Written by Jennifer-Lynn Crawford
As per Charlotte’s recent post →, the lot of us (minus James, but he sent his self’s worth of proposals for us to play with) have recently returned from a week’s residency in the woods. The Woods, I should say – the experience needs upper case recognition.
“I’m still amazed by how much I’m dealing with the unknown”… when Charlotte says this in her post, I feel a strong sympathy. Since The Woods, I’ve been trying to make sense of some of ITAWL’s (Is this a Waste Land?) themes. This has resulted in a great deal of floating about and not very much else. I mean, they are very big themes, so floating around in them is perhaps a valid way to make ‘sense’ of them.
I’ve been toying with re-framing the themes as such; not in terms of content, but re-considering them as maybe part of a different species, a more exotic breed than those I’m accustomed to. I’ve always thought of themes as rather like content – they are ideas or subjects and I suppose I am used to manipulating them, or feeling like I can wrap some abstract thinking around them.
The floating-about I’ve been subject to feels less like my usual experience of themes and more like my memories of getting swept out by an unexpectedly strong current whilst swimming: there is really not very much you can do about where you are going and where you end up.
So here’s a current that has taken me on a little trip and helped me re-species the ‘themes’.
Practice and Projects
For all that ITAWL is a project, it really isn’t – I think it is wearing a project-costume to fit into a frame that includes ACE (Arts Council England) funding, current art-making models and our busy and variable lives. But I think what it proposes, through the phenomena it orients to, is large-scale practice, but like, done by us in our human-sized ways.
I feel these two words, practice and project, relate to very different sorts of art-making. I’ll explain in a roundabout sort of way.
It’s funny maybe that in building towards a performative-interactive art work there is a lot of stuff coming up that can’t really be project-based, perhaps because it’s life-based. These big questions, about:
- Space and Value – commodification and privatisation of space
- What makes us feel like we belong? Home and community
- Where does all the stuff go – Waste and Capitalism
- Being in my body – Nourishment and taking care
- Living with uncertainty – How do we live right now? Dealing with the everyday in uncertain times
(As well as the strong sense that we can’t just get off at one stop here and leave the rest for another time… because all these stops are interdependent on the same transport system…)
… these aren’t themes any more, although that’s a good short-hand and helped me out greatly when I tried to explain to somebody the other day what I was doing in a forest last week. In trying to explain the sense and importance of relationship in working with all the questions, I got the feeling we were having a deeper unspoken conversation about creative models.
One, where the model of making art is reliant on addressing content (a theme) and creating a product related to that theme, and another, where the model of making art is reliant on practicing the content itself, with attention to the practice as vital to the making, and through that practice, bringing phenomena to life rather than to representation… Product, in this model, is perhaps more of a negotiable than an assumed separable output.
This question of the creative or art-making model is really relevant, something we already know as jobbing artists or makers. Or maybe not all of us identify with that as we only sometimes job as artists… Most recently, we all forest-ed as people. Maybe we don’t define ourselves by our participation in employment (or forests). No matter. We are participating in this ITAWL together and thus, the question of how we go about doing what we are doing and might do, is t/here.
I suppose part of the reason that the questions ITAWL proposes aren’t really themes ‘any more’ (if ever they were!) has to do with their lack of distinct borders. The clarity around what and where something starts/ends, is/is not, also relates, I believe, to the difference between practice and project.
Project, as a word and concept, would fit ITAWL if ITAWL didn’t have size-infinity boots and loads of wavy branches within which the big inter-con-questions of space-time-life-systems-difference/change-value-sustenance-sustainability-uncertainty-presence perch. ITAWL is an ecological sort and needs to be to address the web of questions it has nesting inside of itself. This seems important to name because it is rather different from the dominant mode of project-ing and the dominant mode of art-consumption. I think ITAWL can only really find its home as a practice, or a web of practices that we do together, sometimes in proximity.
Practice and project are of different times and natures. Project feels like it has an end, one that is included from the beginning. Practice feels like it keeps on and doesn’t come with a pre-decided ending. Project feels like if I were clever, I could finish it sooner than I originally planned. Practice feels like a never-ending tale that keeps spinning so long as I keep reading. Practice has a growth orientation that will continue to evolve over time, whereas a project has a border – we can finish a project and go on to something else. We don’t really finish a practice, although we might leave it for a while/ever. Practice seems to refer to itself – it doesn’t lean out into the future in the way that a project does – it stays in the act of doing. If anything practice props itself on the past – if I were to do something once, it wouldn’t be practice. If I do something repeatedly, then it becomes practice, after the fact and in the fact of doing it again. The repetition also points to a loop – yesterdays’s practices feedforward into today’s practice. And I can’t use my clever brain to short-circuit a practice – because then it wouldn’t be practice. Which is not to say that we can’t have a thinking practice. If I never add things up in my head, then I fall out of practice and it’s really hard to add things up in my head. But if I practice it everyday, then it changes and I acquire more skill in adding things up in my head. But I can’t change my skill here unless I actually exercise it.
When I think about ITAWL like this, I feel like the floating, or getting swept out by currents, is really important. Part of the practice time. Being together in the woods felt like group practice. Building a temporary home and a temporary life together. Being together.
I feel, and think, that to make this work, Charlotte made an intuitive decision to bring it to life, rather than make a symbol representative of thematic content. I think this work is a celebration of the materiality of life (at least, that is where the current has taken me today) and that the only way to really engage with that is for us to practice it. This brings the questions to human-size.
In choosing to step around representation of themes that are too big to represent, I guess we are also making a choice to engage with the non-linear and non-narrative level of the pre-reflective. To be in the realm of the sensory and the perceptual is to be directly in the world, with all the other inhabitants we find there, all the things that verge on all the other things, to interact with what happens as it happens. It’s also to say yes to making a political statement in many ways; it’s to go against the nap of the cultural fabric of bordering, of inclusion/exclusion and representation and work with all the in-betweens of relationship.