Things That Move Me is a dance and a choreography of regulatory measures, a solo performance that reveals a broad infrastructure of capture and manipulation.

Things That Move Me

16 + 17 March, 8PM – 9PM
BEOP Studios, 27-29 Shaddock St, Eden Tce, Auckland
Koha entrance/honesty box/no-one turned away

Design: Catherine Griffiths


Many thanks to The Dance Studio + Jacqui Cesan, Deirdre Tarrant, Footnote Dance, Katie and Paul @ the Unitec dance department, Stephanie Thomas, Andrew Robb, Bruce Connew, Catherine Griffiths, Alice Connew, Kosta Bogoievski, Josie Archer, Zahra Killeen-Chance, Solomon Mortimer, Alexa Wilson, Marika Pratley, Adam Naughton, Jonny Almario, Bella Wilson …

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Below is a small piece of writing which addresses my time in late-2016 with Peter Pleyer and co. in his “Moving the Mirror” project, which nine of us performed in Poland at the Center for Contemporary Art in Warsaw and during the In Between Festival in Wroclaw. There was of course much more going on for us during our period together beyond what I focus on in this text. It was a complex time and this is just a sample.

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When Peter asked what we were busy with as dancers, I said, a little sheepishly, I just like dancing, I wasn’t yet concerned with ‘how’. It simply felt right to return to dance, that way of being, that behaviour, after a 2016 with very little opportunity to do so. So, can we dance together without a need for further reason? Can we have permission to be that simple? Dance is that simple. We like it, we do it.

Yet, in Poland right now, with the country’s complex and developing political situation at the front of our minds, the ‘how’ had to enter the fray. Approaching this question of ‘how’ was not a matter of narrowing frames of reference, or subscribing ourselves outright to a neat set of practices or simplifying our collective and individual action into easily comprehensible patterns. We wanted instead to have multiple priorities existing simultaneously, both within our bodies and between them, where our subjectivities and [dance] histories are welcomed in their complexity and given space to encounter one another on even ground.

We were motivated by a swiftly growing love and respect for each other. Contingent on our needs at any moment, we cared, trusted and respected one another. We played too. We used play both as a strategy of activation and enjoyment. Over the two weeks the nine of us were together – dancing, eating, talking, listening and caring – we developed, more or less intuitively, a vocabulary of approaches, instincts, performative possibilities and perceptions  to draw from during our improvised compositions. Basically, a history of shared experience. Yet the unknown and unpredictable remained strong and important mainstays.

Crucially, our improvisations, innovations, our creation of novelty and originality are not strokes of random and sudden genius (or otherwise!) but come from a sustained being together, of the collaborative practices of figuring out, mis/understanding, persistent negotiation, creating shared experience. Community.

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It was then important to extend the bounds of our community to embrace our audiences. This was not a matter of denying the particularities of our two roles, audience and performer, or overly permeating any ‘fourth wall’ between us, but of insisting on a performative ease and not treating our role as sacred or precious.

Practically speaking we did this through greeting, informing, addressing, using names, telling stories and quietly shifting our performative gaze and presence outwards in order to situate our activity very solidly within the immediate context, of dancers and audience. This undermined the expectation of hierarchy between the two. We simply acknowledged that we were together in one space at a certain moment in time.

In so doing, we highlighted one of theatre’s greatest potentials and power; the committed bringing-together of people into a single space and moment in time, the formation of community. We worked with the idea that to perform for an audience can be an act of sharing and exchange rather than just showing and knowing.

The result was a relaxed mode of performing that we collectively agreed to be a significant particularity of this work, expressive of the politics of our working.

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In a political system in which ideas are dangerous, outside the liberal situation within non-fascist Europe, art can be powerful, sometimes dangerously powerful. In our own liberal democracies, art strips itself of transgressive potential. In a fascist system this subtle transgressive power remains, and, therefore, not everything is acceptable under fascism. To dance the way we want just won’t do.

So, unexpectedly, our dancing becomes oddly provocative. To dance together in the way we want should not be an overtly political statement. However, a dramatic change in political context, as here in Poland, shifts the significance of what we choose to do on a public stage. In this way, in a politically altered Poland, the ‘how’ of our dance becomes a pertinent question, in a way that it wasn’t just one year ago. It takes a politician to demonstrate how political an artist’s work is. A politician with little artistic awareness can be more sensitive to the political weight of an artistic practice than the artist him-/herself.

However, the present environment in Poland, and Europe as a whole, demonstrate that it is vital for artists to sensitise themselves to the political impact of our artistic work, lest we forgo the chance to effectively respond to the political and social issues within our societies. ‘Moving the Mirror’ – Peter Pleyer, Michel Keuper, Anna Nowizca, Pawel Sakowicz, Marysha Stoklosa, Aleksandra Borys, Ivan Ekemark, Caroline Alexander, myself and our audiences – worked to counter an official tendency towards the standardising and homogenising effects of contrived nationalist identities present within Poland, and burgeoning across Europe. We simply danced, but in so doing, we took charge of our histories, embraced uncertainty and multiplicity, we were queer and feminist, cared and trusted, and accommodated divergent desires and necessities. Thus, we were offensive to the autocratic sensibility in power in Poland, and a power relentlessly edging closer across Europe.

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We can dance (up) against something of course, we always have been, but concurrently we must dance into something else. This lurch towards fascism is indicative of a genuine and seriously valid frustration at the hegemonic status quo which has plundered and impoverished swathes of European societies, not to mention elsewhere in the world, for the last 40 years. That’s no place to go back to, so where do we dance towards?

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An Interview I did as part of Diego Agulló’s project that is Measuring the temperature of dance in Berlin: an investigation on the ethico-political body of dance in Berlin

The interview expands upon and departs from writing of mine that can found in an earlier post. Art is an Industry: Fuck It

The video element of Catherine Griffiths’ installation «AEIOU – Constructed/Projected» which appeared at the Typojanchi 2015, 4th International Typography Biennale in Seoul, South Korea.

i from Catherine Griffiths on Vimeo.

Film: Catherine Griffiths—collected photographs, video footage, voice recordings, 1999–2015; excerpts from ‘The Phone Book’, Club de Conversation, 2012; ‘The Jets’, 2010 / Dancer: Oliver Connew / Composer: Alfredo Ibarra / Voices: strangers, friends, family

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Art is an industry. Fuck it.

I have had said to me that art is very little about inspiration and instead much more about hard work. This idea appeals to me for reasons unrelated to the American Dream because it helps me to correctly and realistically arrange myself within our industry. The artist is a worker in a model that has an uncanny resemblance to dominant economic models. Understanding my profession in this way has helped me to find out in more accurate senses what it is I am doing when I make art.

Art is an industry. The business is not always and not necessarily for monetary profit (I’m talking about the artist here, rather than the monied directors, programmers, curators, gallerists, academics, administrators, corporate philanthropists etc.), but generally for the accumulation of social and cultural capital. Through marketing, self-promotion, and, via class and education, privileged access to the elite codes of art’s operation, the artist carves out a niche for herself in the [guarded] walls of the art industry – this is called artistic innovation, an original idea.

I have heard all these terms – market, profit, niche, innovation, profession, promotion – spoken elsewhere. Defining words for our time. I am unsure whether they first appeared in the art industry and then were appropriated into other for-profit industries, or whether art actually did indeed turn straight to Silicon Valley for its driving rhetoric. Either way it seems to me that art is the vanguard for so much that disappoints me. After all, it is the same rhetoric that is involved in turning mountains into real estate, communities into consumers, and friends into networks. And I’m not sure how comfortable I am with this, that the art industry so often assumes the form of commercial business and how for the sake of sustainability (another business term) or simply participation in its conversations, you’re forced into these forms as well. Ever talked of being “productive” in the studio? Really, it makes me very uncomfortable.

Tino Sehgal provides a clear case in point of “art becomes business”. In Sehgal’s work, the business of the art is the “art”. When I saw his work at Martin Gropius Bau in July, I was genuinely struck at how close he had got to turning live, ephemeral performance into object. Impressive. This innovation seems to me to be a case of having simple but strict parameters in place for the performance of the works: the performance pieces, exactly choreographed, run continuously for the opening hours of the museum, in the same way a sculpture or other art object remains on the floor or wall available to be observed until the last member of the public leaves. The write-up in the exhibition’s programme doesn’t dwell too much on the content of his individual works (quite rightly, they’re neither here nor there) but rather the mechanisms by which he operates his practice. Sehgal’s innovation of objectifying ephemeral performance and positioning it with a museum context has allowed him to apply well-wrought commercial business models to his artistic practice, to lucrative success. In this particular exhibition there are 5 works and, as the exhibition notes inform us, there are 5 editions of every work and each are sold by Sehgal to an institution for ca.160,000€, a pretty sum and a fine manipulation of modern economic and commercial technologies. The success of his innovation demands a treatment of his performers as objects, an accurate representation of the practice and lie in which people are objectified into Labour, a commodity, as the most efficient means of securing (mostly financial) capital profit for the boss (Tino Sehgal) and his shareholders (Martin Gropius Bau, etc.).

The result of Sehgal’s innovation is this: through applying real and proven business technologies to his artistic practice, Sehgal has made himself and his art an institution that is able to successfully participate in capitalist exchange. Thus Sehgal has elevated himself as the artist to a position equal to that of the institution. (Of course the “innovation” stops at body-based work; object art has been involved in this behaviour of commodification and commercialisation for much longer). However he has not achieved this by an elevation of the cause of the artist as a member of the class that loses out in a biased system, but instead by meeting the institution on their own terms, terms derived from capitalist and commercial modes of operation. Sehgal’s work critiques not the fundamental elements of the commercial, financial and capitalist structures of our world, but instead focuses on non-object art’s previous absence within those structures. For this reason Sehgal’s innovation fails to warm my heart. Tino Sehgal has chosen to work within the system not to change it, but to secure a piece of the pie for himself. It is self-serving, cynical and unambitious work.

To avoid a hypothermic heart I must shift my focus elsewhere to people who tell it like it is and then have the skills, knowledge and doggedness to do something meaningful about it.

“By itself, literature just helps self-promotion within a charmed circle getting smaller and smaller”. Gayatri Spivak said that in her talk at the International Literaturfestival in Berlin. I extend her description to the broader Art World. The “charmed circle” that Spivak talks of is the “World” in Art World.

What this truth demonstrates for me is that there is a disconnect between the idealised artist, who’s goal it is to proliferate an artistic idea as a contribution to culture, possibly in spite of herself, and a reality of the artist who is required to engage in the promotion of the self as an industry [of artistic production]. The art is a means to end, in the same way that producing toilet paper (or slaughtering cows, or dealing in home loans or harvesting data or buying high and selling low) is a means to make money for the business man – he cares little for toilet paper, but rather what it can do for his wallet.  In the artist’s instance, she has to ask how can my toilet-paper art and my behaviour around it increase my social and cultural capital in order to allow me to make more art? The answer of course is to imitate the practices found in the commercial world. In this way art becomes as complicit in or even as enabling for capitalism as much of Design and Fashion has and dilutes its own power in the same way that street demonstrations and protests have now been reduced to simply expressions of “free-speech”.

In the same talk, as in a great many other talks she has given across the world to a plethora of audiences, Gayatri Spivak then spoke of her term “affirmative sabotage”, explained as the practice of taking the tools produced by the hegemony for use against the powerless, and turning the focus of their use 180° against the powerful in acts of sabotage. In Spivak’s work she uses ideas from European philosophy against the colonial and imperial behaviour enabled by the very same European philosophy. It becomes a task perhaps of not working within the system, but instead working the system towards a certain change.

I have read a similar idea in Spangbergianism, by Mårten Spångberg. In his book he calls the idea Piracy and compares it to breaking free of a system, which he cites as an impossibility for capitalism and, even if it was achieved, no one is looking so it won’t change a thing. It simply gets you to “a lonely place”. Piracy on the other hand uses continual betrayal of a system to break it apart so as to make room for alternatives.

And I encounter these techniques among many of my friends, so called “radical” or worse, “experimental” artists, who are among the most integral people I’m aware of. Their participation in these art forms which are infected with the values of the sociopathic powerful offers an antidote, un-patented.

The title I have given this text can be given a number of different intonations which I think reflect nicely the various approaches one might take to this quagmire:

– Art is an industry. Fuck it = express disappointment
– Art is an industry. Fuck it = give up
– Art is an industry. Fuck it = fuck it up

I shouldn’t suppose that art should be anything other than what it is in our current moment. Of course no one, least of all me, own the idea of what form art should assume or what it should stand for. Especially, I shouldn’t delude myself that art can avoid participating in “The Way the World Works” today. That’s hubristic. Nevertheless, life has meaning in a struggle.

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May 2015, Berlin
(hanging photos by Alice Connew)

NB AUCKLAND CHANGE OF DATE: The Auckland show will now be on Friday 6 February rather than Saturday 31 January. Same place (Touch Compass Dance Studio), same time (8:30PM), different day!

MAN-MADE

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MAN-MADE
new contemporary choreography

Gareth Okan and Oliver Connew perform alongside each other in a work that points to the presence of the ‘privileged’ physicality of the male body in our world’s power structures. Taking inherent experiences of power, force and control, Oliver and Gareth send their male bodies into territory where these experiences are distorted and engineered to certain ends.

MAN-MADE is a work of power, relentless and reactionary with an over-zealous vigor reflective of an attitude of self-congratulation within the world’s powerful elite.

WELLINGTON: Monday 2nd February + Tuesday 3rd February, 8:30PM
at: THE LONG HALL, 13 Maida Vale Rd, Roseneath
directions: head down Roseneath School driveway, round the school and towards the point / #14 bus, stop @ St. Barnabas Church / follow link for map: tinyurl.com/q2654rw

AUCKLAND: Friday 6 February, 8:30PM
at: Touch Compass Dance Studio, 40 Ethel St, Sandringham, Auckland

tickets: $20/$15
cash door sales at both venues,
pre-sales for WELLINGTON ONLY at www.iticket.co.nz/events/2015/feb/man-made

Design: Studio Catherine Griffiths

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All My TXTs Come From Vodafone asks whether it can be made to appear that there are many people in a space when indeed there is only one. A solo trying not to be. A performer’s interaction with the space between him and no one.

Performed at Tatwerk Berlin, 4 July 2014.

ALL MY TXTS COME FROM VODAFONE – Tatwerk, Berlin, 4 July 2014 from Salted:Singlet on Vimeo.

Some thoughts from Shelley Etkin who was there that night:

Herzlich wilkommen hangs in the air on balloons, string dangling down to frame the space. We form a circle around Oliver Connew.

Disjointing, and rebuilding, Oliver draws us into his world to co-imagine conversation. With concentrated physical presence, Oliver slowly transforms the space — marking and demarcating. Herzlich wilkommen comes down to ground level. Oliver’s confrontation with this messages and lines of white tape remind me of airport security lines. Here, restraint is a tool to be played with and expanded. With rising physicality I am entranced by limbs flying and nearly crashing, yet respecting the gentle firm presence of the hovering balloons. As a “solo trying not to be” I wonder who else is in the space with us. What times, processes, and companions comprise this world?