Speaking with Emilie Gregersen about her work Caresses

Jeffrey S. Stratton

Often, we take a lot for granted regarding our senses and how we relate and experience the world. According to artist, dancer and choreographer Emilie Gregersen, there is a “sense hierarchy” which seems to disfavour “touch” as a means of experiencing the world.

Her previous solo work, aptly titled Touch, explored this medium. And now, for her forthcoming duo work, Caresses, she has expanded her research even further.

Tell us about some of the concepts or ideas that you explore in your artistic development.

“At the moment I’m working with the concept of caressing – as the title of the piece also gently hints. It’s a textural and poetic space for me to navigate consent, companionship, tactility, and politics of touch. I like the ambiguous and the uncanny, so I work a lot with glitching and obscuring of images by use of the senses. Especially through touch and the sight, the haptic and the optical. I’m very interested in how attending to the different senses can shape different realities and ways of experiencing being and navigating in this world.”

You describe your work as being at the intersection between practice-based choreography and hyper-performance. Can you elaborate on this?

“It’s an elasticity between very staged performance plateaus and longer spans of attending to a choreographic practice or a performative score. I slide between these two modes of both performing and staging choreography. The word “hyper” is to me referring to something amplified or heightened and the practice is allowing me to insist and continuously unfold something that can’t be shown in a still picture, but needs time.”

Take me through some of your methodologies in developing a work?

“I engage with a lot of intersectional feminist theory and practice, so that is very present in my way of approaching work. Creating a safe space for everyone involved in the artistic process is key. You need consent to go off-road, so we’re practicing both quite a lot. In Caresses we are five artists, so besides me, there’s Paolo De Venecia Gile (dancer/choreographer), Karis Zidore (sound artist), Naya Moll (dramaturge) and Elin Stampe (visual artist). We started off all together in the studio working with the artistic components side by side so that they are created horizontally and merged into each other already from the beginning of the process. Early in the process, we make use of try-out performances as a material-generating way to meet as a team, and early experience how the various elements of the work communicate on a performative level. I also use performing (not rehearsing) but performing as a curious terrain of getting to know the work and what it needs. It’s a great way for me to engage with both image-making and kinaesthetic experience at the same time. “

Looking through your oeuvre of work, one can begin to see your interest in the phenomenological or the “experience of things”. Can you elaborate on this interest?

“I’m interested in working with how a body experiences being in the world, both on an intersectional level but also on a physical level. What does it mean to be a physical substance among other physical substances? And how to queer and question those experiences and perceptions through the use of the senses.”

This forthcoming work, Caresses, is the second part of a trilogy of work that you are developing. Can you tell me about the trilogy?

“It’s a prism of works arising from my interest in the phenomenon of touch. I see the works as bodily and poetic attempts of dealing with sense hierarchies while questioning why and how some experience and knowledge is privileged over others. The pieces are quite different though, the first piece Touch (2020), which was created with Naya Moll and Karis Zidore, is a solo that unravels relations of touch and surfaces as a way of questioning intimacy and distance in a tech-sensual universe. I was playing a lot with borders of fiction and reality and portraying this figure that slides between being synthetic and emotional while sensuously distorting experiences of touch. Caresses is dealing with the experience of touch too, though through different layers such as companionship, consent, platonic erotism, tactility and materiality. This piece is for me a series of performative suggestions where caresses as concept is infiltrating the ways of engaging with what already is; my eyes, my ears, my tongue, my skin, this floor, these walls… and how that attentiveness and staged amplification is becoming a performative reflection for you as and audience to experience.”

This work will premiere at Copenhagen Contemporary this year. It’s not a typical black box, so what are your thoughts on how you will use the space?

“It was quite a deliberate choice to premiere Caresses in this old industrial hall with all the metal tubes, the windows, and the wooden floor. I like that the room has another architecture and body that carries other connotations and histories than the black box and the theatre. So instead of trying to mimic a blackbox I wanted to work with the room as is it.”