On the 27th November 2014 I attended Trinity Laban/the Horniman Museum's Symposium entitled: 'Dance and museums working together'. The full report from the Symposium by Emma McFarland is available online here, but I have also jotted down some of the notes I made during the day. I have not edited these notes, they are in no particular order, and they are necessarily partial as I was only able to attend some of the discussion sessions on the day.
Notes from ‘Dance and museums working together’ Symposium: Horniman Museum/Trinity Laban, 27th November 2014
Joyce Wilson (London Area Director for Arts Council England)
- Importance of cross-sector working
- Arts and culture are at the core of what it means to be human
- Delving into the practices of different disciplines can bring new things to light
- Now (facing more cuts to arts funding) is the time when we need to share resources
- Joyce sign-posted the new Arts Council Create journal
Dr Bettina Zorn (Weltmuseum, Vienna)
- in a museum, “the living part of the object is missing” and dance enables us to access or re-imagine that missing part
- Dr Zorn spoke of collaboration with Impulstanz including a 2 week ‘Occupy the Museum’ workshop, and live performances/exhibitions, which were often durational
- Dr Zorn talked about different people working in museums viewing dance performance work in different ways, asking:
- How do museum curators experience work?
- How do dancers experience work?
- How to people outside the museum and dance sectors experience work?
- What do different people take away from their experience?
She suggested that there is not always an easy dialogue between the different departments.
- Dr Zorn spoke of the value of being able to use ‘lost objects’ as part of dance performance (objects that are not often on display), and of using empty spaces in museums
- She also spoke about one project in which an established choreographer created a response to a particular museum artefact or collection, and then a group of young people were invited to create their own responses to the work of that choreographer, thereby creating a chain of interpretation and discussion.
Kate Coyne and Alison Proctor from Siobhan Davies Dance
- Kate and Alison spoke about examples of the company’s work in which choreographers/visual artists have been invited to come together to respond to similar starting points
- They also (like Dr Zorn) mentioned the value of opportunities to bring out artefacts which don’t get examined very often in galleries and museums
- They discussed Siobhan Davies’ work Table of Contents as a ‘collection’ of movement pieces, like a gallery or museum collection, in which the human body is the artefact, and audiences are engaged in a conversation with that artefact
- Kate and Alison described the value of durational work, enabling interaction with audiences over a period of time: in order for this to happen, the gallery/museum with whom the company are working have to be very open to the work happening, and this kind of collaboration requires the gallery/museum’s generosity in allowing a performance to exist in an exhibition space for a longer period
- Sometimes there has to be a long introductory conversation before a collaboration between the company and a gallery begins, and often that takes place through the Events Programming Team rather than the Curatorial Team (although that is changing)
- There are different things to consider when the suggestion to collaborate comes from a museum/comes from an artist, and the two parties have to hear and respect each other’s perspectives
- Kate and Alison talked about trying to be clear with the audience about the way in which the dance work related to the work on display around it, and how much the artist needed to lead on this
- In a gallery/museum there are opportunities for the audience/visitor to be close to the dance work, and there are lots of different perspectives from which they can watch
- They spoke about Siobhan Davies’ collaboration with Clare Twomey, and the movement in Clare’s live visual art response: Is it madness. Is it beauty.
- Kate and Alison also spoke about:
- the element of surprise when working with dance in gallery (non-conventional performance) spaces
- the intervention can make people stay longer in the museum
- asking the audience to appreciate the body as a living artwork/artefact
- the care that Curators will take about having that body in the space, and concerns they may have about how to look after the body-as-artefact
Horniman Museum (Georgina Pope) /Trinity Laban (Veronica Jobbins), speaking about the Curious Tea Party Event that took place in July 2014 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgbXtylYGus; we’re featured in this video from 3.09 with extracts from The Imagination Museum)
- The Horniman Museum/Trinity Laban will be publishing a full Symposium Report and also sharing their evaluation of the Curious Tea Party Event in due course
- I was particularly interested to hear about how the project brought together youth panels from both the Horniman Museum and Trinity Laban to curate work (as part of their Arts Award work)
- The event created connections between inside and outside spaces around the Horniman Museum and Gardens
- The Horniman Museum sent some of their artefacts to Trinity Laban ahead of the Curious Tea Party event, and these inspired a range of off-shoot projects in different spaces
- The success of the Curious Tea Party event relied on close partnership between the two venues at all levels of the organisation, and a clear mutual understanding of the ethos/aims of both organisations at all levels
- Developing funding bids in partnership took much longer than it would have if the applications had been made individually, and needed a longer lead-in time than an individual application
- Importantly, the two organisations monitored the outcomes for audience members e.g. asking whether they had attended the Horniman Museum before; asking for information about whether audiences would think about engaging with dance experiences again in the future (this information will be available when they share their full evaluation). This kind of evaluation is easier when given the opportunity to work collaboratively/share work/build audiences over time, rather than as part of a one-off performance experience.
- The organisations worked together to co-commission artists
- Artists responded primarily to the museum as a site-specific location, the museum as a stimulus for artistic work, or the museum artefacts as a stimulus for artistic work
- The Horniman Museum/Trinity Laban didn’t want to differentiate between performance/participation, and integrated both throughout the Curious Tea Party event
Some thoughts from panel discussions later in the day:
- There was much discussion about audience choice in relation to dance performance in museums, and ways to take this into consideration: we talked about the fact that when you feel physically closer to a performance as an audience member, you may feel like you are more ‘on show’ and may therefore also feel less likely to behave as you wish. We talked about acknowledging this in the rehearsal process, considering the audience’s potential ‘discomfort’ (although of course this won’t be the same for everyone, and audience members always have the choice to engage or not engage with something, no matter what the choreographic intention). How can we encourage audiences to do something different – i.e. not sitting down passively in front of a performance?
- If there are challenges to bringing dance into museums, why are we increasingly working in this context?
- Museums are more interactive spaces, and allow a different way of engaging with the audience
- Working with dance in museums creates access to new audiences
- They also allow a new method of interpretation
- It is a human instinct to make sense of the world around us, and we can do this in museums
- Bringing dance into museums can be an entry point to talking more about difficult subjects (although again it was suggested that we have to be mindful about what the audience might be feeling, and have empathy)
- Work with dance in museums can have lasting impact on audience members
- Working with dance in museums is often about new things [note added 23/01/16: in Sara Wookey's Who Cares? several of the contributors talk about bringing dance into the museum space as a generative, constructive act, rather than a deconstructive or destructive one - so the focus is more on trying to find a new way of doing something rather than a critique of any existing way of doing something]
- breaking from the norm, thinking differently, working in a new way, offering alternatives, offering non-verbal responses to artefacts
- How can we use the movement of visitors around a museum as a choreographic stimulus?
- How can we use the increase in dancing in museums as an opportunity to analyse, critique the process of dance-making, an opportunity for dance to engage with its own history?
- Are audiences getting used to seeing rather than experiencing dance work?
- Is there an obligation on the part of the museum/heritage site to re-introduce movement into places where movement used to take place?
- Martin Joyce from Icon Dance spoke about not advertising their performances at the British Museum in advance, and putting in place a social media campaign to encourage audience members to also engage with the performances through photographing/filming on their phones.
- It is important to work with Front of House staff as a fantastic resource for learning more how audiences are engaging with dance work in museums.