r alternative echelons
(films screened on 28 March—3 April) d
As part of the Common(ing) Thread programme Geopolitical Costume, the directors of the paired films alternative echelons (dir. Amy Pickles) and Greenham (dir. Ceschi + Lane) engaged in an email conversation.
Amy, March 21
There are so many ways for me to start writing to you, for there are so many affinities between the film works we have shared.
Watching Echoes of Greenham unfold in four parts, there is some kind of resonance in my body, something joyous and almost comforting, when feeling these connections in our works. I hold so many doubts about the film I shared with you, alternative echelons, when I think about its legibility. What needs to be understood and what can be felt in another way? But then I was in your echoes and there was this resonating force. You are learning and involving yourselves into hidden narratives of a nineteen year long Peace Camp. With others you are trying to interact with, and learn from, a landscape that continues to conceal military motivations.
I enjoy imagining your work outside the frames. What did it feel like to bring a group of women there? What stories did you share? How did your costumes connect to the landscape when adorned on your bodies? Sometimes I think that my work only really existed on site, in the moment of filming, and that what comes later—like sharing our works through Common(ing) Thread now—is always a different iteration.
Holt, Territory, Meadow, Lea. Your films are not recalling specific memories, and nor are they reenactments, but there is somehow a strong sense of repetition when you watch your figures move through these luscious, but barren, landscapes. These women adorned with mirrors have stood there before. They have stood facing, and opposing, a vast military power.
I'm thinking about the importance of remembering, remembering something that we don't fully know.
On the wikipedia page for Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp, you can read the biography of this moment;
Removal of cruise missiles
End of use of nuclear weapons
It is painful to read them and feel cynical. How can these motivations ever be forgotten?
Your echoes remind me to listen to Greenham Common, to remember that we can learn from those 250 women.
What memories, that are not your own, do you hold onto since this work was made?
Kate & Valentina, March 22
Thank you for your thoughts. We responded a bit separately but together.
I really enjoyed the abstracted connections between our pieces. The act of remembrance and searching for what was/is hidden or forgotten, this I believe is a common thread. How our bodies hold memories, literally but also metaphorically and how important the act of returning to space can be in holding a memory, in recognition of the past or in unearthing the forgotten now.
I’m curious about the seashells in nets on the rods as a sort of modern-day alternative to water dowsing, and I can’t help but see a reference to Fahrenheit 451 with people being constantly plugged into ‘seashells’ in their ears—as referring to the internet and our desire/need to be constantly connected.
I love the sound—the pylons—the fragmented memory/commentary—at one point the voice talked about collecting data like how you collect knowledge—this fragmented collage of sound, visual, sensorial understanding of place & time. We want to know more. And how this works with the act of remembrance of the work in Cyprus?
Fragmented collection of knowledge spoke to us in relation to our films—we were interested in the costumes with British pagan traditional costumes & fables—the may queen—the gille dubh—straw bear—jack of the green. Costumes as part of ritual performance that come from the earth/the ground. The common has a long history of being site of military presence dating back to the battle of Culloden (the English army stayed on the land in preparation for marching north) to then being claimed as common land again—this we were interested in and the role of women in the land. Your webs spoke to us—the Greenham women use to use webs too and were called witches.
I hold a memory from one of the voices in the sound walk of the women breaking into the base one night to plant a tree in the middle of the runway. This huge military might of the US airforce thwarted by some women and tree sapling—this gives me hope.
In answering How can the body respond to latent histories within a landscape?
Placing the body in a landscape immediately makes it relational, de-centered. Until very recently we’d been creating our work for black box theatre and gallery spaces. Blank canvases where our costume forms were the protagonists, acting as scenography, costume, character and event all in one! Our transition to outdoors took away the need for them to fulfill all those roles at once and allowed them instead to simply be in juxtaposition to something else, something bigger, a wider context and public space.
When we first visited the common we were struck by the beauty of nature reclaiming this land for itself again, encroaching on the tarmac of the airfield, in parts almost completely obliterating it by now. There are relics of the former military base that are dotted around the Common that stand as memories or echoes of its military past—rusty and derelict. And of course the imposing missile silos loom in the distance. We loved this contrast in textures. And the idea that man-made military structures that were originally suppressing the natural landscape are now slowly disintegrating into it as nature is allowed to take over once more reclaiming its space again.
In some ways we felt like intruders in the landscape ourselves—bringing something very unnatural, uncanny and unfamiliar onto the common again. Our costumed bodies were these strange presences disrupting the natural rhythms of the Common and its inhabitants—cows come there to pasture, and the other wildlife of course—but also the rhythms of dog walkers, young cyclists, runners and ramblers too. Creating art in this context can be exciting—certainly powerful—but at times it can feel on the edge of consent. We are aware of the need to be sensitive to this.
Amy, how do you approach the landscape and the placing of bodies in these liminal spaces?
Kate & Valentina xx
Amy, March 23
Kate, your memory of the night time tree protest seems very intertwined with your pagan references. Stories that are really coming from the earth, or going back to it. The figures in your work also have a feeling of being grounded. Their movements seem precise and considered, did your research into these performances also form how you wanted to move in the common?
I didn't know of Fahrenheit 451, thank you. My reference for the shells, and the plastic bags, bits of string, net bags, small stones, is the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark. These materials were some of her 'relational objects', everyday materials that she used for sensorial experiences in holistic works. My rods are selfie sticks, and the bigger shapes we have hanging over our shoulders are phone holders too—you can sit on the sofa and chat to your friends hands free!—I've been trying to feel through all these materials at once, what is relational and sensorial about our communication technologies? Now I'm also obsessed with shells, particularly mussels and oysters, because there are these questions of sentience that also come up when we talk about machines. Molluscs are also eating debris in the water and somehow I connect that to our phones and laptops, what we feed them.
To respond to your question on the soundtrack I could write something very long here, so maybe I should save that for my next writing. Instead I would also like to know about your sounds too! They also come to me as fragmented, human sounds disappear and resurface. There is a consistent rhythm while there is always something shifting. Were you involved in the creation of the soundtrack? I read that there was a chorus involved, and I am curious to know how these human and other than human sounds evolved into the compositions you have now?
Valentina, your textures are something that stay with me. The plush red tassles hanging down over concrete with the lichens growing on them. The plastic flowers and the detailed shots of heather. The arms that become fabric stilts and extend out onto a gravel path. The bulbous, shiny, silvery character next to the shallow pond.
I would say that we approached the landscape with curiosity and caution, as our actions were on the borders of legality in this liminal space of Eemshaven, an industrial complex in the north east of The Netherlands. When filming we were driving around and around between the Google data center, the electricity converters, the coal and biomass power plant, and the polder (lowland reclaimed from the sea) with our string net, our selfie sticks and our shells. It was really a privilege to go there with my collaborators and feel out being within this infrastructure. Infrastructure so vast but that usually remains on the edges of our awareness, while at the time allowing me to write this email to you now. We were curious because we were searching for some proof that the undersea internet cable was connecting to the land right beneath us, but we could never really be sure.
Coming back to your textures, how were you considering texture when making the costumes? Did you have particular locations in mind for them or did the costumes find their place while on shoot?
Kate & Valentina, March 24
We are just loving this correspondence… Apologies I think we are both writing lengthy replies!
Yes I think this journey of moving and situating our work outside has meant a real development of our relationship with the landscape, materials and stories that come from it, or embedded within it. The costume & movement are developed alongside each other—actually we’ve written a couple of academic articles about this process. It’s about an embodied understanding of material & movement that often drives the shapes and sculptural forms of the costumes.
The sounds in our piece were all from the common—our amazing sound artist Caroline Devine recorded sounds on the common to compose the tracks. There are sounds of bats and the hawthorn bushes crackling in the July heat. I don’t really feel qualified to say more but one thing I try to do more is listen to the sounds when we are out—what comes & goes, what stays the forgotten sounds the ones we often ignore. The sounds of the material in the costume forms which direct the movement—it’s all inter-related…
Ahhh I’d forgotten about Lygia Clark and her relational objects—YES all of this. I’m really intrigued about your thoughts about relational and sensorial with communication technologies, I’d love to know more. I wonder if this has been heightened or developed through the past two years and our interdependence with these technologies as our primary means of communication. Molluscs are eating debris but sometimes produce pearls, and the inside of oyster shells are beautiful, iridescent treasure—where are our treasures do you think from this form of communication?
Also for you—what came first or was it an organic conversation between landscape, people, movement and relational object?
(Amy) Coming back to your textures, how were you considering texture when making the costumes? Did you have particular locations in mind for them or did the costumes find their place while on shoot?
Textures are often a starting point for me when creating a costume. I don’t have a formal training in costume design so when I create a costume I usually start with a texture, investigate the material of the fabric, its structure on the body, how it moves, what shapes it can take and how it influences the body to move through identification with the material. Coming from a theatre background I’m always looking for the emotional storytelling in the costume. And texture, rhythm and feeling are really important. I would say many of the costumes came from the textures and colours in the landscape, mixed with the military flavours of the historical context and with an added twist here and there (the yellow flowers are plastic, a nod to the incongruous nature of our relationship we have with our environment). The placing of these costumes was really intuitive and in response to the common. It made sense for the twig-like structures to be in amongst the trees. The rusty crinkled fabric to sit on a rusty old relic of the base and the blue suit with flowers to be embedded into the meadow.
We made a really exciting discovery with colour one day when we were on site. In the distance we saw a red dot coming out of the greenery. It was a jogger dressed head to toe in red and we saw them from miles away. It looked so striking and cool so immediately we searched for pieces of red to add to our costumes. From the red shapes we drew on the landing strip, down to the red lipstick on our dancers, the colour became a literal “fil rouge” that brought the piece together.
(Amy) I would say that we approached the landscape with curiosity and caution, as our actions were on the borders of legality in this liminal space of Eemshaven…
This is really interesting to me. The idea of borders and what access is permitted to whom and when. At the time of the Peace Camp the women were obviously forbidden entry into the Army base. Many of them trespassed (and were arrested). The main structure of the Camp was surrounding the base, even to the point of women wrapping themselves around it completely in an act called “Embrace the Base”.
The chorus we refer to was a physical chorus of local women who took part in the final live performances (sadly not included in the films). One of the participants was a former resident of the Green Common Womens Peace Camp and when her friends came to see her in the show they were moved to tears, seeing her move like a Queen with her wicker crown out onto the airstrip—an area they’d always wanted to reach in their acts of protests but never could.
Much love from a warm sunny spring day in London…
Kate & Valentina xxx
Amy, March 25
Don't apologize, it feels like there will always be too much to talk about!
I am learning a lot and enjoying all the thoughts from your messages.
Kate, I love that my ears hear human vocals when they are bats and hawthorn bushes, that's something to bring to pagan rituals too. When you write about your methods for development I am very curious to think that through more. The figure with the extensions on their arms, walking with head bent over, this was such a striking shape to me. Or the strong shape of the character in the gas mask with the tassles held in outstretched arms. What informed you to arrive at these positions and ways of moving?
When I try to respond to your question on soundtrack from before, it's hard to condense my answer, but here we go.
What you can hear is a collection of distorted voice messages we, the four people on screen, left one another when learning about the history of Cyprus, and how colonisation by the british led to the island's current division. Our voices fall out of audibility. As a native english speaker, I am trying to move away from presenting work in english, or english that is comprehensible. As a colonial being, how could I work otherwise? Working with others is a way for me to decenter my position, and holding multiple stories is a way to disallow a dominant narrative.
alternative echelons is assembled with another work I have made in Dhekelia, Cyprus. We went to a british military base, which is still sovereign land, and a crucial node for surveillance as there is a listening station there in the mountains. On the base we performed another iteration of Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuña's 'Cloud Net'—the work with the string net that you can see—which is a work loosely imagining the internet. I wanted to juxtapose the radical potential of the internet with the spying, surveillance and capitalism that is tied up in it. The british have also been found to spy on other nations through the internet cables that connect the island to the Netherlands, such as the COBRAcable we were looking for in Eemshaven.
Valentina, red has been in my mind from your works, so thank you to the runner then! There is a wonderful evolution of red through the times of the day in your works too. Between the dry feeling landscapes and the more lushious ones, and then in Lea with the sunset it changes again. The red and blue, grey hues of your costumes are kind've mimicked in the sunset. This video is very full to me, I wonder if I associate the end of the day with something cumulative or final. I'm wondering, did you have a story for what those figures are about to do, or standing before, on the landing strip?
After watching your work I learnt so much more about Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp, there were so many modes of protest that I hadn't known of, so many powerful actions. Access and borders also bring questions of who and how can witness what happened. I really appreciate that your work summoned me to go into those memories. A collective memory, not necessarily mine, but that I could—and maybe should—be responsible for maintaining. The work with your chorus sounds like a very special moment. Do you have plans for more echoes? Or ways to resonate with these memories again?
I don't think I will respond to everything now, but I feel our deadline is looming so thank you everyone for opening up all these questions and lines of thought!
Very happy to get into your work more in this way.
In these films, we encounter bodies performing in highly politicised landscapes. Rituals, gestures, interactions, and choreographies act as critical interventions in space to challenge territorial and cultural dominance. In 'alternative echelons' performers 'repeat the actions of an event in 2019 on the British sovereign land base of Dhekelia, in Cyprus'. This time they find themselves in Eenshaven, NL, at the site of the Google datacenter and the place where a Dutch undersea internet cable emerges onto land. Their bodies are tangled through a mass of string, or adorned with mobile phones and shells tied up in net bags as they ask us to consider the impervious nature of digital surveillance. Crossing this water to the UK, artists Ceschi + Lane are also staging a performance in a location imbued with political history. Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp was set up in a former RAF and American Army base in the English countryside in 1981. Protesting against the British government's allowance of American cruise missiles to be stored there. In the present day, the artists have drawn upon English pagan ritual costumes to create a performance where bodies at once reflect their organic surroundings and the history latent in the landscape. Memory is at the core of both these works, whose narrative runs through echoes of pasts events and relics of violent occupations. By situating the performance in those same sites of oppression, the works compel us to consider the relationship between memory and landscape, body, and environments. Common patterns of military appropriation and networks of colonial surveillance are confronted by the artists through their interconnecting bodies and their actions within the environment. In the works, webs, and pieces of fabric act as relational, empowering tools, echoing the potential that collective, interwoven movements have in facilitating critical reflection and action.
r alternative echelons
(films screened on 28 March—3 April) d