Karen
Christopher

What isn't it? she says it isn't dance, she says it is performance art

We (people) have a compulsion to categorize. We do it for the clarity. We do it for the banishment of chaos. We do it and it sometimes clouds our ability to accept something simply because it does not fit into the accepted category, or the expected category. I suppose if there were no categories it would just be soup or sewer or jumble sale. But we spend a lot of time on the categories and then we spend a lot of time straddling them or being sliced in two by them. Those categories. But we do need limiting devices. Otherwise there is too much to look at. Too much to consider. I guess defining in order to weed out what I don't want before I even see it, is somewhat suspect to me even though I am lamentably incapable of "seeing" everything.

She wrote in her review/interview: "where does movement end and dance begin?" She is using the form of the first line in our piece, Control Signal, the one she is writing about. This is our first line: "where does one beginning begin and another ending end?"

I suppose if we can't ask these questions we can't really discuss anything. I wouldn't want to put a stop to definition or to discussion or to disputation. But I wonder how useful some of these distinctions are? My question might be: What isn't dance? And that would be annoying to quite a few people I imagine. I can tell what isn't ballet. I can tell you what made me think of ballet. This did:

One of the reasons I love going to ballet and dance is that you never quite know what you’re going to experience and Control Signal certainly was nothing like I had expected, but I had expected more dance. Control Signal is more performance art and it made me question, ‘what is dance?’ and ‘where does movement end and dance begin?’

Control Signal is interesting and entertaining, and importantly made me think, and that’s always a good thing! (link to this)

I'm worried about the exclamation point.

(photo: Andrea Milde)

Tags: symposium, Sadlers Wells, duet, Control Signal

Posted on Sunday, 2 November 2014 by Karen Christopher

Was the order meticulously planned for these spillages to happen at certain times?

Tom, a 3rd year student at University of Falmouth, was writing his dissertation around the idea of the compositional ordering of a performance piece and was very interested in the way that we chose to order and compose the various "micro-elements" within Control Signal. He wrote: At the beginning of the piece the different elements seemed quite clearly defined around the edges and did not appear to relate to each other in any obvious way. However as the performance went on they slowly began to spill over into each other. I particularly remember the first moment that "Ethel Rosenberg" was mentioned and the way that that sort of seeped/trickled/conducted into the other elements of the piece, almost like electricity, making connections in my brain which began to join all of these individual elements together.
Fantastic!

His question was: how much "control" did you exercise over this spilling over. Was the order meticulously planned for these spillages to happen at certain times? Or do you feel that this was this more something that was out of your "control"?

I responded that it was, as he put it, meticulously planned, but it was also intuitively felt. The style in which we worked on the performance meant that there was a lot of trial and error and finding out how to place little, time-released capsules here and there at the beginning and through the middle so that when certain big ideas are brought out it feels like there's already a history for them to rest on or little dormant ideas to activate. It causes the piece to assemble inside the heads of the audience. I think of it as little bits of dried moss that spring to life when watered.

Another student asked a related question during the post-show discussion. He asked about how the idea of translating internal thoughts into live versions of material related to the fragmentary nature of how the various bits arrived during the show. I think sequencing the material is the most important thing we do. And this has specifically to do with how to convey thoughts in the practical world, how to convey what sits inside our heads and makes sense within the tumult of information that sits in there amongst all of the things we know or think about. Translating that into material that conveys the complexity of thought as we experience it internally into something that can be shared with other people, even people we've never met, is a tricky business. It is easy if the thoughts can be generalised and concretised but if we want them to be re-assembled inside the heads of each audience member according to their own inclinations then it is a delicate balance. Maybe it's like those model ships inside bottles. It shouldn't be possible, but it is. It's a way of making the reading of the show belong to the audience and in this way it becomes their own set of ideas because they participate in the mantling (opposite of dismantling?) of it (the "set" of ideas).

Tags: Sophie Grodin, questions, Performance Centre, Falmouth, duet, Control Signal

Posted on Thursday, 14 August 2014 by Karen Christopher

What never stops?

We've just posted Joe Kelleher's edited transcript of our post show discussion following our premiere of Control Signal 10 October 2013 at Chelsea Theatre. *Spoiler alert* There's some content information that might taint your mind. If you've never seen the show and want to go in cold some time in the future don't read it. On the other hand, it might give you the nudge you've been waiting for. We'll have some more performance dates coming up in the Autumn. It's not too soon to start dreaming.

Joe's piece is here.

Tags: Joe Kelleher, duet, Chelsea Theatre, Control Signal

Posted on Thursday, 1 May 2014 by Karen Christopher

Mary wrote something that made me cry 3 weeks later

The thing is, when it came in, her piece of writing, I was far away in California (looking at the sky) and the October performances at Chelsea Theatre were a distant glowing memory but the problems that were right in front of me were the ones I was focussed on and the life just before was pale or hazy and her writing brought it all clearly back into focus.

This piece by Mary Paterson about Control Signal (duet by Karen Christopher and Sophie Grodin) is revealing the heart of what we were working on and the way Mary has been able to articulate her experience of it hit me like cupid's arrow, a kind of beautiful pain.

Tags: Sophie Grodin, Performance Centre, Falmouth, Mary Paterson, Jemima Yong, duet, Control Signal, Chelsea Theatre

Posted on Sunday, 19 January 2014 by Karen Christopher

we asked for a 55-foot note and he complied

We said, answer the question: "what never stops?" We said, angular rhythm, something with a 55-foot note. We said, your idea. We said, a dialogue with contamination, with influence, with subsonic itch. We said, make it vibrate. Boris Hauf made some music for us and it is good.

Boris Hauf designed music for Control Signal listen here: TOPSY hear him live at the performances in Bristol or London.

photo: Jemima Yong

Tags: Wickham Theatre, University of Bristol, Jemima Yong, duet, Control Signal, Boris Hauf, Chelsea Theatre

Posted on Thursday, 26 September 2013 by Karen Christopher

the ebb and the flow of the way it goes in these final days

Leading up to our premiere (Control Signal, preview 3rd October in Bristol at Wickham Theatre, University of Bristol and then premiere 10th & 11th October at Chelsea Theatre in London) we are taking it fine, smooth, and with raggedy edges that scratch what itches and itch what doesn’t. It is easy and isn’t easy. It is fast and slow at the same time it is trying to hold a polyrhythm in your head. I hear that we are finishing. I hear it every morning. I hear it before I go to sleep at night. We are fact finishing but we are not screaming into the finish line, we are stepping. The steps high and irregular early in the past week. We stumbled at a few steps which were just ever so slightly misjudged. Forgot this, didn’t enjoy that. It was better the second day. And we tap-danced into the third day which felt like a dream dotted with laugh. So it goes in fits and starts. Adjustments to new versions. Long discussions about the pause or not the pause and this table is not going to work no it won’t well if it has to no, actually, not even then.

I’m certain it will feel like a free-fall when we finally crack the ice on this one but we will be ready and not forget to pull our rip cords and remember to look around us on the way to the ground. I think we are lined up to enjoy it.

Tags: Control Signal, duet, Sophie Grodin, Chisenhale Dance Space, Chelsea Theatre, Wickham Theatre, University of Bristol

Posted on Saturday, 21 September 2013 by Karen Christopher

Chisenhale week in which we remember that real life continues even now

The crime that we didn’t commit, that we committed not to commit, is to stop living while we make this piece, even in the final phase in which push is coming to shove. If we are squeezed between a rock and a hard deadline it think we’d just as well get comfortable. If it is close, we’ll just cuddle that cut-off.

Working at Chisenhale was great. We were in the main space so we had depth of space and beautiful sunlight coming in through the windows. We also had jackhammers. It was time to replace that old cement with bricks outside in front of the building across the street. This was our sound track while we worked with Boris Hauf who created some excellent sound for the piece. Litó Walkey worked with us as an outside eye and helped corral our thoughts and aspirations into a more minimal package. She helped clarify the images we were working toward.

It all happened as we hoped: some time for showing the guests artists what we were doing (had been doing or thought we were doing or hoped to be doing), some time for them to explore the city and think about us working without them in the studio, some time for us to work without them, some time for them to come back and say we missed you yesterday and thought about you as we wandered the city, more time to work, some time to have a meal together. I didn’t sleep enough but otherwise, it was great. The piece has been combed and parted, we got the extra bits out. Now we just have to do better what we’ve got left. We’ll work it and run it 6 times before we go to Bristol and then it will be complete.

Tags: Chisenhale Dance Space, Control Signal, duet, Litó Walkey, Sophie Grodin, Boris Hauf

Posted on Saturday, 14 September 2013 by Karen Christopher

and we worked a long time on something we had to throw away

Two of us alone in a room and we worked on it and we played with it and people came in and said things about it. And then the next week we knew it all had to change. So easy now to let it go. Last week it would have broken our hearts.

Photos: Jemima Yong

Tags: University of Winchester, Performing Arts, Sophie Grodin, Jemima Yong, FLINT, duet, Control Signal

Posted on Tuesday, 10 September 2013 by Karen Christopher

There's a chair suspended between us tipping and eyes in the window of the door

Report #1 from FLINTwalls residency where we (Karen & Sophie) are working in the Performing Art Studios at The University of Winchester (31st August through 6th September):

- two people trying to help each other; two people working against the point; a chair slowly turning upside down; a frozen image of the present; a competition between body and object; a hierarchical dance; a constructed image; an image of collaboration; a slow movement towards the world; a position to wait in until the strings snap; desperation; tension; something not going anywhere; a realisation.
What I am seeing is something created between us.
What I am seeing is empty space opening.
What I am seeing is an empty chair: provision for a future.
What I am seeing is useless.
What I am seeing is force exerted to the right and left causes an upward motion.
What I am seeing is a skeleton of a chair.
What I am seeing is the trace of a craftsman.
What I am seeing is a hollow place.
What I am seeing is space carved.
What I am seeing is floating.
What I am seeing is light.
What I am seeing is caught in a web.
What I am seeing is a chair caught in a web.
What I am seeing is double spiders large enough to eat a chair.
What I am seeing is the empty space around the chair.
What I am seeing is the space around the chair is shifting.
What I am seeing is the space between us is shifting.
work continues.

Tags: University of Winchester, Performing Arts, FLINT, Sophie Grodin, duet, Control Signal

Posted on Tuesday, 3 September 2013 by Karen Christopher

the difference between thinking and making

Speaking about thinking and making to students at Birkbeck College:

I wanted to build a crying machine
I wanted to build a time machine
I wanted to build a machine BUT
I am a performance maker.

I asked a question: what never stops?

This talk is a time machine, it will take us into the future.

The difference between thinking and making is like the difference between the idea of a knife and the presence of the knife right here in my hand.

* * *

At Kate McIntosh's Worktable @ IBT in Bristol the audience, one by one, were to dissasemble an object and put one back together. I chose a huge sea shell. I didn't think I could do it. Alone in a room at my "worktable" I was faced with a table top of tools: hammers, chisels, a saw, vice grips, scissors. At first I didn't want to break apart the shell and then I really couldn't. It received quite a few bashes with the hammer without damage. I had to put it between a rock and a hard place and even then it was just thin splinters that flew up from the point of impact. Good thing I'd been issued goggles.

I would have said to you, you can't bring me the smell of the ocean. I would have said to you: how could a dry thing bear such a smell and as I hit this sea shell I stopped thinking about where it came from and I just focussed on trying to put a hole in it. I despaired of making the slightest crack when I stopped and took up a hack saw. Slowly, but with purpose, I drew back and forth across the top of the sea shell and I steadied everything and put my back into it. Some time may have passed.

All of a sudden the scent of the sea rose straight into my senses: it reached my nose but even more rapidly my heart. For a moment I was all the way there. Suddenly it was my childhood and dried salt on my skin--no sound but the waves that never stop: each wave momentary; the waves, continuous; and those days when we never left the water or peered for hours into the tide pools losing our time sense and any idea of future.

What never stops? This is a question that has stimulated inspiration during the creation of a new duet that Sophie Grodin and I are working on (almost finished . . . ). Of the many answers to this question, some have turned into material for the performance. When you see the show you will not know that we asked ourselves this question but you will see the answer to it.

Tags: Sophie Grodin, Kate McIntosh, duet, Control Signal, Birkbeck College

Posted on Monday, 24 June 2013 by Karen Christopher

something about working with people

We create a climate together.
We create a system of balances with weights that we have tested ourselves. We’ve adjusted the clocks. We designed new dishes with food from different shelves. Practically speaking, it’s like moving in with a new roommate and everything must be tested and preferences declared. Positions are taken and each of us must decide what we are willing to sacrifice.

Habits are easy to form and we form them quickly. We find what works with a particular set of people and conditions and we repeat successful combinations. When studio time is over at the end of a process it is like breaking up a way of life. Void is felt and I spend a few days lost and bereft.

Tags: Sophie Grodin, duet, Control Signal

Posted on Thursday, 31 January 2013 by Karen Christopher

Show me a physical promise

As we walked away from us (each other) the chair rose into the air behind us. This felt as though something were happening. Something was happening. There was alot of expectation in the chair.

And the twine creaked.

Tags: Chisenhale Art Place, Control Signal, duet, Sophie Grodin

Posted on Thursday, 27 September 2012 by Karen Christopher

Ten Impossibilities

Separate the air
Define water
Draw with a cloud
Chase a bit of sugar through your blood stream
Introduce the stars to an ant
Follow one ant all day
Copy everything the honey bee does
Interview your dead sister
Push milk uphill with a sharp stick, add it to the coffee at the top
Use a spoon to wash your hair
Breath for another person

Expand all of your water

 

Tags: Control Signal, Chisenhale Art Place, duet

Posted on Thursday, 20 September 2012 by Karen Christopher

today only: the first time we sit down to write at the same time

We’ll sit and write for one hour and because we will be together in a quiet place of reading and the smell of books we are expecting to have a different pressure on ourselves to spend time thinking about what we want to work on paper and what we want to shape into language to put our multi-streamed inner thoughts into a single straight grammatical line. We are attempting to reflect on our process and part of doing that will be reconstructing in words what we think happened and what we can remember and how we thought about it. What were the dreams we didn’t uncover and what dreams are still clear to us that we haven’t yet reached and what do we know about anything and what did we not find out but we still see a flag waving for if only in the far distance. I suppose there weren’t any question marks there because they weren’t really questions or they were questions but the sound of them didn’t go up at the end of the sentence. If you want to you can make sense of it even when the punctuation is very very very loose or not there at all. Loosen one part and the whole geometry shifts. We’ll be checking for structural defects at the same time.

We = Sophie and Karen
Our process = composing Control Signal, a performance work, a duet between us

Tags: Control Signal, duet, Sophie Grodin

Posted on Thursday, 26 July 2012 by Karen Christopher

thought process stimulated by footnote number 13 and NOTA c. Open Dialogues 2012

NOTA c. Open Dialogues 2012

I was reading a book along side an infuson of caffeine. I read the technical description (a footnote in the book I was reading) of binaural sound and how different directionalities and qualities of sound production stimulate the ear in different ways and how the brain contributes in the way compensation occurs in order to make sense of the sensation and I spontaneously organized in my head a section of performance in which a layering of these kinds of detailed and laboured descriptions and instructions occurs including one I encountered long ago in the old shower backstage at the Arnolfini (early 90s) whch involved an in-depth explanation of what the twin-mixer valve did--and these explanations which we obsessively collect around us as a buffer against the idea that NOTHING is within our control. This performance material played in my head and I saw that it creates an overflow which catalyses a shift in perception and I flashed on the reading of NOTA's inscriptions (one of which is excerpted in the image above) created during the work-in-progress at SHOWTiME (16 JUNE) [NOTA c. Open Dialogues 2012]. It was the memory of reading "she transforms herself, as if the light(ning) behind her eyes has changed" that caused a chemical reaction in my sequence of thought.

And what just happened as a result of the pile up in that chain link sequence of thoughts is that I had a micro-revelation: this kind of transformation is what I'm always intuitively shooting for. When people experience a shift in the reading of the performance or in a particular performer and realise that their own initial assumptions or reading of the performance or person in front of them was incomplete or is shifting, they might become aware shift is possible, change is possible, or that their initial assumptions are unreliable or mutable or based on unstable criteria as a matter of course in daily life. I guess I already knew that, but I was madly reacquainted with it this morning. An important realisation and catalyst for change is possible when people experience that kind of shift before them. Transformation is possible--a mountain can shift, a nest can be built.

Tags: NOTA c. Open Dialogues 2012, duet, Control Signal, coffee

Posted on Wednesday, 18 July 2012 by Karen Christopher

two women lying in water-filled canoes / a constant quivering / two figures surrounded by buckets of water

For me the work is about a central image I care about. The rest of the piece is a way to earn that image. There are layers of foundation and sediment around, above, and below that but somehow that is a central core that gives me something to go on . . . especially when everything is in flux (most of the time).

Tags: So Below, Seven Falls, duet, Control Signal

Posted on Wednesday, 4 July 2012 by Karen Christopher

what never stops, or what feels that way

I asked myself what never stops? And then I tried to start something that I could continue long enough that it might feel that it could never stop or at the very least that it might continue for some considerable time. Standing still might never stop but it doesn’t carry that question of stopping it is more oriented toward the question “what never starts?” I felt it might be a kind of small perpetual motion that would make the viewer wonder about stopping or continuing or never stopping and so I tried this a few times. It became a small jiggle in the hips from side to side which emanated in a whole body quiver with its origin in the middle.

When it was finally put in front of an audience I was so excited I performed it at what might be described as level 5 (on a size/speed/decibel scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the loudest and fastest and biggest) when it should have been at level 1.5 or 2. I must confess to a small disappointment in relation to this. With any luck I will have other chances to keep it small.

Comments I received after the show seemed to prove this action was causing stress around the question of duration. Some offered (unsolicited) that this action was too short, some offered (unsolicited) that it was too long and one genius talked about how it sent him back into a reverse inventory of the material of the piece which now reconfigured its meaning in light of this ongoing vibration. There's definitely something in that.

Tags: duet, Control Signal

Posted on Wednesday, 20 June 2012 by Karen Christopher

Play us all the way home

While working on Control Signal in a rehearsal room at the People Show we realised we needed a cart with wheels. Something to contain us. Something that stood in for a background, a setting, a look. We knew that it looked like either hospital, a laboraory, or restaurant. We went to the restaurant supply and found it out there in the yard covered in rain, already one life behind it. We wheeled it home. Sophie accompanying the journey on harmonica.

 

Tags: Sophie Grodin, People Show, duet, Control Signal

Posted on Monday, 11 June 2012 by Karen Christopher

principles of attraction & repulsion

For 1
Move objects in the room with your voice
Move objects in Denmark with your eyes

For 2
Make a dance for 4 arms and hands that contains seaweed and lightning strikes in perpetual motion lock-grooves.

and

positively charged glass tube held close to boy's feet negatively charged his feet which caused other extremities to be positively charged and then brass leaf partiicles were attracted to his exposed face and hands

also

A mathematical dress

Tags: Control Signal, duet, People Show

Posted on Thursday, 7 June 2012 by Karen Christopher

Tea Flower

This tea was so beautiful I took its picture.

Sophie Grodin and I just finished taking photos with Paul Williams at Abney Park so that we could document the public micro performances we were making as part of of our practice research. How do the park and the people walking by pollute our plans and temper our activations? The mind unfolds in a different way when met with the intersection of those out with the world of our investigation. Paul with a camera changes everything. Points of significance shift.

The tea was just as good.

The only failure was in not getting it from the very beginning (a tight ball of dusky green).

Tags: Sophie Grodin, Paul Williams, duet, Control Signal, tea

Posted on Thursday, 8 March 2012 by Karen Christopher

14 days of evidence: research for Control Signal: SLOW

For some reason this word SLOW written on the road has always caught my eye and in this instance provoked me to stand here for 5minutes as part of our 14 days of collecting micro performances in public places for research on Control Signal. I stood using the road writing as a caption for my action as people rushed by. Not entirely sure anyone saw this piece though many people passed on their way toward and away from Central Station, Glasgow.

Tags: Control Signal, duet, Glasgow

Posted on Thursday, 16 February 2012 by Karen Christopher