What’s the score? That’s the question at the heart of ROTOR, a cross-arts exhibition at the Siobhan Davies Studios, that also includes an installation at the South London Gallery. A long-standing leader in the field of dance, Davies has recently been looking over the fences between artforms: she has hosted a series of interdisciplinary talks, and last year’s The Collection showed her own choreography in the context of a group exhibition at an art gallery. ROTOR is a further step in this direction, another group exhibition, this time with a defined point of departure: a choreographic film by Davies herself, offered to nine different artists as a kind of score from which to create their own pieces. This exhibition is the result.
The hub, Davies’s ROTOR, is shown both in filmed and live versions. The only actions are walking or running. The four dancers forming a wheeling line, like a radar scan, but gradually they begin to shift orbits, circling each other, changing speeds and directions. It’s like watching a schematic solar system grow dense with detail: comet swerves, vortices of energy, the tug of different gravities. At the same time, it becomes more human: you sense games of catch and chase, personalities at play. Above all, you’re aware that the composition is produced by a set of formal but quite unfathomable choreographic rules: there’s a score, for sure, but you’re damned if you can read it.
Likewise with the exhibition itself: you know these works are spin-offs from ROTOR, but the connections are cryptic. That’s not a problem: it matters less where these pieces come from than where they take you. Matteo Fargion’s Songbook is a zany series of musical numbers performed by the dancers, whose bizarre squawks, sighs, and snippets of speech are meshed with thumbs-ups, tummy-pats and foot-stomps, all determined by a strict rhythmical score devised by the composer. The dancers actually sightread the performance from a paper score, on music stands; God only knows what the notation looks like.
Sam Collins’ Conversation Revolved is a darkly beguiling video installation. At the centre of the room a table is set for dinner, and around the walls are rotating fragments of film. Not just any film, but the dinner scene from Hitchcock’s Suspicion, urbane images of Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine duplicated and refracted around the room like a materialisation of the web of intrigue they’re in.
Alice Oswald’s poem The True Story of Someone Putt Only Half Heard is a haunting fable of a young boy in an old house, and like the best poetry channels feeling into form. You also get to read it from inside an enclosed alcove. Ben Tyers’ gleaming spiral sculpture also felt like a closed system, obeying internal laws – and perhaps that’s why I got on less well with other less systematic works, a voiceover by E V Crowe, photographs by Alexandra Hughes, a sculpture by Angela de la Cruz. Taken together, these pieces certainly open your eyes to how weird and wonderful people can be.
Until, that is, you get to Clare Twomey’s tableful of unglazed pots, which tells it like it is. In a slow, inexorable cycle, a woman fills pots with water. When a pot gives out – and they all do, sooner or later – she mops up the spilt water, puts the used vessel in a recycle bin and brings on a new pot. In this closed system, the water is the life, we are but clay, and she is God’s housekeeper, doing her chores. Never mind how weird and wonderful we are, the final score is God one, us nil.