War & Peace: An overview by Nigel Clarke, Peter Sheppard Skӕrved and Malene Skӕrved

War & Peace

Peter Sheppard Skӕrved, Malene Skӕrved and Nigel Clarke began their public work on ‘War and Peace’ with the small presentation at Dover Museum in October 2012, as part of the ‘War & Peace Symposium’. This presentation, and the impact of the other contributors, laid the foundations for an expanding network of writing, composing, and ideas. As is often the case with this kind of work, much of this process of research and discovery remains invisible. Each artist developed an increasingly personal and interwoven relationship with the materials and ideas which were discovered.

As Malene Skӕrved puts it:

“The one thing we knew was that we were clear that none of us wanted to define the project.”

All three artists discovered early on that their field(s) of enquiry and creation should not be defined, not circumscribed or ‘directed’ at any point.

“Although we did not articulate this at the time, it was clear that this was explicitly not the way we wanted to work. In this, there is no question that the organic nature of Joanna Jones’s painting was at the back of our minds, and of course, how it related to all of our activities as acts of performance.”

Malene again:

“Everyone had a skill. Peter plays, Joanna paints, and Nigel composes. I observe. Sounds and visuals can be experienced without any definition – a painting and a piece can honour without defining. I wanted to create a piece of writing that would do what music and abstract painting can do. I did not want to tell Dover what it was, nor did I really want to say what I thought it was, I wanted to give people a sense of Dover.”

Nigel Clarke and Peter Sheppard Skӕrved have had 20 years of collaboration on ‘site-specific’ workshop/composition projects in the Balkans, US, and Asia. ‘War and Peace’ provided them with a way to move this practice back to the UK.

Malene on how this process worked:

“We used the collaboration to dictate what we saw and how we saw. As we walked through Dover and observed the town through its landmarks and history, our group formed a connection with the place and the history. One big mystery for Dover is the Bronze Age boat – it is unique and important, but also hidden and unknown for most people unless they go to Dover. Its use and potential importance is also unknown. To me that was symbolic of the coming and goings through Dover.”

Ideas began to coalesce, not just from the time spent in Dover, but from the artists’ shared and diverse lines of enquiry. These ranged from reading (local, economic, industrial, military history, travellers’ correspondence, myths, even the Domesday Book), through to personal research; the search for sound, for texture, for the weaves of stories that emerged. Areas of activity emerged; issues of identity, transit, and identification. Peter writes:

“Issues of history, cultural erosion and sedimentation, rose and fell. We were all moved by the richness of the material that we found researching this project.”

Initially, the material that emerged from us seemed irreconcilable. Malene produced a series of ‘Fables’, (one of which became the underpinning for Joanna Jones’s painting ‘Lana and Cree’). Malene again:

“A fairytale is structured, a precise story, but the interpretation is abstract … like a piece of music.”

Seeking out common ground, between words and music, between sound and meaning also flowered in the workshops that the artists led in Dover schools. Peter writes:

“The children reminded us of the importance of a visceral link between materials, that the post powerful connections are elemental ones, that instinct needed to lie at the heart of what we produced.”

These elemental insights offered a way forward for the collaboration. Malene again:

“Nigel wanted more, something specific – war/peace/nature/industry, but he didn’t want definitions, he wanted a stepping stone. ‘I just want words,’ he kept saying. This proved very useful, working with our initial intention of not defining Dover but rather observing it.”

Nigel and Malene’s dialogue led to the creation of a poem and a piece of music, sharing the same title drawn from the ‘Shipping Forecast’ familiar from the radio. Malene observes, that these works were “…created as a portrait, of our group, and of what we saw – the people, the history, the landmarks, the nature, the past and present.”

Malene and Nigel both felt that:

“Our pieces were created side by side. Sometimes we overlapped, but mostly they became our own part of the overall conversation. We each observed how we approached something new, and then used our own knowledge and different backgrounds to confront what was in front of us.”

Meanwhile, more links with Joanna Jones’s work emerged as they discover a shared narrative and process in the materiality that fascinates them, the very direct link, for instance, between the ‘chalk in the pockets’ through to the choice of pigment, the act of writing and the act of painting.

Peter’s role in this was perhaps harder to define at the outset. He notes:

“In the creative process, the interpreter’s role is of necessity, evanescent. However, I found a role of counterpointing Malene and Nigel’s discoveries and ideas with my own, looking for ways to communicate the emerging materials, in live and recorded formats, working with both composer and writer ‘at the cliff-face’ looking for sound and meaning.”

He also found common cause with travelling artists and musicians who had historically all come through Dover.

Something unexpected emerged, which was that Peter became as deeply involved in the performance, the interpretation of the written material (both fables and music), and started to become fascinated by how to best put across their shared and disparate textures, colours and syntax. This began with the performance of one of the Malene’s ‘fables’ ‘The Lady of the Rocks’ at a concert salon evening at Wilton’s Music Hall in the Summer of 2012. He writes:

“I needed to find the voice of the presentation of both poem and fables, just as much as I need to find the musical voice, for the concert. This drove the inclusion of very small-scale solos and trios in the final event, as well as the large ensemble works, and the inevitable presentation of the two ‘Dogger Fisher German Bight..’ works as a bi-partite whole, linked by the distinctive sound of surd on the shingle.”

Nigel Clarke, Malene Skӕrved and Peter Sheppard Skӕrved each approached the residency from a very personal backgrounds: a Calcutta-born-Kent raised-Belgium resident composer, a Danish Born-American educated-London resident writer, London born-incessantly travelling musician.

‘War & Peace’ project has enabled them to explore new territories (real, metaphorical, even metaphysical), discover a new ‘shared ground’ and evolve a collaborative a language from their dialectic, offered in the compositions from Nigel, the fables and poems from Malene, and the performance response from Peter. For all of three of them, War & Peace, has offered a new way to site their artistic practices, and opened doors for some fascinating future works and collaborations. But the one thing of which all the participants were powerfully reminded with the impact of the finale event ‘Transit: Pulp Rags’ is that as Nigel posted the day after the event: ‘Art truly is for everyone, as last night proved!’

Photos by Miles Umney