Natasha Bourke

Natasha Bourke and the ReFramed Bursary Award

I am a Cork-based Interdisciplinary artist of Irish/Dutch descent with an extensive movement background in contemporary, break/folk/jazz/African dance, ballet, butoh, body weather, authentic/poetic movement, aerial/harness, physical theatre, clown, acrobatics, puppetry, swimming, yoga and tai chi. My broader practice embraces performance, lens-based media, installation, archive, drawing and sound. With a surreal, absurd and spectral aesthetic, the work contemplates themes such as identity, isolation, institution, legacy, transience, perception, polarity, pathos and play. I hold a first class honours BA in fine art and, since 2007, I have developed my practice working intensively, continuing to train, teach, exhibit & perform, whilst remaining committed to the dance community as well as a breadth of other disciplines and networks. I have presented solo work and collaborated in numerous live/filmic events and sites across Ireland and Europe. To help sustain my practice, I tutor various dance improvisation, aerial and performance development, as well as creative movement to children and vulnerable adults. As part of my repertoire since 2014, I have developed a substantial body of performance and short film works featuring Coneface, a performance alter ego. Coneface continues to evolve, having appeared in multiple milleux around Ireland, Italy and Sweden. I am in the final post-production stages of an Arts Council funded experimental feature-length film, Concrete Keys, and recently exhibited a large-scale sister installation, rubblebubble, for IndieCork Film Festival which thankfully received great reviews. These works feature Coneface, as central figure, to poetically examine the individual’s place in a rapidly transforming vision of institutional society. I look forward to further developing ideas and material a new ambitious water-based performance work, for ultimate premiere in Cork, with initial development support from the Cork City Council Arts Office and an Arts Council Next Generation Award – for both of which applications I was very grateful to receive support from the Firkin Crane. I strongly identify with the thematic tune of the ReFramed bursary title as, like so many, I literally reframe my lifestyle within the context of Covid perception shifting times, as well as my practice, shifting away from a complex and ambitious film project into an exciting new performance phase.

This is what I would like to achieve as part of the Bursary Award:

My plans for the coming year include research towards new interdisciplinary water-based performance work, involving movement, harness, tightrope, breath work, live sound and visuals – merging core areas of my practice into a unique poetic language.

I have a strong connection to water – I grew up in Cork harbour and I am an avid swimmer and currach rower. Movement in water has become integral to my ongoing inquiry using spatial modalities to explore physical and psychological states of suspension. I am mindful of ancient waterways, linking a site to an earlier state and its inherency to the psychogeography of that place. I am interested in anatomical and environmental ‘containment’ of water and its role vibrating through a body and land scape, contrasting the solid and the mutable. I would like to explore and study a location, its historical and future relationship with its waterways as a starting point to inform and enrich this new work. Cork will be the initial site for research, development and ultimate premiere of the work with a critical view to creating a piece with a national and international dimension. At this early stage, I envision this research evolving into an immersive complex site-specific performance that reflects on our rapidly changing body, water and landscapes whilst engaging with audiences in an innovative, humourous and kinesthetic way.

As part of my research, I will incorporate working with Zorb balls filled with air and single-use plastics (which I have been collecting for the past year) as well as Tai Chi Qi Gong exercises. Like many, I feel very passionately about the environmental crisis and this is an exploration interweaving ironic ecological commentary on finding breath in unstable, suffocating and distanced times between land and water mass, through the use of absurd and surreal imagery. I would also hope this commentary to be constructive in raising awareness. In September, I performed a site-specific work, Testero Utero Go! Litter Womb, incorporating these Zorb balls filled with single use plastic, within the context of a derelict Sea bath on Sandymount Strand as part of Biosphere by Kirkos Ensemble, a weeklong event of outdoor experimental performance encounters, at various locations around Dublin to explore natural & built environments as we confront the climate crisis. This experience has served as a valuable part of my research and development moving forward.

My process and research will also be informed by what has opened up for me in the Covid-19 context. Throughout lockdown, a big part of my mental and physical health management was through continued practice and movement. Since March, whilst working tirlessly on my feature-length film and practice, I participated in nearly all of the Firkin Crane’s rich programme of weekly ZOOM improvisation classes and masterclasses. I was delighted to be invited to teach the last 3 ZOOM and 3 studio-based professional Improvisation classes. Whilst focusing on the use of breath, voice, drawing and other movement disciplines like Tai Chi, I worked with themes including bodily autonomy, connection to the self and others. In a time when our social contact has been restricted in terms of touch, I wanted to investigate ways in which to replenish curiosity, respect and compassion for one’s own body. Since May, I have been engaged in regular self-led practice, outdoor contemporary dance classes and I am a dedicated artist in a newly formed collective called DOCK, involving an evolving number of fellow professional makers meeting every Sunday morning on the docks, near my studio, to improvise and share an invaluable creative / non product driven experimental space together. In these pursuits, I attempt to help both myself and others, have a sense of community, to engage in healthy activities, to listen and to add meaning during this challenging period. The above experiences will continue to naturally inform my work, both in theory and praxis.

Preliminary research has revealed that training and mentorship in key areas is essential. Several experienced practitioners are interested to work with and mentor me on aerial/rigging techniques to safely explore suspension in and out of water; on breathology, monofin and submersion techniques for safe underwater performance; on tightrope to create the illusion of balancing on water and on sound composition to explore communication and the relationship between air & water sound vibration.

The exciting opportunity to connect & share ideas with peers and staff during time spent at the Firkin Crane will be hugely beneficial. The results of research afforded by this bursary and studio time will be thoroughly documented. This documentation will be used to demonstrate my creative intentions and as support material to aid in hopefully securing future funding for the next phase of research and development into production.

And this is how the Bursary Award will be beneficial to me as an artist:

The ReFramed bursary will provide me with the essential space, time, skills and key support I need to further progress professionally and creatively, in these particularly unusual times. I can continue to research and develop new water-based performance work that coheres the different strands of my work into a unique poetic language whilst engaging with current themes and audiences in a highly innovative and kinesthetic way. The dedicated focused periods of time to research, create and train, with specialist guidance, afforded by this bursary, will help me to acquire key knowledge, skills and connections to build foundations for this new work, enabling me to more efficiently move towards the next phase of my practice and career.

This is how I will engage with Firkin Crane:

To document my work:

Phone/DSLR Gopro

Will mostly shoot snippets on phone for convenience. Maybe some on DSLR and Gopro if needed.

And share my progress:

I feel the most practical, playful and mutually beneficial way to do this would be through social media platforms.

During my time spent researching, training and developing material, I will regularly post still and moving image snippets of my process to Instagram and Facebook, ensuring to always tag the Firkin Crane. In my sharing process, I will make every effort to elevate visibility of the Firkin Crane as well as this crucial, timely and compassionate bursary that they have conceived for local artists.

Recent conditions of escalated uncertainty and isolation have led to social media becoming even more intrinsic to human connection, of all generations. Whilst no means a substitute for a collective gathering in real space and time, I feel it is important to acknowledge both the benefits of our progressively deep-rooted digital engagement in ever-advancing tech culture as well as the inadvertent dual dystopian landscape of issues such as identity confusion (ie through avatar use), fake news and isolation (from comparison, conflict, lack of physical contact etc). Whilst intergenerational online interface has become almost normalised, there is still huge scope for creative possibilities within the medium, both in a live and remote context. I would be keen to explore interweaving such possibilities into my studio process, utilising these platforms as a positive transparent sharing methodology in an experimental, humorous and sincere way, whilst continuing to flesh out related re-emergent themes in my work.

Covid-climate pending, next year, I also propose a short live sharing of work in progress  or from a streaming platform such as Twitch TV, which offers a more nuanced community and opportunity for essential critical feedback. To access a substantial range of insight, I would invite selected peers, programmers and practitioners from the various artistic circles with which I am connected. Ultimately it would be my wish that future production of the work I develop speaks to a broad audience within our culturally vibrant city, as well as further afield.


From: Testero Utero Go! Litter Womb by Natasha Bourke. Photo credit: Lisa Meany.


Natasha’s research is ongoing, and of course the Level 5 restrictions have naturally impinged progress a bit, for example she needs someone to inflate the Zorb ball. She has been able to work away on her own at the Circus Factory, and has been making good use of her DOCK collective weekly sessions to research and develop different ideas.

She received the highest festival commission award from Echo Echo dance company to perform the next iteration of Testero Utero Go! Litter Womb at their festival in Derry at the end of February. This will be invaluable in terms of developing research further and ironing out more logistical kinks in the grander scheme of things and ultimately bringing this part of the work to Cork.

Natasha has been in dialogue with various festival managers and directors, and was invited to create a short video piece which will feature elements from her research with the Zorb balls and images from her performance were selected to feature in several publications including 2 zines “Bloomers Hypertext” and “Sonazines”

Looking forward she will continue to attend DOCK, work solo and continue to research and develop material as much as she can in the Circus factory and elsewhere. She will work towards performances next year and she also looks forward to working with people next year, although she does say it is hard to definitively plan anything through at the moment.