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
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