Widen, subtract, warm, cool, observe out

Incinerator Art Space

This project turned the garden space at Incinerator Gallery into a site for a series of movement improvisations for performers and visitors. The installation of sculptures tried to open up and experiment with a set of objects focused on the elements of water and sun, alongside concerns about perceptibility and the inhabitable. Included below is a piece of writing riffing on the sculptures in this project, made for Dancehouse Diary. 


Benjamin Woods
Dancehouse Diary Issue 8: Dance and Ethics

For around a year I’ve been making various rings out of timber. I bend the timbers by soaking them in water and clamping them around different plywood and cardboard “forms”.(1) The forms – as well as the rings that are bent on them – are maneuvered in movement improvisations as a kind of perceptual shade, for acts of non-seeing; partially and sensitively blocking out what is visible. The rings are used to experiment with acts of perceiving-moving. When handling them I’ve experienced a widening of sight along an edge towards a felt, bodily sense of open and intensely particular orientation. For me, they have heightened an awareness of what is visible as a field of activity completely permeated, made and reworked by what is invisible.

The writer Jeanette Winterson says that she sometimes sees ‘[Barbara] Hepworth’s sculptures [as] inversions--that the object, however beautiful, is a way of seeing what surrounds it.’(2) Even at its most basic, sculpture requires the production of multiple positions or views. I’m most interested in work that operates openly across larger spatial and temporal distances/sites, where sculptural objects are generative parts of expansive artistic explorations. Participating in highly mobile, open and dispersive material arrangements might allow for ways of being that can at times engender the subtraction of any one position or stance. Dynamic materials and their often wild (indeterminate) circumstances are always intensely mixed with social and bodily movement, movement that happens as both means and ends (touches and responses, reading and writing, feeling and doing). In this mode of working complexities are not captured, they continue to unfurl. Carrie Noland frames these at the level of bodily feeling, and asserts that:

The ways the body moves, are themselves, a belief system. The process of moving into and through postures is not the corporeal translation of a belief or idea; rather, that process is the belief or idea as it produces a certain stance towards the world, the self, and the relations linking the two… This belief is lived on the order of the body – as a form of consciousness.(3)

I take care when reading this piece of writing from Noland. In the past I’ve noticed that it can be very easy to let actions become heavily contrived, inflected by inward anxieties (of doing “bad”). It also seems easy to let the influence of others (including nonhuman otherness) so harshly shape the spaces and times that we participate in making. In the project ‘widen, subtract, warm, cool, observe out’ the rings are a tiny contribution to a mixture of forces that enable and constrain what can and cannot be done or said (an ethical fabric). The rings provide just enough of a line of flight for experience, enfolding fresh information, different trajectories and forces, altering the ‘way of seeing’ (and eventually the practice) itself. I’m most excited by this project’s potential to test out a lightness of touch, something that resonates in Alphonso Lingis’s writing as a ‘touch that does not seize hold or manipulate or possess’ others.(4) 

Even the finest intervention can act as a nerve with which various movements refresh our approaches towards figuring and questioning what matters. I arrive at the garden space with arms full of timber rings and various accouterments. Strewing them across the scoria ground, I begin exploring the site. Marks appear: sticks, weeds, eucalyptus growth at the middle of very large trees, decomposed baby bird, shiny old chocolate wrapper, spitfire caterpillar, concrete paths, crashing sounds of the adjacent waste transfer station, the path of the sun. Shade, an intensity I had been observing for some months before, is compelling where I stand. As a dynamic play of possible arrangements overtakes my body, the rings begin to stretch the space, redistributing distances and senses; they are cutting across anything at their edges, indiscriminately. What might be considered welcome become, to varying degrees, perforated and peppered with the potentially uninhabitable. All the qualities are lived. The imperceptible and invisible saturate encounters as forces relating and buzzing within fractions of visibility. 


(1) When I make rings in the morning a length of timber will be soaked and bent, left to dry until the evening when it will be unclamped. Sometimes another will be bent straight away and left to dry overnight. On the days I bend the timber, most of the hours are left open for other things to happen. In these studio engagements, I can see how making something can come to help shape time and space.

(2) Jeanette Winterson, Hole of Life, TATE online, 2003, http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/hole-of-life.

(3) Carrie Noland, Agency and Embodiment: Performing Gestures/Producing Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2009), 36.

(4) “Interview with Alphonso Lingis,” Bobby George and Tom Sparrow, Singularum, last accessed 25 October 2012, http://singularum.com/interviewwithalphonsolingis.