5th Apr 2018
I’ve been in New York for 2.5 years now, which seems crazy to me. I’m in the last semester of a Media Studies MA at The New School, but I feel like I’m only now getting into it, finding my people, making connections. Meanwhile I’m probably leaving in the fall. I always do that to myself – just when something is taking off, I go chasing something else. When I first got here, I spent a year at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. This was an extremely routine based time – I had at least 3 hours of dance class (Ballet & Modern/Graham technique) every morning. I gave it everything I had, so I was just completely exhausted the rest of the time.
I don’t remember doing anything else during this year to be honest. Dancers are crazy. Well known fact. Self-flagellating authoritarians (only partly joking). It was a conscious choice to become totally focused on dance, and I did. I have never been stronger physically, and weaker mentally. Classical dance education relies on submission – you give up your body, and you harness your spirit to fit a certain vision. This was a very different way of being from what I was doing at ECA. Pretty much the complete opposite. At ECA I rolled around on the floor, doing whatever made sense to me. I mean not really, I had a research method and reasons for doing things but they were my own.
I’m realising that I didn’t tell you about my practices/interests. (Mm I like this coffee! thanks guys!) I feel that my practice is more scattered, not as solid of a thing as it once was. Maybe that’s just what happens when you’re not in art school. I didn’t think it would happen to me though. When I left Edinburgh I thought I would just continue how I’d been going. I think maybe the studio is more important for me than I thought? I don’t have a studio here. My practice consists of movement & dance making, but mostly with cameras or other technology. I’m learning how to use the new motion capture studio at my school. Being in the Media Studies MA has definitely defined my practice as of late. (God, my hand is getting tired). All the work that I’ve made has been determined by classes I have taken here. I don’t have time to do art outside of my studies, so I try and make it work for me, realizing different ideas. It all has to do with the body. It’s my obsession, and I don’t think I will ever stop. I’ve realised that I have a fascination with technique, across disciplines. Dance technique, film, acting. I love methodology, the idea of it, having something to rely on to create things. Kind of like Cage’s chance method. Using the material restraints, or restraints you’ve set up to generate something. It’s exciting. Like being Frankenstein.
This spring I am doing a weekly movement lab with Sasha Portyannikova, like I mentioned. It’s been amazing. Each session has a slightly different focus – spatial relations, collective action, group feeling, memory, sensory awareness. It all has to do with awakening a somatic awareness of one’s own body, and how it informs EVERYTHING, how group dynamics work, perception. It’s about developing a skill really, a knowledge that doesn’t come from books but from embodied experience. It’s very rich, and a very good research tool for ALL disciplines. Our participants are from many different programs, some from outside the school. It’s a very open, inclusive thing. Anyone can join. There are a lot of designers, trying to approach design differently. We are doing the movement lab in conjunction with a course called Urban Tactics and Performance, where the students are reading a lot of theory on what we do in the lab, and they are encouraged to attend the lab, and also develop their own urban interventions/performances. It’s kind of a dream to be involved with this. The response has been really good.
In New York, I don’t have one community, I have many different circles of connections. I miss having that strong community in Edinburgh. It’s harder for me to work and be productive when my attention is split across so many different things. The dance world is still very much a part of my life. Last summer I did an internship at The Yard on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. The Yard is a presenter of the performing arts, offering residencies to many nationally renowned artists. Being there was another one of those hardcore experiences – friends for life, tight living quarters, crazy hours, making dance & performing, but mainly my job was to film & document all of the performances. I learned so much. I feel like I can actually handle a camera now. Filming dance is very special and hard, but totally worth it. And then I recently completed an internship with Gibney Dance here in New York, to kind of stay in touch with that scene.
Living in New York is hard, man. If you don’t have a way of getting out once in a while, it is draining. I want nature!!! I’m also not at all attracted by the city's art scene. Maybe I just don’t know it very well. The gentrification and commercial pressures are so massive and depressing. There is so much being produced here (literally, there is so much garbage on the street all of the time) across the board that 1. Do I really want to add to this mess? 2. Someone else is probably doing it already, so why bother. I have a cynical nature (thanks Dad), and being here has not helped. It’s also just my personality – I get totally absorbed by things around me, it’s like I’m character acting constantly, which means that I can’t help being pulled in a million directions and feel like I don’t know who I am. Sorry to get deep, but I really think that’s at the heart of my experience.
I’m thinking about going into acting, I somehow feel like it’s what I should have been doing all along. I’ll see if my filmmaker friends will cast me.
It’s hard to compare spaces in Edinburgh & NYC. Every year there is something called Bushwick open studios, and you just realize the absolutely INSANE amount of artists & spaces around. There is a space that I feel a bit of a connection with – Otion Front Studios. They are dance/performance makers, but pretty DIY and more in the art world than the dance world. I’ve screened two films there as part of their dance film series. I once sat in the audience with Björk. It’s like a small room, kind of a shed, to give you an idea. I think my experience is also specific to the parts of NY that I live/work in, Bushwick & Union Square/lower Manhattan. The city is divided into different parts and people don’t cross those boundaries very often. Which is maybe true of my experience of living in Edinburgh – the ‘villages’ within the city. All of this being said, I love the diversity of NYC – people from all over, hearing so many languages daily. It’s easy to feel accepted here because there are so many people like you or in the same situation – not from here, in the city for their own reasons. We are all different which makes us all the same. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be here but it has obviously had an impact on me, places tend to change you. That’s another thing people here share – not knowing how long they’ll be here, or in any neighbourhood, job etc. Everything is kinetic. People are so busy, there is no time to waste. I would argue that you need to waste time to make art that’s any good.