'Thinking with the Body' opens at Wellcome Collection

Wellcome Collection's autumn exhibition 'Thinking with the body' explores a series of long-standing interdisciplinary projects organised by Wayne McGregor | Random Dance to investigate creativity in dance.

Wayne McGregor is well known for his physically testing choreography and ground-breaking collaborations across dance, film, music, visual art, technology and science. Featuring video, photography, multimedia installation, commissioned film and artworks, 'Thinking with the Body' is an immersive encounter developed in the run-up to the first performances of his company’s new work 'Atomos' at Sadler's Wells Theatre, London.

In 2000, Wayne McGregor l Random Dance embarked on collaborations with artists and researchers from other fields including cognitive and social science, seeking new understanding of choreographic practice and thinking. Their initial projects focused on developing software to support the creative process in the rehearsal studio and studying the relationship between mind and movement.

In 2008, these evolving projects converged under the heading R-Research, bringing together a group of individuals with a shared curiosity for what might be discovered at the intersections between dance, technology and science. 'Thinking with the Body' explores this shared enquiry into dance-making and brings alive the tools, methods, analysis and results it has produced.

The exhibition opens with an outline of the dizzying range of artistic partners and diverse influences, engagements and interests of Wayne McGregor | Random Dance, including artist Mark Wallinger, composer John Taverner and designers rAndom International. A timeline and schematic mapping, based on collaborative work with theoretical cognitive psychologist Phil Barnard and designed by Kevin Mount, traces the evolution of ideas and concepts informing the creation of McGregor's dances.

Visitors will encounter one-on-one exercises, developed with Barnard, called Choreographic Thinking Tools. Designed to enhance the creation of new and original dance movement through techniques of guided imagination, playful interactions within the gallery allow visitors to follow 12 choreographic thinking principles, discovering the complex relationship between the imagination and the making of movement.

A layered mass of projected images and footage showcase the research processes of cognitive scientist David Kirsh, exploring the patterns of behaviour and modes of communication between choreographer and dancers working together in the rehearsal studio.

The installation, compiled by Kirsh and film-maker David Bickerstaff, combines interview and rehearsal documentation, providing a fascinating account of Kirsh's work on distributed cognition with the company: the interplay of memory, knowledge and environment that underwrites dancers' physical grammar of gestures in the organisation of choreographic structures.

McGregor has worked for many years on creating choreographic software, combining artificial intelligence and Choreographic Thinking Tools to produce interactive digital objects that inspire and support dance creation in the studio. The latest version of this flexible software, developed for 'Atomos', is called 'Becoming'. Conceived as an additional dancer in rehearsals, it is displayed as a human-scale 3D animation on a large plasma screen.

An interdisciplinary team including the anthropologist James Leach and digital artists Marc Downie and Nick Rothwell will feed the software with external stimuli to create a unique digital artwork designed to elicit kinesthetic responses, both for dancers rehearsing 'Atomos' and visitors in the gallery.

'Becoming' is followed by an immersive sound installation by composer Ben Frost, derived from his score for the Wayne McGregor | Random Dance production 'FAR' (2010). In this empty room, visitors' attention is directed to the intense experience of sound and the possibilities for transforming aural sensation into new forms of imagery. This absorbing space leads into a room where large-scale film footage taken from the making of 'Atomos' will be playing.

James Peto, Chief Curator at Wellcome Collection, says: "'Thinking with the Body' is a study and a celebration of collaborative creativity.

"The research the exhibition explores is an integral part of Wayne McGregor l Random Dance's experimental practice, and it has been fascinating for us to participate in the company's project to make the results more widely accessible. We hope this exhibition offers visitors the opportunity to deepen their understanding of choreographic practice and to contemplate how mind, brain and body interact in each of us."

Scott deLahunta, Director of R-Research at Wayne McGregor l Random Dance, says: "Our aim has been to enhance and generate new understandings of choreographic practice by bringing the knowledge of dance into conjunction with other fields. Wellcome Collection is expert in organising innovative exhibitions that show the interaction of ideas from a wide range of domains. Working with them has been a wonderful opportunity to share our collaborative research work, both process and results, with new audiences."

Thursday evening events accompanying the exhibition will include discussions with the research collaborators featured in the show and will tackle broader themes, including how our brains construct images, the differences between bodies and objects, and how groups work creatively together. Wayne McGregor will be in conversation at a daytime event on Sunday 6 October.

'Thinking with the Body: Mind and movement in the work of Wayne McGregor | Random Dance' runs from 19 September to 27 October 2013. It is the first exhibition in an interim programme as Wellcome Collection undergoes a £17.5 million development, with exciting new galleries and spaces opening in autumn 2014.

'Atomos' by Wayne McGregor | Random Dance will be performed at Sadler's Wells, London, from Wednesday 9 October to Saturday 12 October 2013.