2016 May: A Show about Scripting

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I tried the “ventriloquism” or “keyboard-puppeteering” idea – I am still not sure what to call it and so the provisional name is Venting. This was a surprisingly exhausting experiment, as it involved four hours of spontaneously coming up with stories quickly enough for my reading partner to read aloud the text I was typing without too much delay. The idea, after all, was to speak through their bodies.

The setup turned out to be rather elegant, I occupied a small seminar room in the corner of the university as my “office” and, recording the person seated beside me and myself while they read off the text I was wirelessly tapping onto my iPad mini. I found a magnetic whiteboard which I could merely stick my iPad, and position carefully behind the camera to direct the reader’s gaze into the lens. I would look down and pretend to be invisible, my reader would act in the present role. Our cooperation to become one entity through this simple mechanised process was rather enthralling. I had hoped that acquiring a new body would equip me with new confidence, but interestingly I felt equally vulnerable imagining myself in another’s shoes.

I simply did not have the mental capacity to write and hear my readers voice catching up on what I had written moments ago, so I listened to music on my headphones, while still able to pick up on their voice faintly in the background and follow on what was going on. After all, I had to be able to hear their voice uttering my words to sustain being through that other person’s body. The music just helped me anchor back onto the stability of ambience whenever I needed to orient back towards the course of my narrative.

Keeping that up was really hard, and I seemed only able to write at about ten minutes at a time, before sighing and taking a break. I don’t even think I enjoyed the process. It was not a joyful session of writing. I wondered if anybody could sit through these stories, whether they at all would be interesting enough.

I tried several things. With J, I merely tried telling a story about something else, something “out there”, distanced from the dualistic condition we were in. He told a melodramatic narrative of how he had been shot in the waist by a man in a car hurtling past, after having imagined this scene many times on his daily walk to school. With L I tried to make use of her wry gaze and voice. She seemed to be having fun with the concept so I wanted to give her something rather absurd to read. She tells a story of how she keeps getting laughed at, and how her body remembers this cruelty and causes her to regurgitate sporadic giggles at unpredictable moments in her household. She makes pancakes and flips one. As it flies in the air she decides not to catch it in the pan, but have it fall straight into her mouth. She turns her open jaw skyward and of course gets slapped in the face by the pancake. She falls to the floor laughing and crying at the same time, until the kitchen starts laughing with her, and the aggregate gusto of this collective laughter actually causes her to levitate until she meets a laughing god in the sky before plummeting like a bullet through the Earth. With I, I did refer back to what we were doing. I used her voice to tell me things. I wrote for her a script such that she addresses me. She tells me for instance, not to be shy, and to look up at the camera. I then obey these words. This was the most interesting writing experience because while I was essentially talking to myself through I, I was also feigning a delayed reaction to these (my own) words. So she would ask me “do you agree?” and I would nod in response. But of course, I had written her lines for her, so everything is premeditated in advance while it seems that her agency is working on me. While tapping away, I had to think a few steps ahead and create situations in which I might wordlessly react: nod, sigh, look at the camera.

Watching the videos later I was glad to see they were not wholly uninteresting. I had written 10 stories, 4 of which I rather like now. Most interesting to me as a writer was the unfamiliar virtuosic experience of spontaneously scripting a conversation with myself through using the voice of another to address myself in second person.

See a playlist of Venting videos here.

A Site for Rosa and Lawrence

In other news, I do now have a responsive Rosa and Lawrence page that, thanks to my dad, can operate smoothly on all devices. It does not claim exclusive archival rights, encouraging readers of the script to publish recordings by any means, using hashtags on their own social media accounts, but it acts as a point of reference to those new to the project, and creates a pathway to contribute that is relatively easy to follow. They can upload a recording anywhere on Youtube, and add it to my playlist collaboratively. The main spread of the website is this very playlist, the archive I, as but one individual archivist, moderate.

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Site with embedded Youtube playlist, thumbnail acts as front page design and playlist panel slide in and out

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Instructions for participation below the video spread

Degree Show Thoughts

I have three weeks left until I need to begin installing my degree show and think I have only just begun to establish what I want to do. My space will be divided into two parts:

  1. Film: A film about scripting, divided into chapters through which I can demonstrate the various experiments I’ve made in scripting. In this context I am thinking about the Home Affairs play, the Venting experiments, Vernacular Spectacular storytelling in terms of improvisation as a spontaneous manipulation of formulaic patterns (scripts), Rosa and Lawrence, and perhaps Talking Drawing as a kind of instructional video for drawings that are always discoveries. This film is projected on one side of the room and may last up to an hour.
  2. Miniature Theatre: A small podium on the other side of the room presents a miniature theatrical set. Fixed into the podium is a couple of seats with a table (in the classic Rosa-Lawrence configuration) accompanied by the scripts. Hanging from the ceiling in the style of retro recording studios is a mic, and hanging above the two chairs are a pair of headphones, as in the sketch below. Spotlit, with a red curtain draped on either side, the participating readers of the script are on display, but wearing their headphones I am hoping the experience will be rather intimate and immersive, as the mic will focus on and amplify their close-range voices.
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A sketch of the miniature theatre experience across the room from the film.

That boils down to actually editing a completed film to show, fabricating this podium and running the necessary tests to ensure a smooth transition between cinematic viewing experience and immersive quasi-theatrical reading experience.

The Film

The contents of the film are still rather loose to me. This is how I am conceptualising it at the moment. I am thinking of this step by step process of scripting as almost a simulation of Creation by first scripting for a place, then for an identity (my own), then for company (a new performance in which an audience reads out a script addressed at me, author, sitting in silence), then for a mask or disguise through ventriloquism, and finally the moment of singularity: scripting for agency. I’ve made multiple sketches such as this, where “scripting for company” replaces number III, or “scripting for identity” only features one vernacular spectacular video, perhaps a new one. I am not entirely sure of the sequence, but think I might pin down I, IV and V as depicted here and go ahead with the plan. In the meantime I’ll try to squeeze in the filming of a couple of new videos until I am obliged to make a selection.

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Film sketch in 5 chapters

New works I might make:

  • A Vernacular Spectacular film in which I deliver short, curt soliloquies. In the video, I am far away in the distance in some peaceful green place wearing a red dress, but you can hear me as though I am right next to you. The camera is rotating slowly on a turntable kind of construction, acting as a stopwatch for my stories. There is silence as it circles facing away from me. As it returns I unbottle a frenzied soliloquy until its gaze orbits past again. Sometimes, when the camera returns to include me in its frame of vision, you will find me doing something unexpected, such as lying motionless on the grass playing dead and being utterly silent – only to resurrect myself on the subsequent revolution. I quite love this idea, but it takes a little prep, and I am not sure how to get that rotating platform. This film might replace the chapter II: Scripting for a Self.
  • I am working on writing a script intended to be read by an entire theatre audience at me (the author) sitting on stage in a chair. This would be interesting filmed, but once it’s written it’s a question whether I’ll be able to find a way to find the suitable circumstance to film it. This might then make up the chapter III: Scripting for Company. It might be more immediately relatable to the participatory theatre podium than the Talking Drawing film, the latter making a similar comment to the II: Scripting for a Self in that it is scripting in the sense of manipulating a repertoire of formulaic patterns (of line).
  • The Talking Drawing I have just mentioned has not been fully created yet, and puts particular emphasis on the tutorial form, which would correspond better with the scripting theme than the finished Talking Drawing films I already have. Therefore, I still have to complete this one if I want to feature it.

Regardless of whether I achieve all these experiments in time or not, I’ll certainly have something to whip up by way of a film. Clear theatrical references throughout the film open a coherent dialogue with the podium installation, and the seating between the two will hopefully be configured to imply the viewer can sit oriented either way. Finally, I could consider various paraphernalia that might go with the show:

  • Should I include something printed (other than business cards or Rosa and Lawrence participation cards) that acts something like a theatre programme with perhaps textual representations of the films? (The Home Affairs script, the brawling ventriloquism text full of typos, the Rosa and Lawrence script?) maybe an essay that reflects on the philosophical points about scripting and its interdisciplinary scope (AI, genes, literary formulas?) or would this be too explanatory?
  • Should I include any drawings?

Later Degree Show Thoughts

I am utterly lost and have no idea what to do for my show. I know I ought to be having fun with this, but I must admit I keep feeling anxious, and so these days my attitude seems almost like one of giving up, though I hope a more optimistic version of that: I am trying to believe in myself, basically, which is often hard to do in general. There is this temptation to think that you are required to suddenly do something completely out of the ordinary to convince everybody you are an artist and not the lazy freeloader you suspect you might be in disguise. But this is false, there has been a steady organic buildup all this time, of work, and it’s better I start believing it sooner rather than later because it all literally boils down to a matter of enjoying myself as I normally would do. It is essential therefore, to give up on artificially slapping on features extracted from territory outside of my comfort zone onto my practice for this event, and instead, to focus intently on “what Kat would do in this situation, in this space”. Because I am not myself of late, I seem hellbent on construing myself into what I think might look more artlike. Terrible really, because knowing all this I still seem plagued by the inability to enjoy this time. Neither practice nor living, or simply the latter if the two are to be taken synonymously, must not halt just because it is time to put a professional hat on. I am trying to banish ambition where it is fueled by the drive to convince hypothetical viewers I am a more serious artist than I am, and continue going to operas, screenings, exhibitions and making absolutely unrelated work to what I will show if that is what I feel like doing. Better learn to be yourself under the pressures of exhibiting artistic professionalism sooner rather than later, and learning in these early days, to bear the forces of commissions, deadlines and shows enough to keep doing what most feels right within the practice despite opposing preconceptions about what ought to be shown in such contexts. Nobody knows what ought to be shown, that’s a matter for culture and posterity to figure out. I am scaling down to think about the film, as it actually seems a bit much for me to cram the theatre into it all. There are enough questions about how to show that film. While I am figuring that out, I am striving not to abandon practice.

Noting The Resilience of Drawing, Chelsea College of Arts

I thoroughly enjoyed the UAL symposium on The Resilience of Drawing held on 11th May 2016 at Chelsea College of Arts, chaired by Tania Kovats and marking the opening of the Centre for Drawing online archive. The speakers were wonderful, and were a reminder of the unreal privileges of studying art in a cultural centre such as London. I liked attending a longer, more in-depth event like this, because I always thought the shorter DRAW events held this year were too brief to start any debate – each remained merely celebratory and defensive of the drawing medium rather than questioning what’s going on in drawing practice at the moment. Speakers included Angela Kingston (curator), Mary Doyle (co-founder of Drawing Room), Rachel Whiteread, Hilary Mushkin and Tim Knowles (artists). My personal approach and emphasis in thinking about drawing is heavily phenomenological and explorative of subjectivity with drawing as a kind of prosthesis, and often during drawing events/lectures I am itching to bring this somehow into the debate, aware as I am that there are other aspects of drawing to talk about. This is just my strongest personal interest in relation to drawing, and I always wish there were somebody to talk about the experience of drawing and what kind of prosthetic, medial engagements it provides. I guess the best sort of thing for me to attend would be a bunch of artists talking about how it feels to draw or how they use drawing, and get really technical, narrative and analytical about that. I did get some of that today from listening to the three artists speak at the symposium.

Even Later Degree Show Thoughts

Sadly, I find that I can’t wait for all of this to be over. I started writing this journal when I moved from Norway to start my first year studying in London, with a view to publicise all this writing as a documentation of an art student figuring out how the art world works and how to find a space for herself in it. I was hoping that it would end up revealing lots of useful information for incoming art students, because I’d be writing about my learning process as it was happening, and not recalling it hazily when I am (hopefully) much more established and forgotten what it’s like to be such a newbie. Of course, I still feel like a newbie, although it must be said I was far more ignorant when I came here (though whether this knowledge of art economies and institutions plays any role in becoming a good artist, is not necessarily convincing). But I had hoped I would be writing to my imagined younger student readers with a buzz right now, in working my way up to a climactic presentation of my labours these past three years.

But I have to be honest, and admit that I feel a lot more deflated and defeated at this point. And strangely alone, despite being surrounded with students in the same situation. I do hope there are some of us that are marching their way to the finish line on a high. I suspect in my case it’s a little bit of bad timing or something. My heart has not quite been in any of the propositions I’ve had for the space that’s been allocated to me. I’ve now had quite a few ideas, yet each new pursuit ends up with some kind of discouragement, such that I am now left quite without any time. All the tech equipment has been reserved, leaving me stranded with probably only one piece to present; a single projected film.

Perhaps it’s bad planning, but looking back over the months, I can’t say I didn’t give a really good go at thinking what to present. It’s not at all about the degree itself for me, in fact I probably think irresponsibly little about my diploma and grades – but it’s such a great exhibition opportunity in the sense that I will be a part of an event so buzzing and eclectic, and it seems a shame not to play on that in good spirit. The days go by and though I try to manage my attitude, I catch myself feeling utterly disappointed in myself or incredibly stressed and tired. I wish I could rise above that, but despite lavishing myself with pep talks in my journal, I keep looking ahead, almost waiting for it to be over so I can make some other kinds of work in the summer. There is certainly something poisoning about going through art education, or perhaps becoming internalised into the formal system that exists for it in Western culture.

But you have to do something. You keep going back to school each day, you sit around in your space waiting for a light bulb. My work isn’t even bad, I am quite happy with the cluster of ideas and images that make up my oeuvre. I sit around in the space that is allocated for me and struggle to make a connection with it. I plug in some TVs, try project some clips, move around some furniture. Everything looks wrong, and I am not excited. I always had the belief that something would click eventually, but I am at a point where ideally, I should be done with all my work and prints etc within the next two days, and find myself thinking, “how haven’t I come up with it yet?”

I realise I am moaning, but I think it is important in the interest of faithful reporting, because my moaning is coming to me as a great surprise, and I did not expect to be feeling so dismal and distant from everybody else at this point in my studies. How much is this moaning a choice in the direction of giving up, and how much is it merely attributable to the stars that remain quite stubbornly unaligned for me at this time? I keep wondering whether I am being a spoiled, lazy artist, or whether I ought to actually go easier on myself, and I have observed the “hard work” complex in fellow students too. It goes hand in hand with there not being any way of telling what a productive use of time is in an artist’s practice.

If you are an artist and feel conscientious about what it is you “contribute” to this world, you are in for a lot of auto guilt-tripping. Entitlement is something I’ve been trying to work on. Artists who think they have every right to do whatever they want in general in life do tend to be generally insufferable, but at least have no qualms about pursuing their “artistic instinct” and making a great deal of progress by not having to beat around the bush. I have some terrible Balkan housewife gene nagging at me to look after someone, do some sort of manual labour, or clean something, before going around doing self-indulgent things like art. A cultural discipline that makes me wary of my greatest urge – and my art has a general quality of reservation I think, which may not be a bad thing in itself, but does characterise the way in which my day to day activities constantly raise themselves as ethical conundrums. This is depleting, I am not proud of being apologetic about my pursuits when instead I should PLUNGE.

What would I advise to younger students, what would I point to in my own behaviour so far as an example of what not to do? It is important to try and do everything with panache, at the end of the day, I suppose. It is a sign of a wasted opportunity, when like me, you look ahead at a period in your life and just wish it to blow over. Even worse, that attitude of “waiting it out” can become a terrible habit, and you end up waiting out big chunks of your life. The moment some impending event starts nagging at you, that’s when you should start acknowledging: this is what scares me, and this is me standing up against it with flair.

I am afraid of emptiness, and not realising the expectations of I have of myself. I hate the idea of making something mediocre in that room, I almost would prefer a fiasco. I am afraid I won’t see myself in what is shown, that it will seem arbitrary somehow. It’s strange how, in compiling some scenes and haphazardly editing bits and pieces, I can’t seem to even see the work I’ve made, I can’t quite seem to imagine it in the space or find a way to try it in the space and become uplifted by a configuration that just “works”. It’s frustrating to have a whole bunch of work at your fingertips, work you even know you like, but that all seems wishy washy and incoherent all of a sudden. When you have tried countless ideas, spoken to every specialist in the college, and had to start from scratch so many times, how can you keep being playful?

I’m thinking that the room I am working in needs to be simplified, just as my exhibition proposal has been thoroughly simplified. The screen for projection on the back wall is too small, and the space is undeniably office-like in a way I haven’t been able to embrace. I am considering setting up a big screen spanning the width of the room and merely cutting off that part of the room, in order to project the film nice and large. There will be seating, and a copy of each script relating to the five film chapters on a display table illuminated by reading lamps for people to leaf through as they watch, if they so wish.

I hope the film can still be charming, and that it’s all merely a matter of having watched them too many times too recently, that I am unable to look at them and assess them these days.

I tried something new with Vernacular Spectacular, chapter II of my scripting film, which seems promising to me at least at the moment. I’m presenting three VS films at a time, cropped into triptychs on the screen with the audio for only one of them playing at a time, and the other two serving as silent turbulent images as we listen to snippets from various character inhabitations. I’ve added subtitles beneath each relevant “speaking” frame to help the viewer follow which video is momentarily being heard of the three. Here are some stills of that:

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I think it is visually interesting, and keeps alive the seriality of the works which is so significant in emphasising the versatility of both identity and scripting in the form of mannerisms and habits. It was fiddly to get the subtitles in, but without them the video is too disorienting, as when a clip only shows my eye for instance (Natalia) or in which I am momentarily not featuring visually (as in Writing Lyrics). At the same time, though seeing the textual representation of these sporadic, orally written narratives is in itself satisfying, the impulse to read the subtitles does distract a little from the images, particularly the body language which acts as such a significant narrative device in these works.

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Meanwhile, I think I’d like to keep the first chapter (Home Affairs) simple, as merely the film it already is. Venting (chapter III) I struggle with. They also make sense serially, but are rather too long to show sequentially. They could make a good standalone exhibition, just Venting videos. Their seriality is not crucial to the point of the works, though, so it is also possible I thought, to present just one of them. I am drawn to the one where I talk to myself and even instruct myself to behave in certain ways through I, my reader. It encapsulates the concern with instruction vs. free will that I am dealing with in these script-related works, although the story with L and her excellent performance is also quite interesting to watch. Then, as ever, Rosa and Lawrence is a presentational paradox that has been occupying me ever since the idea was conceived. I am considering leaving the recording from the Cockpit Theatre as it is already edited, in the hopes that the grid of previous enactments behind them does the trick. But I fear that it’s a little too long, and that folks walking in at that point of the film will not give it enough of a chance before they realise what the play is really doing. Another option is to try, yet again, to compile a sort of montage. Perhaps each of the (so far 10) enactments could play out consecutive excerpts from the text on screen until the whole piece is read out by all 20 participants. Another option is to wait for the documentation of my Camden Peoples Theatre performance from last week to appear – I have still not seen for myself how it went – and include something from there.

I’m going to simply print the scripts formatted in what I gathered is one of the professional ways of typing up a play script, modified of course, to meet the needs of my deviations from the form. I wondered how this should be presented, but figure now that it is best again to keep things simple, and, as printed scripts tend generally not to be the most glamorous or crafted of objects, have decided to keep them as a stack of single sided A4 pages. I’d like them to feel rather nice to hold however, so will print them on more textured paper, and bind them in some convenient, but hopefully not too administrative looking, way. I have also considered “illuminating” the front pages of each script with a simple block of dense Empathy Drawing.

Then it will only be a matter of securing some kind of furniture and setting up the screen – which are no small matters. Still, hopefully this is all doable in the incredibly little time I now have left.

I have rather desperately had to take up a part time job commencing next week as an usher at a theatre in order to fund my immediate stay in London and future study, and of course this adds a considerable amount of pressure to Degree Show. So it’s not generally advisable to take up a job in the final weeks of obtaining your degree, just before a critical assessment, but as I am also obliged to move out of my flat right in the middle of our show, I find myself in need of money and a roof quite immediately enough to find it difficult to turn down the offer. Pressures like these are inevitable. It all needs to be taken with some sort of sense of humour and general grace. To stand back and to be able to look at it all slightly less seriously, actually helps you proceed and keep in check what it is you really care about.

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