Fermynwoods Friday 17 – Gesture

Gesture (2012 to 2014) was a series of artist residencies, video work, and live art performances which highlighted the diverse range of activities taking place within The Corby Cube; a unique physical and social environment, which houses Corby Borough Council Offices, Chamber and Registry Office, alongside the Library and The Core theatre and performance spaces. Curated by Caroline Wright and our former Director Yasmin Canvin, Gesture would see residencies by artist and filmmaker Rebecca Birch, photographer Virginie Litzler, and a live performance by Holly Rumble, exploring relationships, social interactions and connections between intentional and subconscious gestures.

Intended to be a six-month project, Gesture proved such a fertile ground for exploration and laid the foundations for such strong partnerships that it was extended to 18 months. Virginie’s residency was the first of what would be many collaborations with Fermynwoods (more recently as a Friend of Fermynwoods, an Associate Artist and an artist in residence at Cosworth). Quadrature was the culmination of Virginie’s Gesture residency – an installation of photographic work installed in The Cube, created through photo shoots of local people, “concentrating on how bodies, architecture and air converse”.

For this week’s Fermynwoods Friday post, Virginie looks back on this project and the beginning of her relationship with Fermynwoods.

Five years ago, almost to the day, I took the train from London to Corby for the second time. I was about to start my Gesture artist residency. Little did I know that I was embarking on a stunning journey, which would last much longer than a couple of months.

After a 55-minute train ride I was walking through, sitting in, and investigating The Cube. Observing gestures, body language, people and staff that I’d never met before. I am not quite sure if I produced anything that day or that week, yet I certainly remember the welcome of Birinder Rakhra, Facilities Manager for Corby Borough Council. He knew everyone and every corner of The Cube, and helped me to settle quickly into my residency with dry humour and care – delightful!

I was organising my day between train journeys, observing, drawing, tea in the staff room, meeting people when they were not afraid of my French accent, discovering the previously off-limits rooftop garden, and reading books in the local history section of the library. One of my anchor points at The Cube was this huge, carpeted, unoccupied room, with a series of windows floor to ceiling. I would often retreat there for some time to think, or to do some movements, inspired by the choreographic feel of the space – later explored in a movement workshop I gave there.

Photographs came later with further insights into the building and its architectural surroundings. One of my first shoots in Corby was with John and Julie, husband and wife, in front of a temporary white wooden hoarding separating the road from construction site. Shoes off, no flash, make-up or styling. Later installed in The Cube for the Quadrature exhibition, this photograph in particular generated a wide range of comments.

“They look like they are dancing” said one. “This photograph encourages teenage pregnancy in Corby” said another. Regardless of what, how and when, this image is Gesture for me. Thank you John and Julie.

Photographing and drawing were so much more than a shutter click or a line on a piece of paper. It was physical, kinaesthetic knowledge that grew with my experience of the place. Today I realise this work was already anchored by the notion of play. Indeed I had this freedom that allows a process to take shape and form, with all the necessary space for challenges, intuitions and thoughts that includes. I am very grateful I took that train ride.

Virginie Litzler

Quadrature - Virginie Litzler
Image: Quadrature, Virginie Litzler

Gesture was funded by Arts Council England, and supported by Corby Borough Council.

Look out for more Fermynwoods Friday posts each week looking back on some of our favourite projects over the past 20 years.