Emmie Alderson is a performance maker and writer who is interested in investigating place to unearth the human histories that reside there. Her practice is rooted in the approaches of walking, writing and archaeology, examining human experience to reveal the complex relationship between who we have been and how we are remembered.
Emmie’s work is interested in unpicking social histories and her own autobiographical history. She plays with female histories and the idea of pursuit is explored extensively within her recent performance trilogy ‘A Pilgrimage for Sylvia’ that follows her pursuit of poet Sylvia Plath. Pursuit is an idea that she has dealt with in earlier work The Other Woman (2017) records her obsessive pursuit to become a femme fatale figure from the film noir genre.
Walking this year has become a fundamental approach in her making process. She uses it to physically investigate place as a process of self-examination and an act that stimulates writing. Writing is central to her practice, as a means of creating poetical texts, capturing her feelings and experiences of encountering places and taking her audience on the journeys she has made.
Previously Emmie has performed in Beaches production ‘PARTY’ at Flare International Festival of New Theatre 2017. She performed in Sheffield based artistic collective Vanitas Arts performance installation (2016).
A Pilgrimage for Sylvia is a performance trilogy I developed on my masters degree, created from a series of pilgrimages that focused on finding the remaining traces of Sylvia Plath’s presence. The process of making has been an exploration into what it means to make a pilgrimage and how to commemorate an absent person’s presence within a place. The decision to conceptually shape this trilogy around the act of making a pilgrimage was greatly influenced by Michael Pinchbeck’s ‘The Long and Winding Road’, a journey he made in a graffiti covered car from Nottingham to Liverpool in memory of his late brother, which is an exquisite act of remembrance and commemoration that I felt connected to. The three performances I subsequently created have all explored this connection between journeying and remembrance, which Pinchbeck’s work addresses.
The first part of the trilogy involves a ten minute one to one performance encounter where an individual participant is invited to retrace the walk I made to Sylvia’s grave . The key inquiry of this performance was to explore what it means to make a pilgrimage and to take a participant on an intimate journey.
Captured in the images below are the actions which I invited the participant to perform as we physically made the journey walking together across the map. We unfolded the two OS maps of the landscapes I travelled through, the participant placed a gold pin at each site as I recalled my experience of being there. I invited the participant to mark the landscape with their presence, to walk across the maps with their bare feet and take a Polaroid image of their shoes. At the end of the performance they inscribe the polaroid with their name to mark their presence on the journey.
The new discoveries and approaches made whilst developing this one to one performance, included utilising the method of walking as new performance material and working with a new form of performance one to one developing skills in how to involve a participant in the making of a live performance.
The second performance took the form of a performance lecture that documented my experience of re-enacting Sylvia’s last walk between her final address and a local telephone box. The performance’s key concerns were with examining how you can perform documentation and re-enact somebody else’s history. I explored what it means to follow Sylvia’s footsteps, this concept of following was influenced by French artist Sophie Calle’s Suite Venitienne. The second part, was shown at DYP Festival in May 2018 alongside other artists from my masters course.
During the performance I assembled an archive of objects relating to my walk, a miniature red telephone box, newspaper clippings and Polaroids taken. As shown in the images below, the assembling of this archive live on stage was a preservation of the traces gathered during the walk, and an alternative representation of the events and documents that recorded Sylvia’s last walk.
The use of the light boxes in this piece marked the start of my interest in creating visual art installations on stage. The light boxes highlight the process of an archive being constructed on stage with the intention that it would also intensify both the events leading up to her death and the subsequence absence and presence of the poet, revealed in the images below.
Throughout the performance I followed a deliberate rule of hiding my face from the audience, playing with my own absence and presence, an reoccurring interest in my practice. I found that in this piece I was able clarify my own motivations for searching for Sylvia which can be found in a written text here that I address to the audience.
The third part of my pilgrimage trilogy ‘A Pilgrimage for Sylvia & Anne’ was recently performed as a work in progress at ARRIVAL, a festival which featured performances from artists on the Contemporary Performance Practice masters programme.
A Pilgrimage for Sylvia & Anne was a performance lecture, primarily concerned with the act of remembrance. The performance reflects on how the landscape remembers two absent women I have never met and considers how my project will be remembered in the future.
The audience in the piece are taken on the walk I made around Yarm to find the remaining traces of my late grandmother Anne’s life. The audience both textually and visually experience this walk via a projection of images of the sites encountered with a series of spoken texts that recall my experiences and accompanying thoughts of being in the landscape.
During the process of making this third performance art I created a large archive installation, a deep map of the sites visited in Yarm as a way of visually recording and representing my experience of searching for Anne. This is shown in the image below. In the process I discovered I could visually work on a larger scale installation. I was able to intertwine the two previous performances with this one through textual, visual references, echoed through the images of the brown books and yellow flowers. The three threads of Sylvia, Anne and myself are drawn together in this final piece of the trilogy into a conversation about the complex nature of remembrance and how landscape and place can perform as a site of remembrance.
Word Count 1,093