As part of the closing weekend of Forest: Wake this Ground at Arnolfini, Bristol, Sam Williams and Roly Porter presented the performance piece Salvage Rhythms in its second iteration. This work takes place within a twelve square grid on which four performers (Temitope Ajose-Cutting, Karen Callaghan, Iro Costello, Leah Marojevic) graciously detail a series of movements as Porter’s haunting soundscape unfolds.
The pulse of this piece develops out of Williams’s ongoing research into multispecies entanglements and their forms. Through the work of performance and sound, what is articulated here is a deep contemplation on the role of the body as a consideration of the organic forms found in nature, allowing for individual states to become polymorphous and complex beings. As the work unravels, it becomes apparent that each performer is working with a series of exact movements that had been developed intuitively and were now being perfected. This iteration of the work animated a constant urge to be busier and its undoing, allowing space for rest and restraint, and pushing against desires for activity, refusing to treat time as a poor material. Such a careful relationship to time provided them with the necessary space to come to terms with their own sense of being and needs, be that for space, or aide, before reaching out and entering into dialogue with one another, at which point movements became sometimes harmonious, sometimes destructive, and the patience in the performers' labour, a reminder that bodies are fluid, uncertain and reliant on one another.
In the preparation of what I would call, behaviours, there was clearly consideration for the care that is involved in habit and a respect for its necessity. Something that I felt appeared out of this notion of habit, is a contemplation on the domestic, and how a body comes to terms with understanding routine as an inexact rhythm. This domesticity comes as a secondary reading to the apparent intentions of the piece, emerging as a subtle undertone through the collapsing of time, form, and sound. The simple labour of the body stretching, or considering what item of clothing to wear, abstracted, and represented for a space of consideration, a space where bodies can work through intention and failure as an entangled experience. All the while the live score picked up notes and communicated back to the performers, animating what must have been field recordings of rain, or traffic, or rustling clothes. This process blurs the lines of what control is. The constant repetitions in both the movement and sound, offer each performer the opportunity to re-work their actions, finding the very essence of how they wish to move across, be, and collaborate in space, yet at no time did you feel total control was at play, nor did you sense a desire for it.
In one period, Callaghan moved both her legs gently back and forward from a flat position on the floor for what felt like several minutes. In another, Ajose-Cutting rolled up and unfolded over and over, almost stuck in the detail, but also developing a fullness for the range of her body. Our focus constantly being pulled from one body to another, as we sought to grasp the lexicon of behaviours at play. These behaviours seen in constant relation to one another become a unique syntax that feels intentional. What Salvage Rhythms works through are new notations on language, using gesture as a lyric, entanglement as speech, and eventually forming the vocabularies of cohabitation, cooperation and contamination. As the bodies begin their dialogues, we become witnesses to this language’s appearance. Forming words through gesture is a precise act and in the solus of their rhythms, each performer's movement sought this, yet as their bodies came into relation with one another, new forms of movement spontaneously arose, habits were undone, and the precision of pattern was forgotten in favour of the joys of complexity, only to be undone again. This negotiation between the need for the exact, and the urge to be spontaneous, situates itself in the questions of what it means to share space, where there lies an impossibility of understanding another’s totality and acceptance for their inaccuracies. There were instances of feet being sucked, heads grazing legs, simultaneous digging, moments that are so intimate that as viewers we too anticipated their failure would come, yet it felt urgent for us to hold onto this failure, as it became clear that in co-existing there are no failures, rather instances in which our desire for perfection becomes unnecessary.
As we watched these moments occur, Williams’ & Porter’s live soundtrack continuously situated us in an uncertain yet earthly terrain. The long-strained sonic of a single violin or cello was matched by noises of rustling, fumbling, and running through leaves, ice, mud, water, and the hush of voices; a chorus of uncertainty that left a sense I was only grasping at ideas of sound. Combined with the orange lighting that remains throughout, the liveness of the sonics left you feeling that this was a liminal space, in that we were situated in a border period between what was and what is coming, and that this delicate space was one we were fortunate to be given access to for these three hours. We had access to witness the continuum of a process, where it was vital we remain aware this is not our habitat, and that there are forces at work that we will never be able to see or hear. And perhaps this unknowing is the true axiom of the work. Our sense of what our domestic habits are pushed to their outer limits, as to our awareness of the environments we share, and how we come to be able to share them. Salvage Rhythms undoes any certainty we might have had of how a body prepares, practices, and performs in our routines, using liveness to congeal and coerce us into a patient awareness that our engagements play out as details in a far more complex system than we are able to understand.