Some thoughts on the Light Moves Festival, by Claudia Kappenberg
Last week I spend three days at Light Moves, in Limerick (Ireland). The festival offered a rich combination of screenings, symposium, installed works and talks by seasoned artists whose practices ask profound questions as to who we are and how we relate to the world around us.
Performance artist Nigel Rolfe shared images of an extensive body of work, including a couple of works on video, in which a lone figure exposes itself to the elements. Nigel Rolfe at a screendance festival? This might seem like a stretch to some, but I think it is only a sign of our times and of what there is to come. The screen is becoming ever more ubiquitous, and more and more artists are embracing it as a means to make work and to visit/ revisit their material and ideas.
Rolfe undertakes durational, often daylong interventions and condenses these into 2min long videos, giving as much as glimpses of the work through one slow pan. As a member of Black Market International he is one of a group of artists who have been challenging the cultural and cultivated self by asserting their physical material presence, through durational performances in both urban environments and in the landscape. It is a practice of surrender it seems, to time, weight, and whatever conditions one might find oneself in. Sometimes an audience witnesses this work, sometimes Rolfe has no one for company.
In the everyday our bodies tend to be a kind of background at the service of the mind, and inversions of this constellation tend to be painful and unwelcomed. Watching a performance which challenges this order of things, and even witnessing the process on film can be quite unsettling. So why does Nigel Rolfe go to such extremes, expose himself, at times even endangering his life? The work makes me think of ancient sacrificial rites and lone wolf adventures, of existential feats and extreme sports. However, the work also has a strong aesthetic and performances give rise to striking and beautiful images. Performances can look like paintings made from body, earth and sky, not unlike the Romantic paintings of Caspar David Friedrich and his contemporaries. Surrender of Self in the search of the sublime perhaps? This work is as much part of our cultural traditions as it is on its margins, and perhaps this paradox is what makes it so intriguing.
As part of an exchange with the Australian multi-arts centre Carriageworks, the festival also included an exhibition of several works that form part of 24 Frames Per Second, a set of 24 new commisions for screen-based work at the intersection of film, dance and the visual arts. One of the works presented at Light Moves was Running Tongue (2015), the latest cinematic collaboration between choreographer Siobhan Davies and filmmaker David Hinton. The work and its creative process was discussed at a conversation between the curators Mary Wycherley and Jürgen Simpson with Sue Davies. Peeling back the layers that led to this composition, Davies described the brief for the 22 independent dance artists who were invited to make a few seconds each. Key to the composition was a selection of 250 proverbs that Davies and Hinton selected from across the world and which delineate and define woman in one way or another. The invited artists were also given a folder with the visual material and painting references, and they were asked to make a composition within a still image that included a freeze frame of a female, naked runner in profile. This female runner was also the link between the different scenes, running through psychedelic cut-out forests and pausing briefly in each of the scenes. The individual scenarios had to be composed as a photographic collage, all the imagery had to be set in London, and movement was considered a luxury. The resulting work is a highly surface-conscious, digital tapestry of textures, colours and shapes, a series of tableaus with strange and unpredictable constellations. Furthermore the whole thing is not a fixed sequence but digitally randomised. No two screenings will ever be the same.
While the tableaus tend to have a narrative feel, there is little actual story telling and the fragmented nature of the work is somewhat unsettling. Yes there is the lone runner travellling from scene to scene but her solitude is not mitigated. Things happen to her she does not react or interact. Her big stride is beautiful and energetic, but the ongoing, neverending cycle turns it into a relentless and somewhat exhausting activity. One could read the work as a portrait of a generation, in which thoughtfulness and tenderness alternate with sudden spouts of violence. Against the backdrop of the recent, seemingly random attacks in Paris, Germany and Tunesia, and the sudden flare-up between Russia and Turkey, this seems all too real.
The choreographed randomness was already present in All This Can Happen, the previous collaboration between Davies and Hinton and another kaleidoscopic composition of cultural life forms and their multiples. All this can happen, say the films, and all this takes place on screen. Maya Deren argued that film was the defining medium of the 20th century. In the 21st century any differences between the screen and the everyday are melting away.