What is Freedom?: Interview with Grace Schwindt

Grace Schwindt reflects on her feature-length film, which through structured choreography questions the possibilities for freedom

Feature by Franchesca Hashemi | 01 Jun 2015
  • Grace Schwindt

Grace Schwindt's feature length film Only a Free Individual Can Create a Free Society exhibits at Tramway until 7 June. As an 80-minute film of robotic yet politically loaded speech delivered by a troupe of oddly strewn dancers requires, this work requires an attention prescribed to fine-needle work.

Over the course of several scene changes, which includes a London cityscape backdrop acting as an image of reality in this materially perplexing world, the artist brings to life a conversation between herself and a German cabbie.

“I chose this guy because he wasn't going to offer me a solution,” she explains. “What is freedom? There are different ideas on how to live freer, as with the student movement, revolution and family, all of which are palling. These situations relate to the film's set.”

During one scene, two performers paw the stage as fictional horses ride onto the set. It communicates stealth through the animal form, which is in turn objectified as language through artefact. This type of dance oozes grace and structure, yet the focus on linework and breaking or rejoining them is all part of the wider construction.

The dancers themselves appear as 11 sexless creatures. Exuding androgyny, there’s the potential for complete interchanging between performers and characters. With the awareness “that dancers become characters, and people want to identify with the character, fall in love and hate them,” Schwindt “would switch performers and switch roles if I felt they were becoming too dominant. It was the same for male and female dancers, because I felt [gender] wasn't important.”

There’s a material richness to the work, too, with its 30 different costumes, made variously from silk, velvet, aluminium and cardboard. The result is a subtle comparison of manmade and natural forms, with a large furry brown neck ruff on one performer and a side shield of bark adorning another. It could be an ode to the dishevelledness of suburban roadsides, lest we forget this film's composition mirrors the shifting landscape of the taxi driver's journey.

While Schwindt’s costumes’ silks, velvets and furs may be obviously elegant or sensual in some way, Schwindt resolutely does not seek to “dictate what is right or beautiful.” In fact, the creative polyglot completely rejects the notion of value. And rightly so.

One point of critical reference comes from Frankfurt, Schwindt’s place of birth. More specifically, the Frankfurt School's critical teachings spilled into Grace Schwindt's home life. With this comes certain readings of the work as a meditation on the freedom and unfreedom of communication, which we're led to believe is open to as many interpretations as the seer pertains and not just cultural associations assigned to the ‘norm.’ As a take-down of these kind of indolently habitual assumptions, the film can be experienced as questioning whether language is not in itself a self-reflexive and metalinguistical form.

Thinking of the film within this specific context, the rigour its organisation and structure seem to suggest that there cannot be a break in structure without the building of it first; exclusion and possibility hail from a constructionist viewpoint.  Along with the forces of construction and destruction, Schwindt intends also a space for fragility. “I wanted the bodies to appear still. Not because I'm optimistic about humans – I'm not, but to show that if you cut a body it will bleed.”

It’s not surprising then that, if there is a language or structure to OFICCAFS, it oscillates between order and a kind of structured aleatory. At times the set and choreography are subject to tightly planned arrangements. Then, portions of the group may split and rejoin, seemingly at random, while others move vertically and horizontally with the grace of a drunk person’s alphabet.

Grace Schwindt's take on the public sphere, rife with immortality and desire, 'religion and capitalism' illustrates the bleakness of society. As the Frankfurt-born artists says: “There is a very limited possibility of freedom in capitalism, because you never reach promise, and that's my point.”

Until 7 Jun, Tramway, Glasgow