By Jana Scholze
How are Vitsœ and Motionhouse alike? To define both by their industry would confine the reality of their influence. Vitsœ’s managing director, Mark Adams, often emphasises that the business is better understood as a way of thinking, or an attitude, as it rejects the general practices of the furniture industry and its familiar business models. The dance company Motionhouse is limited similarly by conventions that shape the expectation of an audience. Its understanding of dance embraces movement in the widest sense, includes equipment and narrative, and uses indoor as well as outdoor spaces – ‘Torque’ pairs dance with JCB diggers. Louise Richards, one of its founders, explains: “For some time, we used the title ‘Dance Theatre’ to highlight the performative aspect. But soon the awareness of actively applying circus skills and the importance of drawing on ideas of that trick-based practice led us to the term ‘Dance-Circus’.”
Motionhouse has always resided in Royal Leamington Spa and operated globally from this UK base. The company’s ability to participate in a local community and operate at a global scale was a significant example to Vitsœ that this spa town in the heart of England offered the right credentials for the company’s new home – the home that Vitsœ and Motionhouse now share.
A chance introduction some five years ago revealed many similar interests and values, which fostered a mutual fascination for the other’s work. As the conversation advanced the idea of sharing Vitsœ’s new space developed – an adventure not without risk. Richards argues: “Most things in life are experiments. Our two practices are different but very close at heart. The energy and passion that went into this building is contagious. Importantly, the Vitsœ building is Motionhouse’s first home for the creation of work.” The word ‘home’ affirms that the move is by no means understood as a clever letting but an invitation to jointly create this “place of making,” as Richards put it. To allow this to happen, Vitsœ conceived a building that provides openness, transparency, and serendipity.
The fundamental idea behind encouraging interaction was not only to allow impromptu meetings, but to encourage the movement of everyone within the space. The daily routines are a direct response to the health implications of a sedentary lifestyle. Long periods of sitting are avoided by work processes that promote activity rather than focussing on efficiency. The assembly of furniture takes place at the south end of the building, close to the entrance; the place to eat and meet for conversation is more than 100 metres away at the north end. Items from the Vitsœ archive are displayed by the dining area while central in the building is Motionhouse’s rehearsal space, adding a physical and emotive dimension to this vibrant atmosphere. But these spatial arrangements can change with the demands of both companies – the building is built with adaptability in mind.
The idea to create an inspirational cohabited space was realised by Motionhouse securing Arts Council England capital funding. Most importantly, this award provided financial support for the equipment to adapt the space – such as cushioned flooring and lighting grids.
Mutual respect has built an important base from which to understand and support each other’s needs. For this joint venture, Motionhouse and Vitsœ are aware that issues will arise and must be solved together. Richards mentioned: “We hadn’t realised how noisy we are when we exercise and rehearse which can become an issue when someone wants to have a quiet meeting with a client in another part of the open space. When we tried to solve it and discussed various methods, we realised that the most effective way to overcome such issues is close dialogue. Schedules have a certain flexibility and both sides are willing to adapt.”
Dialogue will be instrumental to realise this shared space that rethinks the relationship between business and art. A shared stubbornness towards industry norms is in both companies’ DNA. Their alternative positions derive from a suspicion of conventions and desire to develop social, political, cultural and economic values.
Vitsœ’s ‘No sale’ campaigns have marked publicly the principles behind its philosophy that promotes living better with less that lasts longer. This humanist approach opposes the neoliberalist idea that success is defined by growth of production and profits. The partnership with Motionhouse could reinforce Vitsœ’s resolve as its dance performances are inspired by observations of our world and show concerns for its citizens.
Motionhouse was one of the first to move performances into public spaces extending accessibility and demonstrating civic responsibility. Both companies have found new practices in their field by following their shared belief that human needs must be considered above all else. Doing this together presents a radical but optimistic proposal.
Jana Scholze is a curator specialising in contemporary design as curatorial practice and theory. After more than a decade at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Scholze is now associate professor and course director of the MA Curating Contemporary Design programme at Kingston School of Art in London.