straybird: Lucy Cash and Becky Edmunds: Small Matters

Image credit: still from Falling For You by Lucy CashImage credit: still from Falling For You by Lucy Cash


This summer straybird curated the What Matters festival at Siobhan Davies Studios. I remember admiring the bravery of the title and then being really glad with how well each of the contributing artists stepped-up to deal with such a statement. Small Matters then is, in some ways, a pleasing thing to follow up with, an installation of work made for small screens.

My first assumption with the words ‘small screens’ was that it would be work shown on televisions. Cinema being ‘The Big Screen’ and TV ‘The Small Screen’. But no, they meant even smaller, the work is mostly shown on tiny apple-designed screens. The introductory text by Fiona Wright invites me to think about our relationship to the small (tiny) screen, and the new postures developed by our inability to wait anywhere without watching and looking at things on our own personal tiny screens. “Maybe we know better than ever how to watch experimentally”. I think perhaps she is right. Our culture is increasingly visually literate, and able to flick between images in a way that is often entirely non-narrative. We habitually make connections between images, video, sounds, opinion, fact and ideas on small screens. I have overheard conversations about the impact of Youtube on dance, and how dance is a perfect art form to embrace such a platform: possibilities for experimentation, for dialogue, for international viewing across languages or for work that responds to the viewer in some way in the form of an app.

However I, at least, am also less respectful of work that I see on the tiny screen. There is no live performer in front of me and no artist physically present towards whom I feel a sense of responsibility. I am used to flicking, I pay scant attention. Images need to catch me, and it takes a lot to hold me. Some of the works really did keep me watching. I loved After Thinking About Pocahontas & Me (2010)  by Becky Edmunds and Fiona Wright. I liked the aesthetic of the tiny screens in match-boxes, I liked the rhythm and balance of the movement over the five screens, the sounds, the text about boats. I liked that I was invited to handle the boxes, to feel them as little things that could be moved and arranged, a composition to be played with. It was small and it was neat and it was thought out down to the tiniest detail.

I liked following the dog in Guide to the Black Lab (2012), it was simple and small but I felt a little childish delight in it. I didn’t get to watch Wendy Houston’s Slow Girl/ Among the Giants (2012) because each time I went in, there was someone sitting in her rocking chair looking at her screen, but I have seen the live version and was easily seduced by it’s blend of fairy-tale for a technological age and Shock! Horror! rolling news bulletins. The live work already had the intimacy of a bed-time story and so I can see how that would also work well no a small screen made for one.

Other works in the installation were not so gripping and I found myself conscientiously paying attention as a reviewer, but also aware that I was tempted to flick onto the next. But then maybe that is also OK. Small works on small screens are there to be curated by the viewer. If a theatre is a place to demand my continuous presence and attention for as long as the artist requires it, dance for the small screen allows me to make my own choices about my time and my attention. I just wonder about the demands this makes on the artist. To be more eye-catching and seductive? Or perhaps to be more concise? To pay more attention to detail because the artist cannot assume the viewer will give them more than a 10 second chance to prove themselves?



Small Matters was surprisingly hard work. Cash and Edmunds made the curatorial choice of presenting films across small screens and devices. This struck me as an odd choice for the context of an installation space at a festival. Watching things on ipods has a negative, reductive impact on my attention. Not only is the screen smaller, so I have less patience, but my whole attitude changes for the worse. When people show me things on their phones or ipods, I switch to a mode of wanting to be impressed and gratified sharpish. If ‘cool’ or ‘amazing!’ don’t come to my lips in less than a minute, I lose interest. This is what you contend with when you contextualise yourself with the ‘download’ generation. So as thoughtfully as Christinn Whyte’s Playlist (2010) may have been assembled, the tracks did not grab me. Meanwhile, Guide to Black Lab in which a black laborador leads the audience to the space (filmed roaming in the entrance corridor) was cute but again, didn’t really suck me in.
After thinking About Pochontas and Me constructed an enticing pictorial palette for me to arrange – five Swan Vesta match boxes containing ipods with various and overlapping images, text and songs. I enjoyed spending time in the corner with this one.
Passing Strange and Wonderful, a film by Marisa Zanotti and Ben Wright, cuts between footage of choreography performed by two casts, shot in rehearsal and on stage in lit and costumed live performance. I thought it would be and should be revelatory seeing two casts performing the same thing, but it was not. It all rather blurred together. Perhaps this is because it is the kind of choreography where one sees dancers assuming roles (male/female romance) rather than people dancing on their own terms. The screen intermittently splits into a quadrant to show four versions of the same section. I felt like I was seeing more of the same (as if seeing the choreography itself is not explicit enough). Reading like virtually uninterrupted real-time documentation of the piece, the film seemed unimaginatively captured and made for turgid viewing. I struggled to see what was educational about this ‘educational app’.
Show Girl / Among the Giants was a standout feature in this installation for me. In this fable, I felt a surge of empathy for the innocent protagonist assaulted by things much bigger and louder than her. The refrain, ‘I don’t know what matters amidst all this rubbish’ is inter-sliced in a reel of newspaper headlines trawling across an ipad screen. The capitalised, blinking alert bores into my mind, prodding my own numbed reaction to sensationalism in the media. From the comfort of a rocking chair, I watch barmy headlines run one after the other in pinky-red hued writing against a black background, amused, disturbed, nonplussed. ‘Fashion police in catwalk scuffle’ tickles me, while ‘obesity in the womb’ is troubling (does that happen? It probably does actually…). A little girl’s voice interjects about feeling weighed down and overwhelmed by all the looking and reading. An animated night sky, alight with star constellations and a big, bright moon, shifted my attention on to a galactic scale and at the end of the film a long pause of blackness and silence seemed to punctuate this plea for respite.
In the programme notes, one is instructed not to feel compelled to experience all the works at once and to feel free to return to the collection as often as you like.  I agree with this sentiment, but essentially, behaviour boils down to interest. There was too much going on, and the ipods put me off. More than intimate, they were isolating. If  there was someone inviting me to watch something with them, that might sustain me a little better, but as it was, I felt like the setup has me on the back foot. Who wants to stare at an ipod clipped to a stand in a dark room? Not me.

Small Matters is on until Sun 14th Oct (not Thurs 11th).

Dance Umbrella, 

Black Lab,

Platform Theatre,

Central St Martins College of Arts and Design

Handyside Street

King’s Cross