‘This is OPENLAB’ by Amaara Raheem.

This is Open Lab.

This is Open Lab.

This is Open Lab.


This Lab is Open.


Never been to this Park before. Expectant. Awake.

Good Friday.


Wetlands and marshes. A canal runs through

us. Duck feathers fall through Olympic


This is Open Lab.


One Ring to rule them all,

One Ring to find them,

One Ring to bring them all,

And in the darkness bind them.


suddenly walking. Not knowing

a way, just following


This is Open Lab.

This is Open Lab.

This Lab is Open.


Hooray, hooray, it’s a Holy-holiday.


she lies for a long time on the benches,

while the rest of them peer through

holes in the concrete


climbs the wall in her delicate shoes, spider

webs cling to her long, black hair.


This is Open Lab. This.

Is open.


Is half a reflection caught

in a mirror ball


his head swallowed up in constellations of glass


There’s a place I know where we should go


Won’ t you take me there your lady fair


There’s a brook near-by the grass grows high


Where we both can hide side by side



This Lab is Open.


is hidden and then again, not.


OPENLAB session on Good Friday 18 April 2014: Off-site session out and around the QEOP

QEOP off-site OL

What are Good Fridays for?

About to turn 33 and being mid-named Jesus, I’m trying to forget their intended aim. Maybe that’s why this year I saw the opportunity to bring the lab outdoors, something we haven’t done now for a long time.

Chisenhale Dance Space, our usual HQ, was ‘Closed for Holidays’ and having opened the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park a few weeks earlier (and having not visited myself the parklands within the Park despite of living in it) the question of what would have happened to OPENLAB on that day was immediately answered.

So there we were at Hackney Wick station waiting for all of those who were attending the session; We were: Galina Kalichin, Susam Kempster, Debbie Kent, Jan Lee, Alisa Oleva, Amaara Raheem, Thelma Sharma and myself.

Soon after our meeting at the station we quickly moved inside the park area and decided first to get a hot drink at Timber Lodge, a community centre/café inside the park. Once there, I shared my plan for the day with all of us. We agreed to stay longer that we first had planned because we were already running an hour late, so we could dedicate a full hour to each of the two tasks I proposed.

For the first hour, we had a simple task: stroll around the park lands whilst being co-independent, i.e. staying together but undertaking each of us our own exploration of the park. The only two prescriptions for the stroll were to stay silent whilst ‘being in the present moment’ and to find moments of sharing our experience with the others.

This first hour felt, at lest to me, like a wonderful present. Aiming towards staying mindful for a long periods of time, leaving aside deadlines and to-do’s, having the chance of fully tasting reality without having to be a step-ahead constantly, always feels like both a luxury and a daily essential for the soul. I really needed this after the last months in which I have been very busy.

The exploration during this hour kept on reminding me of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in the Wonderland, having Alisa telling us her name in English is Alice like the one who had gone through the mirror, and being in a park called after the Queen, filled with all kind of holes (like those in the picture above) for all kind of rabbits… the only difference is maybe that we weren’t actually late, on the contrary time passing became the less important element.

In any case, every time OPENLAB comes off-site a new element is always gained. I don’t mean the obvious element of being in the real world full of real objects to interact with. I mean the element of having other people, witnesses to our actions who haven’t chosen to be one of them, although that’s always the case within the public sphere. Some witness other people and neither group has chosen that… and it is still completely normal because, how could it be otherwise?

But every time OPENLAB happens outdoors the same questions arise: Where does real life ends and performing begins? What are the differences between performing and not performing? Are there any at all? And if so, what are their common characteristics?

These questions lead into the task we explored during the second hour of the lab. These questions and more:

What do I need to do in order to be performing? Does it have to do with the idea of doing things that look different to every day life actions? Or, can I perform despite any type of actions? Is it performing an action in itself? But if so, does the action of performing need to be accompanied by a specific set or type of actions? Can I perform by being every-day-life-like? Aren’t we al,l after al,l performing all the time? At least this is the way in which Erving Goffman talks about human social interactions in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.

So, the way we tried to explore this questions for ourselves during the second hour of the lab was by creating an instant outdoors theatre. Although the park was very busy by this time (and therefore full of potential witnesses), we have decided to support each other by having a group of us watching whilst the rest were performing. The only limitations were to have at least two people at any given time in each group, and that we will finish by 1pm.

The experience was… well, it was hard to grasp because the way we were performing with each other, and the way other people unaware of what were our intentions did interact (or rather pretended not to be interacting) with us was constantly changing.

Goffman’s idea about face-to-face interactions as theatrical performances returned to my stream of consciousness, specially whilst I watched the others performing. What I experienced then wasn’t so much that we were imposing others to become audience members of a performance they didn’t asked for but rather that we have made them accidental performers of a piece they will never know it had taken place. There an idea…

Model and mode of being: notes on the Antony Gormley OpenLab session

February 12, 2013

On 7th Feb, OPENLAB went to the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey where Antony Gormley’s exhibition Model was in place. In particular, we explored the installation piece Model which the show was named after.

Inside the exhibition, our brief –  or at least, the one that I am most interested to explore  –  was this:  ” […] to see the differences/similarities between real life and performance mode”.

Some questions come up for me. They are as follows:

What do we mean by ‘performance’ mode?

What do we mean by ‘real life’ mode?

Being a lazy kind of person at the moment, I googled Wikipedia’s definition of performance.  It says “A performance, in performing arts, generally comprises an event in which a performer or group of performers behave in a particular way for another group of people, the audience.”

I like this description because it makes me think.

Behave in a particular way…?  I guess this means that performers are recognisably acting, singing or dancing or whatever for an audience (and this ‘behaviour’ is rated according to the skill they are judged to have brought to it).

But what about when the performer’s behaviour is concerned with ways to be present in the moment of performance?  Would this always be a discernible quality? Is it a ‘rateable’ quality? And how important is it for an audience to know that the performer is behaving in a particular way for them? The words, or rather the accusative call to ‘make an effort’ spring to mind as something an audience might say if it felt excluded from proceedings.

Under what circumstances might an audience be ‘won over’ if the performer performed all the while behaving primarily in a particular way for themselves? And do we ever do that even when we think that is what we are doing? Would there be extra work to be done to translate this process into a recognisibly performative state? What is a ‘recognisibly performative state’ ? Is it something akin to a state that will satisfy an audience that they are not being cheated out of a ‘performance’? Would we have to step outside of what we thought of as our own level of in-touch-ness with ourselves and what we think we are doing in order to better think we were achieving this?

However, if I aim to ‘perform’ in this state, in this particular way, then it’s because I think it has worth or merit in itself, as a thing to see, as a spectacle. Thinking it’s enough is maybe asking an audience to expect something different. Because the ‘product’, the spectacle, might be discernibly different. On the other hand, it might not. It is concerned though, with the process; with the process as being the product. The ongoing ongoing product.

Is thinking something’s ‘enough’ in this context comparable to offering something closer to a ‘real life’ mode as a performative aesthetic? As in declaring of something that ‘it is what it is’ …

Does that mean that when we think something’s ‘enough’, its more closely related to authenticity than when we believe that what are doing is not enough and strive towards an idea of ‘performance’?

What, generally, if there are ‘general’ notions about it – which of course there must be – are our ideas about ‘performance’ comprised of?

Dalston Community Gardens: an outdoor session

An open-air session in Dalston community gardens. Beautiful space. Working with the idea of pictures and the passing of time; thinking of movement as the passing of images, like a photo-book you flick through, looking at some pictures longer than others.


Skin is everywhere. There’s so many ways to touch, rub, strike, stroke, clap… Featherlight to no touch at all, where does it begin or end? Touching of wind. Can I touch the air that surrounds me? Am I forever involved in this process? How can I not touch the air around me? Or does air touch me?

When I jump in the air in an X-shape for a split second it seems air is all that I’m touching. But then my hair still touches my face and my fingers touch each other. Overwhelming. So much to touch. Grass, ground, stones, flowers, sky, chairs, clothes, skin… My own skin. Where to begin? Stillness. There’s still movement. And touch. Does stillness exist?

Smell and taste.

I smelled the purple bushy flowers, a vague taste of oatmeal crackers lingering in my mouth. Strange combination. It had been there all along. Slightly nauseating.

Lying on my tummy with the purple flowers under my nose. Layers and layers of smell, flowers then grass then earth. I want to taste the air, what’s the taste and what’s the smell? Sweet purple flowers with a hint of honey.

The strangest thing…The earth pulsates. A fraction of a second, a brand new notice. I wanted to move from there, vibrating. The eyes felt unfocused but the body was syncing up with this earth.


My favorite so far. Intricate rhythms everywhere. Like with touch, smell and taste, the ability to tune into a sound, finer and finer, it’s not just one, there’s six, each of them again dividable in more sound particles… An everyday soundscape which is purely original right now. And yet sounds completely normal. Rhythmical in its a-rhythmicality. Trying to move to each different rhythm simultaneously with different body parts. Base rhythm with the legs, step step, rounded syncopation on top. Just to change it up. Making up rhythms in my head to go on top of these city sounds.


How much there is to see! On top of all the other senses. Too much to take in. I lay looking at the movement of the clouds, earth churning within a layer of sky, then bushes, grass… The others. Compelling me to move. Honoring by taking over a movement, a direction, an energy. A space. Knocking on a pole. Hilarious.

We had lunch and talked about time being infinitely divisible (second into split second into millions of tiny splits of seconds); the same goes for detail. There’s always more detail to be seen, heard, felt…

Then we had a sort of jam against a surreal backdrop of music which never quite came into being. Dancing with people can be so refreshing, they plant different ideas and thoughts in my head and make me come out of my thoughts. It’s weird how the positioning of the body sometimes all of a sudden can evoke an emotion that’s commonly associated with that position. It’s completely backwards; I’m moving around without planning, all of a sudden I find myself in a sort of ‘lamenting’ position which triggers an instant of feeling severe, sad… It slips away right away because it isn’t an actual feeling… Is it cultural?

Blindfold Breakfast no.1

A breakfast with a blindfold on. What an insanely exciting and weird thing to do, I feel like a child stumbling through the room trying to find some coffee and losing my chair when I come back. So much fun! Taking away the eyes changes everything: distances from juice to glass, timing when the glass is full, the sensation of a piece of bread in my hand, how I hold a knife and how to spread the butter evenly, a strong sense of smell determining what it is that I want, a bigger connection between smell and taste of food. Intense flavors. I want to try a bit of everything because it’s all so different, and I get bored of my toast with honey after two bites because I’m ready for a new adventure.

After we take off the blindfolds, the room and everything inside looks much smaller than I thought it would be. Colors are different. Even though I knew the room from before, it looks completely different than I expected. Even though I was aware of different people in the room, the blindfold provided me with a sort of inner experience of breakfast, with my own images and ideas and sense of orientation. How much there is in daily life that we just never notice… Because our habits are so deeply ingrained in us!

Square Roundness… Thoughts on Anthony Gormley’s ‘Model’

I am changed. Blocks are human are square are round and need my roundness to balance out their unevenness, which is present in my square smaller me.

Excited like a child I was to go in there. Now, writing this, I don’t want to hear the chatter yet. I don’t care. This is me here. My experience. I don’t want it to dissipate so soon, I don’t want to hear other bodies’ thoughts. Sometimes they can peel away from me, from my experience, chameleon that I might be, so susceptible to other people’s opinions thoughts feelings ideas.

The outer exhibition did not prepare me for this inner experience but of course it is all the same, just smaller or bigger. Building blocks that make up humans. Like atoms. Particles. Square = round. How lovely!

Loved it. An urge to push and experience these walls and corners and lines… A faint smell of iron. And the darkness… The darkness! So scary at first when I slid back on that first dark block, I thought I might fall into an abyss there, a hole in the ground. No ceiling above me, no wall behind me and yet I would slide on my butt farther away until there was a wall, there was a ceiling. All was just dark. When I found my space my eyes got used to the dark and actually I could discern vague shimmers of people. I think. Shadows. It was an eerie feeling, like a voyeur I sat in my little corner, quiet, observing shimmers passing me, feeling their way through the dark. No one knew I was there, it was as if I was hidden away, someone else. Other bodies that could have been illusions, vague spots until other bodies were touching me suddenly. Something grey crawling near me but when I lightly brush my foot over the area there is nothing there after all. I wanted to be sucked up by this darkness somehow, I wanted to be shadow. To be nothing for a little while.

Going further into the maze I want to be upside down all around exploring these corners. Some people there were scared, weird, awkward, talking about laundry and careers, not really observing. A few were. I was too self-absorbed to pay much attention to the attention of others, but I was startled a few times when I found someone, an unknown outsider, watching me. It changed the experience, which became suddenly about showing some sort of relationship between myself and this iron dark or semi-light squareness rather than about me exploring the darkness for me. The difference is subtle yet massive.

Performance presence, supposedly something we can ‘tune into’, a state we can reach for ourselves in individual practice or within a group of trusted openlabbers, and yet as soon as I sense I’m being watched the experience is changed. Almost a longing to go back to the darkness to be alone and move for me, a place where no one can see what I’m doing but it still exists for me. And sometimes wanting to be in the light, wanting to be seen. I am not weird? Am I weird? Are we all? Does it matter?

Not right now, not today, not for me. This is or was more a self-indulgent yearning to explore and then ‘sketch’ through movement than to scream out LOOK AT ME!!! Which is not to say you cannot look at me. You are welcome to be a witness to my experience. But what if I had wanted my being present to pull you in as an audience? Is that not what performance is about? To pull an audience’s eye?

Riddles of inner and outer in public: thoughts from OPENLAB’s session in Anthony Gormley’s Model Exhibition

The exploration inside the White Cube gallery was a puzzle, with clues everywhere.  The puzzle was how to stay in an open state of being present while being in a context that was not usual for this task, the more usual being inside of a dance studio or on a performance stage.  Something that we all talked about together before entering, was the intention to explore what we do in an OpenLab session and enjoy it without being ‘kicked out of the gallery’.

Inside the gallery, it became a riddle.  Each time I focused on what I was internally sensing in the moment, there was a riddle of how the sensation could seep outward into the external space…  I found the sculptures really helpful…  They encouraged me to let movement happen – starting with looking around at the steel sculptures dotted around the gallery rooms, browsing between them, coming close to touching them, listening to the sounds of the people in the gallery, noticing my pedestrian movements against gravity.

The last installation room was a big surprise.  I moved around what felt like a giant version of the sculptures I’d seen in the other rooms.  I almost missed the ultimate part which was the entrance into the sculpture!  Somehow I noticed some people walking around the back of the sculpture so I walked around the corner, suddenly entering the sculpture itself.
The spaces inside of the installation were different heights, some totally pitch black.  At first, I felt unwillingly to respond other than functionally, moving through the pathways of the installation sometimes crawling through a low tunnel or other times turning a corner toward the light.
As I got more comfortable with the space I enjoyed playing with which senses I used to make the choice of where and how I moved.  Sometimes I found touch, or the sound of where others hit the steel walls far away giving me information on what was possible in this space.  I was also aware of my ‘sense’ of comfort and fear, which impacted my choices and sensations.  While suddenly encountering strangers in pitch black rooms by touch or seeing them in a lit space, I was affected by a ‘sense’ of social ettiquete- a voice in my head telling me, ‘be aware not to annoy strangers, try not to scare them’.  Gradually I felt my boundaries loosen and expand as time went on, and strangers around me seemed to accept our evolving language of actions and movements.  As it went on, I felt increasingly freer to express outwardly into my kinesphere what I felt internally while the public watched and accepted us dancers as ‘doing our own business’.
Jan Lee

Experiencing ‘Model’

Here is my reflection on the last week’s OPENLAB session (7th February), which took place at White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey during Antony Gormley’s exhibition.

Our main focus was on ‘differences/similarities between real life and performance mode’.

To start with, I decided to focus on how my body-mind would respond to this new experience.  I noticed how my actions, focus, and presence changed each time I entered Model, the installation work which gave its name to the whole exhibition.

1st time: I was on my own, followed by two other visitors.  I waited for them to enter Model as I was quite scared of the darkness.  Not really my favorite thing to be in small dark places.  In that first time, my desire was to find out what was there.  That first time was the opportunity for me to meet the new circumstances, to adapt in the space, to get to know it, to see how I can move in it, to discover its open, safe, and comfortable areas and the close, dark and less comfortable ones, to get an understanding of the passages and the illusions that low light can create, to overcome my fears.  I was walking carefully, reaching out with my hands so I can touch the surfaces around me.  The excitement was always present with every new discovery and was enhanced by the sense of achievement every time I managed to pass through a small corridor overcoming my fear.  At the end of the last box – or what I thought at that time that was the last – there was another entrance, perhaps that was the last one or maybe there were more corridors to follow.  Making the connection that this should be the end of South Gallery II where Model was installed, I understood that this room was indeed the last one.  However, I did not enter.  I couldn’t do that on my own. I decided to leave.

2nd time: I enter again alone – the rest of the group is not there yet – but this time there are some other visitors and I know where I am going.  There is the sense of familiarity that makes me feel more comfortable.  I know the space and I want to know it even better.  I stand in different locations and observe from various angles the landscapes that are created by the edges, the surfaces, the light, the lack of light, the shadows.  Awkward to think that Model is meant to be the analogy of the interior of the human body.  And still it makes sense to me.  These soulless cold steel boxes suddenly become alive when people passing through, bending, leaning, talking and laughing complete the composition in the most fascinating and essential way.  I feel as if I am in another world, a world where people come to discover a new life.  The images are quite cinematic.  I sit there for a while, close to a surface in almost complete darkness and try to draw the scenery that rises in front of me.  Blind drawing really as I could not see the paper, but it was interesting to do it as a kinaesthetic experience.  And it was also very interesting to see that some people where noticing that I was there and some others not.

3rd time: The OPENLAB group is here.  We leave our jackets and bags in the box office, and this makes me feel different than the rest of the visitors.  As if we really have to move in a different, more performative way.  I was trying not to attract the eyes, to behave as everyone else.  And it was great when I felt I did so.  I was also trying to see if I can attract the eyes just by being as everyone else.  Back in the Model, there are even more visitors.  This time I feel experienced as I feel I already passed the stages of adaptation.  I am more relaxed, and I also feel the safety that friendship offers.  I can give bigger challenges to myself now.  The space is quite populated.  This makes the exploration even more exciting.  It feels like a playground.  First thing this time is to go straight to the dark room which represents the head.  Pitch dark in there but I don’t mind it.  I know that nothing bad can happen nothing can go wrong.  The darkness ends up being my best friend.  I feel free to do anything without anyone knowing apart from the people being in that room, who could not see a thing but they could sense and touch.

And that was the time that the main focus of that session came to mind – ‘perform’. ‘No, that is not performing for me.  I’m not performing now.’ I thought.  I had the freedom to move however I felt, it was almost like dancing, but it was not performing.  I was not presenting anything to anyone.  It was just an expression towards myself or towards unknown invisible powers but not towards specific spectators.  The word ‘performance’ seems to have a specific meaning for me.  It is related to being aware of being seen.  To perform declares in a way the embodied communication with an-other.  I understand performance as a situation where something is made available and perceptible to a witness in a live situation.  And perhaps this has to do also with the meaning of this word in Greek. ‘Parastasis’ (παράστασις) in general is ‘the depiction of things in a specific way so that they become perceptible’.  The noun is derived from the verb ‘paristemi’ (παρίστημι) which means ‘to stand beside, to proffer’.  In Modern Greek the verb has different meaning in active and passive voice.  In active voice the verb is ‘paristano’ (παριστάνω) and means ‘to present someone or something as real or fake’, and in passive voice the verb is ‘paristamae’ (παρίσταμαι) and means ‘to be present in a situation/event, to attend’.  Therefore, ‘performance’ is automatically related to an-other.  I have the sense that the performing mode for me was ‘on’ when I was trying not to be seen.  Just because I was thinking about it and I wanted to pass on a specific message: ‘I am not here.  Don’t look at me.  I am not different.  I am like you.’ Performance in a way has to do with a particular message to be given to the other, I think.  For instance, the three men standing at the door of the room giving us a page to sign before we enter the installation gave a specific importance to the fact that we take the responsibility for whatever might happen.  If they were relaxed drinking coffee I would probably be less concerned.  That of course is another kind of performance but I still perceive it as performance.  When we feel being seen or heard, we take care of what we say and how we behave, how we perform…

(A post by Evangelia Kolyra)