- London, ongoing
This conversation is a work in progress between artist Lou Barnell and curator Natalie Pace. It was conceived as a means to reflect upon Lou’s one-month residency at Outpost Studios in Norwich but has morphed into a conversation about a prolonged period of Research and Development into the process of ‘live dreaming.
It had quickly become clear that the process of reflection would be on going, emerging as a series of thoughts and moments of realisation over time. Both the questions and answers are in a perpetual state of revision. This dialogical process has often been tangential – not a linear account of memory and history- but offers a candid account of how we reflect and progress as artists.
Lou: As I read this, I am becoming distracted by further questions prompted by your answers and also by an expectation of how your responses or questions will flow. I am adding in questions that arise but I am aware by doing this, the distraction will be passed on to the reader by creating further ‘disruptions’ to the flow.
Why did you apply for the Outpost Residency and what did you hope to achieve while there?
The programme at Outpost embraces sound and all its glorious transformative possibilities. It is nearly a year to the week since I threw off my collaborative comfort blanket to pursue my solo practice. I’m inspired by cross disciplinary possibilities with sound, movement and technology and the female body’s potential to channel messages as a filter or signal board under surveillance and control mechanisms. This interest was triggered by years of channelling through my body in vocal performance. Ultimately I wanted to understand if there really was a practice that I could build upon using sonic corporeality.
Originally I envisioned creating a work based on a live sonic map combining live performance and data flows. At this stage I also wanted to experiment with wearable devices and costumes. These would be created via lo- fi methods in contrast to the other complex data and technologies I was planning to use as composition and performance tools.
Were there any key moments or turning points where your ideas or interests shifted?
Yes, definitely. I quickly realised that my original plan felt too far away in development to undertake in the month-long residency. My artist mentor Monika Dorniak – who was fantastic, challenging and thoughtful -held a massive magnifying glass up to my brain. She asked me to take a step back: -‘what is it you really experience in your body?” After a silent walk, (six coffees, five loo breaks and an industrial ream of paper) I realized I felt disorientated.
I have Dyspraxia, and my lived experience feels like a sonic collision between my body and the world. My pulse, breath, thoughts, dreams and perceptions are constant rhythms within my body, that seem to beat out of time with the outside world, often causing me to feel disorientated. The ability of sound to orientate and distract us became a key focus.
Alongside this I was began thinking about the relationship between sound and performance in the production and maintenance of bodies and identities. These explorations culminated in an open studio event that included a multichannel sound installation and durational performance.
What else are you taking away from your residency at Outpost? Are there slivers of ideas that you are ruminating on?
Yes. The time at Outpost made me realise that a lot of the time I am disorientated or distracted and that I wanted to use materials and the data that is generated form my body to help me navigate this. I’m now going to spend an extended period of time exploring surveillance and data flows and the body as a compositional and performative interface.
You are currently undertaking a period of research and development funded by Arts Council England. You have outlined three interconnected areas that you want to explore during through this R&D; dreams as whole body listening, data flows and materials. Let’s start with materials. Your main interest seems to be their relative alchemic properties or potential.
A few months ago I started to use large amounts of Thermoplastic sculpted directly onto my skin, as well as making wearable ice moulds, which are percussive and disconcerting. I started to realise that materials were permeating my dreams: sometimes I dreamt I was a material.
Holger Schulze and his approach to materials and sound inspire me. He advocates a new humanoid anthropology where human’s are made and reproduced in the world along with all other matter in a ‘generative’ porous and osmotic ‘sensorium’ of sound light, colour, taste smell, experience, touch and sound.
I am fortunate to have been able to workshop my ideas with Florence Peake who talks about materials that are alchemical or that change shape like ice or thermoplastic- She calls them ’queer materials’. This is because their identity shifts, as does their possibility and purpose. Inspired by conversations with Monika Dorniak, I am also exploiting the possibilities of materials by experimenting with them before going to sleep. Experimenting with alchemical and non-alchemical materials, has also allowed me to compare and isolate movement sequences from my interactions with them.
Florence and Monika switched me on to reading Feminist scholar Donna J Haraway and French philosopher Bruno Latour who have provided a different starting point on looking at materials in the context of ecological breakdown. How can we orientate and explain each other and become eternally renewable in our ideas if not in our flesh? I am stitching some of this thinking into my work.
We spoke quite considerably about how main elements of your research form the dramaturgical arc of the work. I am interested in the relationship of this arc and its impact on what Catherine Wood calls the ‘I, We , It’ within performance – a triangulation of the artist, audience and artwork. Can you elaborate on this a bit further?
This is almost definitely likely to change. In the spirit of this being an iterative provocation though, here is my initial attempt at an answer.
My intent with this work (The I) is to translate experiences of disorientation and frustration with my embodied and binarised experience as a neurodiverse woman. Dreams, ice and possibly plastic are the ‘Objects’ which form part of the work, are in conversation with one another and me. They reflect the alchemical and transformative possibilities that I want to embody, the possibility to change, melt reform and ooze in and out of realities and identities. Lastly- a big part of the constellation between I/ It / and the final element “we” the Audience is the internal data that I will be playing using sensors and sounds is another object in the space.
Update: August 2019.
I took the above question about the I / We / It to a group of artists on a Live Arts Development Agency supported DIY programme and have come away with some quite different feelings. I don’t necessarily think that the I / We /It need to constellate in my work. Rather I choose to create situations where these elements oscillate.
When I mentioned Wood’s ‘We’ issues of what the word connotes came up in several ways. Firstly, that it could mean conviviality within the audience as a collective, which is quite political. We felt that any assumption of audience consensus needs to be questioned. Another course member mentioned that ‘we’; could also refer to complicity and solidarity which felt more positive to us collectively, as it could give us some relief.
The aspect ‘I’ was also interesting because a lot of work I am exploring is with others. Where do I sit when I am working with another person?
Finally, we discussed the category of ‘it’ as possibility of ‘data and technology in performance. I felt that there is an interesting question around what I relinquish control of, when I work with technology. What technology do I control and which do I reveal or conceal? The data collected from my body is given a voice, but only the voice or sounds I wish it to have. The same data and technology would be a very different actor in the performance if interpreted by someone else.
Wood seems to argue that these three actors are inherently more complicated in their dynamics and relational positioning within performative works and I too keep mentally referring back to artist Cally Spooner’s description of performative work as ‘refusing to settle’. My understanding of Spooner’s interpretation is that it refers more specifically to the speculative state of the aesthetic relations involved, it is also a useful when considering definitions and boundaries between ‘I/ We/ It’ which came up in the your recent discussions during the LADA course.
How has coming to the understanding that what you want to create is a process of ‘live dreaming’ altered the course of your development, if at all. And what are you currently exploring in relation to this?
The last week has allowed to me to realise that the product of research and development is to create a process of ‘Live Dreaming’ This uses the concept of dreaming as a broad arena in which I can use memory body, listening sound and material to orientate and explore a more viable reality for my disorientated and alienated body.
Live Dreaming has allowed me to describe how the materials I use connect with performance and as you mention, properly explore their speculative nature. I am not that interested in the content of dreams or funnelling their meaning into my work, instead I am thinking about what dreaming is to humans beyond being a a primary drive (much like eating and shitting).
NB When you say ‘look at what dreaming is humans’ what do you mean? How they separate us from animals? On what level do they operate- in terms of creativity and imagination, our subconscious or a spiritual level or as a biological/ psychological impulse?
To me, performance has dreamlike qualities and dreaming has performative ones. The critical juncture between dreaming and performance is that they both offer up spaces where we can create meaning within a process of symbolic doings and thoughts. Choreographer and lecturer Olivia Millard  (2016) writes about meaning being realised in the moment of performance and I am exploring this in relation to I’m also interested in being in the moment of performance a state of ‘total flow’.
I am hoping to explore through this-the position of the prosaic and unconscious via our bodies and materials. For example, I have started to integrate physical and verbal tics into the work- and then further abstracting them and looking at them as echoes or symbols of unconsciousness rather than the tics themselves.
I am really lucky to be mentored by Florence Peake- who has been nudging me to unpack this further. Composer Lisa Busby is also collaborating with movement and vocals in the piece, – holding the space for me, and with me. We are both interested in the use of improvisation as a means to make meaning in the moment- which echoes the dreaming function. I have recently been reading Bennett’s ‘Vibrant matter” (2009) Bennett advocates ‘vibrant materiality’ where humans, materials, animals, organic and inorganic matter exist in ‘assemblages’ which have co-dependent roles and states of reproduction and destruction. In this way, I am interested in the process of making meaning as an assemblage with materials, space and human activity.
 Bennett, J, 2009 University Press
Photo Credits from top row left to right: