Design Miami/ Basel

Acting Things IV by Judith Seng

Basel

17 June 2013

Wax shaped by the movement of dancers' bodies is not the most typical of materials, nor the most typical of methods, to make a bowl with. Yet it is Judith Seng's way.

This process is the backbone of Acting Things IV, the installation that Seng created for the entrance hall of the Messeplatz, the Herzon & de Meuron-designed home of Design Miami/ Basel. Slow, thoughtful and quiet, Seng's installation was a welcome interruption to the noise of the fair and rush of the city.

Acting Things IV was the fourth edition of an experimental project that Seng, a product and process designer trained at the University of the Art Berlin, began in 2011. Based around a simple premise -what if elements from the performative arts would shape the production process - the project is both quizzical and critical/

"My background is in product and process design, which are interesting topics, but frequently end up in a management sphere with all of the attached values," says Seng. "So I was interested in whether we could bring in qualities from the performative arts, and explore performing and production less as a way of showing something, and more as a way of exploring something. I'm fascinated by processes steered by materials."

Whereas previous editions of Acting Things have dealt with interactions between dancers and wax (as well as the communal assembly of furniture), the fourth iteration is the most complete version, tilted towards being an assessment and critique of serial production. Set on a Messeplatz stage, the installation featured members of Studio Seng and the dancers Barbara Berti and Julian Weber dressed all in black. While Studio Seng prepared the wax - melting it down, before cooling it and working with it to create a suitable consistency for use - Berti and Weber danced with the material, forming its shape through their movements.

"The aim is to make an object through their dance," says Seng. "It's a dialogue to create a set of movements or way of movement between the way of crafting a product and the awareness of the body and situations around you that you have in dance. By their movements they shape the object and the resultant shape informs their next move. Ut's all about reacting to the material and allowing for the time the material needs."

The objects produced are highly abstract, yet with suggestions of functionality. "They still need to refer to objects like bowls or containers," says Seng. For each day of the project's seven day run, multiple objects were produced over the installation's eight hour running time. One object per day would be preserved, while the others would be melted down for the next day's performance.

"We give more value to the process itself and the aesthetics of making, so we sacrifice the outcome to a certain degree," says Seng. Each day, a new coloured wax would be selected, gradually progressing from natural white through to the black of the performers' outfits.

"The penultimate day of the project was the most difficult one in the sense of concentration," says Seng. "It’s very exhausting for the performers and you can see that in the objects produced. They’re less clear, less motivated."

This fluctuation in the quality of the objects is the result of both the improvisation element that Seng added to the production process and the project's duration. Which is, of course, the point. "I’m interested in objects," says Seng. "But I’m very much more interested in process and looking at the way things are made. I’m interested in how you integrate this in the actual work. The objects reveal the movement of a dance, extended through time."