Site-specificity / environmental performance practice
STUDIO AS A SITE
- what kind of bodies are on stage?
- how can loss of control be performed?
- where is the audience invited to?
- how is the audience addressed?
- what kind of engagement do i expect from the audience?
- what does it produce in the audience?
By environment i refer to the inseparable entities of the natural ('Nature'), the constructed ('Culture') and the virtual environment. How can we draw a clear line of separation between what is considered artificial (plastic, manmade, synthetic) or the natural (organic, biologic) matter that surround us? In ecological terms these boundaries are impossible to define. In my use of the word environment i also often refer to constructed spaces, such as the theatre apparatus or the exhibition space of the gallery or the museum.
Site-specific and medium-specific
Here below i have sketched out, what my mentor Pedro Matias calls the rhizomatic brain of the spaces, in which the final work will be presented. Being an multi dimensional event, it not only takes place in the studio but also in the virtual realm and in a way in the personal spaces of the viewers online.
To be medium-specific means to incorporate the way in which the performance is attended, into the making process and as part of the content.
As we might be familiar with dance pieces for camera, this last year of artistic production has brought about new format of streaming-specific performances?
or other communication platforms such as Telegram.
We aim at inviting participants from home, to intervene on the creation of the soundscape, beside the interpassive request?
Extract from the final writing of my thesis titled: "Metabolic writing on Ecology and Art"
◦ Environmental-Theater / Eco-artist-as-diplomat / Land Art
Here I briefly present four case studies of ecological artistic work, from the performing and visual arts to later illustrate correlations to
my own artistic research.
Theater maker Richard Schechner (*1934), in his essay “6 Assioms for Environmental Theater” (1968) first coined the term Environmental Theater and defined its fundamental rules. To my reading, he understands theater spaces as ecosystems where all the components (not only performers and audiences but also architectural elements, technician, stuff members etc.) are active and integral players to the performance.
He writes that in Environmental Theater: 'all the space is used for performance, all the space is used for audience'9, breaking the barrier and fostering 'transactions' between performers and audience, in what I consider a form of participatory art practice. 'Real body contact and whispered communication is possible between performer and spectator. Local whirlpools of action make the theatrical line more complex and varied than in traditional performances. The theatre space is like a city in which lights are going on and off, traffic is moving, parts of conversation are faintly heard'10.
He brings forward an idea of multi-focus in which the audience is not unilaterally engaged with a single action on stage but with several simultaneous and fragmented points of focus from different perspectives. The audience is positioned on different platforms, tribunes or scaffoldings and the space and the piece are looked at from different levels, like a landscape. (figure 1)
Schechner's meaning of environment refers to the theater apparatus, in which he creates site-specific and medium-specific performances, focusing attention to the internal logic of the performing art context. His approach reminds me of the work of Berlin based artist Eva-Meyer Keller, who has been one of my mentor at SODA.
In her piece “Pulling Strings” various things that usually inhabit the theater behind the scene (lights, fire extinguisher, cables, trash bins) are manipulated like marionettes by the performers offstage11. The actants on stage are not passive puppets, on the contrary they actively impact the movements of the human puppeteers. Also as the strings get entangled, they disrupt the choreography and take over control from the choreographer. (figure 2)
Flemish theater maker and visual artist Benjamin Verdonck (*1972), brings his long durational performances a step further into Morton's mesh of random encounters outside the theater apparatus and into the ecosystem of the city.
With his “Manifesto for an active participation of the performing arts in a transition to equitable sustainability” (2010), he opens a debate on ecological awareness with his contemporaries of the art scene, shifting focus on eco-activism by taking on the role of what can be defined as eco-artist-as-diplomat 12. Among other things he's pointing at the fact that art cannot simply aim at raising awareness about environmental issues but it should also minimize its impact on the environment. What is art-making on sustainability that is not sustainable in its means?
Apart from his political stand, in his earlier work Bara/ke, (2000, figure 3) he lived for fourteen days in a self-constructed pile dwelling, elevated seven meters above the ground of Bara square in Brussels. He engaged in social interactions with passers-by, created colourful collections of found objects from the surrounding and collected his own waste. In the process he wrote his thoughts about the things he found and weaved together the narrative of his relationship with humans and non-humans. The documentation of his performances is an important part of the work and speaks of the ecological awareness of leaving traces on the environment.
Land artist, Hamish Fulton (*1964) inspired by the North American wilderness ethic of 'leave no traces', understood his hikes as ephemeral walk-performances, focused on what he calls 'joyful efforts'. In his vision the landscape where the performances take place, has to bare no impact or trace of his presence. What can be shared with an audience is only the documentation material of his experience, in the form of photographs, writings, walk maps. The process of walking is the most relevant part of his work, happening far from the exhibition space in which it is perceived by a viewer, mixing ecological consciousness with minimal and conceptual art praxis.
What these case studies have in common is the engagement with the environment as fundamental to art making. In the case of Fulton it starts with a respectful encounter of the natural landscape, and results in a sharing the experience through means of technological reproduction.
In the case of Verdonck the urban environment is the sphere where the performance takes place, conflating the making and the sharing to the public sphere.
For Schechner and Keller the environment is understood as the theater apparatus and its inhabitants.
What surrounds these artists has a direct affect on their artistic expression which is independent from the context it emerges from, producing ecosophical aesthetics of a shared agency between human and non-human agents.
Figure 1 // Richard Schechner, “Mother Courage and her Children”// © Clem Fiore
Figure 2 // “Pulling Strings” // © Eva-Meyer Keller
Figure 3 // “Bara/Ke”, 2000 //© Benjamin Verdonck
9 Richard Schechner, “6 Assioms for Environmental Theater”, The Drama Review: TDR , Spring, 1968, Vol. 12, No. 3, Architecture/Environment (Spring, 1968), pp. 41-64
11 Martina Ruhsam, “The Agentic Capacity of Things”, SCORES NO 6 no/things, A Tanzquartier Wien Publication 2017
12 Christel Stalpaert & Karolien Byttebier, “Art and Ecology”, in “The Ethics of Art” eds. Guy Cools & Pascal Gielen, (77-78) Valiz Amsterda 2014
The spaces of Uferstudios have been my metabolic environment for the past two years.
I understand the research that i have led here as site specific, because intrinsically interdependent from the architecture of the studios.