IMMERSIONS is a collaborative residency and eco-philosophy project between Henry, and dance-artists Michael Schumacher and Kirstie Simson. The project situates improvisational practices in sound and movement within ecological environments of concern. In 2022, the artists undertook a residency between the regions of Norfolk (UK) and Friesland (NL).
Low-lying regions between the eastern UK and north-western Netherlands are imperilled by the imminent threat of global sea-level rise. These liminal environments, whose inhabitants exist in an intimate relationship with the changes exerted by both land and sea, represent as much an interface between the marine and the terrestrial, as between people and cultures – as sites of repeated migration, conflict, and invasion. They constitute also the remnants of lost geography, ringing the former land-bridge between Great Britain and mainland Europe, which was submerged as a result of the changing climate in the previous ice-age.
As improvisers, the artists chose these locations as appropriate and urgent sites for creative action, for exchange, and for receptivity. In a move to shift the pervasive human-centred perspective from one of detached voyeurism to one of IMMERSION, as beings both connected to and porous to the environment, Kirstie, Henry, and Michael explored these transient ecosystems and invites them into compositional and improvisational dialogue; in making-with these environments, they sought not to impose artistically but to listen, as a radical and necessary response to dominant modes of artistic intervention.
Across periods between April and July 2022, the artists spent several days immersed in the coastal environments in the UK and Netherlands. Daily video calls were paired with walking, listening, synchronous and asynchronous movement and sound improvisation, photography, field-recording, and video-documentation. The artists researched local history and geography, exploring the changes in the landscape over time, largely (in the case of both the Dutch and British locations) as a result of human intervention in a move to reclaim or colonise land from the sea.
Discussion and reflection between the artists centred on the role and capacities of artistic practice to affect change, elicit response, and offer understanding and connection in the face of the climate crisis. Shifting a focus from making and producing to listening, receiving, and 'making-with', the artists sought dialogue with the environments, with each other as a means of inhabiting the immediate here and now in their given localities.
One of the primary outcomes of this period of research has been a shared and deeply felt understanding between the artists that the sheer immensity of the climate crisis dwarfs the capacity of one stream of knowledge (including artistic practice-as-knowledge) alone to address it.
In order to be an effective vehicle to mitigate and address contemporary ecological and human concerns, the artists feel that practice must be brought into relation to other streams of knowledge (such as traditional academic research, presentation, discussion, local enterprise and community initiative) in a multimodal and holistic approach to the great issue of our time.
To generate performance is, of course, hugely worthwhile, richly resourceful, and a means by which communities and individuals can be transformed. It is a practice to which the artists have dedicated their time, skills, and decades of practice. It is also true that the production and creation of artistic work can manifest as an exercise in escapism and detachment which, while both representing valid, ordinary, and perhaps even healthy human responses, fall short of the dire need to engage viscerally with the present. Acknowledging the power of improvisation to connect practitioners to the present - to the here and now - the artists recognise it as but one of myriad needed paths towards resolution.
What feels imperative, in response to this period of research, is the bringing together of artistic practice into dialogue with the ecology and conservation sciences, as well as the anthropological and sociological concerns of communities in threatened environments, in recognition that our spheres of knowledge (just like our environments) are deeply interconnected, interactive, and that these connections are full of potential.
In order to approach the climate crisis as a polyvalent issue, the coming together and the interpolation of communities, disciplines, and practices spanning human fields of knowledge is urgently required.
In light of the above, drawing on their experience of working across these coastal communities, and in close (physical) relation to the en-vironments between the UK and NL, the artists have begun discussing the creation of a socio-ecological performative forum, comprising a series of performances, workshops (and other pedagogical events), and talks. It is their hope that such a forum might permit practice and the knowledge it affords to sit side-by-side with conventional and experimental science, as well as the voices of those whose lives are most immediately and viscerally impacted by the threat of sea-level rise.