Screenshot from 4. At the same time. Original performance by Eleanor Sikorski.
When I posted 5.2 (Self) Portraits online in June 2019 I wrote the following introduction to the project:
I am curious about the ways in which dance has resisted influence and quotation within the art form. For the most part, choreographers want to be seen as original, rather than as part of a large community of making, observing and borrowing; of influencing and being influenced. This is markedly different from film, for instance, which has a long history of direct quotation, and recognising and owning the ways that influence circulates through the art form.
5.2 (Self) Portraits takes a sample of the screendance project 52 Portraits by Jonathan Burrows, Matteo Fargion and Hugo Glendinning and generates a new art work — a work that excavates further the psychology of identity and portraiture; of ego and power.
What is this new work doing by itself? What is it doing to the work on which it is dependent? How could the relationship between the original and the new be categorised: Parasitic? Playful? And what does it do to the people in the original works to have their portraits — their visions or versions of themselves — interrupted, distorted, erased, spoken for, or even disrespected? The politics of this last question are complex. The markers of my identity — male, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied, heterosexual — are of privilege and influence. Can 5.2 (Self) Portraits be anything other than an artist simply re-asserting those privileges? Who is at the receiving end of power when an artwork like 52 Portraits is re-examined, re-framed, and re-taken as a new artwork? Who is gaining and what is being gained? And who if anyone is diminished or reduced?
– Simon Ellis, 5 June 2019.
I was aware at the time (and remain so now) that I was treading on potentially dangerous or messy terrain. I did not ask Jonathan Burrows, Matteo Fargion and Hugo Glendinning for permission to quote or use their work, and nor did I seek permission from the performers in the original portraits.
In any community there always exist unwritten ethical and moral codes. For small arts communities in particular (like contemporary dance) there is ongoing and perhaps fluid tension between the value of artistic freedom, and working to respectfully sustain and support that community.
Whenever and wherever humans dance — from clubs to theatres — we dance with our bodies, hearts and souls. When I chose to capture these portraits and then mark them with my face(s) I think I took something from these people. I was deeply ambivalent about the politics and indeed nature of this act. 5.2 (Self) Portraits is therefore perhaps a disrespectful and somewhat transgressive act in the contemporary dance community. But is this really the case? How can we ever know the location of the boundaries between freedom — the right to pursue ideas, no matter how terrible, kitsch or alienating — and respect for the work of others? What is OK or important for some, will undoubtedly cross a line for others. And this line is neither tangible nor fixed — it shifts and changes with the politics and culture of our times, and with the experiences, situations and places of individual people.
There is delicate interdependence in any ecosystem or community. My ongoing ambivalence about the ethics of 5.2 (Self) Portraits is tempered by the desire to have difficult conversations about what is and is not allowed, and how it is that those lines are determined … and by whom.
5.2 (Self) Portraits is part of a research project at C-DaRE by Charlotte Waelde, Hetty Blades and me that aims to deepen our understanding of the legal and ethical nature of copyright and quotation in dance and performance.
Original performance by Theo Clinkard: http://52portraits.co.uk/home/2016/6/27/theo-clinkard
Original performance by Kenneth Tharp: http://52portraits.co.uk/home/2016/10/17/kenneth-tharp
Original performance by Colin, Simon & I: http://52portraits.co.uk/home/2016/12/12/colinsimoni
Original performance by Eleanor Sikorski: http://52portraits.co.uk/home/2016/4/11/eleanor-sikorski
Original performance by Francesca Fargion, Hugo Glendinning, Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion: http://52portraits.co.uk/home/2016/12/26/francesca-fargion-hugo-glendinning-jonathan-burrows-and-matteo-fargion
Original performance by Liz Aggiss: http://52portraits.co.uk/home/2016/8/29/liz-aggiss
Supported by C-DaRE — the Centre for Dance Research — at Coventry University.