Karen
Christopher

Reflections after the performance, not Q & A

During the TwoFold festival we had post-show discussions after each of the studio duet double bills. The post-show discussion brings out hidden or latent significance partly because everyone has seen the work from a different point of view or set of equivalencies or preoccupations or mind climate or condition (or what have you). What one person considers obvious may not have occurred to anyone else in the room and when those present share their individual positions on the work or its effect these ideas begin to spark associations whether in concert with or in contrast to what is expressed by others.

It is important to me that people feel they can speak about their impressions because these impressions are the specific currency of the work. Sometimes they are based in intellectual ideas, sometimes they are based in emotion or sensation, sometimes they simply spark a memory and articulating this becomes a way of reading not only the piece observed but also for the observer to become more conscious of their own observations and how they might be slanted by their own filters. We come together over the ways that we agree or disagree about what happened in the room. Also about how these differences do not describe right or wrong, only difference. For this reason it is important not to think of the post-show discussion as a question and answer session.

Those of us who have made the work and shown it on a particular occasion do not hold the key to its significance. All we can do is talk about our own point of view. Our point of view is an intimate one, coming from within the making process as it does, but it is not a privileged position, it is equal to and mixed in with the views from the bodies of the audience. As makers we learn what we have done from the audience. We know what we THINK we have done but it only becomes clear when we hear back from those who can see it from the outside. And they always see something other than what we have understood about the work before showing it.

In order to protect the audience point of view I often refuse to answer a question until the questioner has spoken a bit about the subject (or object) of their question so that we (both makers and viewers) understand what is driving the question and why this particular area within the material is of interest to the questioner. This draws out the discussion and makes clear the importance of individuals' concerns and thought processes. This is a bit tricky in practice, especially if the question is challenging the work or seems to suggest a fault on the part of the performance makers. I usually attempt a friendly counter question. If the question is something like: “why are you making that line on the floor?” I say something like: “I will answer your question but first can you tell me what it makes you think of, or why you think we are doing it?” It may require a bit more back and forth but before long it always transpires that the questioner knows a lot about what the significance of the line might be and sometimes knows something that had not occurred to those of us who made the piece. It feels important to make sure that this intelligence from the mind of a viewer is protected and brought out for everyone to consider.

I suppose sometimes these thoughts are only just forming in the mind of the viewer as the question is turned back to them and this feels exciting to me. Sometimes, in my own experience, the parts I have questions about or think I don’t understand have caught my attention precisely because they are the very things that are speaking to me—it’s just that I don’t quite understand what they are saying until I put my focus there and attempt to communicate a question or simply form a sentence about the material that has caught my attention (or bothered me).

In addition to hearing from the audience, particular people with experience thinking and writing about performance have always been helpful as part of the process. The work of  articulating sensations and of drawing lines between the work presented and the world of associations it links to improves with practice and over time. For this reason we welcome hearing from people who write about performance work. We regularly invite written response from performance writers and critics.

Mary Paterson was asked to write an overview (link to come) of the TwoFold festival of duet performances and this helps us make connections that we as makers are too close to the work to see for ourselves. After the final event of the festival I was exhausted and feeling somewhat chagrined that the final event was not as well attended as I would have liked. I had quipped to the audience that it almost felt like a performance in my living room for a set of friends. The event was a pair of performance-lecture-type presentations (see here) one of which was from a private performance that Rajni Shah and I performed weekly over a period of four years. Afterwards, Mary Paterson, who had been in the audience, commented that it was an interesting inversion that took place: a public event that felt private (due to the small number of viewers) and a private performance made public. It was a simple observation but the act of speaking that observation aloud gave a meaning to what took place that I would not have seen without her being there and making that statement. This articulation clarified something for me and sparked ideas that joined with other ideas around the subject of public and private.

What I’m saying is that I learn so much from other people’s observations.

Tags: TwoFold, duet, Mary Paterson

Posted on Monday, 20 March 2017 by Karen Christopher

without restriction to a particular way of thinking

The duet form as a topic brings us together without restriction to a particular way of thinking. It allows for disparate styles, poetics, aesthetics--as a central focus it does not dictate type in these categories.

a report on the TwoFold symposium

Mary Paterson wrote a response to the first day of the symposium, a thought-provoking list of questions and hearing it on the second day had the effect of moving from white noise to a spot on the radio dial assigned to a specific station. Reading it later I realised it developed (intentionally or not) an exchange from the end of the first day provoked by the above statement having been uttered aloud.

Someone took exception to the above statement claiming we were all pretty similar. I suggested that was not the case from my point of view, which was countered by another voice saying well, we probably all voted remain . . . (or something to that effect). Mary's writing rescues us from the reductive and not-quite-rigorous morass of half thoughts that intermingled in that late moment when a group discussion was just taking shape. It was a moment when we might take stock of what had happened during the day if there were any among us with enough focus left to find a thread through it. It was more like turning up earth in service of future growth rather than fashioning fully formed conclusions on the day. A little time and germination will no doubt pull some thoughts together. Mary's writing helps in that regard.

Mary's questions sparked by her attention to the way things proceeded through that first day reads as a rigorous questioning of method, intention, or procedure and points to a climate of attention that coheres in a room of people examining their own practices one after another, in pairs, all day long. It also makes a kind of coded message which reads one way to the people who had been present for the day and another to those readers who weren't there. And within those two categories of reader (the one from inside the symposium day and the one from outside), the open weave of it allows meaning to be constructed in collaboration with the various positions and preoccupations of readers from both audiences. It both guides and conforms, clarifies and confounds. These are questions we all benefit from answering no matter where we are and no matter what we are doing.

from Questions about Two Fold

by Mary Paterson



Who’s missing? 

How do you know?

What shape do they make with their absence?

Will you start again when they get here?

Will you feel complete?

Will you feel better?

What’s your position?



Who is your opposite?

Who is your complement?

What does your reflection say back to you from the mirror? 

Be honest: how long do you like to spend talking to yourself in the mirror?

And how long would you like to do it if no-one was watching? And how long would you like to do it if you could guarantee that people were watching, avidly, in silence, and theorising it later on in company as the performance of an alter ego?



What kind of moral licence could you achieve from dividing up your psyche into the other versus the self, the organised versus the active, the repressed versus the carnivalesque, the curator versus the artist? 

What authority do you have when you give yourself a job title?

Is ‘collaborator’ a job title? Is ‘partner’? Is ‘scientist’? Is ‘dyad’?

Is it a compliment?



What’s your word for it?


Relatively speaking: what’s your position? 

What’s your super-position?

How do you know you’re not missing any information?

How do you know you’re not drowning in misunderstanding?

What kinds of freedoms could you achieve when you know that entanglement is not to do with ignorance, but to do with randomness?



How do you know?

(read the entire piece here)

Mary Paterson's response was written for and delivered on the second day of TwoFold: the particularities of working in pairs, a symposium hosted by Birkbeck Centre for Contemporary Theatre and Camden People’s Theatre as part of TwoFold, Haranczak/Navarre’s festival of duet performance (March 2017). The symposium was followed by two weekends of duet performances at Chisenhale Dance Space (London).

Tags: symposium, Mary Paterson, duet, Birkbeck College, TwoFold

Posted on Sunday, 5 March 2017 by Karen Christopher

I was at Reading the Internet, virtually

I was in Warwick back then (early October 2015) but I sent this recording along to Something Other's event READING THE INTERNET:

https://somethingothertemp.wordpress.com/2015/11/13/birds-nest-soup-karen-christopher/#more-123

Tags: Mary Paterson

Posted on Monday, 9 November 2015 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

Here, Gone & the promise of more to come

We've now received and posted written responses to So Below from two invited responders: Joe Kelleher and Mary Paterson. There are excerpts here and links to the full texts (below).

From Joe Kelleher'is piece:

‘As above, so below’ is a peculiar, two-ways-facing formula that implies at the same time a turning in to secrets and mysteries – a hermeticism in that sense – but also an involvement and opening out: from world to world, from one individual to another, from the individual to the universe, or from the place and time in which we find ourselves into spaces we have to access through memory, or sympathetic imagination, through what we are able to conjure poetically through gesture and speech, or faith. In Karen Christopher and Gerard Bell’s theatrical duet So Below other places seem to be constantly intruding into what is going on here; or at least the signs of such intrusion are there to be gathered up, tuned into, sniffed out.

full text here

From Mary Paterson's piece:

So Below is a duet that unfolds as if Karen Christopher and Gerard Bell know what’s going to happen, but they haven’t discovered it yet. It appears like a story glimpsed in a stream of words that have tumbled out of a book in the wrong order. To watch, it is surprising. To remember, it is full of sensory pleasure, like a mist of steam rising from a silver spout. 
Sometimes you can hear Karen’s footsteps before you see her: the sound is a crunch of boots on something hard, and it sounds of longing. You think: if only I could dance a ritual like Karen and Gerard and make absent bodies reappear. If only I could make the sound of Karen into something corporeal. They dance like they’re praying – swinging back and forth with the words of gravestone inscriptions falling from their lips, their tidy bodies folding and unfolding like envelopes of magic.

full text here

SO BELOW, a performance duet, is a Haranczak/Navarre Performance Project by Gerard Bell & Karen Christopher (2012).

Tags: So Below, Mary Paterson, Joe Kelleher, Chelsea Theatre

Posted on Saturday, 30 March 2013 by Karen Christopher