Stef Elrick – ‘Ambition’ – Artist Q&A

Instigate Arts

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On Saturday 9th July 2016, 6-9pm, Instigate Arts takes over the main gallery space at HOME in Manchester to host our ‘Ambition’ pop-up exhibition. In this series of Q&A’s we get a little more insight into what makes some some of the participating artists tick. Here we speak with artist, dancer and writer Stef Elrick:

Can you tell us about your practice?
I’m a dancer and performance artist who also dabbles in theatre and fiction writing. I love all forms of expression (although I’m terrible at fine art!!) I love embodying concepts in my work, creating visercal experiences that aim to push myself, and my audience, into new patterns of thinking. If I’m learning something new about myself I’m almost certain the audience will be learning something too.

How does your work relate to the themes of Ambition?
compenSATE looks at the way we consciously and subconsciously compete with each through the…

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“Put on your red shoes and dance the blues”

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a surreal week here in the (arguably) united UK. The atmosphere is unstable and navigating through the media shit-storm proceeding the EU referendum – and it’s very real cultural aftermath – has felt like wading through treacle. You can feel the tremors everywhere, internally and externally and the worrying thing is that I’m not even sure if the real earthquake has hit.

I may be wrong, I’d really like to be.

On the positive side I’m very lucky to be surrounded by gifted and pro-active people, Manchester is a magnet for human diamonds. Kevin Burke and Anne-Louise Kershaw from Instigate Arts are two such hardworking gems and have commissioned a dance piece from Laura and I called compenSATE, which we’ll be performing at HOMEMcr in the galleries on the 9th July alongside Kevin Burke, Bartosz BedaMichelle Hannah, Richard Hughes, Sara Minelli & Hyunjoo Kim,Emily Mulenga, Greg Thorpe, Angela Readman, Louise Woodcock.

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compenSATE responds to the theme of ‘Ambition’ and is a 2hr dance piece that examines the way we compete. For 2hrs Laura and I will explore beautification rituals, suggesting that these look-enhancing treatments are really homogenising the mainstream. The exhibition is free and open between 6pm – 9pm.

We’ve also been rehearsing for Christopher Bowles’s new play AUTOPSY, a dark and ambitious piece of theatre exploring our relationships with our bodies. Laura again is on-board and we’re been choreographing surreal mirrored sequences for a number of the scenes.

Christoper Bowles of Magpie Man Theatre is such a talented writer and director and since he ‘came out’ on the literary circuit last year he’s been taking it by storm. It’s a pleasure to work with him, even if he did script that I get dribbled on by one of my ‘clients.’ In the original version I got my feet cut off too, so I supposed things could be worse. He’s also turned all the cast into corpses for the show promo posters. I think I make quite a charming cadaver!

AUTOPSY Stefanie Elrick Christopher Bowles Manchester Fringe Theatre

Yesterday I worked again with Kevin Burke on one of his personal projects -‘The Measure of Hope’ – which will also be screened as part of the Instigate exhibition at HOMEMcr. Like the best of all things the timing of this collaboration was impeccable.

After a weekend of restless fidgety energy, feeling frustrated and unsure but trying to stay positive, I had so much conflicting stuff waiting to be released. Of all the dance pieces I’ve choreographed this was the most unexpectedly intense. I had a few rough ideas of movement I’d like to integrate, and we’d discussed the theme of the piece (the evolution of civilisation and ambiguity of ‘progress’) beforehand, but we basically just booked a space and launched straight in. No fuss, no frills, just the body responding to sound.

The track  itself changes a lot in seven minutes and there’s a really chaotic section in the middle followed by a beautifully gentle piano ending. As we repeated the track and I free-flowed in response, I found myself releasing more and more of the pent up frustration and anger that I had ignored all wkend, until the dance became more like a protest or an exorcism. I literally pulled and slapped and stomped and cried the anger out of my system, before reining it back in delicately and regaining control of my body.

Kevin is a great director encouraging me to perform the piece repeatedly until all my energy was spent and I couldn’t physically do anymore. I went home afterwards and collapsed into bed for 4hrs. Today my body feels battered and bruised but I know I’ve regained some sense of the balance I lost last week.

 

It reminded me that dance is such a powerful tool, especially when you do it for yourself, when it isn’t a performance for someone else’s pleasure. For too many years dance became very much like work for me and I forgot why I started in the first place. I danced as a teenager to switch my brain off, I danced myself into oblivion because I could lose control then regain myself in an energetic reset. I danced to reconnect and ground myself and I danced to find an expression for all those wordless things that rocketed round my body, manifesting as panic, simply needing to be released. It’s not a solution to every problem but it’s an amazing coping mechanism, such a simple technique that I think we take for granted and we will very much need in the years to come.

 

 

 

 

‘If it calls you, you should come’ – The Art of Crossing Over

Back in February 2014, at the ‘Visions of Enchantment: Occultism, Spirituality & Visual Culture’ conference in Cambridge, I first met Cavan McLaughlin. Despite the fact that we’d been sat through two days of talks exploring esoteric traditions in art and literature our conversational starter was our shared love of tattoos (it’s always the way!). Cavan spotted my Dark Crystal ‘Great Conjunction’ back piece and ended up showing Loren and I his ink, a meditating man sat amidst a psychedelic serpentine landscape. From that moment on we knew he was our kind of guy!

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Two years down the line and not only has Cavan’s younger brother Michéal come to Loren for a DNA Tree of Life tattoo but I’ll also be speaking at a conference Cavan has put together in Sept – ‘Trans-States – The Art of Crossing Over‘. I love how the Fates conspire to weave their sticky webs around us.

I’ve got a lot of respect for Cavan, he’s an artist, social activist and academic all rolled into one and has assembled an International Team of Esoteric Bad-Asses in one place (no mean feat!). He is also a visual artist and makes music videos for metal bands like this one for Denigrata.

Trans-States is all about transformation, trans-humanism, trans-mutation, body modification, altered states and the blurring of boundaries. I’ll be presenting ‘Written in Skin – Flesh As A Language Frontier’ for the third time but for the first in front of a magickally minded audience. As the conference is taking place in Northampton, even the elusive Alan Moore is jumping on board (he’s one of the keynote speakers!!) and meeting him is one of my lifetime ambitions. Needless to say I’m treating the whole shebang as a highly synchronous (and nerve-rackingly terrifying) event. I’ve got symbols from Mr Moore’s Promethea comic tattooed on both my thighs for God’s Sake! Fingers crossed I can form an orderly sentence when the time comes….

Marco Pasi, a brilliant scholar who we met at the ESSWE magic conference in Latvia (yes, these are our holidays – FULL ON geeks…) is another keynote speaker and Patricia MacCormack, whom I’ve never read or met but specialises in “posthuman theory, teratology, animal rights, European horror films, chaos magick, Lovecraft” – SWUUUURWOOOOON, will also be stirring the cauldron. With so many practitioners, scholars, artists and performers in one great melting pot of energy I’m too excited to get it in my system!

If it calls you, you should come.  You can register here.

‘Trans-States – The Art of Crossing Over’

9th – 10th Sept – 2016 – Northampton University.

 

Lovecraftian Romances and Black Gnosis

Last Sunday night I had a chat with the very talented Scott R Jones, founder of Martian Migraine Press, editor of the upcoming Cthulhusttva : Tales of the Black Gnosis anthology, which will include a short story written by yours truly, titled Mother’s Nature. Scott is also the author of When the Stars Are Right: Towards an Authentic R’Lyehian Spirituality, a collection of essays and meditations on the concept of cosmic horror as a spritual path. It was whilst reading  When the Stars Are Right on holiday in Marrakech last November that the threads of Mother’s Nature came together. Scott’s work is exceptional and massively inspiring.

At the heart of When the Stars are Right is a dark spirituality that seeks out revelatory madness and commands an embrace of our shadow side, a philosophical perspective which nourished many of the ideas I’d been gestating for a while. If you’re a lover of cosmic horror, weird fiction and Lovecraftian deities in general or just enjoy a good intellectual unraveling from time to time, I highly recommend the read. Mother’s Nature responds to all these themes whilst adding a few flavours of its own.

I’m not going to lie, MN is not a tale for the faint of heart. It mixes horror, sexuality, sacrifice and enlightenment, revolving around a young girl who escapes one nightmarish existence only to step into an entirely new one. After living her life practically feral, then surviving the massacre of her family, my central character is rescued by a mysterious stranger, who tames and then trains her to be his apprentice in a fashion boutique with a well-kept secret. Under his instruction the girl becomes an artist, then a woman, then something else altogether. Transcendence and transformation are the strongest themes of the work and I had so much fun weaving them together.

Whilst giving the interview I remembered the impulse I had when writing Mother’s Nature to make it a Lovecraftian romance, however paradoxical that may sound. The more I read the story the happier I am that I’ve achieved that and I couldn’t agree with Scott’s comment more when he says the story ‘has legs.’ It definitely does, hundreds!

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You can buy  Cthulhusttva : Tales of the Black Gnosis Here and When the Stars Are Right: Towards an Authentic R’Lyehian Spirituality Here.

Pinning Down Beginnings

At last! I’ve built a website for nothing other than my thoughts, projects and mental meanderings. This blog will be a diary, an online photograph and video album, a dream journal, a place to ponder and purge and somewhere I can collect the weird and wonderful evidence of things created by myself and with other people.

So much has happen that it’s difficult to know where to start. I will retrace my steps and share writing and projects long since passed, as well as keeping this blog up-to-date with upcoming shows, appearances and events. Don’t expect a linear line. I prefer the collage effect, the messy montage and I’ll share as things bubble up. So many characters, concepts and performances have already been lost in the sands of time despite my best attempts to capture them. They’re willful little things with lives all of their own. I don’t begrudge them their autonomy.

Every single piece was the most important thing in the world for me during it’s conception and creation. It’s the same with every artist I believe, or at least I think it should be. I planned, plotted, scribbled and choreographed, rehearsed or revised over and over and over again, scruntised every detail, made costumes and invented personalities, performed it once for a certain group of people or sent it off to a publisher then let it go forever. André Breton said an artist “lives like an open book and does nothing to retain the pages, which fly away in the windy wake of his life.” So many of my pages have flown away, I’m glad I gave them wings.

So this blog is a way of numbering those pages, as well as other fleeting things, before they flutter off into the world. I’m pinning down their beginnings at the very least.

Alan Moore Promethea Stefanie Elrick

Image taken from Alan Moore’s Promethea comic.

Header image by Glyn Smith.