Dynamic Improvisation

London’s ICA presents a solo exhibition by Sonia Boyce (b. 1962) centred on a performance piece that explores issues of power in the interplay between an audience and those on the stage. The responses of audiences are documented and used to generate a multimedia installation as the next phase of the work.

We move in her way features the exploratory vocals and movements of Elaine Mitchener, Barbara Gamper, Eve Stainton, Ria Uttridge and Be van Vark. The title of the work suggests two possible readings: that “she” dictates our gestures and autonomy; or that we obstruct “hers”, with both interpretations suggesting authority is at play. Boyce treats the theatre as a performative laboratory, in which the audience and dancers negotiate a shifting space defined by static sculptural objects and their bodies. The dynamics of leader and follower constantly shift between the masked audience and the staged practitioners.

Though British Afro-Caribbean Boyce – a professor at Middlesex University and the University of the Arts, London – has worked across a wide range of media including drawing, print, photography, video and sound, she has evolved a distinct practice based upon inviting others to engage with improvisation. Encouraging contributors to exercise their own responses, they step back from taking any directorial position to observe the activities and dynamics of exchange as they unfold. Once the performance is played out and documented, Boyce reshapes the material generated, in what she calls “recouping the remains”, to create the final multimedia artwork.

A running political theme is the idea of black bodies as the “other” in a dominant white culture. Notions of difference and relatedness are presented in this piece, which also references the enduring influence of Dada on the artist and on the process of collaborative improvisation. Some of the masks worn by the viewers are a re-working of Sophie Tauber’s Dada Head (1920). Like others, the final phase is a multi-layered and recorded experience.

The exhibition runs concurrently with a solo show from Australian artist Helen Johnson. Warm Ties is  presented in the Lower Gallery.

Sonia Boyce: We move in her way, 1 February – 2 April, ICA, London, www.ica.org.uk

1. Sonia Boyce’s We move in her way. Photographer: George Torode