Thursday, 12 June 2008

Skerries installation

Working in these Martello Towers is quite an experience. There's the adrenaline rush of scaling the walls, the mental and physical agility required to respond to the tricky terrain on top of the towers but there's also the human encounters with owners, caretakers, tourists, teenagers and passers-by who turn out to have a long investment in the towers. People have been very generous to us in allowing us access to their towers and in sharing their connections to these unusual buildings.

Through anecdotes we hear of dancehalls near the Skerries tower, of dances prepared for on the top of Rush tower, of Thursday night hauntings when a young man in a white sheet would climb the tower to scare the holiday makers camped below.

How can choreography deal with all this information? It's hard to articulate but all of these anecdotes do live in the performance I've tried to create for and through the towers. They are hauntings, they are playful, they are business-like, absorbed, ordinary and a little strange. They touch bird shit and plasma tvs.

The biggest structural device will be clear from the installation where twelve identical screens sit side by side and the same energy of rotation creates a particular connecting rhythm that belies the differences of the towers' current state and the particular 'performers' that our films notice.

I'll miss not having an excuse to dance on a tower any more. Thanks to all those people who made it possible.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Removing barriers is good for us

An article in today's Irish Times caught my attention because it acknowledges that not all the architecture of control in the urban space is helpful or as protective as it seems to be.
Transport chief's Dublin plan: confuse drivers to cut crashes
FRANK McDONALD, Environment Editor

TAKE A street in Dublin. Eliminate the footpaths. Get rid of all the "clutter" - traffic lights, direction signs, pedestrian crossings and guard rails, then see what happens.

That's the experiment John Henry, director of the Dublin Transportation Office, wants to try out in the centre of the city.

"Without any signs, traffic will automatically slow down and there will be fewer accidents because drivers will take more care," he said confidently.

"The environment is what controls speed, not signs or rules. It's psychological. Signs like 'slow', 'stop' and 'yield' are often not seen by drivers. If you take the signs and kerb lines away, and say 'go figure it out yourselves', you're creating uncertainty - and that's safer."

Evidence from abroad, rather surprisingly, supports Mr Henry's novel proposal. Five years ago, the Dutch town of Drachten removed signs and traffic lights as part of a "naked streets" experiment - and accident figures plummeted as drivers became more cautious.

Drivers undirected by signs, kerbs or road markings are faced with confusion and ambiguity. Since they do not want to cause accidents at junctions, or damage their cars, they reduce their speed and establish eye contact with other users."

The article refers to the planning of roads but the construction of fortresses whether luxury apartment blocks or corporate headquarters that seem to protect those who make it inside might be creating the conditions beyond their walls and cctv-monitored precincts that undermine that expensive safety.

Maybe the answer is to encourage confusion and ambiguity and to re-establish eye contact with one another.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Ireland's eye

The Martello towers used to have a gun emplacement on the roof that rotated three hundred and sixty degrees. We've got a central camera rotating through three hundred and sixty degrees capturing some of the activity that is placed in the tower. I remember when we first visited, walking around the stony mass of Skerries tower, aware of the heat of the sun on one side and the damp cold of the sunless side and I thought that the tower was like a planet with its light and shade, heat and cold. That planetary motion made me think of life cycles and how brief our human flowering in the light.

In our work, the camera impassively rotates and, for short moments, a figure appears before its lens. The camera moves on regardless of our interest in the figure. The tower is a constant.

This footage is from an early test shot and a bit like a score for a single instrument in a symphony since ultimately there will be twelve such films side by side.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

'Tattered Outlaws of History'

I’ve mentioned the Public Art project for Fingal County Council that Dan Dubowitz and I are collaborating on. We’ve been developing the project over year and a half and are on our final phase of shooting this week.

We’re filming a solo performance on top of each of the twelve Martello Towers in Fingal. Of course, ‘performance’ is quite the right word, not only because some of the participants would not think of themselves as performers. They are inhabitants of the towers – people who spend time in those squat and solid buildings, some with recent temporary histories in the towers, others with long associations to them,. Some of the inhabitants have the expanded physicality of dancers, some don’t. Maybe they’re a kind of animus of or in the towers. There’s definitely an encounter between the bodies of the inhabitants and the body of the tower they inhabit.

Some of the towers are derelict,. Others have been renovated to uses other than their original defensive purpose. They are a family of towers, built together as a defensive unit. Having never fulfilled their defensive purpose, each of the towers has accrued its own history. Our project is to tentatively, imaginatively re-establish the family connection.

Yesterday we spent time in the Skerries tower that is being partially cleared out with the council’s help to house our installation of films. Today we went back to the tower near Lough Shinny. When we started this project, the council, in the interest of our health and safety, had us don white overalls and facemasks to enter the Skerries tower. The dust from pigeon droppings is toxic, apparently. The council also said that access to some of the towers like Lough Shinny might be difficult to arrange. However some local boys told us there was a rope fixed to the entrance of the tower that we could use to scale the wall and that’s how we’ve entered the Lough Shinny tower each time we’ve worked there. It’s a different kind of performance that comes from a body that’s climbed it’s way to its performance space.

We’re not the only ones who get in the tower. Broken bottles, condoms and cigarette butts suggest how some people have found their own, unofficial use for this particular tower. It continues to be a safe haven.

But I couldn’t work out what or who brought the thousands of blue rubber bands that cover the inside and roof of the tower today. They make for a strange and beautiful patina on the film. And they allowed new moments of my dance to resonate. The towers have lots of these little surprises