Gesture: A Symposium and Performance

Gesture Performance.

Performed at St John’s College Auditorium, Oxford in 2024.

The piece was my largest collaboration to date , improvised and yet structured to echo a choir and response in a church. The improvisation is on the theme of Gesture and flows seamlessly  between the performers and features a running commentary from Matthew Collings, responding with ideas to what he sees taking place and  feeding into the work placing it historically and politically.    


The performance is live and central to a three day symposium and investigation on the theme of “Gesture.” The symposium was proposed by myself and Dr Jennifer Johnson to open up a forum of discussion between the different disciplines to discuss Gesture and its importance.

This  investigation involved many great speakers from different areas of the Arts and literature: and focused upon  the fields of Painting, Performance, Music, Dance and literature. The contributors included former collaborators together with many others. For more information on the fascinating abstracts and further writing on this please look at the Symposium website

 The Whole performance is available to watch here.

Here is a great observational response to the Performance, written by the great  Filmaker, Artist and Academic Dr Nina Danino who contributed a performance and film to the event.


Maggie Nicols drinks tea on stage and now Matthew Collings is talking and his talk is incredibly informative

On Gesture and Painting. He makes me think about the wise man, his beard gives him an extraordinary Rasputin-Marx look.

What is a stroke?, how is the performance is undoing the model of thinking about making painting? The unfinished look in art,

The unfinished gesture in painting as political. De Kooning, Joan Mitchell – Gesture as Freedom – very critical of this association.

Global domination of American art.  People making gestures and forming gestures on the stage politicises this as the freeing up of humanity.

As an ideological framework.  Art as having a real freedom as opposed to the political lack of freedom.  Maggie Nichols rants and whitters about Murdoch and The Sun.  British museum, spoken word and breathing and vocals – North Vietnamese art, a small child comes up to her.

The child interrupts the play of the adults. Vietnamese had creative writing.  Revolutionary.  She goes off.  I feel it must have been quite An endurance for you Mark  – it’s a long time to be on stage performing having to invent new movement and take the work forward.

Maggie Nicholls’ comments are heard as you pour paint on the canvass. There is music from the side.  I’m not sure about the dancer –

Her gestures seemed touch-based, holding hands and smearing, holding each other.  Matthew Collings comes in again with macho

abstract paintings – he offers new readings of their supposed machismo – this is very informative; presents them as shattered characters.

Difference is the emphasis, as AE was always pictorial  within the rectangle in the tradition of painting. The investigations of mid-50s by Alan Kaprow, Yves Kien in Paris were not pictoral ideas but used Gesture as an extension of the body which was more important than pictorialism – the body and physical impulses

Mind-body electricity which is inferred in painting but in your art/performance it is focussing on bodies, minds, people more than on paintings

as objects- It made me wonder how much had been agreed in advance as topics to cover.  MN comments on agreeing and disagreeing,

Play a playground for adults – the tactility and the sound coming from toys and whistles enforces the idea of play.   Improvising with the painting,

MN puts paint on her face. She keeps talking, and singing, commenting – I’ve always loved butch women and womanly men.  

She starts tap dancing. Mark you are pouring paint on the  tilted canvass, the dancer is acting like an assistant. It has an erotic or sensual quality.

Your arm is coming over the canvass from behind.  MN seems to collapse or flop into the arms of the dancer – “I can still do this at 76.” 

It seems to be leading crescendo?  The squeaky sound is great.  Mark is focussing on the plastic layers.

I wonder whether the painting produced including the plastic layers will be shown?  Matthew C starts again

On Pollock’s idea of getting acquainted with the painting – a balance between accidental effects and control.  There is no chaos, it is controlled flicking

And throwing as a deliberate gestures. Pollock as the most mythic figure, horrible death and manic depression. He maps Pollock as the ugly myth of America –

Abstract Expression, trembling delicacy against the myth of rough tough macho movement.  They did not describe themselves paintings but the myth was written around them.  The event has sympathetic, a beautiful painting, could it also be embarrassing, shimmering playful, blobs and splashes and twittering

Sounds, half thoughts, poetic thoughts, audio bodily, visual, the record of it will be the painting – a record being a recording the body’s movement.

Everyone gets up from the floor, Mark helps Maggie up and applause.

Nina Danino.






St John's College, University of Oxford.
  • Collaborators

    Matthew Collings (Artist, Critic and Commentator)

    Christopher Redgate (Oboe)

    Maggie Nicols. (Singing /Improvisation)

    Lavinia Cascone (Dance, Movement and Painting)

    Dr Emmanuel Lorien Spinelli (Live Electronics/Sound)

    Portia Winters ( Singing Improvisation)

    Indigo Gabriel Winters-Spinelli. (Mapmaking/Pathfinding)