Field Trip: Florence Peake, Beatrice Dillon and Wojciech Kosma lead a cult for the night in the heart of the Cambridge countryside
The blue moon only happens every three years and it’s not blue. It’s the second full moon this month. Doom is foretold: chaos and delusion, madness and hallucination. Tonight, the night of the blue moon, thirty strangers have come out into the Cambridgeshire countryside, to Wysing Arts Centre for a Study Night from sunset to sunrise, to explore unconventional ways of learning and sharing knowledge.
The artists in residence are Florence Peake, Wojciech Kosma and Beatrice Dillon, each of whom has a modern multi-disciplinary practice rooted in performance. There is Beatrice's interactive club dynamic, Wojciech's delicious fusion of the erotic and violent, and Florence's eroticised performative sculpture. Now, the three are exploring new ways of learning outside of conventional pedagogy. A study day, a study night.
They have become close over two months in residence together. “We speak as one voice,” says Wojciech. They have prepared a situation. “It might be a social event augmented by performative gestures or a performance augmented by social flows.” Art is an afterthought. They hope strangers will meet and fall in love.
Over a late supper, Wojciech asks the visitors what we want or expect to happen.
“To have fun?”
“To be entertained?”
“We don’t know what’s planned!”
The artists reply, “Neither do we...”
“I’d like to learn something about each person here.”
“That’s beautiful,” says Wojciech.
There’s a tickle of rain in the air, and no moon. We file out into the dark landscape. Thirty hooded figures howl at the empty sky. We ritually hum in unison. We crawl through soft spikes of wet grass.
Art is an afterthought. They hope strangers will meet and fall in love.
We pass barefoot into a large white hall thick with white mist and blue light. “Your feet are made of sponge,” Beatrice tells us. “Now your legs.” Up through our shoulders and heads, our bodies fade away. We get into pairs. I stare at Fleur, a dancer. She is the blue moon and I am the tide. My heart is pounding. I move with my eyes open while Fleur keeps her eyes closed. She ‘maps’ my movements, following my legs and arms with her hands.
With both our eyes shut we follow and read each other’s bodies with our hands, our arms, our feet, our backs, our heads. Partners coalesce with other pairs, multiple partners mapping each other in a heap of bodies. My fingers brush against the bush of a beard and into his soft wet lips. I gasp and blush, feeling warm. A body tumbles across mine with heavy breaths. Bare feet trace thighs. My hands glance at the bowl of a crotch. The group is getting smaller. We are at the edge of trust and control. My mind is filling up. No one leads and no one follows. Clothes cling with sweat. Pressing my wet hair against another body I feel shame. The room is fog and blue. The room is pure red: the red of warning signs. The room is pure blue: the blue of the invisible moon.
“Melt into the floor, melt…”
My throat is dry. My clothes and hair are drenched and matted. I’m weak and struggling to cling to the floor. Hours pass. We languish.
Later we are asked to put on plastic ponchos and follow a string outside with our eyes closed. All but one of the group goes forward willingly into the fear and thrill of the unknown. What is at the end of the length of string? He asks why the poncho, why the closed eyes. Beatrice pleads with him to trust her but won’t tell him why. He won’t put on the poncho. He won’t close his eyes.
Clothes cling with sweat. Pressing my wet hair against another body I feel shame. The room is fog and blue.
Half the night gone, half of us remain. We are led through the landscape. Blind and vulnerable, I stumble over rocks and fence-posts, supported by unseen hands. The string leads to the Amphis, an amphitheatre in an extraordinary patchwork house built from discarded and found palettes and timber. Florence takes a whop of wet clay. Massaging and fingering the moist, squishy ball, she gazes intently into each pair of eyes in turn. The clay mediates the mutual gaze, and magnifies it. It is intimate and devastating. She places the wet sculpture on the floor. “This is us.”
Each of us does it. Fingering, prodding, stretching the wet, pliant, muscular clay. Their eyes burn into my eyes, the body of the clay yielding and resisting, expressive. It is a mild trance state. Key acts of intimacy are frequently physical: hand-holding, kissing, an embrace. But then, eye contact can be just as intense without a single touch given or received. I think of how children like to hold piercing eye contact until they’re socialised out of it.
The one who walked outside with his poncho off and his eyes open insists that he wants to know what it all means, but no one will answer him or break the spell. He is the outcast, the ego to our id. His questioning presence draws us together. Then he’s gone.
I think of mythopoeia and altered states, trust, mediations of intimacy and group dynamics to try and confront the implications of what is happening. Of what has happened. It’s getting light and birds have started singing. The last few of us repose outside a hut with no door. We share a soupy tea made of barley, cinnamon, ginger, lemon, cardamom, cloves, star anise and honey.
“What have we learned?”
The intimacy – physical and non-physical – was challenging. It felt dangerous, learning to trust each other, learning to be vulnerable. This is us.
“Do you feel like a community?” Nobody wants to say anything. Nobody wants to undermine our shared myth. At length, a voice says, “Yes.”
We leave that morning, with our eyes only half open.
We never saw the blue moon.
The Study Night took place at Wysing Arts Centre on 21st to 22nd May 2016, led by Florence Peake, Beatrice Dillon and Wojciech Kosma.
Photography by Anne Tetzlaff.
AJ Dehany is a writer based in London. In 2015 he wrote weekly reflections in response to fig-2, which saw 50 exhibitions mounted in 50 weeks at the ICA. He previously wrote a haiku a day for two years. He regularly reviews live jazz and contemporary art.