Sura Medura Sri Lanka residency_ reflections
Back in Glasgow watching the snow fall gently on an Easter Monday afternoon and reflecting on 6 weeks of sunshine and creativity at the Sura Medura residency in Sri Lanka, an inspiring, creative and immersive experience. Spending time in the company of the other artists; finding friendships, inspiring conversations, adventures in Hikkauwa and around Sri Lanka together, sharing our creative processes and explorations, and the many other parts of the experience; rice and curry, beach life, temples and landscapes sunshine and spectacular thunderstorms. Being able to focus on the creative work every day, away from the routines of everyday life, in a beautiful environment, in the sunshine, was a unique and invaluable experience, that I will treasure for a long time. Thanks to Neil, Maria and UZ arts for making it possible.
The Moving Out performance and exhibition on 24th March at Sunbeach Hotel was the culmination of our work together, featuring a selection of the individual and collaborative works that we had created, involving a wide range of media and creative approaches; sculpture, installation, drawing and painting, dance film, sound installations, video documentation, and performance. The event ran from afternoon until late in the evening and began with exhibited and film works, culminating in a sharing of performed work in early evening, a rice and curry banquet and a disco played out of a local tuk tuk and music mixed by the artists. We had a very engaged audience; from local people who had been part of our various works to curious tourists and surfers drawn in by unusual activities on the beach and artists and presenters we had met at an artists networking event in Columbo.
Reflecting on my own visual arts practice and ideas after being in Sri Lanka, I was interested to develop some work around typography and lettering following visits to China in 2016 and 2017, and beginning to learn Chinese calligraphy. Through research into Sri Lankan arts and history I had started to look at historical cave and temple paintings showing images of dance and movement and Sinhala lettering as a letterform and language that might lead to new ways for me to explore creating new ways of capturing of dance. In meeting Suba and working together, training and sharing our movement practices together, through shared interests in dance film and making performance, we developed a highly collaborative body of work which deepened my initial ideas into a much more focused investigation. Learning about Tamil culture and Bharata Natyam through Suba’s expertise opened up a more deeper way of working and resulted in a body of work integrating many elements of my practice and also opened up new collaborative approaches, in dance film, drawings, paintings, digital images and performance.
Working as a performer I began to learn a new dance practice through daily training in Bharata Natyam which found its way into a series of dance films conceived and choreographed by Suba. I worked in the studio to refine the details in the choreography and accumulated over the residency, added a precision and clarity to my movement vocabulary. It was refreshing and challenging to learn and explore a more precise and refined movement form and through our daily class I began to understand the basic elements of the practice, inspired also by working in our studio with view of the coconut trees, fields and sights and sounds of the local wildlife, certainly very different to rehearsal studios back in Scotland! I also worked with Suba to film the dance films, in the position of being the performer and not being behind the camera on this occasion, we worked together to stage and film the work.
The performance we created was presented at the final sharing and featured an evocative and atmospheric sound score performed by Tim and Tanuja. After creating the work in the studio throughout the residency it felt time to share with an audience and it created a dramatic and powerful focal point for the audience, engaging with Tamil culture and identity and relationships, with the audience surrounding us in a small circle, it made for an intense and powerful work, I painted Tamil script on a long piece of sari fabric, while Suba sang some Carnatic Indian traditional song, and performed a Bharata Natyam dance solo, moving into a more physical duet, the sari woven into the choreography, towards the end Suba wore the sari with help from members of the audience and the piece finished on the beach. Both works feel that they have more opportunities to develop into more in-great depth investigations and we are keen to explore further collaborative potential with these works.
My photographic work developed through documenting the daily sights and experiences, in digital devices and for the first time in many years, a 35mm film camera, all of which helped refine attention to detail, colour and texture and life in Sri Lanka. I created a series of photos of Suba dancing phrases from her Bharata Natyam choreography, responding to classical Indian sculptures of the Hindu deity, Shiva, and classical sculptural depictions of dance, that we had seen in the National Museum in Columbo. Through learning more about the dance, Tamil culture and and Hindu deities through the residency offered a deeper investigation into making images of dance than I had previously been able to explore, and integrating elements of the drawings and photography into digital prints was a useful outcome at this stage and points to an ongoing investigation in the future.