On Instrument Sculptures
By: Rita Evans
My background is in musical improvisation originally playing flute, guitar and drums. I initially studied Fine Art Painting for my BA in 2002 in Brighton which at the time had a thriving alternative noise music scene. I have been living and working in London since 2004 and it was during my MA in Fine Art at Chelsea College in 2009, that I started to bridge my experience of musical improvisation and playing in orchestras with what was emerging in my sculptural practice – polyphony and the unfolding of shape, symbol and form, spatially and collectively through time. I had also intuitively been making sculptures using the resonance of different materials. At this time, I made a Scratch Orchestra of musician friends who played amplified wet and dry materials while sitting inside sculptural structures. Crucial to the piece was the spatial arrangement of the structures across the room with pathways in between for the audience to walk through, separating the players, seen overall as a moving ‘orchestra’ – players and audience in a continual set of changing relationships.
In 2015, I received the Stephen Cripps’ Studio Award, for artists working in sound and light. Here, I started to think about the sculptures as larger, flexible structures that people could move with. After being asked – what comes first – movement, light, shape, materials or sound? I realised over time, that while the order of priority is interchangeable, the core triggering element was movement, investigating how the body works in relation to objects and exploring interior to exterior spaces. From there on I began to think more architecturally and socially about how different shapes, materials and space might affect the movement of the body.
In 2017 I received an Arts Council England production grant and a Canada Council for the Arts grant to continue developing the objects. These became the Instrument Sculptures that I tested at Chisenhale Dance Space in two open public workshops, where groups of people played them using individual tasks and collective actions.
I found that the design of the different objects’ size, materials, shape, weight and therefore means of playing resulted in a group having to work together to carry, hold and play them, causing them to continually negotiate their shared space. There was a ripple effect of movement through the way that people learned from and mimicked each other while playing the objects.
Motifs and subjects that emerged in the work over these two days were circularity, territory, egalitarian politics, utopias, portals, cult/ritual objects that were both ancient and of the future, and non vocal bodily communication.
I quickly realised that the instruments were asking for a unique set of skills, in musicianship, movement, strength, flexibility improvisation and collaboration.
I met up with dance artist and creative facilitator Sara Wookey who came to the second workshop as a movement specialist to guide the group towards manipulating the objects in more challenging ways. From my own physical experience of playing the flute, I introduced a series of breathing warm ups particular to playing wind instruments. From both these approaches, a whole vocabulary of movement and sound composition emerged. It was interesting to see people with different skills working together to realise this.
One of the first questions Sara asked me was how the objects were to be thought of in relation to the body. Are they tools or bodies themselves? I found that this relationship shifts depending on the way they are being used, but I would argue that the tubular acoustic chambers of some of the objects lends them more towards being bodies (with unique voices).
Sara introduced me to the work of Franz Erhard Walther who makes beautiful wearable fabric objects for groups of people. These sculptures make demands on the body, as well as prompting possible relationships between multiple users in a collective action. We talked in depth about Yvonne Rainer’s use of ‘task’, in that my objects had so many factors to consider at any one time for each person playing them, they resulted in a focussed live thinking process. One example of this was the concentration required in the act of negotiating movement of the heavier objects. In this case, the sound itself can become an incidental result of the movement, entangled in it, but at the same time playing sounds together remains the primary aim.
Over time, each object is evolving into a network of possibilities and can be connected with other instrument sculptures to become a flexible architecture that people are a part of. Sometimes these emerge as linear moving forms, and at other times are more rhizomatic and interconnected with amplified strings (and bodies). There is a temptation to continually move, to make sound and have an immediate effect, but there is also an important place within the structures for receiving and resting, where the body resigns to the actions of others.
In my next residency at Chisenhale Dance space, in early 2018, going into detail in terms of:
Sound: Expanding the repertoire of possibilities in the objects drawing out humour and chaos.
Space: Thinking about participatory design systems (from 1960s urban planning) as open scores.
Movement: I will be considering and distilling the movements that emerged from the past workshops, mirroring, pace, polyrhythm, weight shifting, balance and tension. I will continue to work these shapes further across the space, looking for moments of cohesion and moments of division and tension.
Light: Starting to introduce lighting elements connected to the sound and movement.
To find out more, visit Rita’s website here.