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spacerarrowTania's Work

Richard Layzell – Tania’s Space
Background narrative from Digital Creativity Vol 15 No 2

My work with ResCen as a Research Associate continues to have a very direct impact on my artistic practice. As a postgraduate student at the Slade [1] in the 1970s a directed investigation of process was a key element in shedding light on my highly intuitive working method in installations, performance and video art. Occasionally the time spent on this investigation and navigation was greater than on the conception and construction of the piece in question.

In a subsequent career as an artist, encompassing commissions, exhibitions, outreach projects, educational work and constant deadlines, an ongoing investigation and tracking of process became a luxury that gradually lost ground. The exception came with the publication of an extensive autobiographical exploration of documentation. Although the re-working of documentation and processtracking are not quite the same territory.

From the outset, ResCen placed research into process at the centre for us six mid-career artists/choreographers/composers and we have evolved several strategies, both as a group and individually. Chris Bannerman introduced the concept of ‘process notes’ to us early on—a series of questions designed to prompt an active documentation of our respective processes while work was actually developing. For whatever reason, we all appeared to encounter resistance to this project, while also acknowledging its importance and interest. Was it the questions? Was it the potential interruption of the creative flow? There was a slightly embarrassed silence when the subject was raised at our regular group discussions. Then, about two years ago, Chris asked me if I’d be interested in looking into it more formally. And I was more interested than I realised.

I began exploring a new set of questions that would trace process, ‘making’, materials, mood and many other factors. At first I thought about us as a group of users or responders, then moved onto what would be useful for me, as an individual, to uncover. This led to an unexpected level of detail in the potential self-questioning, where the seemingly mundane also became equally relevant. How long was my journey to the place of work? Was there a visual component in the activity? Did intuition play a part? Collaborators? How long did the session last? When exactly was I answering these questions (date and time)? Was there a clear relation to previous works? Context? Research elements? Theoretical elements? And so on, leading to ‘conclusions’ and a final slightly subversive section called ‘freeflow’, with the instruction to write whatever came to mind in whatever format.

I answered them myself a few times and made some modifications. This act of responding to my own questions was curiously engaging, and may have been one of Chris Bannerman’s more ingenious motives. For me, the process notes, now re-named and re-formatted as What goes on, had begun to nudge their way into the core of my practice. I was engaged with them, learning from them, printing-out and cataloguing them, hand-writing them on plane journeys, telling people about them with enthusiasm, incorporating them into seminars about my practice to MA students. Former civil servants were bewildered that form-filling could be aligned to creativity, while my own sense of rebellion surfaced through the unabashed anticipation of reaching the final freeflow question, where anything was permissible. When, after a couple of attempts, the other five ResCen artists didn’t quite share my enthusiasm for What goes on, it became obvious that these questions were designed to work primarily for me. It was a marriage.

An extended period of analysis led to the emergence of distinct themes. One of these was the relationship to tools, technology and the studio space. The question about the location of the session’s activity was more significant than I would have expected. Where did I actually work on a daily basis? The answer was obvious but not internally realised. Essentially I had two studios allocated to different kinds of activities. One was at Chisenhale Studios [2] in Bethnal Green, where ‘making’, assembling and conceptualising happened. It contained tools, work surfaces and equipment of all ages and kinds. The other studio was the attic room of my Finsbury Park flat, where video editing and conceptualising mainly happened on the computer, as well as filing and cataloguing. It was evidently more of a clean, office environment. Where did I spend most time and which was most productive? I began looking at these working surroundings differently and photographed details from both studios, something I’d never done before. I saw the resulting images as another tracking of process, which were also visually strong.

Then a commission materialised, from firstsite [3]. It was to design a six-month installation on the theme of revealing artists’ practice to people of all ages, especially families. I had a couple of ideas, one of them stemming directly from these recent investigations.This was the preferred proposal by all of us. Thinking that the best way to represent how artists work was to show them literally at work, I decided to construct an abstracted and formalised artists’ studio complex. It would contain four artists from different disciplines: a painter/printmaker, a sculptor, a film/video artist and a ‘conceptual’ artist. Their different practices would be reflected in a stylised visual layout of their space. The four spaces knitted together would, in itself, be a sculptural installation. The maquette which helped this design to take shape was made of white foam board, the stuff that architects use so freely. As an object in its own right I found the maquette a delight to construct, so much so that I chose to reproduce it almost exactly at full size. Every working surface would be white—tables, seats, walls, etc. The flooring material could change and would help to demarcate the physical divisions between the four artists.

 

Figure 1.
The Room of Freeflow,
performance/ installation.
Photographer: Vipul Sangoi.
Having finished the maquette with such relish, it felt as if the work was almost done, the bulk of the commission completed. The light-hearted issue of fleshing out the fictional biographies and personas of the four artists was still to come, the easy part. David Lethaby, 35, sculptor, working mainly in wood, an expert on PVA glue, very tidy. Rashna Patel, 32, painter/printmaker, eclectic use of source material, vibrant use of colour, messy space. Kevin Dutton, 25, film/video artist, bit of a techno-geek, a work-in-progress on the iMac, cushions on the floor. Tania Koswyckz, 27, conceptual artist, combining text with clothing, a passion for old technology, works-in-progress all over the walls and windows.

Each artist would also have one or two suggested activities for the visitor to participate in: e.g. Kevin’s video editing, Rashna’s colourful fabric fragments, David’s use of PVA and Tania’s Ideas Book. I hadn’t given the final stage too much thought, i.e. displaying/installing the artists’ work in their spaces. I now had a clear idea of them, but where would their disparate outputs materialise from? I had a vague notion of borrowing work from local artists. But then there was the complex and confusing issue (for the visitor) of crediting them when the artists were actually fictitious. And maybe they should be paid for the loans, but the budget was already stretched. The obvious solution was for me to bite the bullet and make the work of David, Kevin, Rashna and Tania; time-consuming but essential. And in a sense their works (and their identities?) were all aspects of my own past and present.

David was pretty straightforward, if a little dull. Kevin was a breeze, and I self-consciously filmed his video-in-progress in the grounds of the Getty Museum on a trip to Los Angeles. Rashna was difficult and I welcomed the assistance of a collaborator, Darren, a painter and one of the gallery’s technicians. I’d make Tania’s work on the weekends and start collecting clothing from charity shops forthwith. I bought only women’s clothing for her. I knew what she’d be looking for—tacky, once groovy, anything with text printed on. The showy long blue flowery nylon dress would be the first to get the treatment. I don’t know whether the title or the concept came first. I knew titles were a central aspect of her practice. But the concept? Ironing cream eggs onto the front of it. Where did that come from? The use of aluminium foil between iron and egg was a key factor. Then, when it had firmed up overnight and looked in danger of peeling off, a loan of David Lethaby’s PVA glue was vital, to seal the substances. The title, Expect no mercy from the Egg Woman, was central. And here was Tania’s first piece completed, the first of several. It was a mystery why these pieces were so easy and enjoyable to make, but with a deadline looming there wasn’t time for reflection or even the completion of a ‘What goes on’ entry.

It was a few weeks later, after The Studio Project [4] at firstsite was open to the public, that the presence of Tania re-emerged. I actually missed making her work. So at the Chisenhale studio I made some more. From the Finsbury Park studio I made some of her video. I also interviewed her talking about me. That was when the nature of our relationship started to emerge. This was not a marriage. She was, in fact, fairly ambivalent about me, although she had strong opinions. When thinking about the work I was planning for the ResCen Nightwalking conference [5] I asked Tania’s advice, and she was very forthcoming. I took notes. On the basis of her advice the work took a new turn. I don’t think she was consciously trying to muscle in on it, but that was what eventually transpired.

I called it The Room of Freeflow, declaiming a direct link to the previously mentioned investigation-of-process. For a major public ResCen event it was fitting to base a performance/installation on this research, as Tania had pointed out. I would recreate three studio spaces in one room at the Greenwich Dance Agency. I would be present in the space, meeting visitors in small groups, as if this was a genuine studio visit, the line between the performed and the actual being consciously choreographed. The three studios represented would be Chisenhale, Finsbury Park and Tania’s Space from firstsite. I would introduce the audience to my working processes, to Tania’s and to our relationship. I would show them the maquette, have works-in-progress by both of us around, show International Cleaning on video, present the file containing the What goes on entries, offer them a sandwich, present to them the complexities of this exact scenario.

 

Figure 2.
Tania’s work-in-progress,
National review of Live Art,
Australia, 2002.
Photographer:
Richard Layzell.

 


Figure 3.
Tania’s work-in-progress,
National review of Live Art,
Australia, 2002.
Photographer:
Richard Layzell.
The Room of Freeflow subsequently went on tour in Australia, where it followed its London model quite closely, although now with the additional layer of Nightwalking and ResCen adding a broader context. For me it was an important, significant open-ended work. It also demonstrated how process-tracking and investigation can lead to invention, integration, freeflow and an alter ego who means business.

To add another level of process-awareness, I’d like to include here a little of the direct transcription from the lecture/performance I gave at Cumis about Tania’s Space:
So this story has led on to something that began with these notes, to becoming a work that I then toured to Australia. So this is like the actualised version of the room I call ‘Freeflow’ [referring to projection]. This is at the Greenwich Dance Agency, where people had an intimate experience of the work, and me with it. This is the same work in Australia. This is a version of the story that I’ve told you, made into a piece that was a performance work and installation. This is a piece of Tania’s work in progress in Australia. I think it’s called ‘Liven Up’, this piece. And this is the same piece in Perth, yeah, it’s called ‘Liven Up’. Maybe we could just show that bit of video… [video documentation of the Room of Freeflow in London is projected]…I suppose it’s an example of having an idea. This is live, in the performance, now. So this table which is like this table here [points to table], is an idea I haven’t developed, but in this work [The Room of Freeflow] I was talking about having an idea that isn’t finished…and using the table as a kind of metaphor for a frame, for a stage, for a script and keeping the camera [focussed] on it continually. And just finally to go right back to the process notes—I developed some new questions that Tania would ask of me. So when it’s “Who’s speaking?”, is it her speaking or is it me?… “What’s new?”, “What’s the buzz?” The questions are very different. These are Tania’s questions. “What keeps you going?”, “What are you listening to?”, “What are you reading?” , “What are you seeing?” She doesn’t want so much, she just wants the answers. ‘Discoveries’, ‘Tensions’, ‘Anecdotes’, ‘Image of the week’, ‘Ideas’, ‘Big Ideas’. Some of them are pretty much the same. What’s been happening?
(Layzell 2003)

Good question. What has been happening? It’s become a journey and a relationship, with inner reaches of my creative self and the outer world. Tania reappeared in Australia a few weeks ago [6]. Although already guaranteed a role within Eleanor’s Falcon, on the day of the performance I noticed some of her adhesive lettering, still attached to a remote enclave of the derelict railway workshops from the previous year. So this experience became integrated as the opening sequence, introducing the gathered audience to the absolute ‘reality’ of Tania, and her studio space, from 12 months before. It now looks as if ResCen has given me a relationship for life, not just a marriage.

 

Notes
[1] The Slade School of Fine Art, based in University College London.
[2] One of London’s first independent artist-run studio complexes, which also spawned the Chisenhale Gallery.
[3] A contemporary art gallery in Colchester nationally recognised for its innovative programming.
[4] A working title, which later changed to Tania’s Space.
[5] Subsequently developed as Art Work/Work Art for Steder Places, Lillehammer, Norway, August 2003.
[6] Also see Tania’s View in the daily log posted from Australia on this web site.

References
Layzell, R. (2003a) Presentation of Tania’s space.
Symposium, Research/practice/practice/research, University of Cambridge, 5 April.
Layzell, R. (2003b) International cleaning. 15–20 August 2003, Lillehammer, Norway.
Layzell, R. (2003c) Eleanor’s falcon. Performance at the National Review of Live Art, October, Perth, Australia.
Layzell, R. (2002a) The room of freeflow. National review of live art, Powerhouse, Brisbane and Midland Workshops, Perth.
Layzell, R. (2002b) Tania’s space. Installation, firstsite @ the Minories Art Gallery, Colchester.
Layzell, R. (1998) Enhanced performance. Edited by Levy, D. firstsite, Colchester.
ResCen (2002) Nightwalking:navigating the unknown. Three day performing arts event/seminar, 27-29 September, South Bank Centre and Greenwich Dance Agency, London.

Richard Layzell studied at the Slade School of Fine Art. He has a proactive approach to audience engagement, which has led him into the fields of video art, installations, performance art, large scale public events and television. He has been commissioned by many national public galleries in Britain including the Tate Gallery and Serpentine Gallery in London, the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham and Kettles Yard in Cambridge. He has had residencies and performance tours in the USA, Canada, Italy, Poland and France. Since 1995 he has been working as an artist with AIT Plc, a computer software developer, where he has input into communication strategies, company culture and the physical environment. He is the author of Live art in schools (1993) and Enhanced performance (1998), an autobiographical monograph, edited by novelist Deborah Levy.

 
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