A few weeks ago we saw a sharing of Uncollective’s “NOLO: Curating the Body“, at Guest Projects, as part of the Arts Licks Weekend. As one of our own MA thesis was on curating performing arts, the idea of bringing this curatorial concept into choreography itself was really instigating.
The works had some comic moments, some moments of more tensions and some strangeness, but they all seem connected by a thread, which means that it probably achieved some of its goals. We had a chat with the collective about their work – responded by Eve Stainton.
Check out their work here: https://theuncollectiveplace.wordpress.com
Photos: Michael Kitchin.
I2: How did the Uncollective start?
I had recently graduated from a postgraduate programme at London Contemporary Dance School, which took the form of a touring dance company. I realised this left me with a lot of pent up creative energy and felt the need to develop a supportive place to exchange creative ideas and make plans. Originally there were 7 of us, all from the dance school in different respects, but later it became Michael and I, and soon after that we started to collaborate with Sorcha as our multi disciplinary interests broadened.
I2: You recently did an exchange in Montreal, Canada. How did that come about?
It was actually quite a poignant moment for me, as Michael had recently decided to take a break from dancing. This was difficult as we had been collaborating for around 2 years and understood each other’s desires and problem areas. It was then that Sorcha and I decided we would start experimenting with ideas. At that point we realised that Sorcha and I had both somehow decided we wanted to be out of the country for a while to explore another creative culture, which is when Montreal came about. Heather, who was originally part of the collective, had studied and worked in Montreal and spoke about the city in a very inspirational way, so off we went with our proactive drive and naive intrigue, which I’m extremely glad about.
I2: When was the first time you remember facing the concept of a dance curator or a performing arts curator? How has this idea evolved to you?
I think it was actually quite late for me. I had been exposed to movement performances in gallery spaces as a viewer and performer but hadn’t really questioned the term so much until Montreal. I was aware and interested in the different usage of the word and remember reading ‘Paper Stages’ by Andy Field and Deborah Pearson that is a compilation of artists explaining their work for the reader to perform in various places. This opened up the word curation for me and it felt like an extremely meta idea to have curatorial decisions of different layers exposed on the page, it almost felt like a comment on eradicating the idea of curator, or bending the term and opening out its ownership somehow by the reader claiming responsibility. This excited me and when we arrived in Montreal, not long after that in 2014, there was a lot of discussion around the term in a performance context. We made it our mission to go to as many performances as possible and were excited to discover what people were into, curation being a major theme it felt. We spoke a lot with Dena Davida, the curator and programmer for Tangente theatre there, she had written some academic writing on the word which she shared with us and it spurred an excited, invested discussion, ultimately leading to ‘Nolo: Curating the Body.’
I2: In NOLO, you invited 6 choreographers to share their perspectives – how did this selection come about?
We knew it would be important for this project to work with artists who have a particular approach to creating. A sense of openness and sensitivity was probably something we had subconsciously been seeking. It’s also important to mention that for me it was quite simply people I wanted to work with or for. I found all their work, in different respects, exciting, intriguing and inspiring; also them as people (is it possible to separate the artist from the human?) The sensitivity element was important for me because I had some anxieties about the process being a solo, also how confusing and tiring it could get to work in a short space of time with people, people I admire, in the capacity of choreographer performer. It poses interesting questions of hierarchy and it was extremely important for me that we could work with openness and so we also asked people we trust.
I2: Eve – you’re both the performer and part of the collective correct? How was this process of “self curating”?
For me, this process was totally confusing, overwhelming, exciting, slippery, sexy, liberating, pressurised, difficult, removed, absurd, submissive, questioning… It was important to me that there was space for myself through the curating process. When I think in retrospect, or actually when I thought about this before the process, the word ‘used’ seems worryingly relevant. Not by the choreographers per se, but potentially in that we had orchestrated this project and offered my being as a subject and if this perception is followed then it becomes quite clinical and totally political.
There’s something interesting for me in a choreographer/dancer relationship that highlights a hierarchy that isn’t always acknowledged, or healthy. This notion wasn’t something we actively wanted to increment, but the importance of self and care were fundamental. Again the artists were all practicing this sensitivity and so I always felt safe and spacious. That said, there is still something niggling about performing six peoples thoughts in a short space of time that brings up obedience, measured adaptability and will, just in the nature of the project, not because of the artists, which relates somehow to being used. Perhaps because I entered into a process of unknown with total consent, which requires a huge amount of trust of everyone involved. I think there can be a harsh nature to the term curating, especially in a bodily sense; Adam actually brought with him the idea of ‘abjection’ as an offering of an opposition to curation, because to think about curating a body feels impossible when the body and mind is living, changing and experiencing. Florence brought the idea of ‘penetration’, which again somehow feels as though curating brought a sense of violence or sterility when brought up in the context of the body.
There is also the topic of pressure, pressure to respond, to be positive, to create, to ‘succeed’; personal pressures. We have a lot of respect for the artists we worked with and fundamentally just wanted to use their ideas to make something ‘good’- however we were choosing to define that word. But I guess this mentality and power play is also down to particular types of education systems we’re exposed to.
I2: What was the biggest challenge you faced as a curatorial collective in this particular endeavour?
I think the idea of rejecting or getting rid of ideas was particularly difficult for us, even though we had acknowledged from the start that this would be permitted. Also whether the performance would be exposing the process through structure and tone, or whether it would be a performance piece in its own right that could be watched in absence of knowing the process. I think this brought us to a confused place for a while, but I’m also interested in the cross over of those two things; the ambiguous liminal space between process and product that can feel unsettling and full of potential.
I2: Did the public’s reaction shock you and/or changed your perception of the piece?
The piece for me became very humorous. I had found a lot of fun inside the work during the process, but somehow once the audience was there, in the round, there was a supportive energy of mutual enjoyment, that created a wave-like vibe that felt easy to ride. I think when we perform it in Montreal next year, the piece will feel very different, probably because not as many people will know me personally.
I2: Finally, what is a curator for you?
I don’t feel much closer to a definition. It seems to rely hugely on context.