Tales from the making of ‘Is this a Waste Land?’

by Keren Kossow 

So, this week has been, shall we say, frustrating, to say the very least in Waste Land world. For a little window, here are all the things that have gone wrong (that we can actually admit to!):

On Saturday I went to London for the weekend with the only key for the padlock that gives us access to the site. This left Charlotte and Tom scrambling over the fence like teenagers on Sunday afternoon. Not the best way to look like you have permission to be somewhere.

We have had four different sets of wireless headphones and transmitters sent to us that have just not turned up – two different addresses, two different companies sending the headphones, two different courier companies. no headphones appearing. let’s not talk about the ones that did arrive!

We’ve been using some lovely work gloves whilst making the piece and wanted to order 100 pairs of them. But they are out of stock.

We tried to order 20 beautiful long bamboo poles from our bamboo pole supplier, but they have run out of bamboo poles.

Charlotte, Petra and Louise all tried to wash some clothes in the washing machine, but it broke halfway through the cycle with all the water and the clothes and the soap inside. Charlotte now smells particularly soapy. 

We are all staying at a delightful place called Broccoli Bottom (much to the amusement of all the delivery companies and suppliers we are working with!) which is in the very beautiful county of Rutland and is a half hour drive from the site. There is a very handy bus that goes straight from here to our site which Louise tried to catch yesterday morning as there wasn’t quite enough space in the car. But the bus didn’t turn up.

On Monday we spent a day with the lovely Mark Brennan in his sound recording studio in Corby recording all the text for the performance (a very exciting day!) I had agreed to pay Mark in cash at the end of the day, but I failed to tell anyone about it so there was no cash and poor Mark was left wondering if we were going to do a runner! [This has been sorted, sorry Mark, thank you for your understanding of my mental state!]

And it is only Wednesday. 

And, remember, these are only the things that are appropriate to share! 

But we had a full moon last night, surely the energy will now shift? If you are reading this and have an inclination, do feel free to send us some positive energy (and maybe some headphones in the post?)

IS THIS A WASTE LAND? SLIDE

Is this a Waste Land? is our new performance through headphones for a disused urban space.

First performances will be in April and May 2017. Read all about it on the Is this a Waste Land? pages

Discovering place

Discovering Place

I am in London searching for the ‘right’ site. I have found ‘right’ places several times before, but for one reason or another we are not allowed there. I find myself in the backwaters of industrial estates. Lorries rattle past in almost continuous flows. I feel small and out of place on my steely blue bike. Like I don’t belong there. Day after day I set out. With satellite images in my head from scouring googlemaps and my AZ Map. I take rough notes and scrappy photos of dismal looking places. The lorry drivers stare and assume I must be lost. This is just the start of the process of finding a site. This is what I mean by a site-hunt. It can only happen slowly, at cycling pace. I often get lost.

Looking for the anti-glamorous
Vacant of people
Brimming with the wild
Re-claiming
I wobble around on my bike
Eyes scanning the side streets
Take the strange route
What life is happening here?

What am I looking for?
Vacancy
Discarded
Forgotten
Skylines
Water
Expansive
But bounded
Boundaried.

Greenwich Penninsula – Morden Wharf Road. I’ve been there before. I still like it. There are new mounds of materials – mostly organic matter. Not much glass. It’s like a dumping ground for wood chip. I’ve just come off the busy approach road to the Black Wall Tunnel, but here feels forgotten about and left behind. I can see the distinctive buildings of Canary Wharf and the HSBC Tower hazily on the horizon. I move on. Across the Peninsula, past the rows and rows of car parking to the strange place that is the O2.morden-wharf-1

On the Air Emirates pods across the river to Silvertown I spot a large un-expected plot next to the Tate&Lyle Factory. Once on ground level, I get lost trying to find it amongst all the busy dual carriageway roads and the lorries. Eventually I do. It’s huge. It backs onto the river and is boundaried by the DLR, Tate&Lyle, and derelict warehouses. The skyline includes Canary Wharf. It’s grassy and overgrown. It’s perfect. Is it too far out? Too remote? I make an unexpected mark on my map. And cycle on.

Trinity Buoy Wharf, a gardening project in Canning Town. Up to West Ham, I’m searching for a place I’d spotted on googlemaps, at the north end of an industrial estate. Close to the train tracks. I can’t find it. Eventually I give up, and make my way onto the Greenway. I love this walking cycling route, that I didn’t know existed until I started searching for sites for this project. This section was closed last time I was here, with Keren on the hottest day of the year in 2015.

I cross the train tracks, and then my eyes get drawn to a vacant plot off to the left. Bordered by train tracks, a line of trees in the distance, gas rings on the horizion and the canal to the West. I’m curious and take the driveway down. There is a gateway and a cabin with a few guys inside just at the entrance. I am looking at them and they are looking back at me.

I take a few pictures and then notice a sign asking me to kindly not take pictures. There’s a couple of ramshackle buildings at the bottom of the driveway. And then surrounding that is this huge expanse of nothingness. A good definition of ‘brownfield’. It’s absolutely vast. I wonder if it is contaminated or something. It’s so unusual to see so much vacant land in London – that isn’t becoming a building, that isn’t a park, or a football pitch. That isn’t doing something ‘useful’. It makes me more interested. What are those buildings? Who are these men in the cabin? A few cars come and go. Only men. Eventually I go down to the cabin and ask. They’re a mosque. They own the land. They don’t know what the plans are. They give me a mobile number of someone to call. I feebly explain that I’m looking for a place to run an art performance. I’m not sure it makes a lot of sense to them. But I smile and they smile and I’m glad I got to talk to someone.

I continue up to the Olympic Park. Past the site by Pudding Mill Lane station that we got excited about last year. It’s being used as a work site now. Past the sweetwater site that we used in April. It’s sitting there, looking pretty much the same.  The light is fading. Willesden and White City and the recommendation for East Dulwich will have to wait for another day. I drop into a cafe in Hackney Wick to warm up and get a drink.

I go back through my notes. The wider research begins.
Who owns it?
Would they be likely to agree?
How long has it been empty?
What used to be there? What’s coming next? How soon?
How easy is it to get to?
Where’s the nearest tube station and bus stop?

I mark my map. And make my shortlist.

This kind of searching in London has happened in bursts periodically for over two years. In that time we have blundered across so many curious hinterlands. I have travelled the greenways, the waterways, the capital ring path. Searching. It’s a bit like rummaging in dustbins. I have developed a very particular eye for unearthing unlikely spots and recognising potential goldmines. London is changing so swiftly, that googlemaps is often out of date. It is a useful tool, but not to be trusted. I have practiced this art of searching.    We are still not finished.

In Corby we found a site. It was confirmed. It was easy to get permission – what a delight! We worked there for two weeks in October 2016 and we all fell in love with it a bit. And then in January, just as we were finalising the details of working there for 5 weeks this spring and holding the first performances there at the end of April…suddenly it was gone. The site has been sold, it will be turned into a food factory, and will be operating by April. Such is the way with these in-between spaces. We dashed to a few new possible places, we’ve jumped through almost all the hoops for the next place, this time in the centre of Corby town. I’m hopeful.

The following day we travelled to Glasgow to meet with Tramway who will be presenting Is this a Waste Land? as part of Dance International Glasgow in May. I was there last July and had identified two good sites. Behind Scotland Street Children’s Museum rapidly became my favourite. I started to imagine the piece in my head happening there and I was excited to see it again. It’s opposite Shields Road subway station, but hidden behind a large building. On my way to my meeting at Tramway, I got off the subway at Shields Road to have a look. I stepped out of the station, onto the road and realised something was different. The gate was open. The site had turned into a storage space covered in shipping containers and a car park. I realised how much I had been banking on being there.

Our meeting was great. They had found us another site – the place where a bus depot used to be. In fact it was still standing last July. It has fantastic views across the city. The site can’t be re-developed for several months because the ground has to settle or something. We have permission. We will slot in, in the interim time. Timing is of essence. This is perfect timing.

This project is forcing me to practice being flexible, agile, adaptable, transient, moveable. It’s like improvising in performance. It is a dance on a grand scale. In London we are still waiting and moving.

glasgow-site

Natures and Natures

by Petra Söör

It is a morning in October 2016 and I’m in Corby working with Charlotte Spencer and a great team of people on the project Is this a Waste Land?  For two weeks we have been working on a site of some demolished buildings, flattened many years ago to what is now a bare piece of land with debris and green growth coexisting and creating new forms of ecosystems. This morning as many before we start the day, I’m sitting on the ground between young birch saplings looking at different materials sticking up through the surface layers of moss and grass; metal, concrete rubble, bits of what might have been old plastic flooring and carpeting. These days we’ve spoken of wilderness as a process inherent everywhere and anywhere, and here it is.

In this piece of plastic, with its atoms bound in a form slowly eroding and transforming, biochemical processes slow yet fast, I feel inherent wilderness exposed and alive. Yet the bound is actually not really bound. It’s full of space and hovering.

The I, me that is holding and perceiving it, also eroding, transforming and becoming, suddenly experience a strange and warm feeling of curiosity and love like sense of infinity with this unknown material of a different nature. I’m becoming aware of my own previous judgement about what is or isn’t ‘natural’.

Natures and Natures (on falling in love with a piece of plastic) is a work reflecting on poetics of time and materiality, wilderness and love – dedicated to a site in Corby, UK. It is currently evolving both independently of and also within the context of Is this a Waste Land? 

img_5090

eroding transforming bodies
of matter differently bound in time
I salute you
for teaching me about love
and natures and natures

Official Video trailer – ITAWL

Here is the official video trailer for our new work, Is this a Waste Land? We will be completing the creation of this new head-phoned live performance work this spring with the first public performances in April and May 2017.

We are working with an extraordinary team of artists and collaborators and we look forward to sharing the new work with you soon!

In the mean time, enjoy this short 2 min video. Camera and edit by David McCormick, sound by Tom Spencer.

Is this a Waste Land? is commissioned by Deep Roots Tall Trees, and a Compass Commission from Greenwich Dance & Trinity Laban. Additional funding has come from the National Lottery through Grants for the Arts from Arts Council England, a successful crowd-funding campaign and Patrons of Charlotte Spencer Projects. The project is supported via South East Dance and Jerwood Charitable Trust Dramaturg in Residence programme.

Field Notes.4 – Gian Paolo Cottino

Welcome to 2017. Here is the fourth and final set of notes from Gian Paolo Cottino during our Forest Residency in August 2016. These notes follow an early dawn walk and a remarkable time listening to the internal sounds of trees on the final day of our residency.

PART FOUR

Moving between sleep and wakefulness.
This morning we awake at four thirty and proceed to walk towards the east, towards dawn. We are experimenting with Petra’s proposition of moving between sleep and wakefulness and to witness one another in this place.

When we reach the open fields belonging to the estate (as does the plantation we have been camping in), our path is sided by a ditch or a trough, and a wall holds our path back and above this ditch in the earth. This is the Deer Leap that Charlotte had told us about. A system devised to keep the deer that would jump down into the estate’s grounds from ever being able to return to the surrounding common woods.

I stay back and watch the group descend a small distance into the open valley of the estate. There they settle in a sleepy and silent witnessing of dawn. They look east and watch the pink and orange glow of the sun rise as a ball into the sky.

I feel the desire not to join them in that silence and set about looking for a tree. I see an old oak towards the north with a small incline of earth to one side of it and I walk there to lie down on my poncho. As I move between sleep and wakefulness I watch below me a line of experiences looking into the sun.

I feel strongly aware of following my instincts, and I notice the judgement of my self as I separate from the main group.

Looking on from here, I see the awake sleepers as a pride of lions in the early light of a savannah.

To the heart through a tree.
After Petra’s Sweaties and Friskies exercise ( revolutionary fun), I walk toward a circle of ash trees. They are maybe six to eight metres tall, their circumference between 30 and 40 cm. There are perhaps eight of them and they are still young and supple enough to bend easily in the wind.

Placing my ear against it’s skin I listen to one of these trees and I become aware that I can hear it’s wood, it’s fibrous body, bending and stretching and creaking like a ship in a sea of earthly fluids. I hear it’s branches touching another’s. Then I hear my heart and I become aware that it is beating faster and faster, louder…and I sense also that the tree is aware of me. Extending Ben’s craniosacral exercise and practising it with a non human being, I touch the tree and move into the tree and then responsively allow the tree to move into me. The whole experience softens me and yet I simultaneously feel strengthened by the sensuous exchange . As the whole group embraces my proposition to repeat this exercise together, I see our experience of this time and place shift and go deeper still. And I am definitely thankful.

Field Notes.3 – Gian Paolo Cottino

Here is the third set of field notes from Gian Paolo Cottino. The fourth and final one will be published in the new year.

PART THREE

The Water Hole.
I plunged into a pool of water whose surface was being strimmed by the wind. I was my father as a younger and leaner self. I watched him disappear under the water, agitated and concerned. Then, he re-emerged, calm, knowing and un-movable by the forces that had gripped the younger man to become dependent on drugs.

This morning, at first light, I walk to the water hole we had seen on our initial hike through the plantation. I want to look deeper within me, I want to find the stillness in these waters…and from this stillness to know.

I find my place under a pine tree on the southern edge of the body of water. Facing the north and in the midst of morning practice I see a man approaching on the track to my left. Ahead of him a Staffie dog is running, excited and bashful, seemingly led by a contortion of irrepressible muscle. I notice the man has removed his shirt to bathe in the sun’s light even though the morning is still crisp. His body is muscular and tattooed, and his head is shaved. I can see the dog’s curiosity is leading him towards the area I am in, and for a moment I consider the possibility of my presence surprising him and causing him alarm and agitation. For a moment I consider also that this man might equally be surprised by me and become irritated by the otherness between us and perhaps even question my purpose. But then I watch in stillness and I notice I am invisible to them. I notice also that it is the choice to be grounded and still that means I have been unnoticed.

The man sits down on the large boulder to my left and bathes in the light of the sun. Concerned of startling him I introduce my presence with a greeting.

His voice is soft, his being suddenly startled by another’s. We converse tentatively, about the water, the deer, the fox and the dragonflies and then he carries on with his journey, leaving me in the peace we’d both sought.

Woodpecker.
I see your strong neck vibrate and repeat your heart’s desires into the hard wood and I notice that it is with this beat that you make your home within the tree.