CAAKE Winter Residency- November reflections PART 1 GAIL MAHON


A Collaboration with Marketa Formanova, Jane Talbot and Gail Mahon


Dissonance of Surface when the world changes faster than people; substances, codes, milieus and rhythms relocate to chaos.  

When thinking about chaos and what it means- it can mean disorder, unsettled dark voids, unpredictable random behaviour. It can be perceived and experienced as a as a negative, a place or occurrence which is uncomfortable or a spiralling sense of a losing your control.

But what if we practiced chaos as a creative catalyst?

CAAKE’s first month of our winter residency for FL*OOOW Orient_Ornamnet_Order with Art Arcadia looked at orientation and navigation. Orient became the root to finding ways to adapt and even harness the potential of chaos, the starting point to fast track multiple possibilities or potentials of a collaborative process that is not yet wanting to be pinned down. It was to hold our collaboration conversation in tension, allowing ideas to oscillate, circulate and collide to form the edges of several beginnings for the work throughout the residency.

Somewhere between our practices and pending public performances we wanted to open out a series of interactions between human-material-object lead by an improvisational process. Getting into a dance with materials, and then allowing them to take a lead and we follow their path and direction. Rolls of paper, wooden sticks, rope and an expanse of fabric became a physical landscape and structure in which we placed ourselves to relearn curiosity, immediacy and play.

Chaos can be a good thing.

It’s a catalyst to change. The challenge of this collaboration did exactly that, it asked us to change our usual positions, to stretch outside of your own personal practice or strand of expertise and share in a conversational process that can lead you into an unknown. To a position just on the tip of your knowledge or skillset just over the edge and slightly out of reach. Collaboration in this sense helps to support that stretch, it holds you over the edge until you adapt to find your feet in new grounds, enough to regain your balance for the next step.

For November’s residency, I invited Marketa Formanova (a dancer and educator), Jane Talbot (writer and NLP – neuro linguistic programming- master practitioner) with me (an installation artist) into a collaborative conversation at Art Arcadia’s Old School House.  All of us unsure what outcomes would be likely to happen except for the question of how we orientate ourselves in the world through our practices, and how that could shape our individual responses to chaos, which lay somewhere between practice and performance, in our the everyday experience of being in the moment.

Most artist residencies are meant to build towards the end of month – a climatic exhibition. We altered this way of entry, kind of in reverse. We backed up, went straight into the intense bit, generating performance material for public view. This instantly set the conditions for collaboration with a heighten sense pressure. A set of performance deadlines within ECHO ECHO’s Dance Festival programme, forced an orientation out of the collaborative chaos. Where within the first week of the residency project we had produced a public performance workshop and public events. The performances became live experiments of the process-at-work where, and we gathered feedback as we went along, then used that response as further material straight back into work as progression to direct and coordinate the next element of collaborative work.


Under those pressured conditions, it pushes you into moments of panic and then into moments of flow. Flow is where you are in complete syncopation with your surroundings, actions and timing. In flow, you lose the edges of surfaces between yourself and the room, the movements you are making, and the tools or materials you are working with; time somehow expands, consumes you and you get lost. Everything inside this flow-bubble just works really well. Decisions and actions are simultaneous and unfold without effort. It’s perfect. Then the bubble bursts, dissonance returns; flow fades and your self-consciousness pulls you back into your senses, back into your body and our human-scaled limits. Here mistakes can happen and self-doubt creeps back in.

Flow-states, natural performance enhancing abilities and ways to apply flow whenever you need it; has been an increasing interest within my own work process. Often adding in complexity and layers through materials or choosing to work outside site-specifically and more recently in collaboration with other artists – all of which change the conditions of how you relate to your own work. It asks very direct questions and makes you drill down to what is really necessary or needed to make the work flow or generate a particular response.

Chaos can keep procrastination in check.

Progression and regression, trance-states and the perfect conditions for creative flow. A simple switch in mental perception can, in an instant, be the key to unlocking additional dimensions of experience and levels to access to your work. Chaos applied well in practice can cut through the rubbish and get access to the best bits sooner.

This residency seems to be playing with on both sides of the chaos roller coaster- using both the progression and regression tools, making ‘something’ quickly and intensively then slows down to allow you get off, take a breath, reflect and unmake reassess the next stage. It has been dizzying experience at times, but now at the end of first of three winter residencies – during ORIENT; Marketa, Jane and I produced a workshop , produced two public performances from our conversations; created material sculptures live during performance, filmed in different locations, and we continue to generate sound and vocal patterns as after effects of the process. The work will continue to be formed in editing, bringing together elements of the residency where we worked in person and remotely, but always collaboratively.

I haven’t quite surmised what the work is or will become, I’m not ready to make such final completions or assumptions yet. A practice in chaos definitely makes you reflexive, adaptive and responsive to reading interactions, spaces and unseen energy of materiality. People form objects, and objects shift the subject of the conversation. These interactions are in charge and leading the collaboration now, what will surface is now held now in the format of film, sound and imagery to extract the essence of the Orient conversation from November.

Our film and a live excerpt of performance will be shown at the final closing 3-month FL*OOOW residency exhibition in later in January. Chaos started the conversation – it will continue lead the process and we have begun to find new ground through this collaboration, it will be interesting see where it takes us to next.



Installtion Artist and co-founder of CAAKE