Attention and Perception in Breathing Line

Breathing Line, a kinetic human sculpture and performance installation, is at Sneinton Market in Nottingham on Saturday morning on 9th September 2017. The work is aimed towards a passing public who may happen upon the event in their ordinary activity of attending the market. The print material that accompanies Breathing Line is intentionally straight forward – aiming to be accessible and appealing to a broad public and inviting their participation in the event. This text is offered to give some context for the work, prior to the performance, in terms of how the work has arisen through my ongoing artistic concerns and practices.

Breathing Line at Sneinton Market – a public art work that creates gifts for the future – has various elements. There is a market stall in the main market area with the banner ‘Breathing Line: gifts for the future’ where the public can get information about the work and how to take part. There are seven performers who process en masse through the market place, past the information stall towards The Lanes and to a second ‘Breathing Line: gifts for the future’ stall. Here each performer collects a bowl filled with £1 coins. Continuing their slow rhythmic walking the performers lay one thousand £1 coins in formation on the ground and step away. The public may then participate by receiving a gift of ten £1 coins in exchange for a future positive action that costs nothing. There is space and time for reflection and discussion. Each participant writes their future action on a small card and takes this away along with their £10 gift.

Breathing Line continues my interest in performers’ qualities of thinking in performance, in particular in relation to attention and perception. This approach was develop in the project Perception Frames (2014) – which is published as a collection of written choreographic scores. Ah kissing – the earlier public art work that is also part of Figures Series – uses the approach of Perception Frames in a highly distilled way to choreography the attention of many kissing couples. In a similar vein Breathing Line choreographs performers’ attention – in this case through a simultaneous awareness towards individual and collective processes in the act of walking. Each performer walks on the inbreath and is still on the outbreath. Each uses their own breath timing while staying in proximity to the rest of the group. Breathing Line becomes an oddly meditative and quietly rhythmic group action. Like Ah kissing it orientates attention at an individual, collective and environmental level. And it interjects a slower quality of time into public space.

For the performers, what comes through from this approach to choreographing attention is a kind of actuality in what is happening. An actuality of kissing. An actuality of operating simultaneously as individual and collective. An actuality of breathing in and breathing out. In that sense the actions are not representational but actual actions of the thing itself. So it’s almost a kind of exaggerated literalness. Or you can think of it as operating through sensual and perceptual modes of being: in states of ‘working’ with giving attention. I’m interested in how this can create a charged quality – a feeling of augmented perception in the performer and in the space-time they inhabit – which in turn is perceptible to a public.

With Breathing Line a concern with giving attention is extended to public participants who come into the work and ‘think’ about how they might receive the £10 gift. In exchange for the gift they are not asked to do something that is ‘worth’ £10; they are asked simply to do a future positive action that is without monetary cost. This is an invitation to think and act in an affirmative mode. To think beyond one subject and another that occurs in the usual transactional mode of exchange. To think perhaps towards the value of an action – however small – in terms of what it does in the world. In this way the participants’ attention perhaps becomes orientated in a wider than personal frame. And in the course of one hundred participants each receiving their gift from Breathing Line, many future actions are accumulated to be activated beyond the timeframe of the performance installation: gifts for the future.

As well as this version of Breathing Line I’m planning other versions for different types of public spaces with each leaving a trace/object that produces further actions from the environment or context in which it is performed: different kinds of gifts for the future.

Breathing Line at Sneinton Market is performed by Ella Hurman, Hermione Purvis, Katrina Brown, Mark Leahy, My Johansson, Paul Russ and Rosanna Irvine

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