Designed Elements – Transforming an outdoor space with choreography and landscape design

Photo by Gorm Ashurst

Photo by Gorm Ashurst

Photo by Gorm Ashurst

Photo by Gorm Ashurst

Photo by Gorm Ashurst

Photo by Gorm Ashurst

 

In August I worked for 6 days with an enthusiastic and energetic group of young people to create a new outdoor performance work, Designed Elements. We had the privilege of working on an extremely ‘cool’ site – new pop-up music venue, The Paperworks in partnership with landscape designer, Anoushka Feiler.

From the first time I visited the site I was struck by its wide array of textures. Huge old rusting iron structures – the remains of the papermill that had previously inhabited the site; the busy train line running from Elephant & Castle into London Bridge with thundering rhythmic screeching wheels creating an immediate backdrop/sound scape; the graffiti covering the crumbling brick walls – a taste of rebellion; the plants growing through the walls – a reminder of nature’s capacity and tenacity for it’s own version of regeneration; the energy and activity of this new set of bars, DJs, food stalls – a look of London.

For both Anoushka and I, the history and the architecture of the space felt important. The endless possibilities for transforming both the utility and the feeling of the space felt important. The opportunity to mark out a new territory and imprint new stories into this already multi-layered site felt important together with making visible the connections between the cycles of physical human life and plant life: new seeds being nourished and growing, life flourishing and then gradually decaying and decomposing back into the ground. I wanted to find a way to reflect the duality of the fleeting/busy/temporary qualities of London with the slower, stiller feeling of the buildings, the trees – also temporary and changing, but on a different thickness of time. These were our shared starting points for both the garden design and the choreographic ideas.

This is what I proposed to the group on the first day:
We will:

  • Run, lift things, move things, lie in the ground
  • Plant things
  • Make wishes
  • Build sculptures and knock them down
  • Leave secret messages
  • Watch
  • Listen
  • Invite
  • Respond
  • Make a mess
  • Clear it up
  • Take risks
  • Do small delicate things
  • Do big sweeping things
  • Be tired sometimes and energetic at other times
  • Support each other in all of this
  • Write, draw and think as well as move

We worked hard, and as always the group and the space surprised and inspired me. Below is what our programme notes said – they were written by all the group, hiding under the tarpaulin as the torrential rain thundered down. This is just a fragment of what got written that afternoon, but in all of their words I felt the warm satisfying glow of realising how deeply they had grasped what I was trying to share with them.

We want to stay a part of something, but if that something changes too often, must we run to keep up? Or perhaps we fall behind in hope that we will find what was once beneath us.

We are a fleeting city
our landscape is constantly re-arranging itself
melded, bolted together
We rebuilt this world
somewhere between growth and decay
seeding new ideas
Reaching upwards. Falling back. Together.
A cluster. A line. Leave none behind.