Sunday, 13 March 2016

Dramaturgy is Here: Helen Walker and Harun Morrison @ Buzzcut 2016

Witness (2009 - ongoing)

STUK, Leuven, Battersea Arts Centre, London, The Basement, Brighton, Cafe Oto, London & Tate Modern, London

Witness is part of an ongoing series of works exploring re-enactment, memory in relation to digital video and group dynamics. It can be seen as a choreographic version of ‘Broken Telephones’.

The work usually involves us devising a site-responsive set of movements for up to five members of the public, this is then video-recorded. Five members of the public are then invited to watch the recording. They have to re-enact the video live. 

The re-enactment is recorded – a new group is invited to watch and re-enact and so on. Usually up to 7 re-enactments are made per day. At the end of a day, the videos are shown back to back to participants and other audience.

In 2013, we created a trilogy of Witness films in collaboration with STUK, Leuven.

Below is a version we created for Tate Modern in the Turbine Hall for four participants. The gestures in the 'starter film' were derived from the observation of movements of visitors to the gallery.

Can you tell me a little bit about the work that you are bringing to Buzzcut?

Witness is part of an on-going series of works exploring re-enactment and memory in relation to video and group dynamics. It can be thought of as a choreographic version of the game variously called ‘broken telephones’ or ‘whispers’. The work usually involves us identifying or devising a site-responsive set of movements with four people, which is then video-recorded. 

Four members of the public are then invited to watch the recording. They are challenged to re-enact the video live. Their re-enactment is recorded - a new group of four is invited to watch this new version, re-enact it and so on. Up to seven re-enactments are made per day. In the evening, the videos are shown back-to-back in a ‘chain’ to participants and a wider audience. The videos are later distributed online or shown in the context of exhibitions or festivals.

What is it about Buzzcut that attracted you to perform as part of it?

We were attracted by its artist-led and artist-centric spirit. We’ve visited Buzzcut in the past and enjoyed the atmosphere of the Pearce Institute too.

Do you see your work within any tradition – and are there any artists (performance and beyond) whom you regard as a peer or an influence?

Augusto Boal, Games For Actors and Non-Actors (London: Routledge, 1992), Hans Haacke, Chickens Hatching (1969), Ten Turtles Set Free (1970), Bowery Seeds (1970), Peter Handke, The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other (first performed 1992), Pawel Althamer, Realtime Movie (2008), Siobhan Davies, various works, Trisha Brown, various works, Peter Campus, various works, Dan Graham, various works.

How ‘typical’ is this work compared to other pieces that you have made? Did the process follow a familiar or new pattern?

For Buzzcut we are creating a new series of Witness videos. However, the first public iteration was devised at Tate Modern, London in 2009. It marked a new direction in our work, in that although games were always integral to the development of our work, Witness marked a moment games became THE work. 

A series of works have subsequently emerged from these ideas, including Re-Shoot (2009), STAND HERE UNTIL YOU FIND SOMEONE TO REPLACE YOU (2010), Avoiding the Camera (2014) and Location Scouts (2015).

Buzzcut is concerned with the idea of 'community'. Does community have a special meaning for you, and what relationship do you feel your work has within wider communities?

It’s important to us that iterations of Witness produced in public space add an additional layer of narrative to a site, rather than negate what happens there. At the same time, they are spatially disruptive, but it’s a disruption you are invited to participate in – and the outcomes are freely shared. The work can be seen as a microcosm of how inherited knowledge can circulate in a closed community. The work is also demonstrative of how bonds can be made through the shared experience of participation in the same process. In this sense, an ephemeral micro-community emerges around the production of the work itself.

What are you hoping that the audience will experience?
We hope to remind participants of the pleasurable aspects of close-observation, negotiation and co-operation. Participants are invited to focus on how they remember what they experience through their bodies. We hope they will enjoy seeing the impact their participation has on subsequent re-enactments.

Are there any strategies which you used to direct the audience experience towards this?

The game is explained orally through a set of rules. These rules also contain pointers as to what to focus on. However, it’s an open field as to what you might take away from the experience.

What is it about performance that enticed you - and kept you making it?
Our work is not necessarily resolved through performance. At the same time, it’s integral to this chain of re-enactments. The work emerges through the act of ‘mis-remembering’ and the impossibly of exactitude when it comes to re-enactment of another’s movement.

Are there any questions you feel that I ought to ask to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
In the case of this project we are closer to game designers than dramatists.

They Are Here is a collaborative practice steered by Helen Walker and Harun Morrison. We are currently based in Birmingham and London.

We have worked together as They Are Here since 2006, often extending our collaboration to include those from all walks of life.

Our work can be read as a series of context specific games. The entry, invitation or participation can be as significant as the game's conditions and structure. Through these games we seek to create ephemeral systems and temporary, micro-communities that offer an alternate means of engaging with a situation, history or ideology.

Each They Are Here project has its own unique collaborative structure and hierarchies that emerge through the contributions of various invitees. These contributions may lie in the development of a work or its delivery. The potential of various models of collaboration is an on-going and foundational concern of They Are Here's practice. We continuously explore group dynamics, divisions of authorship and the effects of temporary engagements with practioneers of other disciplines.

We work as gatherers, editors, assemblers and facilitators to generate work.

They Are Here work across media and types of site particularly civic spaces. Institutions we have developed or presented work include: Arnolfini, Battersea Arts Centre, Camden Arts Centre, CCA Glasgow, Chisenhale Gallery, Grand Union, LIFT (London International Festival of Theatre), National Theatre Studio, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, South London Gallery, STUK (Leuven, Belgium), VIVID and Whitechapel Gallery.


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