A group expedition in the Black Mountains moving through dusk and into the night time, with Movement Artist, Simon Whitehead
Tell me of your experiences of the dark… of night-time.
Not of what you do when it gets dark, but how you feel… the smell, the sounds, the sensation.
What are your memories… what do you recall?
This was the provocation to think on over a shared meal in advance of Simon Whitehead’s Endarken on Thursday 5th July. What followed from the group of around 20 were memories stretching from fire displays to following a pounding baseline through rural villages in search of illicit parties; from the velvety calm and security felt by those living a rural existence to the fear felt by those used to the city and its never dark skies. Tales of festivals serenading the setting sun and night swims in unseeable depths with lost horizons… each highlighted the shifting of the senses and the sense of becoming something else.
This was supported by Simon discussing his current work; finding readings and theories which investigate this transformation from day to night and the biology of the eye. How different cells within the eye pick up different signals as the night slowly rolls in, how peripheral vision becomes more important and how other senses kick in and support your eye’s night vision.
The meal was accompanied by a large pile of sticks, painted chalk-white at each end and stacked in the middle of the Peak studio. These were to join us on our evening’s explorations and became our non-human companions on our journey; in turn cheeky, challenging, stubborn and insistent, deciding the route of travel and how we interacted with the environment around us and each other.
As we gathered them in our arms, we navigated their bulk, becoming acclimatised to our new shapes when tackling familiar obstacles… doorways, stairs, gateways, pathways and zebra crossings the group and our new and awkward stick friends making our way to the meadows down by the river… still in the light of a glorious midsummer evening.
What followed were a series of choreographed movements – each of us responding to a score…. At first getting used to our new friends – establishing how they and we moved, stood, fell, sounded, felt and interacted with our rural surroundings. This then developed to a series of set pieces… moving to a wooded glade and moving our human and stick partners to affect and engage with our surroundings.
How did they feel, how did we move, how did we view the environment around us and how did it change as we constructed and de-constructed new shapes and structures within it? All was enhanced and heightened by the encroaching twilight – as the chalked stick ends began to luminesce and show us the way in the darkening copse.
The final task was to gather and carry our 119 new stick friends as a single bundle and together process them back to the Peak studio. Part brute force, part team building exercise and part herding cats – we pushed and pulled and gathered our wilful and sometimes uncooperative new collaborators along the ten-minute walk back.
As we teased them for their occasional disobedience and worked together to successfully complete the challenge in the now descended darkness, it was clear our relationship to them and to each other had changed with the same encroaching pace and rhythms as the night that had slowly crept up on us. Each of us were seeing ourselves, each other and our surroundings in a new light, with a new fondness and a shared sense of participating in something really special.
– Steph Allen
Movement Artist, Simon Whitehead works from both his base in the Teifi Valley in rural west Wales and internationally. Endarken is a research and development project supported by the Arts Council of Wales.