‘the action of working artfully to bring something about’
wish us luck.
The Doing Group try to create new realities. What inspiration can we take from the history of engineering for our own dreaming, what can we lend? If we take something apart will we understand it better, can we build anything new? As theatre makers we build spaces, move bodies, create possibilities and ideas. Do we see the same futures? Can we try to imagine together?
In the summer of 2017, Glasgow Science Festival brought together theatre-makers ‘The Doing Group’ and a group of Glasgow-based engineers, culminating in a performance at the James Arnott Theatre on September 29 2017.
Following the performance there was a Q&A session, hosted by Dr Zara Gladman and featuring engineers from University of Glasgow and University of Strathclyde.
With special thanks to Cairan McLaggan, Tony Sweeten, Zara Gladman, Kevin Worrall, Tom Deas, Carl Lavery and Minty Donald.
Supported by University of Glasgow, Glasgow Science Festival, and the Royal Academy of Engineering.
What futures can we imagine when ideas of progress have drained away?
Rain is Liquid Sunshine asks how weather systems, deconstruction and other urban cycles might inspire collective urban imagination.
In the exploration, The Doing Group situated themselves in a demolition site, engaging with the material qualities of both weather and detritus material found there. Performative interventions sought to activate the ubiquitous relationships between bodies, material and site, troubling notions of continual urban progress.
In the context of the black box theatre, Rain Is Liquid Sunshine interrogates how bodies and materials might create cycles and networks. Throughout the hour-long performance, a landscape emerges as materials reveal their singularities. Crashing rubble transforms into a soft dust, gently raining onto a thrumming metal grid. Handheld spray bottles dampen a climate in which a car tyre floats and tumbles in the gusts of a fan in the corner.
Each of the objects on stage weave their way into the cycle of another, and the bodies of human performers become background to the vibrancy of what might often be passed off as left over. Through evocative images created by performing the materials potentialities, the performance negotiates how we might imagine our environment anew.
Original devised performance by The Doing Group shown at the Pollokshields Playhouse (Southside Fringe), Centre for Contemporary Arts Glasgow (UNFIX: ReBirth! Festival) and Tramway (Future Currents).
Since I took part in Springback Academy in Sofia in 2018, I have felt like a bit of an outsider in the dance criticism bubble. I’m so new to the contemporary dance world that I feel like I’m still scrawling chunky letters with a crayon, whereas my fellow Springback writer colleagues weave beautiful and delicate narrative responses, full of insightful articulation and great emotional depths of understanding. Whining about imposter-syndrome is pretty unoriginal for any writer, but this is the first thing I have written in over a year of hazy mental illness, so forgive me a little self-indulgence.
Springback Exploratorium was an experimental initiative hosted by B.Motion festival from 18-25 August 2019 in Bassano del Grappa, northern Italy. Ten young writers from all across Europe were invited to host post-show happenings to invite alternative responses from the audience, moving beyond the hierarchical structure of ‘artist explaining their art’. We were given carte-blanche and provided with innumerable post-it notes, and sent out in to the festival to gently induce creative responses from audiences.
I was asked to respond to ‘My Heart Goes Boom’ (chor. Daniele Ninarello), staged in the beautiful surroundings of Chiesa San Giovanni. The piece was performed by Dance Well, a company of dancers from Bassano who are living with Parkinson’s Disease.
I am something of an anti-dancer. My movements are at best imprecise, and you don’t have to walk far alongside me to realise how poor my coordination is, as I bouncily ricochet between your shoulder and the nearest wall. Despite falling over in quite dramatic fashion several times during the week-long festival (something my ego is still slowly recovering from), this runs deeper than mere clumsiness. It’s an ever-growing agitating numbness, a cloudy barrier preventing me feeling anything corporeally at all. I’ve had this brain/body disconnect for many years, and sometimes it feels like this body is just a vessel for an unwell, sad brain. I notice the strangeness of feeling ‘well’ in my body like some people might notice the symptoms of flu. Absorbing some early afternoon sunlight in Bassano with a friend, dangling our feet in the icy cold river, I could only think to say ‘this feels good’. I have a thousand adjectives for sadness, but could only think of one for joy.
Embodiment is such a tricky concept to wrangle with if you feel so unembodied. There is little room for a mimetic response, or of sharing in the joy of what creating these movements must feel like. Of course, anxiety and sadness have bodily impacts, and some impacts leave more permanent traces than others. It simply takes a little more labour to understand what emotion certain movements might be embodying if you feel like you are watching a show from behind a fingerprint-grubby window. Sometimes, as happened to me while watching the Dance Well performance, the connection is immediate and visceral and almost painfully emotional. I felt like I understood the work in and through my body, in a way I am demonstrably struggling to describe using words alone.
In planning my post-show session, I realised that clay is the perfect medium for giving space to imprecision. It moves with and against the body, and it does not demand anything exacting from the artist. Working it between your hands is therapeutic and forgiving.
To this end, I decided to create a collective museum of sculpture responses to ‘My Heart Goes Boom’. It was important to me to create a non-linguistic space, enabling responses that didn’t rely on any kind of nuanced vocabulary. Participants were given a piece of clay the size their fist (or their heart, perhaps), and invited to set up studio somewhere in the church.
After a while, I invited the artists to name their sculptures, and opened up our collective museum. Walking around the church and taking in the sculptures felt like an act of quiet reverence to a profound performance.
After my workshop, I sat for some time in the town square nurturing a negroni and processing how I felt. Because I did feel. I felt deeply moved by the works that the participants created, and by the beautiful space, and by the gentle presence of several friends who helped me carry several kilos of clay, and who helped me carry myself a little bit too. I felt the slow release of the crushing pressure of inadequacy: lungs opening up once again, shoulders lifting, face turning towards the sun.
Over the next few days at the festival, I crossed paths with a few people who had taken part in my workshop. One woman simply held my hand in hers, and I felt a slight tremor, as she maybe felt a slight pang of anxiety. But that is perhaps what keeps me coming back to dance as an art-form; these moments, and shows, remind me that I too have a body. As silly as it sounds, that can be enough to keep me going a little longer.
Test Unit 2016 delivered a week-long intensive art, design and architecture summer school and events programme, that saw 25 cross-disciplinary participants come together and over the course of a week transform a vacant and derelict site in north Glasgow into a public space.
The ambitions of the project were to prototype ideas in public space, build local capacity to initiate grass-roots projects and to place culture and education at the heart of regeneration. The first of its kind in Scotland, the intensive summer school formed a unique construct of partners and funders that reflected an alternative approach to formal education and explored new approaches to urban development.
A series of temporary physical, social, cultural and environmental interventions that prototyped future possibilities for a derelict site in Glasgow. As project assistant, I also was part of the ‘alternate realities’ group, supported by Neil McGuire.
This work has informed my current interest in participatory placemaking practice, and gave us an excellent chance to prototype outlandish ideas (such as installing a giant billboard) on a 1:1 scale.
Is this really something you want to see or would you rather be somewhere else? What else would you be doing? The Doing Group can do it for you. You have the choice and you will be disappointed. Indescribable excess is the cause of our desires. Still, we try to surprise you. We have created an impossible third space of encounter between simultaneous performances in Glasgow and Helsinki and we might have gotten a bit lost in it. As we find ourselves tied to the mast desiring different elsewheres, we drift off. Now, we have committed to it. We are obliged to enjoy.
Original Devised Performance by The Doing Group shown at the James Arnott Theatre in Glasgow (UK) and at Temporary in Helsinki (FI) supported by the Alistair Cameron Scholarship and TeaK.
Nessie might be forced to move. Due to the uncertainties caused by Brexit, The Doing Group has filed an application for permanent residence in the name of the Loch Ness Monster.
The UK Home Office has rejected this application, forcing Nessie to consider moving to a new lake within the EU. The general public is now invited to submit their favourite new lakes as a possible new home for the legendary creature.
It ended up really annoying the Daily Mail and that is pretty much all I have ever wanted from my life.