Using a small selection of materials to start with participants responded to the provocations
Antony Nevin reflection on PQ Studio Workshops: Nomadic Bodies of light in public spaces
In this workshop/masterclass, we focused on developing creative work that responded to PQ2019’s guiding principles of imagination and transformation. With a focus on practice and collaboration, participants worked together to ideate, prototype and construct an installation that was hosted by a body or bodies and that moved through the grand hall of PQ2019. In this workshop my aim was to emphasize how light, noise and materiality can be used to affect people and extend the notion of installation design and scenography to installations that are nomadic; moving to, from, through and with people, bodies and spaces.
This workshop was primarily concerned with the audience experience, which as Joslin McKinney and Philip Butterworth (2009, p.4) say “is concerned with audience reception and engagement. It is a sensory as well as an intellectual experience, emotional as well as rational”. To achieve this we kept in the front of our minds the way an audience would view and encounter the creative outcomes of the workshop.
Each day had a specific aim. Day one was concept generation where people worked in teams to design, prototype and make a series of small body extensions that explored concepts of light, such as darkness, light, shadow, reflection and glow. This formed a conceptual framework for the next phase of the workshop. These concepts acted as building blocks for the rest of the workshop and helped develop a shared vocabulary. Once participants become familiar with the process of rapidly prototyping ideas they used these to build on in subsequent fast-paced responses to the provocations that they were given. The first exercise was to deal with the concept of extending the body this utilized many of the materials that I’d asked for, some in ways which I hadn’t expected and which then informed how people approached their final creative outcome.
Using a small selection of materials to start with participants responded to the provocations that emerged from looking at some of Rebecca Horn’s work such as Finger gloves (1972) and The Feathered Prison Fan (1978). Materials used focused on developing ‘lines of energy’ which emerged from fingers, then hands, lower arms, the entire arm and shoulder and finally the torso.
This resulted in participants using bamboo skewers, cable ties, tape and hot glue. The hot glue was dripped over a mirror forming lace-like sheets which was a technique used later by one group in their final creative response.
Day two was an expansion of the work done on the first day. The thematic approach to the second day was to look at the light in terms of reflection and glow. This meant that the participants had to consider ways of using the material qualities of light ( both natural and artificial) to explore these two approaches. The results included people creating structures in which the bodies of people interacted with the structure, reflecting and warping how people might see and experience it.
The building techniques used in these two days were really valuable for developing a concept in the second half of the day. In the second half of the day, people worked together to develop a conceptual approach which drew on their experiences of the exploratory phase of the last day and a half. This lead to people forming groups with which they shared a common interest in either the conceptual approach to take or the way in which materials would be used.
At the end of the day people presented their concept and get feedback from me, Josh and others in the group. This was a way of having a ‘sanity check’ to ensure that the concept was achievable given materials and time. It also allowed other groups to see and understand the whys and what if’s of each other’s projects.
Groups of people were swopped around so that everyone could work with everyone else. As a result, good connections were made and people found others that they could relate to and who wanted to explore similar things. There was only one person who elected to work alone. This meant that we had to ensure that they had the support needed to help them realise a compelling creative output alone. Having the support of my workshop assistant- Josh Lewis ( who was also performing at the student exhibition part of PQ) was really useful at this point.
Josh had worked as an assistant for me in a class I’d run last summer. This allowed us to understand the way of approaching this whole workshop and t develop an easy relationship, with us both being able to extend each other’s areas of expertise and to offer feedback and critique from slightly different angles. Having the support of another person was really valuable as it meant that I could keep an overview of how individual participants were going, as well as to be able to deep dive into someone’s project without feeling like others were not getting any support.
The third day of the workshop started with a brief meeting with each group to see what they’d been thinking about overnight. The class was brought together and we discussed materials, timelines and the presentation in the great hall at PQ On the 13th June and which was curated as part of Emergence: Costume, LIVE!” by Simona Rybáková. The workshop participants were anxious about this but it gave them a real impetus to complete a creative outcome that they were happy with.
Adding the workshop presentation into the mix was a really exciting challenge. I had no real idea of what was expected, so it was wonderful to be able to see the other workshops present their works. This gave me a stronger idea of ways in which I might approach a workshop or a presentation at a future PQ. I felt like the presentation we gave, which was basically workshop participants wearing the outcomes of the workshop was probably the most conventional.
The fourth day of the workshop presented the challenge of moving to the Exhibition hall for the presentation that night. The technicians at PQ did a great job in helping us, though there was some confusion as to what we were able to take with us and what we needed to leave at DAMU. This caused a few fraught moments and some tension. Once this was managed the workshop ‘moved’ and we used the exhibition hall as a new room to complete building the outcomes of the workshop.
The people helping at PQ were great and went out of their way to ensure we had everything we needed, including possible the last roll of gaffer tape in Europe. We worked mainly with Simona at this stage to get a strong concept for the whole exposition of the workshop outcomes. We needed to wait till it was dark enough to really light up the work the participants had made, but this worked well. We hadn’t considered sound and I think in future using a sonic element in the workshop would really extend the workshop concept.
Overall I was really happy with the workshop results- the final physical outcomes were less important than the journey that the participants went on in creating them and exporing a (hopefully) novel way of working for them.
It was an added bonus to participate in the Emergence: Costume, LIVE!” display with Simona Rybáková. This added an extra layer of stress but created a really great networking opportunity and of course the opportunity to really engage critically with the practice and outcomes of the workshop.
The ‘on the ground’ support from Viktorie Schmoranzová and the DAMU technicians and was really valuable, as we were very much finding our way with the materials and getting to understand how each other worked. There were frequent trips up and down the stairs to ask for more cable ties, glue or skewers. Viktorie and the technicians at DAMU were always pretty cheerful and able to help us out, as were Jana and the others at the exhibition building at PQ.
Although I’d have loved to have been able to give a specific amount of materials and know exactly how much would be used I had to estimate. Nonetheless, I was pretty spot on with how much material we used in this phase of the workshop.
I was anxious about asking people to go ‘foraging’ for extra materials as they’d each paid a decent fee for taking part in the workshop so I wanted to use as many provided materials as possible. The supply of materials did end up getting augmented by the participants or by me, but this was only small things such as some foam pipe lagging or extra mylar blankets.
The small niggles I had were mainly to do with communication. It was difficult to keep track of multiple emails and requests for information, sometimes resulting in me overlooking something. The time I spent selecting people for the workshop didn’t really seem to go anywhere as I don’t think there were many from my selection who actually ended up doing the workshop. On a side note, the security people at the main PQ exhibition hall were very difficult and unreasonable to deal with.
Overall the workshop contributed to my future practice by letting me transfer ideas I’d worked on in my home country with undergraduate students to people who were more experienced, particularly in aspects of scenography. The performative aspect of the work wasn’t something I’d considered enough initially and is an area I’d like to expand on. Perhaps working with students from DAMU to co-create work that relates to extending their performing bodies into space.
I’d certainly explore developing and running another workshop for the next edition of PQ. I think it really extended me and contributed to making PQ2019 a richer experience for me and I hope others!