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?

On experiencing people perform

I was thinking about the value of talking out loud that formed part of the score for Friday’s open Openlab. Describing or declaring what you or someone else is doing, or your perceptions and sensations as you are moving – could it help heighten the awareness of the audience too that (our) performance of dance is a conscious effort and that we are there in the space striving for each thing we do to be actively performed?

I was wondering how much of what an audience experiences as performance is a conscious effort on their behalf too, and how much is a given – given for example, simply because of things like traditional protocol: you go to see something and you sit in a designated audience space and then that something that you went to see takes place in the performance space, therefore what happens there is the performance. This is not necessarily a bad thing: it’s just that we get used to things done in a certain way.

It’s not that this way is wrong or not valid. I’m not denying the power of an imposed frame around something to transform it into something theatrical or performative. But presented with what open Openlab does in the space, can an audience experience something else?

What I’m really curious about is whether our attention to keeping presence as performers makes what ‘to perform’ is into a tangible thing for an audience too? If so, is it different from experiencing other strains of performance presence? How is it different? Wait! – are there other strains of performance presence? I’m curious about the ways that presence in itself can be exciting.

Do you have to bring a particular attention or mode of experience to what you’re experiencing as audience member to make a show into a performance? To what extent, if any, does this distinction involve a willing faith or determination or generosity or connection to the people in the performance space to induce it or make it happen for yourself?

Maybe on Friday, you were being there for us, while we were performing for you? Maybe on both sides we are all explicitly or intuitively experiencing ways of tuning in, opening up to being present? In Openlab, we are exploring and practicing what it is to perform. In open Openlab, it is also exploration and practice. But with an audience there to watch us, it is live practice. It is the real thing. And maybe the appeal of what we are doing is that we are explicit about trying it out?

Rub Your Tummy, Tap Your Head: OPENLAB session on Thursday, 28 March 2013

Today we were Sophie Arstall, Danai Pappa, Thelma Sharma as well as myself.

I was gladly surprised to see them there as I was coming to the studio thinking that maybe today was a sad day and that probably everybody had gone on holidays for Easter.

I had decided that no matter what I would still work… but seeing that Sophie and Thelma were in the studio, and that Danai just arrived as I was arriving made me really to have to work.

I like those moments in which there is no time for excuses, no time for preparations, for deciding what’s appropriate and what isn’t… those are the moments in which what you really have to offer comes as it is to the surface… maybe its delivery is not pristine and is far from perfect but it’s overall honest, humble and full of integrity.

I’m quite happy now about the session we had this morning the four of us.

We worked with the openform as a frame. And as I was setting the rules of the form (just do… and let any motivation or accessibility which is already there to tell you what to do next, even if you do first and hear what to do after and even if it happens regardless of its external appearance) I was also adding layers of things to try to be aware of… different layers of perceptions, different layers of notions about what we do with agency and those other things we still do but seem to be happening to us, different layers of notions of how do we feel as subjects exposing that we are our bodies and not only owning those bodies and of what do we feel in the world out there; the physical and temporal objects that were there and then happening/existing, etc., etc., etc.

The final aim was to try to find the relationships between the things we feel out there and the way we can feel our body to respond to it. Not really the response that is part of what we intentionally do but the experience within our body of the feelings we can get from the anatomical structures reacting to the external objects of the world… or those other feeling of you, the feeling well, the feeling sad, the feeling poor, the feeling agitated, etc.

I just wanted to bring into explicitness the fact that when we experienced something, let’s say the warmth of the radiators, part of that experience it’s also the experience of how the body feels as it responds to the noticing the warmth of the radiator, let’s say that in this occasion the muscles relax (amongst other possible things). In that instance, and probably influenced about what had just happened before and would happened afterwards (namely, it was and would be a very cold day in a very cold studio), the feeling of warmth is also accompanied for the feeling of the musculature releasing and opening to the warmth… amongst other things.

My proposal was to find similar relationships between the ‘how we feel’ and the ‘what we feel’ whilst being aware of ‘what we do.’

I’m aware that by definition (at least according to the definition with which I agree more often than not) they ‘how-and-what we feel’ and the ‘being aware of their relationships’ are also things we do (even if it seems happening to us).

It may be overwhelming to ask to any person to do all those things at the same time, but I see it as I see the gimmicky ability of rubbing your tummy and tapping your head. It may seem difficult at first but you just need to keep on trying and you will be even able to do it at dissociated frequencies. What’s the moral of this fable? Just stick to it and keep on trying.

In any case it’s not about being able to make it happen because even if we observe to just one of the options closely we realised we are not good at it. Let’s think for example about just trying to perceive the world (what I call the ‘what’ one feels). I have been reading Kevin O’Reagan’s book “Why Red Doesn’t Sound Like A Bell” and he keeps on trying to prove that in reality things are perceived one (or even just one detail) at a time, this is not fully but partially, and that things are perceived sometimes rather than continuously. This fact, according to him does not go against with the fact that the phenomenal experience of the word is on the other hand fully extended and continuously present, this is that we experienced everything showing up for ourselves all the time.

I sort of get what he is trying to convey (or at least that’s what I think) but I think he would have written differently if he was a dancer into the kind of work that searches for presence. I have lost count of how many times I have been asked, in one way or another, by others or by myself, to try to be aware of everything and uninterruptedly. What I can say is that whatever the number of times I tried and let’s call than number “n”, I’m sure that “n” times I have failed; this is, “n” times I have noticed how impossible the task is.

In this case I also think it must be like rubbing your belly and tapping your head. Let’s stick with it (obsessively but not competitively) and we will get better at it.


“OPENLAB Intensive Week” or “The Week I Learnt the Word ‘Norovirus'”





The intensive week, so much expected, arrived but a minuscule entity known as norovirus defeated it.

After just 2 days of work I felt extremely bloated after dinner on Wednesday 12 December. What happened after you can deduce by yourselves when you know that norovirus is the technical name given to the winter vomiting bug. The aftermaths took me out of order until last Monday (which means that the open OPENLAB at Agony Art didn’t happen, although it will happen on a next edition in early 2013).

For what I did on the first day of the intensive you can click here to see another post where I talk about it.

I would like to continue here with what I did on the unexpectedly last day of the intensive (Wednesday 12 December).

We had 2 sessions of the intensive:


During the first session we started by doing a slow roll down which would allow us to get in our bodies as well as calm down our minds. Help us to be present. A sort of closeform exercise.

After that we decided to take Chrysa Parkinson’s Art Practice as Ecosystem Questionnaire. We decided to do it in couples and following an interview model; i.e. each person would ask to his or her partner the questions and would write down the answers on his or her partner’s notebook. The idea is that each person would have the answers filtered by another person as a way to minimise your own patterns and possibly getting to know yourself from a different side, a side from which you may not have regular access. I also suggested that each person should take the questionnaire on their own without having read the notes take by the partner first a few days after. The idea was for each person to then compare both sets of answers (if you were there during this session: have you been doing your homework? Allow me to joke about this, you know that there isn’t homework and that it’s entirely up to you whether you would like to continue with this exercise but I thought it would be good to remind people about it nonetheless).


During the second session I facilitated an exercise I had done before with Lisa Nelson at The Conscious Body Meeting in Université Paris 8 last October.

We first followed the exercises faithfully to the one I had done with Lisa except for one difference: I added one extra step. After we stopped for a mini-break, we continue from that extra step I had added to put into practice exercises on sight. The idea was that, if perception is an action, visual perception and the mechanisms involved in the activity of the visual sense can be practiced and trained, and from that practice we could explore in which ways that work with sight may influence our “performing.”

Lisa Nelson’s exercises use different combinations of moving versus stillness with eyes closed versus eyes open. Together with the different combinations possible during the exercise, Lisa would invite us to become self-aware of what it’s happening. It seems the exercise invites you to become aware of the relationships between intention and action and of your own patterns.


Short description of Lisa Nelson exercise:

. Eyes closed / The only instruction is to get physical (this can be understood and interpreted personally) / 5 min.

. Eyes closed / Moving, voluntarily / 3 min. / Whilst doing this asking yourself: “How do I know that this (I’m doing) is moving?”

. Eyes closed / Still, voluntarily / 2 min. / Asking yourself: “How do you know that it is stillness?”

. Alternating between eyes closed whilst moving and eyes open whilst still / Always trying the best you can to keep this combination as a voluntary action / Slowing down the pattern / Speeding up the pattern / Asking yourself: “What’s the order of events? What does happen first? Do I stop moving because I have opened my eyes, or do I open my eyes once I have stopped moving? Do I start moving because I have closed my eyes, or do I close my eyes once I am moving? Does the pattern repeat or is it different each time?”

. At this point I added en extra step or, to be more correct, an extra question: “Bringing the attention to your eyes, what does happen with them when you open them? Can you keep the eyes still? Can you do it at the same time that your body freezes? Pay attention to the motion of the eyeball within the eye socket; pay attention to the motion within the eye at the level of the iris and pupil. If you can’t do that alternatively pay attention of whether the image you perceived as you open the eyes moves or shakes; pay attention of whether the image refocuses once you have open the eyes.”

. Alternating between eyes open whilst moving and eyes closed whilst still / Always trying the best you can to keep this combination as a voluntary action / Slowing down the pattern / Speeding up the pattern / Asking yourself: “What’s the order of events? What does happen first? Do I start moving because I have opened my eyes, or do I open my eyes once I have started moving? Do I stop moving because I have closed my eyes, or do I close my eyes once I have become still? Does the pattern repeats or is it different each time?”


Short description of the exercises with vision:

. Openform throughout the exercise

. Become aware of not only that we see with the eyes but on how we see with the eyes: movement of the eyeball in eye socket, movement of head and neck, movement of all the body; movement in the iris and pupil (focusing)

. Chose an object to look at as you move, change to another object

. Binocular focusing: Use your hand to focus on it, can you attend to the objects you see beyond your hand and which are out of focus? Focus in the objects beyond your hand but keep the hand in between, can you attend to the hand out of focus in front of you?

. Binocular focusing: Focusing on a point in space closer to you than the object in front of you. Focusing on a point in space beyond the object in front of you. You can picture in your “mind’s eye” that point to facilitate. Notice your own body (how does your body feels?) as you focus on an object, somewhere on the space closer to you or somewhere on the space beyond the object

. Monocular focusing: Cover one eye with one hand and repeat the exercises on focusing described in the last two points.

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