Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Sunday, 25 June 2017

twenty short performance papers

20 Short Performance Papers (amino essays) 

64pp hardback book, published by amino (2004)




1 preface
2 artist talks (part one)
3 gasp/jump text
4 breathe me
5 enthusiastic bodies/quiet bodies
6 trembling and disappearing
7 looking at looking
8 demonstrative
9 i was dancing (fragment)
10 watching dancing

11 some questions about dancing
12 watching watching
13 hearts and minds: digressions
14 artist talks (part two)
15 lying
16 artist talks (part three)
17 artist talks (part four)
18 citings from emails and a translation (and a word
about nakedness)
19 bodyweights
20 postscript

3 gasp/jump text
The starting position is like a preparatory move. Waiting to begin. Low, here - like
this, both hands - arms held behind, like a bird, like a diver; something like the
moment that comes just before take off.
Here is the bracing position of the swimmer, crouching down, poised ready to let fly,
to dive in and start swimming. But instead of flinging the body forwards the
movement sends the body backwards, upper body flexed and leaning forwards,
while jumping away, jumping backwards, with only the arms flying forwards, hands
last to follow, as if backwards is downwards and jumping away is like falling away
(the image as if from a movie scene, falling down a lift shaft or sucked through a
space craft airlock into outer space) while still reaching (for a hand to save).
Reaching towards while moving away from the start place.
Arms open, hands open, as if there were something or someone to clasp onto.
Hanging just a moment in mid-air. Not diving in and not flying forwards. Falling
backwards. Blown backwards. Back turned towards the direction of the movement

A sharp intake of breath. Gasping for breath as if the breath has been knocked out
and now the only option is to take in air after an emptying out of the lungs;
drawing breath.
Arms open, mouth open, throat open; a gasp.
Breathing in and in and in with each jump, launching the body away. Lungs filling
with the movement of air. Entering the spaces on the inside, the inside side of the
skin, the side that faces in, where the sound of the air shoots in, filling narrow cavities
and swelling surface areas to volumes that move bones. Breathing out and out and
out with each fall into gravity and the ground. Grounding. Falling into line. Landing a
short distance away, behind the starting position, returning to the half-crouch, arms
tucked behind, re-assuming and imitating the initial body-gesture; the re-set,
reiterating the pose, before moving off, launching and leaving the ground again.
Momentum swings the arms forwards, contrary to the direction of the momentum
of body mass jumping backwards and integral to the opening up and closing down
logic of the whole move and its particular, peculiar motion.
Breath becomes bound to movement. Breathing necessarily interrupts the trajectory
of the gesture, forming, spacing and punctuating its choreography. Inhaling a sharp
new breath. Exhaling a soft expiration of now-used-up breath. Air enters the body
through a closing throat on a perceptible gasp of resonating vocal chords as the feet
leave the floor, so quietly. Air exits the body as the weight sounds heavily into the
floor and the release of breath empties like a loud sigh misting onto a mirror surface.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Writing: early text fragments from 'How the sun lights the earth'

TEXT FRAGMENTS  -  May 2012 / December 2014

How the sun lights the earth / twilight talk

moon light
[song - mic
script - as if a ‘read through’
chair in front of boom?
torch? holding the snapshot photo?]

Scene One / Part One

She begins with these words:
In this part of the world, at the end of each day, the solar system gives us the setting of the sun. Somewhere out to the west, not necessarily visible but perhaps in some way always present in our imagination, the nearest giant star sinks below the horizon. This is a moment in the day when many things still shift - we go home, we switch on electric lights, and sometimes we sit down in theatres.

She tells us she is writing a Play about the unspeakable power of the sun and the feeling of not having a life story to tell. She thinks to herself: even if there were a life story to tell, how would she choose the words and besides, who would be telling who’s story?
The research and study into the sun is an inspiration and has only added to the questions about ‘life stories’ and the telling of them. Reading about the science of the sun and how it lights the earth leads to feelings of invisibility. The story of the sun, so gigantic, so  incredible, can easily obliterate any other story. Perhaps the story of a life lived on the Earth, in the presence of the Sun is becoming a tale of learning how to disappear.
The teaches us how to stand and sleep in shadows and how to disappear.
How to leave this planet and the life long skills of moving around in gravity and casting shadows.

she realises that she is not too sure really what a Play is.
bad actress/lazy dancer?
She has observed that Plays for one actor - 1 Act, 3 Scenes.

At one point the main character says: ‘Gonna tell this life story if it kills me.’
or, ‘We’ll live this life to the full, if it’s the last thing we do..’

At the end of a performance, or sometimes even at the end of a scene, the lights go down
it’s similar, not the same as, but similar to, how the sun lights the earth, except, when the sun goes down - whether it is a brief or long twilight (depending on factors such as how near to the equator or  what time of year it is) - outside the theatre, the sunlight is in fact simply moving; moving on to light up another place.

She has not yet finished writing the Play.
She finds imagines an early ‘read through’, script in hand, but she can never imagine any actual rehearsals...

She attempts to deal with some unfinished business
some things don’t fit, they are left over from several previous unfinished projects
but they somehow stick
the very sturdy walking boots - the idea of ever wearing them in seems impossible...
remembering the man who knows he is dying, looking in the window of a shoe shop and realising the pair on his feet will no doubt walk him out of this world...
a song - she is not too sure about
a tambourine - not a solo instrument
a roll of aluminium kitchen foil used as a stand-in for NASA foil as part of a representation of the Apollo 12 mission’s Solar Wind Composition experiment (the SWC) on the surface of the Moon in 1969. The experiment involved the foil standing on the moon catching particles from the solar wind, which hit the foil before being bundled up and brought back to earth for analysis.

During this scene of  NASA foil re-enactment she finds, in her pocket, by chance, what is soon revealed as ‘the last shopping list of a dying man’.

O Juice
The kind of short list of the main staple items in regular need of replacing, perhaps a list written weekly or twice weekly, so in fact a number of lists for shopping on the same wallet or pocket sized piece of paper..
Loo P (not T.Rolls)
Crumpets, bananas (once appearing as bamanas)
Guiness (?)
The list repeats, with slight variations, a repetition that reads, out of context as something now rather urgent

In another part of the Play, she is standing in a dim light holding a photograph, as if posing for a her own photo to be taken. But the point isn’t that the viewer can make out the photograph in her hands. The photograph is held by her as a kind of gesture. It is presented as if for a purpose, in the manner that some family photographs sometimes used to be decorated, written on, added to, adorned in some way - with a lock of hair for example - placed in a special frame, or even kept enclosed in a box. These informal, home-made kind of keepsake or memorial memento was perhaps kept on display in the home, and even re-photographed, shown being held in someone’s hands. That second photograph was less intended to show the someone or something being remembered, but was created to show the remembering, the person and people doing the remembering.

She thinks this was quite common in the early 20th century and even late 19th century. She read about this somewhere, she has never actually seen or experienced these kinds of things..

light fading down - natural twilight..

She tells us about a dream that takes place in moonlight
she knows that at night time the cells of the eyes work differently, adjusting by shifting the way of seeing to accommodate the low light, taking everything to gray
in the dream the moon light is so strong, it casts shadows
the dream is heavy with the sensation of how the darkness of night takes over differently to daylight - the night feels like another place that she never quite gets used to being allowed to enter.

she knows her body clock or circadian rhythms are continuing, always there even when she’s not aware, or often not felt until she is tired or has become unable to sleep

This makes her think of something she read about
interoception - some people feel their own heart beating
exteroception - the perception of the outside world and environment through the senses and is for most people clearer..

She dreams that it is night, she finds herself, cast in the role of the Dreamer, her own body walking down an alleyway, in a city
broken glass, clear glass, scattered around on black pavements, stone steps leading to a porch
she doesn’t know how she is let in but as she enters the building there are rooms, a corridor, and in a small room there she finds a man.
He is sitting on a chair, light falls onto his back, which is kind of hunched. He is seated, facing toward the right, facing a wall
He appears to be middle aged, not old, not young, but quite strong, something about the the shape of his right shoulder, under the shirt, tells her that if she reaches out to place a hand on the shoulder, it would be warm to the touch.
The shirt is cream coloured, a cotton quality, or mixed fibers..
She doesn’t know for sure whether or not she does reach out her hand - they say you can’t see your own hands in a dream - or both hands.. or is it: you can never see both your own hands in a dream - do they say that?

right shoulder
skin and muscle flesh
And now she can see that the man has bare feet
At some point she, the Dreamer, puts some socks on his feet
This is a particular moment
not like putting on her own socks, or even like putting socks on a child
The man’s feet are cold
the dreamers hands are warm
it’s not clear when, but some time before or after this moment,
the dream has allowed her to know that the man in the chair does not have a head, or his head is not visible to her

it’s not clear if it is before or after the socks but another image from this part of the dream comes into focus
In another room there is a different figure of a man, or the same man but another version, old, not yet frail. He is also sitting, facing the Dreamer and looks up, this time not headless, but the face quite aghast and all she thinks is why is that angle poise desk lamp shining in my eyes? She thinks about asking him to adjust the lamp

Part Two?
Wolf Man?
Berlin bar dream
rock star, singer songwriter
we talk about rock stars and dreams
we tell him we love the song... it is time for a good feeling...
track 9
[putting the boots on..]
light fading up
[no mic
walking and talking? or walking no script?
speaking and moving at the same time...]

Scene Two / Part Two

We were talking about time and again we turn our attention to worlds far beyond our internal selves...
If we were writing a Play - Time/Place/Action (3 unities in a Play) what where when.
How are these used..?
Even The Tempest, c.1610, takes place all on one island on the same day, and can be played in the real time of the play itself - but even this has shifts in time and place...
This might have been mis-heard or mis-understood - maybe this isn’t true?

The Tempest has some very good stage directions:
SCENE. - A Ship at Sea; an island.
SCENE I. On a ship at sea. A tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning heard.
... (eg: Enter Mariners, wet.)
[ would they be actually wet?]
SCENE II. The island. Before Prospero’s cell.
(eg: ACT II.
SCENE I. Another part of the island
SCENE II. Another part of the island
ACT III.....)

Towards the end of SCENE II, ACT I:
Re-enter ARIEL, like a water nymph.
Re-enter ARIEL, invisible, playing and singing;
FERDINAND following him.
[...you can do that - the presence and behaviour of other actors would show us his invisibility, but that is his stage direction to perform, invisibility..]

While he performs being invisible,
ARIEL sings - his most famous lines:
...Full fathom five thy father lies;
    Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
    Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them, - Ding-dong, bell.


[solar wind - aluminium foil (pocket) - sun in her hands..]

ARIEL, the airy Spirit also gets to tell how he “flamed amazement” in his dance of light on board the ship in the storm during the first scene of The Tempest, his performance of what sailors then called Saint Elmo’s Fire, refers to the phenomenon of light clinging like haloes to objects during storms.
History tells us that on 2nd September 1859 the whole of Earth was described in many eye-witness accounts as having been covered in sightings of Saint Elmo’s Fire and extensive displays of the aurora lighting up the night skies, much farther from both the poles than usual.
Now, science tells us, that these phenomenon are due to the Earth’s magnetic field and how the earth’s atmosphere also exists within and is affected by the Sun’s own atmosphere..
There would have been little light pollution from cities in the mid 19th Century, so the populations around the globe who saw these extraordinary displays of lights in a cloudless sky could have a clear enough view. There were of course no satellites in the upper atmosphere but apparently these geomagnetic storms did knock out telegraph systems and cause other disruptions for compass equipment and some machinery.
The story of that Victorian era event seems to describe an image of the world in a moment of shared experience, though at that time not explained, of living in the realm of an incredible power. 

Just the day before, 1st September 1859, a solar flare was observed close to a large sunspot by the astronomer Richard Carrington and he later arrived at the idea of a possible connection to the cause of the  following day’s electrical discharges on Earth.
He, like many others, spent years of his life observing the sun’s surface and tracking sun spots, projecting images through a telescope onto a piece of card and then carefully drawing by hand what he saw on the face of the sun.
To study the sun and its phases of sun spots and activity, to record the patterns emerging, now known to be occurring in roughly 11 year  cycles, is to play a brief part in recording only a few pulses for following generations to add to the longer chart of observations of the massive ball of gas, a 100 times larger in diameter than the Earth, that we call our sun..
We consider it to be our sun, maybe because we know that the heat from so far away
is the reason we have this heat in our bodies

We talk about the sun..
our bodies and those near to us are connected to the far far away warmth of the body of the sun

weather is the transfer of heat from one region to another
space weather - the effects of how the Earth is existing inside the Sun’s atmosphere
Earth’s magnetic field - new
more than geomagnetic storms
[my own performance notes/kind of stage direction here say: Enact ? Solar Wind experiment ? or the birth of the sun ?]

And, what we call our sun is a typical star, one of about 100 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, it is itself about 4.5 billion years old when it was formed out of the gas and dust called the solar nebula
in one sense we are truly made of star stuff - the solar nebula was made from the remains of a dead star - which is great........

the gravitational pull of the solar nebula (accretion: a self sustaining process) forms the proto-Sun (proto, Greek for first). This grows bigger and bigger, its increasing mass strengthens, its gravitational attraction pulling more and more material to itself. Gas and dust gather and gravity forces it closer together, increasing its density (the amount of material in a given volume). The pressure inside the proto-Sun increases, more material is accreted, density and temperature increase and when the critical temperature is reached and thermonuclear fusion occurs, then the star is born.
“The star becomes stable when there is a balance between the force of gravity pulling material into it and the force due to the pressure of the gas pushing out. This is called hydrostatic equilibrium. [...] The sun’s energy comes from thermonuclear reactions in the core... some of this energy eventually makes its way to the surface and propogates out into space as electromagnetic radiation.”

some of us fear mathematics but if we study the sun the fear of maths becomes the very least of any fears
science fiction and stories of the pull of a massive dying sun

Part Two isn’t everything we hoped for...
[sun, shopping list, boots..

sun light

Scene Three / Part Three

In the photograph the sun is shining. There is a house. The square shape of the house seems to fill most of the square of the snapshot photograph. It is a small hut, a chalet, at a holiday camp. The sun is shining in 1974. The man is wearing sunglasses and you can see the shadow of his left arm on the front wall, and something of the girl’s shadow between them where they are both sitting on the front step. The shadow of their pretend home is just touching the wall of the next chalet along. The holiday house seems to you like a drawing of a house, the windows and door have that look which shows, well, how a house is.. like a face.
If the windows are eyes and the door is a mouth, then the girl and the man are sitting in front of the open mouth.
The girl is scrunching up her eyes in the sun (the man is wearing his sunglasses).
The sun is behind the person taking the photograph and you realise of course you know who that is.
You remember the beach nearby.
You remember that t-shirt.
You don’t remember sun creme.
You don’t remember very much sun burn then. Just a little - nose, back of the neck maybe, tops of shoulders - and that been on the beach all day feeling.... socks on sandy cool feet
You don’t remember most people worrying about the sun back then.
The photo shows the usual expression - the scrunched up eyes and that child gesture of the raised shoulders, narrowing the chest, being smaller somehow. Somewhere between giggling and cringing.
It’s you but it’s not you.
It feels like you.
And it’s just thoughts..
The faces of the girl and the man are not very clear. The sun is high in the blue sky, the shadows are not yet very long. Later in the slow August evening, as the sun sets, the shadows will be quite long in this part of the world.

Today the sun set at around ---pm in this part of the world. Actual twilight, the fading of the day into night-time took another half an hour at least.
If you were near a window you would have felt it, even if you didn’t see it

But you are so used to it
it’s not that you never notice it
you don’t need to go and watch the sun setting to know that it happened
it’s a feeling - a time of day - like going home time

Re-enter ARIEL, invisible, playing and singing;
FERDINAND following him.
ARIEL sings.

Writing: Dear Us 2007

Writing: Dear Us 2007  -  in response to performance work by Kira O'Reilly

Dear us           

by Fiona Wright

Written for Untitled (Syncope) by Kira O'Reilly
April 7th 2007        
(SPILL Festival London)
Dear Kira,

you’re asking me about writing about dancing.

Years ago, I wrote:

We write to each other about ease  and  anxiety and the pull between them in a performer’s body... remembered traces, documented versions and imagined, planned, projected, new manifestations. Our bodies are also more than these things. 1

And this was the conversation across the years, our uncertain bodies opening up, entering into the movement of performance time, then looking back at it. Looking back over it and even just looking for a way back. Finding a way back to everyday time and night time – a way through this. Looking for other ways to have this body.

Dear Kira,

you ask me to take the art to the page.

I can’t seem to think straight.

I open the book and I read:

Suddenly time falters.
First, the head spins, overcome with a slight vertigo. It is nothing; but then the spinning goes wild, the ears start to ring, the earth gives way and disappears, goes away . . . Where does one go?2

Dear Kira,

you ask me, what did I see? And I remember how we all stood in the dark to wait and watch. A crowd, a group body observing this solo body heading our way. She is a dim light approaching us slowly. She is carrying a light and she is changing this space, simply by arriving.
    We watch the skin of the back of this woman reversing towards us, looking back at us, looking at us in the mirror.

My words, writing about my performance, years ago, here again, for this moment:

This is how women check their faces in order to survey the crowd in the dance hall. This is how prisoners keep an eye on activity in the corridor. Seeing around corners. I am looking over my shoulder...3

Dear Kira,

you speak about reflection and I recall recognitions. You are thinking about documentation and departure, asking for our remembering in writing as a way towards “some new ground or even groundlessness...”
    Ways to tell about disappearing and continuing.
    What does this remind me of?

It’s been ricocheting around my head –
feeling someone else’s movement by looking.

- so I can’t see it and be sure of it
as I struggle for words 4

There was something that you wrote to me that I then wrote down. Your words used by me, years ago. And here, your words used by you:

the you and the i
the you and the eye

she advises: don’t spill.
you do all your spilling in the work.

falling, shifting, losing my ground.
a wound. unwound. unwinding. 5

Something you wrote. Funny mentions spilling. Sounds like maybe something I would say.

Dear Kira,

I can see you love this dancing that you’re making. You know what to do. Sensation is the image.

Choreography is so much like writing.

I’ll write you a poem then. Now. Here:

the back of a woman reversing towards us
carrying a mirror
walking slow, backing off, but in our direction
backing towards a moment of stepping into the light

light stepping
carrying the light
carry the fire
and then I think:
carry the fire
there will be others
but in the meantime
until then
trust no-one
travel only at night
and keep off the road

carry the mirror
towards a moment of appearing
changing this space simply by appearing
skittering across the stone floor
lurching behind walls
scattering the crowd
changing space by disappearing

and the back of a woman arching
white skin
black hair
and dancing
bloody heels
an untitled dance
bloody heels
one body or two bodies?
bloody heels
what words attach to this?
bloody shoes
is this body bloody angry?
and what does this remind me of?

Dear Kira,

I copied this out for my notes on lying and syncope – I’ll it wrote it down here for you too:

Physical time never stops. That may be, but syncope seems to accomplish a miraculous suspension. Dance, music, and poetry traffic in time, manipulate it, and even the body manages to do that by an extraordinary short circuit. . . . People vie to describe the causes of syncope – circulatory, nervous system, neurovegetative; a cure can be found – cardiac massage, smelling salts, a slap. But inside, what is going on?  6

In the final print version the words dance, time and extraordinary seemed to be in bold. Think they were thinking keywords, lexicons, clues, etc. That kind of thing.

Another poem:

we’ve both been reading this

it’s been passing between us
for years now

and the book
that I carried back
across a continent, across an ocean,
I read mainly the beginning and the end and that particular chapter,
which I remember most for its title,
Choosing Night.

Dear Kira,

When I didn’t feel like dancing, I looked for lying in the subject indexes of all my books.

In the Index, immediately above Madame Edwarda and bridging the gap between L and M alphabetically is a rather more obscure reference to Lydwina, Saint – she is on the line below Love in the Western World (Rougement) and above where lying
would have been. The first of three page numbers sends the reader to images of the Saint’s death rather than her life. Mystic bodies offer wondrous physical narratives, manipulating time and, temporarily at least, escaping death even as they move towards it.  7

I look now for untitled in the subject index and it’s not there, so, as I did with lying, I write it in at the edge - as they say, as marginalia – where it would have been – between Two Sources of Morality and Religion (Bergson) on page 173 and Untouchables on pages 172 &190.

Now I find I scan the pages and certain phrases catch my eye, here and there: “..the Untouchables are still impure..” on page 190 and “..exclusion..love at first sight..” on page 191.

And this, she writes:

Renouncing the world is not without influence on the philosophy of the world one has left behind. Renouncing the world produces a reformed perspective on the world; one does not return from the forest the same person as when one entered. And if I think again of syncope, which as I said has a power of protest, here is one of the first manifestations.  8

Dear Kira,

One more poem:

renouncing the world
shaking flesh
two selves
an open soul
bloody soul
fucking soul
once more with feeling
dance, dance, dance

and two more things we wrote to each other - here, I quote me quoting you and me:

It’s fucking amazing.
I’m going to watch it again.
Can’t wait.
My body itself identifies (with) much of it, almost like your actions
were triggering body memories of mine, my muscles literally
straining inside my skin with a weird recognition.
How can I say this?...
At moments I felt like I was watching myself, what is that?

And then:

It is often the less clear acts (like the cutting) that I want to talk about.
And, can you imagine a time when you won’t do this, like this?

And again:

It’s been ricocheting around my head -
feeling someone else’s movement by looking. 9

With love.

1 Wright 2002: 89

2 Clément 1994: 1
3 Wright 2002: 88
4 Wright 2004: essay 18. citings from emails and a translation (and a word about nakedness)

5 O’Reilly 2003
6 Clément 1994: 5
7 Wright 2007: 82
8 Clément 1994: 172
9 Wright 2004: essay 18. citings from emails and a translation (and a word about nakedness)


Clément, Catherine
1994 Syncope: The Philosophy of Rapture, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

O’Reilly, Kira
2003 The You & the I Performance Research 8 (2): 138-139.

Wright, Fiona
2002 uncertain bodies: fragments. Performance Research (On Archives and Archiving) 7 (4): 88-91.
2004 amino essays: twenty short performance papers. Newcastle upon Tyne: amino.
2007 notes on lying and syncope Performance Research (A Lexicon issue) 11 (3): 82-85.


Collaboration links archive: Distant Wars 2013 Becky Edmunds & Fiona Wright

Distant Wars 

an installation 
by Becky Edmunds & Fiona Wright 


Becky Edmunds and Fiona Wright have never physically experienced war. They have lived through a Cold War, the Gulf Wars, a war with Argentina and one with Afghanistan. They heard the stories of long ago wars from their parents and grandparents. They have been looking for suspicious packages on public transport their whole lives. But they have never felt the physical impact of a bomb nor had to listen out for the threat of approaching planes. They don’t even know any soldiers. War has been remote to them, kept alive in their imaginations by a steady stream of images across an increasing array of screens.

Distant Wars is a project that responds to impossible questions about the presence and proximity of war and the impact of remote technology when the action is far away and out of anyone's hands

VIDEO 10:40


Notes from an introduction to the Artist Talk 
 written by Fiona Wright
[....] the frame is always de-realizing and de-legitimating alternative versions of reality, discarded negatives of the official version. (xiii)
Is there another way to act on the senses, or to act from them, that resists both sensationalism and episodic outrage at the limits on the visual imposed by techniques of war waging? (xiv)
Judith Butler Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable?
Speak from the present here, even while giving some background and perspective on the brief history of the work. Bring things closer; more focus on the depth and detail.
Move straight into the work itself, the process. Don’t be distracted.
Look back at the making from where we are now. And look to the audience as they listen and look at this too.
The work approaches the audience and the audience approaches the work and we acknowledge this as the collaboration, as much as our own exchange in working together.
The interaction that is our process as artists making Distant Wars has developed and evolved across years. Yet this is our first collaboration that hasn’t been initiated directly from one of our own discrete projects or particular commissions.
When considering an Artist Talk I find myself writing and speaking with the intention of resisting assumptions of biography and modes of self-presentation. An overview becomes all too linear, explanatory, chronological.
History, I do love. Status, I can leave out.
We offer a collection of thoughts around what feels most vital in the piece soon after it is first shown, beginning to tell something of the story of this work.
We were thinking about what it might be to make a work about war, proceeding from our own histories, the similarity of experience that we can recognise in our early personal memories and political consciousness as we became adults. This point of commonality that we have now as women in our late forties – both born in 1960s England and growing up with a sense of war as only ever in the far distance – this becomes the key to the intention and sensibility of the piece.
We lived through the second half of the Cold War and also during several decades of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The threat of possible nuclear war was linked to a distant society, the looming presence of the Soviet Union, while on these islands British troops were only just over the water in Ulster. There were bomb threats from time to time here on the mainland and occasionally near the cities where we were living as children. Some wars were nearer than others and yet from childhood into adulthood we knew a kind of dual logic. There are always wars but we are not living through a war. ‘Peace in our time’ perhaps only ever meant that there was no World War. We were not living in what was called Wartime – a word that sounded as much like the name of a particular place in my child imagination as that historical time period when our parents had been young during a monochrome 1940s Britain.
We say we have never experienced war directly and yet we are both conscious of having lived in more or less remote relationship to several phases of threatened and actual ongoing wars. At different moments over the years, throughout our lives, we have been acutely aware of this country’s involvement in various wars and also at other times aware of our own ability to choose to be quite detached from that reality. Many times we have felt angry and very opposed to Government, we closely followed International crises and marching on demonstrations. During other periods we might well have been so absorbed with our own youthful lives that we could look away and remain quite out of touch with the developments in a far away war zone playing out on the Evening News.
Years ago I stood on stage and a fragment of text in the solo I was performing included these words: I don’t actually know any soldiers.
We look at each other now and agree, we don’t actually know any soldiers and have had limited connection to anyone in the military.
Sometimes it seems we are all ‘gone to war’ whether we like it or not. I also recognise this in the suggestion that we are somehow ‘conscripted’ by the imagery and the framing of war.
Although the frame initiates (as part of weaponry) or finishes off (as part of reporting) a whole set of murderous deeds, and seeks to subordinate the visual field to the task of war waging, its success depends on a successful conscription of the public. Our responsibility to resist war depends in part on how well we resist that daily effort at conscription. (xiii) Judith Butler
Judith Butler brings forward this idea of the ‘conscript’ as including not only the soldier who is headed for the battlefield. Her focus on the frame connects to questions we have about working with and through certain found images that are from, about or around war. So much of the material we are finding is part of the ‘recruitment’ and is gleaned from the stream of Media that forms an ‘assault on the senses’.
A sound recording of a long paragraph from Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? becomes one of the voices in Distant Wars. We want to hold onto the emphasis on bodily and sensory experience.
The apprehension of the precarity of others – their exposure to violence, their socially induced transience and dispensability – is, by implication, an apprehension of the precarity of any and all living beings.
During our discussions one day Becky handed me this book (Frames of War) and I carried it around with me for weeks, along with several others including, Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control by Medea Benjamin.
Precarious lives are everywhere, inside the frame and outside the frame.
The audiences’ body is outside the frame.
The threat to bodies who are dangerously caught in potential and actual zones of war continues whether they are visible inside the limits of the frame or not.
My ambivalence about Artist Talks and giving an account of myself with any narrated version of what I’m ‘about’ also collides with the experience of reading and writing and researching for this piece. By this I mean, we had a strong and inspiring process, we are pleased by the work and how it has spoken to people. But throughout the time I was regularly sitting on trains having to close the book or watching a video on the Internet and having to close the laptop. So angry. Reminded of so much destruction that is enacted apparently ‘in my name’.
How will we speak? Are we trying to make sense of this?
No, we say we are staying with the not making sense, the not knowing.
Making a response from a place of not knowing how to respond.
Gathering found material, footage and sound, continues while we make some of our own images. With these few small gestures we place ourselves, as the artists, in the frame. A fragile and seemingly insufficient kind of signature amongst the bold images sampled from the vast and endless resource of mainly online materials.
The physical materials look modest in scale, the small iPod screens, the delicate balsa wood boxes and small table. The subject matter contained within seems impossibly heavy. Yet the effects of editing bring peculiarly light touches and space even for the eye to be drawn to the pleasure of colour, movement and music.
War brings with it body counts. Protests against war also by necessity involve body counts. We struggle to see how some people have come to not count, or not count as much. Many individuals and organisations seek to account for the civilian deaths and many people make it their business and life’s work to count the cost of acts of war.
The remote operator of the drone or UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) is often based far away in another country and is not necessarily someone who has ever served in a war zone. They might never have piloted a real plane in combat and yet they will watch a screen, across hours and days in shifts. The operator can see detail at the scene before, during and after lethal attacks that no bomber pilot would ever be able to see. In this way they have a very unique remote experience combined with a clear visual contact.
This was not a piece about drones. Yet all the time we are pulled in that direction.
Drone warfare really has crept up on us.
A possible list for Distant Wars:
counting the miles
counting the thousands of feet
counting the limbs
counting the compounds
counting the missiles
counting the women
counting the vehicles
counting the rifles
counting the protests
counting the soldiers
counting on bad weather
counting on a rainy day or a gust of wind
counting the night flights
counting the missions
counting the bombs
counting the words
counting the hours
counting the shifts
counting the pilots
counting the weddings
counting the minutes
Developed from notes before and after the Artist Talk, 18th October 2013 at Birkbeck School of Arts, London, during Stray Gifts at Dance Umbrella www.distantwars.com

 fragments - notes in process by Fiona Wright 2013

imagine a sound of constant buzzing
you have no control
no way to shut out the noise
n way of knowing
if you will be killed
there is n0o where to be sure of being safe
there is no safe
will a missile be fired
or is it just a buzzing
you heard that they are watching

I’m writing this because there’s very likely not much time left
now that I’m old and most of my life has been lived I keep noticing how I don;t expect to die of old age, even though I have reached a very old age

The air strikes are so numerous now
it’s hard to believe we won’t be hit
i remember when they first appeared - UAVs they called them

It’s worse for younger folk - in every way
The fear, not least the noise
I’m awake more than I’m asleep now anyway
they used to say, well, one of the burdens of old age, time to sleep but now it eludes you
but I can’t tell if I would sleep more if I could find a quiet enough place.
Not that it’s such a big noise - just constant, persistent..

when did we stop ever gathering in a group in the street?
no-one would think of standing around a car together for more than a minute - even to ask directions or to repair the vehicle

it’s just automatic behaviour now - simply not doing what was ordinary or natural before... when did it really change? Seems like it just shifted, like weather, not quite noticeable until it catches your attention
so many way we used to do things differently
now every action is reduced, patterned around the safe routes, safe times,
as if anywhere is safe now days..
sheep tracks and desire paths
now we’d just know they are the only path
scuttling about

“It’s continuous, watching us, especially at night [...] You can’t sleep. You can’t watch television. It frightens the kids. When they hear it, they say, ‘It’s going to hit us.’”

We hear tell of of the operators - I don’t know really where the news comes from. Apparently they still don’t last long, not the human ones anyway. It’s well known. Fast burn out. Another kind of casualty. Burn outs and burned up.
No sense to any of it.
Casualties of war - the damage, collateral they used to say..

Soon, in some regions already it seems, but more and more, we are all sure of it, this will become a dilemma solved by the artificials

The ground crews are mainly engineers, not even soldiers
I remember when we first realised...

Performance links archive : On Lying and Behind Doors

On Lying - solo performance by Fiona Wright

photos: Nelly Rodriguez

photos: John W Sisson

Behind Doors - solo performance by Fiona Wright