susan pui san lok, Lightness, 2012 (stills), multi-channel video & audio installation.
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Lightness was one of four moving image works commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella and De La Warr Pavilion for the project, Everything Flows: The Art of Getting in the Zone (De La Warr Pavilion, 1 July – 16 September 2012).
Developed out of dialogues with top athletes and scientists, Everything Flows explores the phenomenon of being ‘in the zone’ – the state in which athletes achieve a heightened sense of performance in which body and mind are operating in unison, at maximum impact and with optimum ‘flow’. The four artist-scientist partnerships were Roderick Buchanan and Dr David Shearer; Cornford & Cross and Dr Richard Ramsey; Dryden Goodwin and Dr Elsa Bradley; and susan pui san lok, Dr Tali Sharot and Professor Nicky Clayton.
Lightness focuses on the pole vault, as a metaphor for the human urge to defy gravity and reach up and take flight. In competition, athletes must set the bar ever higher, and always feel confident about exceeding their target. Following the double-Olympian British pole-vaulter Kate Dennison over 18 months, as well as young pole-vault hopefuls in the early stages of their careers, Lightness explores the rhythms and psychology of this complex event – its cycles of training and competition, the recycling of past and present to imagine the future. Switching between 3 video screens the piece follows the nuances of their preparations and motivations, in the same way as its shifting angles and camera-perspectives dissect the mechanics of the vault itself. Meanwhile, 4 audio channels present the perspectives of athletes and coaches, reflecting backwards and forwards over weeks, months, and years.
Lightness is a meditation on the optimism and confidence that both buoy and sustain the athlete – in an event in which ‘staying up’ – both physically and psychologically – is absolutely paramount. Dennison’s recent announcement that she is retiring from the sport lends Lightness an additional poignancy: an oblique portrait of an elite athlete on the still-optimistic cusp of ‘coming down’.