Rocks on the Body in Exeter

Performing for camera can have its drawbacks, unless you check and double-check and then do it once more. This experience was confirmed once again in Exeter this weekend. I was participating in the third seminar organized by the Rock-Body project, see rock-body website , an exciting interdisciplinary mixture of scholars and artists from various disciplines, including geographers, geologists, performance studies scholars and philosophers. As part of this event dancer and choreographer Paula Kramer planned to create a site specific dance piece, eventually together with David Paton and Carolyn Deby, who invited me to join in. I happily agreed to sit somewhere with a rock in my lap, as Carolyn suggested. I thought I could sit immobile in the foreground watching them, as it were. When I saw the chosen site, under a huge old oak tree by a pond, where they already had placed the rocks they would work with, it was obvious that the only place to sit was at the piece of rock at the edge of the pond, in the background. I had brought with me two lumps of rose quartz that I had at home, because I expected that it might be hard to find “feral” rocks of a suitable size in the city. I noticed them at home when returning from the previous workshop in Penryn and connected them with the image I made there, due to their colour. In the morning after the seminar in Penryn I sat on the shore in Falmouth with a pale pink scarf in the rain and made a short video piece that I called Body on the Rocks. (See blog post) Of course I wanted to make a sequel with Rocks on the Body using the same scarf. And this I could somehow do based on the image to be created live during the performance. In the video the focus would be on the rocks in my hands. I was not sure if I would find the time to do it, so I asked Carolyn to take some snapshots with my phone in order to have some documentation. And they remain the sharpest images of those two pieces of rose quartz:
Photo by Carolyn Deby
In the morning on the day of the performance, the last day of the seminar, I went to the site with my camera and tripod, the scarf and the rocks to try to perform a session. I made some tests, recording a few seconds of video and then looking at it and adjusting the position of the tripod, recording again, and quickly realized I needed a close up to show “rocks on the body”.
The morning was overcast and there was not much light in the shade of the oak. While moving about trying to adjust the image I was somehow careless, so one of the rocks fell into the pond. I was shocked, feeling like Adalmina, the little princess in a fairy tale by the Finnish writer Zachris Topelius, who lost her pearl and thereby all her good fortune in a pond due to her vanity. Luckily the pond was not very deep, I could see the rock and tried to reach it but quickly noticed there was no other way than to undress and climb down into the pond. I did that and retrieved the rock, hoping that nobody had passed by exactly then. The rock felt nice and fresh after having its bath, so I washed the other one, too. When I finally sat down I saw a huge fish swim by, probably curious or expecting to be fed. I decided to use my phone as a timer, since I wanted to have enough material but also to be in time for the seminar, and thought 15 minutes would be enough so I put the timer on 17 minutes, started the camera – or so I thought – and sat down. I counted my breathing, partly to calm down, partly to focus, since sitting was surprisingly uncomfortable and the rocks in my hands felt heavy. Some birds were making loud sudden sounds that startled me and would probably show in the image. Slowly it started to rain, softly. The droplets created beautiful patterns on the surface of the pond, and I was happy with this link to the rain in Falmouth. The rain came and went several times, almost starting and then receding again and never really turning into a proper rain. Finally the sun came out and made the rocks sparkle in my hands. I wondered about the time, but decided to continue until 250 breaths and leave it at that; my left leg felt numb and enough was enough. I got up and realized the camera was black, when did it turn off and why? I looked again, and once more, and finally realized, I had never turned it on! And the same might be true of the timer, or then I just did not hear the sound. I felt devastated, all this beauty and pain had been in vain, experienced by me alone. By now it was five minutes to ten, I had been sitting there for more than half an hour, so I had to hurry to the seminar. – Later Paula told me she had seen me sitting, when she came to practice, and the sun arriving, too, but did not want to disturb me. It was a consolation to know there had been a witness, but I still wanted to make the image…
I decided to make a new attempt just before the actual performance, and then to remove the camera and the tripod before the audience arrived. And that is exactly what I did, although the session was rather short, 100 much shorter breaths. But of course there was neither raindrops on the surface of the pond or sun glistening on the quartz in my hands this time. Even the camera angle seemed less interesting, although that might be my imagination.
The actual performance went well, although a little faster than planned. And it was fascinating having the audience move about. At some point I looked up from the rocks in my hands and saw people standing and watching us from the other side of the pond. Moreover, at some point somebody was sitting down next to me by the pond; I saw a glimpse of blue, but did not recognize who it was. I was mainly listening to David hammering on the large rock and realized the two pieces of rock I had in my hands had also been violently cut off from somewhere. Sitting with the two pieces in my hands became like an act of strange helpless mourning. When I heard the piece of rock fall I waited for a while and then got up, leaving the two pieces of rose quartz on the rock by the pond and walked to the oak, as planned. There I noticed Paula was just about to begin, so I waited standing until she had moved further away, before sitting down to watch the rest of the action, and realized that I could actually have sat with the rocks in my lap much longer…
For an idea of the performance, please look at the rock_body_programme_notes
And for an idea of the whole endeavor, look at the rock-body website.