Agony Art: let’s project!


Tante und Tante, photographer unknown

This was my first experience of both Agony Art and the majority of the artists programmed. I suppose I had expectations of more live performances, and quickly realised this edition was highlighting film. I projected my expectations of liveness onto Chisenhale, and it took a little while to recalibrate.

Film flattens my experience of kinaesthetic empathy, or at least it feels like that. I like liveness. I don’t seek to articulate responses to other forms often. I think about, make and explore live practices. But such a practice of the live is, from certain perspectives, at risk. An endangered species in the cultural environment. Given its networked, multiple strands of reliance and co-operation, it’s challenging to manifest it in any sustainable way financially and energetically, given a London/UK/Europe-wide immense recalibration of funds and resources. New approaches to production and training are being created, and new systems of support and ecology are vital for the life of the live. Live arts redefine parameters to meet the now, somehow, and dance film addresses new ecologies and terms of engagement. This night was a meeting place of forms, not new, but necessary.

Locating one evening in Tower Hamlets as part of a larger picture is important to me. To forget this is laughing with a champagne glass in one hand as the ship goes down, turn of the 20th century style: bourgeois sanctuaries of liminal arts havens, boisterous rebellion and a flippant fuck you to wider grey concerns. I have a huge respect for Chisenhale – this comparison is not at the level of affluence and entitlement, more the danger of blocking one’s ears to the cannons at the risk of adding to the problematics of tireless injustice. I like rebellion, just not acts of rebellion that perpetuate the rifts in a supposedly democratic social fabric: examples such as HSBC’s (and others’) tax avoidance, or government policies that choose to ration resources for people on new invisible ratios that subsume class, race, gender in menacing ways because their scales are so invisible. Dance, dance film, gatherings of individuals who are happy to enter into the space of Chisenhale all act as radical, diametrical opposites to the shit con-lab concocts, solace against policies that thrust miasma through the UK. The rabid constipation of politics stays at the door here tonight.

I only mention all this because it is unsatisfying to stay with my somewhat underwhelmed feelings from the evening, and write from that position. On closer reflection, allowing time for the subtlety of the programming to sink in, I have to appreciate and celebrate the collective gestures – by Chisenhale, Agony Art and each individual contributing artist, as well as the audience in sharing attention – as part of a larger, wilder, unstable picture. A few hours ago I read of shooting happening in Copenhagen. Acts of performance nights act in defiance of acts of destruction and pain. The solace of an evening of dance art is valuable. But we know that. Gratitude is important, but sometimes acceptance is arguably also a position of supplication. I wouldn’t dream of leaving my thoughts merely at the door of solace.

There is a particular economy of film as a mode of transmitting dance and movement practice to potentially more audiences via replication on the internet. I occasionally watch stuff online; it’s good, though framing it in a theatre site with lights down, everyone facing the same way is more conducive for my concentration. So I cannot ignore that dance film is a sort of support for the larger project of appreciation and exposition practice, and making a night of it is an excellent platform for a feast. However, neither can I ignore the nature of working with different material properties, despite shared material concerns of body, composition and motion. Seeing so many films together was an education, though not entirely pleasurable.

but – at least a film by Rahel Vonmoos

This documentary collage by Rahel Vonmoos was like opening a diary or sketch book. I could appreciate the layers and the mode of presentation of research. As a performative offering within the context of the evening, it was a somewhat bewildering opening, though it acted as an introduction to Rahel Vonmoos and her aesthetic interests. The notes in the programme say the fragments investigate various things. I don’t see the hysteria. I saw the avoidance of it. It warmed up the night, though in a weirdly serious casual way.

slow/down 2 by Rahel Vonmoos

Here Vonmoos performed live, accompanied by recorded texts on an audio speaker. I believe it was shown in a gallery space last year. Perhaps in that frame the experiment of questioning personal space and its permeable boundaries felt more obvious. In a theatre, with defined boundaries of the audiences’ personal space and the performance terrain, it was carefully contained. Even on a micro level, the movement appeared contained, controlled and easy. I feel familiar with the nuances of the vocabulary and feel the safety of the octahedron (dimensional and planar movement, often extending into linear pathways). The thing tells me it’s asking questions of personal space, but I can’t see the questions, and the answers are very smooth and even. As a gesture relative to miasma, it cleanly cuts through the crap to power on.

Bandstand a film by José Campos

It begins with sleek slow tracking up the arch and features of a bandstand. This is one language. A zoom in and out again another entirely. The tempo change of a zoom ruptures any ‘loneliness’ of the bandstand as suddenly it becomes seen through its modes of capture. All poeticism flows into a mechanised zoom. I’m afraid I cannot easily celebrate the object when another object and its mechanical properties supersede it. Contrasts of framing and focal length may help refresh attention – here it pulled me far away. There was text written over the top of the shots, but it was too small to read from the back of the theatre. Apparently it was by Deborah Jowitt. I could make out a few words. I’m reminded that the thing you make is always reliant upon framing: the performance of the film requires attention too. Don’t make me squint into the darkness more than I already am.

Tantenparty a film by Tante und Tante aka Eirini and Angelina Kartsaki

‘Two people who don’t want to be alone, but hate being together’. Oh rhythm oh rolling ridiculous rhythm. The absurdity of the inner world worn on the outside is unashamed and unnervingly powerful. Humour is important. Humour in the togetherness, the friction and the facile. This is the first of three works of Tante und Tante. The phrasing of their works in amongst the others is effective dynamic counterpoint.

Intestinal a film by Natasha Swingler, performance Itonje Soimer Guttormsen

Working with notions of seen and unseen, this film involves mostly a running spoken commentary whilst the camera hovers above a dissection, taking place by hand, of wound up intestines. Set against the concrete physical action of dissection, the vagueness of the spoken text and noncommittal style didn’t feel like it was going into the guts but staying at the level of skin. But good green nail varnish. Interesting colours, those guts. I enjoyed the specificity in the categorising of textures and evocations of other body parts. The film was flanked by some introspective writings taped to outdoor summer chairs. Again, it felt like being shown process, the notebook and thoughts, and was less interesting.

Then we had an interval. There was popcorn.

Microcosm a film by Danai Pappa

Danai Pappa’s short film delivered a feeling of wariness about the world. The grey tones and corporate carpet made it feel as if someone in an office building suddenly was haemorrhaging polyester out of their ears. That was exciting to perceive. Some of the shots revealed movement that was clearly shuffling about and lacked intention, though. Something about the physical choices and half-hearted struggle of the figures squashed into small spaces didn’t match the specificity of the editing.

Tombola und Tante a film by Tante und Tante aka Eirini and Angelina Kartsaki

The second film of rhythm, counting and silliness from Tante und Tante. Again, supremely effective in composition of colour, forms in space, sound, object and awkwardness.

Borders a film by Manou Koreman, videography Sebastian Hinds

Manou Koreman states that ‘the film attempts to engage sensorially rather than show a finished product’. I definitely received a huge haptic indulgence in soil, light, skin, tree bark and sand. But I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with it. Sensory therapy and an appreciation of slowing down is nurturing, and yet there seems to be some heavy romanticisation and fetishising of touch. The explorations I saw were the attempt to sense the external world. Despite an interest in changes between surroundings and subject, there was little on how one might attempt to refuse sensory stimulation, refute the environment and not move in a way that matches or meets it. Roll down the sand dune, stand in the soil. These experiences are indeed glorious but here ‘nature’ is polite, docile and exquisite. I am reminded of the container of the first skin, the touch of the maternal womb, and of being taken care of. There is no space in that territory of the neonate for concept and abstraction, and, somewhat reluctantly, I appreciate being reminded of that.

n.5 of 18 versions of thoughtlessness movement Irinia Baldini, sound H.A. van Hess

I liked the moment maybe two thirds through when Irina Baldini stood downstage almost centrally, her spine eking backwards, and the whole of the space behind her rippled like a mirage. That moment created desire, intrigue and joy in me. I wanted it to last a little longer. This was movement and sound improvisation of high specificity and care. A space of discovery was instantly taken, with confident decisions, physical prowess and range. The individual and shared languages were engrossing. The title does the progenitors a disservice as the decisions of when to stay with an idea, when to move on are the result of thought – both previous thoughts accumulated and instances of thought, and the trust of them to float about or be pinned down. The performance was framed in a way that is familiar to me – end in a similar place to where you begin, with similar but different material. I don’t mind seeing this familiar structural trope. I’m happy to be eased into and out of the defined frame of the event through theme and variation. The beginning was the end and all phrases have a middle, even if you can’t see it at the time.

Tante und Tante aka Eirini and Angelina Kartsaki

We see them live! It is a joy after being introduced to them on film first. I am curious immediately as to whether the sharpness of their humour through rhythmic choices will translate live. Yes it does. Masterly timing creates cycles of repetitions and images that last at perfect durations to be captivating, silly, bold and painful. The attempt at capturing a ‘selfie’ has the piss ripped out of it. The falsity of attempting to depict a continuity through a single frame is happily ridiculed. Not that I despise photography, but I go to live performance because it acknowledges life in real space and time, not in edits and splices that try to persuade the viewer that transitions aren’t necessary. The piece hints at the potentials of descending into entropy, but without giving in to it. Instead, Tante und Tante craft and relay the threat with mirth and care. The troubles and power dynamics are revealed through action, repetition and simple choices that are rich with skill, trust and attention. I love their exploration, and exploitation, of endurance and relationship. After a night of solo films and individuals, the plurality is heartening.

Flotsam: Tideshift a film by Rachel Gomme

This was screened in the foyer. It was busy and I feel extremely guilty for missing it entirely. I did not study the programme until afterwards.

Rachel Gomme, photographer unknown

Rachel Gomme, photographer unknown

Agony Art was a long feast of small dishes that I continue to digest. 


let’s project! curated by Agony Art and Manou Koreman, as part of Open Clusters

This article was commissioned by Agony Art as part of their series of events, ‘Open Clusters’. This and other responses to the evening will also be published here, on the Agony Art website.