Following on from the reviews by Rebecca Nice and Paul Medley of DEC’s Luminous Shadows performance at the Old Fire Station in May, Malcolm Atkins (with the support of Ana Barbour, Susie Crow and Kassandra Isaacson) writes about the group’s activities for forthcoming publication in the Open University Associate Lecturers’ Newsletter.  Oxford Dance Writers is delighted to be able to publish this account of the work of this local Oxford arts collective.

DEC Drawing Dance is a group of Oxford based artists who research interactions across different media (DEC stands for Demonstration, Exploration, Collaboration). We began improvising in collaboration between dance, music and visual art in 2009, increasingly using projection to facilitate immediate interaction between the work of visual artists and dancers and musicians, thus blurring the boundaries of performing and visual arts. Since an initial residency at the OVADA Gallery in April 2010, we have appeared twice as part of the Oxford Improvisers’ Cohesion Festival at Pegasus Theatre as well as at Cambridge Festival of Ideas 2010, and the opening of the Other Worlds exhibition at The Story Museum in 2012.We have collaborated with poets Robin Kirkpatrick (OVADA and Cambridge), Vahni Capildeo and Gavin Selerie (Loft Room, Old Fire Station). DEC’s visual artists regularly exhibit their work, including at The North Wall Gallery in May 2011. DEC meets regularly for experimental sessions and rehearsals at Summertown United Reformed Church Hall (URC) where it hosts Drawing Dance workshops for experienced artists; the group has also run taught workshops to newcomers and students. The group currently consists of musicians Malcolm Atkins and Bruno Guastalla, dancers Susie Crow and Ana Barbour, and artists Clare Bassett and Susan Moxley; and previously included artists Antonia Bruce and Kassandra Isaacson.

The group is particularly interested in:
·         exploring the way narrative unfolds in the performing arts and the way it is represented in visual art.
·         the exchange of roles across art forms during collaboration  and the adoption of each others’ approaches – thus visual artists as performers, dancers as marks in the painting, musicians expressing visual concepts
·         the development of listening and different modes of dialogue between art forms, and the potential complexity of these interactions.

For the musicians all these aims have led to an interest in sharing techniques developed by the New York School of composers whose focus was often determined by visual art and whose work was often developed in collaboration with dance : Morton Feldman for his exploration of stasis in sound and his rejection of traditional teleological development in favour of allowing sounds to be themselves (to quote Cage) ; Christian Wolff for his use of interactive process (as opposed to sonic structuring) as a compositional tool; Earl Brown for his exploration of sonic space and its relation to real space, and John Cage for his interest in  the creation of parallel processes in different art forms during performance, rather than  through mediation or collaboration with one another.

For the dancers, exploring narrative enabled a study of the differences in approach and expression in their respective dance traditions – ballet and butoh, and how to combine and work with these in a shared space. The musical approaches discussed above also tend to be of ongoing interest to the dancers who often adopt them interchangeably with the musicians. In addition, role exchange has often encompassed issues on the extent and type of movement required to integrate with visual art and work to create a composite image for the viewer that does not flood them with too much information.

For the visual artists there has been an exploration of narrative through the use of different genres of expression – such as cartoons; cut outs; dynamic creation of abstract colouration; narrative response to movement and sound. Role exchange has encompassed creating work using a range of techniques  including creating work that uses no music to frame the action and is simply a dialogue between dance and spontaneously painted projected image and creating projected figures that interact dynamically with the dancers.

There has also been an interest from all the practitioners in exploring the legacy of specific iconic art work from the past. One of the most substantial pieces by the group was a recent exploration of the different layers of meaning presented in Poussin’s Landscape with a Man killed by a Snake.  This was suggested by the artist Kassandra Isaacson then working with the group and influenced by the book The Sight of Death by T.J. Clarke. The piece started with a projection of the original painting and then proceeded through a ten minute exploration in dance, music and projected image that was developed through improvisation and fixed only to be reproduced at each performance. A second section was almost entirely improvised during the performances themselves,and in this we were trying to explore the idea of narrative through a contrasting use of improvisation itself, as well as exploring and responding to the themes in the original painting which constantly shifted from the tranquil reassurance of the idealised vision of nature to the unsettling images of death that permeate it.

The video at  https://vimeo.com/70845270  is a summary of work from a recent performance by the DEC group, Luminous Shadows presented at the Old Fire Station in May 2013. Much of the imagery is from the interpretation of Landscape with a Man killed by a Snake and the music used from the film is entirely from that performance. The video gives a flavour of the diversity of expression of the group and the way the three art forms interact within a live space. Much of the work was improvised or based on simple indeterminate scores, choreography and instruction that allowed performers to utilise their own vocabulary.

For more information about the group, please visit:

http://decprojectoxford.wordpress.com/

Malcolm Atkins

8th August 2013

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