Karen
Christopher

Green Letters

Sophie Grodin and I wrote "On Creating a Climate of Attention: the composition of our work” an essay which appeared in Performance and Ecology: What Can Theatre Do? a special performance issue of the journal Green Letters; studies in ecocriticism (Volume 20 issue 3, 2016) guest edited by Deidre Heddon and Carl Lavery. Here is an excerpt from notes for our introductory section:

As a starting directive we give ourselves the goal of listening and of sensing the environment in which we find ourselves. We are conscious that the conditions around us will be feeding into what the work becomes. The interaction between us creates a climate which will influence the work and its aesthetic. We are conscious that collaborative devising relies on a sensitivity to the ecology we are part of as the work is being made. Which is to say to the totality or pattern of relations between the organisms involved and our environment. There are some features of this that support the work and there are some that we face as challenges to the work but engaging with these features becomes the warp to the weft of what we are able to make. We begin with a kind of open intention and we finish a work with fine tuning it to suit a set of specific intentions but in the vast middle area of the devising process we are struggling to find the best way to interact with our immediate environment and most of all we are listening and observing what is possible within the parameters given. We have to find the balance between having an idea and uncovering what is there. We have to see ourselves as part of nature, as equal partners with the natural world we find ourselves surrounded by, even if that is a human-made construction. We might see ourselves as gardeners but we also see that the gardener is part of the garden.

I’ve tried to say this is how we have made what we have made. But how do I know how it happened? I was there but I was not able to see it as I was it. I was the subject as much as I was the maker. And I was always trying to understand why I thought in the wiggly line I was thinking in. Where was the straight line? was there a straight line? or was it more of a way that one of us was able to stop following a random path and follow instead a line of intention, a line that connected one part to another in an unbroken trajectory of unfolding meanings? Unfolding meanings. Sometimes one is simply writing to find the way forward and when this results in only one good line in a whole day of writing, well, so be it. It is not far from the tactics of the cherry tree. The cherry tree generates millions of blossoms creating a multitude of seeds most of which never propagate the species but nevertheless feed the birds and the bees and countless other creatures in the vicinity.

Alternation becomes a way forward. Sometimes you have to zigzag to find the path up or down. After watching Watermark, the film by Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky we wanted to explore the properties of water. In Watermark there are many examples of the ways water behaves in a landscape. We poured water on the floor and watched it follow the path of least resistance.

There it is, a little trickle of an attempt to tell how we create or pay attention to the ecology around us during the making process. We are working with what we can pull out of the air, a kind of wild yeast that feeds on the flour and makes the bread rise.


 

"This article explores how two performance makers – Karen Christopher and Sophie Grodin of the company Haranczak/Navarre – approach the rehearsal process as an ecological practice in and by itself. Drawing attention to such things as listening, openness and patience, Karen and Sophie explore how their devising strategy transcends the studio and becomes a form of relating to the world in general. Karen and Sophie illustrate their ideas by drawing on generative metaphors and by grounding their insights on their empirical experience of making Control Signal (2013) and miles & miles (2016). In the article there is an attempt to extend the dialogic nature of Haranczak/Navarre’s work into the editing process, to create, that is, an extended climate of attention." editors' note

If you are interested in our essay but can't get your hands on a copy of Green Letters let me know.

Green Letters, Performance and Ecology: What Can Theatre Do? was published online summer 2016.

Tags: Sophie Grodin, On creating a climate of attention, miles & miles, Green Letters, duet

Posted on Wednesday, 20 July 2016 by Karen Christopher

finding the end

this is an excerpt from writing done during our Roehampton DTP residency to finish work on the performance duet miles & miles (this past January)—and we still aren’t really finished—the next deadline is coming up and is backed up by an imminent performance (7th & 8th July 2016, Chisenhale Dance Space)

A resolve has settled in, both a kind of clarity about what has to be done today and a realisation of the limitations a day includes, here, with us, in this room. We are finishing. We are finishing finishing. There’s a special setting on my brain for when the end is near. Maybe there’s more than one option for this setting. Maybe one of them is a kind of panic which produces wild-eyed blindness. Another is a wistful acknowledgement of the limits we face. We have only come this far thus far and the likelihood that we can see the edge is becoming more and more real. It is possible that the unknown possibilities—including dizzying brilliance as well as dim disappointment—are blinking out like spent candles. It is in this moment that we, giggling, came upon a plan to tell ourselves everything was still possible. But how do you fool yourselves when even imagination feels bounded by reality, even if that reality is one manufactured by yourselves?

Let us say we have determined that our show is using a central metaphor or analogy or visual image, surely the possible endings must come in line with the trajectory that springs from this central post, this guiding principle . . . or maybe anything is possible.

Tags: University of Roehampton, DTP, Sophie Grodin, residency, miles & miles, duet, Chisenhale Dance Space

Posted on Tuesday, 10 May 2016 by Karen Christopher

importing an audience once in a while

a report fragment from our 3-day residency at Roehampton to work on finishing miles & miles

We just have to rehearse this little part and then run the whole section that it comes from. We just need to work this middle bit because the built in looseness of it means that we have to know it very well. It’s hard to convince yourself sometimes that you should learn something that might not even work, that you have to work on it long enough to get good at it and then maybe throw it out. Working on it can make it difficult to throw it out later. You might get attached to it.

She said you have to have dinner with each other in order to be able to pop in and out of just talking to each other and performing the material. She meant it was hard to say where the parts when we were us performing and parts when we were us performing being just us talking. The pressure of it, the pressure of the gaze puts us in an it moment. A moment when it might happen, a moment when the material finds its velocity, its time and place—where something takes shape, gathers a weight. A performance needs an audience in order to be a performance. Even an audience of one counts as an audience. That’s where a director comes in handy—a director is always an audience of the piece. As we are both directing and both in it we have no regular audience. that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are in trouble, it means we need to supply that dynamic in a different way. This means importing an audience once in a while. It means bringing in a series of outside eyes. It means subjecting ourselves to the scrutiny of another’s gaze. The energy of the gaze is a kind of compression the gives us the right climate in which to work. It gives us a pillowcase for all of these feathers. These feathers turn into birds and fly away. These thoughts lead to other thoughts and this is the way we develop a train of thoughts—that pathway through our possible trajectories helps clarify direction and limit choices. The reality of sequence or chronology is that it has one kind of grammar in the brain with a kind of dreamlike shorthand of simultaneous knowings and another kind of grammar in the reality outside of our heads which adheres to a kind of linearity associated with speech and writing and the qualities of physical matter. The idea of being hit by a bus vs the actual bus making impact with your own soft body.

Tags: University of Roehampton, DTP, Sophie Grodin, residency, duet, miles & miles

Posted on Thursday, 28 January 2016 by Karen Christopher

we went to Berlin, Berlin gave us spirals

We went to Berlin and Berlin gave us spirals. We were looking for the sound for miles & miles.

The progress was this way: 1) visit to a spring factory 2) listening to the springs with contact mics 3) jokes about inventing the wheel

The attention and different tensions, a grip and release, a kind of tuning that goes in and out, that gives way and grabs you, it winds up and down, it decays, it leads and leaps, it trembles, it lays down fine, it ambles and asks, it leans down for a closer look, it never returns. After working from the outside in we decided not to invent a new instrument but simply to misuse an existing one.

Boris got a guitar out (a baby Taylor) and began plucking strings and de-tuning them. And then Sophie and Karen began exclaiming and proclaiming it wonderful.

The pursuit took us to Gropiusstadt, to Sauerbier Spiralfedern GmbH and then back to Bernauer straße to attach contact mics and then the other room for the baby Taylor.


btw: zugfedern = tension springs
and druckfedern = compression springs

Tags: zugfedern, springs, spirals, Sophie Grodin, miles & miles, druckfedern, Boris Hauf, Berlin

Posted on Friday, 26 June 2015 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

Of Two Minds: Resonance, counterpoint, and confrontation, self and otherness: what does working as a duet mean?

Special note:

tickets now on sale for Of Two Minds: an afternoon on duet collaboration (Sadler's Wells/University of Roehampton) and the performance of Control Signal that evening (30 October, 2014) at Sadler's Wells' Lilian Baylis studio (London).

from Sadler's Wells' website:

Of Two Minds: an afternoon on duet collaborations

Resonance, counterpoint, and confrontation, self and otherness: what does working as a duet mean? What creative methodologies, or creations does it foster across - and among - diverse fields of practice? How is the duet different from other forms of collaboration? When does this experience of alterity become an experience of duality? And what happens then?

Join us for an exploration of these questions in an afternoon of talks, dialogues and presentations focusing on the practice of duets by scholars and artists from performance, theatre, dance, music, visual arts and creative writing. As befits the subject matter, participants will take the floor in pairs in a dynamic reimagining of the traditional symposium.

Of Two Minds will be followed by an evening performance of Control Signal, a duet by Haranczak/Navarre: Karen Christopher and Sophie Grodin. Christopher -  formerly of the renowned American collective Goat Island - and Grodin explore invisible influences and the inexplicable connections we feel but fail to acknowledge.

Keynote speakers to include:
Karen Christopher & Sophie Grodin, with Andrea Milde
Ernst Fischer & LEIBNIZ
Ewan Forster & Chris Heighes
Joe Kelleher & Eirini Kartsaki
Becka McFadden & Scheherazaad Cooper
Amaara Raheem & Tobias Sturmer
PA Skantze & Matthew Fink

Tags: Sophie Grodin, Sadler's Wells, Joe Kelleher, duet

Posted on Tuesday, 3 June 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

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

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

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

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