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Trig Point - Forster and Heighes

Close up detail of the top of a trig point.

Trig Point 51.4134° N, 0.2115° W

February 3 - 23 2020

A research project by artists Forster and Heighes that explored perspectives on the design and use of pedagogical space and the technical and material resourcing required for innovative theatre making and performance practice across the educational, architectural and planning sectors.

Commissioned by Wimbledon Space, the 3-week research residency formed part of a curatorial series, entitled Impermanence.

It used language and adapted instrumentation from the field of land surveying, combined with specialist input from the spheres of architecture, education, and environmental studies.

Trig Point plotted not only how the college buildings function practically, but also how they position themselves in the minds and imagination of staff, students, and visitors. It also looked at how less tangible factors concerning atmosphere, social structures and spatial dynamics might offer up a more provocative set of coordinates from which to navigate a course of study.

The researchers used film and installation, a performance lecture, bespoke map/publication, podcast and structural intervention to recalibrate visitors senses of location awareness and directional finding. A fluid, deliberately playful, reconnaissance that analysed not only benchmarks, supervision and gradation, but the value too of error, inaccuracy, slackness and variation.

Trig Point installation montage - Forster and Heighes

Podcast series - Speculation in unimagined space

During the residency Forster and Heighes made a series of podcasts in which they interviewed staff. The podcasts invited responses and reflections on the main themes of the project, namely an exploration of the material and spatial resourcing of performance teaching in the contemporary creative academy.

In these 2 podcasts, we hear from Professor Adrian Kier, Programme Development Director in Performance at Wimbledon College of Arts. In the first podcast he reflects on the studio and performance space. The second discusses collaboration and theatre materiality.

Hello, and welcome to the Forster and Heighes podcast series 'Speculations in unimagined space'. My name is Ewan Forster. And over the period of 4 months from November 2019, my colleague and longtime collaborator Chris Heighes and I took up residency at Wimbledon College of Arts, at the invitation of the space gallery to create an installation and performance lecture, in response to the reconfiguration of the college to accommodate students that performance and acting.

The installation 'Trigpoint' and it's accompanying performance lecture 'On the hoof', were devised out of many conversations with colleagues, staff and students at Wimbledon, as well as others from further afield.

And the podcast series has been a chance for us to invite responses and reflections from some of those people on the main themes of the project, namely an exploration of the material and spatial resourcing of performance teaching in the contemporary creative academy. In the first podcast, we're going to hear from Professor Adrian Kier, Programme Development Director in Performance at Wimbledon College of Arts, who reflects on the nature of studio and performance space.

Hello, my name is Adrian Kier, and I'm going to be reflecting on 'On the hoof', a lecture performance by Ewan Foster and Christopher Heighes at Wimbledon College of Arts.

'On the hoof' is a provocative title because it implies both a spirit of improvisation of making it up in the moment, of responding instantaneously to something happening before you, to being unprepared as it were, and yet capable of responding instantly.

And on the other hand, on the hoof suggests a spirit of potential. Livestock refer to being on the hoof when they are yet to be slaughtered, yet to be turned into meat, yet to be processed into a finished product. So that spirit of the relationship between improvisatory acumen and the recognition of latent potential is something that I want to respond to and respond in the spirit of in today's comments.

On the hoof was the outcome of a performance investigation by Foster and Heighes, which I invited them to undertake as part of the initial period of my work of developing acting and performance at Wimbledon College of Arts.

I invited them as practicing artists and as practicing theatre makers to investigate the latent potential and improvisatory possibilities of thinking about introducing acting and performance making in an art school environment.

Wimbledon College of Arts is going through a process initiated 2 years ago, perhaps a little longer than that, of focusing its activities on being a theatre and performance school, rather than an art college as such, and yet wanting to retain something of the spirit of inquiry, the sense of investigation, and the kind of animation of creativity that runs through the art school itself.

In other words, it introducing acting and performance to an art school environment, we want to retain the characteristics of the art school and allow them to rethink and re animate the latent potentials and improvisatory possibilities of acting and performance as artistic processes.

Okay, so what do we mean by an art school environment? What do we mean by an art school ethos? I think central to the team's thinking at Wimbledon is the art school ethos is less about the inculcation of a set of knowledges, a set of discrete technical skills, and modes of application, and more about a spirit of inquiry, about being able to answer and ask more importantly, open questions about the nature of work, the nature of world and the nature of making that constitutes artistic practices.

So the art school ethos, which we're hoping to retain in our teaching and research into theatre performance is one which is prepared to ask difficult questions. Difficult questions about the nature of practice, and about the relationship between the artistic practices that we espouse and profess, and the world which they operate in and operate as investigative modes of inquiry in relation to.

So for me, the art school ethos is characterised by by 3 elements, inquiry, which I've already outlined, creativity, which is something perhaps we can come on to talk about a little later on in this process and innovation, the idea that we make things up, that we produce new ways of knowing, new ways of seeing, new ways of thinking, in relation to our experience of an outlook upon the world, of which we are part.

So, in this context of making a shift from being an art school, perhaps narrowly defined around visual arts practices, to being an art school context, embracing embodied modes of artistic practice, in acting, and performance, as well as visual modes of artistic practice in scenography, theatre design, painting, sculpture and the visual arts. Wimbledon is undergoing a significant shift.

And it is in the context of this shift that Forster and Heighes made the intervention and open out an investigation to think about what were the latent potentialities? What were the imminent possibilities? What were the opportunities presented by the introduction of acting and performance practices into an art school environment, and by the introduction of the art school ethos, into acting and performance pedagogies and practices?

So let's try and be concrete about this in the first instance. What does this mean for example, about our thinking about the nature of the studio? The studio in an art school context is the locus or locale for making activity. It is the space in which students inhabit, often physically inhabit discrete areas of space, in order to produce their own unique works. They tend to have, although this is not always the case, something of a residential occupancy of space, i.e. the parts of the studio, are designated to particular students for their practice, and that studios themselves are designated towards particular practices, for example, sculpture, painting, theatre design, etc.

This is somewhat different from how studio spaces are regarded in modes of drama and theatre teaching, the teaching of performance if you like, where studios tend to focus as spaces of not so much residential occupancy, but sort of empty spaces of possibility and practice.

I think in some ways, the approach to the studio derived from theatre performance is a bit like the approach to theatres derived from Peter Brooks 'The empty space', the idea that these are fundamentally neutral and fundamentally empty spaces, which are made alive through the presence of actors and performers, that are bought into being as a somewhere other than the space itself through the fictive and fabulatory modes of creation, that underpin notions of representation, narrative and imaginative consequence.

So for example, the studio can become Elsinore. The theatre can become Denmark. The actor can transform themselves from being the person that they are in themselves into the character that they embody, inhabit and represent, Hamlet say, in this instance. So that latent potential that on the hoof possibility of transforming the given space, the space of the studio or the space of the theatre into a product produced space, the space of a representational local, Elsinore, Denmark, is already written through in the notions of the studio being empty, have it be having latent potential, which is yet to be realised.

And yet, as my colleague Alan Reed has noticed, in relation to Brooks concept of the empty space, this conception miss recognises the fact that space is always already occupied, it always already bears the traces, the marks, the hallmarks of its previous occupancy, of its previous ideological formation.

So for example, what might be regarded as being empty in the context of a black box, or perhaps in the art school context, a white cube, is already marked by histories of artistic practice, already marked by ideologies of visualisation, and imagination. And we might add already marked by histories of, for example, colonial occupation, or imaginations of what constitutes neutrality in the mode of whiteness, which is far from neutral, and far from historically universal.

So the studio is, if you like, not so much an empty space, but a contested space, a space where new possibilities might be imagined, but also historical traces, historical residues, historical materials are already present. So in our approach to creating new studio spaces at Wimbledon College of Arts, new spaces in which actors and performers will practice their work and create their art, we have been concerned not to produce entirely, conceptually at least empty and neutral spaces, but to retain the pattern, to retain something of the historicity, to retain the marks and traces of the previous practices of the college as an art school.

To literally retain the marks on the buildings, the shapes of the wall, the nature of the materials of the windows, not to close out to the outside world and create a a black box or a white cube, which focuses merely upon the representation of an outside. But to draw that outside in and to think about the specificity of the relationship of Wimbledon, it's locale, its environment, its population, and their relationship to the work that is practiced and made inside the studios.

This for us is a is a central tenant of our work, that we focus on the studio as a site of material practice, where the materiality of the space itself, what its nature is what it's made of, what it encodes and embodies itself is made presence in the nature of the work that is made there.

And we invite our students not to think solely that the studio is a space for the construction of an imaginary elsewhere, but a space for the engagement with the nature of what is already there, with who is in the room, and what the nature of that room is.

So rather than starting, say from a representational text, a play like Hamlet, our students start from the initial encounters with themselves, with each other, and with the space in which they meet, and meet in order to make. That may sound a little esoteric, but it's far from it is actually entirely material and very, very concrete. They make the work out of the material nature of their own experience of the world, the material nature of their own encounter with each other, and the material nature of their encounter with the institution and the embodied material space that the institution presents i.e. the studio itself.

These principles are of course very familiar with the practice of scenography whereby starting from the space itself, starting from the space produced by the space and the space produced within the space is intrinsic to the practice of the discipline of theatre and performance design.

And that discipline and those principles inform very closely our conceptualisation of the development of new modes of actor and performance training, because we're less concerned with thinking entirely about the nature of the hermetically closed tradition that comes from, say, the Conservatoire context to focus upon the actor as the centre of the representational universe, and moving towards a model of theatre practice, which configures the actor as an element in the space, as part of the theatrical aapartatus, rather than it being its animating centre.

Of course, these ideas are long established, they go back to Adolphe Appia, Edward Gordon Craig and kind of mid 19th century turn to be thinking about theatre as an art form in its own right. And as a mode of practice that interrelates different artistic elements to come up with an overarching and an overriding 3 dimensional live form of artistic experience and event.

But this is not a backward turn. As far as we're concerned, we're not looking back to those 19th century predecessors, we're trying to look forward to 21st century modes of practice, which enables students to tell the stories and relate the experiences that come from their their own communities, their own lived realities, and their own experiences of the world, and to navigate the clash of the encounter between the spaces that they have inhabited, and the spaces of possibility and potential reality that the studio offers, was recognising that, that that clash takes place within within a political and cultural context.

So we're concerned not to overburden the students with the kind of aesthetic expectations that we as theatre artists and theatre researchers have, but rather to create spaces of possibility, whereby our students can generate the new forms and modes of practice that will characterise the 21st century, moving forwards.

And I think as such that's very much in keeping with the art school ethos of creating spaces for the invention of new forms and modes of practice. Creating spaces for what is not yet known, for what has not yet been seen, for what has not yet been heard. And we look forward very much to hearing from our students, to seeing their work as they start to move from potential to realisation over the course of the next few years.

You have been listening to Professor Adrian Kier from Wimbledon College of Arts, as part of the Forster and Heighes podcast series 'Speculations in unimagined space'. Check out the remaining podcasts in this series as well as other information on the Forster and Heighes website - forster-heighes.org.uk

Hello, and welcome to the Forster and Heighes podcast series 'Speculations in unimagined space'. My name is Ewan Forster and over the period of 4 months from November 2019, my colleague and longtime collaborator Chris Heighes, and I took up residency at Wimbledon College of Arts, at the invitation of the Space gallery to create an installation and performance lecture, in response to the reconfiguration of the college to accommodate students of performance and acting.

The installation Trigpoint and its accompanying performance lecture 'On the hoof' were devised out of many conversations with colleagues, staff and students at Wimbledon, as well as others from further afield.

And the podcast series has been a chance for us to invite responses and reflections from some of those people on the main themes of the project, namely an exploration of the material and spatial resourcing of performance teaching, and the contemporary creative academy. In this third podcast, we're going to hear again from Professor Adrian Kier, Programmme Development Director of Performance at Wimbledon College of Arts, exploring the nature of collaborative working and theatre materiality.

One of the things that we're looking forward to Wimbledon is creating a space of visibility for acting and performance practices, which are perhaps been somewhat neglected in the traditional, Conservatoire context.

Acting and performance practices that really focus on the responsiveness of our students to the challenge of becoming theatre and performance makers, theatre and performance thinkers, rather than simply instruments for others ideas, which, and it's a somewhat borderising characterisation has often been the case for the characterisation of the work of the actor, the work of the actor somehow embodying the ideas presented by the director, and the director somehow interpreting the work and the ideas presented by the writer. Just as the designer is themselves charged with realising the director's vision, and creating the world imagined by the writer.

Now, what I'm implying here is, of course, is that traditional theatre apparatuses, tend to work with a hierarchical model of the significance of artistic practices, we have the kind of writer at the top, the director, the designer, below them, the actor, maybe somewhere in parallel, as being sort of the inhabiting the the central representational space of the stage, and technicians and other modes of theatre workers below the, the actors themselves.

And what we're concerned with achieving at Wimbledon is a sort of flattening of those hierarchies, not necessarily entirely abolishing the distinctions before between them, but certainly destabilising the notion that they operate in a kind of a hierarchy of knowledge and, and a hierarchy of the significance of the practice. And in flattening that hierarchy, what we're seeking to do is to recognise the theatre ideas and theatre materials are generated from a range of multi disciplinary practices and a range of critical perspectives, which might in different moments be realised differently. So, for example, theatre performance work might begin with the work of the the costume designer or the or the theatre technologist as generating the the core principles, ideas which accompany then investigates, explores and realises in a artistic outcome together.

So in flattening theatre hierarchies of, you know, suggesting that we don't always for example, begin with a text that there might not always be a director, that the actors role may not always be central, but maybe partly for example, to do with helping realising the design, we are creating an environment which focuses on the theatre as the space of making rather than the individual disciplines that traditionally have seen to constitute it.

And obviously this is in keeping with a shift in contemporary theatre and performance practice towards, what might be loosely called the post dramatic. A movement away from the idea that the text is the central representational element of theatre, towards the notion that the event and the nature of the audience experience which combines both representational and presentational practice both the recognition of the reality of the actors as themselves. And as the modes of vocalisation and embodiment of the text that might be presented or may not be being presented, maybe being created within the space itself, are actually central to the nature of theatre as a live embodied experience.

So, what we are hoping to achieve there is the development of theatre makers who are theater thinkers, who work with the collaborative and multidisciplinary practices that underpin the creation of life events and life experiences, and which draw upon particular skill sets, techniques and disciplines. But put them in the service, if you like, of a technique, of a craft of making, of a craft of thinking, of a craft of creating, that goes beyond the limited possibilities of just the individual skill set of actors and performers, designers and technologists themselves.

So our ethos and again, I think this is something that performance brings to an art school environment, as much as it draws upon the art school environment is an ethos of collaboration, of an ethos of mutual respect, and recognition and sharing of the distinctiveness of skills and practices. And yet bringing them together to combine and create in an innovative, experimental and forward looking mode of practice.

Of course, focusing on the flattening of the hierarchies of theatre and performance practices, doesn't deflect from the fact that we are focused on investigating the materiality of these practices, and, in particular, investigating theatre as a material practice in itself.

Of course, this is somewhat counterintuitive, because in an art school context, to talk about the materiality of theatre is perhaps both welcome but also somewhat obscure, because theatre doesn't necessarily have discrete and concrete materials in the way that say sculpture does. It doesn't work with marble, or stone, or slate, or anything that is identifiable as a concrete material as such. What theatre works with is the materiality of bodies and voices and spaces and environments. And these materials are subject to change. They are contingent, they are time based, they are in a process.

And of course, this knowledge is already available to lots of fine art practices, both within film and within sculpture, and within painting, and their interrelationship with modes of performance, which interrupt, disturb and recalibrate the seemingly stable categories of material practices themselves.

So, we want to retain adherence to the idea of performance as a interrupter, as a mode of destabilisation at the same time, as to reflect upon what are the materials of theatre and performance making themselves? What is the relationship between the materiality of space and the materiality of the actors presence within space, the materiality of a embodiment of a persona or a character and the materiality of the voice movement that enables that character to appear and to become apparent? And what is the interrelationship between those modes of appearance, and the more materials based modes of appearance, such as the scenographic landscape, the lighting design, and the soundscape being constructed within the live event?

So what is the interrelationship between the materials and material processes involved in making performance as perhaps one of the most immaterial ephemeral and transient artistic forms? These are questions that I think the logics of visual performance bring to  the art school, but also questions that the art school informs then are thinking about theatre and performance making practices and processes.

So something of this was the context for the invitation to conduct a residency maze to you Ewan Forster and Christopher Heighes, as the partnership has a long standing mode of inquiry, which reflects both the materials based approach to theatre and performance, and a knowledge of the reliance upon and sensitivity to space, site and context. Their performance making for me is always about being about articulating the ways in which space, site and context are the sort of first principles that inform any kind of performative mode of intervention or inter relation to space and to site. And I think that was very clear in 'On the hoof', where by what they presented, was something of a catalogue, or a inventory, perhaps, of the range of possibilities and the range of potentialities afforded by the space of Wimbledon College of Arts, to the modes of performance practice, and the modes of critical performance inquiry that might begin to inhabit and animate it.

And I think in this respect, the commission worked, admirably and highly informatively, in terms of thinking about how we address that core project, which is the heart of the development of acting and performance at Wimbledon, moving forward, which is the recognition of actors and performers, as artists in their own right, as creative makers and critical thinkers that inhabit and work through studio spaces, creative processes, and artistic modes of inquiry, but at the same time, work together to produce collaborative outcomes that seek to traverse as well as reverse something of the hierarchies of thinking and making that have characterised drama and theatre, processes and practices in the 19th and 20th centuries.

So, that spirit of animation that we hope our students will take forward, is one that enables them to rethink what an actor and performer is, to reimagine what theatre is, and how it might be made to re conceive the role of the theatre maker as not only a technically accomplished practitioner, but an intellectually and politically courageous artist, thinker, and maker.

You've been listening to Professor Adrian Kier from Wimbledon College of Arts, as part of the Forster and Heighes podcast series 'Speculations in unimagined space'. Check out the remaining podcasts in this series as well as other information on the Forster and Heighes website - forster-heighes.org.uk

Performance lecture - On the Hoof

On the Hoof - Speculation in Unimagined Space was a performance lecture companion to the installation. In its first iteration, the lecture explored the relationship between primary and ancillary space within the creative institution.

Interview

We spoke to Forster and Heighes about their practice, influences, and how they approached and developed Trig Point and On the Hoof at Wimbledon College of Arts.

Exhibition

Installation photo of the Forester and Heighes exhibition at Wimbledon Space.
13 concrete trig points arranged in rows, which were part of the Forester and Heighes exhibition at Wimbledon Space.
Wooden panels that make up moulds for concrete castings laid against wall with a large concrete trig point sculpture in the background through a door way.
Large concrete trig point sculpture by Forster and Heighes in the college entrance corridor.