The Avant-garde in the Classroom: reenacting – learning – performing

15.28 - esther

“that’s a good point to end on”

15.24 - esther

One participant after the other adding to it, building a sculpture together.

15.22 - esther

Next exercise: do something with yourself visually in relation to the square.

15.21 - esther

“I think we had enough of this”, says John, not finishing the exercise.

15.20 - esther

This gets too complicated to describe. What would you do with a plastic cup, a string and a dowel?

15.19 - esther

Now the plastic cup, the string and the dowel are all together in the square. Same task.

15.17 - esther

John talks about the belief that everybody is creative that came up in the 60s.

15.17 - esther

Responses: lying down on the floor, face down, trying to move string with the nose; standing above the string with splayed legs, then pick up the string and holding it straight in front of legs; hiding the string in the sleeve and trying to get it out through the other one (it gets lost on the way – oh, here it is again); making the string as small as possible; tying it to the show lace (oh, it is difficult to get it off again), letting it disappear in the cleavage and letting a necklace appear (oh, the string is lost again in some top), using it as a skipping rope.

15.08 - esther

Now there is a piece of string in the square.

15.07 - esther

Responses: lying down on the floor, head on the cup; kneeling in front of it, taking it up with the mouth, making gulping noises; trying to blow it across the square; getting it to stand askew on one side; kneeling in front of it and breathing into it; placing it in one corner of the square and standing outside the square, opposite the cup and pointing at it; and I missed one while checking if the blog is still working; sitting down and balancing the cup on the palm of the hand.

15.00 - esther

Now there is a plastic cup in the square, same task.

15.00 - esther

Now, I understood – the wooden stick was a dowel. They were not allowed to change the nature of the dowel.

14.58 - esther

Heike sits in the middle of the square and uses the stick as a kind of drum stick on the floor. Phil gets on his knees, takes one end of the stick into his mouth, the other end touches the floor, John bashes the stick on th floor, Richard holds it upright, I think he is trying to get it to stand, another workshop participant measures the line of the masking tape with the stick, Gareth stands on it, hands on the floor and lets it roll. Do these descriptions make sense to you? I tried…

14.53 - esther

Next exercise: sitting in a circle of chairs, in the middle on the floor is a square marked out with masking tape. Shall we start, asks John. In the middle of the square is a wooden stick. Each workshop participant should an action in these parameters, an action that does not change the nature of… I do not understand of what.

14.46 - esther

Memories are exchanged, names are dropped… But now we start doing exercises again.

14.40 - esther

Political dimension to the work was always important, says John.

14.38 - esther

John tells how times significantly changed in the late 60s though they themselves did not have a real sense for it – They were just bored with sitting behind their desks and doing colour exercises.

14.36 - esther

About Cardiff then: docks were a no go area for most of the students.

14.34 - esther

Videos of “Colour Experiments”: Performative actions evolved out of the rigid colour courses that were mentioned before.

14.32 - esther

More black and white photographs are being shown.

14.31 - esther

Heike asks about the students’ reactions towards the art action course as they came to Cardiff to study sculpture or painting. John says they were polarized.

14.24 - esther

Memories of the ICES Music Train – a train from London to Edinburgh to York, full with artists carrying out happenings and performance – a performance art train!!!

14.18 - esther

“I think this may have been…”

14.17 - esther

John looks at the slides with documentation of his work: “These are just random things”.

14.16 - esther

John talks about his scores for his “object music” – reading out names of different objects in random order, accompanied by drum beats.

14.14 - esther

John remembers a huge amount of humour in the work at that time. Humour important to performance art!

14.12 - esther

John reads out a memory of an early performance by Keith Woods.

14.07 - esther

Influences: John Cage, Allan Kaprow, Yoko Ono and beginnings of Joseph Beuys. At that time information on these artists was only slowly coming to Cardiff.

14.05 - esther

Trying to shift from the art bit to the work bit.

14.05 - esther

There is something lovely about watching somebody doing something.

14.03 - esther

Their work as reaction against theatre, against acting, against pretending.

14.03 - esther

“One-week Action” (autumn 1968) with Keith Woods: determing actions of the day through cards (cards look like business cards). Suggested a way of working. The slides make it easier for me to get names etc.

14.00 - esther

The importance of attention – that is what it was about: getting themselves and others to watch things more carefully.

14.00 - esther

Now there are memories of the late 60s being exchanged. John talks about an action piece he did in June 68, the first student performance at Cardiff, he thinks. Connected keys of a piano with nylon strings to plants close to the piano, that started moving.

13.57 - esther

John talks about somebody called Tom, who apparently liked highly structured courses. Apparently in the first year there was a colour course where you learned mixing colours. A lot people did not like it, but John liked it for its discipline and for being repetitive. But in the second year there was some protest against this rigidity, this formalized course and John describes how they got interested in actions – a shift initiated by students!

13.52 - esther

Now a bit contextualisation by John. There is powerpoint slide: “Actions & (non)Performances… a brief history. A footnote to a footnote.” John talks about his time at Cardiff Art School.

13.43 - esther

short “comfort break”

13.40 - esther

Different quotes on language. Wittgenstein: they can never be surprises in logic, then something about language. Then Heidegger. Then Fergus Kerr (I did not get the name). Wittgenstein again: philosophy as a critique of language, to understand a sentence is to be prepared for one of its uses, meaning is use.

13.37 - esther

Now the group repeats John’s words, they all start with s: snake, snail, snotty, snore, snow, snough, snut, snack, snail, snare, snatch, sneer, sneeze, snip – different ryhythms, different speeds. Can you imagine the sound?

13.35 - esther

Next exercise: still sitting opposite each other, saying 1, 2 together, each couple adds a number, so first it’s 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2 – then 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 – then with 4 and 5.

13.32 - esther

Next exercise: two people sitting opposite each other, saying: “big”, “bad”, “dog”, one couple after the other:  “big”, “bad”, “dog”, big, bad, dog, big, bad, dog, big, bad, dog, big, bad, dog, big, bad, dog, big, bad, dog. Like a ping-pong game. It’s so simple, you have to find a balance between concentration and relaxation – says John.

13.28 - esther

Another Dada text is being read.

13.26 - esther

Reading out a text by Gertrude Stein.

13.25 - esther

Sitting in two rows of  chairs, back to back, passing sounds through the row: first, a kind of snoring or more a long grunt?, now a humming (changing in height and length from person to person), now a “SSSCCCCHHHHH” (like telling somebody to be very quiet, but very long – it becomes more a a kind of whistling through the rows), now “ah”, now “e”, now “uh”, now “oh”, now “ah” again, and “e”, and “e”, and “e”, and “e”, and “e”, and “ah”, and “ah”, and “oh”, and “oh” – and laughter. End of exercise.

13.18 - esther

Next exercise: write down something short to say on a piece of paper, anything, do not let your neighbour see it, then pass it on to your neighbour. Sentences are being read out: “Will be coming for tea?”, “What time is it?”, “The Neath police dismiss it as…” (though I’m sure I heard that correctly), “I hope I do not smell too much”, “This is not very short”, “Waking and sleeping are the two best things.”, “Hanging from an icicle”.

13.14 - esther

John explains how they often read out texts during workshops and then reads two texts:  first one by Hugo Ball, then one by aboriginal groups in the North West Territories. Different sounds and versions of “dada”.

13.12 - esther

The spirit of Wittgenstein was with us at that time – says John.

13.12 - esther

Passing on other sentences: The rose has no teeth, the horse has no teeth. Then the sound “Ha” or more “a He”.

13.10 - esther

Sitting on chairs in a row, passing on the sentence through the row: “How are you today?”, then back through the row. Each time the emphasis is on a different word: first how, then are, then you, then today.

13.08 - esther

Remembering:  20 students in a line, walking along the line, shaking each student’s hands, very slowly, until they got to the end of the line, then going back again, until people could not stand it anymore.

13.06 - esther

Time becomes a material substance, John says.

13.02 - esther

Still doing the exercise, it is very silent in the space. I hear the lights and hardly dare to type.

13.00 - esther

The first exercise: Sitting still on a chair, hands flat on the knees (palms down), standing up, slowly walking three steps, stop, turning around, walking three steps back to the chair again, sitting down again, the same way as before. Each of the workshop participants, one after the other, is doing this exercise. Because as John says they were interested in repetition at that time.

12.56 - esther

John says that he will try to do exactly what he did then, even if he does not remember why he did it.

12.52 - daniel

We’re in Chapter’s studio for an experiment. Heike Roms has invited John Danvers who, in the early 70s, was engaged in experimental approaches in art and performance education in Cardiff, to reconstruct from notes some of the exercises of the time.

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