The city of Glasgow has form, when it comes to the wilder and bolder reaches of live performance. For more than 30 years until 2010, under the leadership of Nikki Millican, the city was the home of the National Review of Live Art, and of its spin-off festival New Territories; and although the National Review, and the Arches Theatre which tried to continue some its work, are now gone, it is still possible to trace their impact on the Scottish performance scene, and on the profound network of international connections it has created over the years.
Which is why, on a grey and wintry morning in both cities, I am sitting in Edinburgh talking to the Scottish dancer and choreographer Colette Sadler, in Berlin, about this year’s digital version of the Present Futures Festival, founded by Sadler in 2016-17 to provide a continuing forum for the kind of cutting-edge performance work once championed by the NRLA. Originally based at the CCA in Glasgow, Present Futures is now co-produced by the production company Feral, and in 2019 opened up a parallel presence in Berlin; and now this year, in response to the pandemic, it has become an international event taking place entirely online.
The Festival was already strongly involved in the exploration of the relationship between the human and the non-human, including our increasingly complex interactions with artificial intelligence and the digital world; so, as Sadler explains, “the opportunity to hold Present Futures in early 2021 was an exciting one, as here’s this huge network of creatives who have got the work ready to go – work that speaks to the intersection between our human experience and digital world.”
The three-day programme, running from Friday to Sunday, includes more than a dozen presentations of new online work by an international range of artists, along with research presentations and discussions; and one of the young Scottish-based artists featured this year, in a conversation with fellow-artist Soojin Chang, is Hamshya Rajkumar, who grew up in Lanarkshire, trained in the Indian Bharatanatyam dance tradition, and graduated from Glasgow School of Art in 2018 with a degree in Fine Art, Sculpture and Environmental Art.
For both Rajkumar and Chang, a primary concern, in the way we define the human, is our tendency to objectify the natural world, and to deny that we form an organic part of it; and they will be conversation with Dr Laura Bissell of Glasgow School of Art in a session titled Rejecting The Species Binary, which tries to challenge the thinking that sets humankind apart from the natural world we inhabit, and offers us a licence to exploit and destroy it. In this short Scotsman Sessions film, we see Rajkumar – on a recent icy day – arrive by bicycle at the site of the old Ravenscraig steelworks near Motherwell, and respond through movement to the scarred yet recovering landscape there. Rajkumar describes the video as “a compilation of sketches comprising of gestures, explorations, and attempts to become closer to the site’s ecology.”
“We made a call-out to young Scottish-based artists for this Festival,” explains Sadler, “and we were overwhelmed by the quality of the response on this theme of exploring the boundaries of the human, in relation to both the digital and natural worlds. So in addition to commissioning artists, we put together some “blind date” sessions, featuring artists with similar concerns, to see what would emerge from their response to each other’s work. That’s how this session between Hamshya and Soojin Chang came about; and it should produce a very interesting dialogue, both for the artists involved, and for the audience.”
Present Futures 2021 runs from 5-7 February. Tickets at http://presentfutures.org
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