Life ITAWL Everything

Jennifer is doing a WAY better job than me at writing blog posts about the work we did on Is this a Waste Land? over the summer. And below is another entry from her. I will get to mine soon I promise! But in the mean time I have to finish the next funding application to the Arts Council to help fund the rest of the project, and raise our target for our current crowd-funding campaign! So, if you’d like to support the cause…then follow this link: http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/is-this-a-waste-land

Otherwise, enjoy Jennifer’s most recent piece of writing. It’s about our time on site in Corby at the start of October 2016. Photos and video footage from Corby coming SOON!

Life, ITAWL and Everything – Jennifer-Lynn Crawford

I’m enjoying the parallelisms of Is this a Waste Land? (ITAWL) There is a deep intertwin(n)ing of life activities and art activities occupying the root-system of the ITAWL tree – something I discussed a bit in this post on practice and projects – that I readily acknowledge and embrace. The parallel line here is that we’ve begun to write some words, not just in blogs, but to hang them in the air, for other people to listen to, as members of a future audience.

It’s a bit pointy. Not in a negative sense – I’m not sure why ‘pointy’ as an adjective seems to have negative connotations for me, but I feel like it might – but in the sense that ITAWL is coming to a point in some ways… multiple points in many ways.

It’s important and satisfying to write about practicing as a way for the work to come to be, and it’s more important and satisfying to practice that practice with the others and then it’s somehow a bit less satisfying, though still very important, to try and project that practice into the immediate future, where the other other people (aka audience-participants) are. In some senses (more than others) leading up to the sharing we had last week, it felt like ITAWL needed a bit more project-perfume to get itself ready for people to participate. I felt myself struggling with the sharing’s long shadow.

I remember a similar feeling from the days of Walking Stories. I get a little frustrated with imagining how people are going to respond to instructions and find my focus becomes pretty diffuse, flickering between so many different possibilities. It feels like trying to reverse-engineer a creamy soup. Minestrone would be more articulable than this rich bisque (I’ve never actually had bisque, but it looks like the most texturally uniform soup on Google).

Paul Carter, a theorist who seems to work in so many different fields I’m really not sure how to describe his location, refers to some of the difficulties of urban planning with the phrase ‘the planned encounter’ – it really resonates for me. An encounter is inherently unplanned; it happens spontaneously. Planning is pretty much… not that. So the notion of a ‘planned encounter’ is paradoxical, in a way that seems relevant for ITAWL. In a lecture he gave at Leeds Uni last month, he notes that there is a dominant assumption that people want, or should want, to interact with each other. This over-determination at the planning stage closes down any real choice-making, any real possibilities for an encounter to take place.

Personally…

I don’t like telling people what to do. My way through this has evolved over time and I notice I make a lot of propositions. I leave ideas with lots of space around them when I offer them to others. I tend to be indirect, probing, offering, suggesting…

But what we are doing here in ITAWL isn’t that. It’s based in a need to communicate with people in a way that asks them to step away from their own ways of doing things – to do things that perhaps they wouldn’t otherwise. We aren’t, as Charlotte says, asking them to join a workshop (I’m good at designing those BTW) but to participate in a performance. In most ways, they are producing the performance. They’ll need some directing. In the same way that we need directions when we are going somewhere for the first time because they give us an orientation, these people will need directions.

How do we create sound borders for somebody else’s performance?

Conversations with CCL (Corby Civils and Lintels)

“Now comes the messy work of fashioning spontaneous speech”¹ (Stern, 2010)1

Daniel Stern is famous for many books, predominantly in the field of developmental psychology, but the one that he wrote last (Forms of Vitality) is quickly becoming my favourite. As he says in the first chapter: “We live impressions of vitality like we breathe air”²… I can’t disagree.

Stern articulates this phenomenon of life (so accessibly) across a spectrum of activity and towards the end of the book, focuses on therapeutic practice, in particular ‘talking therapies.’ At one point, he traces the expression of vitality through and into spoken language. When he refers to ‘fashioning spontaneous speech’ I feel my ITAWL tuning fork start to hum. It has a similar vibration to Paul Carter’s ‘planned encounter’ in that I feel we are trying to capture the planned/fashioning encounter-speech in all its gooey vitality (or creamy soup).

In our case, ITAWL-speaking, the site is the conversation-encounter and the materiality we find/ bring there is the back and forth of that conversation. I don’t want to liken the material stuff to words – because they are utterly different and part of ITAWL is in drawing attention to that – rather, the material stuff of the site is the way that we gain the possibility to have the ‘conversation’ that is Corby Civils And Lintels (this is how the site is listed on the Corby Council website; it’s also signposted at the entrance).

I guess that sounds a bit abstract. Site as conversation. What I experience this as is a to-ing and fro-ing (in me) when in Corby Civils and Lintels that is totally individual to me and my apprehension of its particularity. It is a very different conversation to the kind I have, for example, with any other place, even if it’s maybe part of the same species of place. For example, in driving to the site each day, my conversation with the interior of the car really contrasts: the car asks things of my fingers, of my focal vision that CCL doesn’t unless I lie down on my belly and get my face close to its ground. Everything in the car is a little bit right up against me, or right up behind me or just right there – buttons and dials and random ends of things on slidey surfaces and moulded seating. My feet are quiet-to-non-existent in the car. I could keep giving examples, but it’s just trying to capture the creamy soup with a colander. I’m using familiar body parts because they are readily available – but the conversation is a totality that isn’t closed and includes all of me and all of CCL, not just the bits I can name and point to. The more time I spent in CCL, the more I was able to notice the subtleties of our interaction. I could not do that from a distance – the conversation was only possible in proximity.

Agents Gorell Barnes promote CCL on their website (https://gorellbarnes.co.uk/property/gennerpark-corby-northants-nn17-5fd/) as ‘a ‘blank canvas’ where ‘(o)ccupiers have the opportunity to be located within a high quality landscaped environment, close to local services with a mobile workforce in close proximity’

The kind of conversation they’ve had with Corby Civils and Lintels is obviously very different. The place, the site, the actual stuff of CCL, in that kind of conversation, has nothing to say. Apart from a convenient fountain of workforce nearby, the distance that this abstract process called Representation has responsibility for opening includes a lack of feeling, a lack of presence. The site is blank for Gorell Barnes. They could have their chat with CCL on Skype and wouldn’t notice anything amiss.

One end or two?

“Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei” (German proverb)
(Everything has one end, only the sausage has two)

When a place has been ‘blanked’ (or ‘space-d’, depending on which theorist you read – flattened into universality and divested of vitality), then it has only one end – the one that gets planned on to it. Place that remains unfinished always has multiple ends, mostly undecided and yet-to-be. Maybe a bit like lots of sausages heaped together. I don’t really eat sausages, but I really like that German proverb about them, with its forecast of inevitable ending and proposal of hopeful alternatives – or hopeful ending and anomalous alternatives.

Part of the distinction I proposed previously between practice and projects has to do with borders and temporal orientation (which way does it lean in time? does it have beginnings and endings?):

“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”

I think part of the challenge, for me at least, in bringing things to a point in ITAWL, is that we need to ‘do’ something with the practicing, and in some ways, this demand is asking us to make a project of the practice. The sausage disappears – and an ending, a sharing, appears in its stead.

For something with >1 end, it’s hard to figure out where to put the borders in, even if they might only be temporary. What do you close off if you don’t yet know what might happen?

One End, For Now

In the end, the sharing was a lovely event. It confirmed the potency of the conversations we hoped to broker between people and place.

CCL: you will be different again, next we meet, and the kinds of conversation will be too… we won’t know until we get there. “Who is meeting and who is met? It all depends where you stand and how you move”³ (Carter, 2013)

I still have many questions. I’m not sure how we manage the project of practicing other people’s performance until they get there to do it themselves. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the parallel (of) direction, offering direction and trying to find that myself.

And sausages. Vegetarian sausages.

 


¹p 123, Forms of Vitality 1
²p 3, Forms of Vitality 2
³(I’m not sure of the page number as I was cheat-reading on an Amazon-Kindle preview), Meeting 3 Place: The Human Encounter and the Challenge of Coexistence

Books

Brouwer, J., Mulder, A. & Spuybroek, L. (Eds) (2012) Vital Beauty: Reclaiming Aesthetics in the Tangle of Technology and Nature. NAI Publishers.
Carter, P. (2013) Meeting Place: The Human Encounter and the Challenge of Coexistence. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.
Rogoff, I. (2000) Terra Infirma: Geogrpahy’s Visual Culture. London, New York: Routledge. Stern, D. (2010) Forms of Vitality: Exploring Dynamic Experience in Psychology, the Arts, Psychotherapy, and Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Other

Google (tool for getting lost)
Carter, P. (2016) On Choreotopography (Lecture) Leeds.
Corby Civils and Lintels (19-22.09 and 6-7.10.16) (Site) Corby.
Various places – cars, my bike, houses/flats, my home, bike shed, dance/yoga studios, theatre spaces, trains, cafes, pubs, parks, open outdoor spaces that aren’t designated, rail stations, treatment rooms.

Practice and Projects

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…)

Art-Making Models
… 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.

Practising
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.