by Katie Colombus
Work by Rosemary Butcher isn’t for the apathetic. You really have to draw your own conclusions, create your own narrative and search for the meaning in the physical metaphors you are presented with.
These two conceptual works, connected yet dissimilar in medium (the first with two ‘live’ performers, the other a video piece by Sam Williams) are entrenched in visual material pertaining to women’s relationship within the space (interiors) they inhabit.
That is all we are given - the rest, you must work for.
The grey, muted tableaux of Dutch painter Vilhelm Hammershoi give the performance context, as two women (Ana Mira and Rosalie Wahlfrid), faceless and shadowy, move within an aphotic realm.
Judson-esque in style, the piece reads like a silent poem - it is enigmatic, delicately haunting and dissociated from reality.
The women slide around the floor; two shunts forward, two back, as if trying to fit themselves through small spaces; wriggle as if trying to get comfortable or contract from the solar plexus as if in minor pain. Whether their repetitive monotonous rituals are related to domesticity or a wider metaphor for the futility of human existence, it’s hard to tell.
A sense of loneliness, of waiting, pervade both pieces. The stillness forces you to hone in on subtle nuances of the movement; a dropped curve in the upper back while standing or a seated reach to the right; distinctly feminine rounded arms, crouched and foetal positions and aimless running on the spot. An undeniably strong core underpins the base movement. Sometimes images of floating within this enclosed space create a paradox, before the women return to their anodyne hush.
Perhaps this is a coping mechanism - compartmentalising issues, with the room as a symbol of the brain. Pigeon steps, yogic downward dogs - movement creating shapes within which we can contain habitual behaviour in solitude and stillness.
While hard to pin down any concrete concept, it’s an enjoyable wrangle on the part of the audience, and a respectful nod to Butcher that she has managed to create such conversation from movement as contained and insular as the bare terracotta walls it exists within.
By Josephine Leask
Video installation designed for a range of gallery and theatre spaces is a dominant theme in Rosemary Butcher’s highly visual and meditative work After Kaprow. Another is the contemplation of how women occupy particular spaces and the imprints they leave behind them.
After Kaprow is comprised of two separate but connected pieces: The Silent Room which features live performance by dancers Ana Mira and Rosalie Wahlfrid alongside a film of the hypnotically still Mira, appearing on dual screens. This is followed by a second film, Book of Journeys, again of Mira, but capturing her movements in two contrasting locations, played simultaneously on the screens. Butcher explores through both video and choreographic activities, movement content that is inspired by women’s everyday actions that are associated with domestic settings such as household chores or washing and sleeping rituals. The dancers investigate the familiarity, tedium and self-absorbing nature of such tasks through pedestrian movement, detailed gestures, repetition and stillness. They have a quiet and reflective quality as they go about their actions, rolling, sitting, crouching or lying, while the lingering screen figure of Mira materialises and vanishes above them.
Sam Williams’ subtle and poetic video gives Mira a religious aura and its impact while at times distracting, usefully amplifies the intricate actions performed by the women, otherwise unseen on the darkened stage. The film is both haunting and reassuring, like a memory that keeps returning and the pre-recorded footage produces a vital tension with the live movement. I also like the fact that the film multiplies the presence of the women and creates an illusion that they are many of them in the rooms.
Whereas The Silent Room, with its dim lighting and muted movements, suggests nocturnal settings, Book of Journeys is full of day-light and colour. Mira inhabits two new spaces, a large empty room in a monastery and a corridor in a castle, responding to the silent, historical environment of each. Both films running in parallel, create the effect of suspended time and the sensation that we are witnessing memories of the dancer, as she investigates past, present and future states of being. While Mira performs faster and more expansive actions in the monastery, room which has the austere grandeur and colouring of a Johannes Vermeer painting, her manner is still meditative and introverted. In the castle space the video selects surfaces which are arrestingly contrasted; Mira’s pale fragile skin is juxtaposed with the rough brick walls or her bruised, rough dancer’s feet juxtapose with the lavish, smooth floor- tiles as she makes contact with them. Such exquisite attention to detail is something that Butcher does so well.
Finally, Mira’s vulnerability and humbleness as a performer together with her gentle and enquiring persistence, make her entirely suitable for Butcher’s work. Leaving us with a room charged with memory and presence, she exposes on a physical and visual level the body and its relationship with context.
Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider.
London, 24 September 2012
Meticulous work on angles – Where exactly did she face previously? Moving on from The Silent Room where the randomness seemed so important. Now things became so tight. Which details to be filmed? There are the obvious ones, but normally Rosemary doesn’t allow herself to be obvious. Yet in a way the work is made up of details, so it’s difficult.
Looking at the unravelling of an idea.
London, 9 September 2012
Two rooms with a self-contained film. Both elements deal with a woman being alone. The articulation of detail.
The exhibition with Vermeer and Hammershøi in Oxford earlier this year was inspiring, in terms of the colouring and the light. Light and dark. Reversal. Activities like sewing. Stillness.
The idea of the room and looking out of the room. Looking out at a world beyond – a third room. Separateness. Much stemming from the rooms of Kaprow’s 18 Happenings in 6 Parts.
Nothing is danced, it is a response to a situation, one in the head, and one in reality.
The movement is not cut. The dancer goes on journeys, which are edited by Rosemary and also Sam through the camera. Rosemary set up situations. Looking at articulation. Ana’s journeys are very internal.
What influences you in moving from one idea to the other?