A Durational Touring Project
Cycle Stories is the umbrella process for two ‘products’ that we make as we go through the thing called Cycle Stories. I know I’m not really defining it there. It isn’t terribly helpful to define things in terms of themselves… unless deliberately indicating a circular/inductive definition… hmmm, something I might be doing.
I know what Cycle Stories involves doing, which is heading out in a group on bicycles and traveling upon them to our next stop on a tour that has so far set off from Brighton, taken in Caen, London, Hextable, Wye, Eastleigh and Bristol. At each stop on the tour we are ‘in residence’ at a host organization, a place where we stop to work on the ‘products’ alluded to above.
But I’m/we’re not entirely sure what Cycle Stories is yet. I’m having trouble figuring out what kind of creative/generative technology the process is using, as it seems to bring together bunches of my own skills that I’ve never really had to deal with all at once before. Just being able to say that, for me, implies that I am being stretched in a new and possibly unusual way thus gaining the process entry to my personal Art Hall of Fame (and more on this later).
I know what Cycle Stories gets done, that is, the products it will create: the first is an audio walk called Walking Stories and the other is Cycle Stories: The Documentary.
Neither fit into conventional dance boxes, although both bring to the fore what I consider to be dance-specific ethos (more on this later). The concept of Cycle Stories doesn’t fit easily into a dance box either; we don’t do an awful lot of dancing in the project (well, except for occasionally ‘testing’ angular momentum on our bikes… or leaping into hedges… David says he does ‘bike yoga’…?)
I know that Cycle Stories is about traveling, about space and place and how we move through them… and I know that this traveling is a very important part of the art we are making.
The Best Art Project Ever
I have been excited about this project for a long time; we’ve been mulling this over for at least two years and finally, finally, we are on bikes, trekking around England, nomads with panniers full of mp3 players and headphones.
I alluded to a personal Art Hall of Fame. I also alluded to some dance-specific ethos. I shall explain a bit:
- I, in the good company of philosophers, Zen buddhists, physios, physiologists and I’m sure many other creatures, am of the opinion that movement and stretch is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. I don’t mean *just* physical motion/stretch, but include that as equally important.
- If we don’t stretch our experience and habits from time to time, by gently mobilising them like we do our joints of a morning warm-up, they stiffen up… this is a direct mapping from our physical experience because our experience and habits generally are physical events.
- Sometimes movement/stretch feels uncomfortable:
- Even though this can be a bit tricky to read sometimes (particularly if it moves beyond discomfort), discomfort is really a giant sign-post saying: “You have found a place that is a little bit congested or a bit tight. Please bring a bit of fresh air in.”
- This is really important to keep doing as artists. There is nothing more important. Not to stay in perpetual motion, but to notice when we tighten up and when we don’t want to move.
- In my personal Art Hall of Fame almost all of the projects/art works to be found there are somehow landmarks, either because they stretched me or they introduced new patterns of movement (I mean both of these in both literal dance terms and metaphorical dance terms). There are very few that didn’t create at least a little bit of discomfort. Not an extreme amount; I’m thinking more the kind of consciousness that happens when your trousers are just a bit too tight rather than ‘can’t breathe: waistband squishing stomach into lungs’ sort of tight.
Dance-specific ethos… well, this could be a whole other post… but in the interests of clarity, I’ll just clear up some of my own:
- Dancing is motion, rather than stasis. We all know what dancing is, even if we don’t know any ‘steps’. Most things *in life* (i.e., not dead) are animate and therefore in motion. Animation is a critical theme in our experience in the world.
- Dancing works through manifold sensation and perception, not limited to visual, reflected kinds; therefore, dancing works through body and the brain-inside-the-body.
- Dancing is patterns.
- Dancing comes before words and other taught, rational/linear modes do.
- Dancing can also come after words and other taught, rational/linear modes.
When I say, as I did in the first few paragraphs, that what Cycle Stories produces brings some dance-specific ethos to the fore, I mean that it gets people into their own skin, their perception, it comes both before and after language, it attends to spatial, kineasthetic and musical patterns, all to highlight the animation in life, for an individual, a group and a public space. It is a dance without all the culturally-acquired baggage… the kind of dancing we all know, not just those who belong to the Contemporary Art Clubs. No steps to remember.
A Bit of History
It all started when Tom (one of the sound artists and Charlotte’s brother) made an audio walk whilst working on another project. It was great, according to all who partook; it was very Tom, (in that it included instructions like: ‘find a way to not touch the ground’) and it prompted thinking.
Charlotte and I had spent part of a summer a few years ago touring to various residencies, hitching across Europe (something she is very skilled at, myself less so… but then, I am more of a hermit and prefer sitting alone on the train), inviting various people to join in along the way and not making very much in terms of product, but enjoying the looseness of the research, how it draped itself over a whole month and included whatever presented itself along the way. There were some ideas (landing/taking off/cycles) being played with in studios, outdoors and over late nights, but no rush to make them presentable.
These two elements eventually became the backbone of Cycle Stories: a touring project that involves a core team (2 sound artists, 2 dance artists and a film-maker) living like nomads for 10 weeks, travelling by bike to residencies across Southern England and France, temporary homes where we do some research for Walking Stories, the audio walk.
This is a hugely ambitious project which was preceded by a separately funded R+D period in the autumn to sketch out a 20 minute draft version. The full length of Walking Stories is currently just under 55 minutes, the Arts Council application was a work of art in itself, we have a full-time tour manager/bike maintenance crew/cook (his name is Alex and yes, we have contemplated ‘Cycle Stories: The Complete Recipe Collection’ as he is a VERY good cook) and we hope to have it all translated into 35+ languages (er… eventually). We also make grand entrances in even the smallest of towns courtesy of the cycle-mounted sound system that one of Tom’s housemates devised (genius): the equivalent of the early 90’s shoulder-mounted boombox.
Walking Stories, to quote Charlotte, is ‘an outdoor, sited work, but designed for many sites – a ‘site-unspecific’.’ In my opinion, it is very much a dance work (see earlier paragraph about dance-specific ethos), regardless of sitting outside the usual dance-boxes: it relies on sound, emphasizes listening rather than watching, it brings about change through creating/dismantling/shifting space, perception and time-frames and it gets people to listen to something almost by accident, something some don’t often hear: their bodies in motion. It does this through the dark-arts/high-level skills of Tom and Tristan in bringing the whole thing together, text and field recordings and composed sound, into a single track we can plug headphones into and walk with. The participants are both performer and audience (in fact, we’ve discarded these as categories… way out of context here) and we have designed the walk to be accessible:
not only to people who are used to following physical instructions (hello dance world),
not only those who are interested in dis-regarding all the instructions (yes, this happened in France… and might I playfully add, only in France… yes, we had it translated),
not only those who would prefer to walk alone/with others,
those who hail from urban/rural walks of life…
the uber-busy, who must continue texting/emailing on their phones,
the deeply-touched, who glow like children with new toys,
the experienced/over-exposed art-world travellers, who are sometimes too weary to enjoy the the devices our walk employs,
the confused, who are not sure whether they did it right or wrong…
those who don’t understand the instructions and only listen to the sounds,
those who don’t hear the sounds but only the instructions…
anyone over a precocious 8? parental discretion advised. 55 minutes often stretches an adult attention span.
We want many many people to be able to do this walk because we have, as a group, a very strong desire to inspire greater feeling and care for local, natural spaces at a literal ground level. Feedback from the draft walks we’ve done indicate that people feel generally ‘better’ for doing the walk. Some people feel weird and some get irritated with the instructions. But mostly, they *feel*. We’ve got them personally invested in themselves, the ‘other’, potentially random, folk on the walk, in the place they’ve just spent an hour wandering around… and that, in my opinion, is the qualitative difference in an art experience. One that is not dissimilar from what dancing does for many, either as pleasure/work: it changes how/what we feel.
Cycling between places draws positive attention to environmental and sustainable practice threads in the work. Slow travel lets us actually get a feel for the places and spaces we move between, it doesn’t let them become a blur from the train/car/plane window. It really only feels ‘slow’ on the uphill climb… after that… just watch out for the pot holes.
Cycle Stories: The Documentary
I’ve not said much about the documentary. I’m camera shy, both literally and metaphorically. I have an existential crisis whenever David (who is a decent human being, despite brandishing these cameras at us constantly) asks for a bit of an update for ‘the camera’… Somebody please save me from my lengthy pauses, my octopus arms flying around the frame, the sudden leaps in my accent (German? Scandinavian? North American? I can do them all! All at once! As soon as that light goes on…) the absolute vacuum my mind becomes… I heartily endorse Final Cut pro and all of its kindly editing possibilities.
Having said that, I appreciate that he/the others only take the mickey about half as much as I’m sure my camera-behaviour warrants.
You might say I’m a bit biased where the documentary is concerned. Hence keeping a bit quiet as a subjective voice. I’m impressed by the general coherence of the snippets he shows us. In the midst of this process, it feels like a most enjoyable, swirling chaos and I couldn’t begin to point to how such a thing should be documented.
What does David do (apart from inspire irrational fear in me)? He works alongside us, recording much of what we get up to, asks important, occasionally difficult questions, contributes to discussion and feedback sessions, shares his bike-knowledge, tests draft walks with us… but most importantly, I feel, he is an ever-present reminder of the process itself. Even though we get lost in crafting the next part of the audio walk, or mapping the route to get from here to there on bikes, his presence is significant in bringing the record of where we have been and the importance of that to where we are now… into the thing that happens next… another layer of attention/intention to the project.
Records and Maps
We all keep records, maps of where we’ve been – this post is a version of my personal record of this project and part of a larger map which I call ‘practice’.