investigate them. For example we may decide to spend a session exploring ideas of consumerism, while setting the physical frame work as starting from order and moving towards chaos, or working only in duets, etc. After setting these ideas we would then engage in improv sessions, lasting anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours, which we would record. Following a session we would discus moments we were most interested in or excited by, new ideas to explore, or questions we still had. These discussion would shape later improvisations.
Through this process of experimentation and improvisation we developed several hours of content and ideas (much more than our intended length for the piece), which we would then have to organize and curate into the final piece.
- Through these processes of research and experimentation we eventually developed the specifics of our piece. Our intention was to make a 20 minute dance piece, built out of our experiment’s, which would challenge the ideas of tribalism, identity, and aspirational consumption by challenge our cultural ideas around the suit. Initial the piece would present familiar images and ideas surrounding the suit, dressing and undressing, and forming identity around clothing. These would slowly be juxtaposed with images that challenged or expanded on the potential use of the suit. It would be used to alter the form or movement of the body, challenge ideas of identity, reference people or bodies that are not present, or create sculptural installations. By moving from the familiar to the expanded the piece would present potential new or further lives for the suit, challenging the audience to reconsider the position of clothing and consumption in their own lives, and presenting them with potential new ways of positioning clothing in their world.
The piece involves two costume rails, on wheels, which are part of both the scenery and the dance itself. On these costume rails are 30 different suit jackets, 10 pairs of suit trousers, and 10 white formal shirts. These are all hung on wire hangers. All of these elements also fluctuate between being set pieces, props, and costumes. The piece was devised to be a part of CSM Alive in the platform theatre, however it was very much built to be a piece which can travel easily from theatre to theatre, or be performed in non theatre spaces. As a group we all agreed that the project would be most impactful performed in public spaces in expensive and trendy neighborhoods like Kings Cross, Holborn, Shoreditch, etc. These would be places where the audience may work corporate jobs, and may be areas defined by big spending and frequent consumption. Prior to lockdown we had applied to perform the piece as part of a performance festival in Kings Cross, in one of the luxury apartments in Gasholders Park. We also were speaking to Peter Bond about performing as part of another potential festival of performance work around the Kings Cross Estate. As such the work was made to require minimal tech and be fully transportable. Prior to lockdown wed been considering the possibility of building clear flats for the work out of plexiglass. However following further discussions about the project and its ideal lives we have agreed that they are unnecessary, and that it is of more value for the project to be fully mobile.
- This project was for me a continuation of my course long interest in collaborative performance work and movement and dance based performance work. Many of the ideas and techniques used were skills I developed in Year 2 during Dance Lab. I feel that the project was deeply successful in that, unlike previous collaborative projects, our techniques for working together were incredibly successful. We felt constantly like a cohesive, supportive, and effective group. Our communication of ideas and intentions was clear and respectful, and the piece developed with input from all group members in all areas. The project had a strong structure, and moved along quickly and effectively. However the success of this learning was very much interrupted by Covid-19. Prior to lockdown being implemented the group agreed that we were doing an excellent job of generating material and experimentations, but were unsure of how we would go about structuring the final piece. We felt confident in our knowledge of the early stages, but didn’t yet know how to approach the final steps. We had only just begun structuring and storyboarding our final versions of the show when the lockdown began, and this process was interrupted. I feel that this project was a chance to finalize some of my previous learning about creating collaborative dance work, however it has been interrupted and left incomplete. Without access to our materials and a space to work together we were unable to complete this project, so as it stands currently our work and our learning has been put on pause.
- For my independent project I wanted to spend the year developing a self lead practice which I felt I could continue after the end of the year. I ended Year 2 with the realization that all my past projects had been depended on university assignments, and that most of them involved sacrificing my own points of interest in order to work collaboratively. As such I wanted to spend a year developing my own private practice, and making work which I found challenging and exciting.
The project did not begin with any intended outcomes. Instead I chose to allow myself, through research and experimentation, to discover what direction the project would take. I wanted to follow my interest in self image and identity, and I wanted to return to my previous photographic practice of creating self portraits on analogue film, which are then manipulated in the darkroom. Initially I had an inkling that the project may become a selection of performances dealing with self image and identity, inspired by the photographs and the process of creating analogue self portraits. However this initially plan changed greatly throughout the year.
- My research started from an incredibly broad place. I knew I was interested in self image, and how we form ideas about ourselves, but I didn’t know in what way specifically I was interested in this. For my dissertation research I looked at Gen Doy’s Picturing the Self , and researched a number of photographers working with self portraits. I began to explore the potential lives of self portraits, and the different social and political connotations of photographing oneself. I also became interested in the connection between the selfie and the self portrait, and explored how social media has impacted our relationships with ourselves. This research began to focus my work a bit more, and gave me more of a context to my own self portraits. However my work continued to feel a bin unstructured, and I still didn’t feel I knew which direction it would take. I followed other subsequent interests in somatic movement, which I researched both theoretically and practically on film. I began to develop a better understanding for my work later in the year when I began looking at the work of photographer Zanele Muholi.
Zanele Muholi is a non-binary photographer from South Africa, whos series of self portraits “_____-“ had interested me during my dissertation research, but I had not looked at closely. I had been struggling with questions of specificity in representations of the self. I wanted my work to be inviting to anyone, and to encourage a variety of audiences to interrogate their own relationships with identity. Initally I thought that removing social specifics about myself, my identity, and my background and instead focusing only on my relationship with myself would help to do this. But I felt conflicted when looking at the work of Antony Gormley and Marc Quin. I felt that both these artists did that, but in doing so ended up operating under the assumption that their white male able bodied image was in some way universal, and that their image was applicable to anyone’s experiences of self image. In looking at Zanele Muholi’s work, which was incredibly specific and intentionally dealt with their identity as a nonbinary person, and a black person in South Africa, I came to understand the value and importance of these specifics. It is a privilege only afforded to white artists to see our image or our bodies as being a “neutral” or a “universal”, and rather than trying to erase the elements of my identity which might contextualize my work, I should instead be direct and clear about it. This change in perspective has shaped the current status of my work, and I want to bring these specifics of my external social identity into conversation with the ephemeral internal elements I was interested in before.
- Most of my early experimentation dealt with how to develop my research and photography into performance work. In order to develop a reliable structure for my work I began to keep a notebook. Since coming to PDP I have been very resistant to different tutors encouragement to keep a sketchbook, as I find drawing and sketching challenging, and don’t feel it is helpful for me in making work. However I realized that my notebook instead could be a place for writing and collage, which I have always found incredibly helpful. This book has become the core anchor for my process.
Despite the success of keeping a notebook, I struggled to get my ideas into a performance context. I began by experimenting with light, shadow, and projection. These were interesting experiments, and although they helped me to understand what the visual language of my performances might look like, they did little to help me develop content for these performances. Eventually I developed a potential structure for a performance, but in a tutorial with Rosas began to realize that I was limiting myself. The idea seemed very technically crowded and unclear, in comparison to some unrelated video work which she responded to much more positively. I realized that I had been depending on technical elements of performance that I felt strong in instead of interrogating my content. I also began to realize that my drive to create performance work was actually limiting me. Because of its familiarity I was trying hard to force my project into a live art context, instead of exploring other potential results that may feel unfamiliar.
- A core element of my work has been my self portraits. For me, in many ways, these images operated as a kind of physical research and idea gathering. However it would be wrong to ignore that they are also physical outcomes of my work. The same is true for my collage work. My work in the darkroom was interrupted by lockdown, as I no longer had access to the equipment I needed. In order to try and continue this process and form of research I began experimenting with digital collages of my work, altering the images digitally instead of physically, and exploring different ways to layer these images. Although I was still able to make work this way it felt very hollow in comparison to my darkroom work. Part of my interest in analogue photography and darkroom manipulation is the deeply physical element. Particularly with self portraits. The images are made through different chemical reactions, always around light and shadow. In many ways it is a process of taking light particles, which have actually physically been in contact with my body, and altering and changing them continually to achieve a new final image. Digitally it felt like this reality was no longer true. It also meant that my limitations had expanded, which for me actually hindered my work. I think I get better results when I have to find ways to work around technical limits like the darkroom itself, rather than when anything is possible.
Following these digital experiments I began working with acetate. I wanted to see what would happen if I printed my images onto sheets of transparent acetate. I began working with the wrong kind of acetate initially, meaning the ink was unable to stick to the paper. This allowed me to experiment with transferring this ink to other surfaces, but it meant that none of my prints were permanent. I scanned them into digital version in order to save them, but there were many physical results that I couldn’t keep. I then got the right kind of acetate, and created work with that, but the outcomes were very different, and much more similar to my original images.
Before lockdown, out of my research and experiments, I had developed a number of different ideas for final outcomes. My original plan had been to produce as many of them as I could over a short time period, and see what sort of results I had. Throughout the year I felt limited by over planning, and over thinking, and intended to use this time to counteract that by making as much work as I could. However this was quickly interrupted. I decided to preserve these ideas, and hopefully will be able to execute them later on.
- This project has felt incredibly necessary, and feel that the greatest success has been the development of a research led working method. At the end of Year 2 I felt very concerned that without projects from Uni I would be totally lost in making my own work. I also felt very concerned that I was making work that felt familiar but was not actually satisfying. I was unsure that I wanted to continue making collaborative live art and theatre as I had been previously, and knew I needed to spend time making different kinds of work. In this sense I feel that the project has been successful. I know feel much more confident in my ability to create a working method on my own, which builds off of my own interests, research, and experiments. I also feel that I have challenged myself to make new kinds of work, and expand my own practice. That being said, I have very little realized work to show for it. This is in due mostly to lockdown, however it is undeniable that because I was struggling in unfamiliar territory I was over considered in actually making work. My time researching, planning, and thinking overtook my time actually making, and this means that I have very little work to show for my efforts. Although I feel that I haven’t produced much, I do feel confident in my ability to do so later. Although the assignment is over, I don’t feel that my working process has stopped at all, unlike other projects, and I feel confident that I can continue this project after University.