Siobhan Davies + Edmund de Waal

“You are creating something and it is in movement, you are moving round the clay and the clay is moving with you so there is that extraordinary sense of conversation with material and it's an intensely physical, visceral, bodily thing that's going on, so there is that movement at the heart of making.” Edmund de Waal, Ceramicist
  • SD _ I’m having a look at expanding the choreographic imagination
  • SD _ and my first question is: how do you recognise choreography in your work and how do you use it?
  • EDW _ I think there are two aspects to that for me. The first is that as a maker of things I use my body, constantly – I have to. So I move around objects and I move in the making of objects and as I move my objects move…
  • SD _ …because of a changed perspective
  • EDW _ More basic than that, I mean, prior to anything there is the strange thing that if you are a potter who makes pots on a wheel, throw pots, you are of course making a body; you are making an interior and exterior space simultaneously. You are creating something and it is in movement, you are moving round the clay and the clay is moving with you so there is that extraordinary sense of conversation with material and it’s an intensely physical visceral, bodily thing that’s going on, so there is that movement at the heart of making.
  • EDW _ So that’s the first thing and then there is a second thing which is something that has taken me a long time to work out and I am now living it, which is then… what do you do with your objects, how do you put them in the world and that for me is intensely choreographic. For me that is intensely about putting these bodily things that I make and bringing them into spaces in dynamic ways and it’s about how they work in groups, how they work as single things, how the interstices and gaps between them work and that for me - the metaphor is very much to do with dance.
  • SD _ Now one of my questions is how much are we, the artist, the observer and how much are we the body? Are you conscious of that flip between being the body and being the observer?
  • EDW _ No, I don’t think I am conscious of it. I think it is partly the simple fact that I have been doing it for a long time – thirty years, since I was a child really – so after a while it becomes so internalised that it is very difficult to recognise what is the tacit, intuitive, somatic, involving bit of the process and what is that framing or organisational bit. I hate separating it like that, because it doesn’t seem to me a real separation.
  • SD _ It’s a use of the integrated body. I’m wondering whether during rehearsal I am part of a triangle because I have an articulate dancer as part of my equation. The dancers and I ask ourselves a question: are we doing what we set out to do and if we are not, are we recognising the thing that we have in fact achieved.
  • SD _ So, if that feedback between the dancers and myself generates more accurate material, what part does feedback play between you and your object? Does it tell you things?
  • EDW _ It does tell me things, but it’s often a very long process. Repetition is at the heart of what I make and that is something I hope we may be able to come to. It can take three or four months before I actually see what I’ve done or, in the case of a project at the moment, it’s going to be two years of making before I actually see this disposition of objects in space and can have that final moment of recognition. So there is this extraordinary pull the whole time between being in and out, the systole and diastole of being an artist but in my particular thing it is extremely temporally extended.
  • SD _ Yes, our work is extended in the sense, like yours, we start with nothing. I’ll give you a quick example and maybe then you can give me an example of this two year process that you are working on – and we will get to repetition, I promise – there is a lot to think about.
  • SD _ I started making one work (Plants and Ghosts) in which I tried to find a single cell, one move and from that one move the dancers had to imagine how that action would divide and multiply to create a family of moves with the same ‘DNA structure’. It took two and a half months for the dancers to get off the floor and stand. They kept saying, ‘I need to go backwards through my evolution, my devolution, rather than forwards, because I’m too advanced for the knowledge I need’. So it took an enormously long time to establish the evolution of the movement.
  • EDW _ You see I love that…
  • SD _ I’d like to do it again now - I think I learned a great deal from that experience. Is there an evolutionary process in this two-year project that you are doing?
  • EDW _ Yes, absolutely there is. Otherwise it’s just an extended, long, long, long process of getting something wrong!
  • EDW _ That’s the problem about huge projects, unless you have the chance to go backwards within the process, go back to the floor. I’m just thinking about this wonderful image you were talking about, about the dancers trying to get off the floor, to go back.
  • SD _ If we take the premise that absolutely everything is movement, where for you is stillness? A use of the time of stillness and therefore from stillness, as movement is introduced, it brings with it the potential of rhythm and rhythm brings with it the potential of repetition.
  • SD _ I start with this idea of stillness and what do I do, I overfill it if I’m not careful. So I have to remember space, remember interval, remember repetition.
  • EDW _ It is only through repeating that you discover difference, that you discover sameness and difference, so that until you have attempted to try and make ‘the same thing’, ‘the same movement’, that you discover this extraordinary openness and difference that you can’t repeat. You can’t repeat a movement, it’s unrepeatable, you can go back and you can attempt to repeat a movement, but actually you can’t repeat a movement and it’s that exploration of what looks like sameness, but in fact is very marginal and very beautiful difference between things that look close to each other. All the words you want to use are to do with poetry and rhythm and essential language and essential movement, but it builds up the very rhythmical moments.
  • EDW _ Image So for instance there’s a piece here which is called Stet, stet as in the graphical notation you make when you are editing something and you say ‘let it stand’. So, that’s the same amount of clay, a ball of clay, sixteen balls of clay, all the same weight of clay and it’s three movements, each of them is made with three movements. It’s thrown on the wheel, it’s centred and it’s drawn up, so it’s just three movements and it’s done sixteen times. Everything that happens in those three movements is slightly different, but I let them stand, so it’s ‘stet’ and then I bring them into conversation with each other and put them together and there are the intervals between them. That was just out of the cupboard this morning and put there and just let it be, not done with much conscious deliberation. It’s very intuitive, but of course it’s the gaps and interstices between all the sixteen pieces that are as much part of the piece as the vessels themselves. For me that series of movements is partly what I understand by dance.
  • SD _ It’s exactly what I identify in your work as a piece of choreography. It’s a collection of sensual ideas mindfully done and physically done. I need to know one technical thing: when you say three actions, how long might each one take?
  • EDW _ Almost no time at all, so each one would be done within a minute. That’s quite long, actually, forty seconds perhaps, less than a minute. The strange thing is – and this is why it’s lovely to be sitting opposite you here talking about this – that when I’m doing one of these pieces, which is part of a series, this is an ongoing way of looking at particular movements and framing them. You once did a piece about someone in a box with rods, rather beautiful…
  • SD _ Yes, Endangered Species, that was for Cape Farewell.
  • SD _ Yes, two.
  • EDW _ I didn’t see the performance, I saw the things around it and what struck me about that and really talked to me very strongly was the delineation of quite clear and particular imagery or possibilities of movement within a structure and then this extraordinary bodily kind of exploration of it.
  • SD _ It was a response to Cape Farewell, which is an organisation that took artists and scientists up to the Arctic as a way of asking ‘could we bring down information using our creative thinking that would help people understand climate change’. Endangered Species wasn’t a live performance. My overwhelming thought while being on my own on the ice in the Arctic, walking away from the boat was that death was closer, as if the umbilical cord between myself and the boat was thinning as I left it. So when I came back I didn’t want to be morbid but I did want to turn round as tenderly as I could and value life. The final exhibition was going to be in the Natural History Museum where extinct creatures are displayed in glass cabinets. I placed a film of a dancer inside one of these cabinets. She begins to use thin poles as tools which allow her to evolve but gradually she accrues many more than are necessary. They begin to overrun her so that she cannot remain a viable being. I wanted to make a potent image that would remain in people’s minds.
  • EDW _ It certainly did, it was extraordinarily powerful.
  • SD _ I would like to return to Stet. I think of it as a community of thoughts just rich enough, but not too much. How do you find that balance?
  • EDW _ How do you define it rather than just endlessly being tasteful, but just doing enough to give enough visual pleasure or intellectual pleasure, but not - which is a dangerous area – ending up with just good taste?
  • SD _ It has something to do with being sensual, which is why I think it was very valuable when you spoke earlier about not separating the mind from the body, which of course we can’t though sometimes we choose to demonstrate one over the other.
  • EDW _ There’s a sort of phoniness around being an artist and then being curated which I think is always very difficult. People say there is a real role for curation, for a slightly more cerebral and often intuitive overview, for someone else to look at your work, of course there’s that. But within my own world, historically there has been an almost infantilised feeling that other people should do it, that all you have to do is make it; someone else will interpret it and organise it for you and animate it for you in a funny kind of way and I absolutely hate it, I hate it, I hate it so intensely. It seems to me absurd to be in the world and not be able - or want to - be fully in the world and be this bodily person who makes things but also be out there with them, trying to help them interrogate the world, which is my passionate belief about one of the things that happens within dance, that it is a bodily questioning of the world, amongst many, many other things.
  • SD _ It’s great you say that, it really is, because one of the big membranes I had to push through was to understand the relationship between the movement I created and valued in the studio and the impact of both music and design on it when we reached performing on stage. It became a kind of cinematic removal where the audience was in the auditorium and behind this beautiful membrane were some figures moving that were very hard to identify with. I want the audience and the dancers to be in the same space, I want us to be breathing the same air and to retain vital communication between the embodied dancer and the audience. I don’t want the movement and performance to be interfered with by other art forms but to allow space and time to see the clarity of thought within actions in the body.
  • SD _ My company is going to perform at the Victoria Miro Art Gallery. The dancers are simply going to be in the gallery when anyone comes in. Where is the audience’s perspective and their relationship to the performer. What does the performer have to think about ahead of time in order to clarify the choreographed distance between what they do and whoever is observing them? Any thoughts on choreographing distance?
  • EDW _ Absolutely, that’s fabulous territory, in so many ways. For a start there’s the whole extraordinary anxiety about doing what you are doing by taking away the safety net for the audience – I don’t care about the dancers. If performance is happening over there and not in our personal space, thank God, because of course if it’s truly catalytic, both things will change, the performance will change and the audience will change. So the distance thing is very interesting, because do you read distance, actual proximity as being important? No, because that’s not necessarily it at all. You don’t have to do some kind of radical thing about being in someone’s face to be closer to them. It’s much more, surely, about creating a sense that you are in the same space.
  • SD _ That’s very valuable to me.
  • EDW _ As soon as you articulate the architecture of the space you are in so that everyone in that room knows they are in the room, then wherever the dancers are, wherever the quotes ‘audience’ is, then they are together.
  • SD _ I don’t know if that leads to some other thought here: the pot has a relationship to human size and traditionally the pot is within a hand span or an arm reach and yet you have decided to take the pot above the heads of the observer or below them, or contain them. What led you to that?
  • EDW _ Why not! I’m talking to you, I mean you are a dancer. If you said that the only movements that were allowed to you were visual information at sort of advert height, or commodity height, in terms of bodily response, you’d say ‘but I’m not, I am a whole person on this bit of the world’. I mean, it just seems to me that, how can you not want to be wholly present in the world and one of the things that is a very simple thing: what happens when you look up? What happens when you look up at pots or they are on the ground and you are walking and so you begin to get a whole series of different movements around the work: you walk alongside the work or through the work or look up to the work and sometimes it’s discomfort and why not too? Why does everything have to be – of course it doesn’t have to be – on a sort of, on a nightmare: the plinth? A plinth probably does something like an old fashioned stage, with a proscenium arch. It’s probably the same kind of framing mechanism in terms of keeping social, class and conceptual distance between two different things…
  • SD _ …and art is separated by being in its place, rather than freely negotiating wherever it happens to exist.
  • EDW _ Image 1 Image 2 Image 3 But there is also something which is really, really important, I think and that’s I suppose the thing about being given things on a plate, or being told that here they are, take them or leave them, but here they are. And one of the things that I’m really, really excited by is actually not being able to see everything instantaneously and so I’ve just done a series of closed cupboards that you open up on four walls, which is called North North West, where you simply just open something and close it. They are there and not there, or a piece that I made which is one of these attic pieces where things are in shadow. They are there, they are completely there but you can’t see them.
  • SD _ Something to do with a presence, as well as a lack of presence and a choice of presence?
  • EDW _ It’s not about making things mysterious in some awful ersatz, phoney way of saying ‘it’s more special, because you can’t see it’. It’s nothing like that, it’s actually trying to explore how little you need to do in order to make something real.
  • SD _ This is slightly off the mark of this, but it’s something I have to deal with in relationship to this: that the observer finds the upper body the expressive part of the body and the lower part of the body is pedestrian or supportive. So in making movement, in order to make the lower part of the body have its own dynamic, you start to give it rhythm; if you start to give it rhythm, it starts turning into steps and steps then start turning into more technical explorations, the legs being seen as talented rather than expressive. In the Victoria Miro Gallery the performers need to be seen as whole people.
  • EDW _ It’s about first principles in some ways; it’s like going back to what is actually important and it’s about encounter, isn’t it?
  • SD _ Encounter is going to be part of the exploration of these dancers and the audience being in the same space and how not to confront.
  • SD _ Are we both a rest from language? The language describing movement itself is difficult, which means that it is quite hard for us to be spoken about at a useful level. How do we reach the rest of the world through spoken or written words when we are involved in the idea of making bodies, physical articulations and spacial deliciousnesses a rest from language.
  • EDW _ It’s a wonderful question. The reaching the world - I do quite a lot of workshops with artists and film makers about writing and the first thing I do is to ask people to take their ‘artist’s statement’ and to tear it up, you know that awful thing, one hundred words where they say where they were born, who they studied with and how much they love Fellini, de Chirico and Morandi. We start with networks of pictures and words and then build up groupings of words and then it becomes a sentence, so it’s a very much more intuitive way of using language to really get into the heart of what people’s practice is: the real sort of irreducible bit about why actually they are spending their lives doing this extremely complicated thing. So you don’t start off with saying you have to conceptualise and theorise about work and try and make sense of it for other people; you actually start by trying to make sense of it for yourself verbally.
  • EDW _ I believe you can’t really articulate things verbally in that very important way of helping people through language to talk about art unless it has got some deeply personal connection, artists doing it for themselves to begin with – I mean David [Ward] is absolutely brilliant at that. He is one of those artists who is saturated in language and therefore has built up an intensely personal ability to use it, but that’s quite rare.
  • SD _ Maybe these conversations are in part to help release that.
  • EDW _ I’m loving this - finding space to talk about one’s own work, openly, in an exploratory way and in a testing way, a trying out ideas way, is hard work. You have to be unafraid of pretentiousness as well, of trying things out. I gave a big lecture in defence of pretentiousness, where I said ‘pretentiousness is not that bad, it’s just trying out things in public’, you know, you’ve fallen flat on your face, but there is that role as well for actually trying out words.
  • SD _ I have a fear about that, I want to be knowledgeable about what I do but it takes a lot of testing to find out the necessary articulacy. I don’t want to be nervous about trying.
  • EDW _ Well, our starting place for this last bit was saying that what we are doing is a rest from language. The counterpart of that is to worry that if it is a rest from language then language fills in these interstices; you make these wonderful spaces of encounter with your dancers and through all the extraordinary things you do and then criticism and theory comes rolling in to all these gaps that you make and fills them all up with interpretation and you have to move on to the next thing and make more gaps and then this whole process happens. So, how do you keep that wonderful sense of those important stillnesses, you talk repeatedly about stillness and silence and openness as well?
  • SD _ I recognise and enjoy those qualities in your work. I do like the idea of giving a member of the audience time and space to concentrate.
  • SD _ In order to clear space around movement I have tried to get rid of too many preparations to the movement which clear out unnecessary actions. If I tell you a structure that helps demonstrate, in In Plain Clothes, each dancer found what we called a ‘family of moves’, single moves with no preparation, ones that had a recognisable taste to them. One family of moves described a dancer measuring space with their body; another family of moves was about the physical act of breathing. We were then given a musical score by the composer Matteo Fargion. That score was very simple, using a maximum of nine notes. Each move was assigned a note, so movement two might be given to an ‘A’ note, but completely arbitrarily without being conscious of the dancer and then the dancer had to use their movement to fit into the score and they found that form unbelievably difficult because it reorganised their bodies in a way they never would have chosen.
  • SD _ What was interesting was when that form managed to dissolve. The dancers gained strength from a nfound sensual feedback from this organisational structure. When I see what you do there seems a formality in terms of when and where these objects turn up and yet the overwhelming response I have to them is one of physical pleasure.
  • EDW _ I’m so glad!
  • SD _ Do you go through those moments of form before the dissolving?
  • EDW _ I do, absolutely, I’m so happy to hear you so beautifully walk through that process and talk about the dissolving, because there are wonderful parallels to this almost disjunctive - well there’s conjunctive and disjunctive - way of bringing notes and movements together. The feeling that this is not right, that there is something awry and that it’s intensely formal, an exploration, which then morphs into something utterly other, at which point you really are aware both bodily and cerebrally that there is an underlying structure with architectonic elements but that actually your response is entirely of being a person.
  • SD _ Can you give me an example of that going on?
  • EDW _ Image There was a piece I made called A Line around a Shadow in a very beautiful Arts & Crafts house called Blackwell, up in the Lakes on Lake Windermere. It was very dark in the house, but there was a beautiful white room with a shelf going all the way round, so that it completely stretched the room. It was an obvious place to make something for and so we went through an enormous labour and came up with something like seventeen nwhite glazes, which is quite a lot and took months and months. They had different kinds of opacity and densities of white, similar to different kinds of movement and then I made a hundred and something vessels and on each vessel I put - again very formal - one of the trimmings, one of the bits that came off the pot when I was trimming it. I’ll find you one of the pots.
  • SD _ I was going to ask a question about these.
  • EDW _ So, there you go. It was an incredibly formal process of trying to sort out this whole installation, this whole great thing that I was doing and I thought, right up until the last one went on, this is just a very, very, long-winded bit of note-making. Then the last piece went in and the whole room came together. It was at dusk, so the light was changing anyway. There were three windows in the room and it suddenly dissolved, to use your word, which is absolutely the most beautiful word to use, because for me as the maker or the choreographer of these particular bodies it suddenly became real. It did a couple of things: one is that suddenly the space became different, which is one of the markers I think of choreography, or of sculpture actually, that it alters the space you are in, you breathe in a different way, because there is something in the room. The second thing is that all the kinds of formal bits of the structure were no longer there, consciously. They all dissolved.
  • SD _ It’s terrific to know of another artist who is having to break through the formal in order to find the feeling. I think occasionally I have found a feeling through the form and the feeling is recognisable but there is no word attached to it and it’s the language of the object or the language of the doing which helps you understand something rather than the language attached to words. I think that is why we go to watch so much and keep going.
  • EDW _ It’s also a point of departure. As soon as something goes right - I don’t know if this happens to you, Sue – as soon as there is that synapse of energy, of something happening, how ever infrequent it is, in my case, but whenever it happens it’s immediately hugely generative. I want to go back and make something again and it’s not that it wasn’t right, it’s much more than that, it’s just that it gives you back energy to want to do the next thing, to keep on going.
  • SD _ Listen You have mentioned listing and choreographically the dancers and I sometimes say to each other ‘Oh we don’t want a list of movements’. And then I read in your book how important listing is so I would love you to talk about listing, because to us it means something else and I’d quite like the opposition?
  • EDW _ Image 1 Image 2 Listing is my way of sketching. I don’t sketch – I don’t draw, but I do write lists. It can be words or poems or a beautiful book, for instance: Walter Benjamin, great German writer, theorist, marvellous writer about art and this is his Archive, just recently published and here are his lists. Let me find you a good list, Sue. These are just notes on the back of an envelope that he has done and this is about aging and trying to write a book on Proust.
  • SD _ Image They end up being quite mapping.
  • EDW _ They are very mapping and I suppose listing for me is mapping, but it’s also about trying out categories which then don’t work. So for instance a really good list was a list of objects in a museum that I came across, in the Fitzwilliam, in Cambridge and it was just a complete list of all the different kinds of artefacts there were.
  • SD _ Tell me your response to that?
  • EDW _ Well it was wonderful, because it was so completely ludicrous to try and bring all this world of things into this series of boxes., but each part of that list I found intensely interesting.
  • SD _ OK. Can you tell me a little bit more?
  • EDW _ I love lists. Lists seem to me to push endlessly. They make gaps for me, they make creative gaps. It’s not about trying to map the world in its entirety and make it tidy at all, it’s entirely the opposite: you make a list and you suddenly realise all the things which aren’t in the list and it’s in those bits that aren’t there that you find these interstices that come, these ideas and these feelings and these words. Stupid way of working, but that’s my way of working.
  • SD _ No, it’s terrific! I’ll tell you why we choose not to use lists. If we do one movement after the other, where does the grammar fit in, where does the timing fit in and can you feed off that?
  • EDW _ Image Absolutely, but my sense of listing is that it’s not straightforward or linear. I did a piece called Listing, Listing which is a constellation of similar objects repeated but their placement is slightly changed in each thing, so immediately it is a series of repeated attempts, not dissimilar from Wallace Stevens’ Sixteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, or in fact any Wallace Stevens poem, or a beautiful bit of serial music…
  • SD _ …or a Gertrude Stein?
  • EDW _ …or Gertrude Stein, or part of a Bach cantata, you know the kind of iteration of a theme and for me listing is my way of finding spaces.
  • SD _ I think we were worried about listing movements because it could produce an evenness of timing, the consistent arrival of another movement rather than anticipation or rhythm. Maybe it’s not the list itself but the spaces in between that matter.
  • EDW _ Image 1 Image 2 There is a beautiful series of books which you may know by a graphic theorist called Edward Tufte. This is all about listing and map making and repetition. Here is a man sitting on a rock in the nineteenth century and all the different ways in which the same rock has been noted down and that idea of each person who has seen the same rock and repeated it and listed it in a different way.
  • EDW _ This for me is the creativity of listing.
  • SD _ In terms of the body there is a layering of information. Therefore sometimes movement can become chordal rather than a singular note and for a dancer you can make a simple movement but you can give that movement more body by layering it and counter pointing it with a movement that is done at the same time, so that there is a chord of actions. Does that have a story for you?
  • EDW _ It does, it really does… that’s why I spend my life not making a singular object.
  • EDW _ Do you know those wonderful early, early, Greek friezes of dancers?
  • SD _ I was speaking to the writer Lavinia Greenlaw yesterday. She talked about where the word Khoreia appears in Homer and also about the dance figures circling Greek vases. Is that what you were going to allude to?
  • EDW _ It is, I am doing this project at the V&A. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done. Over the next eighteen months I shall be making something like 650 pieces which will be placed on a forty five metres long, red aluminium shelf running round inside the dome. It’s going to be very, very high up and the dome is on the fifth floor but you can see it from the ground floor through different gaps. I was thinking about the disposition, the placing of the things I am making inside this shelf and I realised that actually the image I kept coming back to was of dancers.
  • SD _ The Khoreia, the circle dance?
  • EDW _ Yes.
  • SD _ What about scale? All your pots aren’t hand-size are they, some are hip-sized, so is that sense of scale going to be involved?
  • EDW _ no, not on this.
  • SD _ So they are what I call hand-held?
  • EDW _ Yes.
  • EDW _ But having said that, there is also a building I’m involved in where we are simply embedding porcelain round the building – not objects at all – and we are embedding some of it at child height and some at hip height so you can walk round the building and trail your hand. The idea of this building, which is in the middle of town, is that you can walk , run or dance round the whole building, touching it with your fingertips, so movement, movement, movement; always back to encountering yourself, you and the world meeting somewhere.
  • SD _ What led you to make something where we know it’s touchable?
  • EDW _ Image I always assume that people will pick things up.
  • SD _ But when I see the beautiful pots which were part of the library at Kettle’s Yard, they are a library of pots amongst a library of books, but would you expect somebody to take the book or the pot out?
  • EDW _ Yes, absolutely. There are pieces I have made which are entirely about people moving them. I did a porcelain wall of 360 odd pots and it was completely based around the idea that people every day would go in and turn them round or move them round and that it would be an endlessly moving thing. There is a piece called A Change in the Weather which is tiny, tiny, tiny pots and I assumed that if you saw them you’d think ‘no I prefer that piece there’ and that’s OK, that was part of the grammar of the whole thing. You know about structure and freedom, can I hear you on this?
  • SD _ The dance artists’ freedom comes from being able to make live decisions during performances. If the dancers have enough back wealth of information stemming from the structure and what a particular piece is trying to do they can choose how to get that information across. How to unpick their knowledge and display it in an instant in front of the audience.
  • SD _ One problem can be that we try to build up a wealth of movement and that by producing more movement we imagine we may have more expression but I find if we go beyond a certain amount of actions they start to cancel each other out. The last move erases the ones before, the movements begin to eat each other up.
  • EDW _ Well I had a recent reviof an exhibition which said ‘more porcelain vessels’ and basically it said ‘still more cylinders’. It was a tough critique and I thought ‘yes, absolutely right: they are all vessels and they are all cylinders, yes – you’ve got it’. The fact is, that’s fine by me, it’s how you use them and for me there are infinite possibilities and excitement about using a porcelain cylinder. Now that makes me pretty sad for some people – fine, that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. That’s my language and I find it infinitely stimulating.
  • SD _ That statement encourages me to observe. I don’t always desire the feeling of constant impact a gathering speed, I would like to learn how to give myself time and space to see.
  • EDW _ There was a beautiful thing that an American literary theorist called Stephen Greenblatt wrote where he talked about the experience of being in the presence of a conversation with a really wonderful piece of art. He said that simultaneously he felt there was wonder, there was the complete absorption in the work and at the same time there was this resonance of being flung away from it, backwards into other ideas and memories and feelings and excitements and it’s the same thing: there’s the being in it and the being pulled away simultaneously and that happens doesn’t it and that’s what one is looking for.
  • SD _ Image Can you walk us through how you felt you choreographed A Line Around a Shadow??
  • EDW _ Yes, I think the key thing about that piece and the choreographing of it was in fact the speed of it. Once you have all the elements in place and understand the space you are in, the actual choreographing of it, the actual placing of the work was incredibly quick, and was over within a ludicrously short period of time. People said ‘didn’t you have to go back and it must have taken days to work out which vessel to put next to which other vessel and surely did you have it all worked out and did you have great lists and did you have digital this and video that and whatever’ and no, the answer is absolutely not. It was made and then it was up and around and the making and the thinking and the worrying took months and months and months but actually the moment of putting it up in the room was very, very intuitive and very, very fast. Then of course there is the thing of looking at it and creating more interstices allowing more energy to happen between different vessels and that was also very intuitive.
  • SD _ We are talking about something that we live with daily and I’m just looking across at three pots there and between two of them is a sliver of space and between two others is a more ample space and we make conscious decisions about how close or far something, one event is from another, but to someone who has never thought about it before I think there could be a pleasure in asking them to look at what we would call either the positive or the negative between two objects, that the gap has a story, has a sensual exploration that hits us in certain parts of our body. But I suppose at this stage of the game to us that is an intuitive… we are feeling that, recognising it and then shifting something without too much wasteful thought.
  • EDW _ I think it is an intensely abstract thing. It’s not story telling, it’s not making narratives out of objects. To pick up on your words, it’s the deployment of space.
  • SD _ But when we talk about narrative in this sense it’s not the linguistic attachment to narrative; it’s the fact that close and far tell us something.
  • EDW _ They tell us a lot!
  • SD _ While most of your practice is about making, an incredibly important part is about breaking isn’t it?
  • EDW _ It’s incredibly important. I mean, that’s the strange thing about different people’s things: that actually breaking is completely like breathing for me, it’s part of what I do. The world is full of objects and it’s quite something to bring more and more objects into it. It’s not about technical things going wrong, that’s dull and that happens. Much more interesting is the decision about what survives and what goes out there or indeed the whole strange thing about making too much and then you look at it and realise there are too many pieces; it’s too full, it’s pushing the space, it’s over inhabiting it, it’s bloating the space and you just break them, get rid of them. They don’t need to be there. That’s fine – break them, and the breaking is fine. There is a big, blue, industrial bin outside our studio which things get broken in.
  • SD _ There is less physical pleasure for a dancer in getting rid of material when they have invested their bodies into the movement. When we begin a piece we start with finding a library of actions. As the library builds up some of these actions get dropped while others remain. Those remaining ones are magnets for further movement and development. At this stage discarding movement is not painful. Later, as the work builds up, some actions or phrases do not do the work that is needed and so they have to go and that can cause a knock-on effect to other passages of movement. Your use of ‘bloated space’ is a good image and in the end the performers and I want to find the right moves in the right place and time. Editing means re-finding a more accurate thread.
  • EDW _ I am involved in an animation of a three dimensional space and then time and dynamics also become involved. The performers are the animators. They bring their own bodies’ history into the present while using their skills to pitch themselves beyond that point, a rich bundle of physical, mindful, sensual activity. Are there occasions for you when one element seems to push harder than the others, beyond your choice, one element seems to have a more magnetic force field?
  • EDW _ Yes, there have been those moments. Sometimes they are process moments when actually you are involved in something and can be overwhelmed by a memory and bodily memories, which is a whole different raft of conversations to have because it is fascinating how you remember.
  • SD _ Talk a little bit about bodily memory then.
  • EDW _ Well, the memory in making of being involved in something and suddenly realising that you are being sparked off to different places or different memories of making something similar, or simply holding things. For example, I have been working with museum collections and the bodily memory of picking up a Korean tea bowl from the 12th century and feeling it and the bodily memory of other things in different cultures and different places. The simple somatic thing about feeling an object and feeling the memory of the making of that object can be overwhelming. There is also the overpowering thing where something almost out of kilter can happen when you are in an exhibition, or when you are putting something out and it’s not necessarily the creatively unresolved thing which will lead to something else, it is something which is just discordant, for me: something where I know that I simply haven’t pushed it enough.
  • SD _ Is this partly to do with, occasionally finding oneself in an imbalanced situation and thinking, ‘everything isn’t about balance, I need to pursue this discordant moment because the discordant moment could be very fruitful’, or, helping one get out of a habit?
  • EDW _ Image Yes, that’s very true. There is a very tough piece downstairs called Arcady which is some twenty porcelain vessels in a steel box. You can touch them but you can’t get them out and it was a really, really, important piece for me to make. I showed it at Kettle’s Yard and at the nmuseum mima [Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art], and it was really important for me to show something which wasn’t resolved, to try something out in public and it still really worries me as a piece. It’s about trapment and it’s not about trapment; it’s about containing and not containing and being able to hold and not hold. It’s a very emotional piece for me, in fact I’m making lots of movements of trying to protect myself as I’m talking about it. It’s a hugely discordant piece and I’ve got it out, because every time I come in in the morning, it’s there and I know that I have to go a long way with that. It’s a beginning. Was it right to show it in public - I don’t know. I wanted to put something out there which wasn’t quite right.
  • SD _ But how else can you test something truly if it isn’t out there? Taking risks, though risk is an overused word. Everything shouldn’t be finished because nothing is finished in our lives. There needs to be a future to keep the work alert.
  • EDW _ But you see a wonderful thing in your work is that kind of contingency that you have, that sense of instability. You are very in touch with that. Risk is a dreadful word, but there is that feeling of something which has a sort of febrile quality, of being there but also of being absolutely on the edge of other things.
  • SD _ Yes, it’s a balance that can tip up in any direction at any point. That can give all of us a playful or intense instability, dismantle us for nexchanges and a different sense of ‘how do I feel about this’?
  • SD _ Image You have just given me a 12th century Korean bowl, shallow, with a flower imprinted, it could be a star, it could be an anemone. We were speaking about holding this, exposing memories and I’m not quite sure how far to go down what I’m just about to explain, but our body somehow holds the memory of being a single cell and by multiplying and dividing, developing parts of the body which then feels something and that feeling gives feedback and the mind is developing as the body is developing and I found that such an exciting history. Yet if I go too far down there expressing it in the work, it can be too much about the body and too self-referential and I suppose too isolated. I would love to find a tender recognition of understanding, of having this history at my fingertips but being able to treat it lightly, not heavily. It is very lovely to hold this bowl.