15 May 2014
Elephant & Castle, London
What would happen if you placed 23 strangers to live together in an unfamiliar space and asked them to produce absolutely nothing?
A month ago, I was selected as a dance-artist in residence at Siobhan Davies Dance Studio in Elephant & Castle, in London. I was one of 19 artists who were invited to live in the studios over a span of four days and three nights and take part in the What Now Festival 2014, organised by Independent Dance.
The only real instructions we were given upon arrival were to consider what it means to keep the fire burning, to attend to the fire, be it the building, each other, or the public that would eventually come and visit us on a daily basis. We were also prompted to consider what the difference is between interacting with each other socially and social networking.
The RIBA award-winning building, designed by Sarah Wigglesworth, welcomed us as a host, and gradually became part of us as we slept together, ate together, listened to one another, felt and reacted to one anothers’ breathing, and learned to abandon the self entirely for the collective consciousness.
We were constantly exploring this notion of the edge and boundaries, both physically and socially.
To what extent could we disturb the administrative staff working in the building?
Each day one or two guest speakers would come to give a lecture, on topics ranging from atmospheric environments to balloons to the loss of attention in today’s world.
The public would arrive each day to listen to the lectures and to see what we, the residents, were doing, and how we would react to the talks.
Do we become part of the public during the talks?
Can we disrupt the talks if we feel the urgency to?
Is there a schedule?
What are we allowed to do?
Is there programme?
Is there agency?
How do we justify the residency as a product of a festival?
Can I just get the fuck up and make myself a cup of tea?
I really feel like having some tea now.
These were all questions we were asking ourselves, each other, the four space-holders on a daily basis. What were we doing? Who were we?
It was shocking to not have to produce anything and to obliterate the expectation that by the end of our sojourn in the studios there would have to be a graspable product.
Suddenly there was a shift in our approach. When I say our, I refer to the 23 of us that were living in the space.
We suddenly, inherently, understood what it signified in the recurring question, “how do we keep it alive?”
The generative energy that came from this co-habitation created a form of social genesis that we rarely experience on a daily basis. This experience was not about documentation, it was not about creating an art form; it was about raising fundamental questions that humanity faces today through an extremely simple yet deeply crafted sociological experiment.
What is the difference between being a multitude and a mass?
How do we differentiate a community from a crowd?
Is the real interest of performance to stir violence?
When we speak of politics, are we actually more interested in agitation?
“If the painter could, by a single transformation, take a three dimensional still life and paint it on a canvas into a natura morta, could it be possible for the architect to take the natura morta of a painting and, by a single transformation, build it into a still life?” – John Hejduk, Architectures in Love
We became the dark bird that flew into the depths of the flat canvas, and splattered into a limitless hue of black.
I can only recount the experience I had through description, for it may take many more months, perhaps even years before I will be able to articulate concisely what it is that we did.
So I still find myself asking… what now?
For more information:
Stefan Jovanovic is a 3rd year student in AA Intermediate Unit 12
Stefan Jovanovic's website
Siobhan Davies Dance