Saturday, 12 July 2008

Compass by Lizzie Sykes

This is a performative, interactive installation. The audience, or participant embarks on a creative, active journey. Bit by bit, each individual assembles their own personal narrative, helped along by our navigator; dance performer Olu Taiwo.

Lizzie Sykes’ installations are constructed with the aim of creating an experience that’s personal or potentially unique for each individual watcher, either by a particular combination of images (Slice), the suggestion of being cocooned inside the image (Outside Close), or the size of the screen, allowing only one viewer at a time (Which Way is Up). More recently her work has invited participants to literally play with cameras and experience the physical response of the Unfairground Ride series, made with these spherical ‘ballcams’. Through exhibiting in gallery spaces, festivals, cinemas, cafĂ©’s etc, I’ve been learning about approaches to participatory exhibiting.
Olu Taiwo has recently completed a Phd in performance philosophy entitled ‘Interfacing with my Interface’. Olu is a dance performance artist and Senior Lecturer at Winchester University.

‘My principal choreographic and devising concerns are with the nature of, and relationship between 'effort', 'performance' and the 'performative' on the stage. This is contextualised by the site specific or and, within an interactive audio visual and sensory environment. My main aim is to propagate 21st century issues concerning the interaction between body and technology. Currently my research is based on the conceptual notion of both the 'return beat' (West African rhythmic sensibility), and the 'physical journal' (Kinaesthetic knowledge, memory and identity within the performer's body)’

Last summer Olu and Lizzie worked on a new piece at Salisbury Arts Centre. The piece was site specific: the arts centre is a converted church. Using the ballcam, which is a ball containing a wide angle wireless camera housed, they created a series of improvisations on the roof of the bell tower of the centre and at the front of the church itself.

This work was shown with the Unfairground Exhibition at Salisbury Arts Centre over the Summer of 2008.

Compass Cornerstones
What follows are some initial concepts.

Originally invented by the Chinese (although this is matter for some debate), the compass, has made an immeasurable impact on the development of our world: international trade, war, language and communication. It is embedded in our culture. Identifying and relaying our position in the world, charting a course, has developed into today GPS and satnav systems.

Reconstruction of a Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) south-indicating ladle.

Older compasses, like the compass rose pictured above, included the direction of Jerusalem. Churches were often aligned to cardinal points. The way churches functioned was, in turn, influenced by these points.

The design has developed over time: Roman compasses had 12 points, not the 16/32 we have now. Early Chinese compasses didn’t have north as their key cardinal point. Globally, not all cultures needed them at sea as much as European sailors, navigating, as they still do, through deep water and cloudy skies, making soundings and navigation by stars difficult. So although probably not invented in the West, the compass, as we know it, is a Western construct. It’s emphasis on North and the names of the compass points themselves are Western developments.
Some non western compasses are markedly different: they have a fifth point, in the centre. They use non primary colours to demark north, south, east and west. It’s thought this was related to the growing cycle of corn.

Connotations, observations
Compasses are magical, complete. They can help you find the way, if you’re lost. They’re connected with transmigration, choice, chance, they remind me of a roulette table. Sailors’ lives depended on them. They’re a purely fantastic design. You can make one yourself with a needle, a bowl of water and a bit of cork. It detects the earth’s magnetic field, because the earth’s core is metallic. A staple of explorers, adventurers, travellers and pioneers. There’s a global, yet personal connotation to the compass: linking us to our own directions in life, our own chances and choices. Embarking on journeys, pilgrimages, getting lost, finding our way. The role of the navigator, then, as someone who plots a course, avoids hazards and guides travellers is pivotal.

The Laban Link
Rudolf Laban developed a theory of movement analysis.

From Wikipedia, ‘Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) is a system and language for understanding, observing, describing and notating all forms of movement. Devised by Rudolf Laban, LMA draws on his theories of effort and shape to describe, interpret and document human movement. Used as a tool by dancers, athletes, physical and occupational therapists, it is one of the most widely used systems of human movement analysis.

This theory, we can link with the compass, Olu’s writing around the return beat and the Lizzie’s movement based video work.

The Ballcam & Lizzie
ballcam n. – a wireless video camera with a wide angled lens embedded in a foam rubber spherical ball. The user can throw, catch or roll the camera, without causing damage.

I made the ballcam because I wanted to explore sensations that are not achievable with a conventional camera. Capturing an awareness of height, of jumping, and landing were my initial motivations. I wanted to throw a camera in the air without breaking it. I wanted to achieve a closer contact with a camera: something more responsive and guttural, less precious or measured than the filmic style that regular cameras naturally lend themselves to.

Working with dancers and the ball emerged via a progression that included launching the ball out of moving car windows, flying it off a cliff (it was tied to a kite), stringing it up in various landscapes, rolling it down a hill, and generally breaking it a lot. It became clear that the use of the ballcam wasn’t just about landscape – the way that people worked with it in workshops became really relevant to me. Participants were always coming up with new ways to use it. The way shapes of the human form could be played with and distorted. This was a departure in my work – before the ballcam I had always worked with landscape. The ballcam made me realise that working with performers was critical. Although eventually we moved out of the studio into the open air, so the work became a combination of landscape and movement.

The project
This is in it’s earliest stages of development, so the following is really a list of ideas.

The participants find their way through the space, creating their own, individual experience. Helped along by our navigator, Olu. The floor plan could represent a compass. Each participant is, in fact, metaphorically, a compass; they decide where to go, what to pick up or leave along the way.

We plan to use a combination of live performance, sound beam, pre recorded and live ballcam work. Olu has been developing ideas around thrown projects and participants using the sensors of soundbeam to activate images, movies and sounds. However, that participant is very much at the centre of this piece. H/She is an adventurer: playful, discovering, using the space, inside and out.

There’s a saying, ‘boxing the compass’, meaning the act of recounting each compass point. This completes the journey.

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