ABOUT THE PROJECT
RiVER-BODY is a site-responsive conversation with a Northumberland river. It seeks to find and define a sense of place through a layering of site explorations across Felton’s landscape. Using the river as a shifting representation of memory, connection and presence, the project has involved community participants to explore their own relationship with the landscape. The resulting performance and exhibition of work makes felt the intertwining, immersive relationship that exists between the movement of the human body and the movement of the land.
RiVER-BODY began out of a desire to explore and develop the strong sense of place I have when in my homeland of Northumberland, particularly when walking and moving in the outdoor landscape. The project gave me the opportunity to reflect upon my own human-land connection. Creating across the seasons, this prolonged period of exploration developed a distinct movement style when dancing at the sites using an improvisation-led practice. Improvisation is accepted as a practice of 'spontaneity and awareness', an interplay between past memories and present sensory experiences (Woods, 2013: 53-54).
The River Coquet is a river that rises in the Cheviot Hills, winding through the landscape, and flowing into the North Sea at Amble in Northumberland. It is a prominent feature in Felton so is an important element in my site explorations and during the community conversations and workshops. The river became a shifting representation of our lived experiences: shifting memories, energies, sense of place and belonging. The common gorse which blooms along parts of the River Coquet's banks (shown in the image above) also became a key element during my explorations in April and in the second outdoor workshop, where some participants shared their memories of gorse in specific locations. The flower's strong smell of coconut was a memorable sensory experience during improvisations, which led to fresh and dried gorse flowers being used in the exhibition in order to share this with the audience.
As a multi-disciplinary artist, I wanted to include my visual artwork and poetry in the project. This practice is a way for me to document the sense of place I was capturing in my body in a sketchbook (as presented at the exhibition) without using too many words - recording textures, rhythms, layers were important. The poetic nature of my movements are reflected in its pages. I used graphic scores to present the rhythm of the body intertwined with the rhythm of the site I was moving in; a visual representation of the human-land connection. The scores were then used by the musician to create a soundscape for the embodied performance in the exhibition.
Working with the local community was, from the outset, an important part of the project. People, and their memories, play a role in shaping a place: being attached to a place means 'allowing memories to be held by that place' and in turn, being held by 'being able to return to that place through its role as a reserve of memories' (Trigg, 2012: 32). Therefore connecting with the participants allowed me to further investigate my own sense of place through the layering of memories inserted into the present lived experience, affecting the final performance. During collaborative conversations and movement workshops, I observed how moving in the outdoor sites gave the participants an opportunity to connect to their memories, imagination and presence, developing a new perspective of their relationship with the landscape and fostering a stronger sense of place and belonging. This was reflected in their feedback, suggesting a need for regular opportunities to re-establish the body-place connection through conversations, walking, dancing and stillness. I presented this feedback on 'postcards', shown at the exhibition, which will be sent to the participants as a reminder of our experiences together.