Here Now There Now

Dance can move outside theatres to devastating effect: The Skinny looks for movement out of the train window

Feature by Agata Maslowska | 16 Jun 2008

By taking on unexpected forms, art makes us more aware of our automatised actions and thinking. Last month in Scotland train commuters could experience the influence of this so-called de-automatisation through the text and performance based project, Here Now There Now. The project was developed by Scottish artist Pernille Spence, who got hooked on the idea of movement, landscape and their relation to the body. As the main inspiration Spence identifies a quote by Tennessee Williams, ‘Time is the longest distance between two places’.

“While working on another project in Berlin, I was doing lots of filming through the train windows and became really interested in the mid-ground spaces, especially in the more remote parts of the countryside where you don’t usually expect anything to be there. I also became interested in the commuter routes where people do these journeys every day, and I thought it would be quite interesting for one day to change that landscape.”

Always keen to work across different art forms, Spence brought in Scottish-based artist Anthony Schrag, writer Raman Mundair and feature film choreographer Litza Bixler. Apart from collaborating with other artists, Spence managed to attract a number of volunteers who performed one of the following actions: running, dancing or lying in the field. The performances were based at remote locations along popular train routes: Aberdeen – Dundee on 4 June, Dundee – Edinburgh on 5 June, and Edinburgh – Glasgow on 6 June. The three parts of the performance are partially inspired by Welsh philanthropist Robert Owen who came up with idea of eight-eight-eight day division: eight hours of work, eight hours of leisure and eight hours of relaxation.

Schrag devised the running aspect with runners dressed in suits undertaking endless futile attempts at catching a passing train in a frantic repeated chase. The idea of waiting and repeating came from Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot where Vladimir and Estragon wait in vain for mysterious Godot. Repetition also featured in choreography that brought to mind the mechanical movement of the train and the stillness of passengers. Spence reflects “There is this idea of people sitting on the trains, their bodies fairly still, and the contrast of people doing the movement in the landscape”. The performers lying in the field are completely still, waiting and waiting. The project is complemented with text like ‘mo(ve)ment for procrastination’ or ‘mo(ve)ment for deliberation’ placed at thirteen different locations along the railway tracks.

While working on the project Spence researched the history of trains and played with ideas people had about the railways. “People who were pro the railways talked about them as being an imminent utopia. There were a lot of critics as well and a lot of them were art critics, like John Ruskin, for example, who talked about trains and railways annihilating space and time. And I thought it was interesting that they couldn’t deal with the idea of a vehicle travelling at such a speed, humans travelling at such a speed, and also travelling across the landscape at such a speed where it passes by so quickly. I thought it was interesting in relation to nowadays where I’d say the train journey gets people time back. Through reading I discovered that trains are the main reason for speeding up life in general: people talk about life being too fast, life picking up pace; everything changed in the UK because of the railways that were harmonised across the UK”.

Waiting for the train, waiting for a utopia, waiting, chasing or moving are all at the centre of human lives and they all constitute the core of Here Now There Now. Spence is planning to develop these ideas further in new upcoming projects, and hoping she will be able to collaborate with artists across Europe. In the meantime the documentation from the project will soon be published both in hard copy and online.

Agata Maslowska was one of the volunteers taking part in Here Now There Now.