Umwelten – Surroundings –
20-21 May 2017
Commissioned by Royal Academy of Arts
Part of Open Senses Festival

The body as a container for sensation and memories
Architecture as a vessel for imprints of life, body and imagination
Surroundings as a life form


Umwelten is a site-specific immersive performance that stimulates a new perception of architecture through the senses. The performance looks at imagined space, remembered space and the lived experience of the space surrounding the audience. The audience will embody the space through the interplay of the presence and the absence, conscious and unconscious the sensed and the imagined. The piece draws on the history and mythology of Burlington house and the generations of aristocratic families who lived there. These stories form the backbone for an embodied experience of the building’s architecture.

“Through our skin we also touch the world and express something of who we are and how we feel; in this contact we gain feedback from the world about ourselves.” Linda Hartley

The title makes reference to a term used in sensory ecology, a study on how organisms acquire, process and responds to information from the environment, exchanging materials, energies and sensory information. The umwelt theory proclaims that the mind and the world are inseparable, as it is the mind that interprets the world for the organism.

The performance is an open-ended enquiry into how we sense, orientate and inhabit spaces, our intention is to raise questions rather than to form a fixed end. The bodies of the audience (in both roles of participant and observer) become part of the process and the continuous creation of a new history of the space.

Through guided movements and stimuli the audience will enter their inner landscape to experience the world around them with heightened body awareness. An imaginary story will unfold around the audience through voices, sounds, touch and movements choreographed throughout a space that at first is hidden to them, and is then revealed. The piece explores the phenomenological and haptic experience of architecture and the notion of the body as a substance in space.

The poetic and sound score has been created by established poet Amy Neilson Smith & her collaborator Zara Jayne Arnold – the words, metaphors and score will be responsive to the history of the forgotten women who have come into contact with this space – particularly focusing on the wife of the poet (and architect of the space) John Denham. The score will form a ‘chance game’ and be different every time. Depending on the route chosen around the space by participant the score & experience will be different. At times the audience will be left alone to explore the space on their own while the performers support the space without contact.

Collaborating artists:
Juri Nishi, Artist and Choreographer
Stephanie Singer, Composer and creative director of BitterSuite
Amy Neilson Smith, Poet & performance artist
Zara Jayne Arnold, Poet & performer
Amy Harris, Dancer
Madeleine Jonsson, Dancer
Justyna Sochaj, Dancer