Collapse: a composition for activism

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‘Score for a Collapse’ by Amy Sharrocks

On 29th of March 2019, the day scheduled for ‘Brexit’, when the UK would leave the European Union after 46 years of an always distrustful alliance, twelve of us converged on the triangular plaza that conjoins King’s Cross Station to St Pancras station, a busy concourse of criss-crossing commuters, and on the day and time in question, framed by the lunching crowds taking a short hour out of the day to swallow a sandwich while catching up on the latest Brexit news on their smartphones: in the midst of all this our little group entered the scene and came to a standstill.

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photo: Eleanor Boileau Clarke

As we stood motionless, we, or something now weaving amongst us, between us, became suddenly conspicuous, not in the sense of visible, but sensible, sensorial: we could feel that something was about to happen, and we could sense that others had felt it too. This is what Japanese dancer Yoshito Ohno calls ‘the patience of not starting’. It is a convergence of the senses and a cellular consciousness, that precedes the moment of action: the stillness that coagulates effervescent atoms in a state of total presence.

While many continued their blinkered linear traversal of the space, eyes absent-mindedly glued either to a destination, physical or mental, or that informed by a phone gripped in an efficient hand, some passers-by seemed to have become aware of an invisible force-field that was imperceptibly emerging at 13:10 on a surprisingly warm and cloudless Friday. They, those who had become aware of it, seemed to bump into it, inadvertently reversing, moving laterally around it, or being suddenly confused and slowed in their tracks.

By 13:13, the Collapse was underway.

At first it is a ‘small dance’: a solo beginning, head held high, vertical, biped, human. As you stand there, time passing, the habit of tension that has allowed you that position, that posture, comes to the fore, and with its appearance you can no longer ignore it. In the next few minutes you will look at this structure, not with eyes but through the two long muscles that stand like caryatids at the back of the neck, the flagpoles to the triangular banners of the trapezius muscle draped between them, anatomical scaffolds that stand forever out of sight. Becoming suddenly conscious of their assigned task, these load-bearers buckle under the weight of it: the average head weighs about 4.5 to 5 kilos. From ear to shoulder the angles, normally more or less equal in balance, shift: one is gaping open towards 180º, while the other has closed correspondingly. And moment by moment, the appearance in consciousness of that mass is shifting the greater mass of your entire frame, your body. The vertical is no longer a given, you have become a stacking of diagonal plates moving in spiral formations around an axis, that is itself in a state of gently pliant lability.

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photo: Eleanor Boileau Clarke

It is a dance of surrender, but we do not fall, for now it has become a duet with forces beyond our control. A duet requires resistance, it is not just about giving in: you must play hard to get. You feel the shifts and you respond, you explore the crevasses and ridges of each moment, and you stay there, to observe, to take it in, as long as you can take it, and before the vertigo sets in as gravity keeps leading you towards the edge of your fear. And then the zone of no return, a border that signals the moment of criticality, when you are going down to the ground and you can no longer recover from this descent.

The footwork is simple, it has the sticky mucosity of a gastropod clinging to the ground with every millimeter of its surface area, while at the same time being light enough to lift-off ever so swiftly in fast response to the unpredictable shifts and changes: your feet move along a jagged margin, between being planted firmly on the ground and ready to improvise as your weight slides across the sagittal plane. But despite all your efforts, you are collapsing: this is a duet with gravity, the destination is assured.

By 13:40 we are supine, faces upended, eyes towards the sky, or, flattened, warm skin pressed into the coolness of the concrete slabs, vaguely aware of the threat of the echoing footsteps of the crowds, less than a metre from our heads. But we lie there quietly bathed in an audacious victory, vulnerable, exposed, awry, in a state of public horizontality.

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photo: Eleanor Boileau Clarke

At 13:45 the last one rearranges himself back into respectability, restoring the five kilos back to its daily pedestal, like the rest of us have done, each in turn, individually peeling ourselves off the ground, in sporadic intervals. His gait hesitant, his walk shuddering just a little, as mine did, he falters too, a tentative break from the linearity of confidence, of knowing exactly where you stand and where you are going. There is no other result, and the piles of Evening Standard newspapers have just appeared with the tragicomic headline ‘Happy ‘no’ Brexit Day’ to remind us of the ongoing political drama of the day.

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photo: Eleanor Boileau Clarke

“A Collapse of the spirit and the psyche is perhaps a call to stop resisting and to surrender to reality, that our systems are broken […] A prerequisite to activated change is to accept ourselves and any situation we encounter, to make progress, we need to come out of any denial. Before we can grow, before we can rise and expand and co-create, I think we have to become rooted in some form of truth. The alternative in my mind is more frequent episodes of undoing as a repetitive self-defeating cycle, as we see in our current ecological, socio-economic and political climate and personal lives.”

Jenny Hegarty, Collapse participant

 

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photo: Eleanor Boileau Clarke

I propose ‘the poetics of activism’.

What might the ‘poetics of activism’ be? This question resists an intellectual answer, though definitions and etymology provide some inspiration: ‘poetics’ invokes an awareness of rhythm in the structuring of linguistic intensity, and activism is concerned with an ’ism’ of actions towards social or political change. There we are twelve bodies, attempting to tune into the contrapuntal rhythms of this shifting inchoate and incoherent territory of Brexit.

Like the tongue, attempting to learn an unfamiliar language, this exercise requires an openness, a flexibility, to let go of a known pattern and enter the territory of an unfamiliar sound, to try it, to experiment with it, to roll in it in the mouth and explore its strangeness from multiple angles. To utter it and not to be too serious, but to be utterly committed to its value as word, as a unit in the necessity of communication to the making of community.

The poetics of this activism is a form of sonic but silent language, ‘without form’ though not formless, rather unformed, that is containing all  potentiality but still eluding form. The meter of this poetry has an irregular measure that follows the pace of lived time rather than any predictable interval. And the action of collapsing is a rite of passage, a way to mark change by interrupting the regularity of daily-life, what artist and participant Amy Sharrocks describes through the musical term ‘ritardando’. The poetics of activism is ultimately one-pointed (the sanskrit term ‘ekagrata’) though instead of wanting results, being for or against, it is focused on the absolute precision of the action. This immersion invites time to flow its course, although time now becomes marked by the imprint of matter: collapsing bodies are no longer linear, they have become the material measure of time.

The poetics of activism is a catalyst that inserts the resistant body into a temporality beyond the repetitions of the days and nights, mornings and news feeds, lunches and coffee breaks and dinners and bedtimes of the quotidian, and amplifies a deeper rhythm:

standing /
letting go /
collapsing /
thinking /
forgetting /
thinking /
a knee joint /
the sudden weight of the hand /
pulling /
remembering the past /
remembering the future /
nonthinking /
quivering on the edge /
a foot dragged sideways /
trembling /
surrendering /
no return /
collapsing / collapsing / collapsing


“if power is complex, scattered and productive, so must be our resistance to it.”

(Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman, 2013)

 

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photo: Eleanor Boileau Clarke

Collapse: Brexit 2019 | 29 March, London

We are no nearer to knowing what will happen on 29th March 2019. The action but I’m planning to mark this day, Collapse: Brexit 2019 does not rely on knowing what will happen : perhaps the whole ‘divorce from the EU’ will be delayed as it seems that the UK politicians themselves do not know what to do. Collapse indeed relies on not knowing, and sensing how this not knowing can become a generative process for the imagination, this is why I call this a Poetics of Activism: it’s not about knowing where you stand or your allegiances, but knowing that you don’t know everything that is part of a complex world, and this need not make us hopeless or prevent engagement and participation.

I’m still looking for participants I would like to join me in collapsing on 29 March. This Collapse will take place no matter what happens.

Facebook event link >>

Collapse Brexit pdf Flyer >>

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The poetics of activism: a ritual for Brexit

“I found Collapse utterly utterly compelling” Astrida Neimanis, author

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Collapse: Manchester (photo:Tamsin Drury)

Since the 23rd June 2016, the UK has lived through a period of uncertainty as we wait to find out what will happen when Brexit becomes effective on the 29th of March 2019. The waiting, the not-knowing, the many voices offering conflicting opinions give rise to frustration, anxiety, resignation and sometimes  hope, and affect the political, social, personal and embodied facets of our lives. Brexit, or the prospect of it, has polarised communities and families – nobody knows what will happen.

For as long as I can remember, the UK has been a part of the European Union. When this relation is set to end on 29 March 2019, I wonder what lies beyond that point. Perhaps nothing will change at least not on that day, but over time it will alter in institutional and imperceptible ways. The biggest concerns of the government and the media at the moment are the economics of the separation, but the effect of these will slowly filter into social relationships and other perceptions of the world. Will the UK become more insular or will it look further into the distance, way past its neighbours in Europe to seek new fortunes elsewhere?

Collapse is a word  used to describe the much apprehended downward movement of financial market, though nowadays it is used ubiquitously for describing any scenario that appears cataclysmic, be it natural, social or political. Now I am proposing the Collapse of the human form from the vertical to the horizontal, as a ritual to mark Brexit. On 29 March 2019, I invite you to join me in the City of London to participate in Collapse: Brexit, 2019.

Collapse is an ongoing series of performance interventions that I’ve been developing since 2015. It is a dance duet with forces beyond our control: gravity, time and weathering. It is a movement ritual that engages with resistance and surrender, and proposes a poetics of activism. This action is not a protest, the poetics of activism is the proposition that through doing ‘walking the walk instead of talking the talk’ we can come to recognise the embodied aspect of our politics. In becoming horizontal the body encounters multiple perspectives that allow for reflection on the complexity of the present moment.

I am seeking participants for Collapse: Brexit, 2019. The process of the project will comprise a 3 hour movement/training session at Siobhan Davies Studios a week before the event. Participants will then join in the group Collapse on 29th March. Independent Dance are supporting the event through their network platform.

The invitation to Collapse is open to people of all ages and abilities, the training offered will address any concerns as well as providing a platform for sharing and discursive exchange around a poetics of activism.

Visit the event call out for more details

 

 

 

 

 

Arcadia: a collaboration in Japan

In February 2018 I visited Japan for a whirlwind tour of only ten days. This research trip was part funded by a Research Support Grant from Goldsmith’s University as part of my PhD.  I was able to indulge my interest in a conversation around AI with Sasha Drozd at Tokyo Institute of Technology and then bring this inspiration to my collaboration with artist and sculptor Kyoko Fujiwara.

Another artist and colleague from the Nakanojo Biennale group, Kaoru Murakami was there to see The Invisible Realm: a Path to Arcadia, the performance which gathered ‘the fruit of our labour’. After the performance she commented that my movement quality seemed very different from what she’d seen before. Her short review is really fascinating where she mentions being reminded of a recent NHK programme around AI-created animation and movement. Read it below.

The performance was shown within Kyoko Fujiwara’s solo exhibition at the Iwasaki Museum on 9 February 2018. Sound design was by Joel Cahen/Newtoy and all photos by K. Hayashi.

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Review of The Invisible Realm: a Path to Arcadia


While Dominique was performing, her hand was shaking like an old robot or a badly made 3D animation. She looked like a sick old woman too: but she wasn’t. That’s because she didn’t show any emotion on her face. I wasn’t able to see any feelings in her, moreover, she didn’t seem to have any age. I felt her movement was unnatural. It looked like a character in a video game, which was forced to move by someone.

As I watched, I was remembering the words spoken by Hayao Miyazaki, the director of Studio Ghibli about movement that was created by Artificial Intelligence. He said the AI movement is ‘an insult to life itself’. This AI has learned certain movements and it can choose how to use the body. However, AI doesn’t feel any pain so it creates very creepy movement.

[link to Miyazaki interview on NHK]

As Dominique performed, there seemed to be this Zombie-like movement that is completely free from human disadvantage. It is free from muscle pain, from ill-health and from the existence of internal organs. This creature only has a single intention, to move as a super strong and healthy body. I felt a dark impression about our own ethics while looking at her performance. We can be cruel to somebody like Super Mario who doesn’t feel pain. Humans are now trying to entrust something to AI, but if this AI could come to naturally control things, the time might come when AI had a higher sense of ethics than human beings. I was thinking how we, once we have lost human dignity, might be at that time?

Kaoru Murakami, February 2018

Sacred Flesh at Liverpool Hope

I have just returned from the Sacred Places Conference in Liverpool which ran from 20 – 22 April at Liverpool Hope University. My presentation interrogates the notion of Sacred Flesh, by reflecting on my experience of visiting the Sokushinbutsu or Flesh Buddhas of Japan with Ko Murobushi in 2014.

Keynote speakers included Anne Bean, and a range of artists, scientists, astronomers, anthropologists and was a fascinating mix of ideas, thoughts and provocations that addressed where the sacred might exist within the contemporary. Together we were given free reign to dialogue with a word that seems banned or relegated to a secret, unspoken realm within a culture driven by logic and rationalism: it was like being allowed to breathe a little deeper.

Some notes:

‘Home’ as the extension of self: a sacred space can be a moving place for nomadic people.

Body as ‘home’: if the body becomes a sacred space, how does it then become violated?

Sacred spaces as being detached from the mundane and representing an idealized purity.

Irradiation of spaces by the bodies of performers, actors.

“staying with the trouble requires learning to be truly present, not as a vanishing pivot between awful or edenic pasts and apocalyptic or salvific futures, but as mortal critters entwined in myriad unfinished configurations of places, times, matters, meanings…” Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble

 

 

 

 

Vacancies at Galerie Wedding

My work Rota is installed at Galerie Wedding’s Vacancies exhibition which runs until 24 September. I will also be developing a durational performance all day on 17 September during Berlin Art Week.

The concept of Vacancies is to reframe the gallery as a flatshare or WG in German. Each artist has proposed an axis of enquiry and the works respond to sharing spaces in the context of ‘Post Otherness’, a notion put forward by Bonaventure S.B. Ndikung and Regina Römhild in the ‘Post-Other as Avantgarde’ (2013).

Rota explores cycles within the temporalities of spaces by focusing on the mundane act of cleaning as a way to deterritorialise and allow the possibility of transformation.

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photo : Olaf Kramzik

 

 

 

 

 

Black Walks goes to Delphi, Greece

After having branched out into Field Trip Asia last year, visiting Singapore and the Philippines in a travelling exhibition curated by Daisuke Takeya, Black Walks will be part of the Animart Conference in Delphi, Greece. I will present the project and screen some of the films I made from the performances in the programme ‘Made of Walking’ curated by Milena Principle

http://animartgreece.eu/2016/en/events/15/

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photo: Pablo Cousinou