Can you tell us about your new project Dances of Earthly Wonder?
Dances of Earthly Wonder is a series of new performances I’ve been commissioned to make by Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) in South Bristol. I’ll be making four new performances over the next couple of months for specific groups in the community – they’ll inform the making of the performances and be responsible for documenting them, using an interface developed by Dane Watkins and I over the past year or so.
Is this the CONNECTION / TIME interface? How does it work?
Yes! CONNECTION / TIME came out of the Whose Data residency I undertook at KWMC last year, alongside Dane, who’s lead artist-in-residence there. We were interested to find ways of using social media to stream the ‘live data’ of performance events, and to find ways of integrating audience experience into documentation. With Dane’s technical expertise and my experience in performance, we developed a web interface that brings together live Twitter and Flickr feeds so that audiences (or documenters) can upload photos or tweet commentary during a performance.
How has it gone?
We’ve gone through a series of phases of development – using a prototype version at KWMC last year, and then refining it through an ACE-funded phase called CONNECTION / TIME in the Spring. For that part of the project we used it in a few different contexts – in a workshop at Arnolfini, & in a series of collective durational performances (with Phil Owen, H.Ren, Soozy Roberts, Steve Robins, Clare Thornton, Caroline Wilkins, & guests from ] performance s p a c e [ on Bristol docks, at KWMC and at Performance Exchange, SITE Festival, Stroud. We had some brilliant documenters photographing and tweeting throughout the performances, creating really interesting and textured performance archives, but realised we wanted more interactivity, so that’s when Dane developed the annotate function.
So how does CONNECTION / TIME fit in with you and Dane’s solo practices, it seems a bit different?
In ways it is a bit of a tangent – Dane’s an animator by training, and I’m a no-fi performance artist. But when we got talking about what it is we want to do with art and with people, we found rich common ground. Working with audiences that are unfamiliar with the experimental end of contemporary art, we wanted to find ways for individuals to create and articulate their own connections. We discovered that beneath our disciplinary differences, we share strong beliefs and passions about accessibility and empowerment in art. It’s been a lot of fun!
And what’s been the inspiration for the performances?
Knowle West is a really interesting place. It’s a working class residential suburb that on the one hand has seen its fair share of neglect and social problems over the years, but on the other has some fantastic grass roots initiatives and community pride – perhaps the latter has arisen out of the former. It has lots of green space (big gardens, allotments, a community farm, common ground where people graze horses and hunt rabbits) but still retains urban character. KWMC aims to develop cultural, social and economic regeneration, through digital and environmental projects, and media and arts programmes. The Dances of Earthly Wonder commission responds to the theme of harvest – directly, in work that I’m doing with the community farm and allotment growers, and indirectly, in ideas I’m exploring around cycles of work and fruition. Whilst a bit of a departure from work I’ve been making over recent years, in some ways it’s a natural progression. Queerness, shamanism and ritual has given way to morris dancing, which rings well with my usual slightly absurd humour (and isn’t a million miles away!).
How have the Dances of Earthly Wonder performances gone? Are there more to come?
We did the first one last week, working with the young people’s photography group. It was great, the young people really enjoyed it (bribing audiences with cake usually helps) and it was really interesting how the act of documenting seemed to help some of them filter and engage with what they were seeing. For the uninitiated, performance art can be quite odd to watch. People don’t to know what to think, where to look or how to respond, so mediating it through smartphones seems make it easier. It’s funny for me making a performance for such a bespoke audience – be it half a dozen teenagers or 30 older female bingo players – but the challenge is invigorating. There are limitations of how ‘far’ one can go, but at the same time there comes a certain licence with being the odd one (out). It’s refreshing working with audiences with such different experiences and expectations, and both exciting and terrifying. But then the best things in life often are…
Dances of Earthly Wonder continues until November. The next performance is on October 13th at WildFest , where Paul will be making a performance using food from some of the local growers, who will also be documenting it. Later in the month Paul will be creating a private performance for a community club bingo group, and then finishing with a public event at KWMC on the 7th November. There will be a performance, a chance to see documentation from all of the others, and an open long table discussion. A minibus will be available to bring attendees up from town, contact Paul for more info.