Sonia York-Pryce, IGNOTUM/Requiem (video still), 2011. digital video, duration 5:45mins.
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Sonia York-Pryce, Ignotum, 2011. Installation view.
Tutu made from screenprinted autobiographical text on Hahnemuhle paper (life size). Lead pointe shoes (hand formed).
Sonia York-Pryce, Ignotum (detail), 2011.
Tutu made froms screenprinted autobiographical text on Hahnemuhle paper.
Sonia York-Pryce, Stitching the tutu for Ignotum on the sewing machine.
Sonia York-Pryce, Stitching the tutu for Ignotum on the sewing machine.
Sonia hand stitching the tutu for Ignotum. Photo by Brigid Veale.
Sonia York-Pryce, Auschwitz (1), 2011. digital photograph
Sonia York-Pryce, Auschwitz (2), 2011. digital photograph
Sonia York-Pryce, Auschwitz (3), 2011. digital photograph
Sonia York-Pryce, Auschwitz (4), 2011. digital photograph
Sonia York-Pryce, Auschwitz (5), 2011. digital photograph




Requiem Ignotum [1] explores the realms of dance through the forms of sculpture, film, photographic modes and screen-printing. The work uses autobiographical references, dance research and 3D forms. It questions the performative aspects of perfection, body weight, femininity, fragility, text, longevity and memory. Can the dancer still ‘dance’ long after the body can no longer transition through the formation of dance sentences – enchainements [2] – and dance to a different drummer?
In some sense it is eulogising the demise of the dancer’s performance ability, the ‘being’ continues by assuming another form of objectivity as depicted in the final work of the installation.  The lead and paper ballet tutus assume the role of a bizarre ‘pas de deux’ – the former will remain intact for perpetuity whilst the latter will in time dissolve and disappear mimicking the timeline of a the human body. The objects assume a performative illusion all of their own - frozen in a choreographic space - viewed as if in waiting for the dancers body to slide into the belly of the costume and for the performance to commence.


My art production is likened to choreographing a dance, it must have some sort of structure to make the movements viable, i.e. a beginning, a middle and an end, presumably to describe a story or an emotion, a language displayed through movement; even though it could be considered ironic being that dance involves no literal voice sounds.  Indeed, through the Speechlessness of dance – ‘speech’ via dance movements narrate the story. The daily ritual of a ballet class and the lengthy process of creating an artwork are similar in that they require endless toil, rehearsal and repetition to reveal the end result – performance versus artwork. For example, Anselm Keifer refers to personal experience being intrinsic to his arts practice, he says:
He cannot abide an art form which, he imagines lacks the powerful impulse of life experience. [3]


My personal experience is intrinsic to my process and production of the concept to its finality as the 3D form and or the installation.
Through the guidance of music, be it classical or contemporary, it is used as a starting point, an inspiration to aid thought to flow through or be transferred to some sort of art process which is in turn translated into a verbal dialogue. For example:
Dancing – movement – repetition
Routine – music – inspiration
Dreaming – thinking – producing

The music is essential to ‘block out’ thoughts and yet form a vein of lucid concentration to allow the creative process to flow, much as performing a dance solo, one must immerse all thoughts into musical interpretation and performing the steps to the best of one’s ability. In some streams of thought the process becomes haptic as the music can bring on random ideas and inspirations which can be surprisingly productive. It becomes a nomadic form of notation that inspires some form of dialogue to place into the process of making art, a type of semantic awareness.  Conversely, the musical score could produce a numbing of any productive thought and in so doing channels the mind to possibly opening up the possibility of producing ideas which in turn goes towards the construction of an artwork.

As Daniel Barber writes in his essay on Semantics[4]:
This embodiment of directly expressed engagement with perception – of beauty, of pain, of strange wonder and exacting observation – as not only a mental but also a physical act is one of the most essential functions of art.

My process involves using emotive material – the concept, the music, the substances must be evocative, perhaps an allegorical journey.  The idea has to have strong significance to life experience and the discourse must be meaningful and concise.


Chemical Elements –: Lead
Symbol –: Pb
Atomic Number: 82
Name origin –: From the Greek work protos (first)
Symbol origin –: From the Latin word plumbum – (lead)
Pb –: Prima ballerina?


My inspirations are varied but I find Tricia Brown, US dancer & choreographer is a great muse through her experience of merging contemporary dance and drawing.   Her fusing of charcoal lines and shapes intertwined with dance moves creates whole new possibilities in choreography and artworks. She uses her stage like it is an actual canvas; the whole body is unified with the drawn line into a visual corporeal statement or choreographic motif.  She states:  
“I have come to see choreography as a kind of drawing. Whether they are in air or on paper, it's a about the body moving in space that frees me up to do things I would never think of doing in dance. [5]


Brown casually slipped into producing artworks whilst performing some years ago and opened the door to the physicality of combining contemporary dance and live drawing a new medium.  Through her creativity it has encouraged me to embrace similar notions as I use my own dance experience to conjoin with my 3D work to expand my ideas of movement and beyond. Each art piece produced could be seen as a new form of choreography – as literal steps, moving, carving, cutting, a dance text/notation involving the body travelling in space in specific pathways to produce an artwork and could and can be construed as dance. Again Brown talks about the juxtaposition of a sheet of paper, a theatre stage or a wall introducing the dialogue of improvisation, repetition, haptic thoughts and invention of something totally new:

 “I get involved in the mystery of space,” she says. “I have the same adrenaline and heartbeat going as I enter the paper as I do going on stage.” [6]


Through my haptic process of research I stumbled across the story of Frederica Derra de Moroda [7], a Greek Hungarian by birth, who by some extraordinary circumstances became Hitler’s favourite choreographer during late 1930-40s in Berlin. She, it seems could possibly have been spying for the Allies but who was also responsible for saving ballet dancers from the concentration and labour camps. She had these dancers completely on the radar but by some incredible chance of fate was not discovered. This inspired me to delve further and consider the many who were not so fortunate who did end up in such places of depravity like Auschwitz. Knowing I would visit this place in August 2011, I considered all these elements and decided to include this in my film to support the other works in my installation.


My artwork is created primarily by using hands quite contrary to ballet where the feet are at the forefront of dance movement. Materials are chosen for their malleability as well as for their tactile qualities. The lead lends itself well to changing shape and form plus it folds as if fabric to emulate tulle frills on the tutu. Aluminium is selected as a detour from the bronze and achieves an interesting patina and chunky form whilst still retaining the essence of a ballet pointe shoe. Naturally both metals bring irony and humour to the work and make the improbable seem possible.
Paper is the contradictory to the metal with its lightness and smoothness of consistency, the ruffles voluminous and weightless but metaphorically weighed down by the volume of text. It signifies the frailness of the dancer and the medium and would naturally fall apart if actually worn. It has been constructed as if a real tutu adhered to specific instructions and tradition.

Awareness of ‘being’ whilst creating the work.


Screen-printing – adding the paint, scraping it down the screen, raising the screen exposing the luscious tones/text on the hahnemuhle paper – likened to the dancer’s preparation whilst at the barre fine tuning the body for when centre practice commences - anticipating with trepidation of what is to come – does it fulfil the expectation? The comparisons of seemingly endless rehearsals/experiments to produce the dance or the artwork are endless.

The music commences and as if pre-rehearsed the suite begins to the accompaniment of violins and cellos. That process or mapping could be viewed as a choreographic motif – endlessly repeating a suite of movements where the only deviation is the choice of fresh text, paint and placement. The motif continues same curves, bends and sweeps of the torso and then the stretching and contracting of the arms as the hahnemuhle paper is completely immersed with text. The dance/printing assumes a double palimpsest as the text and motif require similar repeated movements. The embedding of text becomes performative – fine choreography ‘in which the calligraphy itself communicates the meaning[8] to ‘be in the moment’ reproducing childhood diary entries as appropriated text onto a roll of paper, “is such heightened self awareness part of the pre-reflective experience? [9]

“Silkscreen choreography”– each move signifies a step, a dance move, each page of text a new form of notation. Each print is a moment of performance – the dancer/printmaker performs a set sequence of steps both literal and balletic giving both the experience of dance and watching the process of movements that will produce fresh notation.

Susan Sontag wrote:
Dance cannot exist without dance design: choreography. But dance is the dancer.[10]

Susan Dempster writes:
The dancer’s body is not merely a written upon page, it is more accurately described as an artefact, of blood, flesh, organs, bone and skin, arduously and meticulously constructed.[11]


Originally, I had anticipated constructing a ballet tutu out of bronze, casting numerous hand gestures which would in turn be fused together to compose a recognised semblance of a tutu. This concept, after much exploration deemed too time consuming, hours of forming, casting and firing resulting in a large piece that would be incredibly heavy and extremely expensive to produce. The change of direction with materials opened the opportunity to produce the work in lead a much more malleable and forgiving metal and time constraints would be less forthcoming. It also allowed me the luxury of being to build the tutu much as one would if using fabric material but using steel rivets instead of sewing thread. The overall effect is that the artwork is easily identified as a tutu and the irony is conveyed.


The ironic use of lead to represent the ballet tutu – its composition all lightness and femininity, but here the semblance of a ballet costume possibly resembling – body armour.
It also questions the actual physical dancer and her mental ‘battle’ to keep her body weight /density, light and flexible as contrasted with the metal - lead – it’s heaviness and malleability.
Then there is the emotional weight for the dancer to make visible the interior landscape [12] through her technique and virtuosity.
The materiality of the lead is symbolic with funereal rites – symbolising the inner lining of a coffin – concealing and revealing – perhaps symbolising the demise of the dancer.


Feminist writer Elizabeth Dempster writes:
The dancer’s body is not merely a written upon page, it is more accurately described as an artefact, of blood, flesh, organs, bone and skin, arduously and meticulously constructed


The aluminium pointe shoes were constructed using actual satin shoes with leather soles which were covered both on the interior and exterior with a thick coating of wax. Sprues and thick coating of plaster were added before the metal pour.
The end product produced a industrial form of the shoe inscribed with interesting texture from the original wax layering. Little change has been made to the appearance of the shoes since being released from their plaster cast. Their pupae like form appear as vessels of the dancer – their aluminium strength juxtaposed with the possibility of the dancer having just stepped out of them. These combined with the elevated tutu  convey a strange vision of the invisible dancer being transported in a vertical lift.


The lead point shoes are created by wrapping the metal around a wooden model of a pointe shoe. The metal, like the satin fabric, is cut, trimmed and bent into shape to form the semblance of the shoe. The inner and outer soles are cut as the original leather ones and glued onto the surface of the lead. The lead is finally cut open to reveal the inside of the shoe and the possibility of a dancer’s foot sliding into the ballet slipper looks more plausible.  The outer sides of the shoe are screen-printed in red acrylic and German language text. This process is managed by screen-printing onto damp upholstery foam and then placed by hand onto the side of the shoe.


The hahnemuhle paper tutu is created in the same way an actual tutu is sewn. 24 paper frills of various dimensions (54 – 75 inches long) and widths (13 inches – 1.5 inches) which were individually screen printed in red, paynes grey and silver acrylic paint. One side printed in red and silver acrylic paint the other in paynes grey and silver. These colours have been selected as a theme which I had earlier introduced in my Vass 3 works. The red symbolises the emotion and blood of the dancer, paynes grey the steely attitude and strength of the dancer and the silver for femininity, theatricality and the metal elements it mirrors.



THE INSTALLATION – Requiem Ignotum

The scene is set as if on a theatre ‘stage’. The suspended ballet costumes hang mid air as if lifted by imaginary partners whilst the invisible dancers’ pointe shoes remain motionless but appear to need little prompting to pirouette or chaines to the next stanza of music.  They appear as ‘objects out of action’. [13]


Requiem Ignotum
Is an installation about dance, someone and no-one, whilst bemoaning the loss of performance, and those who have performed long ago, or who may have never reached that highest pinnacle but have aspired to greater things. It questions density on many levels, such as the obvious fantasy of a tutu constructed of lead, pb 80 – how ridiculous, any form of movement would be impossible. It also brings into question the absurdity of the human body trained and contorted for the pursuit of ballet perfectionism. The lead presupposes the immense weight, density of the dancer’s physical and mental psyche as their strife for ethereal weightlessness becomes the pinnacle of body perfection.  Susan Sontag refers:

It is often said that dance is the creation of illusion: for example, the illusion of a weightless body.[14]


In opposition the malleability and composition of the lead compliments the flexibility of the dancer and her steely resolve to overcome all. The lead appears sewn, stitched with rivets such as a real tutu, with the top layer screen-printed in silver paint with  scribblings from a childhood diary. The metal could also be viewed as the funereal aspect of the piece because of its association with death and burial and the supposed death as in the end of a dancers career. Sculptor Anthony Gormley says of lead: it brings silence and stillness, it is so inert, so dense, its greyness combines all colours[15]


The accompanying pointe shoes cast in aluminium are again a play on weight and density – it would surely be impossible to dance in such creations yet they imbue the identity of their satin slippers and invent the possibility that the dancer may have momentarily slipped out of them.

The paper tutu signifies the early dreams and ideals of the author snipped ramblings  appropriated to assume the materiality of the dancers’ skirt – the original pages of a five year diary now create the wave and pattern of a new fabric and in so doing create a new life in text. Here the tutu is weightless but in the same token is heavy with emotion and calligraphy waiting to be interpreted. 

The large scales with the red satin pointe shoes are again incongruous – the latter imbue the horrors a dancer must endure by being vigilant about her body weight. Regular weigh-ins were common at most ballet schools when I was a student. The satin shoes are of course weightless but signify the dancer enduring the humiliation of having her body density scrutinised.

The lead shoes appear weighty but if held are delicate and assume the notion of being able to dance if requested. The text states: umberkannt – the unknown dancer, the lost dancer, the dancer who is no more or the dancer who never was. On the wall adjoining the film area are deconstructed lead pointe shoes symbolising the demise of the shoe, unable to perform to its full capability, torn and misshapen, signifying those who wore them long gone.

The film Ignatum is a performance piece that brings in to question the loss of the artisans in the situation of war – any war – by choosing to bring to mind those lost in Auschwitz and Birkenau during World War II and those saved from the slave labour factories and concentration camps[16] through the diligence of Frederica Derra de Moroda[17] during her directorship of the Third Reich ballet company, “Kraft durch Freude” or “Strength through Joy” in 1940s Berlin.  During a recent visit to Krakow the opportunity was seized to experience first hand the inhumanity of the concentration camps and to install my red pointe shoes to commemorate all the lost dancers from this horrific period.  The deep red of the satin fabric conjures up images of pain, sorrow, blood naturally but also the literal blood on the feet of any performing dancer and the pain that image conjures. Even in such a damned place the shoes still danced, defiantly. The photographic stills are from my choreography, Ausgang, performed in London in 1988 and highlight the toil of dancers at such a dark time. The soundtrack to the film is from Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings Op 11 composed during the WW2 in 1938 which imbues the horrors and pathos of that time and ties in wholly with the atmosphere and poignancy of the work. Music is tantamount to my creativity and devoid of this element I find it impossible to create – it is as if the choreography has assumed a new situation through my artwork –


This body of work is a continuation of my arts process and will definitely be my pathway when the degree is completed. I am considering the possibilities of residencies overseas visiting dance companies to further my arts practice with a view to producing artworks that incorporate photography, film, screen-printing and 3D works in the dance oeuvre. I am fascinated with the amalgamation of these mediums and feel excited at the prospect of their union as an arts practice. In the future I would consider proposing exhibitions of these works at local and or regional galleries and feel excited and motivated by this concept.



[1] Ignotum – Latin  - unknown - http://www.stars21.com/translator/latin_to_english.html  12/9/11
[2] Chain, sequence of movements http://dictionary.reverso.net/french-english/encha%C3%AEnement 6/9/11
[3] Rosenthal, M, Anselm Keifer, Chicago Phildelphia, Presvel-Verlag, 1987, p.10
[4] Barber, D. Somaesthetic Awareness & Artistic Practice: A  Review Essay, International Journal of Education & the Arts, Vol 9 review 1 Sept 20, 2008
[5] http://www.artseensoho.com/Art/DRAWINGCENTER/brown98/brown1.html 7/9/11
[6] http://calendar.walkerart.org/canopy.wac?id=4187  Tricia Brown – So the Audience does not know whether I have stopped dancing  7/9/11
[7] http://balletalert.invisionzone.com/index.php?/topic/302-german-dancers-1930s-and-1940s/
[8] Carter, P. Material thinking, Melbourne University Press, 2004, p. 6, 3/9/11
[9] Speletic, N, Phenomenology + Dance – www2.arnes.si/nsupmpotr/nspd.doc/18/7/11
[10] Sontag, S. Where the stress falls, Vintage,London, 2003, p 188 8/9/11
[11] Dempster, E. Women Wrting the Body, Bodies of the Text, 1995, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, p.2
[12] Dempster, E. Women Writing the Body, p.28, Goellner, E.W. Murphy J.S. Bodies of the Text, Rutgers University Press, New Jersey, USA, 1995
[13] Braddock, C, phd , The artist will be present, p.12 2008 http://aut.researchgateway.ac.nz/bitstream/10292/441/4/BraddockC_a.pdf
[14] Sontag, S. Where the stress falls, Vintage, London, 2003, p.191, 8/9/11
[15] Salvatore Ala, Anthony Gormley,Coracle Press: London, 1984, p.12  15/4/11
[16] http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1083/is_8_77/ai_105710134/ Damned or deified? – Dancer Friderica Derra de Moroda – Biography , Jackson G,  Dance Magazine Inc. 2003  28/7/11
[17] Katja-Schneider “Tanz & Archiv” www.goethe.de/tanz-de-ca  Blog.goethe.de/tanz-de-ca/indexphp?/authors/3- 18/7/11  Freitag, 12. Februar 2010  18/7/11





Braddock. C. phD , The artist will be present: 2008
http://aut.researchgateway.ac.nz/bitstream/10292/441/4/BraddockC_a.pdf (August 2011)

Brown T. http://www.artseensoho.com/Art/DRAWINGCENTER/brown98/brown1.html (7th September 2011)

Carter P. Material thinking, Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2004.

chain, sequence of movements http://dictionary.reverso.net/french-english/encha%C3%AEnement (6th September 2011)

Dempster,E. Women Wrting the Body, Bodies of the Text, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press,  1995

Dempster, E. Goellner E.W. Murphy J.S. Women Writing the Body, Bodies of the Text New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, New Jersey, USA, 1995

Jackson G.  Damned or deified? – Dancer Friderica Derra de Moroda –  Dance Magazine Inc. 2003
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1083/is_8_77/ai_105710134/  (28th September 2011)

Tricia Brown So that the audience does not know whether I have stopped dancing, Medtronic Gallery, 2008 http://calendar.walkerart.org/canopy.wac?id=4187 (7th September 2011)

ignotum – Latin  - unknown - http://www.stars21.com/translator/latin_to_english.html (12th September 2011)

German dancers, 1930s + 40s
http://balletalert.invisionzone.com/index.php?/topic/302-german-dancers-1930s-and-1940s/  28/7/11

Rosenthal, M. Anselm Keifer: Chicago: Phildelphia, Presvel-Verlag, 1987.

Salvatore A. Anthony Gormley  London: Coracle Press, 1984.

Sontag, S. Where the stress falls, Vintage:,London, 2003.

Speletic, N, Phenomenology and Dance  www2.arnes.si/nsupmpotr/nspd.doc (18th September 2011)

Schneider K.  Tanz & Archiv: Freitag 12 February 2010.
Blog.goethe.de/tanz-de-ca/indexphp?/authors/3-katja-Schneider (18th September 2011) www.goethe.de/tanz-de-ca