Jeremiah Day & Simone Forti, ICA London, 7 May, 2009.
Writing about her "News Animations" the writer-dancer Simone Forti observes:
I can more easily access the raw store of fragmentary thoughts, feelings, and speculations out of which I build my understanding of the world. A News Animation performance involves improvising with movement and spoken language, taking off from the fluid, flickering, dream like image of the world brought to us by the news media. Moving and speaking at once, gives voice to the place between thoughts and muscular or visceral sensations, between verbal syntax and the body's syntax of sudden moves, hesitations, slumps and changes of facing. It reveals a process which is usually very private.
My father used to read a couple of news papers each day... When he died in 1985 I began to read the news myself. It wasn't coming easily to me. I did start to experience a sense of familiarity with the stories, with the personages, but most of all, as a dancer, I started to have kinesthetic impressions of pressures, currents, accumulations and pending collapses. I was noticing terminology like 'the dollar in free fall', and Lebanon being called a 'slippery slope.' Soon I was dancing the news, talking and dancing, being all parts of the news; tankers moving up the Persian Gulf, 'human waves' of Iranian youths crashing into the Iraqui forces invading from across the Shat al Arab estuary.
The movement included the kind of gestures one makes when explaining an describing, but here the gestures were taking on the whole body.
Jeremiah Day began his and Simone Forti's performance at the ICA by reading aloud some poetry from Amiri Baraka. There's a rhythm to the words, and to the body reading, a certain array of gestures, although initially Day's are quite neutral - like anyone might be stood reading aloud to group of people. Gradually, however, Day's movements - he paces from one side to the other of the ICA theatre space, turns on a slide projector - have a spatial expanse and focus that we might recognize as dance. Soon, as the piece unfolds, Day sits, squats, stands, walks, talks: a dance-language of words and movements, both linked and autonomous.
I found it an exhilarating experience. For a second piece, Day was joined by Forti, and the two engaged in a surreal, playful, storytelling conversation about economics, in which again verbal language and movement shared an equal role. Or what was the precise word-movement relationship? Day and Forti counter an avant-orthodoxy where words and gestures must not be illustrative, being unafraid to ground their word-movement relationship in literalism: hands waving in the air when talking of water, arms outstretched to be a bird in flight. This enables the complex rhythms and elaborations that do unfold to be read not as virtuosic but as a pleasure-in-relationship or - as Fred Dewey would suggest in his following talk - a demonstration of democracy in process.
Much of the pleasure came from how Day and Forti moved both within the particularities of their own bodies and the space itself. The performance had been shifted from the gallery to the theatre space at the last moment, and whilst text appeared fixed, both Forti and Day were making use of the particular space in which they found themselves, leaning against its walls, climbing its steps and odd nooks. The architecture, too, became part of how ideas and relationships could be manifested, tested, explored, and played with. Both words and images functioned as primary text, commentary, and ornamentation.
For a final piece Forti came on with a copy of the days newspaper and improvised, the newspaper entwined with body, text and her own reading aloud of the words on its pages. Pages were held out, resting on air currents, slowly drifting to the floor, or crumpled and held up against her face. It almost seemed a poetics for the whole project that Day and Forti had presented us with: an art process that finds a way to shape, refine, develop everyday gestures to where they acquire a further layer of import, but without removing them from their source.
Before the final piece, Fred Dewey - who has published Forti's writings as part of his Beyond Baroque publishing project - responded to Day and Forti's project, seeing it as a model of a particular kind of democratic culture. He talked about Forti's particular relationship to poetry, in which written texts would be edited by the body. This created a new kind of text-poetry-transcription, but also, said Dewey, seemed a demonstration of poetry as an act of moving, thinking, and writing in public space, a physical research in time and space. West quoted Carlyle:
unreality is death to all parliaments and all things
and also Milton:
to speak all tongues
to do all miracles
Day and Forti were performing to launch Jeremiah Day/ Simone Forti , a publication chronicling a collaborative exhibition and performance series at the Project Arts Centre in Dublin in 2008. Day had become fascinated by the story of the Blasket islanders, who emigrated to Springfield, near Boston. The Blasket islanders had been the sources of one of the finest repositories of oral lore, collected by George Thompson, but in Springfield, Day's research informed him, the storytelling culture had vanished completely.
The resulting publication combines Day's black and white photographs of a city - whose physical and economic decline appears to match the vanishing of its stories - with images of Day and Forti's collaborative performances. There are also several transcriptions of Forti's News Animations which, whilst thoughtful, rhythmic texts in their own right, were best read after the performance, newly animated by their proximity to a body, no longer privately consumed texts on a page but, even in an act of solitary reading, inseparable from a performance/demonstration/conversation in a public space.
Later in her essay "About the News Animations" Simone Forti observes:
I teach improvisation with movement and language in workshops around the world. I often begin with an essay I call Movement Memory Snapshots. We sit in a wide circle and each offers a particular memory which comes to mind because of an aspect of movement. I use the term 'offers', so as not to be directly asking for either language or movement. Some plunge in with their whole body or describe with their hands. With some, their movement, as they speak, is subtle: a shift of gaze, a sudden working of their toes without their being aware of it. But there is always some movement related to the activity of that telling.
We talk about the movements we saw each other do: a mix of abstracted shapes of our original experience, signs like pointing, mimicking, shifting weight at the end of a thought and many other kinds of body moves. Movement and language improvisations can be done solo, or by two or more people working together, sometimes conversationally, sometimes in juxtaposition. Once people get the hand of relaxing into this flow between verbal and kinesthetic, the question becomes: What to explore. What to research. What to express.
"About the News Animations" originally appeared in Oh, Tongue (Beyond Baroque, 2004). Jeremiah Day/ Simone Forti, published by Project Press, Dublin, 2009, developed from the exhibition Simone Forti/ Jeremiah Day 'News Animations'/ 'No Words For You, Springfield', Project Art Centre, Mar 27- May 3, 2008. ISBN 1-872493-24-6