A durational performance travelling through Margate with Rasselas, Tom's Alter-Ego which was formed through the body as data. The solo performance began on the Nayland Rock Shelter, moving across the sand and finally up to the terrace at Turner Contemporary. It was live streamed and captured via drone.
To create this live piece together, Tom and I worked within a division of form and content. In order to choreograph a space for his embodiment to thrive, I created:
- physical spaces for site specific performance
- a series of provocations for the alter ego
- a space for the alter-ego to develop
In our three studio sessions together, Tom responded to provocations through movement and song. He created various different states of movement that we turned into movement scores for him to explore in each space.
Working with the alter-ego allowed us to find safe places to explore practice, without moving into a character that is no longer part of the self.
We also drew up a code of practice for us both to maintain, which allowed us to move into brave spaces as well as safe ones.
Perhaps the most important part of these sessions were the conversations in which we realised that we wanted to build knowledge and awareness but also to create further spaces for integration and sharing of international practice. This has become an aim of our work together.
In order for this performance to be an act in reclaiming space and resisting a frame, we needed to implicate the audience. Although movement was our universal language we also explored moments of speech in Tigrinyan language, to deny passing audiences the privilege of understanding.
The performance had no official audience, and anyone who consumed the work did so accidentally as they passed or stopped to watch on the road, the beach or the terrace.
In placing Tom's body in these spaces, he became an object to be watched by privileged audiences. In order to implicate these audiences we live streamed the work, with the camera always situated behind Tom so that anyone that watched him was also watched, with their image broadcast online. This allowed us to remove their passivity as a consumer of Tom's refugee body, and turn them into subjects for consumers online.
The main section of this live piece took place on Margate beach. It involved a journey from Nayland Rock Shelter, walking across the sand up to the terrace at Turner Contemporary.
The movement state within this section explored the idea of 'carrying the border'. It was a walk, hips low, with arms above his shoulders, as if carrying something.
As Tom's feet shuffled through the sand, he left a visible trace. This was reminiscent of Richard Long's work and something we had not anticipated before rehearsing on the sand.
During our discussions Tom told me that the word for refugee is the same as the word for guest in Tigriyan. This prompted us to discuss the idea of the uninvited guest. Thus, we framed our performance around the concept of arrival. In order to arrive, Tom had to take a journey, which then became a durational journey once we had found the movement state of carrying the border - this was slow, sustained, and difficult.
We had not completed this journey in its entirety before the performance. It took an hour to cross the beach and was an act of endurance as well as an act of performance.
As well as the live stream and photographer, we flew a drone over Tom's sand journey to capture the image for documentation.
When the drone was in the air I realised the implications of this image, of Tom's body being captured by a machine which is predominantly reserved for warfare, violence and border control. The drone served a different purpose this time, and instead captured his artistic journey and contributed to a transformative act.
The video footage captured from the drone showed the vastness of Tom's journey. It created another layer for the performance. As Tom was walking, he created a thick line of sand which divided the beach in two, into land and sea. This image could only be seen from above, from the perspective of the abstract machine, but yet it presented an image which heavy connotations of borders and journeys. It made me think of the aerial view of journeys and paths created by migrants, how much perspective such a view would give.
The performance culminated on the Terrace of Turner Contemporary. Tom presented a short song on his Masinko, a series of images to represent the many facets of his identity, and finally a sharing of Ethiopian Dance.
Tom wanted specifically to share dance and song from Ethiopian culture as he felt he did not have a space to do this within his current practice as a performing arts student at university. His
performing self was usually made to perform under the genre of British (Eurocentric) performing arts.
When watching this final part of the piece, I had an overwhelming sense that we were still not accepted into the space at Turner. Tom's performance was directed to those on the terrace eating their lunch, it felt uncomfortable not empowering. He danced right up to the doors but was not granted access. His body was not allowed all the way in to this artistic space - he was an uninvited guest.
Please scroll through the gallery below::
The drone video prompted Turner Contemporary to invite us to develop this piece within the walls of the gallery in the form of a screening. However, this has not happened yet, and their enthusiasm has waned. This raises further questions on the conditions that have to be met for this body to be allowed inside.
The gallery space is reserved for certain bodies, and there are still issues around othered bodies being excluded from certain spaces. His image, his body as data is allowed in, but Tom is not.