Interview with Deanne Butterworth, Boyd Studio-1 Artist in Residence
13 February 2017
You have just concluded a six month residency at Boyd School Studio 1. For your public outcome you presented a piece that was heavy with references to the urban: there was a soundtrack rife with traffic noises which you used to accompany your performance that made reference to public statues around the city. To what extent was the very industrial/urban location of the studio an influence upon what you developed in your time there?
I didn't set out to create a solo performance work with heavy references to the urbane. Back in July 2016 before I started the residency what I thought I might create was a group work for dancers and the broader community which interacted with public spaces in a subtle way. I was interested in the subtlety of what exists in city public space and how people spend time in these spaces which could be viewed as their 'third space' or that more transitional 'gap' space. I live in the middle of the Melbourne CBD in quite close proximity to Boyd Community Hub so I would mostly walk to the studio and I began to observe particular patterns and sounds. On reflection I think what happened over time was that the studio became my 'third space' and the journey to and from Boyd transitioned into becoming my studio time. Much of the sound scape was made up of heavily distorted recordings of the 15 minute walk from home on Little Collins Street to Boyd on City Road. I would walk with my video camera and sound recorder attempting to become a sort of tourist in my own city, encouraging myself to be more observant of things I might usually pay little attention to or walk through quickly. The studio itself was haven away from all that urbanity so it both amplified that sound and helped me reflect upon what was always existing outside and opened up a way of imagining the possibilities for these static CBD sculptures.
How would you locate this particular performance? Is it part of a larger journey in your artistic career?
It is definitely a part of a larger journey and I'm yet to fully make sense of it. The performance as it exists now might not ever be seen again but the research which led me to that point will no doubt be present in my work over the course of 2017. It's not to say I don't want to understand it but through choosing to show something at the conclusion of a residency what I show becomes a way of defining what it was, rather than just one aspect of what it was. Maybe what I am saying is that in this instance artistic process over time is more important than a selection of things shown as a performance.
As an artist, how important is space to your practice and what are some of the key requirements for your own creative practice?
Space, as in studio space is really valuable. This residency gave me physical and emotional space to experiment and it was with much trepidation that I thought everything would be dismantled once my time ended at Boyd. I actually felt very emotional during my last week there but looking back now I realise the Boyd residency was another step in building my practice. Things which I require to work vary enormously depending on the project. It's a rarity that I would be given a studio for six months with funding and this situation did change how I was able to work and the pace at which I worked and processed ideas. However, if I think about the constant things required no matter what the project is I would say: at least one body, time, space, energy, curiosity, observation, willingness, ideas, discussions, fear and fearlessness.
Your studio was inhabited by a plethora of books during your residency – Heidegger, Henri Lefebvre and so on. Did they influence your thinking during this time? And where do you draw influence from otherwise?
Many of the books I brought to the studio I had owned for a long time and I thought that over the six months I would diligently study all of them. I kept on buying books and bringing in more so in the end I was reading excerpts of my older books and then studying the newer ones. The books no doubt influenced my thinking during this time particularly in regards to energy and rhythms, repetition, listening, the pedestrian, social spaces, existing together, and urban planning both historical and contemporary. Other influences come from connections I might make from seeing another art work and what I might be reading at the time. Just before the residency commenced I saw the incredible Ulla von Brandenburg show at ACCA and there were so many things in there which I loved. Her work took me back to 2000 when I first discovered the work of Swiss scenographer and theorist Adolphe Appia. I had sort of forgotten about my interest in Appia's work but then started doing further reading on it. Then the Wagner Ring Cycles were in Melbourne later in the residency and I was lucky enough to attend them which again reignited my interest in Appia's work. Whether or not these interests influence me directly or whether they are just present and then emerge in the work on a more subconscious level I'm not sure. Dancing is a social form imbued with such an inescapable history of the self it's difficult to hide things and experiences. Influence for me also comes from being moved by other works, living in the world and conversing with people.
On the topic of reading, you once commented that you felt reading is indulgent and that you felt guilty doing it. Can you expand on this comment within the larger creative context? Is ‘learning’ different to ‘producing,’ in the sense of your choreography?
I remember when I said that I knew I was stating something I didn't really believe in! I think what I meant and probably didn't articulate all that well was that there wasn't infinite time and that I was aware of the impossibility of doing everything I wanted to do during the residency in the studio so there was a bit of a struggle in my mind. I read things for different reasons, whether it be for expanding knowledge in a particular field, sourcing information to brainstorm about other things, taking excerpts of books to process and transfer into another form and then into movement, or to acquire knowledge in order to converse with others. It's sort of stating the obvious but there's a tussle between creating something and feeling like I have nothing to show as the result of a period of artistic exploration. When I work on a choreographic work I don't think of that as a time for 'producing something'. I mean clearly something is made and can be performed for others whether it's just a one off or replicated multiple times for different audiences. But each time it is performed there is still a process of learning something from it and about it.
Do you have a typical ‘studio routine’? If so, what is it? If not, what are some examples of how a day in your studio would look?
I seemed to set up a studio routine at Boyd for a few weeks then dismantle it so I wouldn't become too attached. Usually I would warm up thoroughly, and then revisit aspects of what I was working with the day before. I would assess how that felt on my body, deciding what to change or keep or let settle to revisit another day. Often I would video myself in the studio and watch that as a way to have an external eye. Then other times I would have visitors in the studio who acted as 'outside eyes' who could give me feedback on what they saw or we could just discuss things which interested us. At Boyd I spent a fair bit of time experimenting with painting which is an unfamiliar medium for me so there was a lot of play. Working alone can be physically and mentally exhausting so I would have breaks which might involve administration tasks, writing applications, going for a walk, and listening to music. Other days I would enter the studio and start moving straight away, not worrying about warming up and just finding a sense of play through improvisation to see how that would inform the work and vice versa
What do the next twelve months hold for you?
I am involved in two performances taking place during Dance Massive 17 in March - Deep Sea Dances (by Rebecca Jensen) and Vanishing Point (by Shian Law) which will both be premiered at Arts House. I am also working with choreographer Jo Lloyd on her incredible new work inspired by Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream which started development in 2016. And I am very excited to I have been recently been awarded a Gertrude Contemporary Studio for 2 years. Professional photos taken by: Gregory Lorenzutti
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