markings

Skills Exchange Day 2

Environment, the body and human connection

Bethan Peters

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Bethan is a London based dance artist and choreographer who has been working across the community, professional and educational dance sectors for the past ten years. Within her practice Bethan explores energetic Contemporary dance styles, social dance forms, choreographic site work and cross arts collaboration. Bethan is currently the Lead Tutor for the Postgraduate Diploma Community Dance at Trinity Laban, where she lectures and mentors emerging/developing community dance artists. Alongside this, she delivers a range of regular classes and projects as an independent dance artist. Bethan often delivers work for organisations including Southbank, Greenwich Dance, Arts Odyssey and Royal Museums Greenwich. In recent years, she has become more occupied with taking dance beyond theatres to create numerous cross-arts, site responsive, participatory performance works. The individual narratives and unique physical expression of the dancers she works with is at the core of Bethan’s practice. Through her work Bethan endeavors to challenge the traditional notion of a dance artist, choreographer or facilitator by seeking opportunities that can broaden her approaches to work and blur boundaries between dance, other art forms and fields of knowledge  and impact upon social, political and environmental matters.

 

As a part of the AEP Skills Exchange Beth shared and enabled collective exploration of her recent artistic research into the connections between land and bodily markings. In her own words she explains more of the concepts and process behind this work:

What I have shared at the AEP Skills Exchange is a thread of my personal research that emerged from an expeditionary arts and science residency I undertook earlier this year called The Arctic Circle, through which I spent three weeks in and around the island of Svalbard, located half-way between Norway and the North Pole.

 Image by Bethan Peters

Image by Bethan Peters

Whilst on the residency I was completely overwhelmed by the epic, ethically loaded Arctic environment and quickly came to the conclusion that the ideas, tasks and research questions I had originally intended to explore (which were predominantly focused around my own physical interactions with the places we were encountering) felt irrelevant and forced. In order to carry on a creative process whilst on the residency, I found myself relying on and finding comfort in some of the themes, approaches and values that define much of the participatory work I do on a day-to-day basis. I realised that in being immersed in a highly surreal and intense setting, that I deeply craved more intimate and fundamentally human connections to the other people that I was sharing the experience with, in order to process how I and more broadly ‘we’ related to the Arctic environment, both literally and metaphorically.

What I actually ended up researching and working on for the remainder of the residency was the idea of exploring the connections between markings on our bodies such as scars and tattoos and the markings on the land/environment, that are either caused by natural phenomena or are a result of human activity/climate change. To develop material around this, I collaborated with a number of my fellow shipmates to capture (through photography and film) portraits of either a scar or tattoo on their body, which they embedded, juxtaposed or immersed in a particular place within the natural landscape.

At its core, I believe the markings thread can be distilled down to:

  • Considering our bodies as a breathing archive or map of our lived experiences 
  • Physical and narrative encounters with the places we inhabit in order to better understand our relationship to broader environmental contexts
  • Capturing these encounters in some way to share, relate and connect to others

This is the process that the artists of the Skills Exchange were taken through to develop their responses.

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I returned from the Arctic with a series of portraits (consisting of photographs, film clips and recorded interviews), which for me feel really profound and rich, not only because of the incredibly open and honest physical and aural narratives which the participants generously shared with me, but also because of what the encounters captured, represent and reveal about the immensely powerful, yet dually vulnerable locations we were in. 

Going forward with my research practice, I am processing and beginning to experiment with ways in which I might be able to share and translate the markings process I went through in the Arctic to people back in the UK who I currently work with and may work with in the future. I am interested in how I can communicate my Arctic experience through this process as well as attempting to develop a way in which people might be able to find a personal connection (no matter how small) to a giant and scary concept such as climate change through work of this kind. By evolving this process with others, my aim is to facilitate meaningful creative experiences that have the possibility to evoke individual and collective action.

In sharing the process as a part of the AEP Skills Exchange, I have been reflecting on the parities between the markings work and my general participatory practice which include:

  • Often within my work I am curious about what connects people as a group who are brought together within a particular context as well as what unites them beyond that context?
  • I seek to discover commonalities between people (myself included) through communication and physicality, but am also interested in celebrating often beautiful differences
  • I am concerned with how we individually and collectively relate to the spaces/places/sights we inhabit and how we engage with the environments around us. How are we shaped and shape the places that we immediately occupy as well as indirectly effect?
  • I am curious about experimenting with different modes of presenting and documenting personal and collective contributions to a project.  
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For me, there is both immense beauty and power in physically connecting with your own body through a lived narrative, connecting with the spaces you inhabit and connecting with others in a very human way that identifies our commonalities as well as our wonderful differences. This is something that I believe is accessible and available to everyone, regardless of their backgrounds or previous experience.

(Words by Bethan Peters)