Changing Places

Travelling is a good way of being. At times one feels enlightened because the world works in simple ways and the more that you see and experience, the less ignorant and naive you believe yourself to be. At other times, you worry, not because there is much more to worry about than if you were to live and work in one city all your life, but because it is puzzling to comprehend your position in this world or why things actually exist in the way that they do. Then there are things that you learn to despise, like borders, and other things that bring you joy, like the diversity of humans and their hospitality.

I wanted to write the above, for despite its romantic sentiment towards freedom “on the road” it is actually true. Truth is important although not always appropriate.

I spent three days in Sofia which is not long enough. After being in Istanbul and Turkey for past two months, Bulgaria is a comforting break from the Istanbuli expenses of living, sexual tension, and the city’s intense bustling urban melee. There is something about being in Europe which just cannot be explained, but seems to be omnipresent within it. This said, Sofia was massively different from any other European city that I have visited. It was nice to be in a place where smoking was still permitted indoors, even though this is true in Turkey also, and where the atmosphere on the street was very calm despite the prevalence of alcohol-inhumed people. Not that we only spent time in the city, we also took time out on a brief excursion up one of the surrounding mountains.

Sofia landscape from Mountain Chairlift
Sofia landscape from Mountain Chairlift

Whilst in the city it is impossible not to notice that there are a lot of structures that are disused or abandoned or are in a process of deconstruction. Unlike Istanbul which has all of these things as well as structures in a process of construction. One of the most interesting structures is in the City Centre and is at the opposite end of a Plaza to National Palace of Culture Congress Centre. This sculpture is in a state of deconstruction yet is still a dominant feature of the landscape. Of course the sculpture is a part of a delicate and sensitive topic, what the sculpture represents is most likely a totalitarian and fascist state of being which I assume the people are in opposition to. For some reason it is difficult to know what people in Bulgaria really think and how much is done for the people and not just appearances. It is difficult to find appropriate references online to substantiate any subjective comments that I might make about Bulgaria or the Sculpture that I am directly referring to here.

Sculpture in process of Deconstruction: Sofia National Palace of Culture Congress Centre Plaza
Sculpture in process of Deconstruction: Sofia National Palace of Culture Congress Centre Plaza

My issue with the sculpture can be said to be with the fact that the sculpture is simply being torn down. Now there are two problems with this for me. Obviously the first is going to be that this is an act of vandalism against a piece of art. It is an object that represents the country’s past history, culture. If I am to consider that I am currently working towards a project that is attempting to study past culture because such a thing is a part of a country’s heritage and identity this act of erasure is simply incomprehensible and counter-intuitive. Such a poignant and valuable work should not be taken away from the public, instead it should remain but it ought to be contextually altered to suit the new day. Another piece of work ought to counter this sculpture, a piece of work that illustrates how the people are free from the tyranny of this preceding state of being.

I said that deconstructing the sculpture is counter-intuitive, this leads me to make my second objection. By removing all evidence of the past we do not only damage our understanding of our pasts but also what they really represented. I mean to say that this could lead to a state of denial, was the state rule really that bad? Did it really happen? Removing the evidence is like trying to mask the reality of the past and I believe it will promote a misunderstanding of the mechanisms of that particular period of time. How can the people of today be taught about the times of before without evidence and material?

Unknown Sculpture Sofia in Deconstruction
Unknown Sculpture Sofia in Deconstruction

 

Unknown Sculpture Sofia in Deconstruction from side
Unknown Sculpture Sofia in Deconstruction from side
Unknown Sculpture Sofia in Deconstruction detail
Unknown Sculpture Sofia in Deconstruction detail

 

I not found any images online for this sculpture and neither do I know its name.

And hey! Congratulations Dartington College of Arts Graduates 2010!

Graduation Celebrations in Sofia
Graduation Celebrations in Sofia

Jam on the Wall

Surrounding the old districts of what is now Istanbul’s city centre, is the beautiful historical artefact that is the Byzantine wall. This impressive structure was built during the 7th century BC and has been rendered pointless, if not simply obtrusive and expensive to maintain, over time. As it remains, the city wall cuts through the metropolis instead of running its parameters and acts as an obstacle to the incessant human traffic that navigates around it. As the wall is both historically and culturally valuable to the city, and then [whilst currently not exploited] economically valuable in terms of tourism, and then also due to practicality, the wall cannot be demolished. During the Ottoman occupation of Istanbul the city expanded and parts of the wall were deconstructed to allow for practical access in and out of the city. Today, sections of the wall are preserved or restored, some parts of it are used by private organisations/businesses, other parts are decrepit, collapsed, or inaccessible, and then there are parts that have survived despite neglect. In places along the wall there are handrails in place to help climbers on the wall but there is little, if any, railing to prevent anyone from falling. However, before it appears as though a criticism of safety procedures is being made, I have to state that for as long as the wall has existed there have been no safety barriers. As a sign of the times, in the face of the knowledge of what the wall was built for, and then acknowledging contemporary concerns, it is significant to note that the gravest danger is tripping over our own feet and falling from the wall. Of course by putting up barriers the nature of the wall is altered, how the wall was intended to function and for things such as how the human defenders would have dealt with life, our empathy is to be completely lost.
 
Byzantine Wall
Byzantine Wall

 

How to quantify the aesthetics of the site? It is plausible that the aesthetics of the wall are caused, in part, by what we might call the sublime. This singular object that streaks across the city, broad, tall, and sandstone yellow, has no parallel in its vicinity – it is outstanding. Adding to this character imbuing aura is the presence of multiple cityscape panoramas as one moves along its length. Then there is the element of engagement. Individuals must climb, ascend, descend, dismount, and remount the wall in order to traverse it. Navigating ones way across the old city perimeter along the wall is no easy task. This object calls for attention, the steep banks with narrow steps, the unprotected drops and wall edges, the uneven brickwork in the floor that the wall introduces on occasion at stages here and there. Patrons of the Byzantine wall are tested both mentally and physically.

Intentions to film and work on the Byzantine wall had been developing into ideas for over a month before finally culminating into actions. The pretext for working within specific sites used reasons taken from the above passages of this blog entry. Additional to those observations we intended to create a situation that could be viewed live, as performance, or digitally, as video or film representation of the situation. The situation in question was to be an improvised dance jam that would use the sensory stimuli inherent to the space as a general impetus. The site could be explored and mediated through bodily interactions with the site. Filming of the event is very important and ought to notably present both in live and digital representations of the performance as well as the seminal performance itself.

Byzantine City Wall Improvised Jam Poster Advert
Byzantine City Wall Improvised Jam Poster Advert

 

On the 25th October the performance jam took place in the Edirnekapi area in several carefully selected places along the Byzantine wall. There were nine movement artists who performed on the day. The general public who came to see the performance, intentionally or otherwise, responded to the work with surprising open-mindedness and a genuine curiousity for what we were doing. Those members of the public who involved themselves or who became a part of our audience, ranged approximately in age from between 6 and 80 years old. People responded to this work not because it was intellectually demanding, or because it was politically or socially opinionated, although it may have been for some of those people, but because the work was enjoyable to watch and as such it also drew attention to the natural beauty of a grand and functionless construct. Beyond the call of tourism, the wall is an architectural object to view and experience and serves no apparent or practical application today. [Amendment: The wall illegitimately serves as a home for some of Istanbul’s homeless community and as was previously mentioned some parts of the wall are used as storage areas by some businesses.] As it went, even the people who were living adjacent to the wall took a positive stance towards us which bode well for our work. There appears to be much done in the name of art in Istanbul that is exclusive to those bourgoise patrons of the city and the wider world which does not attempt to honestly represent Istanbul as a whole. There exist a number of plausible reasons for this but I will not go into them now any more than to say that the current social and political climate in Turkey does not have the space to easily accommodate noncommercial counter-cultures in a way that could produce genuinely critical works. As it is, the cliché of the arts is for illusionism and commerce, but I cannot say that a counter-culture does not exist and cannot grow because I would be completely wrong. It is just that the social, economic, climate is not going to really be able to promote these cultures in the same way that welfare states can.

 
Local children watch from raised platform as three performers jam below
Local children watch from raised platform as three performers jam below
Members of Public Leave and Enter the Site
Members of Public Leave and Enter the Site

 

For more information on the Choreography and for a dancer’s perspective, refer to Minou Polleros’s website for this same project [not available yet]: http://minoutsambika.blogspot.com/p/part-i-site-specific-jam-performance.html

Our intention with the collected footage is to compile two different movies. One which is simply Dance for Film and a second that represents the entire situation, including camera crews, members of public, and what happens around the site. This second film will be more of a documentary style film whilst the first will be appropriate for dissemination via conventional film festivals.

Personally, my sentiment is that the collected footage will lend itself to a narrative and realist style, the purpose of the editing process will therefore be to display something happening/happened in a conventionally structured symbolist dance film. This is to say there is nothing experimental about the film footage and it ought to find itself firmly situated within the existing dance for film canon.

Photography was used to decide the camera angles.

Preliminary improvised sessions prepared sites for filming.

Camera angles were determined through their capacity to observe and capture the human body within each site.

 

 

Afterthought

The children within the space were capable of responding far more naturally than the performers could themselves. This is a matter of the children being raised in such an environment whilst the dancers, whilst being trained to move, are unaccustomed to the space and are only capable of moving as far as their personal security and integrity will allow. As such the improvising performers could not possibly explore the space in a way that exceeded the knowledge already accrued by those children.

It would be therefore compelling to talk to the children about what they believed the performers were doing, what it meant to them, and how they would themselves explore that space. What would that mean to those children who know the site so well? What would they reveal about the space that we could not? How would they go about moving in the space and would they acknowledge the camera in a way that would be interesting or thought provoking? By performing such an enquiry one immediately alters the meaning of the work that is being made from an aesthetic enquiry into space to a study of the local society, of social status, of the child’s body in space, juvenile explorations of site and space.

Two local boys mounted half way up the wall observe the dancers on the platform below
Two local boys mounted half way up the wall observe the dancers on the platform below
Boys playing around one of the cameramen
Boys playing around one of the cameramen
Two boys climb the wall: inspired by Adam who initiated a wall climb
Two boys climb the wall: inspired by Adam who initiated a wall climb
Group of boys take an improvised descent down the outside of the Byzantine wall
Group of boys take an improvised descent down the outside of the Byzantine wall

Dance and Music

The two hardly seem separated do they? It is as if there is some invisible binding logic that forces the two to cavort around together and in such a manner that the relationship hardly seems questionable. Is it because they share such a simple relationship that one does not need to think in order to know that dance obviously accompanies music and vice versa. I propose that the problem begins here, and it is a problem, because if the relationship is so obvious that thinking is unnecessary then surely we are promoting stupidity which isn’t really what we want to promote is it? I would like to offer that even a cursory glance at a body dancing should assert that there is a lot going on socially, psychologically, and most importantly in terms of expression. To justify my making of a statement that is admittedly a little insensitive I will elucidate.

Dance’s relationship with music is something else, it is multifarious and it is not possible to compound it into a general statement. Music does certainly reflect upon and intuit music but the road doesn’t end or even begin here. It is this very common miscomprehension that compels me to propose some classifications for dance in the hope of instigating a debate on the subject.

However, before I have even begun compiling my thoughts into text, there is some conflict in interpretation coming from Rachel Clerke. A quote or citation would be ideal but I’m afraid of misquoting so instead I will acknowledge her argument in what I write because I believe her to be correct in her argument, though only up to a point.

The following classifications generally apply to a music and dance relationship wherein both performers are believed to have some artistic integrity and contribution towards composition and performance. This must be noted for the reason that ‘performers’ may not be considered artists, as much as they are involved in the artwork, because they are constituents of the art piece.

The preceding statement is included as an amendment to my original unpublicised thoughts.

Just before I begin outlining the classifications I will outline my beliefs as to what a Choreographer does, how this affects dance practise, and why this is important to an understanding of the classifications and will hopefully have positive repercussions throughout this document.

The primary issue within the canon of music and dance collaborations is the dominance of music and then the subservience of bodily movements to the rhythmic structure determined by the music. Whilst it seems that music is the protagonist and is whom we ought to discuss, it is actually the conventions of dance practise that can be criticised in the most constructive way. Dance is synonymous with Choreography in one very specific way. This specific way is actually the deliberation of movement that must come from an intention to move in a way that is categorically dance. This is through the conscious devising of movements that reflect an individuals understanding of the social context, the purposes of the dance, the appropriate responses to a given impetus that is typically conventional (popular/popularist) music. In less direct ways Choreography is only important to dance in the way that dance is perceived to be, this means that established choreography influences general perceptions of how one should move given a certain context and some means of impetus. From this we can say that people dance in clubs in a way that reflects the choreography present in popular music videos and contemporary dance is impacted by the education of its proponents. This is also to say that the history of the individual and the influences they receive make the dancer and this exists on every level. Choreography permeates through every level of understanding of what dance is. At the present moment in time it might be safe to assume that dance is anything and everything that is an out of the ordinary movement although the post-modern in dance attempted successfully to deconstruct this general hypothesis.

It is widely accepted that choreographers design dance routines and that this practise is as much about where a body is in space and how it gets there, as it is about the exploration and manipulation of the body’s potential or limits in regards to form and mobility and their corresponding aesthetics. Something that might be taken for granted is the choreographer’s knowledge of Choreology and Choreosophy, the science and philosophies of dance; alternatively called the knowledge and the theory of dance. They certainly seem as though they are taken for granted by audiences and incorrectly so. For it is not known how seriously choreographers generally take these branches of their practise. Taking a cursory glance at choreography it seems as though there is a general lack of interest, which is detrimental to not only dance practise but also the credibility and respect that choreographers and dancers would like to be ascribed with. I think that an unfortunately redundant question is, “What does movement do to the body?” If Choreology and Choreosophy took a greater precedence in the interests of Choreographers then there may be less of an inclination towards studies of music for dance and, correspondingly, for the clichés and trapped aesthetics of such practise.

I hope that I have now set the stage now for the provision of an initial set of classifications that will be open to revision. These stages are as follows.

Dance to Music. The music accompanies the dance and the situation that occurs here is one where the dance intuits the appropriate movements for the music and the environment within which the body is moving. This is typically an improvised dance that exhibits the character of a performer, their understanding of movement, and their social status.

Dance for Music. Beats and rhythms are congruous or syncopated with bodily movements. This is a convention for a large proportion of dance and music productions. Decisions behind the Choreography tend to be biased towards the aesthetic pleasantries of aural visual correlations. As a generalisation, beautiful aesthetics are the primary concern whilst an intentional discordance between movements and the music is a rare intention. This would be because the purposes of the dance become very much an extension of the concerns of the dance or of the Choreographers interpretation of the mood, purpose, or resonances of the music. If the purposes of the Choreographer were not to complement the music then a less aesthetics driven image would be logical. Examples of this kind of work can include Contemporary Ballet as with Emio Greco I PC, ‘ONE & TWO, or Modern dance, often appropriated for mainstream culture productions, by Kate Prince or Jamie King who work with people like Madonna and Girls Aloud.

Dance accompanied by Music. This is where the relationship can begin to become interesting. In being accompanied by music we must assume that the relationship between the dance and the sound is fundamental to the audiences experience but the dance itself is not intended to be a reflection of the music. It is this fact that differentiates this situation from the above two situations. The aesthetics of bodily movement has space to be developed alongside the purposes of the movement, to be an expression, and to be a haptic practise. This is dance for the sake of analysing the body and movement spectacle, a study of body aesthetics, and dance practise as an art. In this situation, both practises, dance and music, are capable of being art in their own right. A good example of this would be in Merce Cunningham’s and John Cages ‘Points in space’ wherein the sound and visuals are disjointed but share discernable moments of discordance and unison. Another example would be the low budget films of Robin Cantrell and Mira Cook – http://transcontinentaldance.org/contact.html

Dance can create its own sound – Dance movement made in silence can never really be silent, the sounds of the audience and of the performers create a different aural situation. What does this mean and what does it do? Does this situation allow for the intense conceptualisation of the body and of movement? Do the acoustic properties of the body develop because it is possible for the body to do this without the accompaniment of music? All of these questions seem to be rhetoric. Studies of the body and movement can be found in this situation within meditative practises such as yoga or martial arts but exist too in choreographic works…

Dance and Music are made for one another. This suggests a relationship wherein the dance attempts to develop its own dialogue and rhythm independent of the music but is still open to the influences of the musician. Both mediums create an ephemeral situation in an improvised scenario. However it is conceivable that the music will dominate the situation but in a sensitive situation it ought to be possible to create an interesting dialogue.

Documentation of Thoughts: Bringing Myself Up To Date

My research began, not in Cappadocia, but in the city of Istanbul. The intense, bustling, city is startling for all of its beauty, its poverty, its vibrance, and its decay. I have never known a more paradoxical city to exist than Istanbul. Whilst there are many things today in Istanbul that can sweep a person away it was the calligraphy of Mustafa Rakim that was to strike me the hardest and longest.

Historically, calligraphy holds a special place in Turkish culture. For hundreds of years typology and calligraphy have been definitively separated; to an extent that is far beyond Western comprehension. This meant that Calligraphy has existed as a veritable art and a study that was greatly appreciated. Perhaps this understanding grew from a similar ideology as that of the christian iconoclastic period? A period wherein it was considered blasphemous or heretical to depict religious deities and related figures in such a classificatory image. More recently Calligraphy had the chance to develop in an entirely new way. Mustafa Kemal, the Turkish President at the beginning of the 20th century, decided that Turkey needed to be revolutionised/modernised/westernised. Kemal, now known as Ataturk, abolished and illegalised the arabic language and replace it with an alphabet based using romanic characters. This left Calligraphy in a strange and novel situation. Throughout the Ottoman period Calligraphy became a prevalent feature of religious centers but the repercussions of Ataturk’s reforms would so impact the Turkish community so that today very few people can undestand calligraphic texts at all. This means that the symbolic meaning and artistic expression captured within the visual spectacle is enhanced. Calligraphy as a textual language descends from use whilst Calligraphy as Art, expression, aesthetic exploration, has a raised profile.

At this point I put Calligraphy to one side. I mean to return to this subject later in order to develop my critique and attempt to craft a personal and exploratory series of works on the subject of Calligraphic lines. In order to conclude my research briefly, the potential of Calligraphy to develop beyond the practises original purpose is only conceivable because of its redundancy as a functioning social language. Later when I was to visit Cappadocia the situation was very different and the emphasis in terms of the sites religious history differs greatly.

Cappadocia is famous for it’s erosion, it is also famous for its cave dwellings that harbour many early christian frescos. In amongst the cave dwellings are frescos that come from the brief iconoclastic period that occured between 726 – 843 AD. Pre and post Iconoclast frescos also exist and these are perhaps the most reknown of the surviving frescos however they are not that interesting to me. Pre and post Iconoclast images are figurative and as such compose a visual language that ought to be ubiquitously understood by those people who have only the most cursory knowledge of biblical stories. On the other hand, Iconoclast images are purely abstract and esoteric symbols, and, like Calligraphy, are an archaic visual language.

If we were to now delve into the dialectics of visual languages I would perhaps argue that these symbolic languages have a greater potential to be creative, subjectively unbounded, and versatile, than figurative pictorial languages such as those that sandwich the Turkish Christian Iconoclastic period. Figurative pictorial languages struggle to deconstruct the relationship that we have with the things being represented because of our inherent knowledge of the represented object/persons limitations and abilities. It is also appropriate to phrase this as, a figurative/realist language limits the message to that which can be shown through such images. In this basic way, the juxtaposition of non-realist symbols, that are significant in having meaning, can create a multitude of creative situations and personal interpretations. This is to say that the imagination, along with personal interpretation, can result in a far more phenomenal personal relationship with the content of the visual language.

So to bring my thoughts together, there are two religiously affiliated languages that have both became politically or socially active in the past and are currently redundant, archaic, or poorly represented, and are as such visually symbolic of what they were/are supposed to be involved with: Religion.

Now that I have explained my interest in the two languages, I must now provide my rationale for representing or working with them. Whilst in Istanbul I perceived Calligraphy to have deteriorated as a functional language as a repercussion of the phasing out of the arabic alphabet as it was replaced by it’s roman successor. Such a process, as previously mentioned, enforces ones visual relationship with arabic Calligraphy. I have noted this development and it i my intention to antagonise the situation. I reasoned that working with Calligraphic form, and the methodologies involved in its construction, could be done with the intention of highlighting its’ social relations as a ubiquitous decorative feature but also something heavily weighted with allusions to religion and Ottoman history. I proposed a performance, installation, or site specific series where-in calligraphic phrases were painted, using chalk and/or charcoal and water, or were drawn through the displacement of dirt, dust, and debris. In either scenario, the marks would gradually fade at a rate determined by the nature of the space and the surrounding traffic. It had been my intention to create these works in sites that would be relevant in some way, in Ottoman sites or public spaces such as Istiklal Cadesi. This has many resonances. The omnipresence of an Ottoman past, the weight of Muslim beliefs upon public etiquette, and the social revolution of perception in regards to Calligraphy. Inadvertently, I had already began to look at erosion before the word surfaced in Cappadocia.

As I have said previously, for a location, erosion has resounding importance in Cappadocia. It is here that rain, wind, and fluctuating temperatures, shaped the soft tuffaceous (comprising of a high percentage of compressed ash) landscape into giant monoliths and creased valleys. It is here also that human activity has affected the landscape. Aberrant and ancient civilisations have furthered the erosion of the tuff surface by digging their homes into it. Whilst there is much geological, anthropological, and topological erosion taking place, it was of course another kind of deterioration that caught me. That of language.
The parallels between Iconoclast symbols and Calligraphy are curious. Both are religious, both are languages, both are esoteric and were involved in some kind of prohibition or reform, both can claim to be art, both are decorative, both functioned as languages through the use of non-figurative and non-realist representations of ideas. Lastly, they both exist today although the evidencing material for Iconoclast images are scarce. The symbolic nature and the historical value of Iconoclast images are compelling as are the sites from which they come. What did they represent? Is there any consistency in the symbols? What forms do these symbols take and what do these symbols say about the psychology and perspective of the people who painted them? How were the symbols devised? How do they represent biblical stories? As the the Iconoclast symbols were supposed to represent the same biblical stories as the figurative images that were made in the post-iconoclast period, how do the respective images from each period relate to one another?
For me, the great variety of types of erosion can not be overlooked as an important and integral feature of any artistic response made to the site. The symbols that I am interested in could not have existed the way that they do without the churches to host them. Churches that could not exist without the soft tuff earth. The tuff is incontestably as important as the symbols if not more so. I propose that the symbols should then become a part of the environment that bore them. How this is to be done I can not say as yet but it is suggestible that they are recreated in an outside environment so that they can disintegrate at the pace of the earth that they are born of. The aesthetics of such a work need some consideration.