Interview: Tim Spooner - internal choreography

Friday 25 October 2013 by Carmel Smith

Tim Spooner. Photo: Olivia Beasley

Tim Spooner is an artist working in paintings, writing and live shows. An Artsadmin Associate Artist, he’s taking part in Dance and the Homemade, part of Chisenhale’s Big 30 celebrations…

You’re a visual artist working in painting and live shows. What are you doing at Chisenhale Dance Space?
I had an idea for a project which I thought would fit with Chisenhale’s expanded idea of what dance performance might be. They commissioned me to work on it as part of their Dance and the Homemade scheme. I thought it would be an interesting thing to work on and present in a dance context because it is all about movement and the body but very little movement is actually seen. This is because my focus is on the interior of the body rather than what it displays outwardly. So the ways in which it is and is not like dance might frame the project helpfully.

Tell us about Subliming Furiously , the work you’re presenting on 31 October.
In my work I’m interested in the idea of places of mystery – places of microscopic or megascopic scale, or places that are very dark, or incomprehensibly complex, or beyond the language we have. Recently I’ve been thinking of the inside of my body as such a place – I have no true grasp of the physical processes going on inside me because they are hidden and minutely complicated.

In Subliming Furiously, I’m looking particularly at the idea of speech as a kind of internal choreography. The show is a strange demonstration of talking. It emphasises talking as a physical, bodily activity. I tell a story of a journey through the woods in which transformations occur: things change form, gases turn solid, and we jump around in time and space. The way we hear the voice keeps transforming too: picked up by altered microphones which “hear” in different ways, revealing it in various aspects. Other devices physically affect how the words are formed by the speech organs. There is an interplay or entanglement of the meaning of the words and the way they are made and amplified. There are also small “visions” which light up intermittently, and might represent externally the mysterious world inside, so that perhaps the whole interior of the room becomes equivalent to the space inside the body, reverberating with the story of the journey through the woods.

You say your focus in on ‘the interior of the body, rather than what it displays outwardly’ – how does that translate into ‘performance/dance’?
This means trying to pay attention to the majority of the body’s physical activity which happens inside and mostly unseen. The act of talking represents one system within all that activity. The translation is in finding ways to externalise, evidence or suggest that to the audience without letting its material qualities vanish in the process. For example, if you put a microphone inside your mouth rather than outside, you hear the voice but you also hear the moving space of the mouth and throat. You get a greater sense that the voice is movement. I’ve also experimented with thickening the medium I’m talking through using water and smoke.

Tell us about your experiments in turning sound into movement – how can language be choreography?
I think sound already is movement. The voice is sculpted by moving parts in the body and it travels through the air and affects other moving parts in the listener’s body, meaning they hear it.

The Renaissance philosopher Francis Mercury van Helmont thought that the first language in the world was Hebrew and that its written characters were literal, diagrammatic representations of the shapes that the inside of the mouth and tongue should make when pronouncing their sounds – a pictorial choreographic score for talking. I don’t believe this, but I find it fascinating as a creation myth for language because it portrays the voice as fundamentally a physical relationship between movement and sound, rather than an immaterial carrier of meaning.

Does presenting your work in a dance venue give you a new perspective on your art practice?
My perspective on what I do is already quite fragmented, and working in a dance venue has added to that. I like presenting work in a lot of different contexts because it helps me question and refine what is particular to the work in a fuller way. In this particular case, I’ve found it illuminating to think and treat language as a choreographic event. It’s heightened my sense that the body is a mysterious frontier.

Dance and the Homemade, Chisenhale Dance Space, Thurs 31 October
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Tim Spooner. Photo: Olivia Beasley

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