Tuesday, 6 December 2016

A Bodyssey Odyssey Choir

At the weekend I participated in A Bodyssey Odyssey Choir, a singing workshop and performance led by artist Ditte Goard in response to A Bodyssey Odyssey, the current exhibition at BALTIC 39 by Pester & Rossi.

"The event was curated by Gayle Meikle as part of BxNU Respond, an ongoing dialogue between current Northumbria University post-graduate students and PhD researchers and the exhibitions in BALTIC’s Project Space, BALTIC 39.

Newcastle based Ditte Goard was asked to lead a singing workshop resulting in a performance to which members of the public could attend. Ditte works collaboratively with vocal performance and costume to explore ideas of 'folk' - especially folk song and storytelling. Going against our hierarchical and materialistic world, 'folk' traditions belong to no one and yet to anyone who claims it, without authority or regulation. Goard seeks to discover whether this autonomous activity can be used to give agency to both performer and audience, expand our engagement in political ideas and ultimately foster our sense of identity and independence."

There were about 20 people taking part in the workshop, a mixture of male and female, artists and non-artists, singers and non-singers. The presence of children in the group encouraged the adults to lose any inhibitions and enter in the playful spirit of the event.

We began the workshop with some warm-up exercises. Ditte had selected the song 'Women of the world' by Ivor Cutler for us to perform.

"Women of the world take over
'Cos if you don't, the world will come to an end
and it won't take long
and it won't take long"

Once we had learned the song, we decided on the actions that would accompany our singing.

We began stationary and low on the floor, humming. One by one we began singing the Ivor Cutler song, and it was during this that we started to move around the gallery space. Within the performance space we had an array of props and costumes made by Pester & Rossi for the exhibition. As we circulated the space, we began to adorn ourselves and each other with these various items and materials. There was a range of coloured face paints and pots of coloured glitter for us to use. These proved very popular with the children, and the adults were quick to join in. In the next 10 minutes or so the group entered into some kind of ritualistic activity. Although we were all singing the same song, we had started singing at different times, so it was a multilayered round that somehow sounded like a meditative chant. We interacted with each other, painting each others faces, putting garments on each other, scattering glitter over each other and so forth. At one point, one individual laid on the floor and we began walking round them in a circle as if in a form of worship. 

The introduction of party poppers signalled the time for us to stop singing and return to the humming as at the beginning. We removed the various costumes, props and materials we were each wearing, and used the supply of sweeping brushes to gather the glitter and party popper ribbons into a pile. Gradually we all slowed down and took a static position on the floor. Our humming simultaneously became quieter until it stopped completely, marking the end of the performance.

The description above does not do justice to what happened, but I guess that is often the case with art. There was a bond between the performers, even though we had only met as a group less than three hours earlier.

I was surprised to realise the size of the audience that had gathered to witness the performance. Probably the youngest member of the audience (no older than 1 years old) joined in the performance in the latter stages. Not yet able to walk, she shuffled along the floor, thoroughly enjoying covering herself in glitter. 

What a wonderful way to begin the weekend. It certainly made me twinkle inside and out! Thanks to all those who made it happen.

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