The Touching Performance
Developed by the dancer Zrinka Šimičić Mihanović and the artist and sculpture network coordinator Marina Bauer a special happening took place last summer: The Touching Performance, which combined sculpture, dance, movement and touch into a common experience. The idea behind the performative installation is, that the viewer and the observed are both parts of a common experience, both participants and witnesses of the event, and both responsible for what is experienced and seen. We wanted to learn more about this special project and talked to the two initiators:
ZRINKA: The Touching Performance is part of an ongoing project entitled What comes about? and that is a continuation of my previous work called Disappearances. The themes are connected through my long-term investigation, research and practice related to soma – the living, moving, touching, relating and constantly changing body. I am also very interested in how we experience dance through dancing/moving as opposed to the experience of watching/witnessing dance as audience. That interest pushed me to further explore the experience of the performer and the audience through my choreographic work. In, Disappearances, I proposed an experiential introduction at the beginning of the, ”show” for the audience and the dancers, as the ground for further watching and dancing.
MARINA: As Zrinka mentioned above, in my work I am interested in the role of touch and kinaesthetic elements when experiencing sculpture. Most of my works call for physical engagement and interaction, and I believe that moving and touching is in the core of sculpture. I find inspiration in my own bodily experiences— like digging through sand (Memories II), lying in the grass (Ancient Sleeper) or exploring a cave (Encounter with Ourselves), and sometimes, when working on my sculptures, I have a feeling that I could better dance the idea than find the exact form of it. (Of course, it is only a feeling!)
Do you think that performative and visual arts are far away from each other or are they easy to be combined? How do these two art types come together?
ZRINKA: No, they are not far from each other and they have been combined in different ways for many years and centuries. The interest in the intermedia and interdisciplinary approach for me is that we face the problem from different perspectives and different media, each one having its own ”rules” and ”resistance”. In my experience the concept is thus sharpened and the work becomes more complex. Through different intermedia collaborations, what is most clear for me is that each media has its own time. And working together we have to find and adapt to different timing.
Has anyone of you carried out an interdisciplinary project like Performance to be touched before?
ZRINKA: I have carried out a few interdisciplinary projects before this one, and most of them were collaborations with visual artists. They include collaboration with visual artist Martina Mezak in 7 silences for 7 days, Moveranje and cruel, cruel nature, as well as collaboration with animation artist Michaela Mueller in Trag / Trace / Spur and Up the Stairs, behind Doors, out the Window.
The Touching Performance develops through 6 stations - “Dock”, “Starting Guides”, “Islands for the Barefoot”, “Choreography through Touch”, “With Closed Eyes”, and “Shape Yourself”.
Opposite to the entrance was station A: Dock where printed messages, which raise awareness, were hanging from the tree. “What is touching me?”, “Is the wind blowing?”, “How many steps do I have to the nearest person?", “I will turn around me”, “I will look into the sky”, “Movement is touch”, “I will look somebody in the eye”, “ I am moving my fingers”, “I will breath in and breath out five times”, “Can I touch the branch?”, “I am observing people around me”, “I will lean on somebody”, “The one who is touching is being touched” etc.
At station B: Starting Guides there were eight silhouettes of figures in movement installed. Sculptures, made of metal bars wrapped by fabric, were guides for the observers to go through or around them and also to induce the specific movement.
At station C: Islands for the Barefoot visitors were invited to walk barefoot and experience several areas with different material.
If visitors decided to experience Choreography through Touch at station D, they were to sit on one of three tree trunks with blue sponge cushion and wait for one of eight performers to approach them.
At station E: With Closed Eyes visitors were to wait for a performer at a marked place. The guided walk with eyes closed for 10-15 minutes was developed differently every time according to the response from the visitor. Every performer also developed his/her personal approach through a series of rehearsals.
At station F: Shape Yourself visitors were given a piece of clay to mould their experience and to place anywhere in the area and leave it.
MARINA: We are delighted by the reception of this installation/performance. Visitors were engaged, they were visibly emerged in every action and very often quite emotional when leaving. We also researched their experience with a focus groups method. We conducted four group interviews, and, what is interesting, is that most of the people reported a very strong experience while specifying different parts of the installation as favourites. Also, most of them missed a station, or decided not to take part, but it was always a different one. It seems that we succeeded in making a good combination of approaches so that people of different affinities and different moods would all find their way through the installation with similar experiences of deep connection to oneself and to the environment at the end.
Each one of you works in a different art form. How would you describe your roles in working together as creators of the project?
ZRINKA: Our roles in this project were specific and mostly related to our media. We also had, each one of us, more specific questions that we wanted to elaborate on in this work related to our individual histories and previous experiences.
MARINA: I do not recognize specific roles due to our art forms. We primarily got together because of our joint affinity to experiences from our summers at the same island, which mostly include bodily experience, as, for example, a love for walking barefoot. So, we had common inspiration, and we contributed to the project through our specific knowledge.
Was it easy to find/ create these stations that aim at large/ general audiences (meaning that adults, children, teenagers would be interested to participate in this exhibition)?
MARINA: We were not sure how people would react, and we did put quite a lot of thought to it. We were asking ourselves all the time about how people might react to being touched by strangers, and also to being watched while engaging in an interactive installation. We were also worried that people would not be willing to take their shoes off to experience the barefoot areas.
But we were also sure that everybody has a universal craving for movement and touch, and that people of all ages bear curiosity and playfulness within themselves. And according to the reactions, we succeeded.
Are you planning any other exhibitions?
ZRINKA: Yes, we are planning the continuation of our collaboration. The next project is planned for May 2020 and is developed around the theme of development and transformation and it will be realized through an interplay between four dancers and paper elements with strong associative potential. The venue is planned at Education Department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in the space with big windows offering the beautiful merging of the inside and the outside.
In 2021 we are planning the exhibition, Choreography in Museum, that will be realized with other dancers, inspired by the station 'Starting Guides', sculptures of silhouettes in movement. We are planning new editions of, The Touching Performance, in 2020/2021 as well.