"The antipode of any place on the Earth is the place that is diametrically opposite it, such that a line drawn from one to the other passes through the centre of the Earth and forms a true diameter… Ecuador, which in Spanish simply means ‘Equator’, is Singapore’s antipode. “Ecuador” [the project] raises questions on methodologies of artistic development, using the 'journey to the other side' as a metaphor to design strategies for collaboration and interaction." Danny Kok // Ecuador Presentation Invite
Ecuador was a process-driven research project lead by Danny Kok, that concluded by bringing together a multidisciplinary team of creative practioners to embark on a collaborative 'journey' influenced by cartography and grounded theory. Over the course of 4 weeks Danny mediated the interactions between Kent Chan (film maker / curator), Scarlet Yu (dancer / choreographer), Patricia Toh (writer / actor), Ian Tan (lighting & stage technician / designer) and myself (artist / composer), enabling us to find our collective destination and present what we discovered enroute to the audience.
Danny used a variety of approaches to stimulate our collective dialogue and ideation: Show and tell (sharing our practise and proposals as they progressed), movement sessions (exploring strategies for working with the body) and note book circulation (giving us the opportunity to feedback on each others notes / thoughts / ideas / questions):
Cartography, the study and practise of mapmaking, was adopted as a means of charting the terrain of both our individual practices and our collective ideas as they progressed. As we discovered common co-ordinate and localities, routes towards potential destinations began to emerge.
Through our explorations of (and occasional deviation from) these routes our ideas eventually converged towards our proposal presentation, in which we tried to find a way to bring the audience to ‘Ecuador’ (and back). We co-authored large-scale maps with Danny, conceiving them as a means for the audience to ‘navigate’ each of our presentations with.
In parallel to cartography, we injected a healthy dose of grounded theory in to our collaborative process. In its essence grounded theory is a reverse engineered hypothesis: In opposition to traditional social science research methodology, it does not start with a hypothesis or fixed theoretical framework to prove / disprove a proposition, instead allowing for a hypothesis to emerge through the collection of data and identification of codes and categories found within.
In relation to artistic collaboration this is particularly relevant, as I've sometimes found that when entering a collaborative situation many parameters may already be set in stone in terms of the 'final product'. On the one hand these restrictions can be a positive thing; having a defined destination from the onset and allowing collective thinking to converge towards it may be a fast track to coming up with a good solution or possible answers.
On the other hand predetermined factors that may prescribe the form and function or content and context of something-to-be can actually stifle the creative process; focus centred on a singular point can reduce the visibility of divergent paths or tangents that may lead to new questions and even imaginative solutions. Sir Ken Robinson talks about this in relation to education:
Ecuador adopted the idea that leaning towards divergent thinking within the open framework of grounded theory may encourage us to look at collaborative practise from a different angle, and allow the mapping of our paths towards new work emerge via a more organic process. Through its applied methodologies, Ecuador existed as a platform for us to freely coalesce through play and critical reflection; it provided us with an opportunity to ‘contaminate’ one another’s practise and embark on a journey towards our own antipode, or unknown other.
My Journey to Ecuador
I saw this project as a fantastic opportunity to expand the terrain of my creative practise through collaboration. I was particularly excited about working with choreographers / dance practioners, being incredibly keen to understand how I can use my body to perceive and respond to sound in more depth, and vice versa. So, given the premise of the project and wanting to be open about this, I decided to record and share my haphazard freestyle body grooving with my collaborators during our initial ‘show and tell’ session! Below are a couple of composite images of my sincere attempt to dance 'freely' (if somewhat ineptly) to Cactus by Objekt.
Over the years I've developed an innate connection with dancing through my clubbing experience and writing electronic dance music, but I had previously never thought about strategies I could use to deepen my understanding of the body in motion in relation to sound. Instinctively, I've always just tried to be in the moment with the sound present and let my body flow freely with it.
My curiosity was provoked to think about what would happen if I were to embrace a different perspective or approach to movement / dance through my collaborators. If I could overcome my fear of stepping outside of the comfort zone of ‘what I know’, would I discover something new about the language of the body and potential ways of using it to converse with sound?
Danny's observation in response to the Cactus video.
This became my personal route to Ecuador, my means of navigating to the antipode I was yet to explore. Over the course of the project I made steps towards tackling this question and I would find a new tangent for my work alongside my collaborators. But before I talk more about the work I developed in Ecuador (in Part Two), I'm going on a quick detour via one of Danny’s movement workshops!
Danny lead a series of movement exercises / sessions over the course of Ecuador. As well as from being extremely enjoyable, they were incredibly useful for me as an introduction to being more conscious about movement through feeling, observing and playing with it a new way.
The main exercises that I shall talk about here involved spools of thread. In this exercise, we were asked to play with ‘circular’ movement using thread as an improvisational guide.
What happens when we let the thread direct and shape our movement?
As the spool bounces off the floor and thread unravels over our bodies, where does it lead us and what movements come naturally as a consequence?
When we’re conscious of our movements as mediated through the materials how can we play / expand / respond / react to it?
The second exercise explored the inverse; what happens to our body when we consciously control the thread; whilst the third focused on searching for find a balance between leading and following the thread.
In between exercises Danny introduced and demonstrated different categories of movement as extra tools for us to work with. Though I didn’t use these tools in much depth, it got me thinking about dynamics and gesture a lot more when I was observing the others.
As time passed during each exercise we increasingly got entangled with one another, creating a greater awareness of the relationship between our bodies in space. During the gap between exercises we noted down our observations about our experience.
In another exercise we were encouraged to try and move without the thread, but continue playing with circular movement. I found this much harder because without any material to improvise with I was completely naked (figuratively speaking)! My movement was out in the open, exposed to the observer, leaving me feeling self-conscious and more constrained, mentally. Searching for the impetus to move became difficult. I felt my exploration of circular movement lacked dynamism and creativity in comparison to the others. On top of that I was also trying to resist the urge to break out of the exercise too, and return to the comfort zone of how I usually move!
All of these factors combined made this exercise particularly useful in the sense that it highlighted several things I could work on over the course of Ecuador. Since my final proposal was to develop into something centred around movement, I would have to create strategies to ‘be free, but with a game plan.’