KMA, aka Tom (Wexler) and I, are currently making our first major new piece since Congregation (2010). The seven year hiatus has been filled with the making of two films, alongside performances of existing KMA works.
Our new piece, The Space in the Middle, will be an amalgam of everything we’ve learned making and performing Congregation (and its ancestors) presented alongside filmed elements that borrow from our cinematic aesthetic, making it very much the first confluence of these two strands of practice.
The title the Space in the Middle point in three directions;
- The Space in the Middle describes an idea; a new dynamic relationship between art and its audience, one in which the audience are the performers and the generated aesthetic is jointly owned. There is no artefact, only a communal experience. How then should we redefine the audience, the performer, and the artist? The Space in the Middle questions those relationships.
- The Space in the Middle also describes the physical space, the temporary stage that a KMA work creates (usually in the centre of an urban environment). It’s a gathering place where unusual things happen.
- And last, but NOT least, The Space in the Middle is the theme of the piece. The brief moment of our existence. “our little life… rounded with a sleep.”
The Space in the Middle will premiere in Baltimore, USA, on 31st March 2017 and run until April 8th.
If you’re reading this, you probably are aware that Congregation - the conflation of light, music, and people that’s been resident in Pittsburgh’s Market Square for the last four weeks - ends tonight. Tom Wexler and I (who originally conceived the work back in 2010) came out to Pittsburgh for ten days in February to install and launch the piece but, since then, we’ve been back in the UK, feeling (appropriately but dispiritedly) half-a-world-away.
From our point of view, Congregation in Pittsburgh has been the most beautiful experience, and it's one for which we’re really grateful.
Pittsburgh has a very distinct identity and energy, seemingly shared by all that we met, that wholly seduced us. It’s a great place in general and a marvellous place for us to host the US debut of a KMA work. As will be apparent to you all, Congregation is a dialogue between the installation and its hosts. Just like a good conversation, it cannot be one-sided. The enthusiasm, interest and openness with which the ‘burgh received the piece have breathed new life into the work. And not only into Congregation but also into our desire to make new interactive public works in the future.
Congregation is a collaboration in the most real sense. The worlds of music, film, literature, fashion and theatre have a rich vocabulary to describe co-existing authorial positions. We’re not quite so semantically advanced; we have no immediate terms to ascribe to our audience / performers, or to Kester, Mark, Cory, Renee, Jeremy, Leigh, Laura, Jen, Kate, Morton and all the others without whom there would have been no Congregation in Pittsburgh. Congregation is an ephemeral experience and, as of tomorrow, its presence in Market Square will be no more than a memory. We’re hugely grateful to Joe Seamans for his time, patience, and sensitivity in documenting its brief life in your city. We also were introduced to many other wonderful and engaging artists, bloggers, students and other, fantastically open and interested types, amongst them; @DSKinsel @PittMommyBlog @APCollector Carl Cimini, Katie Castelli, and Maggie Lynn. As well as having many individual debts of thanks (many which I fear I’ve overlooked), we’re also hugely grateful for the collective desire, energy, and focus that the city summoned to help make the piece work, it’s been a tremendous collaborative effort, unprecedented in our previous experience.
I’d also like to offer up my thanks to less visible forces.
Taking our work to any new space is always a step into the unknown; So much of the work is created at the time of performance, by the people who attend, that we can never be sure of the outcome. The technology that underpins it is our hotchpotch combination of the grossly mechanical and the crash-ably digital combined in a manner that would make Heath Robinson blush. There’s also something deeply primitive about being in thrall to the elements, a meteorological unwillingness to collaborate can be terminal for the piece, and although the extremes of a Pittsburgh winter presented us with new challenges, it could have been so much worse. Even as a resolute humanist its hard not to try to attribute one’s dependence on the weather and one’s trust in the reliability of breakable things to fate or luck, or to other unseen forces. Having a large symbolic primitive human form - representing such attributions - at the centre of Congregation does nothing to alleviate my sentimental attachment to similarly reassuring imagery.
So when, while out on a Sunday stroll with Tom and Kester, I saw this yellow road sign on North Shore I felt that I’d found Congregation’s protecting Pittsburgh Angel. He (she) seems a perfect combination of the prosaic and the sublime. Wearing the urban yellow of the city’s bridges, and carrying what appears to be a board-rubber in one hand (although the descending arrow is maybe suggesting a less than heavenly destination, which Kester and Tom seem to be contemplating) having witnessed her oversee such a wonderful experience, I would happily follow her anywhere.
So I’d like to raise a glass now to the Pittsburgh Angel of North Shore for her protection, to the many people of Pittsburgh who I now consider as friends, and to the city and its people for their generosity. Thank you all.
Pittsburgh’s reaction to Congregation reflects the warmth, open-mindedness and adventurous spirit that we have found characteristic of the people we met in the city. The location, physical surroundings, and even acoustic qualities of the Market Square site offered up a near perfect impromptu theatrical space that was populated by a broad and diverse audience. The atmospheres that were generated ranged from the intimate to the exuberant. Congregation is a catalyst for human interaction, and every culture, group and individual bring their own approach and interpretation: for our first American show, we have been blessed to find such an ideal location.
Thank you, Pittsburgh.
I was recently asked about how we document KMA's work. The short answer is badly, if at all. But the question got me thinking;
A security camera high above a library reading room documents the passage of time, the comings and goings of readers, and their most basic disposition (their engagement with reading, doodling, their phone, other people etc...). It may be a useful document in a number of ways; It says a lot about the size, shape, and layout of the room. It may be used to help prove the popularity of the library, to describe the demographic of its users, it may illustrate how long the average reader stays, and other equally dull but potentially useful statistics. With luck it might even support an alibi or expose an indiscretion. It may do all of these things, and more, but it records almost nothing of the real activity that is taking place under its lens. It would, in short, be impossible to deduce anything from the recording about the activity taking place in the readers’ minds, about the relationship between their minds and the texts in front of them, about the real reason for their presence.
As someone who makes live work in which the focus is not some external spectacle but a spontaneous empathic engagement between strangers, I’m as frustrated with lens based documentation as an author seeking a response to their work might be in the library analogy above.
Being brutally honest we document KMA's work (in so far as we do) to trigger our own recollections of the moment, to prove we made the work, and to show that people came and were engaged. We can do little else.
That said those documents do, as in the library example, say quite a lot about the mechanics of the work and its historical development. They help fossilise otherwise ephemeral moments and make it possible to see developments that might otherwise be forgotten in the haze of memory.
I’ve often thought about more interesting and effective ways that we might record the work. So far I’ve always rejected them. I think I rather like the momentary nature of what we do, of making things that resist being recorded accurately.
Since our earliest ancestors so much cultural endeavour has gone into the act of not-forgetting, of finding ways of fossilising the now, memorialising the past so that it (and we) can live on.
And now, for the first time in history, we are living through a truly extraordinary shift.
We are the first human beings in history for whom forgetting is now becoming harder than remembering (Internet, social-networking, tagging, ubiquitous camera phones etc).
KMA’s works come out of a background in performing arts where pretty much everything now gets photographed, filmed, blogged and recorded. In this field there’s always a subject to point a camera at. It’s a small contribution to the cultural debate I know, but I really like that our work (though large and occasionally spectacular) has no subject and, like the library analogy, resists being understood by a lens. It requires a sentient present mind.