[img]http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.20.3/86434?ns=guardian&pageName=Tim+Etchells+on+performance%3A+scouting+for+sites%3AArticle%3A1306211&ch=Stage&c3=GU.co.uk&c4=Theatre%2CStage%2CArt+and+design%2CCulture+section&c6=Tim+Etchells&c7=09-Nov-17&c8=1306211&c9=Article&c10=Feature&c11=Stage&c13=Tim+Etchells+on+performance&c25=&c30=content&h2=GU%2FStage%2FTheatre[/img]Be it a visit to the windswept English seaside or snowy Austrian mountains, breathing the air of a new location is essential for inspiring site-specific work
In preparation for installation and performance projects for next year, I've recently made two site visits more or less back to back: the first to Weston-super-Mare on the southwest coast, the second to the Austrian mountain town of Admont. By early-morning trains, planes and taxis, I've moved from one very different landscape to the other â€“ from flat sand to snowy mountains, from a 1970s shopping centre to a Benedectine abbey. It's quite a jump.
Site visits are always strange things in any case, involving a kind of uniquely dispersed attention in which, since you don't really know quite what you're looking for, you end up looking at everything. Tuned in like this, you're also weirdly tuned out â€“ paying heed to what's in front of you, certainly, but in the background running a constant series of "Could I?", "What about...?" and "What if...?". Almost anything you encounter, after all â€“ through talking with curators, meeting people, looking or simply overhearing â€“ could just be a clue that might lead to the project.
I start out in Weston-super-Mare, walking the windy autumn sea front with curator Theresa Bergne, chatting about the town's history and its complex social demographics, until we're stopped by the UFO-brightness of a beach stall bedecked with luminous footballs, outsized nylon pirate flags and lurid buckets and spades. It's one of those sights that makes you wonder why art is needed at all, since the world itself â€“ once you're looking hard enough â€“ is already such a complex and disturbing arrangement of signs and signals. We walk on. Past the roadworks all along the sea front, to the two piers (both semi-derelict) to the long strip of low-rise hotels with their plaintive exotic names, it's a very particular England. All the time, I'm looking and thinking about what might make sense there, art-wise, project-wise, intervention-wise.
Two days later, I'm heading out of Graz in the back of a taxi via a series of 12km mountain tunnels to the small town of Admont. My destination is the Benedictine abbey, a site that is also home to a natural history museum, the largest monastery library in Europe and a contemporary art museum just for good measure. It's a far cry from Weston.
Arriving in Admont, I find I'm only half-listening to curators Christine Peters and Michael Braunsteiner as they walk me through the monastery graveyard and bat-filled attics, thinking instead about the collection of outsider art I've just seen in their gallery or remembering the strange theatrical poses of the taxidermied animals in the museum. Once again, my mind is an exhausting hive of "what ifs" and I'm plotting schemes for a guided tour, writing lines for an imaginary performance, calculating the potential for conservation issues for an installation in which all the stuffed animals might be removed or relocated to the gardens.
The next day, I'm back home in Sheffield, looking at notes, turning over ideas and flipping through the many photographs I took in each location. I seem to have tried to take a picture of everything â€“ you're never sure what might be useful â€“ but now that I'm back just I wish I could visit each location once more. There really is no substitute for breathing the air of a particular location â€“ and no substitute either for the daydreaming you get to do while standing or walking in a place.
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Guardian: Tim Etchells on performance: scouting for sites
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