Phone Box Artist/s – Hannah Aebi & Dominique Baker – Clements End

We are Contemporary Dance graduates from Trinity Laban Conservatoire for Music & Dance and have been creating and performing together for four years. From the UK and Switzerland respectively, we often work with mixing movement with other art forms such as sound, video, and text. We have worked on several site-specific works with other artists and are interested in exploring dance in unconventional settings and audience interaction. Community engagement is also a key part of our practice, and during our training in London between us we led workshops and performed in several events in the local community. We are also part of Mass Hysteria, a movement collective which consists of 12 dancers creating performance art works together and offering a platform for other artists to show work. Over the years we have organised and hosted monthly events at a member’s home and invited artists from a variety of disciplines to show work or give talks providing a lively space for people to come together and share, as well as creating original works for live audiences and now broadening our practice to interacting and performing online.

We engaged with:

Walmore Hill Primary School, assistant head Kirsty Evans 

Research:

In order to make contact with the local community we got in contact with Reverend of Clements End Methodist Church via email and we posted in the Forest of Dean facebook group. That is how we connected with the assistant head teacher Kirsty Evans from Walmore Hill Primary School. We were interested in working with school children as they would most likely have no memory of phone boxes being in use, therefore could perhaps see them more as a space/structure with possibilities for different shapes and activities, with fresh creativity and curiosity at these quite unfamiliar spaces.

To connect with the local community further we were planning a few days camping at local caravan site to carry out own research amongst the Forest and with the phone box. As we struggled to make contact over online platforms with locals to Clements End we thought that this would be a great way to connect with the area more an give us an opportunity to have conversations with the local community and tell them about the project.

We were inspired early on by street artist Will Dorner and his Bodies In Urban Spaces, a live art trail that takes the audience through public and semi-public places where they witness temporary interventions of dancers in the space, allowing the audience to see spaces in an entirely different and new way. The dancers fit into and around the space, blending in with the space, enhancing and creating new landscapes with their bodies. From this we began to think about how we could use movement to explore the confined space of the phone box, accentuating its shape and subverting the audience’s expectations of how the space should be used.

We then started to be curious about the blurring of inside and outside. Each of the phone boxes exists as a small, enclosed space within the vast outside of the Forest, so when you are in one you feel as if you are inside yet outside. This led us to decide upon bringing our findings together in a ‘sensory garden’; we would collect objects from nature to place in the phone box, creating a little world inside that resembles the Forest outside. This world could then be experienced in a performance setting as well as by the audience members themselves. It would allow us to move the surrounding world into the phone box, highlighting the broad variety of textures to be found in the woodland area.

What we did:

Hannah workshop with school

On two afternoons we had the pleasure to work with the children of Walmore Hill primary school. In a playful manner we explored how our bodies could fit into everyday spaces in an unconventional way. On the first afternoon we were using the classroom as our playground – Sitting on chairs upside down, exploring the space below the desks, finding small corners to fit in body parts. 

We then were mind-mapping about the outside spaces, creating little drawings of choreographies that we could do in those spaces around the schools using them in a different manner.

The second afternoon was spent building phone box sized spaces in the school hall. We used chairs, tables, mats and benches and were then investigating how we could relate our bodies to what we had built. We recreated the size of a phone box with tree tables and were asking ourselves how many of the children can fit into it laying down, sitting or standing. To round off the afternoon we were telling each other our experiences and stories with phone boxes. For many of the children a phone box wasn’t necessarily a place where you would go to call someone but rather they were telling stories of using them as shelter from the rain or as a hiding place.

The most special about these afternoons was the great curiosity and enthusiasm from the school children. It was inspiring to see their creative ways of fulfilling tasks and the excitement shown towards using their class room in many new ways.

I would like to thank Kirsty Evans and her class for inviting me to come to their school.

The last workshop with the school was in early February 2020. Due to Covid-19 restrictions we were unable to carry on traveling to the Forest of Dean after that. Therefore, we started exploring our immediate surroundings, Hannah in London and Dominique in Goa, India. Our research shifted slightly and we began thinking about how we could create a sensory experience for an audience that would be online, and how we could keep the essence of practice concerning the appropriation of unconventional spaces for movement, while we were not able to visit the phone box or the surrounding community. With this in mind, we began sending videos of movement to each other as a sensory response to our different environments, reflecting on aspects of the space such as geometric shape, colour, texture, and temperature. This allowed us to stay together creatively while the use of technology to communicate and bridge long distances had echoes of the phone boxes themselves. 

Dominique in the jungle

Our practice was built a lot on noticing and being aware of your surroundings, and from this I began exploring different ways that I could position myself to see the space. For example, upside down, through the branches of a tree, through my hand or against the sun, my eyes functioning like a camera selecting what frames it captures. I was researching in a studio hand-built in the Goan jungle that has a tree coming up through the middle of the flooring and escaping out through the roof, so there was the amalgamation of inside and outside present in the space. I could also position my phone camera close to the net-like wall of the studio so that both the outside wall and the interior of the studio were partially visible. In this way I began to think of the studio as being like the phone box in the Forest, a microcosm within a greater natural environment, a small internal space within the boundless exterior space of the Forest or jungle. A place where conversation, connection and activity would occur. In the video shared below from this research, you can hear lots of other sounds such as conversations, music and birds, all co-existing simultaneously and independently, yet having an effect on the overall environment. Considering the idea of movement within a confined space, I improvised in the tree in the studio, exploring how I was restricted as well as how I could use the architecture of the tree to my advantage and create more possibility for movement. I also experimented with what effect was created when I moved in front of the studio walls so that the camera captured my movement against the trees that were visible outside, to play with the idea of looking out from inside/looking in from outside. My body became almost a silhouette and the outside view appeared as a sort of backdrop, therefore both the view of the inside and the outside became obscured.

Stories, anecdotes, moments from our research:

Noticings from improvisation in tree – Dominique

I am inside of an outside thing that is inside the studio. Inside outside. This outside thing creates an inside space for me, and I can hide, reveal, measure, tessellate, mark, show, fit the shapes it creates.

Here, I am in an inside that is outside. What makes an inside? 4 walls? A door? Solid ceiling and walls? When I am inside I can see the outside If I can see the outside does it mean I am there? If I can see Inside is it really inside?

Poem for the jungle – Dominique

There is a rustling in the trees

Fruits fall

You shake the branch.

Juice drips down your chin

As you such on the cashew fruit.

Glimpses of red and yellow

Amongst the bed of dry leaves,

A plethora of branches

A maze for us to climb,

Our canopy and our hammock.

This jungle will carry on without us

As it has done for years.

But for now we become part of it ,

And it becomes part of us

To touch – Hannah

I touch with my hands, every day, things I’ve never touched before 

I touch with my feet – the ground that I am walking on

I touch with my mouth, my lips, my tongue, my cheeks the food that I’m consuming

My bum touches the surfaces I sit on 

My back and my belly touch the bed I’m sleeping in every night

My whole body touches, every day, the air that is around me

Further information, images & links:

In the slideshow above you will see children’s sketches. These are drawings and notes that the children made when asked to plan a choreography using the surroundings of the school in an unconventional way. The creativity the task brought to their minds was enormous and one could feel their excitement towards using everyday spaces in a different way.

Sensory Exchange in Nature – Hannah and Dominique conversing throughs videos engaging sensorially with surroundings, provoking a visceral experience for the viewer.

This video is made with a 360 video camera which was placed under a stool. As we want to keep the children anonymous, video effects are laid over it. In a way this video shows the opposite of what we did afterwards, as it gives us an outward view. The camera is showing what is taking place around it, which could be compared to being in a phone box and looking out from it or the other way around, circling around a phone box and looking in through the glass front. 

What we enjoyed about the research period and our hopes for future development:

This was a great opportunity for us to connect with artists from a variety of backgrounds and we were inspired by the innovative range of approaches to the concept of the project. It was interesting to consider how the arts could be used to engage with the local community and preserve some history of the Forest. Due to the fact that we were all working remotely and in isolation, the research phase really challenged us to delve into our personal practice, enabling us to initiate our own exploration.

If the coming year allows us to travel back to the Forest of Dean, we would go ahead with our idea of creating a sensory garden in the phone box that offers you a sensory experience through touch. We would also be interested in bringing this practice to other public spaces such as bus shelters or post boxes, so that we could continue to encourage communities to see their area in a different way and consider the artistic potential of spaces.

domibaker96@gmail.com

hannahaebi@gmail.com

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