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An interview with Forster and Heighes

A portrait of Forster and Heighes
A portrait of Forster and Heighes
Forster and Heighes, Trig Point 51.4134° N, 00.2115° W
Written by
Natalie Anastasiou
Published date
08 January 2020

This Spring Wimbledon Space presents Forster and Heighes: Trig Point 51.4134° N, 00.2115° W, an exhibition that responds to the period of change and structural reorganisation that Wimbledon College of Arts is presently going through as it focuses on delivering courses related to performance, screen and theatre arts to provide a rich, integrated approach to making performance.

Here, the artists Forster and Heighes discuss their practice, influences, and how they have approached and developed this new, site-specific work which uses performance and installation to explore the relationship between architectural design, creativity and learning.

A site specific performance of a man reading sitting on top of a ladder
DieErde eine gute Wohnung site-specific performance in the Hufesisensiedlung in Berlin.

“We first met at Dartington College of Arts, Devon, then both worked independently forming companies that specialised in experimental performance, touring the UK and abroad and presenting work at the National Reviews of Live Art and the ICA. We both experienced a sense of frustration with the limitations of studio-based work, preferring instead to develop a practice that erased conventional hierarchies of actor, director, designer to arrive at a compositional methodology informed by nature of place, materiality, and processes of use.

For more than 25 years we have been creating site-specific performance and installation responding to sites of architectural interest or neglect. We are mostly attracted to buildings that were built with a strong sense of their own future, buildings with principles and especially where those principles – social, educational or commercial – have become abandoned or obscured over time.

We exist within a constant state of performance; how we choose to engage with the world, how we present ourselves, encounter others, engage with ideas, place and activities is always performative. Things act on us, we act upon things and places, this creates a constantly fluid, and rich compositional territory. We don’t really arrive at a project with concepts or ideas, we prefer to walk and look and allow the sites to speak for themselves, as most places have vocabularies and materials which need  to be learned and experienced afresh for each project. It might be carpet making or accountancy; teacher training or pharmacology, every field offers a device for unlocking hidden stories.

A greenhouse installation
Plant Science Installation at the Inigo Rooms, Somerset House.

We tend to be inspired by artists, writers and film makers who explore space, place and materiality, physical engagement with matter and associational qualities/metaphors of the making process: Iain Sinclair, Roger Deakin, Patrick Keiller, Tacita Dean, Simon Starling, Christian Marclay, Rachel Whiteread. We have a constantly changing list depending on the project, and are just as likely to include specialists from the fields of medicine, sciences, archaeology or agriculture.

We were invited to Wimbledon by Professor Adrian Kear with whom we share a history of inquiry into the performative nature of site. We have long been interested in the nature and processes of learning and how material encounters inform, shape and impact upon educational experience. The new show at Wimbledon Space begins, like all others, with an extended site-survey.

We are approaching the project as a quantity surveyor might approach a commercial contract, by exploring the needs and requirements of Wimbledon’s newest client group: actors and performers.  We are exploring how material and spatial resourcing of this learning group are shaping and directing their creative experience and ultimately the kind of work they will produce in the future.

From this interest a theme of ‘navigation’ has been recurring and will play a significant role in the installation we are creating. Although we have begun, like any good journey, we are not sure yet where we are going to end up.”

An installation of writing on long wooden desks in a classroom
Three Kings, an installation and seminar event at King's College.

Wimbledon College of Arts is going through a process of change and this can be disorientating and can involve disruption and anxiety. Therefore, using installation, film, structural intervention and other performance methodologies we are developing what we call an ‘interruption’, a creative hiatus to allow us to conduct a survey, not only into how the college buildings function practically, but how they exist in the minds and imagination of staff, students, visitors and passers-by. How less tangible factors concerning atmosphere, materiality and spatial dynamics might suggest a new set of metrics by which the new configuration of departments and academic cohorts might realign themselves over the coming years.

Over a three week residency we aim to present a diagnostic prelude to the changes happening at Wimbledon to reveal how the site and its nature affect all who pass through it, sharpening perceptions not only of the range of disciplines, processes and skills present across all  departments, but also the rich commonality of approach in composition, representation and realisation; what could be described as a tectonic dramaturgy: (Ancient Greek (tektonikós) pertaining to building).

Central to the idea of presenting a survey and its findings, informed by a dramaturgy of, and from, the buildings will be the counterpointing of two spaces: the long Gallery and the more intimate enclosed vestibule of the college’s original entrance. This will allow us to present the corridor gallery as a ‘method’ space with a transitory/changeable interactive nature and the lobby as a ‘summary’ or prelude space.

So much of education is orientated around the concept of admission: entry not only to courses, but also to the complex process of acknowledging the truth of things, or the disclosure of something personal. Therefore, in the accelerated environment of higher education, a waiting place, a personal withholding room, or lobby in which to cast off ‘outerwear’ is of great use.

The partnership will explore this notion of threshold not only as pedagogical metaphor, but also practically, as a way of exploring the level at which one starts to feel and react to something, and when and how engagement begins.

An installation in a bell tower of Liverpool Anglican Cathedral
Trans Mittere, an installation in a bell tower of Liverpool Anglican Cathedral

We don’t limit ourselves to the more familiar fine art/theatre-making materials and techniques, being just as likely to plunder processes from civil engineering, animal husbandry or folk dance - such fields often suggest more rich compositional starting points, different temporal aspects, weighting and textures.

After a period of walking and talking we try and arrive at a ‘device’ for the presentation of ideas. At Wimbledon we plan to combine an installation with a short live work or ‘performance lecture’. At this stage we imagine that as a live publication of research findings, a kind of mischievous  
structural survey for an ‘unimagined space’ but without the need for a ring binder or executive summary.

It is generally our wish that spectators of our work experience a sense of disruption and mild disorientation, one that shifts or challenges their everyday perceptions of physical matter, objects and space, creating a network of playful, poetic associations in the mind."