Julie & Robbie
A performance, design and film project, Julie & Robbie is the overall name for the 8 year collaboration of Julie Cleves and Robbie Synge. We present our work in public spaces, on screen, through dialogue and on stage. We intend to develop this project further through collaborative and production partnerships.
We are close friends. We have been working together slowly since meeting in 2009. Our practice together is rooted in a studio-based research and development of a very practical floor-based technique allowing us to move together. Having spent many years inside dance studios, our ambitions have taken us into the public domain with the ambitions of achieving and enjoying simple actions together, often requiring innovative, design-involved, collaborative solutions.
Our collaboration and work tells a story.
- “Sitting on the Grass” -
We had been trying to discover a technique of transferring from ground to chair for years. Moving from ground to floor generally involves a mobility hoist, an expensive, unwieldy, and quite clinical piece of equipment. The hoist is not deemed a necessity by Julie’s local authority and costs a lot to hire from very unreliable hire companies. Its use prompts questions around "economy of movement' in a very literal finance-related way.
In 2015 in Edinburgh, after months if not years of trial and error, we devised a system of wooden blocks. This involved a visit to Jewson’s timberyard to purchase a long length of timber (£12.57 + VAT) and cutting it up into small pieces - a very long morning with a very rusty handsaw and some very curious timber-yard workers.
The blocks are used to transfer from grass to chair in this video. The product is a very quick and crude prototype. Despite their effectiveness and simplicity, the wooden blocks are heavy and not easily moved (although much easier than a mobility hoist).
The simple action of sitting on the ground is a shared personal experience. As performed by us collaboratively together it becomes highly relevant and publically and politically imperative. A proactive and unusual solution to an apparently everyday action feels bold. Our actions currently require significant time and are not particularly graceful but are the most efficient way we can find and therefore essential. It is about a shared experience requiring equal agency and trust. We hold up the meeting of simple object and human physicality as an innovative and empowering technology. This is an embodied solution rather than a clinical, digitally/electrically-driven notion of new technology. It has immense personal significance. Before this day, Julie had not sat on and felt the grass properly for almost 20 years. We wonder if there is scope to inspire new approaches from others.
- “Along a Path” & “Sitting on a Stone” -
Developing this approach further in summer 2016, some time in and around the Nethy Bridge in the Highlands led to a new design involving folding wooden boards. Suggestive of tank tracks, these boards allowed us collaboratively to access woodland paths otherwise inaccessible to Julie’s chair. Julie’s idea of sitting on a stone in the middle of the water took this object somewhere we hadn’t anticipated.
Our priority has been to simply sit on the grass together in different places in different cities and countryside, and to be able to access public spaces otherwise exclusive. These shared and joyful actions also provoke a wide range of questions and talking points in a range of contexts. The form of “Passing Through” – arriving; going to ground/floor; sitting/moving together; climbing back to chair with blocks; departing – is a sequence that we expect will be our framework for many experiences and encounters for years to come– outdoors and in theatre spaces; quietly or noisily; witnessed or unnoticed. We will promote the dignified, entrusted, embodied, shared, collaborative experience. We will work with each other and simple objects as an empowering approach through action and conversation, perhaps challenging assumptions and notions around technological progress, autonomous action and leadership.
We consider our activities as design embedded within a choreographic sequence. They are founded and executed in a very specific body-oriented way, and through years of establishing trust. We believe that our research into choreographic/object/design/action activity will develop further within the frame of our collaborative practice. We will find new potentials for action in public spaces that might also highlight public, organizational and infrastructural attitudes, gaps and weaknesses in the area of accessibility and freedom of movement. We also believe that our research has the potential to broaden beyond our practice and to allow novel and creative solutions for disabled and non-disabled people to find new possibilities for the body's negotiation of surfaces, ground and architecture.
In the future, with appropriate backing, we hope to continue experimenting with the help of designer(s) and others in documenting our actions and accumulating stories. This should allow us to progress from our innovative yet far-from-ideal prototypes, raising awareness of the project and connecting with others through discourse and action.