Tag Archives: robert softley

Here and not here


This is Nic here.

I have been away since my last blog, working firstly at the Women of the World festival, and then on Fatherland at BAC.  Now I am back home I thought I would offer some reflections on missing shows at Behaviour, the processes I am part of, and anticipations for the future.  These are some things that are here and not here:

1. Performances that have already happened.

So far I have missed the work of Chris Thorpe, Robert Softly, Eilidh MacAskil, Gob Squad, Ann Liv Young and Martin Messier.  Whilst these events have been taking place I have allowed myself, from a distance, to explore my own imaginings of these works, to hear snippets from friends and colleagues about their experiences in seeing this work, and in my own small way, I have tried to allow these inaccurate musings and reports to inspire, challenge and excite. I never got to see them.

2. Performances I have seen.

Despite all my behaviour attendance failings, I was lucky enough to be in Glasgow for a couple of the Buzzcut dates, where I saw Richard Layzell among many others. Seeing him helped me to realise and articulate how much I am in appreciation for the work of mature and experienced performance makers.  While I am of course continuously appreciative and at times excited by young, emergent practice, I really relished soaking up the presence of a man who has made performance making his life’s work, and who appears so aware of the role his work can play. He seems grounded in this practice, like it’s an old friend.

Richard began by framing his performance-lecture as something which might further help him to understand his experience as a human being-in fact, he referred to art in general as this.

I noticed that this somewhat broad, poetic lens provided by Richard allowed me to accept what was shown as clearly part of this vast mission. In this space I found I was happy to absorb and accept aspects of this work as meaningful and connected to his initial framing, due to his giving permission to think of this work in the broadest sense possible. It struck me that being given this permission somehow altered my way of seeing, that it somehow quietened my critical mind…I also trusted him-his experience, his presence, his long years of experimentation and development. Somehow for me he showed all of this, just in the way he was in the space, the way he dedicated his work to several important women in his life (one of which doesn’t exist), the way he showed us his Tai Chi. With his presence he told the story of his longitude as an artist, especially in the most abstract moments of the work.

I particularly enjoyed what appeared to be a kind of authentic movement practice (?) as part of the presentation.  I took this to be an attempt at an absolute and unleashed freedom in the performance space, and within oneself-more because these are close to inquiries in my work rather than any surety that that’s what the work was intending to provoke in it’s audience.  I noticed it seemed difficult, that that work is still developing, that the journey of understanding one’s experience is still happening…

3. A daily practice.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been in London working on Fatherland with my collaborator Tim, who is a drummer. Every morning we practiced what we named as ‘transition.’ Based on a weekly practice I have of dancing with my eyes closed on the beach, this was a timed period in the mornings before any talking or eating, where I would explore my own physicality in space and Tim would explore his own rhythmic and physical sensitivity in relation to his drums. This happened simultaneously, but not necessarily ‘together’ in a classical dance/music relationship. We called this a practice, as we are interested in arriving at a place of authenticity and absolute presence, and this is not immediately/ever possible.  We have found that to do this we must allow ourselves to be led by a part of us which is beyond our own intellect.  It is a more momentary, and visceral response to the present and in fact, when the mind becomes too involved, it becomes something else. Something too contrived, too recognisable, too performed almost. Thinking about what to do and doing it is different to just simply doing in the immediacy if the moment. We consider the latter to feel like a freedom from intellect, reasoning, criticism. We have been considering this practice as an attempt to move towards an absolute creative freedom, away from our own sense of aesthetic fascism and censorship.  This has been our daily practice.  A kind of performance yoga, I suppose.

3.My Father, and someone in Tim’s life, both disappeared.

The starting point for Fatherland is the one meeting I had with my father twelve years ago in Edinburgh. I never saw him before or after. Tim and I have been working with notions of the known and unknown, with ideas of belonging and legitimacy, and working towards making ‘clean gestures in clarified space’. We have had an emotional and very connected process, which sadly was cut slightly short by a very sad loss in Tim’s life. The connection between the happenings in Tim’s life and the subject of our research felt so confusingly and terribly connected, it almost felt/feels slightly unreal. On the second scratch performance evening in London Tim had already left to go back to Glasgow to be with his partner, so I performed what I could of the work alone, including as compensation some new experiments, which I named to myself as ‘wildcards’.

Feeling vulnerable and slightly exposed without the other person in this work, feeling the sadness of loss for my friend, without the noise of the drums, without the shared process between us living in the space to support the work, I suddenly couldn’t get a grasp on this work.  I knew here that this work still has a long way to go, because it is relying on tim and I too much.  I like work that becomes bigger than you, and lives almost beyond and without you.  It has an energy of it’s own.

4.  Missing jobs.

Arriving back in Scotland on Sunday night, I had a ticket for Ann Liv Young, but felt an overwhelming urge to engage in a positive action with clarity and surety, so instead I visited Tim and his partner, taking food and juice. I wondered why going to see Mermaid didn’t seem as valid a positive action in this moment? Is seeing this work a positive action? Many friends of mine who are artists would I’m sure feel frustrated by what I am saying now. They would say that art with a genuine inquiry is a positive entity in the world, full stop. Beyond that we shouldn’t be so hung up on labelling it in terms of what it does, and that naming it in this way only encourages the compartmentalisation of everything in our society, which art should-in it’s very nature-avoid, subvert and transcend. They might say that I am narrowing the way in which to interact with work, and in some ways I agree. Perhaps it is too much to want to place values on art in this way, as maybe it feels too close to the values you might place on a labour party manifesto, on a cup of starbucks or on whatever dress Jennifer Anniston is wearing this month in one of those magazines.  I feel in agreement this to.  I am however caught up in a need for the artist to play a positive role in our world right now. This because I value art and creative above Politics (big P) and economics and all the other things that appear to be failing people and animals and life in general on our earth right now. You only need to open the paper, or just walk down my local high street in Ayr, or talk to practically anyone to know there’s much work to be done in our world.  I suppose I am grateful for the work that becomes a language and entity of it’s own, that is beyond our ideas of positive and negative action in this context, that re-invents our ability to look and see.

I wonder now how important it is for me that the artist has a positive intention in the world, perhaps because I see art and creativity as part of a possible solution for ‘better’. This doesn’t mean using a popularist aesthetic, or avoiding the complexities and difficulties of our modern world, or conforming to the value systems of the Guardian, or creative scotland, or anything else, but for me I appreciate work that thinks of itself as a contribution -even if in it’s form and delivery it is difficult, provocative and challenging, or if the worldview informing that contribution is radically different from mine.

I remember working with Gary Winters from Lonetwin and whilst we were making something he asked: ‘what is the job of this work?’ I appreicate work which knows it’s ‘job’ in the world. I wonder if this comes down to what the artist thinks of their role, and whether the viewer can trust or discern the intentions of the maker. Often when seeing work I can feel confused about artist’s intentions, and sometimes I wonder if the artist themselves are clear on them at all. I am enticed by  live inquiries, critical consciousness and some sense of responsibility. Having said this I am not dogmatic, which I also think is dangerous, and am always open to the inevitable learning on offer from all around me. All this feels very live to me right now as in terms of  Fatherland, Motherland  I/it doesn’t know its role as yet.  It is finding it’s usefulness with time, but this process is slow. I don’t want to ‘name’ it, but instead I want to discover it with time and through practice. Whether this will happen in time for the presentation of the work I do not know, but the process is rich!

I am aware also, that everything I write can be problematised, but this is not a bad thing -quite the opposite!  I do not need to feel I am ‘right’ about things, I just need to feel I am interested and can be honest.

5. A conversation about something I did not see.

On a different note, I spoke with the wonderful Robert Softley about the ‘job’ of his work, which I sadly missed last week. I have posted this audio. Apologies for the quality, you have to listen carefully as it was recorded on my computer and is a bit muffled.

This is one of the ways I can respond to things I have never seen.  Or by painting gates maybe, or making a performance or writing a blog.

Signing off,


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The power of ‘I made this’

by Robert Softley (writer/performer – ‘If These Spasms Could Speak’)

Well, the show opens tomorrow night and after weeks of the usual highs and lows, I’m actually looking forward to seeing what people make of this. It has been a new experience for me to be in the driving seat from start to finish – previously I’ve had concepts (as with the show about three disabled drag queens called ‘Heelz n Wheelz’ or the National Theatre of Scotland’s ‘Girl X’) but then handed over the reigns to another writer and/or director. In those processes, my original idea and what actually ended up on stage were substantially different. This might not have been a bad thing, but it was a tiny bit frustrating to have a vision but never see that show being realised.

This show, Spasms, feels like it’s mine – some folk will like it, some will not, but I can say it’s the piece that I wanted to create. To be enabled to say exactly what I want is a massive privilege – I hope I’ve used it well.

From next week I really hope to see other parts of the Behaviour festival but for now, here’s another photo  – see you on the other side!

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