Florence Peake’s RITE is a layered reinterpretation of a monument in modernism’s history: Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, composed in 1913 for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky, the original performance is notorious for the riot it provoked on the first night, when theatregoers apoplectic with anger had to be forcibly removed. Peake’s take, though, has little to do with those mythological beginnings. Instead, it taps into The Rite of Spring’s vital force, lending it a renewed sense of urgency.
Peake – who trained as a dancer – offers a radical transposition of the iconic piece, from ballet to what might be described as performative sculpture. RITE exists across media and will continue to unfold over time. The ceramics, paintings and video works presented at Studio_Leigh are effectively Part One of a wider project, which will culminate with a four-day durational performance premiering at the De la Warr Pavillion in spring 2018.
At RITE’s core is a drive to expand the relationship between movement and material, a concern that has informed the artist’s practice for over a decade. In the 13’15” video RITE, dancer Rosemary Lee, performs a piece designed by Peake on a floor of wet clay. If the music was fundamental to the choreographing process, in the video, its only presence is in Lee’s mind. The performer’s fiercely expressive body is thus given centre stage, its physical intensity echoing Stravinsky’s polyrhythmic attack.
Lee emerges from argil and grapples with the material until she dissolves back into it. The clay stage captures her every move; it is shaped and reshaped, progressively turning into mauled flesh. It is an uncanny object, saturated with memories tracing a conceptual ark from Nijinsky to Peake and Lee’s internalization of his legacy. Following the performance, Peake’s stage was cut up into tiles. The artist then invited other dancers to apply vibrant glazes while enacting a series of gestures – ranging from caressing to slapping – which further enhanced the objects’ high-pitched emotional charge.
Peake has worked closely with filmmaker Becky Edmunds, dramaturge Martin Hargreaves, and a host of dancers – Iris Chan, Katye Coe, Antonio De La Fe, Sam Kennedy and Susanna Recchia – applying to visual art-making collaborative strategies usually more associated with dance and theatre. Her painting practice, however, is a more private encounter. For the pieces presented here, the artist traced the contours of her body on oil-primed paper. She mapped her imprint onto her environment as she danced in response to The Rite of Spring’s trance-inducing rhythm.
RITE is almost camp in its accretion of references. Classical sculpture, a dance history spanning from Isadora Duncan to Xavier Le Roy, and the brutally sensorial performances of Carolee Schneemann and Hermann Nistsch all resonate with Peake’s ambitious project. Yet in dance as in art, the moment of exhaustion can be a fertile one. Informed by feminist theory, Peake draws on this rich cultural legacy to reclaim triumphant physicality as political statement. She presents the body as primal, visceral, erotic – impervious to neo-fascist normalization. Her approach is to be understood as a form of protest. RITE rejects post-modern cynicism: it’s a bodily affirmation that in the current political climate, blasé detachment is no longer an option.
The works exhibited at Studio_Leigh were produced in partnership with CASS Sculpture Foundation during their CASS Projects residency programme with West Dean College. The project was further supported by the Arts Council England. The costume worn by Rosemary Lee in RITE was designed by Clover Peake.
Florence Peake (b. 1973) is a London-based artist and choreographer trained in performance, teaching and dance. Her interdisciplinary work, made both independently and collaboratively, has been exhibited and performed nationally and internationally since 1995 in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Prague, Sweden and Latvia. Her work has also been commissioned and shown at prestigious venues such as National Portrait Gallery(2008),National Review of Live Art (2009),Yorkshire Sculpture Park (2012), Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (2013) and Hayward Gallery (2014).