Published  28/01/2016

Rose English: ‘Improvisation is present always, making anything’

Rose English: ‘Improvisation is present always, making anything’

The artist talks about her collaboration with composer Luke Stoneham and a troupe of Chinese acrobats, for her evolving work, now on show as A Premonition of the Act at Camden Arts Centre in London

Rose English (b1950) came to the fore on the 1970s feminist art scene, in particular with her 1975 performance Quadrille, a ballet for six horses and hoofed dancers presented at a dressage show – and her work crosses boundaries between performed installation, vaudeville, film, spoken drama and opera. She has appeared on stage and in films and has been writing, directing and performing for 35 years.

English has been working with Chinese acrobats for more than a decade and her collaboration with them has evolved through various performances and exhibitions, including Ornamental Happiness – a show in song and circus – at the Liverpool Biennial in 2006, and Flagrant Wisdom commissioned by the National Glass Centre in 2009. Her current exhibition at Camden Arts Centre, A Premonition of the Act, is described as “reconfiguring elements of a major yet-to-be-realised performance”, hinting at two live performances that will take place after the show has been taken down, on 11 and 12 March 2016.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is the sound work, Lost in Music, an operatic piece for 10 voices and percussion, scored by Luke Stoneham for English’s libretto. It plays in a darkened room, on the walls of which extracts from the score and English’s notes, as well as images of the acrobats at rehearsal, and glassware being blown, are displayed in light boxes: image juxtaposed against word; sight against sound. Next door, three screens show breathtaking footage of the acrobats, performing complex and almost unimaginable feats with the specially made glass vessels – a selection of which are displayed on a table nearby. A girl carries a tiered tray of champagne flutes on her feet; a boy tosses a seemingly weightless vase lightly into the air. One slip and disaster would ensue.

The work as a whole has been described as “a meditation on the temporality of ephemeral work” and “a meditation on the correlation between word and image, inspired by the Sister Sledge hit Lost in Music and a resonant line from the writings of Walter Benjamin”. Studio International spoke to English about her inspirations, aspirations and the practicalities of producing such complex and enduring – if ephemeral – performance pieces.

Rose English: A Premonition of the Act
Camden Arts Centre, London
12 December 2015 – 6 March 2016

Camden Arts Centre, London
11 and 12 March 2016

Interview by ANNA McNAY

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