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Nicola Singh, workshop as part of 'the sounds here and bouncing around us and Susan and Anne and that object' solo show, BALTIC 39, Newcastle, 2017.

Photos 1 / 4 / 5 taken by Nicola Singh. Photos 2 / 3 taken by Josefin Bengtsson.

The Catwalk

Nicola Singh

What follows is a restaging; a memory of a workshop I organised as part of my solo exhibition ‘the sounds here are bouncing around us and Susan and Anne and that object’ at BALTIC 39 in Newcastle, 2017. The exhibition presented dialogues between women, across various art forms. I am interested in the ‘thinking through’ and ‘being with’ that occurs in discourses between women, particularly in the context of workshops within contemporary art situations or spaces. This text attempts to capture some of this thinking.

I have brought together transcribed conversations from, and automatic writing generated through, one particular workshop in my exhibition programme. The intention of the workshop was to play with ways in which we can write about, around, and through movement. I invited the following women to take part – Susie Green, Tess Denman Cleaver, Julie Crawshaw, Naomi Garriock, Kate Sweeney, and Francesca Steele.

We introduced ourselves to one another through our animal selves. This text continues on in that energy.

Just imagine it.

A CAT, an OTTER, a GORILLA, a SNAKE, a SOW, a BLACK LABRADOR and a GRIZZLY BEAR all sat together on a long, thin stretch of black dance mat, a little like a catwalk.

Just imagine it, all those animals sitting there together, a bitchy CAT, an OTTER with a nice face, an impulsive GORILLA, a SNAKE sheading its skin, a big fat SOW, a determined BLACK LABRADOR, and I was a grizzly but needy BEAR.

We sat there, laying out the day. Setting the pace of the workshop quite leisurely, so there was lots of time for talking and time for other things or other ways.

The workshop exercises focused on physical movement and on writing in response to that movement, and on sharing.

SNAKE: Apologies if I over share right guys. I’m just saying if you do need to stop me, please do hold me back.

OTTER: Do you want a signal, like a…

Everyone lay down on the dance floor catwalk. The CAT, the OTTER, the GORILLA, the SNAKE, the SOW and the BLACKLABRADOR and the GRIZZLYBEAR. They got comfortable.

BEAR: Everyone, just get really comfortable.

OTTER: On the catwalk?

BEAR: On the catwalk.

Everyone got comfortable and closed their eyes, or kept them open.

They listened together to a poem by Christophe Tarkos, which had been used by the choreographer Boris Chartmaz, and which had now been interspersed with references to the work of other choreographers Deborah Hay, Simone Forti, and Joan Skinner.

[…] open your chest, fill your lungs with the rest of your hips, open, stretch your hips, spread them inside your lungs, breathe into the enlarged space of your twisted neck, twisted once, twisted twice, dislocate your elbow, untangle your fingers, leave your fingers, let them go, fingers go in all directions, let your back rest on the floor, arch your back, your back arches, your back rests on the floor, arches […]

They listened to the poem, listening for an action or actions they could find in their bodies. 

SNAKE:Do you mean to take one of the descriptions of movement from the poem and to make that movement in our bodies? To interpret it? Is that what you mean?

BEAR:Yeah. Yes.

They listened, eyes closed or open, mentally highlighting a section that was going to be theirs.

[…] go around your chest with a dislocated elbow, turn around, let go, get away, free your fingers, take hold of your neck, stretch it, don’t be afraid of grabbing it tight, grab it with your elbows, stretch, it must be as long as the arm, you’ll reach it
by lowering your head, head up straight, lower your butt, open your eyes wide, lower your neck, pull on your back, open your ass, turn your neck once, twice, thrice

Now, they had a highlighted section or phrase from the poem in their head. They had a posture or a set of actions that they were going to make with their bodies, from their position on the dance floor catwalk.

And so they moved, staying low, lying down, kneeling or sitting up.

They looked at themselves and they looked at each other moving; looking up and down the catwalk, checking each other out. The CAT, the OTTER, the GORILLA, the SNAKE, the SOW, the BLACK LABRADOR and the GRIZZLY BEAR.

They looked at themselves till they couldn’t see themselves anymore, and so they tried to see themselves in writing. Their writing was directed toward each others moving body, zooming between wide and close by.

Then they shared; they shared their writing with each other.

The SNAKE shared her writing, which she’d made while watching the BEAR move.

SNAKE: I am a SNAKE. I put my hands in my mouth and my thumb near my ass trying to make a circle but now I watching you rock and it is a very soft pivot. Pivoting on your knees, it’s a strong pose. I see your rainbow soft suit and it looks warm on you. Earlier you said your pink PVC suit was like an amour and you miss it. So now I see your soft suit and I wonder if it’s also like that, a skin; you pivot on your knees with pointed toes and flat palms. It is very steady. I hope it feels okay on your head. In the corner of my eye you are like a metronome or some kind of constant timer of sorts. I’m thinking off an egg timer but that’s only because an egg might more weighted at one end. Lying down your face is hidden and I wonder if that easier for us both. If you were looking at me as I looked at you, I’d find that hard. But maybe you would too. A rocking chair, it’s that pace. Rock me in your arms.

The OTTER shared hers. She was writing towards the movement of the SOW.

OTTER: You are at the edge of the mat, over the edge and on the edge. I’m on the edge of the paper. I’ve written on the floor. Everything is grey apart from the small pink socks, like fingers. As you roll I see your tattoo. It’s also grey. The pink socks, pink like a sow. The sow is soft lying back; the weight of the body of the weight on the floor the body is soft. The bones are soft. You reach, a movement like you are flying. If I look at you from above its like you are flying against the dance floor grey, all grey apart from the pink sow socks. From above, I see you dance. I smile. It’s quite joyous. I feel quite joyous. I feel quite happy watching you. Do you see me? I don’t know what your thinking or when your thinking. Stop. The body stops and the SOW of many babies basks and has a stretch. There is not much holding the bones. They are soft. Do you see me writing?

The BLACK LABRADOR shared her text. She had also written in response to the movement of the SOW.

BLACK LABRADOR: In white you are pink and grey, with a long arm on a foot shifting on plastic to concrete with seams that lag and tie. There is an arch, there is a upward to forwards that zips. You are longer than before. There are four fingers next to two towers. They are gone. There are four fingers and a thumb that grasp. They are gone. You are gone from here. There is a shape on your wrist. The triangle shape is flesh, met by black. There are flecks near your four fingers. You, I can see so; the feeling of softness, the feeling of the slip. You are folding and holding and folding out. Rocking. Stretching it beyond the line. Three knees. Holding your foot behind one calf. You have toes. The toes are covered by pink. The pink toes are SOW toes. They could all be one. Speaking. Waving. Did you hear it? No, I was hypnotised by it.

The CAT had been looking at and writing to the GORILLA. She shared hers.

CAT: You we looking over there for a beginning, beginning to hug your head in elbow ways and showing your waist by reclining and stretching. You’re holding between ankles and bottom. High waisted meets your jawline; jaw waist meets your waistline. You look down at the right holding yourself in yourself, pitching you gaze for and against the pulling of your throat. Arching your throat to mirror your neck and splaying your hands in a flight like repeat, a pulling up after hugging lugging your head with the inside soft flesh of upper arms. Open up your nostrils to the window above. Your spine just around the kidneys is a sacrifice to the freedom of your diaphragm, the weight of you buttock a sacrifice to the pulling open of your top thighs. The hold of your heels and forgotten feet, the hard bones of ten toes on your feet allowing the inside of your chest and the host of your shoulders to move weight around your focussed not directed gaze.

Just imagine it.

A CAT, an OTTER, a GORILLA, a SNAKE, a SOW, a BLACK LABRADOR and a GRIZZLY BEAR all sat together on a long, thin stretch of black dance mat, a little like a catwalk.

They talked about the exercise, about how it felt.

It felt incredibly intimate. It felt like a tribute or a nice gifting exchange, a way of navigating the intimacies of looking at another body, another body that is moving, through writing. There were different levels and modes of exchange and intimacy, across movement and in language.

OTTER: It prompted a kind of becoming self-aware I think or like an opportunity to tune into one another – a connectivity.

SOW: Yeah I felt that.