Florence Peake creates works that draw on her background in dance and painting; much of her work is performance. She has been making since 1995 with current work being presented primarily in gallery spaces and public spaces. She works with drawing, painting and sculptural materials alongside the moving body – often combining these to fabricate and to reinvent sculptural forms within the performance event. Primary and/or contrasting colours and clay are recurring elements. Works for public spaces include ‘Lay me down’ (2013) later known as ‘Laid Down, Placed Next’ which were presented in the streets of Nottingham and Oxford. Perceived as a public intervention, the performers use portable mirror slats, laying these on the ground then lying on them and on each other, taking up horizontal positions of rest – a simple action that is repeated and that for Peake interrupts “corporate culture that is so prevalent and all-consuming in public space.”
‘Keeners’ (2015) was performed on common land at London Fields by a chorus of five female dancers. Drawing on the Irish tradition of female professional mourners at funerals who keen for the the grief of the collective, the work declares and mourns personal losses that were gathered through a public open call. The work keens the commodification and instrumentalization of art while simultaneously acknowledging its own complicity in those processes. Works for gallery spaces include ‘Skin Press Body On’ (2015) an interactive wall-hung object that invites audience to make contact with a “immersive massage tool” that is made with 511 interactive rolling balls – and to experience a duet of touch with the object. ‘MAKE’ (2012), which was performed at BALTIC Newcastle and Yorkshire Sculpture Park, is a task-based choreographic activity for ten female performers who work with materials to make and dismantle an ever-changing large scale sculpture. The work exposes and deconstructs the processes of its making and aims to playfully expose the usually hidden labours of art-making. Peake’s work operates across choreography and visual art.
Rosanna: What influences – personal and art historical – drew you to working with the combination of visual arts materials and the moving body?
Florence: My painting and movement practices have run alongside each other for many years before I started to work with how they could interrupt and impress on to each other. I went through many collaborative processes and experimentation with objects and different materials. I collaborated with dancer and artist Sally Dean where we conducted lots of experiments in movement with Skinner Releasing technique and objects, thinking about somatic and movement practices that privilege the experience of movement combining with domestic objects and sites, to understand what that encounter might produce. I now use lots of different materials – text, film, sound, installation. My collaborative relationship with dancers like Katy Coe and Joe Moran amongst others, were always where a lot of exploration, discussion and material was generated. Long term relationships with other artists has given me a lot of resources and ways to throw ideas about. I probably artistically grew up with the Judson Church lineage of makers and how they collaborated with visual artists and sculptors – Simone Forti with Robert Morris, Robert Rauschenberg. Also artists such as Rebecca Horn that looked at body extensions. So I started probably thinking about materials and objects/sculpture as extensions of the body, antennae and how that affected my relationship to space. It is very different now and I have a more autonomous relationship to objects and the body.
Rosanna: You have trained in Skinner Releasing Technique (SRT) – a method that uses visual imagery and non-codified movement to develop kinaesthetic awareness and techniques of dancing. Can you tell us how SRT informs your approach to making?
Florence: SRT as well as other movement practices has given me grounding and an environment – psychically and methodologically for preparations into performance and making but it is not necessarily aesthetic. Somatic practices use of images, body work, touch, connection to environment and site have been an influence in my approach to performance, ethically in how I approach working with people and has become a need I have for a movement practice autonomous yet in conjunction with my making. I feel very resourced in terms of how I can hold performers and work with them due to the huge privileged of working with many exciting practitioners over the years: Gaby Agis, Helen Poynor, Eva Karczag amongst many others. My work does give emphasis to the inner life of a subject, person, performer and objects and to how that can be a presence in performance or installations – I am interested in our inner states being exposed and available as performance presence and resources.
Rosanna: Your work often references or exposes the processes of its making alongside a cultural critique – such as with ‘Keeners’ and ‘Laid Down, Placed Next’, works that perhaps most evidently ‘perform’ a critique. To what extent – or how – does a critical intent shape your wider practice?
Florence: It is very hard these days to make work that is not considerate of the current political, social landscape – it is important to me that I am porous – or my thinking is porous – with what is happening in the world. I don’t think it is separate and I don’t consider myself a cerebral artist but hope to be empathetic to the political landscape. So I am not sure if I consider it as critical but as a response to what is happening or how our autobiography meets the our extended bodies of each other in the world.
Rosanna: The performers you work with are dancers and you have trained in dance. Yet you call yourself an artist – rather than a choreographer. Why is that?
Florence: They are not always trained dancers, I often work with non- trained performers and non- performers. I use the term artist as an umbrella term but I don’t care what title is given. I am completely promiscuous across art forms I will work in what ever medium context that is right for the ideas and the need to make. It is not a concern for me to identify as a particular art form/medium. I have my big long term love that I have been faithful to for 30 years – dance/movement and painting is a steady relationship too but I am completely polyamorous to all other mediums.
Rosanna: Thank you Florence!
Notes and sources
Interview date 20 June 2017
Images – top: Florence Peake ‘The Keeners’. Commissioned by SPACE. Photo: Tim Bowditch. Dancer: Rosalie Walhfrid
in text: Florence Peake ‘Laid Down, Placed Next’. Commissioned by Dance 4, Nott dance 2015. Photo: Sean Goldthorp