Absence



We began this four day workshop with two starting points. The first was to address the idea of absence as some genisis for performance, we had begun discussing this in June 2018 and made some vague attempts at capturing some moving images from our separate cities of Brussels and Berlin, then spent three days discussing how this might be developed for a performance. The second starting point was simply to share our working practices. Between 2008 and 2014 Josh and I had shared a studio space together in central Auckland and shared our working processes and interests over that time. Since living in separate cities for the past 5 years, we were interested in understanding what each other were up to and hopefully learn from new insights.


Day one - Thursday 21 Mar

Spent most of the day talking, making a plan for the 4 days and reviewing what we’d individually been up to in performance and in research.

Josh spoke about tools for psycho-physical training and discovering a public practice. He considered this was very different than public performance, since it was looking at increasing the possibilities of what your body can do in urban space as opposed to drawing a public spectacle. His background in physical training systems has drawn him to the ways people use public spaces to extend their training regimes. He spoke about ‘athleisure’ and ‘Psycho-physical public practice’ as ways of rethinking a relationship to public space.

Stephen spoke about the role of fiction in providing an inclusive relationship or an alternative system in public spaces.

Common ground also drew towards the idea of fiction enabling an expanded sense of being the public. Absent training and training in absence.

Technological relationships to the body and self might also be represented by the absent worker, exemplified by the computer voice, where text is spoken or even generated by the computer yet forms a strong relationship to people as another person.


Day two - Friday 22

Readings, writing exercises and discussion. Working thematically with absence as a presence we did a short writing exercise mixing up some of the ideas we’d talked about, running with the idea of fiction enabling a different way of seeing.

Stephen
This monster has no parents, it’s not looking for anyone, not crawling through the dark tundra, not hiding in the closet or under your bed, this monster does not jump out in front of your car on a dark country lane. This monster is in a thousand places worldwide at any one time, it arrives at your door within a few minutes with the aid of a smiling face in a yellow van. You can’t be rid of it because there are thousands more a few minutes away and they know where you live.
You will have seen me already. Many times. Swishing past in your Mitsubishi Galant. Your eyes were on the road and you didn’t see me. You saw me again when you sat down to work. You reached out for a takeaway coffee cup and you saw me out the corner of your eye. You swivelled in your chair slightly but you were distracted. You didn’t know what I looked like so you looked away. You saw me on the street, just near the lights. You looked up just as it went red and saw right through me. I was on the other side of the street. I was slipping past on a tram. I was hovering just below your feet. I was buzzing a few centimetres from you.
Where has the dark smoke gone? Where is the horse shit? Where are the cars? Where are the dogs? Where are the screeching tyres? Where are the horns? Where are the sweaty arms? Where are the dripping puddles of oil? Where are the bloodied knuckles? Where are the dirty trousers? Where are the hissing cats? Where are the straggling kitchens looking for a saucer of milk?
Josh
I’m doing the 4th rep of aimless toe-dragging when a job pops-up around the corner. I jog to the pick-up and deliver the goods 800m down the road on foot. 6 more jobs like that and I’ll hit my daily 3000 step minimum. I sit down and concentrate on breathing through my elbows and 79 seconds - when the next job comes through. It s a relay exchange.
Our optimised meeting point is 246 seconds walk away. I spend 49 seconds drinking espresso then jog to the relay point. A scooter pulls up and the driver hands over the package. It’s addressed to me. I don’t want to go home yet, but also don’t want to carry the package around all day, so organise a further relay point. Someone right next to me accepts the offer, takes the package and starts walking toward my apartment. They can leave it with the neighbours. Theres a running vortex gathering mass in the closest plaza so I jog over and slip into the current. If I commit to this event for 40mins it should earn me stalwart points, which can parlay for entrance to a sonic annihilation later tonight. I make my feet as light as possible as I run in circles, hoping to minimise jarring in my joints. It’s not easy maintaining somatic adept status.
These exercises lead to discussions about ways of mixing up the fictional with the observed city.

Videos watched

Running Circles - Sufi hypnotic ritual running circles https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5goISKPSH8&t=68s


Heavy Metal mosh-pit circles https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CipO1XGh4QM

Triangleland by Gabriel White - this was an interesting reinterpretation of urban space through associative thinking and looking for symbols. https://www.circuit.org.nz/film/triangleland We broke down the structure of this film into three basic operations as a way to make our own experiments. 1) view something with a clear expectation, 2) point out a twist in how to view it symbolically 3) find a new thing based on the newly introduced idea or subject

#Flashtalk - a France2 tv show where the interviews all happen in public space, bringing the discussion into the street by removing the ‘studio’ from the television format https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snBjpAtMxcs

Looked at BBC show Amazing Houses https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1X_Dr141tY - by analysing the relationships and the method of re-looking at something familiar we set about doing improvisations in the room we were working in. The structure was 1) bringing an area of expertise, 2) what we liked about it 3) design knowledge 4) bullshit about it 5) personal reflection

Most effective was when we brought in our own area of expertise but used the kitchen we were in to draw illustration or metaphor.

Next we took the observation and reassigning of symbolic meaning to the street. We walked through Schaerbeek, specifically between Place Verboeckhaven and Square Ambiorix (towards the EU quarter) to look for inspiration. A short film was made using a phone camera.

Finally we attempted to create a narration of the environment that focusses on fiction as a way of reordering the sense of the place. We found that by mixing past future and present, it encouraged a stronger sense of looking than if we stuck to just one tense. In the unknowing was a desire to discover the sense of what was going on. This lead to describing an elaborate science-fiction reality within the fairly mundane city park environment. It was agreed that we should do more writing on this idea.


Day three - 23 Mar

Developing the idea of somatic training as a way to re-define or re-experience the city, we headed out into the urban environment with the idea to make some running circles. Since we had a camera with us, the way we reflected on the exercise was primarily visual. Relating to the architecture of the city also became immediately interesting.

Josh used the word ‘frictionless’ as a way to describe the relationship between the performed activity (running) and the public who occupied the spaces. This is a very helpful way to consider how an artistic intervention rubs up against the reality of urban space. We chose the activity of running because it was a relatively normal thing to do, despite being somewhat twisted by running in circles.

After a number of trials we bought some second-hand running shirts and shorts as a way to clearly signify the activity as ‘training’ rather than self-identifying as ‘performance’ or ‘art’, which we felt running in our street closed did. This created an even more ‘frictionless’ environment in that the public hardly noticed what we were doing since the activity is deemed acceptably unconventional in the city. Despite running in circles in fairly odd places, the costumes of everyday running gear allowed us to maintain the everyday codes of the street, subverting normative action rather than contradicting or stepping blatantly outside it. The use of fiction in this way was respectful of everyday norms (referred to by Josh as frictionless). This we both agreed had a stronger ability to be iterative over time rather than the play-acting sensation we had when running in our street clothes. We also noticed that there was a real difference between doing the activity without the camera at all, and when the camera was present. Effectively it signals that the odd behaviour has some aesthetic purpose, in some way it creates a rational logic rather than keeping the activity as ambiguous.

The circle was a good shape because it was able to be entirely constant, without changes of direction. This could very easily be considered ‘training’ still since it seems so close to everyday physical activity. The running circle becomes a behaviour therefore, rather than a performance.


Day four - Sunday 24

After much discussion about the day of running in circles, we decided to develop this idea further. Simplifying the action, ie simply running in circles without drawing significant focus, and to treat the activity as a primarily architectural proposition. The circle, we concluded, was a way of iterating an absent architectural space. Through repeating this action for some time (we thought 10 mins as an absolute minimum for the sake of our experiments) would allow the novelty to get boring and for the proposed absence to build up. We were reminded of Richard Long’s walking tracks where a residue was created from a repeated action in the landscape, and the many desire-tracks within public parks and spaces where the public created tracks from shortcuts or leaving the prescribed path. Here’s a nice blog that relates to some of these http://arcadenw.org/blog/mapping-desire-lines-from-richard-longs-walks-to-the-sinewy-paths-of-smell

We returned to city with our camera and the costumes. Some of the results of these are here

https://vimeo.com/manage/327635155/general

https://vimeo.com/327625654

Lastly we resolved to keep work on the running circles up in our respective cities, exploring the potential for extended periods of time and one or more runners working together. A large group of runners could collectively run the circle at the same time, for example, or treat it as a kind of vigil where the circle is kept going for a long time. Other questions also came up about the logic behind the placement of the circle. Could it be used to reveal an underlying meaning or significance to that space that wasn’t immediately evident? Could it have some historical significance to the city? As an architectural feature we found that cutting across surfaces or normal use areas, the presence of the circle became clearer.







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