Antony Hamilton in conversation with Stephanie HanBlack project 1 is the first work in the black series. Each piece is performed in a black space with black costumes, black make-up and a black set. The black series proposed that by removing colour and tonal variation, we somehow address a utopian idea of what it might be to escape context. By trying to limit the potential of outside influences or visual references, how much can we view this event on its own for what it is? Can we look at something and think of nothing else? Can a work or image or sound be truly unique? Can it be the subject of itself, escaping derived meaning and the invitation of comparison? Stephanie Han dialogued with Anthony around these interrogations.
SH: You have spoken recently about Black Project 1 as a starting point and as a strategy to neutralise space, and to start from a place of ‘no history’. The inverse of a tabula rasa, which is interesting from a drawing analogy, as you work from black, an artist generally defines the edges. Similarly within sculpting, where artists often talk about ‘searching’ for the shape/form within the material, which in the case of Black Project 1 seems like the black cube.
You experienced this paradox within Black Project 1 in reducing (less) the imagery to black, also had the effect of amplifying the details (more). Could you share with us on this tension between exploring symbiosis, and in searching for the edges (detail)? Similarly, I think the work gestures through action at a broader exchange.
AH: In terms of symbiosis, The Black Project is a kind of physicalised treatment on this notion. The symbiosis between the physical matter of the body, its living tissues, of time, space and objects that surround it. Although by definition, symbiosis refers to two species of living organisms completely unable to survive without each other, we can also take the view that time, space and objects are also animated with life, or energy, within a more wholistic view on life, the universe and everything within. So then, we can talk about symbiosis being a condition of all living things, rather than a select few.
Moving from this, I became interested in the value of things. The value of the body, the person, in comparison to the environment which houses it. How could I potentially democratize the actual importance of the body, particularly in performance, which tends to be about people doing things in a theatrical context. People are regarded as the most important thing on stage, and I wanted to challenge this hierarchy, making the space itself and everything else in it one. This opens up the question around where the body ends and where the space around it begins.
The metaphor for this was the reduced visual palette. The blanket tone of black equalised the body and the environment. And yes, as you point out, the paradox is that the reduction itself amplified the range of variation within that single tone.
SH: And in terms of the choreography, what were some of the strategies you developed to explore this environmental symbiosis?
AH: The only one was to immerse myself in the set design, and respond instinctively to what kind of physicality felt ‘right’ so to speak. I think that is actually the point of the relationship I speak about of environment and body symbiosis. It’s to enter that relationship without too much conscious analysis, and rather subconsciously respond to the aesthetics, form and functionality of the world.
I liken it to how we behave when walking down the street, navigating around the potholes in the pavement, crossing roads, stepping up from gutter to footpath. The physicality is derived from functionality, but also from creativity. Yes, we are also quite creative with these actions without being particularly aware of it. Take for example the way one might count steps between lines in the pavement. It’s a way to navigate distance, but it is also a playful pastime that responds directly to the random peculiarities of any given urban landscape.
SH: How do you see this in relation to your next work Keep Everything?
AH: Keep Everything sprang from a desire to break free from this reductive process. I had been working in that way on a number of pieces over the past few years ever since the first development of Black Project 1. Other works of mine, RGB and Points in Time, continued to explore the limited palette of visual stimulus for the audience. In RGB, I tested my theory of reducing in order to amplify, by using only white. With Points in Time, I chose to work within extreme spatial limitations, and the right to left stage journey was even more reduced than that of Black Project 1. Points in Time had the performers fixed in a horizontal line from centre back to centre front of the stage, and they did not move from this position until the very last moments of the piece.
A slightly depressing epiphany occurred during the creation; this was about humankind’s inability to begin a new narrative for itself.
Keep Everything attempted to allow literally everything that I was interested in, even in minute degrees. What resulted however, was a slightly depressing epiphany I had during the creation. This was about humankind’s inability to begin a new narrative for itself, one that does not lug around the baggage of history. But to speak about the physicality of Keep Everything, it was driven by a larger spatial structure, and how that could be used to create a feeling of a conundrum around order and chaos.
On the question of physical language – the individual ‘parts’ of the work are difficult for me to talk about in terms of how the physical language can be described, or more importantly, what its intention was. Of course we can talk about the activity, which may propel us on to something else, or describe the physicality that we see that are close to the image. But of course, this is entirely subjective. Words cannot replicate action, or image. No matter how well someone describes something visual to someone who hasn’t seen it, it must be experienced. This is true of all abstract ideas, which of course all human ideas and modes of expression are, spoken language included.
I think this highlights,the importance of my process. When I’m making the movement, it is spontaneous, and never premeditated, but intuitively responsive, to achieve a fathomable outcome.