YOU MOVE ME is a collaboration between Gemma Riggs (filmmaker), Laura Murphy (choreographer), Melanie Wilson (sound artist), and Jorina Von Zimmermann (experimental psychologist). Filmmed in Northampton (UK) and Zagare (Lithuania), the film encourages us to see dance in everyday movements and to notice uniqueness to the way we move. What we see is a tableau of video portraits of numerous people in their own home, all performing the same, collaboratively-made choreography. Their movements are unified, yet their individual presence is utterly distinctive. It becomes a collaborative chorus of movement and presence. It engages in the notion of synecdoche, where bringing together multiples of the same in turn brings out the unique character of each.
Directing, Cinematography, Editing: Gemma Riggs
Choreography: Laura Murphy
Sound: Melanie Wilson
Release date: 2018
Choreography: Laura Murphy
Sound: Melanie Wilson
Release date: 2018
Artist Interview: GEMMA RIGGS
Interview by Ira Ferris recorded in Zagreb, Croatia on 26 May 2019. DANCE CINEMA jingle designed by Trevor Brown
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GEMMA RIGGS details
IntervieW Transcript: GEMMA RIGGS
Ira Ferris: The reason why I wanted to feature YOU MOVE ME on Dance Cinema is because it challenges and questions what dance is, and consequently what qualifies as dance video. And I think it's an interesting dialogue to open up at the very start of our Dance Cinema project and I would love to hear your views and your perspective on this.
Gemma Riggs: I suppose the first thing to start with is that I come from a fine art and film background. The world of dance and choreography is something that was introduced to me through a series of encounters with choreographers and dancers since 2013. It was a new world to me. So my understanding of dance is really quite limited to these experiences… But the way that it might question what dance is, is its perspective on seeing our everyday movements from a choreographic perspective. Seeing the choreographic potential to how we move in our everyday and quotidian state. It isn't an expressive form of movement. It's a call to invite people to observe and examine our everyday movements with a detailed eye.
Ira Ferris: This seeing of everyday movement as dance tests the boundary between ordinary behaviour and art and it reminds me of choreographers such as Yvonne Rainer who incorporated found movements from daily lives such as walking, running, eating, and talking into her choreographies… And also I'm thinking of Joseph Beuys who said “everyone is an artist”, “everything is art”, and in your case that could be translated in “everything is dance”… And I'm picking this up because you wrote a short manifesto as part of this project and in it you say” “Here's to all of us being dancers, in every moment in every day.” Was that the guiding thought behind this project?
Gemma Riggs: I suppose that reflects this experience I've just described… these encounters with dancers in the last six years and how it opened up something inside of me to really pay attention to my body, and to pay attention to the way I move and to take on that quality of experience. Being embodied, which is something I wasn't really initiated to ever before. So really, these encounters have been a revelation to me and have invited me into the process of a dancer and a choreographer. Invited me to observe my everyday body with this beautiful perspective of being in contact with it. And this is what the project also invites people to do, in a similar way to the artists you just described who also invite people to have this very ordinary revelation that everything can be art and everything can be a beautifully profound experience if we decide to see it that way.
Ira Ferris: On this film, like on many others you have done you have collaborated with choreographer Laura Murphy and it was during yours and Laura's residency in Bucharest, Romania back in 2015 that the idea for YOU MOVE ME sparked. Do you remember what was it that sparked it? Was it something you read or saw or maybe it came through a dream?
Gemma Riggs: We were invited to Bucharest and we started by (as often you do on a residency) wandering the city, wondering our location and observing. And… we lived very close to a park in the middle of Bucharest. In this park there are lots of benches meant for one person to sit in. … My ordinary understanding of a bench is that it probably could sit around three people and perhaps it's a more social sitting place. But we were quite fascinated by the fact that the pavements in this park were lined with these individual seats. And I thought it was a really beautiful thing actually. In a public space they were inviting people to be alone. And that was an intriguing idea that fascinated both myself and Laura and, from my perspective, there's something really enjoyable about being able to be on your own in a public space surrounded by people… So we started looking at these people sitting on their own and being with themselves and the postures and the gestures that they embodied; the drama of these postures was again a revelation.
Ira Ferris: And Laura also wrote a little piece where she talks about observing the conversations between people as well… So partly it was you observing individual people in their solitude but then she also observed conversations between people and noticed that there is a spontaneous choreography when we have a conversation with another person. We spontaneously, almost subconsciously start mimicking or mirroring one another. And that seems something that was her revelation in a way… That there is an everyday choreography to the way we interact with one another.
Gemma Riggs: Yes. Yes. And it's a lovely piece of writing and yeah… And yes, there are these two quite different modes of being right; this kind of connectedness and this isolation. Yeah.
Ira Ferris: And yours and Laura's previous works focused on the body's interaction with the architecture of public spaces. And this was actually the first project that you brought into a private space, and the most private spaces of all – peoples homes. Why was this transition from outside to the inside of interest to you?
Gemma Riggs: Yeah… These benches again… They were probably part of that transition… Like I said before this ability to be private, to be with yourself but within a public space. So there was a link there. And that's I think what triggered it. There's something also about how we are when we're on ourselves, how we are when we're by ourselves and we are released from the dance of interaction and we are released from that performance. If it is a performance.
Something that we'd also been exploring was pace and slowness of movement and that quality of slowness. Because we're asking people to really slow down their movements, but also we ask audiences to slow down they're watching. And within this idea of a private space we could extend that.
Ira Ferris: YOU MOVE ME as I mentioned originated in Bucharest and it was there that you recorded a pilot of a sort which you eventually sent to Catherine Hemelryk who is the Artistic Director of NN Contemporary Art in Northampton. Why was it her that you wanted to send this pilot to?
Gemma Riggs: We had previously spent some time together in a very small and wonderful arts festival in northern Lithuania and since then I'd always noticed her work as a curator and the work of NN. And when I was developing YOU MOVE ME from this original pilot I was looking around for places that I felt might want to take on the project. She was definitely one of those and I contacted her and she happened to be programming a year's worth of exhibitions about portraits. And it was a serendipity actually that I asked for her advice. I sent her the plan of what we were doing and she responded to it with enthusiasm and she wanted to take it on. So it was a nice moment of serendipity.
Ira Ferris: And then with her endorsement you started applying for some fundings and in 2017 you did receive a support from a number of institutions and it was actually these grants that enabled the production of the project and also made it possible for you to add couple more collaborators to the project apart from you and Laura and they were sound artists Melanie Wilson and also experimental psychologist Jorina Von Zimmermann. So tell me a bit about Jorina’s involvement. How did you come up with the idea to involve experimental psychologists in the project?
Gemma Riggs: Well again there's serendipity there, and chance… So luckily because there was space for this project to evolve after this residency in Romania I was really able to make strong connections and think about things properly. So I spent maybe a year developing it and getting things in place. One day I went to a talk at something like a gallery and research space in London called the Welcome Collection, and it is a fascinating place that merges ideas of arts and science, brings these two disciplines together. And I went to a talk completely by chance that Jorina was giving on this theme of social synchrony, and social synchrony is about what happens when bodies move together in sync. So as I was in this talk my mind was exploding and buzzing and firing completely because it just resonated so strongly with what we were doing, and with mine and Laura's previous work. And I made sure I said hi to her at the end of the session and she gave me her e-mail and it started from there and I feel very lucky that she was enthusiastic about taking part. She's been an absolute joy to have on the project and she's become a dear friend.
Ira Ferris: What did her participation involve in particular?
Gemma Riggs: I was keen for her to be very much there in the development of the project, once we had the funding… So I was the driver of the grant and getting the application in, and then from that point on there were four of us that were very crucial to the development of the project: myself, Laura Murphy, Melanie Wilson and Jorina. From that point onwards we spent time together developing the ideas and the concepts and I wanted very much for her to be part of that process, to be within that formation of the idea and for her research to inform it. Also for there to be a balance. So there was a choreographer, a filmmaker, a theatre maker and a sound artist (that was one person). And for this psychologist to come and balance and help us interrogate our work from another perspective.
Ira Ferris: So Melanie is also a theatre maker?
Gemma Riggs: She's a very talented theatre maker. She comes from the world of theater but uses sound in her work.
Ira Ferris: And she's also a long-time collaborator. You collaborated with her and Laura as a team in the past?
Gemma Riggs: Actually that was the first time Laura and her had worked together but I've worked with Melanie for a long time. Yes. We worked together at the Battersea Arts Centre in 2003 I think and I feel like we have quite similar sensitivities and sensibilities to making work. So yes she has been another strong collaborative person in my life.
Ira Ferris: Given the association with Catherine Hemelryk from NN Contemporary Art you have decided to base the project in Northampton and this is where you have addressed your open call to the project's participants. What did this initial open call sound like?
Gemma Riggs: We made a poster and a flyer that had the words YOU MOVE ME in big letters, some images of the prototype we'd made in Bucharest that shows this idea of multiple walls and people in their own domestic spaces. And the provocation was this: “Become part of a new artwork made in Northampton. Join us for a weekend workshop to explore performance, movement and portraiture.”
Ira Ferris: And what was the response like? How many people responded and what was their demographic like?
Gemma Riggs: I think maybe 15 people responded initially. We lost a few as the days went by so I think we had 13 people in the workshop over the weekend.
Ira Ferris: Were they performers or non-performers? Male, female? Older, younger?
Gemma Riggs: Yeah. So there was a mixture. As you would expect, there was a fairly young weight to the people that came, so people in their early 20s. But there was also a more mature woman who was a drama teacher in school. There were some artists. There were some people who were very interested in dance and who had never had experience of it. And there was a boyfriend that had been brought along that didn't have any experience in art at all. So yes we made the call to as wide an audience as possible. We did try to get this wide audience. It's not always easy.
Ira Ferris: Did they know they will need to open doors of their houses?
Gemma Riggs: Once they had expressed interest I sent them some more information on the project so I gave them a really succinct summary of what we were expecting the whole process to be. But within that, I wanted to make sure that if people wanted to take part in this initial workshop we weren't going to force them to become part of the artwork. So we wanted to make everything a choice and for this to be a really democratic and open and non-pressurised process. So in the end six people chose to follow on to that next process. Again, these things as they unfold made new restrictions in the work. So before that we hadn't had this idea of six. But after that the number six became important and very strangely workshop in Lithuania probably had a very similar number of people and in the end six people continued.
Ira Ferris: So six was the number chosen… serendipity again…
Gemma Riggs: Exactly.
Ira Ferris: Does serendipity play role in your work as an artist in general?
Gemma Riggs: I think it has to, especially if you're working with communities and people because you really have no control over those things and the wider world. And as much as you can try - and I fallen into the trap of trying to control the world to fit around an artwork that perhaps I want to make - you can't. And you have to go with this process of unfolding of this narrative of how you interact with people and allow the people that come in and the situations that come in to make the next step in the work.
Ira Ferris: Coming back to workshops... What was their format like and who was in them apart from the participants? Was it Melanie, Laura, Jorina, and you?
Gemma Riggs: Exactly, yes. These initial workshops were led by myself, Melanie Wilson, Laura Murphy, and Jorina, and they were really meant as an introduction to the concepts in the work and to really involve people in the work from a very base point. So they were a process of trying to convey the ideas that we were working around and introducing the participants to each of our respective ideas and our respective disciplines. So, Laura is a wonderful teacher and she ran a great workshop about coming into your body, kind of a choreographic workshop and then of taking this idea of everyday movement further. Melanie Wilson who has a theater background was using the creation of stories through our bodies. The exercise was a five-word story where it was about gesture and showing big concepts through a gesture in creating this narrative. And Jorina presented her ideas around social synchrony so that that was very much something that they could engage in. And we also went out into the street. There was an element of observation, of taking the ideas of everyday movement and encouraging people to start to take on this new perspective of observation; taking on this quality of seeing. So it was a process where we wanted to co-devise with the participants, we wanted them to spark off the ideas that we were working with and then bring in their own observations and thoughts and ideas so that together we could co-create this choreography that actually we see in the piece. The choreography started at that point.
Ira Ferris: And how was this choreography that you devised in Northampton with the participants different than the one that you used for the pilot in Bucharest?
Gemma Riggs: It was about it becoming this collaborative process with these particular participants. So in Bucharest Laura devised the choreography and simply asked people to perform it, whereas we wanted to take on this really participatory approach. So we started from scratch again and through these workshops we invited people to bring in movements and to create this new choreography that was really about them and what they were seeing.
Ira Ferris: How long were the workshops?
Gemma Riggs: We spent two days together and, you know, obviously it was a relaxed approach. We had lunch together; there was time for talking, there was time for sharing and yeah… But within these two days we had set the choreography actually.
Ira Ferris: And what happened then, after the workshops were done? How much later have you actually went into those six participants homes and recorded the material?
Gemma Riggs: We went in straight away. It was important to kind of respond to these workshops straight away so at the end of the workshops we started to make a plan of when people were available. So you know people have their lives to get on with, they've got work and so we created this small schedule of when people had a three-hour window, a minimum of three hour window where we could visit them with the equipment and do this recording. So I think it was roughly two days later that we did the first one and obviously the first one was the most difficult – a new situation. But yeah like I said there was this notation and this choreographic score that Laura developed. We spent two days developing that so we could go in.
Ira Ferris: So three hours in each participant's home?
Gemma Riggs: Ideally we were longer because this process of going into people's homes… is part of the experience and part of the work is this connection and being invited to people's homes is a very intimate scenario. So there's a lot of talking and enjoying each other's company. Just as important part of it as taking this recording… This idea of not just kind of extracting and taking from people but this potential to share this time with each other.
Ira Ferris: And also making them comfortable and safe in this environment and entrusting their semi-performance still in a way, although it's about everyday movement but the camera is still there and you're still conscious of that and you need to feel comfortable with that camera eyes staring at you.
Gemma Riggs: Exactly that. Yeah exactly that…
Ira Ferris: And talking about this thing, once you're aware that there is a camera in the room, whether you want it or not you become a performer and you start thinking well there will be lots of people potentially seeing this … And on the other hand the whole premise of the project was to show everyday movement, the spontaneity of the way we move. Did you need to use some particular technique and methodology to minimize the performance?
Gemma Riggs: I suppose there was this…. We recorded roughly three sequences with each person - a minimum of two and sometimes we recorded four. So as you see there are three iterations and there are combinations. So we'd set a number of variables that we would record with each person… They were eight minutes long and I think the thing really was to engage this idea of slowness and inviting them to slow down, you know inviting us to slow down despite all of this kind of setup. Laura is very good at kind of leading people into a performative state, a sense of meditation and there was this idea of counting and she gave the instructions at exactly the right points very accurately timed. Yeah I think that's it really; it's about leading people to come into their bodies and be present.
Ira Ferris: How did you go about choosing the space within their houses or apartments where you would stage the scene in? Or was this an option that you gave them to choose - the space that they feel most comfortable in, or the space that represents them best, the space maybe that they spend most of their time in? And also I'm aware that in choice of space there could have been some technical aspects that guided the decision of how wide or big, or deep the space is.
Gemma Riggs: Yeah the initial provocation was which space is meaningful to you, and actually that goes back to our workshops when we asked people to describe their own rooms, a room in their house. So there was an element of choice but when it came down to it, it was often down to very practical things. So for example the first lady, Claire who we visited … her family were in the kitchen, having dinner as we were doing this and there was a choice of the dining room or the lounge and… yeah. So it's kind of them presenting something to me in particular and then me kind of saying whether it might work or might not visually and practically. It's certainly about space and you need enough distance. I had a 24-millimeter lens which is actually quite wide and you don't want to get too close with it. Otherwise it starts to distort the image. There had to be enough space and also place where they could sit within the frame all ideally in the same perspective, occupy the same space in the frame throughout all of the settings we went to.
Ira Ferris: And was it just you and Laura in the space with them, Melanie wasn't there at that time?
Gemma Riggs: Yeah. So after these workshops Laura and I took on the rest of the project really in this production phase. It was Laura and myself who went and filmed in both Northampton and Lithuania.
Ira Ferris: And how did the Lithuanian aspect of it came about?
Gemma Riggs: That was also a serendipity and it wasn't in the original plan actually. So after I had received the funding and the go ahead for the projects I was due to take part in the small festival in Lithuania I've mentioned before. And as I was developing this work in Northampton it just struck me that it would be perfect to take it there as well… and their call is very much about community engagement and working with people. So the director of the festival loved this idea and really wanted us to do it. So it was just about making it happen really. So it just made too much sense not to do it in a way, it was too much of an interesting idea to bring in this kind of international element of synchrony and parallel movements even between countries.
Ira Ferris: Across borders …
Gemma Riggs: Across borders, exactly …
Ira Ferris: And those two groups, one in England and one in Lithuania performed the same movements that were devised in the first workshops, or did the Lithuanian ones in their own workshops devise different movements that responded to their particular experiences?
Gemma Riggs: The Northampton workshops were setting lots of variables, so this eight minute form, this base choreography, the code choreography which is the starting one where everyone's very much in sync. So we had to set lots of things then. But in Lithuania we ran the workshops again with Laura taking the lead with those. But it was very much about bringing them in and their lives, and adding to the choreography. So despite them having to follow this form, we invited them through exercises to initiate their own gestures, their own words, their own provocations. And from that we incorporated them.
Ira Ferris: And have you noticed that people move differently across countries, that there is maybe a culture to the way we move, that culture informs the way we move?
Gemma Riggs: I haven't noticed anything really because I suppose it's seeing each one individually you know, it was each person stand out on their own as an individual and maybe I was too caught up in that to notice something broader than that. But I think there are some similarities culturally between the UK and Lithuania and perhaps if we did it somewhere else then we might notice something.
Ira Ferris: Talking a bit about the sound and the choice of sound in the piece. As you said Melanie wasn’t there with you in the space as you were recording, and yet for the majority of the video it seems to me that we hear something that almost sounds like some manipulation of diegetic sounds in the space. So the folly sounds recorded in those particular spaces.
Gemma Riggs: I have some experience in recording sound to a certain extent so I made sure there was some recordings of the environment that we were in and I brought those to her for her to respond to in her own way. I think this starting with the environments of the room, the sounds outside, the kind of creaks and hums and dogs barking and so this kind of atmosphere of local home was a very important thing to start with, especially in this idea of meditation and bringing the audience into this position of listening in a quieter away, in a more detailed way. And as I mentioned before the work has three phases to it, it has three chapters and the sound as the movement starts in a more regular, simplified way with this kind of base choreography. And it only fitted to have the folly, the actual recordings of the sound to kind of picture that, to allow it to settle. to allow this idea to settle. And then gradually Melanie integrates some other recordings.
So for example with a woman called Benedicta who invited us into her home in Lithuania, we ended up spending a long time with her and having a very fascinating discussion about her home, about her family, about Lithuania, about the sentiments around all of these things. And she was very happy for me to record it. And Melanie took that and incorporated that in. And then Melanie brings in a soundscape and she has done a lot of work in creating soundscapes especially for performance. She kind of is a musician really as well. And I suppose the soundscape brings us to a point at the end which is somewhat like a crescendo and it creates an intensity towards the end. So we go from this very quiet place to this place of intensity and I think there's this contrast in this build that takes you on some kind of a journey throughout.
Ira Ferris: Earlier in the interview, I already mentioned the name of Yvonne Reiner who was also one of the first choreographers to take dance into galleries and museums. And your project, as far as I'm aware, has been shown so far in two exhibitions. Was this always the mode of presentation that you have envisioned for the project?
Gemma Riggs: Yeah I think the gallery setting is… has so far at least been the intended way to view this work. So the difference between say a gallery setting and a cinema setting is that in a gallery you can create an installation of this work. So the work is presented in six frames, six independent frames. They’re back to back projected so that they look like they're hanging in space and the frames are nods to the idea of a portrait. So the work is also very much about being a moving portrait. These are moving portraits of people. It would be great to get it outside of a gallery setting too… for example in a public space. I thin that would be another way to present it, and yes it would be great to look into that…
Ira Ferris: Looking at the image from the way that the work was installed in the gallery space, I'm noticing that on the wall at the entrance there is a quote by Mary Patterson who is actually another person that you eventually involved in the project once you have decided to make a publication of the work… So as part of the project you have published the 40 pages long publication and Mary is one of the writers on it and she wrote a really beautiful piece, almost a bit poetic piece but also a semi-political piece on what makes us move. And in it she questions the idea of free movement. Could you tell me a bit more about Mary's role on the project. Why did you want to involve her and what was her take on it?
Gemma Riggs: Yes. So Mary's involvement was actually important. Although she wasn't in this core group, we asked her from the very beginning to be involved. So for example in this first encounter between these four core artists, Mary wrote a series of questions for us to help us interrogate the work and what we were thinking. And Mary is an artist and a writer, I think writing is probably her primary discipline, but she's also a visual artist and she does a lot of work around performance and the performing body. So she was actually a really key person to bring in, as someone who could inform the project and along the way but also respond to it and create this written document that we see here on the wall and in the publication.
Ira Ferris: I'd love to read what she wrote.
"The magic of the screen is that it makes all other technologies, transparent. We all collude in the illusion that what we see is real, as if we could tell the difference between what is real and what is imagined, what is memory and what is fiction, what is the world and what are the scratches of it, crushed into an external drive.
One of you lifts an arm. And so does he. And so does she. And so do I, instinctively. Which is to say, perhaps, imaginatively. Perhaps in a dream or perhaps in a memory. You, who is always moving. You, who is always available. You, who will never look back. Do you remember what made you do it?
The words that arrived from a different time, soft of voice, unassuming in nature, filled with just enough space to lose yourself in. Words that fall like leaves, indistinguishable from dreams, from memories, from feelings. Words that made you move, or words that you moved to.
You, who is being watched at all possible times, in all possible places. Is that still you? Or have you moved on, already? Do you remember what she said? Or do you simply remember how it feels to Move?
Moving is a contentious issue. Not everyone is allowed to move. Sometimes it’s impossible to make a move. Impossible to move one foot, and then the other. Impossible to move the corners of your mouth into a smile. Impossible to move beyond the dreams other people have imagined about the rightful placement of your body.
On the edges of Europe, thousands of displaced people move through life, their days and months and years ticking on like grains of rice counted on an outstretched hand. All the while, Europe builds its walls of words, designed to halt their 'movement'."
Gemma Riggs: That's lovely to hear it.
It's a beautiful piece of writing.
Ira Ferris: So as I was reading this … for me, what Mary's writing here - I mean she's writing about many things, there are many layers of what she is saying: reflection on migration, crossing borders, and how far can we move, and what kind of movements are we allowed to make…. Then there is also another layer that she speaks about… She also questions whether perhaps our movements are conditioned and orchestrated; if nothing else by the fact that we developed the way we move by mimicking our parents, by observing. And that's the thing that maybe Laura was noticing, that we by nature mimic. And if this is how movements develop they are not fully free, they’re condition in some ways by what we have had chance to observe early on in our lives.
What would be your take on that idea of freedom of movement?
Gemma Riggs: So just to reiterate I suppose what you just said about Mary's work and just hearing it again it just resonates so much - these layers of experience that are coming into this writing, from individual to political to historical and reality, and this wonderful kind of layering of all these things. And like you said, this idea of freedom comes into it. And it was really interesting to have her response and bringing in politics.
This work is very much about an individual. So it really expands it. And it really brings something kind of bigger in. But going back to your question and I think what you've asked is this idea of are we free when we move, how free we are when we move. One of the things that I'm very interested in, in my other work as well, is the idea of the internal and external and how the expression of our inner worlds and experiences somehow manifest externally and physically and to a certain extent those inner experiences are both restrictive but also kind of expansive and they're restricting and free at the same time. But I think they always come from somewhere. But this is also where our beauty comes from and the way that we move idiosyncratically and we each move differently because of our layers of experience, because of our history, because of our situation and political context.
Ira Ferris: Have you had a chance to discuss these thoughts and ideas that Mary brings in with participants? For example one beautiful preposition that she has is: “suppose you move before you know what it means.” It would be such a great question to bring up in the workshop. Was there something like that, that was discussed?
Gemma Riggs: Perhaps not so much the content of her piece of writing but one thing that we did at the end of the project, and at the beginning of the exhibition in Northampton was to create a symposium where we invited the people to take part in a new set of workshops and interactions and Mary led a writing workshop where we together created a collaborative poem. So she presented a methodology of writing as a group and together we did that.
Ira Ferris: And who is 'you', for you? Who is ‘you’ in You Move Me?
Gemma Riggs: Yeah. Well, I mean, maybe going back to your previous question about freedom. You know. Perhaps it is about, you know, in terms of interactions and how we're responding and linked and connecting.
Ira Ferris: Another writer in this publication, Benedicta McSherry, writes a bit to that question in the way I'm reading it and she says, well she questions: “Are you inside of me? Are you outside of me? Are you me?”
Gemma Riggs: Yeah. Yeah. That's it. That's the extension of this idea and how we experience each other and, perhaps again linking it back to Mary's writing and this reality of experience and this…. I mean it's a grey area and that ambiguity is also a beautiful thing. So to try and define it is somewhat tricky, but connectivity and relationships and mimicry and finding ways to communicate with each other and be with each other and also even within the work itself, six portraits that are presented to people. People can watch. People can be a voyeur to these people. They're looking straight out of their frames into the audience and how the audience see them. And what's this connection here, and people moving in synch and being together and all of those ideas …
Ira Ferris: It brings to the fore also that thought that we already expressed before, and again coming back to Laura's observations of conversations between people… How responsive our movements are, how much are we mirroring what we're seeing in front of us, as opposed to how fully internal they are to us. And probably with what Benedicta is saying there is all of that … you're outside of me, you are in me, you might be me, you might be something else but I think it's an interesting question. Again you know talking about the everyday movement that almost seems so… we rarely think about how and what makes us gesture in a particular way. It just brings all that… and brings you back into your body, into full consciousness of what is it that creates that movement.
Gemma Riggs: Yeah. Exactly. And then going back to Jorina’s research and this idea of social synchrony, and she did a lot of work around how it creates empathy, how we move together to create empathy and connect … and, you know, that can be taken in quite a negative way if it's in the wrong hands but essentially it's been proven that it creates a sense of cohesiveness and unison between people that isn't about words and statements but in embodied way.
Ira Ferris: In many of your works that you have done in the past and particularly ones that are choreographed with Laura, you have used the multi-frame greed form. What is it that you like about that particular style of showing work and what particular effect it has?
Gemma Riggs: We've been using this often as a filmic forms way of adding choreographic elements. So how you choreograph between these multiple screens and adding kind of editing. It allows a choreography between these elements. Within this work in particular it's quite crucial to the work in that it allows for the social synchrony to be seen, to be evident. But another really important idea in the project was this idea of synecdoche which Susan Ryland who is another artist in the projects and her main role was a writer. I invited her to take part because she explores the ideas of metaphor, autonomy and synecdoche, and I remember going to a workshop led by Susan many years ago where she presented the idea of synecdoche through a tray of butterbeans, so these butterbeans all look the same, right. Butterbean is a butterbean. But when you put them together you are able to see their individual shape, form and nature through comparison. That was a profound moment, a profound creative moment being in that workshop with Susan and I have never forgotten it. So, by placing these multiple screens together and by asking people to form a parallel choreography, on the most parts, and to perform in unison with each other through these restrictions and through this unison we can see the individual qualities of each particular person. These qualities are exaggerated because of this unison.
Ira Ferris: Reflecting a little bit on creative collaborations. And there have been a few collaborators that you said you have collaborated with multiple times but definitely there is Laura who seems to be quite a major and important aspect in your creative process. First of all, how did you two meet?
Gemma Riggs: We met on a residency called ‘emotional bodies in cities’ that was run by a group called Zonade in Romania and they invited visual artists and performers to come together. The residency was in Riga, Latvia and we met in an art center.
Ira Ferris: And was there a particular work of hers that you saw at that point, or something that she said, or a conversation you had that made you think: I want to work with you, we speak the same creative language…. And what is that language that the two of you share?
Gemma Riggs: Yeah, well we wandered the streets of Riga. And as we did so, we were buzzing off the same things and obviously neither of us had been to this new city. Very different architectural structures and you know aesthetic and textures and colors. So it's fascinating anyway. But the more and more time we spent together, the more we realized that we were getting off on the same things. And those things tended to be formal architectural structures, repetitions, patterns, rows of things. These formal aspects that the human body can fit into and slot into. And yeah we really quickly realized that we were drawn to the same things. In a conversation I've recently had with her she remembers us wandering under this railway arch and kind of standing there and both loving this shape and the sound ...
Ira Ferris: And it's that aesthetic sensibility that we share with particular people. So comforting when you come across someone who sees the world in a similar way to you. There is a certain kinship to that.
Gemma Riggs: For sure. And what it does practically I think is really allowing you to develop things. So you have that response on your own. And it kind of stays there and maybe you do something with it. Maybe you kind of extend it, but if there is someone else there then you can start really having a conversation. So you're both kind of providing each other with this energy force and this dialogue and this critical process that you can really push something with, so creatively it’s so nourishing.
Ira Ferris: Yeah and it gives you a bit of safety and support and somebody to lean on because often when you have creative ideas you can also doubt them. You can feel alone and having somebody who supports that is a really beautiful process.
Gemma Riggs: Yeah. Yeah. And drive it, drive it forward.
Ira Ferris: And you also said something along the lines that Laura is a choreographer who thinks as a visual artist, and you’re a visual artist who thinks like choreographer.
Gemma Riggs: Yeah I really think that that's true actually and that somehow we're able to meet each other. We don't come from each other's disciplines but somehow we were able to cross over a little… Laura does a lot of work around form and color and using objects… And one of the first pieces that I saw of hers was the film of her moving so slowly you can barely see her moving and it's her body and her dress moving down these stairs and it's a painting really, and the forms and the shapes and everything. So for me that was really kind of piece of visual art. And I suppose from my side, whilst I can't claim to think like a choreographer I do think that I have an innate fascination with rhythm and with repetition and those kind of devices and movements that are quite deep.
Ira Ferris: Another thing you said at that point is that you felt that this project called You Move Me is in a way a culmination of yours and Laura's collaboration to this point. That it's the most developed piece so far. Why is that?
Gemma Riggs: It's the most developed piece, in my mind, because it has a bigger crew. It's brought in artists of other disciplines that have allowed us to develop the ideas further and really just take the ideas to a whole new level. We received you know a good amount of funding from the Arts Council England and that also gave us the ability to produce something on a larger scale, to run workshops, to have the production to exhibit it properly, to visit people's homes, to have everything we needed to develop it to its full potential.
Ira Ferris: Are you planning to take this project elsewhere or is it parked?
Gemma Riggs: That was the idea. Yeah. And I think it would be great to take it elsewhere. I think it would only increase its beauty so hopefully yeah.
Ira Ferris: One last question. Because he spoke about freedom of movement. And we raised the question if we are free when we move. And whether in some ways our moments are conditioned and orchestrated by external forces, or unconscious forces.
You have also worked on a project that in some way may be in opposition to that because it examines the idea that movement can free us. And I'm referring to your collaboration with Romanian choreographer Cosmin Manolescu on a project called DansWonder which speaks about the philosophy of experiential travel and the discovery of the unknown and asks how we can wonder more in our lives and with our bodies. So question to you, what would you say: How can we wonder more with our bodies, and could we actually band and expand this mold of conditioned behavior through physical movement and through dance?
Gemma Riggs: Yeah well it goes back to the beginning for me really. My beginning statements about my encounters with dance as a non dancer and I suppose if we're talking about freedom of movement and liberation and dance wonderer being about using our bodies to be free. And there's question if we're free because of internal or external forces. And Cosmin’s work, I think, is very political in the way that it's saying: Look we can dance. Whatever's happening, we can dance, we can use our bodies and enjoy our bodies. And for me as an outsider to dance. that's a personal revelation. Being with him in his process and taking part in his workshops and becoming more in contact with my body. And … yeah. So freedom from anxiety that our bodies can carry. Freedom from the anxiety that capitalism puts on our bodies, that society puts on our bodies. And that's the very emancipatory thing, an idea and tool that I was never taught about until in my kind of early thirties when I had these encounters with dance.
"The way YOU MOVE ME might question what dance is, is its perspective on seeing our everyday movements from a choreographic perspective. Seeing the choreographic potential to how we move in our everyday and quotidian state. It's a call to invite people to observe and examine our everyday movements with a detailed eye."
Acknowledgement of Country
Dance Cinema operates on Gadigal country. We acknowledge the Gadigal as the traditional custodians of the Eora Nation & pay our respects to Elders past & present.
Dance Cinema operates on Gadigal country. We acknowledge the Gadigal as the traditional custodians of the Eora Nation & pay our respects to Elders past & present.