Workshop and improvised performance with Anton Mirto

On Thursday 20th June 2019, CultureMoves team member Marie-Louise Crawley joined C-DaRE colleague Elaine O’Sullivan, C-DaRE PhD candidate Erica Charalambous and several Coventry University undergraduate architecture students participating in a workshop and improvised performance led by artist Anton Mirto.
The workshop-performance took place within The Chapel of Many, a specially designed installation in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral, in the context of the Coventry Welcome Festival, a weeklong festival within the framework of the national Refugee Week. The walls of the installation were formed of chairs, creating a contemplative, protected and intimate space. As people gathered, the chairs could be removed, creating windows looking outside to the surrounding ruins, thereby connecting interior and exterior and with the accumulative gathering of people creating light and transparency. The aim of the structure is to build on Coventry’s international reputation as a symbol of peace and reconciliation, with its construction in part funded through the EU sponsored Migrant Friendly Cities initiative and a collaborative process facilitating intergenerational learning that involved migrants, students and retired experts.

Anton Mirto’s proposition to the performers was to work on an iteration of Scaffolding, a work where ‘masked in black tights, faceless bodies move to an invisible set of instructions, extending and reflecting relationships between points, lines, curves and each other – merging body, geometrics, architecture, space and meaning’ (Mirto, 2019). Attached to The Chapel of Many by lengths of black fabric covering our faces, we seven participantsexplored the space, moving both inside the installation and beyond, into the surrounding ruins, connecting with each other as well as to the external architectural features. Moving to a sound-score by Synthcurious, as well as to the ambient sounds of the outdoor space, we negotiated the architecture and each other, finding relationships between bodies, spaces, objects and light. It was an immensely powerful experience to be moving in such a charged historic space under swift-moving clouds above, the afternoon light shifting and the city bells marking the passage of time as we collectively created an improvised performance for the gathering tourists and visitors. The experience of moving within the space was curiously beautiful: with slow, deliberate movements alternately stark and fluid, this masked dance was seemingly a moving meditation though space and time, responding to sensations of stillness and movement, connection and solitude, light and shadow.

Anton Mirto described the workshop-performance as follows: 
Scaffolding / Coventry saw a civil servant, a visual artist, a performer, two dancers & two Architecture students, ‘seeing’ around corners, over distances, through & past the top of walls, with their heads covered in stretched black nylon, attached to a structure formed of chairs. 

These tensile black lines reframed & reconnected the 'inner & outer' spaces of the structure within the 'inner & outer’ spaces of the cathedral ruins  (both without a roof). Interconnected thus, with a limited sky & skyline, performers seemed to experience an inner & outer awareness of the body spirit & mind.

Elaine O’Sullivan, an artist-researcher from C-DaRE, who is also part of the EU Kaleidoscope project, participated in the afternoon’s exploration. What follows is a short reflective writing from Elaine entitled Dancing in Ruins:

Dancing in Ruins

A meditation on the relationship between architecture and dance, the project reveals the spatio-temporal concerns of both disciplines. In particular, the idea of framing the moving body in space. 

In contemporary architecture, the lived experience of the body in a space is as important as the overall aesthetic design. For example - the quality of natural light, the shape of a room, the height of a ceiling and the presence or absence of dividing walls impact the way in which the body moves through or inhabits a structure. In a sense, it feels as though some buildings or sites are designed for moving through or passing-by whereas others invite us to pause, be still and contemplate for a while. The site of the old cathedral still retains this sense of reverence and memorial despite the new construction work taking place in close proximity to the ruins. 

Scaffolding added another layer to the palimpsest of the site by introducing a wooden circular structure made from individual chairs. Chairs with a perforated design that allowed shards of daylight through. Chairs that were stacked one on top of the other, and that could be removed to create a different configuration. Chairs for sitting, for standing, for touching, for looking through. Akin to a keyhole the perforated design provided a new perspective and a tactile materiality to work with during the devising process. In the workshop we explored how bodies might move in relation to this structure.

Dancing in ruins, we explored the slowing down of movement. The stilling of motion. Our micro-choreographies focused on paying attention to that which might arise in the moment. Of course, each moment carried and continues to carry, a trace of the old in the new. 

Erica Charalambous, dancer, choreographer and PhD research student at C-DaRE, investigates archival collections in both physical and digital forms. Erica also participated in the Scaffolding experimentation and reflects on her experience below in a form of a poem:

Within the ruins of past remains
Within the skin and bones 
Amongst the rocks and stones
I stand, I move, I sit and wait
For stories gone and times forgotten
Where women were shunned, and men besotten
Where love was lost and found
Where children ran the grounds
When folks would come and go
When Earls and Ladies would vow
The land to keep 
And never to know how

In stillness all is lost and found
In silence the echoes give time abound
Inscriptions carved as time has passed
Every moment was left to lapse 
It’s written on the wall
Whispers trickle down a forgotten hall
The dance that lost its bones
The poses that grew out of the slowness of tones

Of the bell that chimes
Of the head which mimes
Together we shall live
And ‘Father’ will ‘Forgive’

Photo credit: Rosamaria Cisneros