NATALIE RAVEN & DAGMAR SCHWITZGEBEL
Art History, Adornment, and Agency in The Ascension of Esther
Through the sharing of still photographs documenting their most recent performance, Church of Performance artists Natalie Raven (UK) and Dagmar Schwitzgebel (DE) discuss insights emerging via the making and presentation of The Ascension of Esther (2019). This practice research performance took place at St Saviours Hall in Plymouth UK, a space built in the 1880s to serve as a Sunday school to the former Anglican church which was subsequently re-purposed as a studio by local artist Robert Lenkiewicz in the 1990s. Taking a feminist approach, artists describe using Lenkiewicz’ paintings as a referential starting point from which to activate and respond, aiming to re-present and re-imagine art historical images of womxn and womxnhood.
Raven and Schwitzgebel acknowledge the numerous reciprocal resonances and embodied encounters experienced within the production and execution of the artwork, focusing in particular on textiles and their use as costume in the performance. Drawing on Joslin McKinney’s writing on the experience of ‘indwelling’, described as a ‘reciprocal relationship between the body and the object’ whereby ‘we notice the effect of… objects on our body’ (2012: 7), the presentation traces the performer’s responsive approach to working with materials. ‘Indwelling’ with textiles led toward non-hierarchical encounters, allowing the materiality of fabrics to have agency over the unfolding performance. Simultaneously, it was the use of textiles formed into rudimentary garments which afforded the ability to re-stage static images of womxn found in Lenziewicz back catalog. As the performance unfolded, images were re-configured resisting perceived problematic narratives bound up in the original. In this case, textiles as costume supported the artists in finding an agency of their own.
McKinney, Joslin (2012) ‘Kinesthetic Empathy’ in Creative and Cultural Practices, D. Reynolds and M. Reason [eds]. Intellect: Bristol. pp., 221-235.
Natalie Raven and Dagmar Schwitzgebel (2019) The Ascension of Esther [live performance] St Saviours Hall, Plymouth UK. 28thNovember 2019.
Natalie Raven is a Lecturer at the University of St Mark and St John (Marjon) in Plymouth UK, where she currently trains actors in movement for performance, drawing on her own training in yoga, strength, and conditioning. She recently completed her PhD at the University of Plymouth UK, with her doctoral research revealing new insights into the materiality, affect, and presence of textiles in contemporary feminist performance art. Dagmar Schwitzgebel is a Lecturer at the University of St Mark and St John (Marjon) in Plymouth UK, where she teaches pedagogical approaches to performance and performing arts in education. Dagmar trained in world leading contemporary German actor schools, with current research interests in gift-giving and participation in performance. Together Natalie and Dagmar run Church of Performance, a Plymouth based arts collective critiquing contemporary relationships between womxn and organized religion. They frame resistant re-presentations of womxn and womxnhood in performance, presenting their research at exhibitions, festivals, and conferences both nationally and internationally.
Images L-R: Robert Lenkiewicz (no date attributed) Study of Esther
Natalie Raven and Dagmar Schwitzgebel (2019) Rehearsal Image – Re-staging Esther.