4th June - Studio Practice 1
Form and content
We met for the first time in person today – it was a strange experience after so many video calls, like meeting your pen pal. The evening was mostly made up of conversations. We discussed the research around the project, and I talked about the practical logistics of the space we were performing in. We discussed Rasselas – who he was, why he exists and what Tom wanted to get out of his embodiment. We discussed the idea that Rasselas is an “inbetween”. He already exists but we are harnessing him to claim space in loaded sites.
We talked about movement languages as universal and the best way to share stories. Tom discussed his love of physical theatre as a presentation and performance of the self/persona rather than a character. He said he wanted there to be two clear aims of the performance – to give a sense of enjoyment through his cultural lens, and to make people feel uncomfortable enough to change. We talked about what Tom wanted to share – he wanted to bring his cultural performance language into British spaces as he feels like he cannot share this. He said this part of him is forced to be left behind, that in order to integrate he has to “become” British.
He talked about various African traditions where dance is king. He said every situation is like a festival, including births and funerals. We talked in detail about birth, the traditions that come with this – 4 elements.
We also spoke about the importance of water. He previously shared a chapter of his book for our app on befriending the river. We discussed why water is such an important image for him. He said it is also going on a journey and it represents freedom. It doesn’t stop.
We discussed digital borders, fingerprint recognition, pixels, travelling through digital spaces and the idea of carrying the border with you (from Stojnic)
We talked about the idea of being inbetween something.
5th June - Studio Practice 2
Embodying the alter ego
We focused today on the embodiment of Rasselas. I took what Tom discussed, the images he presented, and turned them into improvisational scores. He spent some time in each of these states.
First state – birth, presence, arriving, questioning
2nd state – water, flowing, expanding, moving forward, wings
3rd state – carrying the border, something heavy but invisible, pushing, pressing
Tom shared lots of traditional Ethiopian movement with me. We talked about how different regions have a different style, and that his region focuses a lot on the chest and central body. He said he wants to share some of this traditional movement. We decided to do a sharing when we get to the Turner, as this would have most significance.
We spoke about me being involved. Tom was keen for me to be part of the performance, I think this was kind of a safety net for him, but we decided that I shouldn’t be there, I didn’t need to validate his presence.
Tom told me about his friends that were in trouble, how they struggled to integrate. He told me that once he was granted asylum, he was given 1 short orientation session, and that it wasn’t enough. He and his friends all found it so hard to integrate into a society that wasn’t like his. He talked about his desire to build more awareness and methods of integration.
6th June - Studio Practice 3
I posed some questions to Tom to round off what we had talked about in the previous session:
What images do you want to present?
The birth of Rasselas, presence in a loaded space
Freedom of water
Carrying the border
Becoming (shifting identity, not just a refugee, not just one story)
What do you want the audience to see/feel?
A sense of opening up, acceptance
Uncomfortable – get used to it because I am here
What do you want to get from this piece?
Space (the most important)
How can we implicate the audience?
Ask them questions
We discussed Rasselas’ existence within a performative space, how he is seen by audiences, and what their observations of him does to his empowerment. We asked how to implicate audiences. We talked about how we could resist any sense of being boxed/framed. We discussed how to take the audience out of being passive voyeurs, how to incriminate them even. We decided that it would be powerful for his dancing body, in this universal movement language, to speak.
We discussed language and how much to give the audience, how much knowledge to give them by speaking in English and how much to deny them the privilege of understanding. We decided that they should have some context, but that these moments shouldn’t give them power. So, each of Tom’s spoken moments in the first section were written as questions, to implicate the audience. He also frames his first bit of speech in Ethiopian, to deny the audience the power of knowledge and understanding.
We reworked this first section to revolve around the questions we were asking. I suggested using a poignant moment from our previous day’s conversation, where Tom had told me that the word for refugee is the same as the word for guest in his language. We talked about traditions of welcoming guests, what this connected to in terms of religion and folk stories etc. We decided from then to give the audiences a series of images:
Being born from people crossing the border
Refugee vs guest
These were framed with movement from more stories that he wanted to share:
Tom told me a story about how some artists came to the jungle while he was there. They were French. They took him to the ministry of culture and he performed there. They treated him like royalty. He loved this moment, like it was a sense of relief from what he was going through. In that moment he did not care how he was seen, how his audience categorised him. He was enjoying himself and using his skills and sharing his culture.
Tom really opened up today. He told me the worst points of his journey, which is something he said he doesn’t like to do often as people don’t like to hear it, or they don’t know how to react. He told me that when he was in Calais he paid someone to take him away. He didn’t know what this meant, and so one day he was captured and shoved in what he called a ‘fridge’ which was a refrigerated lorry. There were a few people in there, but he had no idea what was going on. He said that he thought he had just paid for his own death. The driver got out, called the police who came and opened the doors to shout at him, it was the first time he had seen light in 24 hours. He was taken for questioning. He was taken to an underground car park which he had never seen before, he thought it might be a British prison.
We also made the last section. This felt like the hardest section to make as it was a culmination of everything we spoke about. At this point, I felt like the working methods we had set up (form and content), became a little restricting. Tom was almost looking to me or relying on me to find some form for this content that he wanted to share. So I decided to push this section back to basics. We looked at what we wanted to share and found some images connected to this. They were mostly about his journey to the UK.
Watching it, I felt like we were focusing purely on Tom’s journey. Rasselas had disappeared. We had forgotten that this was supposed to be a becoming. It was about everything that made Rasselas and everything that made Tom. We talked about this, and decided to note down everything that Tom felt he was in that moment. He spoke these words during his movement score of the images that represent his journey. At the end he suddenly said
“I am everything” which felt like a moment of Rasselas breaking through, finding his empowerment.
We also shared some traditional Ethiopian dance and song, that Tom really wanted to share.
13th June - Rehearsal on Location
We went to Margate today to look at the spaces we were performing in. It was the hottest day of the year and the beach was packed. It suddenly felt a million miles away from the pictures I sent Tom previously. It had gone from a beautiful performance space to a tourist spot. But, at least we had a big audience!
We rehearsed at Nayland, and remarked the connection with TS Elliot’s Waste Land. We also tried a little bit of the journey, which suddenly felt huge and epic. It was going to take him so long to travel across that space. The piece had transformed into a durational performance, and a feat of endurance. We looked at his physicality on the sand, and what it felt like to carry this invisible force.
We got an ice cream after rehearsals and discussed Tom’s future (he’s just been accepted onto the MA course at Kent). He said something that really struck a chord with me. He said there’s a really small part of him that when he performs, finds that he switches to being “British” Tom rather than “refugee” Tom. He said it helps him with his confidence, that British Tom has the right to be on the stage and command his audience, whereas refugee Tom is below his audience, a second-class citizen. He said that within this piece he feels like he is beginning to present both Toms now… Reflecting on this, am I asking him to perform something close to him in a space that he is not comfortable to share it in? We spoke about this - he wants to share his culture. How can the alter-ego help to bridge this gap?
20th June – LIVE PERFORMANCE
We live streamed this performance, trying to capture those who were looking on at Tom to implicate them. This is possibly a more difficult task than anticipated when the audience is just passers by – there are questions surrounding those who do not want to be filmed and those who reacted negatively, getting their consent etc.
The first image of Tom singing - was seen as powerful. Taking space. Finding a space for his heritage.
The first section on the Rock Shelter. This was sort of contextualising his journey. I questioned whether it was needed. It felt a little basic in terms of content. Also for this section I felt like I directed him quite heavily. I would give him notes and try to shift his movement to a more ‘interesting’ place – was this my right / my role? I definitely steered this section.
The walk was by far the most powerful image. This started as an image of “carrying the border” that Tom felt encompassed much of what we had talked about and we had never seen it all the way through. The actions he took imprinted into the sand and created a line that was drawn across the beach as he made his journey, which took around 45 minutes as he was moving so slowly. It became both a piece of durational performance and also land art. It reminded me of Richard Long’s work. I spoke to Tom afterwards and he said the walk was trance-like, it made him think about everything he had been through up until that point, and everything he was. The earth, ie the sand, became part of the work. Tom became the earth.
At the Turner on the Terrace – this piece felt the most awkward for me. His performance of the Masinko and the traditional dance piece would have been fine on their own. I don’t know if we needed the speech with the words. I think I spoon-fed the audience. Gave them too much power in knowing what our intentions were.
There was also a big question mark around participation. Tom said “you can join me if you want” but we did not curate the participation and so there was not really a moment for the participation to begin. I think perhaps he was looking to me to invite people but I was conscious of my positioning within the piece.
The performance happening in the entrance to the Turner was a really interesting image, but also it still felt like we were outside of the gallery. The way this part of the piece was framed almost felt like we were busking or entertaining the attendees of the gallery while they ate their lunch. It was reminiscent of performers coming up to people while they ate in restaurants – street performers or buskers. This relates to a nomadic way of life. What are the connotations of this? Tom said this too, but he also said that is sort of a traditional way/space to perform in his culture. Lots of questions now…It no longer felt like Tom had power in that moment. It felt Minstrel like?!?! We need to enter into the space or be invited into the space!!
During the performance we flew a drone over Tom’s head which captured incredible images of the path he created across the beach. This capturing of his body by a piece of technology which is primarily used for warfare was an interesting addition that I had not anticipated. It has been suggested that we take this footage and create some kind of showing or installation within the Turner. I have questions about how this is presented to an audience. How Tom’s image is placed within the gallery space, is he absented? Or is he liberated?
Talk to supervisors about this.
Where was Rasselas? Is he needed?
Did Tom have power/agency on the Terrace? Minstrel-like
What did the involvement of drones do to the piece?
Conversation with Tom – he feels like Rasselas is needed. Rasselas is there so that Tom can present these things. The way we framed him meant that Rasselas is like a tool rather than a mask. Creating Rasselas meant that Tom felt like he could enter that space and his embodiment could thrive. He does not necessarily perform the alter-ego but he uses him.
The Turner performance
still this body is not allowed all the way in to the space. It is only now that we are being allowed in to the space. There are still issues around othered bodies being excluded from certain spaces and the politics and choreography of space in that way. So, what are the conditions for ‘transformation’ that are laid out? ie opening/inviting of space? When was he allowed in? What conditions have to be met for his body to be allowed inside? Also the binary of inside and outside is unnecessary? There are many outside spaces that are inside, etc etc. What kind of space does Tom have? What is he given?
The drone image
a drone, a machine for warfare and something that is used at border controls and used violently, capturing Tom’s artistic journey in such a way that might be transformative, shows that there are alternative methods of body data capture. Abstract machine collecting the data of Tom’s performance. The body as data here is transformative because these images prompted a conversation in which Tom has been invited into the Turner to present the footage.
Most of our conversations around the app building have been over Whatsapp video call, so I have not felt the need to reflect until the app has taken shape.
An important note when considering the function of the application: In order to make sure that it is not unbalanced (like case study #3 Beanotherlab), the user cannot be the only one who benefits from the app. Eg in Beanother lab the user got to change their perspective and see through the eyes of a refugee, but in doing so the identity of the refugee became ‘fixed’ further into refugee status.
What kind of app would use the user? How can it reflect border technology or technology that is an oppressing force? Came up with the idea of tracking their GPS, and using this to spread the alter-ego’s presence around the world. In a sense, we are using them to travel, to move across borders without the restriction of border technologies.
Tom’s idea – inconvenience the user of the app as well as use them. Ask them pointless questions like he was asked when he arrived in the UK. Ask where they are going, where they were born etc, for no reason.
Although both of us are more comfortable in physical performance, we decided to go with an audio walk/performance as this will be the most straightforward option for building an app.
Tom wrote a book – could a chapter from this book become part of the script for the audio performance?
Some Questions that I started with and Tom's responses:
What is it that you would like to share with this work?
An experience of a refugees? I could use my novel
What is that experience? Is it a story? Is it your experience of existing in the UK right now? Is it a history of your journey?
Both like remembering all the way through?
Do you want to use this as a way to share the other elements of your identity that may have been lost, to disrupt the eurocentric point of view of British people and transport them to another place that we talked about before? Definitely, let's.
How would you like to share this? I.e. through words, movement, neither? This is probably most relevant for the live site specific piece. Everything. Sharing movement
What language do you want to share? E.g. written language (i.e English, Ethiopian etc) but also do you want to use movement language?
Data language? Yes.
Do you want to include things that are non-visual? Yes, songs.
Tom found a section of his book for the app. He wants to present the chapter as Rasselas, as if he is reading the book too. This means we have 3 different elements of Tom: Himself, Rasselas, and Alem (from the novel chapter).
There is a running thread through all of this. The idea of walking. The app itself needs the user to walk. Tom walked when he was creating the work. The character Alem walks.
Elements to draw from:
The Space for Rasselas to reach the user