To Denmark, with Coney



As an artist who collaborates with – and sometimes represents – Coney, I travelled to Denmark in April this year, with co-director Tassos Stevens, and theatre producer Roz Wyn, to meet and network with Danish artists. In this blog – originally posted on Coney’s blog – I reflect upon the trip…

It’s a Friday afternoon in April, and I’m sitting by a quayside in southern Denmark. The low-but not-yet-setting sun sparkles on the water, and bounces up, and over me.

It’s quiet here. Water laps the quay. Birds call, shrill, from deep within the reeds. A few yards away, a man tinkers with a boat. Perhaps preparing to go out fishing. I try to appreciate the moment, and not to intervene. But I can’t help it. I take photographs, I text my girlfriend.

Then, behind me, footsteps crunch on the gravel. A figure emerges between the laid-up yachts.

It’s Tassos. He’s got some pickled herring in a little plastic tub.

The herring tastes good. We sit opposite one another, wrapped in our coats, old friends, sometime colleagues, strangers to this town, this quay, two people with inevitably, unknowably separate minds, minds which try but can’t quite ever satisfactorily communicate or share experience, here, momentarily at peace with the impossibility of communication, quietly eating herring, exchanging a few words, minutes, light. Momentarily in communion, after all.

This takes place in Vordinborg, Denmark, towards the end of a week in the country, during which three of us, representing Coney, and ourselves, have been meeting other artists and producers.

Today it’s just Tass and I, Roz having returned to the UK.

We’re in Vordinborg on our way back from Stege, having stopped to drop off Nullo, having spent the day with Cantible 2, the company he directs, who are based in nearby Stege (a town whose name, incidentally, is closer in pronunciation to “stay-air” than to “stedge”).

Cantible 2 have an amazing set up. In one of their spaces we share lunch and conversation. In another, Siri performs extracts from two of their shows (shows isn’t really adequate, these are intimate audience experiences). Both Tass and I are touched, altered even, by these extraordinary performance encounters. Perhaps in part because it’s so unexpected: we’re two strangers, just visiting for a chat. But this company make work which is deeply felt, fully lived and generously shared. Hours later, as we eat our pickled herring by the quay, we’re still decompressing from these few moments of intense performative exchange.

Almost 30 years old as a company, Cantible 2’s current interest is Human Specific Theatre, which, in brief, is the use of performance to facilitate genuine encounters between people. This kind of work, for small audiences or perhaps just one-on-one, resembles and resonates with work which I’ve made, or been involved in making, such as wireframe’s At Home, Jane Packman Company’s Treasured – A Secret Journey, as well as Coney’s A Small Town Anywhere.

Work like this can be deep and dangerous: gentleness and care become essential attendant artistic skills.

But making work like this is also expensive. Part of the reason behind the abandonment of wireframe was (at the time, in that place) the apparent impossibility in making that company’s ends meet. Here, Cantible 2 seem to be part of the establishment. They are the regional theatre in this part of Denmark. I struggle to translate the idea of this to the UK. It’s an enviable situation, I’m really glad they’re in it.

The next day, back in Copenhagen, we meet Illutron, a collective of artists and engineers who work out of an old dredger moored in the harbour. These guys are not part of the establishment, indeed, they all contribute time and resources to keep their project going, much of which is taken up with, literally, keeping the Illutron itself afloat. Paid commissions help, but essentially Illutron is held together by love, commitment, these people’s hard-earned cash.

It’s sunny again today, but cold. Our coats stay on, despite the glowing stove, as we chat in the main cabin, which is at once meeting space, mess room and electronics workshop. Illutron’s main interest is in repurposing redundant tech into interactive kinetic sculpture. Sometimes these projects include a performance element, sometimes not. The boat is full of things: robot arms salvaged from scrap, sections of a huge old LED display screen from a local sports stadium, a raft for giving coffee as a gift to passing boaters… I’m attracted to the practicality, the making skills, skills I share but don’t always use enough. I’m in awe of these people for keeping their collective together, keeping the rust at bay and the coffee hot.

Today, as we visit, everything’s packed away or piled up, the collective is preparing to move. This section of harbourside is imminently required for redevelopment into apartments. The Illutron will have to find new moorings, old moorings, somewhere just beyond the current wave of building. Just as the cold is really setting in, we’re interrupted in the mess room by the caretaker (from the new school within the new development). It’s a cue for us to move, and as Eva shows us around the boat, Christian uses Illutron’s hydraulic crane to lift the caretaker’s dayboat off the dock and into the water. He calls back his thanks, starts his engine, and putters away across the harbour.

There’s something about Illutron which makes me feel at home. I had a similar feeling yesterday, whilst visiting Cantible 2 in Stege. As companies, entities, groups of people they are quite different. But there’s something about meeting people in their spaces, in the spaces where they work, they make, the spaces which they share. For me, now, in the wake of a disrupting house move, and with a recently sustaining project now on hiatus, I can see glimpses of what might be found, might be built, might be shared, shared despite the impossibility of ever quite bridging that gap-between-brains, shared strongly anyway with the island dwellers, builders of bridges, boaters, fishermen and all the other metaphors, with herring or without, in springtime and in fall, if we can, while we can, in hope.

And, you know, or if you don’t, I think that’s the best outcome of this trip. And, unusually late to deliver, writing this months later, running late, I’m never late, well only rarely late, I’ve maybe only just realised it.

But let’s recap. This is an account of a week in Denmark with Coney. We were there for five days, and I’ve written about just over 24 hours of that week. There were many good things, good people. I did a lot of listening. There was more beer, more herring.

Here’s a few of my other highlights, with hashtags:

I took the train from London to Arhus, including travelling overnight from Köln to Kolding. In the morning in Kolding it was raining, and cold, but there was coffee, and another train. #adventure #rail #humanscale

Experiencing Olafur Eliason’s Your Rainbow Panorama, a huge permanent installation at ARoS. Extraordinary, with wonderful colour-saturated views across the rooftops of Arhus. #beautiful #extraordinary #ambition

Our hotel in Copenhagen. “Some delightful rooms still available”. #chickenbone

The train from Arhus to Copenhagen, arriving to a lunch of gloriously dirty burgers with Mads. #earlymorning #bigbridge #danishamericandiner

Meeting and workshopping with Copenhagen Games Collective and others. #playful #learning #alert

Being in pubs with those guys, and later on with Luke and Sam from Wunderkammer. #beer #conversation #fuckyeahUKsmokingban

A morning in a clear plastic dome, hearing Gry Worre Hallberg describe Sisters Academy, a project which turned a fully operational secondary school into a performance installation reflection of itself, which was still fully operational as a secondary school. #hardtobelieveitreallyhappened #itreallyhappened #personalpoeticdevelopment #listening

Hearing about the gently alternative realities brought into being by Vera and Jakob of Hello Earth. #listening #wouldlovedtoexperiencetheirwork

The persistence of the one participant who overcame the distractions of networking to complete the quick scratch of a pervasive game which we made for the Game Making awards evening. #happybirthdaytoyou

Dusk falling over the fjord in Praesto. Kitten Strasse. Amazing food. #woodsorrelforacidity

Writing this account, nearly four months later. #narrative #reflection #transformation


© Ben Pacey, August 2014