When Visual Art Meets Dance… with Frances Disley

Ahead of her double bill at Bluecoat for LEAP 2019, we caught up with visual artist Frances Disley to explore her ongoing collaborations with dance artists.

You’ve worked with dance artists before; what is it about dance and motion that compliments your work?

I work with dance artists as a way to animate and illustrate the decision making that goes into developing a visual artwork. I like the idea that an artwork can be constantly shifting and reconfiguring itself, which is what the dance artists can bring to a piece. In Tripleflex, the work exists as a series of shapes and colours: objects, a dance floor, a musical score and three dance artists. Each element supports the next, in that the dance floor acts as a visual score for the performance, the objects allow the dance artists to accentuate a shape or movement, and their garments compliment the dance floor whilst defining roles within the composition (and so on…).

Dance artists have such an amazing understanding of the body and its possibilities in terms of movement, so for me, working with dance artists is a way to expose a visual artist’s thought processes.They also make what I think can be quite a dull practice (painting don’t kill me) lots of fun. I danced a lot up until my late teens and have always had a yearning to bring it into my work.

How does this collaborative process take shape?

The first dance artist I ever worked with was Maria Malone – I had been blown away by Movema’s Zumba classes, and through them I met Maria and later Pei Tong (who I worked with for a commission at OUTPUT Gallery).

For this work, I approached Cheshire Dance who gave me a list of dance artists they thought would be interested. I needed artists that would be up for something a little bit different, and were happy to work with someone not trained in dance or choreography. In terms of collaboration, I work really responsively in that I only make a small amount of decisions prior to action and allow things to come from relationships, situation and circumstance. So collaboration is really key to my work. I usually like to meet dancers for an experimentation session to begin with, where I’ll have a loose idea and we’ll play, and then I develop ideas in response. The dance artists I’m working with for Tripleflex have been so generous with their ideas and I think that is something that draws me to collaboration: the idea that you all share the experience of developing a work.

It’s clear the daytime and evening performances are going to feel very different – can you tell us more?

So there’s a totally different soundtrack for the daytime and the evening performances, which will hopefully set a shift in mood from one to the next – the daytime being more upbeat and the evening being darker, with an almost industrial feel. There are loads of field recording that MT Hall (the composer) has added to amplify this. The framework to each performance will be similar, but the type of movement and the objects that are activated will change. Ambient elements will also shift, such as the lighting and scents that are used in the space. The daytime performance is also intended to be family-friendly so that people can bring children along without fear of getting into trouble if they move about and make noise!

If you could do anything – budget and resources unlimited – what would you do?

I’d love to get a really slow commission, where I got to spend a long period of time working with dance artists, getting a chance to develop something that could evolve and be presented repeatedly throughout its evolution. I’d also love to work with a botanical collection or in a swimming pool!

The creative process is different for everyone. What’s your go-to solution when you have a mental block?

More and more, my way of working through a block is to think about something I’d like to encounter or experience and to be as honest as possible about that. Like music I really want to move to, and the fact that with two young kids I’m always so knackered and want to experience something that will make me feel better or engage and distract me for a while. I also look at sportswear adverts for colour combinations.

You’ve been involved with so much of Liverpool’s art scene over the years – what’s exciting you about creatives in the city right now?

I’m totally biased as I’ve just shown there but I love what OUTPUT Gallery is doing – exhibiting artists from or working in Liverpool, alongside a diverse programme of events and groups. I’ve also collaborated with loads of local artists lately and I love working with people I’ve known for ages through my studio space at The Royal Standard / Crown Building Studios, but never really shared that creative process with. I also love the programme of talks and performances that have been taking place in the Bluecoat performance space (but then again I’m biased on that too). 

Catch Frances Disley’s Tripleflex at Bluecoat, 11am and 7pm on Thursday 10 October.

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