an interview with Darko Dragičević and Martin Sonderkamp
Red cable, blue cable, where do I begin, where is my start point, where are the contours. Drawing the house, the territory, this is common, this is the "mine", the "yours", I am moving both hands of us now. Vectors are our body parts, this is we build the space, the rhythm of my pencil is your breath. There is a point I cannot see it, the new skin of the paint - I don't know yet, how it behaves on me, so create a wall, a new place to mark for us, another scar on the shoulder, erect the house.
(Notice to Darko’s and Martin’s performance APPROXIMATIONS, Collegium Hungaricum Berlin, 29.oct-1. November, 2015)
Kinga: The first word displayed in my mind during your performance was: territory, shared and own space. How you define this word, what does it mean to you and which kind of meaning it has/contains in your performance?
Darko & Martin: With Approximations we focused on the specific relations that are being codified by space. For us, space appears not only as material space but as well as social and political space in which specific spatial properties and the arrangement of material things have an influence on the capacity to act and the way of being together. Our research aims at the exploration of concepts of space and body, concepts in which materiality plays a major role. We play with owning the actual territory of the performance space from different perspectives. One perspective is the coming together, the co-existence of our individual fields of artistic practices: dance, choreography and visual art. Then of course, it is our individual approach to inhabiting space, the way we live together in private, the subjective feeling of order, the necessity to structure space around us, the way we declare space and claim our own space and how we transform these subjective notions artistically. In Approximations you see us setting up different kinds of boundaries between bodies performing and bodies watching...some of them are not so definite, leave space for other bodies to enter in order to approximate (if wanted) audience and performers, some of the boundaries are definite, lines that do not open to other bodies, some borders divide the body, structure it.
K: You mark and sign with the movements, with the dynamic and also with the various colors and materials like the small nails. Marking and traces on the body or on any material you owned likes to possess-possession, too, which is naturally in connection of the question about territory and the borders of the "self" and the "common". How you refer to these topics? (Did you work with specific theories or definitions?)
D & M: A central axis our mutual work is to explore the relation between body and visual material, visual language, body language and physicality. In Approximations we explored methods with which we mapped out personal space and examined what kind of maps we would be able to fabricate. We attempted to not only map out visually but also auditively, kinesthetically, haptically in order to produce an affective response. We worked on the following questions: What kind of space will emerge if we layer and connect different kind of maps? Is it possible to produce tectonic breaks between these? Can we make visible hidden spaces in these breaks? Spaces in spaces? How can movement be integrated into visual language? How far does movement need to be slowed down, reduced, brought to stillness?
We wanted the audience to become an inseparable part of our process and that’s why we did not want to have a ‘proper’ stage but open our space with the others, invite and welcome other bodies into the same space, share our experience. While opening that space we’ve opened and exposed ourselves to possible failures in order to find comfort in both one another and people who were sitting and observing. Having them sit around liberated us from having to serve a central viewpoint; it allowed us to operate with less concern upon that central view. We gradually worked with condensing space, when you (the audience) entered; we were busy with bridging ''our space'' with that of the audience. You saw us setting up different kinds of boundaries between bodies performing and bodies watching...some of them were not so definite, left space for other bodies to enter in order to approximate audience and performers, some of the boundaries were more definite, lines that did not open to the bodies of the audience but separated them slightly.
K: Material has a key position in Approximations. During the performance you made us feel the different skins of the human body but also the canvas, the floor, nails, paintings, walls, even our body, it was like turning the volume on of the character of the layers...
D & M: We explored how bodies localize (themselves) in space, resonate in these and how they (bodies) relate to things (materials/objects) but also to one another. We wanted to make visible how material unfolds towards an inside and how bodies affect that material. In Approximations we have examined how bodily sensing transfers itself onto materials and how the body consequently extends itself into space. We focused on how the body moves through these extensions and how others perceive a body doing so. During this process we worked with questions such as: How can we produce maps that simultaneously affect interior and exterior space? How can we cross the borders of the material through which these maps are being fabricated? Through smallest convergences we wanted to guide the attention of an audience towards relational changes, towards relational displacements. How can maps be created that inscribe themselves from visual media into space and into the body? Can these maps be transcribed into choreographic methods? Are they not already notation for movement?
We use our bodies as a material interface between bodies present and our own. At the beginning of the performance we include all bodies present, weaving bodies, visuals and materials together. By drawing traces onto our skin using needles and paint, we attempt to remind an audience about the materiality of their own bodies, how it might feel on their own skin. Also, these drawings have their origin in the traces one can already see in the space and bridge visual language, material and the space of the body, physical space. Different materials speak differently to our bodies while we use them; they change the body’s physical materiality and define its capability to act. The oil pastel for example and the graphite influence the body while using these materials. Martin for example worked on testing how much pressure can be applied using full body weight, to which extend he can use the pastel or the graphite as a lever to balance his body. The soft oil pastel breaks and his body collapses onto the floor.
Then, we also worked with bridging the space between material and body; you see for example how we indirectly interact using specific material between our bodies. For example, Darko manipulates the object made of air captured within a large sheet of latex, moving the air inside, making the skin-like surface move, while Martin connects the air between object and his own body through swaying movement. Then, Darko's manipulation focuses on the transformation of the haptic properties of that object to its audible properties as he drags the latex across the floor while Martin responds physically to the sound the dragging omits.
K: Music is also a very important element of the performance, first we could hear a repetitive etude (which might evoke childhood with the specific sounds of probably a xylophone), the repetition was also visible in your movements, but different dynamic of course by the both of you were different, but even so very intimately bound. Then you were working with the silence, where even the act of breathing was somehow disturbing, the audience could feel "we intrude a very intimate space, we are inside, this is not polite...we touch something forbidden." You were playing with the voyeur role of the audience, involved them to the most personal spaces, but also took them out. A very nice way of manipulation and moving even without changing their physical position. Do I see it well?
D & M: Yes, absolutely. We chose to work with William Basinski’s The Deluge as this particular piece opened yet one more space that was not penetrating or aggressively interfering with our own space/s. Also, the music was played in combination with some photographs that were projected outside of CHB for the audience to hear when they entered the building. The music served as a way to transport people from the entrance into the performance space and, afterwards, into the exhibition space. It's repetitive, hypnotic quality set a tone in our bodies and created an affective state in order to slow down the experience of how time flows both for us and for the audience. Silence was important because we wanted to make tangible how our bodies response to the tasks we were giving ourselves. More music would have dressed up the performance, would have pushed possible interpretations on the part of the audience way too much.
K: Could you tell me about the whole process? It was a 4-day-long performance, I was with you in the final act. How were the other days, what happened? And I also know, there was a very long way to plan and realize this creation...
D: Every day was a different experience. We were in residence for 1 week at Collegium Hungaricum Berlin, which naturally affected the way we were performing each night. As we were 24/7 in that building, it’s rooms, corridors and people become integral part of our experience. Personally, each night had a completely different experiential/emotional resonance. It was switching from confusion and uncontrollable adrenalin to feelings of comfort, aggression and calmness. As it was a very intense process I have allowed myself to step away, as much as I could from the feeling of being stuck in the realm of performance/performing and to accept the entire experience as the ongoing process. This was very important. Each day/night I’ve gave myself a different role/character/situation and adopted these to the elements we were working with during the showing.
M: Yes, I agree, the performance was not a finished piece at all but an inquiry into the temporal continuity of artistic process. Each night produced a layer of visual language whose coming to life depended on the proceeding night. With that particular approach we wanted to mark the passage through space and also condense time. Each night a different color was added, each color triggered a different affective, associative response.
D: Oh yes, this entire process has started long ago. If I really want to trace it back I would say it is exactly one year ago in November 2014 when we produced those maps of our living space in Berlin.
M: In a way, we wanted to reflect upon the conditions of our lives as artists, on the many displacements, disruptions and fragments caused by traveling, on the change of working and living situations and environments, which sometimes can be annoying and irritating. So we set out to create notations, maps that would give us an orientation. In a way these maps became a space to live in together while being busy with other projects and duties...they became a shared diary
K: This performance plays with boundaries, mark them, crossing them, minimize or even maximize and abolish them. This way is also characteristic for your art, as far as I know, you both come from different sides of the art world. How did you build the different perspectives and "artistic spaces" in your creation?
D: It is about finding a way of communicating. Finding a language which triggers, that is unpredictable and that brings something anew and to reflect upon. Connections within the different disciplines are something that excite both of us. That is what became our method, a way of sharing between us but also with others. Sometimes these perspectives come from pure gut feelings or after months of discussion and rehearsals.
M: One important bridge is through our bodies. In our first collaboration TASK 14, we created a piece in which we used what is between us as material, our physical and emotional connections were a base to work from. In order to share perspectives, we shared practices, Darko engaged with mine and vice versa. Through these exchanges we were able to articulate hybrid practices that were tailored alongside specific questions.
K: Articulation…there is a very important part of your world I have not asked yet about, the written language, the writing as another tool of the communication between you and also between you and the involved people, the “outside”. In the CHB when we entered your place we received invitation cards with documentations, poems, pictures: “how does it feel/to be on the edge? What does/the documentation of the layers/and traces of/our lives and/work look like?” says the introduction. For me you also crossed the borders of the written text, author as owner and also time vanishes in the typography…
D: In our first collaboration TASK 14 we have worked with a poem of Juliana Spahr This connection of everyone with lungs. This poem is exactly that; it crosses the borders of the written text, it builds the houses, creates brand new spaces, it changes the way you even breath or perceive your own space and body while reading it. For Approximations we have decided to work with 2 topics, edge and tenderness, out of 7 that were elaborated during a residency last summer in JSKD, Ljubljana. These texts were written in collaboration with dramaturge Jasmina Založnik. The ones we selected helped us to extract what we thought was important for that stage of our private and professional lives. On the other hand we sometimes go into totally opposite directions, not using words in order to communicate. That's what we wanted to share with the audience so we exhibited our correspondence through images in the gallery space downstairs.
K: In the booklet you lead a conversation, which contains description about space (personal, public, politic), time, impressions and instructions. Are these letters to each other? To us? Instructions and rules of your world? What does written language mean to you? How is it in connection with your body, the performance, the colors, music, all the materials you work in your creation?
D: I would say these are the instructions to our worlds. Maybe not exactly ‘instructions’ but insights. Written language becomes a map, a method. It does not always has to stand as a meaning it could evoke a sound, color.. A memory. It could also be a broken structure. A fragment. Way to start or end. Re-build something. It could only be a trace, a glimpse of something.
M. These letters were primarily meant for each other, enabling us to understand our individual entry points into our process. Then, during the course of our process, they materialized in different ways, became both visual and physical material. And by the end of our process, they re-surfaced and became letters to an audience watching, a kind of musical coda in textual form. I don't know how much these were instructions, I think primarily they were meant for us to understand our individual sense of edginess, how and in which situations we entered into perceiving and feeling edginess. For me, the act of writing is like a cleanse, a distillation process, a way of articulating gut feelings. I think I am prone to poetry although I don't start out with: Yeah, let's write a poem...I think I like the spaces between words and lines, I guess I am influenced by having been a musician and so rhythm, sequence and flow of language pop into my perception easily.
K: “being on the edge” two very sensitive writings in your dialogue-diary by Darko the “symptoms” like: shorter breaths, stomach spinning in circles, neck pain, always hitting the same spot; by Martin: edge between borders/and margins…a non-place… How did you build the “edge situation” in the performance and which other important states you remember during the progress? How could you use them?
D: The edge situation stands for the accumulation of our every day reality. What does it mean to be in ‘perfect’ control when so many things are not as they are supposed to be? How does the isolation or togetherness or repetition or slowing down/speeding up help this endless process of continuous loops of standing on the edges of a potential breakdown. What builds itself and what breaks, what grows and what shrinks. What fades away or remains as a permanent scar.
M: In the performance the edge was re-build visually, lines and traces were marking the edge, physically the pins scratching on my skin produced an edgy feeling of being between to distinctly different perceptions: between feeling pain as I would normally receive and the notion that my body is a material to draw on, which numbed the pain. It was also quite edgy to allow for the presence of the audience to enter my concentration while carrying out tasks I had planned.