Everything went quiet – what’s happening? Reflections on Cycle Stories

We’ve been quiet for a while, and it’s definitely time for an update. In short, after a hugely busy and fun summer season with Cycle Stories, I am hibernating.

The longer version is that I am currently in the hugely fortunate position of writing this from a small Spanish village in the foothills of the Pyrenees. I have taken a little bit of time out to reflect, to watch and assimilate my thoughts. Perhaps most importantly I have taken time out to be less busy with dashing from meeting to meeting, and fill my time more with a physical engagement of daily living – chopping wood, making fires, walking 3 hours to market, receiving small exchanges of friendliness and warmth from these tiny remote communities, watching birds and sitting amongst the land as the seasons change. I watch and listen a lot more. I am unused to having so much space, and I find myself treading uncertain territory – navigating the unknown and watching empty space. I am hesitant to rush into new ideas – to try and grab them before they’ve had time to settle. However some things into the future are clear and exciting and I’m happy to have them as landmarks that reach out towards the horizon and provide a little bit of structure.     

tree         leaves

Date for your diaries: 17 January 2014
We are delighted to be invited back by our friends at Greenwich Dance to curate their first Supper Room night. We love this new series which allows us to work across art forms to produce an informal, interactive and exciting (we hope) experience. What to expect? – there will be the first screening of our film, Cycle Stories; live music from our sound artists; a world of hidden clues and little surprises to explore; a human clock; things to listen to; things to add to; we’ll eat delicious food prepared by our very own chef – yes we have a chef! and then we’ll clear the hall for dancing.

So exactly what have I been reflecting on in my hibernation mode?

Cycle Stories and Walking Stories – reflections of each other
Cycle Stories was like delving into the unknown. It was ambitious, bold and ventured dance into unfamiliar territory both in terms of the process through which it was created and the formats of presentation it proposed.

It was perhaps a slightly surprising undertaking for a choreographer to decide to make a multi-stranded hour length audio walk, Walking Stories; to decide to make it through a series of creative residencies in England and France linked together by bicycle; and to make a documentary film at the same time. I’d never worked in this format before, I’d never written a script, I’d never made a film and I’d never done any cycle touring. It was an extraordinary, and wonderful experience, a huge learning curve and involved many months of not much sleep and lots of clambering around a long sheet of paper with all the scripts blue tac-ed to it calling out time codes to the sound artists at 3am and cycling 3000km! I was incredibly fortunate to have been supported by an exceptionally skilled, dedicated and enthusiastic artistic team; a hugely patient and practical tour manager (also cook, bike fixer, and website maker) and an amazing management team who calmly picked up all the slack, writing the necessary emails, contracts, paying people, invoicing, keeping the books etc whilst I was clambering around the sacred scripts…

Cycling and walking
I was asked repeatedly through the project why we were cycling all this way. Was it a separate project? What did it have to do with Walking Stories? For me the connection was always clear, but this constant questioning made me re-evaluate the connection and the necessity for it.

We set out to create a digital recipe for a participatory performance where the audience become the creators, performers and spectators of the choreographic experience we designed for them: an hour length audio walk, for city parks and green spaces for a group of people to do together. I wanted to make a work that was deeply choreographic but hugely accessible and inclusive. I wanted to dismantle the edge between performance and audience space/ stage and life, to invite our audience into a physical and tactile experience of the work almost without them noticing. And I decided that in order to be able to do this well, we the creators of that walk also needed to take a journey together. A long one. To remain in the landscape and feel the work seeping into us, not just think about it in a ‘brainy’ way from the bubble of a studio. We took our walk for a cycle, and together the artistic team travelled between each creative residency by bicycle. We remained in the landscape, close to the ground. A little community – camping, eating, sleeping and working together. It sounds idyllic and in many ways it was, but it was also exhausting and the relationship between the travelling and the work we created didn’t perhaps connect together in the ways we anticipated at the outset.

Interestingly some of the collaborators working on the project didn’t feel the link and I think I start to understand why. Cycling between residencies, across France, camping and the physicality of that experience – its challenges, elations and discomforts had little in common with our mostly computerised experience of creating Walking Stories. Making Walking Stories was technical, theoretical, hypothetical, static. Meticulously crafting and designing an experience for others to take. Trying to imagine how unknown/variable groups of people MIGHT respond. It involved an imagined space, required a degree in psychology, accuracy and an eye for detail. It is very controlled, exact and known. But then when Walking Stories goes live, when we hand it over to an unknown, unpredictable audience, we simultaneously hand over our control. The individual experience is unpredictable, unexpected, unknown. It is this living Walking Stories (rather than the making of it) that mirrors our lived experience of Cycle Stories so fully. It was full of unknown, uncertainty, challenge, surprise and stretch. And sometimes that was unsettling.

When we were on the road, the exertion of cycling actually took up most of our time and energy and there was little remaining capacity to do more. Perhaps I had anticipated too much what this long journey might bring directly to the creativity of Walking Stories. The unsettling experience that it wasn’t bringing what I had hoped/expected was a good reminder that ‘creativity’ can’t be churned out on tap when requested, and is certainly not a linear entity. It is far messier and inter-related than that. Instead we gradually realised as we gathered the miles across France that this journey wasn’t so much about what Walking Stories would become (we were pretty clear already about what it was) but rather was the start of many new creative journeys that were yet to find their form. It was like the research and development, the fieldwork for the next things, still unknown.

If we look at the ‘Cycle Stories’ system more broadly, I think the correlation between the lived experience of Cycle Stories and the lived experience of Walking Stories have much in common. My logistical phase pre-trip was perhaps the equivalent of the computer driven experience of making Walking Stories for Tom and Tristan – I thought about all the components for a very long time, engineered them as precisely as I could so that the technology could withstand the possibilities of anything. I try to keep everyone together -not dissimilar from hand out headphones and mp3 players… instead I gave the artistic team bikes and jobs. We can replace walk with cycle; headphones with bikes; verbal communication with directive/prescriptive thinking.

The edge between our lives and this project became distinctly murky – the project was our life (and this didn’t come without it’s challenges). Is cycling across France not something of a holiday? Well, yes, it could be, but this felt exceptionally different from a holiday – something in my attention and focus; something about how every experience was framed within the context of the project and the journey that was unfolding; something about the responsibility that I held for ensuring that we arrived on time, with everyone together; the responsibility of it having been worthwhile. The edge between performance, performer, spectator, stage all get whirled up in Walking Stories. I don’t like boxes much, and Cycle Stories certainly dismantled the edges of many boxes which was both liberating and at times disorientating.

Walking Stories
I feel exceptionally satisfied by Walking Stories. It was a hugely complex piece of work to devise and the requirements of it were high – we wanted it to be accessible and appealing to a really broad range of people and for it to ‘do’ many things – to re-engage people with green spaces; to bring them into a closer relationship with themselves; to build community; to take them on a journey; to give space for listening and watching; to give space and opportunity for transformation; to allow excited and energetic people to run and equally allow others to be quiet and still; to encourage people to do things that perhaps they might not normally be comfortable doing, and then realise how lovely those activities are. We trusted that this chosen format could work, but it was fairly unknown and untested ground.

The feedback and responses we’ve received have been overwhelmingly positive. I find facilitating the walk endlessly fascinating and beautiful to witness. I watch people gradually sink into themselves, they leave refreshed, more present, more themselves. I love knowing that hundreds of people have clambered around inside this walk, each time making it their own.

Building and maintaining Community
Since the project finished I have noticed that all members of the core artistic team have been keen to put time and energy into ensuring that Walking Stories continues to tour next year. I have not asked for this, and certainly didn’t expect it, but this active engagement and energy demonstrates  the shared commitment that we all have to the project. I believe strongly that this arises from the feeling of togetherness and community that we built through the creation of Walking Stories. Walking Stories in this way is not ‘my’ work – it is co-owned and all of the contributors feel a sense of ownership towards the project because indeed they invested so much of themselves into its creation. When our audience finish Walking Stories they leave with a feeling of ownership of their experience and kinship with the others that they shared the walk with. Similarly the artists who lived and breathed Cycle Stories have a unique and shared experience. For all its intensity, it drew us closer together. The concrete outcomes of that can be seen in the programming of Walking Stories for 2014. The less concrete outcomes will continue to surface through the work and approach to work/life of the artistic team in the months and years to come – in how this experience perhaps changes Jennifer or David’s teaching methodologies; how it informs Tristan’s ways of making music; my thoughts about choreography and dance; our collective ideas about travel or time.

Film – finding a suitable framework
David McCormick has worked tirelessly and far beyond the call of duty on making a film for this project. A huge asset was his ninja like cycling ability to race ahead, whip out camera in time to capture us whizzing by, let us drift into the distance, then quickly pack up and race ahead again (good job he was the fittest of us all!) Not an easy job. He played a crucial role in quietly recording, listening, witnessing and questioning our process as it happened.

The challenge for us both when it came to crafting the film was to find a suitable structure that would both make the project clear for an audience unfamiliar with the project; and at the same time reflect the complexity and web like threads that wound around the project. I was keen that the film did not become a chronological archiving of the project and that it also drew its audience into a more tactile/physical experience of Cycle Stories – that the film would provide another medium for supporting our over-riding aims to increase connectivity to self, place and community. In the end we decided to write a script for the film – almost like a visual essay. I think it does a wonderful job in giving a flavour for the lived experience, a taste of the journey – its revelations and challenges and the narration manages to give a context to the over-arching and deeply interwoven ideas that the project as a whole, and Walking Stories in particular navigates. If nothing else it makes you want to get outside more – to take a long journey on a bicycle or a short one in the park. Seek out adventures to unknown destinations. They bring us to new and exciting places.

We are in the final throws of polishing and tweaking the film (or rather David and Tristan are!) and I contribute probably quite irritating notes/changes/demands every now and again. Our first screening is on 17 January as part of the Supper Room at Greenwich Dance. See you there. Oh, and if you ever have the chance to go and hibernate one winter – like really hibernate, then snap up the opportunity, I highly recommend it!

Dear UKBA – from Jennifer

Dated: Future-ly, 21.07.13

Dear UKBA, Home Secretary and minions of:

I have been a virtual traveller for the past 3.5 weeks.

I know that you have prohibited my travel outside the UK by ‘retaining’ (greedily keeping it for yourself, ahem… don’t you have enough passports in your collection yet?) my passport; however, I am pleased to announce that I have now mastered the art of astral projection and have been maintaining a steady presence through France these past three weeks.

Mainly, I have been taking up a very small amount of space in a camera. This is ideal, as I then don’t have to deal with the inevitable explanations regarding my lack of visibility in the images themselves. I am of course somewhat at the mercy of David’s curiosity, interest and skill (! really, he should stick to the poetry), which means that I miss the other’s perspectives – but perhaps everyone would have wanted to document the different spiders at close range. As well as the close-up with the cow… well. I had never imagined their breath would smell so sweetly!

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There are a few drawbacks: I’m afraid I don’t feel the same weight of work in my legs as the others… and given the tenuous position of my immigration status in this country, similar to finding myself on a tightrope stretched over an abyss, I do miss the earthiness and heaviness 6 hours of cycling brings. I feel I need heavy legs at the moment. Maybe if they get heavy enough, I’ll be earthbound forever… no plane will fly me and boats will sink under my tread, thus ensuring my continued residency in the UK.  But perhaps I need to be lighter, nimble  enough to dash across the rope to the other side… or back the way I’ve come (even though I don’t fancy my chances doing an about-turn on such a narrow platform, ballet school notwithstanding).

I had tried to mirror the efforts of the group from afar, cycling from London to Cambridge (68 miles) and Cambridge to Peterborough (39 miles). This was very successful in creating shared space in different places, via SMS – but also, simply trusting that we were each doing what the other was from afar – a potent psychological space. For reasons specific to my situation (that of not-knowing my fate and wanting to be available should I need to access the many documents necessary to help determine it), I took the train from Peterborough to Leeds to be physically present with the tightrope, keeping tension on the line.

I feel a certain fragmentation: this is clearly part of the astral projection, but also to do with my projection into the camera. I am not privy to the whole of the landscape, its integrity, the roundness of 360… the aperture here is made up of 90 degree angles. I wonder if you can relate to this in your roles as caretakers (cartographers) of immigration? How do you feel about the aperture of ILR Form Set(O) as a way to understand my desire to remain in the UK? Does it give you enough scope? I fear it might be flat, in the way two-dimensional things are. I fear it fails to account for the roundness of my existence here. I fear it fails to address the roundness this country is for me.

I suppose this notice of refusal shows that it has failed; hence I will plead my case in the full three-dimensions. Hopefully, when we see each other face to face, rather than through these 90 degree angles, we’ll be able to reach an understanding.

A durational touring project – Jennifer-Lynn Crawford

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

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’.

Jennifer-Lynn Crawford

Different Species of Space – Jennifer-Lynn Crawford

Topology

Flat space is space that doesn’t breathe – it, quite literally, *is* not. We can say that it is a useful exercise in metaphor. There is a wonderful branch of mathematics called topology. I’m a fan, definitely on the amateur scale, but happily so. They discuss ‘space’ mainly – which I find quite useful for all sorts of things – dancing, thinking, imagining –  and one feature of topology that I really enjoy is the possibility of tidying spaces into named places (even though I also don’t believe that they remain in such boxes in the chaos that is live(d) space)… making maps, essentially. There is a branch on the topology tree that focuses on surfaces, something that can be referred to as flat-land, or 2-d space. We don’t live there, but we find it very easy to imagine things there. It gives us ‘perspective‘ – and we tend to have a bit of a cultural disposition to that in the West.

I find a particular species of topological space, called a manifold, very useful. When topology adopts a space like this (i.e., says it is a ‘topological’ space) it means that that space can be manipulated in certain ways, but mostly retains its identity. Confusingly, this is interchangeable with the ‘topology’ of the space: a set of defining characteristics = the identity of the space = the topology of the space.

(Perhaps a good example is the olde rubber sheet – we can stretch it, twist it, bend it so that it looks different – but as long as we don’t tear it, it will continue to have the same identity/topology. As soon as we put a hole in it, it takes on a new identity/topology.)

Geometry is a different kettle of fish that I’ll mostly sidestep for now, but just in case it is useful, we can do geometry on surfaces without the nature of the surfaces changing. Geometry is all the stuff that would change and shift about when we stretch/bend/twist a surface (i.e., measurable qualities of shape rather than nature). Caveat: beware amateur definitions… investigate for your self if this is of interest and forgive me my attempts if expert in the field!

Back to manifolds: manifolds have localized ‘properties’, even though they might be globally more diverse. Put another way: if you are on a surface that goes round a sphere (like we might be), you might find the neighbourhood to be flat… your immediate perception is not of slope. However, given the whole of the ‘space‘ – if we zoom out enough to apprehend the sphericality of the surface we are on (somehow) – it is indeed spherical. We could only find this out for ourselves (physically experience it) by planet-hopping, or figuring out how to jump into a 4-d universe.

Scale is important here – and since interplanetary missions/dimensional jumps are not really on my agenda, I propose that zooming in is possibly the only way that we can apprehend the global variation of the manifold, the many-folded space we are all simultaneously in, with pockets all differently-shaped. Rather than trying to get out of our manifold to ‘see’ it (get perspective, or flatten it into a visual), we have to get further in to it. A way to do this involves playing actively with depth and scale – disturbing our up-down orientation and our visually-dominant perception – in order to start grasping (literally, feeling with our hands and other tactile antennae) that there are many different spaces in what we generally consider to be ‘our’ space.

Time is also important here and it isn’t possible to avoid it. However, I’d like to at least propose that space isn’t (as it often is considered in this ‘global culture‘ aka capitalist-consumerist paradigm) a ‘historical queue‘ (as Doreen Massey puts it); not every space needs to be drawn up in terms of time. Some spaces are on mountain time, where we measure erosion in centuries. Some spaces are on TV prime time, where the cost prohibits anything longer than second-by-second measurement. Different spaces live in/at different times. We don’t need to tune time out to get a feel for spatial difference, nor do we need to measure spaces in a single (clock-based) temporal frame. There needn’t be any integration (of spaces into time); particularly the kind that masquerades (manifolds) as such – but is actually homogenization.

For example: measuring progress as development along a Western/Euro-centric axis requires that spatial difference is homogenized under the umbrella of temporal progress. It couldn’t be that other cultures might be different and that space shifts to promote and feed difference. The underlying paradigm here insists that surely they are just behind ‘us’ in the movement towards the fixed goal of globalization.

To draw this back to zooming in: it isn’t that the ants are moving slowly/quickly according to my human-scale space. They are moving relatively in ant-scale space.

Walking Stories and Space

Is it possible that we consider Walking Stories with its participatory emphasis as less fixed and more true mappings of lived and shared spaces? This could be a way (not *the* way) to zoom in rather than tune out.

My experience of the people who have tried the Walking Stories drafts in the past few weeks is that they find it immersive – rather than transcendent. They find themselves cohering IN the space rather than standing OUT from the space and maybe even starting to practice the environment/landscape we do the walk in.

Participant feedback seems to be that doing the walk changes their perception of self and of the environment the walk happens in. I can only agree – despite knowing the walk, having helped to shape the walk, I still get a different feeling for the environment we do it in, regardless of pre-exploration and strategizing. Of course, this has to do with a willingness and disposition on my part to get ‘lost’ in things. The proposal of he(a)r(e)/not-he(a)r(e) that the audio walk makes, where we aren’t quite sure whether what we are listening to is present or absent, whether it accords to our visual perception or not, invites disorientation and not-knowing. It gives us a human-voice and seriously satisfying compositional compass to get lost to. An invisible non-flat map.

As Cycle Stories continues, having moved through London, Hextable, to Kent, and most recently of Eastleigh, how do we embed ourselves as makers? How do we notice the channels in our perception that keep feeding Walking Stories even as we (out of necessity) map it out on paper, flatten it and fix it down so that others can find the same paths? I don’t think we are sure yet. I think we exercise cartographic skill here at a later point; we’ve come some distance, but we need to keep following our noses a bit longer before we pause to find out where we are/going. I’m feeling stretched by it all, in a good way, a meaty sort of stretch, whereby I think we are still twisting and bending the rubber sheet. We aren’t yet ready to do geometry on it. We are still figuring out what the topology of this thing is.

Seeing a slug trail (gastropoda – ‘travel by belly’ – which, thanks to the skills of Alex in feeding us so extremely well, we are happily very close to doing), I’m reminded that non-linear lines of ‘growth or becoming’ (as Tim Ingold puts it) are most definitely trajectories, and are still lines. Zooming in affords an opportunity to come in to space in all its shifting dimensions. A mountain is not shaped like a pyramid, nor a triangle. Paths are not straight line segments that run from A to B. The sun is not a big circle in the empty sky.

My own experience:

Zooming. Not only a visual space. I zoom in my perception to the ant-scale. This is a change of orientation, from bipedal, upright, human… Not simply a magnification – it is a movement along the horizon of my feeling for this space: Greenwich park/Swanley park/King’s Wood/Spinney Hollow… I change my involvement in the space and the space shifts – the grass is not a uniform blanket on the ground after all. This notion of the air – this thing that isn’t visible, but so open to smell. To skin. Fog = wet skin and ghostly visuals, mystery and slowed up time.

More Questions:

Continuing the idea of practicing space – which space?  It is possible to examine or explore from different levels or into different levels – zooming in our perception – space as folding, multi-valent possibility – foldable – fluid, unfixed.

 

 

Cycling, maps, uncertainty – Jennifer-Lynn Crawford

Cycling, Maps and Uncertainty.

I have a particular flair for getting lost. I have many ideas about why this is, or comes to be, but they mostly consist of self-justifications for what is a skill highly under-rated in densely populated and constructed cities. How can I get lost around the corner from where I am staying in London despite staying in the same neck of the woods on every visit for the past 6 years? I know London is a big place – but I am not built like a goldfish. I do remember streets, houses, landmarks; just not, it would seem, in the same order as they appear on maps.

Doing more cycling in less familiar places has only increased my ability to get lost… I can now get lost very quickly. Because of a general reluctance to stop cycling once I am in motion, I tend to keep going, which means I increase the length of time it will take to ‘find out’ where I am. It also means I avoid consulting the map. Hence I get lost quickly and increasingly thoroughly when I’m not with anyone else. Another curiosity is that I tend to speed up if I feel very lost (rather than medium lost, or just plain lost) – probably out of a desire to find something that seems familiar (even if it isn’t).

Cycling with people that I feel to be both fairly skilled map readers and more experienced cyclists has been odd for me. There is always someone who knows where we are going. This in itself is a radically different way of being on a bike. There is also usually someone who knows where we are, according to a map, and occasionally, there are several people who have slightly different ideas about where we are/going.

I’ve been grateful for the fact that others understand how important arrival at a pre-decided final destination is and that they have hold of the map and not me. Particularly after mile 40.

Orientation is a question mark for me (it would seem); I enjoy not knowing where I am and/or having an ambiguous destination. This is definitely a useful thing, as I seem to have some internal scrambling device that activates whenever I get near a map. Or, another way to put it: my experiential map (how getting to a place feels/felt as physically sensed) and my 2-d map don’t communicate with a common language.

Lost

Language indicates ‘lost’ is a state, or a quality of a thing… an activity, a status, and also, refers to something past/no longer

“I got lost”
“I am lost”
“I will get lost”
“Lost and Found”
“Lost time”
“Lost in thought”
“I lost my head/temper/heart”
“A losing battle”

Lost is also gone – I lost something means that I no longer have it. To be lost in thought is to be absorbed (into something else). Maybe a base metaphor is that lost is not to hand? It is beyond my grasp, my knowing. Lost is taken (away) and lost is not-knowing. Lost is a state/quality defined by negation, as the absence of clarity or knowing. Lost is also a metaphor for death, the most permanent kind of absence. There are also, of course, winners and losers… ‘Loser’ being the preferred insult of my 10 year old self, if memory serves. Losing is less desirable than winning if not strategic in terms of games, arguments, money/possessions and vitality. But losing is hugely desirable if joining the body-commodification movement.

In being lost, I have lost my way – even if I don’t follow the map, I have a ‘way’, something that is mine. When lost to or in something, I am absorbed by the something to the degree that it becomes my compass. To existentialist-leaning sorts (like myself), this signals some shift in ontology, or how we ‘are’; there is less attempt at owning a situation and greater permeability to perceived elements in/making up the situation.

This is articulated in improvisation practices by Kent De Spain as ‘non-centred/de-centred intentionality’:

“…if I am commingled with the elements of the moment so that I do not sense or even care where the ideas and actions are coming from, I can go for a joyride, instead of carrying the car on my back.”

(feel free to replace ‘car’ with transport mode of choice)… but it is mostly the same phenomenon when lost-on-bike. Regardless, it is very hard to ‘lose’ this metaphor of purpose as destination and both as desirable. They indicate knowing.

Maps

Journeys make paths or follow them – paths are specific surfaces inscribed on the land. Paths are knowledge in that they tell us someone was here before – human or not, another creature has gone this way. In making a path from scratch, we make a statement to other pathway-takers that there is something going on. Obstacles are things or events that prevent us from following the path easily, possibly blocking it entirely. This is an easy relationship to draw across to our bodies and movement habits as well – those habits, those neural paths that we work daily (tooth-brushing, hand-writing, garlic-chopping) are pretty well-maintained paths. They are knowledge, knowing in moving towards destinations such as clean teeth and notes and a meal. We sense obstacles here when we cannot access our habitual way (such as using the same hand).

In my case, I am very skilled at becoming my own ‘obstacle’ when I have hold of a map – or I am very skilled at finding ways to avoid my destination. I’m not sure which it is yet. It might depend whether I think I’m going somewhere or nowhere. I seem to prefer the ‘joyride’ over carrying the bike on my back (i.e., aiming at the landscape from the map) and have difficulty negotiating the difference in ontology proposed by finding my way, rather than a-way (lost).

Maps emerge from the landscape… and then we paste them back on. This rests on our understanding of space as somehow structural – time flows, but space… endures. It remains. I reckon the land itself, as well as any creature blessed with any kind of perceptual system, would beg to differ that it remains the same. Space changes; space is always contingent and inhabited. Even if we refuse to annex space in terms of time, space shifts. Where does the notion of static space come from? A desire to get hold of something perhaps; to centre our knowing and make it portable within ourselves, or at least, something we can carry with us.

The notion of space as structure and thus inherently fixed is a particular Western/Euro metaphor. Attempts to address difficulties within this perspective go all the way back to Heraclitus and the river that we can’t step into twice. They move all the way forwards through Einstein’s Relativity to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and a choice to know about either a particle’s momentum or its location, but not both simultaneously. It goes past that through the popular acceptance of various versions of chaos theory, systems-based approaches, post-post frameworks… and where does it land in this work we are working on now?

Questions:

How do we practice space – or practice with space? How do we space a practice?

These are two questions I keep re-arriving at from various activities over the past several years. To some degree, I’m still lost here. But of course, these are not the sorts of questions that prompt arrival at destinations.

At the moment, they propose that we need to consider location as un-fixed – as interactive or better, something that we are implicated in/by – which is a clear follow-on from any kind of environmental concern, yet one that isn’t made nearly explicit enough in current social/political climes. It seems that we spend a good deal of time trying to forget that spaces are not fixed – or trying to ‘fix’ them into staying. To know that we are affected by space (think cave vs. mountain top) is also to know that we affect space (think empty stadium vs full). How is it then ‘forgotten’ that if we don’t steward our spaces ‘well’ (perhaps in some kind of sustainable, or even more mindful, practice), our spaces will no longer be? In order to work with space, even just to take care of it, we need to acknowledge that space changes. Space is not fixed. Even leaving space as it is, it moves, it rearranges itself, displaces itself, as much as time – this might also offer some explanation of Western philosophy’s favouring of time.

I suppose I wonder what we look at when we are looking at maps. And if we are we looking at flat versions of space, what does that tell us about our feeling for space?

To be continued….

Thoughts after the Greenwich residency 20th-24th May 2013 – Rohanna

I’ve been reflecting during and after the week on how this model of a creative process is very different from many others that I have experienced. Rather then a traditional hierarchical working relationship between director (Charlotte) and the collaborators (Tristan, Tom, Jennifer, Rohanna and Bruno and more) there is a sense that although Charlotte is ‘holding’ the project with an overall vision and direction, each person is valued for different skills which contribute to the creative process.  My sense is that Charlotte does a good job of steering what could be a tricky situation: when you bring a group of people together, ask them for their ideas and input you could potentially be left with ‘too many cooks’ where someone dominates or controls what’s happening.  Perhaps because the team is comprised of people from different backgrounds, dance, music and writing, each person comes to the project with a different lens for looking at the work.  I personally have found this interesting as it gives you some distance from your own skills, by looking from someone else’s viewpoint I realise what I take for granted in my own position.  In a way this relates to Walking Stories in general in that it makes you step outside of your everyday way of being and asks you to look at the world slightly differently.  I like how this project inherently plays with the relationships between director, collaborators, performers and audience, one becoming interchangeable with another.

My sense of this week was that it was longer than a week.  I enjoy how your sense of time stretches when you’re absorbed in something.  Time both speeds up in the moment, but when you look back to the beginning of the week it seems further away then normal.  Monday and tuesday I was trying to wrap my head around coming back to the project following the autumn’s research period and catch up with where things had moved on to.  On wednesday we went out into the park to do the walk with a group of 18/19 which was near on the maximum for each performance.

Following the feedback session afterwards it reminded me that something I really enjoyed from the research in the autumn was that you could transform things, for example the group make a pile of found objects then you’re asked to stand and look at it, hearing the sound of fire transforming the pile into something which is burning.  Elemental sounds, can transform the landscape.

While we were doing the walk, which we did twice starting from different locations in the park, I used my phone to track our route using an app.  When we’d finished you can look at a map of the route you’ve taken.  I was surprised at how straight it was as in a line on a map, when my sensation of doing the walk was really multi-directional.  I suppose this disparity could be because direction and orientation are different things.  I might move in one direction, but along the way I can change where I’m looking and my facing or orientation giving me a sense that things aren’t linear.  We’ve talked about maps, routes, pathways, lines on the ground: I’d love it if you could record each person in the group’s route and overlay them creating a map of the walking stories route, different each time with a new group and location.

On thursday we had a session in the afternoon where each person wrote down some thoughts for what could happen next.  Here were some of mine:

Run as far away from the group as you dare, then hear something to do with imagining where everyone has gone? Look from above at the configuration.  Perimeters, gates changing?  Trespassing?  Can you identify an area that’s no go?

You could also have some sort of task where you select someone from the group, memorise what they’re wearing, some details about them.  You close your eyes when you open them they’ve gone and you have to find them?  You could do this in conjunction with the first one, half of the group having each instruction.

Get people to copy each other, create unison.  Could also have plants?

Take something to an extreme.  Get on the edges.  Do something impossible.

Rohanna Eade

work in motion, 2 weeks in, from Charlotte

work in motion, patterned, non-linear thinking

There are many threads emerging, lines drawing together physically, and conceptually and it is hard to hold them all simultaneously – I’d probably feel more relaxed if I didn’t try to. Although I also think it’s quite normal to feel that I aught to have a hold/handle on both the big picture and the small details because this project is after all my responsibility.

As we dive further into Cycle Stories, however, I am reminded that this project always proposed something different. It proposed an emergent choreographic system, less fixated on ‘product’ and more responsive to opportunity, and experiences. Part of it’s strategy relies on chance and encounters and even within the most ‘product’ focused part of it we are devising a piece of choreographic work where we agree to hand over considerable control and agency to the general public.

and so my (understandable) desire to have a handle on things must loosen…

this is not an advocation for laziness or being soupy in my direction, but rather affording myself the license for things not always developing like clockwork. Perhaps it is ok to be lost – in fact i could rant about time and technology not allowing space for getting lost – deeming it not useful and wasteful. I’m culprit of this also – getting lost is a frustrating, waste of time, indicating that I have either not planned sufficiently or paid enough attention. but how often is it that we discover something new and useful through the process of being lost – about ourselves, about the land, about ourselves in relation to the land. And surely this makes the lostness both useful and necessary…

So, I meandered away…

we left Brighton just over two weeks ago. our time in Caen was certainly a dive into the deep end – on your marks get set and go go GO (not fast enough) GO FASTER! We thought we’d prepared quite a lot in advance, but as the week whizzed by, Tristan and I realised there would be at least one all nighter to get a draft together of Walking Stories in French in time for our sharings on thursday 16th and friday 17th May. A bus load of adults and 2 bus loads of 8-10 year olds. A beautiful smiling elderly woman who’d never worn headphones in her life, an extraordinary site of cranes, huge piles or metal, boats loading and unloading, the river, and a path winding into wasteland. And then there were these flocks of birds delicate and light amidst the noise, the dust, the machines, they caught my eye most vividly. drawn so much to the scale of the site, it probably blinkered my eyes a little bit to its limitations. And I feel this limitation ran true. A long spiney stretch of land which didn’t afford the complex set of patterned physical and spatial relationships we haf devised, This in combination with perhaps some cultural/linguistic crossings in communication let to a series of sharings where mostly instructions were not followed. I realised that in this eventuality the choreographic aspects of the audio walk quickly become a fictional landscape – there are no people ahead, no line or circle forming etc. Did I mind? Was the experience still rich or endlessly ambiguous and confusing? Lots of new considerations. What about control? What about tone of instruction? what about permission for disobedience?