A new thread while I am working in confined space in my house.  As a follow up to the portrait class I did two weeks ago, I am having a look at the human head and closely studying the shape of the skull and how the features become part of that.

As I cannot go out to sketch people due the coronavirus restrictions,  I practice by pausing the tv when I see a head that interests me, and doing a flash sketch of it.  Practice, practice until it becomes second nature, then I might be able to start creating something.

I welcome the change in routine, it is making me think about what I do in a fresh way and prioritise the threads of teaching, horse drawing, design and experimental art practice differently.

1.4.20  I have made some charcoal drawings of myself and started to translate the tones and planes of my face into paint.  It is quite a challenge to see my face, or anything, in that way, especially when colour is the medium.   But practice is the key.  Also I am making “plane” drawings to help me be clear when I am painting.  But it usually needs a couple of days.




Got stuck while working from a photo, did the tried and tested grid close focus colour matching approach but alas, it did not work, though I did learn something as ever from the frustrating tussle (below left).

Next day looked again at my mentor, Ray Smith, and mixed up four tonal/flesh colours and had another go on different image.  Realised that attempting to capture the elusive flesh colours is impossible (for me at this stage anyway), and in fact as humans our focus on the face is so powerful that it will interpret the features with only a small hint.  Start in this way and build up the colours in relation to each other, going warm or cool or both, however you wish.



Come to a bit of a halt with the momentum of this.  But re discovered this portrait painter from almost 4 years ago, understand it better now



Starting on closer pencil drawings to try and get a likeness.  Here is what I have so far.  *hard work* and not like me.


Due to the coronavirus, I have moved my workspace to my house and it will take a different direction.  As I will be in a different environment which is less spacious and where I cannot have my current work to hand, I shall be focussing on working from life in the (self) portrait and on small scale studies.  This time will not be wasted and in some ways I am glad to take a break from constant striving and return to technique and detail.  Also I am freshly inspired by my course only a week ago with Alan McGowan.  But I hope this general situation will not go on too long and I will be able to return to my workshop.


Working in my studio is a continual search to and fro for threads and unexpected links which lead to new connections and new ways of seeing and thinking.  I have recently made copies of paintings by Alfred Munnings and now I am working on the amazing horse paintings by Christian Hook and Alex Kanevsky.  Having started a (incomplete so far) study of a Hook work,  I am fascinated by his beautiful energetic drawing and use of paint and colour, which echoes the way I like to draw and work with colour and markmaking.  It is so different from the  more traditional form of equestrian art (eg the Munnings, though he is a good artist)  and truly beautiful.  I am reluctant to show the Hook study in case it is an infringement of his copyright, but there is a rough sketch below which gives an idea.


I wanted to address one of my studies (the one above of the horses resting in a barn) in a similar free way and see what happened.  But this will have to go on hold just now.  I was beginning to see a connection between this “thread” and the drawings and paintings of trees – something about a link between the horses’ legs or lines of their bridles and the shapes of trees.





This was the first time I have worked from life for some time.  I am still in a place where I am experimenting with materials and getting confidence with the oil painting, so also thinking about the drawing and colour in a real life model is quite a stretch for me.  I found that I could sustain my current knowledge/level of expertise for about two days with two different male models, who I already knew, but by the third day I had run out of interpretative energy and the painting went flat.  I did not know the  models for the third and fourth day and also found the modelling of the face on these young female sitters more difficult than in the older male models of first two days. It was less about them as characters and more about their surface features for me.

I wanted to revisit my portrait painting, which I have worked with on and off for the past few years, and definitely felt less overwhelmed by preexisting ideas and the challenge of the live model this time.  I really appreciated these few days of focus on painting, supported by Alan’s expertise and ideas and by a pleasant and dedicated group of fellow painters.  Alan gave us lots of information about using paint and building a painting, and I appreciated his reference to other interesting painters such as Kanevsky and Muira (see below).  At one time these artists seemed a million miles away, now I have a bit more skill with paint, at least enough to try and make some sketches and copies to try and absorb their approach.  And from that to work out my own approach.




As an artist who has worked for many years in several different media, I have realised that for me making art is a dialogue between artist, subject/idea and medium.  Each has its own dimension and language.  The subject can simply be an idea, the medium anything from a phone image/camera to elaborate oil painting or expressive charcoal drawing.  I like digital media because of the freedom and sense of play and exploration that they offer but my favourite media are more physical ones such as paint and drawing materials.  I feel more engaged with my body and whole being when using these traditional image making tools, which have their own language.  Each medium in fact is a language and it takes time to become fluent in any of them.  Personal preference, luck and natural skill comes into it, but practice and fluency is essential if you wish to create spontaneously and have a certain knowledge and control.

The subject can be a physical object or else a thought or feeling such as a memory, idea, concept or sensation.   Whatever it is, it is usually a complex source of investigation, requiring full engagement and knowledge.  Sometimes the artist will already have that deep knowledge from unconscious experience, sometimes a conscious learning effort will be needed to get sufficiently acquainted with the subject.  The aim is to know it so thoroughly that the artist can create and play directly and freely, maybe altering the subject according to how the work develops.

The third (and indispensable!) component is the artist, who always, as a unique human being, has something individual and special to say.  Together with subject and medium, the artist can express personal imagination, passion, curiosity and creativity. The more the artist practices, the more they will engage with and discover a personal language, which constantly throws up surprises and becomes increasingly compelling and satisfying.

My personal favourite subject is the horse.  I have drawn these creatures since I was a child, fascinated by their beauty, form and graceful strength.  There is something about the horse which is deeply symbolic.  Not only have they been an essential practical part of the human experience for millennia until very recently, but symbolically they represent another world, not only of power, speed and energy, but also as intermediaries with the spirit world.  Nowadays we can respect the horse as a companion and guide to a more insightful and accepting way of building our lives. Horses are often used to rebuild confidence and trust in those whose lives have been traumatised in some ways.

They are incredibly beautiful animals, too, and their complex form and dynamic movements make a fascinating and challenging subject for the artist.  This is all adds up to the horse as the ideal source of inspiration which already has engaged the passion of the artist.  But how the artist depicts the creature is entirely personal.  Some might be most comfortable in depicting every feature as precisely as possible in a precise medium such as pencil or pastel.  Others might prefer to express what they perceive as the inner nature and spirit of the horse, using a freer medium such as ink or charcoal.   But either way, a study and awareness of the horse, its being, habits and form is essential if the artist wishes to develop in whatever style. I personally find anatomy an indispensable tool for understanding the bones, muscles and dynamic of the horse, and I constantly return to this reference to refine and strengthen my drawing and painting.

I myself am an expressive artist.  The horse reflects and triggers something deep within me for whatever reason, and it is this personal reaction which is the real event, courtesy of the horse, my catalyst and subject, and the characteristics of the medium that I am using.  Each person has to find their (constantly shifting) balance between these three elements and their own inner artist.  Ideally, try to make work every day.  You will be amazed at how your ideas, intentions, engagement and direction all change.

As you proceed you may find that the work of other artists or teachers becomes relevant and fascinating to you.  My advice is to absorb, copy and then move on.  It is another thrilling step in your artistic development and the endless quest for your own inner truth.  These notes apply to any subject, not simply equestrian art.

Further thoughts:

Sometimes the inner artist needs a break and to let the media and the subject matter do the work.  One way I enjoy this is to copy an artist I admire or want to learn from such as Alfred Munnings, the equestrian artist.  All I have to do is copy and channel his existing decisions with no ego involved.  Delightful! The ultra expressive moments are pretty rare for me.



I am loving this series about the benefits and purposes of play.  We can all learn from the young animals!

Professor Ben Garrod is one of the main contributors to explain the defining characteristics of play:

Relaxed state; repetition; no goal, the endorphin high is reward in itself; voluntary; early in life;  prepare for the unexpected

But all human mammals wanting to learn use the same techniques – the repetition until it becomes second nature; the pleasure and relaxation when the skill is mastered at last; the need for fun.

I will add more to this when I have seen second programme and have a bit more time.




I am so determined to go beyond figurative painting.  I worked for months analysing and deconstructing this image and then reconstructing it on a large scale (1200 x 900 mm).

I wanted to do an abstract version.  I took a large canvas (900 x 900 mm) and threw myself into it intuitively, relying on the knowledge I had gained from the study.  This was an enjoyable and adventurous process.  The result is here.  I could have approached it differently, carefully combining each element,  but I want to let my body and instincts have expression.  It is an interesting process and I did not have conscious control over it but  I think it expresses the inner life of the original painting – the chaos and uncertainty of emotions and events and moments.

Here are some details from the piece.  Each could be the starting point for another painting or story.

“Dance became a way to learn without thinking”

I am fascinated by Hay’s radical and non linear thinking about the body and movement.  It resonates with my personal way of making visual art, an approach which seems entirely intuitive and directly mediated through my whole body.  This is an Eastern way of making art. I am going to keep this blog as an informal (and non-linear!) collection of impressions and ideas. I think Hay’s ideas are an honest account of the creative process for many artists, though dance, requiring a completely tuned and toned body, may actually be a little different.  Still, the visual artist, speaking personally, needs to practice every day.  It is a manual skill as much as anything.  Perhaps this will help me to

I love my body, it is my friend and supporter and talks and reports to me constantly.  It tells me what it enjoys (exercise, the gym, cycling, dance, less so walking), what it wants to eat, and when it has had enough (overload at Venice Biennale last weekend).  It is my life.

Deborah Hay’s body “practices a religion renowned for its sceptical stance toward religion.  It performs as teacher, oracle and companion in the investigation, not of spirituality, but of consciousness itself”…Hay “explores the ramifications of multiple, distinctive metaphorical framings of physicality.  Body, in turn, has offered a kind of dialogue – probing, assessing, reacting, and instigating – in response to Hay’s various queries.  Close and consistent attentiveness to this dialogue forms the basis of Hay’s regimen for learning to dance..”  Susan Leigh Foster in the foreword  to “my body the buddhist” by DeborahHay, p. ix.


January 2020

Movement Medicine

New Year ceremony in Edinburgh over 30 hours (including 6 hours sort of sleep).  This was intensely active, involving a lot of expressive dancing and periods of personal communication with a few people in the group.  It confirmed what I wrote above about dance and movement practice being a way of recognising my method and identity as a visual artist.

I am looking forward to continuing my dance journey in 2020.  I shall be studying with Monica de Ioanni this winter and also going to the jam sessions in Edinburgh.

Katye Coe wordpress site a model of beautiful presentation and brilliant far ranging content about the contemporary dance world.




7th November  Dance BaseMonica de Ioanni – lovely intro to contact impro

16th November Weekend  Jam Festival   Classes People  Ideas

Niamh Oloughlin  dancer in Edinburgh

  • Books

Imaging the Human Body   Ewing;   Body Image Space   Tufnell and Chrickmay;

Attending to Movement. Somatic Perspectives on Living in this World. edited by: Sarah Whatley, Natalie Garrett Brown, Kirsty Alexander. This edited collection draws on the conference, Attending to Movement: Somatic Perspectives on Living in this World, run at C-DaRE, the Centre for Dance Research, Coventry University.

The Axis Syllabus

Body Stories  by Andrea Olsen  “BodyStories is a book which engages the general reader as well as the serious student of anatomy. Its information is applicable to dancers, artists, athletes, bodyworkers, massage therapists, teachers, and individuals with injuries or with a special interest in learning about their body. .

Journal of Philosophy and the Visual Arts

  • People

Johannes the German physicist; Caroline Hofler from Austria (Biodanza);  David and his partner from Stirling University

22nd November Leith Class with Monica in Leith

28th November Dance Base – Monica’s class    Understanding more  Lovely duet with guy

4th December GaGa class at Dance Base with Chen-Wei Lee

Gaga is a movement language and pedagogy developed by Batsheva Dance Company director and teacher Ohad Naharin. Used in some Israeli contemporary dance[1] Gaga has two educational tracks which are taught in Israel as well as several other countries: Gaga/Dancers is intended for trained dancers and comprises the daily training of the Batsheva Dance Company; Gaga/People is designed for the general public and requires no dance training.[2] Many dancers have stated that after taking Gaga classes, their passion for dance has been re-ignited; they have found new ways to connect to their inner beast without being self-conscious about how the movement looks while at the same time discovering how to listen to their bodies/self.[1]

Gaga students improvise their movements based on somatic experience and imagery described by the teacher, which provides a framework that promotes unconventional movement.[3] The imagery is intended to guide the performer’s movement expressivity by focusing attention on specific body regions. For example, “Luna”, “Lena”, “Biba”, “Tama” and many more words are used to experiment in a performers body while dancing.[4] Mirrors are avoided in Gaga training to facilitate movement guided by sensing and imagining rather than sight. [1]

Gaga is the movement language developed by Ohad Naharin throughout many years. The language of Gaga originated from the belief in the healing, dynamic, ever-changing power of movement.

Gaga/people classes offer a creative framework for participants to connect to their bodies and imaginations, increase their physical awareness, improve their flexibility and stamina, and experience the pleasure of movement in a welcoming, accepting atmosphere.

Teachers guide the participants using a series of evocative instructions that build one on top of the other. Rather than copying a particular movement, each participant in the class actively explores these instructions, discovering how he or she can interpret the information and perform the task at hand.

6th December  at Dance Base   Residency sharing of Chen-Wei Lee on her project “The One Continues”

We would like to invite you to the residency sharing of Chen-Wei Lee on her project “The One Continues” It will take place at 4pm on Frida tomorrow in Studio 4 at Dance Base.
She invited two edinburgh based artist Julia Griffiths and Lucas Kao to explore the concept of I Ching, the book or change.
Description of the project:
“Change is constant, so is non-change, as change and non-change form an inseparable duality.” “Change is the basic way of existence. Existence itself is flow and tranformation.” – I CHING
 “Change”, in I CHING chinese philosophy this is the core of the nature system, I’m captivated by this concept. I would like to explore the effectiveness of nature and it’s systems in relation with movement development and decrement. The ancient method of I CHING explains the laws of nature, circulation of life. I want to apply and explore these ideas within my research, in particular looking at how the body and it’s movement can be the translator for these theories.
Chen Wei Lee:
Chen-Wei Lee is a Belgium based Taiwanese artist who began her career as a dancer with Batsheva Dance Company and as guest dancer at Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Gothenborgs Operas Danskompani , and VOETVOLK/Lisbeth Gruwez. 
As choreographer she creates pieces that tour internationally, and one of her work “Together Alone” was shown in Dance Base at Fringe in 2017.
This was a very moving piece with the three dancers moving in different ways and in different expressive relationships with one another

31st December 2019  to 1st January 2020  Movement meditation at New Year with Dr. Catherine Wright

Movement Medicine is a dance practice, and an awareness practice. It invites us to dance deep into the experience of our own bodies. You need no prior experience, only a desire to dance and connect with your own wisdom and wildness. In movement we can learn to be inspired by the elements around us and within us, the Earth, the Water, the Air and Fire. Movement Medicine keeps bringing us back to the dancers that we are, and allows us to tap into the wisdom of our own bodies.

Each person is a dancer. Our bodies, even in stillness are dancing with life. The breath in and out of our lungs. The blood pumping round our bodies. Eating, sleeping, digesting… all of it is a dance with all of creation. And through Conscious Dance we can become more profoundly connected with Nature and with our own true nature.


4th Jan Jam in Jan

Somatics  – book by Hanna about how to keep the body supple.  It is a great read for anyone (everyone?) who thinks that age = stiffness and deterioration.  Read it!!

18th January Jam  a wonderful class with the Leith Group, I began to understand how to use weight and what it means.


Taught by Simona Pisano

How listening leads to joy

In this meeting we will work with some different ideas of touch and contact, exploring how these can lead us to movement in a playful way. We will explore sensations such as rooting, softness, expansion and connection.

In an organic way we will warm-up our body from the “inside out”. The use of the breath and a constant sharpening of our awareness are central points of the training. The perceptions with all the senses and the micro movements will help us to get in contact with the outside surrounding and the other participants. We will approach different places to create our dance.

Simona Pisano studied New Dance, Improvisation, Partnering and Choreography at the TIP Schule – Tanz, Improvisation und Performance – in Germany. After a musical education and a MSc in Engineering, she decided to follow her true passion for body and movement.

She is drawn to the deepness of working with bodies and energies, focusing on pure physical aspects (structure, mechanism, precision) as well on aspects related to perception (listening, feeling, connection). Her practice is very much related to Improvisation, but includes a wide range of other research and activities (e.g. CI, tango, Capoeira) that aim to refine and investigate different ways of creativity and body-awareness.

Edinburgh Jam 15th February 2020

Class taught by Tony Mills:

Tony Mills is a founder member of Edinburgh based Random Aspekts B Boy crew and hails from the Orkney Isles. Since giving up veterinary surgery whites for tights, he has worked with Freshmess Dance Company, State of Emergency, Off Kilter, Iron Oxide, Curious Seed, David Hughes Dance Productions, All or Nothing Aerial Dance Theatre, Russian physical theatre maestros, Derevo, and the international streetdance show, Blaze, which toured worldwide. His adventures into choreography have seen him assist Ian Spink for Scottish Ballet’s EIF production, Petruska, as well as commissions for arts organisations and professional and youth dance companies. He has also worked as a movement director/choreographer in theatre for company’s such as Terra incognita and commercially for high profile stars such as Martin Garrix and Kelly Rowland. Tony is a keen ambassador for the breakdance scene in Scotland and has been involved in the production and hosting of major dance events including Castle Rocks Breakdance Championships, the Edinburgh leg of the national Breakin’ Convention tours in 2007 – 17 and Breakin’ Rules at the Dundee Rep Theatre. Tony continually creates new work for Room 2 Manoeuvre, most recently the international co-production, Without A Hitch. Tony is a die hard coffee fan and has a lingering penchant for croissants.

“With regards to teaching contact dance, I like to focus on precision of technique so that the experience of dancing together can be as pleasant as possible. To achieve this, the class will comprise of a series of specific exercises based around limb and hip placement, balance & counter-balance, joint manipulation and ways of trying to move efficiently with our partner or in a group. The aim is to develop an awareness of our own body when in contact and a strong sense of what can be possible when dancing with our partner”


Edinburgh Jam 29th February

lass taught by Srik Narayanan

 In this class we’ll find pathways into movement through our nervous systems, through the structural connections of our bodies, and across our surfaces, leading us on journeys through space and into the jam. We’ll explore how we can be curious as our paths intersect, opening spaces for choice-making in our dances.

Srik offers group and one-to-one work at the confluence of dance and somatic practices, relational body psychotherapy, and ecological awareness, through a therapeutic practice, teaching and facilitation, and occasionally performing. His approach to contact improvisation is influenced by studying with teachers such as Nancy Stark Smith and Daniel Lepkoff, as well the practice of Body-Mind Centering. More info: http://www.sriknarayanan.com

What we did

The three feet; base of skull, seat bones and feet, get them in balance;  the circle of space around you; awareness of weight when walking and standing; bending forward on knees and stretching forward; rolling to and fro on floor.




What is Contact Improvisation?
Contact Improvisation is a dance form originally referred to as a “art-sport” in which the point of contact with another dancer provides the starting point for a movement exploration. It is most frequently performed as a duet, but can be danced by more people. There can be music or it can happen in silence. It is about sharing weight, rolling, suspending, falling, passive and active, energy and awareness.

“Contact Improvisation is a dance form, originated by American choreographer Steve Paxton in 1972, based on the communication between two or more moving bodies that are in physical contact and their combined relationship to the physical laws that govern their motion—gravity, momentum, inertia.

The body, in order to open to these sensations, must learn to release excess muscular tension and abandon a certain quality of willfulness to experience the natural flow of movement. Practice includes rolling, falling, being upside down, following a physical point of contact, supporting and giving weight to a partner.

Contact improvisations are spontaneous physical dialogues that range from stillness to highly energetic exchanges. Alertness is developed in order to work in an energetic state of physical disorientation, trusting in one’s basic survival instincts. It is a free play with balance, self-correcting the wrong moves and reinforcing the right ones, bringing forth a physical/emotional truth about a shared moment of movement that leaves the participants informed, centered, and enlivened.”

(From Caught Falling by Nancy Stark Smith and David Koteen)  The form has continued to evolve in various ways since it started 40 years ago but the basic principles remain the same. 


26th October 2019


I was in Venice to visit the Biennale at the weekend.  It was hot beautiful weather, but it was also a Saturday and it seemed the whole of Venice was enjoying the show before it closes in a few weeks. I took the vaporetto from Ca d’Oro to Giardini instead of walking across the city, in order to save time and energy.  As usual it is a great pleasure to join with the visitors and the Venetians as they travel through the city and across the water – especially on a sparkling day as this was.

The theme of this year’s Biennale is “May you live in interesting times“.  I knew of the Glasgow-based artist Cathy Wilkes (British Pavilion), though I did not visit this pavilion because there was restricted entry and a long queue.  Instead there were many artists from China, Africa and India and other previously under- or non-represented countries. India is represented this year for the time, for example.  This was very exciting and  I wish I had had the time and the energy to explore this show thoroughly. It would have taken two days at least, instead of the measly five hours I was able to devote to it this year.  So all I got was a flavour.  For much more, read the excellent review by Laura Cummings in the Observer.

Here are a few notes:

Dutch Pavilion

Stand out items I did see included the Dutch Pavilion, carefully explained to me by the invigilator.  This really helped.  The exhibition is a comment by artists Iris Kensmil and Remy Jungerman on Surinam and the Netherlands and their mutual influence,  including references to Mondrian and Rietveld, the actual designer of the Dutch pavilion.  Jungerman is interested in the way patterns are transmitted and how they shape culture.  I would like to explore the ideas of this exhibition further, as it was absolutely rich with meaning and interest.

“The Measurement of Presence. The Biennale Arte is an arena for continuously redefining notions of nationhood and the locality of art. Remy Jungerman and Iris Kensmil’s The Measurement of Presence calls for an alternative, transnational approach towards what binds us, acknowledging that we are in a constant state of flux. Jungerman and Kensmil explore the possibilities that emerge from not just allowing but embracing this ongoing shift. They explore how a truer measurement of presence, spirit, and history are needed for our interconnected existence.  (Biennale Arte 2019)”


Martin Puryear in US Pavilion

Martin Puryear’s confident and beautifully made sculptures in the US pavilion.  I enjoyed this work that was so resolved, so well displayed and which did not require much more from me than admiration and awe at the skill involved.


Michael Armitage in International Pavilion and in Arsenale

In the International Pavilion I saw work by Michael Armitage.  He paints quite thinly in oil on huge canvases and his subject is the social and political turmoil in Kenya.  There was more of his work in Arsenale.  I admire his message and also his delicate technique, which is different from the heavy expressive use of oil that I have recently been encouraged to do.


Ulrike Muller in Arsenale


In the Arsenale I appreciated Ulrike Muller‘s large abstract weaving and her highly focused small enamel pieces (like paintings but not?)   She is interested in critiquing the usual hierarchies of fine art, in which textile art comes a long way down the list.  Good for her. I would like to find out more about her work.


Julie Mehretu in Arsenale


Julie Mehretu (b. 1970 Addis Addaba) ” is a contemporary visual artist, well known for her multi-layered paintings of abstracted landscapes on a large scale. Her paintings, drawings, and prints depict the cumulative effects of urban sociopolitical changes through the landscape’s alteration of architecture, topography, and iconography.”

“I think of my abstract mark-making as a type of sign lexicon, signifier, or language for characters that hold identity and have social agency. The characters in my maps plotted, journeyed, evolved, and built civilizations. I charted, analyzed, and mapped their experience and development: their cities, their suburbs, their conflicts, and their wars. The paintings occurred in an intangible no-place: a blank terrain, an abstracted map space. As I continued to work I needed a context for the marks, the characters. By combining many types of architectural plans and drawings I tried to create a metaphoric, tectonic view of structural history. I wanted to bring my drawing into time and place.[7]

I enjoyed these paintings, so allusive and delicate, and will find out more about Mehretu’s ideas and work.


Otobung Nkanga 

Otobung Nkanga  – I liked her small paintings, so carefully done, and with the colour strip she includes to show her palette.

Some artists were using tech to spectacular effect   Antoine Catala. for example

Liu Wei in Arsenale

Liu Wei – large scale propellor-style installation I found satisfying.  For me it just worked as an art piece and a sculpture.

Arsenale was heavily boarded up in many areas to create the separate exhibitor’s spaces. I usually enjoy this massive echoing space for its scale and I did find the partitioning claustrophobic.

These are a few impressions from the time I spent in Giardini and Arsenale. As usual, there was so much to learn and to see.  I was focused on what was closest to my own interests and that meant painting.  It was fascinating to see what artists are making and saying from all over the world.











It is much too soon (about a week) to write very much about the experience of joining Nottdance for a day. I would just like to thank the organisers and everyone involved for a very special experience.  Here are a few prelim notes.

First impressions

I had a fabulous mind-blowing day at the Nottdance 2019 festival.

  • so well thought out
  • Lovely dance space
  • Beautifully organised
  • Top quality events and performances
  • Balanced “flavours”
  • creative buzz

I had to get there before I could even begin to grasp it.  No idea what to expect

  • Breakdancing?
  • Community event?
  • I did not have a clue, but it turned out to be all these things and super smooth

What I did

  1. Katye Coe’s open class on contact improvisation.  90 mins of free style and contact with music once warmed up.  Beautiful experience.  Starting from “listening to the body”, thinking of gravity and being in space.
  2. Julie Cunningham Open Practice   a privilege to watch this amazing dancer work through her warm up routine, explain her ideas, particularly about gender fluidity and lesbianism, and then perform a short dance.  It probably meant a lot but I enjoyed the beauty of her movement and the integrity of the whole experience.  Discussion about non patriarchal ways of viewing the body, its fluidity and messiness.
  3. Reading room. A discussion group focussed on the small library in centre – started with books being scattered off shelf around the room and everyone sharing or reading what caught their eye.  This was a brilliant way to access the books in a different way, how different when they were on the floor or on windowsills or seats, how much easier it was to start discussions with fellow readers.  I felt more at home and confident in this session.  I appreciated the parallels between choreography and visual art.  So eye opening and shifting.  Books we discussed:
  • Inside Choreocracy
  • Power of just doing stuff
  • Marcus Coates  a practical guide to unconscious reason
  • Wondrous Women – a group in Nottingham
  • Cai Tomos
  • Using the sky  by Deborah Hay – “I wanted to choreograph a spoken language that would inspire a shift in dance away from the illustrative body, despite its intense appeal to dancers and audiences alike, to a non-representational body”   “the surplus of output for my whole body at once far exceeds any additional input from me. 

4. Jennifer Lacey, extraordinary dancer and artist, doing hermeneutics practice in Nottingham Contemporary. I sat in on one session, amazed by her evident            skill and depth of knowledge and vast self confidence.

5. Matthias Sperling and Katye doing an amazing dance in the Nham Contemporary. I was quite tired by this time, went to sleep at one point, still did not understand his ideas, but appreciated the quality and originality and spirit of the beautiful performance.


  • Oh so refreshing
  • Tremendously aware
  • Wish I had been there for whole thing
  • Wish I had seen more
  • But this was just a starter for me
  • Choreography as a practice, seeing visuals in a different way as a result, choreography as a way of creating with the human body
  • Had a discussion with Antonio from Spain/London about the conceptual/non conceptual approaches to choreography.
  • I think that sometimes conceptualisation is like legislation, the mind as agent, otherwise things do not happen, cannot change
  • I am on a track of sorts, particularly regarding improvising and less emphasis on figurative art
  • Matthias exploring new ways of knowing through movement and the body
  • Hearing about other ways of combining visual art and movement   Dancing Museums  “The Democracy of Beings”

Research and ideas

Matthias writing about magic and science, “the magical and the scientific, the imagined and the actual, the subjective and the objective, or with mind and body.  Warburg placed movement at the centre of his way of understanding the world”.

Matthias on how different artists “could be seen to be exploring aspects of this evocative and generative zone in their practices… I see these practices as working within and on the fundamental connectedness of our mental being, our physical being, and the manifold other human and non-human beings in the environments around us.  “

The practitioner as “seismograph” – a person who is tuning in to particular frequencies, resonances and ruptures that are vibrating in the environments around them, diagnosing their epicentres and bring them to light to be perceived in different and yet related ways”… each offering “vitally regenerative responses to the many-layered complexities that we are living through”  (Matthias Sperling)

How does this relate to visual art and to my work?

Good question.  I am blown away by the experience of being in Nottingham, and now, a week later, am unable to produce a coherent impression.  All I can say is that I understand choreography slightly more than I did, and that I have discovered the beautiful and original ideas and writings of Deborah Hay.  Which might be applicable to my art practice and which might help me understand the body, my body, and movement more.  It is something below the radar, and I prefer to leave it that way, reading her books “Using the Sky” and “my body, the buddhist”, as meditations or prayers.

Taking art off the wall into a physical and shared space/awareness, which is less visual and more holistic.  Also more immediately universal.

Thinking back to the work I did for exhibition earlier this year “Being Human – Together”     I was pushed for time in preparing for this exhibition, and had not yet processed ideas from Mattias’ workshop at Siobhan Davies Dance Studios in London.  In fact I drew in a spontaneous way and subjective way,  so perhaps I was understanding more than I realised.