What is the role of the artist? what is the role of the spectator? Is it important for every artist to be a curator?
Freyja Sewell and I have made a reactive skin which responds to different environmental aspects of the city. It is designed to be worn by a local musician who will be guided through their city making contact with locations including the most polluted area, body of natural water, average walking tempo to the city, drinking water, public transport and more.
Along the route the wearer of the skin will be recording found sounds across the walk. This material and the suit will all later be used as material for a unique composition.
We tested the skin in Montreal on a residency with Concordia University.
What is a creative process?
HEAD IN THE CLOUDS
WHAT’S THE PROJECT THOUGH?
MAKE IT PRETTY
The exploratory stage is where anything is possible. It’s filled with dreams, inspiration, play and chucking things at the wall! It’s full of research, experimentation and a million ideas. The artist is very in-control of the process & play and it is through practice that we discover.
The development stage is the reality check. What is this project? This is where you have to pair things down and select a path. This is where the process flips and instead of the artist leading the process, you have to actually listen to what the work created in the exploratory stage is telling you. This stage is full of hard and very important decisions and also letting go of what you might have ‘thought’ this project was. Its a very nurturing stage but also can be very hard-work.
The polishing stage is where you perfect the piece that was created and nurtured in the development stage. It is about precision, presentation and allowing the project to be the best possible that it can be.
OUR FINAL DAY IN THE STUDIO
So! We have all the pieces! the CitySkin is ready to collect, ingest, be destroyed, soak up and lick the cityyyyyy!
Looks innocent enough … but with Freyja’s ingenious mind this skin responds, reacts and is imprinted by the city as we walk.
Like our physical bodies this skin is in constant conversation with our environment. We aren’t just walking through our cities unaware, unsensuous, unrecieving - we are WALKING sensors.
We FEEL our environment, even and ESPECIALLY the invisible parts.
So monday we will be …
- Feeling & measuring the average walking pace of the people in the city
- Gathering particulates
- Breathing in and ingesting the air from the city
- Capturing a sample from the saint laurent river
- Dyed by any rain / snow
- Bleached by the sun
- Picking up bacterias from the city
We will also be sweating and this sweat is soaked up by our sweat collector which will go under the outfit next to the skin. This sweat sample will then by crystallised into a unique artefact by the amazing Alice Potts.
Here’s our map which details our 6hr30 minute walk. The booklet to the side holds our mindsets and games. The mindsets are used to get us into the sense of WHY we are collecting these pieces of our environment. The games help us to have fun, play and sense our environment. To mine the city for it’s lived information. Games range from still and calm to loud, outrageous and provocative. Some examples:
- Yell the name of everything you see
- Lie in the most inconvenient place
- See if you can encourage the people around you to play a game with you
- Trace the perimeter of the space you are in with your fingertips
- Stand on everything
Once we have walked, played and experimented through the city we move into process no.3
Taking the material / sound / data / thoughts & ideas we gathered through our city pilgramage and turn it into an experiential sensorial exhibit where the audience can feel the rhythm, motion, proximity, air, bacteria, that is constantly around us and in us wherever we are.
Why are we doing this?
We ARE the environment
Our bacteria IS the bacteria from the city (we eat it, drink it, walk through it). It is us.
Our drinking water source is the reason the city is alive
The river is often the reason for the creation of the city itself - being easily accessible
The rhythm of the city is our pace of life.
The proximity to others is how we know and understand relationships
Our environment is us
DAY 2 of the CitySkin residency. We’re thinking about …
How are our body & senses interconnected with the world around us?
How can we call the World Air Pollution Index the … “World Air Pollution Index” when the data from the majority of developing countries is missing?
How do our cities shape & affect us?
A reactive suit which gathers environemental information about cities around the world ! Can a shift in perspective help us to think about how the environment isn’t outside of us … it IS US? CitySkin explores and is creating installations that explore the spectrum of sensory experiences in the city. Starting with the very real health effects of urban pollution as well as the more ineffable qualities of city life… e.g. the average walking pace of different cities. A cacophonous and symphonic look at the city.
I've been thinking a lot about...
Like everyone on the internet I watched Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. And for me the reason Nanette matters NOW is because she is expressing something nuanced and something that she is completely impassioned about - we need to find new ways to connect.
Nanette is Gadsby’s honest, intimate, politically and socially charged message to us all. She is telling us something we all already know - we need to cut through the bullshit and find better ways to connect, to appreciate the diversity and difference in others and celebrate the voices of those who haven’t had the space to speak.
Two quotes that stay with me:
"To be rendered powerless does not destroy your humanity. Your resilience is your humanity. The only people who lose their humanity are those who believe they have the right to render another human being powerless. They are the weak. To yield and not break, that is incredible strength."
"To feel less alone, to feel connected"
So it made me think, if I relate so much to Nanette, how is her view of the world connected to BitterSuite?
We find new ways to connect, to bring together a fairly diverse group of people - with different backgrounds, nationalities, disciplines and ways of working.
What I am confident in is that we stand for human connection, for intimacy and for spaces where audience members can listen in a way they never have done before. We believe art needs to acknowledge the lack of these three things in everyday life and we want to be the people to provide a space for those three basic things: Care, intimacy and listening.
In a world dominated by surface level chatter and a totally nonsensical volume of things to do. We want to create work that invites the audience to come and be a part of something, where the performers are not just performing at them but actually physically and mentally paying the audience care and attention.
For a BitterSuite performance to be successful we have to get to know you (the audience). We have to stimulate your senses and see how you respond and pay attention to every reaction and response you give us. Then we have to learn from this and feed that back into your experience. We are listening to your bodies to understand if you are comfortable, agitated or any other number of reactions.
We are still learning how to do this and most likely will never stop learning. Because every single audience member is unique and every body we work with is different. We want to celebrate and honor that by continuing to make pieces which involve a high level of one-to-one experience.
We are committed to creating work which is human and intimate. For us that means make the work personal.
Historically this commitment has influenced us to make one-to-one experiences where there are equal numbers of audience members to dancers. What this gives us is the extraordinary ability to physically guide and adapt the choreography in real time for every audience member.
It has also meant that touch has become our major creative focus, and it is one that we have found it to be a powerful and underestimated creative tool.
We do however, have to acknowledge that it is intense and not for everyone.
For this reason a big alternative question is on my mind ….
What would a BitterSuite concert look like that retains our intended level of intimacy and care but does not necessarily rely so heavily on touch?
We exist to deepen the experience of listening through the senses.
We are a community of people coming from training in diverse disciplines - music, psychology, art, perfume, food. All of us believe the body listens to the world around it - we know the tongue listens to flavour, the ears to sound, the body to touch, the nose to smell.
We are creating spaces to play with the overlapping of the senses how it can feel as though the tongue, nose, body, skin are all listening to sound and in turn informing us how to listen.
Our approach is founded on the scientific and academic literature on crossmodality and the behavioural benefits of multi-sensory integration. The literature proves that our senses continually work together to deepen the experience of the sense being primarily stimulated. It also tells us that these multi-sensory approaches are actually good for us.
How do we make our creative choices?
We experiment through trial and error. We listen to the music ourselves, analyse it in terms of musical structure, history, tonality etc. and then from this informed place play with multi-sensory experiences that accompany that sound and bring out the themes we want to focus on.
Though we have an academic rigor our key devising principle is that it has to feel good to us and on our bodies in relation to the music. It has to feel synonymous with that moment of music.
We want to continue to create spaces which encourage listening in our audiences. And we believe these spaces are needed now more than ever. We want to reach more people than we can currently reach with our model.
SO... our final question is...