Salvage Rhythms (2019, ongoing)

Live performance, digital video, live sound, collage, text

Exhibition history 2023 Chisenhale Gallery, London, UK (performance); Dance Remainings, Gothenburg, SE (performance) 2022 Arnolfini, Bristol, UK (performance); Mayfair Art Weekend, London, UK (film) 2020 Sankt Studios, Berlin, DE (film); She Will Art Space, Oslo, NO (film) (solo); The Room Projects, Paris, FR (film); Gallery 31, Somerset House, London, UK (group) 2019 Somerset House Studios AGM, Somerset House, London, UK (performance)

Salvage Rhythms at Somerset House AGM (extract)

Salvage Rhythms consists of a series of works which use live performance, film, text and collage to explore what we as humans can learn about new-world-building from observing the multispecies entanglements we are a part of. Specifically, how the other critters, organisms and intelligences we share this planet with come together in hidden, surprising and dynamic ways to form networks and create ways of surviving in increasingly damaged landscapes (for example how trees of the same species send messages to one another via networks of mycorrhizal fungi, enabling them to warn of potential danger or share nutrients; or how the matsutake mushroom thrives in forests disturbed by human activity). This research is influenced by the writings of Anna Tsing (specifically The Mushroom at the End of the World and Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet), Mel Y Chen, Octavia Butler, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Donna Haraway and others.

Conceptually and choreographically it uses ideas based on symbiosis, sympoiesis and parasitism to produce ever changing structures, rhythms and compositions. Each work is part of an ongoing process of entanglement between bodies attempting to survive within a damaged landscape. Through the development of tasks and gestures seen established at the start of the process, we witness the bodies navigating, excavating and cultivating individual and shared spaces. In doing so they find ways to co-exist, cooperate and contaminate one another in both successful and failed attempts at new-world building.

The sound score is performed and composed live, in collaboration with musician Roly Porter. Together we draw upon a library of found sounds, archive tapes and field recordings to compose an aural landscape in direct conversation with the performing bodies. Contact mics underneath the performance flooring affect and add to the audio in real time.

Salvage Rhythms at Arnolfini, Bristol (2022). Photograph by Sotiris Gonis.

“On the one hand I am full of admiration for the people who figured out how to survive despite the destruction of their forest. On the other hand, I can’t help but worry when the scrap metal will run out, and whether there will be enough other stuff in the ruins to make continuing survival possible. And while not all of us enact such a literal figuration of living in ruins, we mostly do have to work within our disorientation and distress to negotiate life in human-damaged environments. We follow salvage “rhythms” I mean forms of temporal coordination.”

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing ‘The Mushroom at the End of the World’

Salvage Rhythms at Somerset House Studios AGM (2019). Photographs by Sotiris Gonis.

Text response by Joshua Leon for FAD Magazine, 2019

Salvage Rhythms is a piece about becoming. Devised by Sam Williams, this performance work was presented at Somerset House AGM, alongside a live sound score in collaboration with the musician Roly Porter. The work took place in the befitting Lancaster Rooms atop a uniquely developed rectangular gridded mat, reminiscent of an archaeological dig, underneath which were a series of contact mics. In opposition to the predictability of a set piece of music that can be repeated over and over, the polyphonic collage of sounds shifted as conditions of the performance changed. The combined effect was a strange and fascinating work that blended a sense of multisensory, multispecies entanglement, pulling you out and back into your usual conditions before entering a new set of formations for survival and existence.

The work places bodies as entangled things enacting a sequence of melodic movements together and apart. Moving between vertical and horizontal planes in a way that only something that is attempting to grow can do. The group of performers, (Karen Callaghan, Samir Kennedy, Leah Marojevic) bind, contorting into one. As the piece unfolds one watches these bodies do strange things, some anecdotal, others more complex, intertwined, but no less hesitant. So much of how these movements unfold appear directed at developing a sense of language through the body. There are constant attempts towards something, as if Williams is working to discover a grammatical concept, where repetition is used in an uncertain, doubtful manner and then placed in context through a binding with other repetitions found elsewhere. The movements feel absorbed from a process of watching others and watching things as they grow and move around us. Their interactions feel combative, the rustling of hair, the intertwining of legs, as though they are wrestling with their desire to be one and singular at the same time. Only to unravel again. Much like you might do in your own interactions with others. Joining up, meeting somewhere, hanging out, bonding, and then departing, only to wait to have the chance to come together once more. It might seem like a simplification of life, but the simplicity of these actions only deepens our sense of belonging and in doing so, we see how interdependent we are. Partners, families, ecologies, systems. There is space within such structures to be alone and together. The process of watching this performance is the process of understanding how one is embedded in such structures. In fact, I would go so far as to consider that this piece resists solipsism and loneliness and pushes towards togetherness in a way that speaks against the rhetoric of alienation that has become a mainstay of current cultural discourse.

Salvage Rhythms at Somerset House Studios AGM, London. Photograph by Sotiris Gonis.

Chance plays a crucial part in making this exploration of bond come together. The performers personal battles are undertaken in a way that they are often assisted. Small detailed repetitions feel cared for. One performer lifting their thumb up and holding it there whilst kneeling in the corner of the mat exemplifies a kind of frustration with self, a searching look at the body, a need for understanding. Yet the simple motion of moving out from one position to find another relieves her sense of frustration. In this case the movement sees the performer stand slowly and walk closer to another performer. These kinds of moments are constant. As if to suggest a stuckness. Repetition as being stuck. Freedom coming from movements towards others. The suggestion here is that should you take the chance to be close, ask for intimacy, you will receive it.

I realised along the way that there is something deeply domestic, or at least home-life orientated in the work. In particular, the gestures read like habits and frustrations, and then expand into a narrative of behaviour. Through this kind of experience, I had the sense that somehow the work wanted to relate back to a kind of essential living, and a kind of violence that is not ‘violence’ in capital letters, but quieter, more patient and banal. The behaviour of every day and upon the self. Making mistakes in an email, burning the toast, itching your eczema, feeding the plants, and so on. What I feel Williams to be suggesting is that our own tolerance to ourselves is dependent on our interconnections. Our ability to grow achieved through one’s self in relation to others. And when considered in this mode of thinking, it is without question that trust, and therefore chance, continuously reappear as questions. Can I trust this figure to hold me? Can I take a chance on being in this place and knowing I won’t always be alone? Can my ability to bond allow me the opportunity to grow? Such questions make this an urgent piece for today, it positions itself in resistance to any form of overt independence and acknowledges the complexity of the systems we have found ourselves embedded in, surrounded by, and most importantly cared for. If we are to become singular, we must also learn to care for these systems and allow them to grow organically as such.

Salvage Rhythms at Gallery 31, Somerset House, London (2020). Photograph by Tim Bowditch.

Salvage Rhythms also exists as a single channel looping video installation. Layers of performed movement collage with found and original footage and animation to create what becomes a digital ‘compost’. Bodies intertwine and interact, scrape the digital surface, brush layers away and dig through the screen. We see footage of moss, mould, fungi, worms and microscopic organisms blend with digital animation that recalls the score drawings from the performance rehearsals.

installation view, she will art space, norway

Sam Williams and Roly Porter interviewed about Salvage Rhythms for Somerset House Studios Podcast series.

Salvage Rhythms at Arnolfini, Bristol (2022). Photographs by Sotiris Gonis.

Salvage Rhythms at Arnolfini, Bristol (2023)

Text response by Joshua Leon for Somerset House Studios CHANNEL, 2022

As part of the closing weekend of Forest: Wake this Ground at Arnolfini, Bristol, Sam Williams and Roly Porter presented the performance piece Salvage Rhythms in its second iteration. This work takes place within a twelve square grid on which four performers (Temitope Ajose-Cutting, Karen Callaghan, Iro Costello, Leah Marojevic) graciously detail a series of movements as Porter’s haunting soundscape unfolds.

The pulse of this piece develops out of Williams’s ongoing research into multispecies entanglements and their forms. Through the work of performance and sound, what is articulated here is a deep contemplation on the role of the body as a consideration of the organic forms found in nature, allowing for individual states to become polymorphous and complex beings. As the work unravels, it becomes apparent that each performer is working with a series of exact movements that had been developed intuitively and were now being perfected. This iteration of the work animated a constant urge to be busier and its undoing, allowing space for rest and restraint, and pushing against desires for activity, refusing to treat time as a poor material. Such a careful relationship to time provided them with the necessary space to come to terms with their own sense of being and needs, be that for space, or aide, before reaching out and entering into dialogue with one another, at which point movements became sometimes harmonious, sometimes destructive, and the patience in the performers' labour, a reminder that bodies are fluid, uncertain and reliant on one another.

In the preparation of what I would call, behaviours, there was clearly consideration for the care that is involved in habit and a respect for its necessity. Something that I felt appeared out of this notion of habit, is a contemplation on the domestic, and how a body comes to terms with understanding routine as an inexact rhythm. This domesticity comes as a secondary reading to the apparent intentions of the piece, emerging as a subtle undertone through the collapsing of time, form, and sound. The simple labour of the body stretching, or considering what item of clothing to wear, abstracted, and represented for a space of consideration, a space where bodies can work through intention and failure as an entangled experience. All the while the live score picked up notes and communicated back to the performers, animating what must have been field recordings of rain, or traffic, or rustling clothes. This process blurs the lines of what control is. The constant repetitions in both the movement and sound, offer each performer the opportunity to re-work their actions, finding the very essence of how they wish to move across, be, and collaborate in space, yet at no time did you feel total control was at play, nor did you sense a desire for it.

Salvage Rhythms at Arnolfini, Bristol (2022). Photographs by Sotiris Gonis.

In one period, Callaghan moved both her legs gently back and forward from a flat position on the floor for what felt like several minutes. In another, Ajose-Cutting rolled up and unfolded over and over, almost stuck in the detail, but also developing a fullness for the range of her body. Our focus constantly being pulled from one body to another, as we sought to grasp the lexicon of behaviours at play. These behaviours seen in constant relation to one another become a unique syntax that feels intentional. What Salvage Rhythms works through are new notations on language, using gesture as a lyric, entanglement as speech, and eventually forming the vocabularies of cohabitation, cooperation and contamination. As the bodies begin their dialogues, we become witnesses to this language’s appearance. Forming words through gesture is a precise act and in the solus of their rhythms, each performer's movement sought this, yet as their bodies came into relation with one another, new forms of movement spontaneously arose, habits were undone, and the precision of pattern was forgotten in favour of the joys of complexity, only to be undone again. This negotiation between the need for the exact, and the urge to be spontaneous, situates itself in the questions of what it means to share space, where there lies an impossibility of understanding another’s totality and acceptance for their inaccuracies. There were instances of feet being sucked, heads grazing legs, simultaneous digging, moments that are so intimate that as viewers we too anticipated their failure would come, yet it felt urgent for us to hold onto this failure, as it became clear that in co-existing there are no failures, rather instances in which our desire for perfection becomes unnecessary.

As we watched these moments occur, Williams’ & Porter’s live soundtrack continuously situated us in an uncertain yet earthly terrain. The long-strained sonic of a single violin or cello was matched by noises of rustling, fumbling, and running through leaves, ice, mud, water, and the hush of voices; a chorus of uncertainty that left a sense I was only grasping at ideas of sound. Combined with the orange lighting that remains throughout, the liveness of the sonics left you feeling that this was a liminal space, in that we were situated in a border period between what was and what is coming, and that this delicate space was one we were fortunate to be given access to for these three hours. We had access to witness the continuum of a process, where it was vital we remain aware this is not our habitat, and that there are forces at work that we will never be able to see or hear. And perhaps this unknowing is the true axiom of the work. Our sense of what our domestic habits are pushed to their outer limits, as to our awareness of the environments we share, and how we come to be able to share them. Salvage Rhythms undoes any certainty we might have had of how a body prepares, practices, and performs in our routines, using liveness to congeal and coerce us into a patient awareness that our engagements play out as details in a far more complex system than we are able to understand.

(Text by Joshua Leon)

Salvage Rhythms at Dance Remainings, Gothenburg (2023)

In 2023 Salvage Rhythms was performed outdoors for the first time, in front of the Göteborgs Kunstmuseum during Humanography, a one day performance festival organised and curated by Dance Remainings. The work lasted 2 hours and was performed by the local cast of christian hüls, Oliver Mahar, Hedda Parkkonen and Berith Stennabb. A series of collage editions were produced using material from the rehearsal process.

Salvage Rhythms (assemblage I and assemblage II), collage on paper, 2023

The concept of assemblage is helpful. Ecologists turned to assemblages to get around the sometimes fixed and bounded connotations of ecological “community.” the question of how the varied species in a species assemblage influence each other–if at all–is never settled: some thwart (or eat) each other; others work together to make life possible; still others just happen to find themselves in the same place. Assemblages are open-ended gatherings. They allow us to ask about communal effects without assuming them. They show us potential histories in the making...Thinking through assemblages urges us to ask: How do gatherings sometimes become “happenings,” that is, greater than the sum of their parts? If history without progress is indeterminate and multidirectional, might assemblages show us its possibilities?

Anna Tsing - The Mushroom At The End Of The World

Salvage Rhythms at Chisenhale Gallery, July 2023, performed amongst In Cascades by Lotus Laurie Kang. Photography by Genevieve Reeves.

Salvage Rhythms at Chisenhale Gallery, July 2023, performed amongst In Cascades by Lotus Laurie Kang. Photography by Genevieve Reeves.

Most recently, Salvage Rhythms was performed at Chisenhale Gallery, London, amongst the sculptural installation In Cascades by artist Lotus Laurie Kang. For this iteration, the performance was open to visitors for a duration of three hours. The work occupied shared space with the hanging sheets of photographic film and sculptural objects, creating moments of resistance, conflict, cooperation and unity between live body and physical object.

Salvage Rhythms at Chisenhale Gallery, July 2023, performed amongst In Cascades by Lotus Laurie Kang. Photography by Genevieve Reeves.

Soundscape created in ongoing collaboration with Roly Porter.

Salvage Rhythms has been performed in different instances by Samir Kennedy, Leah Marojevic, Karen Callaghan, Temitope Ajose, Iro Costello, christian hüls, Oliver Mahar, Hedda Parkkonen and Berith Stennabb.

The film version features Masumi Saito, Seke Chimutengwende, Nando Messias, Leah Marojevic, Karen Callaghan and Samir Kennedy. Additional camera by Alexandra Boanta.

Salvage Rhythms was originally commissioned by Somerset House Studios and supported by the Adonyeva Foundation.