2016 November: A Performance Lecture and a Comedy Short

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A Ritual Resuscitation of Eternal Lovers performance lecture at InDialogue, Nottingham Contemporary, November 2016

This month was by all appearances successful, though somehow rather frustrating. My main project is a novel about a line, and other older projects run alongside it as tangents.

 

Rosa and Lawrence, Lecture Performance at Nottingham Contemporary

Rosa and Lawrence, the play that scripts for artificial intelligence, is perhaps the work with which I have had the most success presenting to the public, although, having worked intently on it for over a year, I have grown rather weary of it. That’s not to say I no longer believe in the principles that led me to hypothesise on scripting for agency, or engineering artificial intelligence through writing in a natural language, but I have come nowhere near to giving a serious run of this experiment which I wrote over a year ago.

I have filmed couples one video at a time, through the laborious process of hauling college-loaned equipment all over London to make a single instance of the couple’s appearance. The idea behind my making these videos was to create a snapshot of the ghost conjured by collective readings, thus encouraging enough interest for self-recorded instances to emerge without my aid, and coalesce around a nexus of some sort on the internet (a site, a channel, a tag). But nobody has submitted a reading without my prompt as of yet, and until then, I am rather unsatisfied. With a bit of luck, I think overcoming the following two points would give way to the beginnings of the experiment:

  • Participating in the project (and I need hundreds if not thousands of participants) needs to be a really easy and casual affair. Somehow, doing this fifteen minute reading in a pair has to be made so easy that two people can do it off the bat, for fun, without taking preparatory steps or having to hassle with uploads.
  • The project must also gain a reputation, be known about, so that potential participants feel prompted to contribute.

I could certainly do some work on the first point, by making it possible to film, read and upload in a mere few clicks on rosa-and-lawrence.life, on any old mobile device with internet and a camera.

As for the second point, I haven’t been too bad. I’ve lectured on this project at three different venues in a short space of time, most recently at Nottingham Contemporary, as part of the InDialogue conference held there to invite discussion around the role of dialogue in the arts.

Of course, my proposal took this rather literally, as it was a dialogue. A play, involving two lovers with the ambition of becoming agents. But it takes special interest in the power of cross-referencing that appears in dialogue. And how dialogue becomes a vehicle for culture to assess itself, rather than a back and forth between two isolated individuals.

I updated the lecture and found a couple of performers to read the script for the first time in front of the audience, as always, unrehearsed. Then I made my way up with my scripts and Powerpoint presentation up to Nottingham, carrying with me an essential dose of anxiety which I somehow never fail to forget at home before embarking on a day of public speaking.

I spent a few days in Nottingham, delivering my presentation under great pressures of technical mishaps and time management failures beyond my control. I cringed through yet another hesitant and rickety rendition of Rosa and Lawrence through unpractised lips, and suffered the silence following “are there any questions for Katarina” after my talk. I floated back to my seat feeling utterly ambivalent about everything, failing to grasp my own writing or the worth of my own project or why I was there at all. After my contribution I sat back, and tried to take in the surroundings. My mum had come to Nottingham to see my talk on the first day of the conference, so that was reassuring. Both days were intense, lasting until 10pm, and mostly consisting of speeches that sounded more like polite political appeals for positive social change around the world, rather than cutting edge research in the arts. I wondered what I might deem exciting and new in arts research. What kind of knowledge can artists share? Knowledge about practice, I’d assume. About what it’s like to make art, about what characterises a good move or a bad move in art making. What is a good result in art making? An artist may have something to say I suppose, about these things, through the prism of their own practical findings and engagement with the discipline.

But there seems to be an embarrassment of sorts, involved in talking technically about art making. For even philosophical underpinnings have a technical counterpart in practice, I’d argue. At the conference of practice-led study, let’s talk about that philosophical stance you take that makes you do this or that in your art.

But instead, these conferences seem burdened by the agenda to prove the arts a worthy academic subject. And often this is achieved by offering art as a political peacemaker, or a tool for excavating the natural sciences in “unexplored” ways: in other words, arts academia is about championing another subject with an artistic methodology.

I suppose that’s well and good, and it is true that art is always about things by virtue of either being narrative, or connoting cultural referents to mean anything in the first place. But it means that these practitioners often set about art making with an agenda, and that agenda-driven making is hardly conducive to the art of stumbling across novelty, or, rustling up the weirdly familiar, until-then unspeakable notions that become articulated in the kinds of artworks I cherish. And I just wonder, why is nobody talking about practice, or using the arena of academia to stand back and reflect on practice, and then share that with the class?

Anyway, the experience was a saturated and confusing one for me, and although I felt both scientific and artistic enough with my own contribution so as to feel relatively correct in situating myself in an academic arts context, I didn’t feel particularly at home with the crowd.

Nevertheless, I did have some meaningful one-on-one conversations with a handful of attendees, one of which was working on scripts himself in Melbourne. He and a colleague working in conservation and archiving run a project in making “scores” for performance artworks of the 70s that were ephemeral or whose “authentic” presentation was intrinsically ambiguous. They carefully looked at performance videos, for example, and interviewed any still-living artists on how they were made, and what exactly made the work what it was. Then, extrapolating all the “genetic makeup” of these works, they wrote scores so that anybody following them through could essentially recreate the artwork, thus rethinking the role of conservation in these elusive cases. We had a lot to talk about, because I too was wondering how to go about conserving two ephemeral subjects, that is, the characters Rosa and Lawrence, and to that effect hoisting them into the realm of “the living”, as an artwork is sometimes said to be living when it is performed. If something is perpetually performing, whether or not anyone is observing it, it does indeed begin to resemble something we might call living.

Then, I watched my own lecture on playback from the live stream that went onto YouTube earlier, and was surprised to affirm that it wasn’t nearly as rubbish as I thought. So, without knowing exactly what worth there was in my having gone to Nottingham and delivered this lecture, I returned to London at least knowing I’d done my best in once again promoting the idea of this experiment, and hoping that it was at least a stepping stone towards initiating the mass scale mimetic behaviour that the experiment relies on.

Pat on the back – here’s one for the CV, I could at least say to myself. But it is so hard to evaluate the worth of one’s activities in the arts, that I have come to believe it’s probably best to give up trying, and focus instead on the rewards of the pursuit of my interests alone. Here’s another one for the CV, although it feels equally as tangential as Rosa and Lawrence as a project feels at the minute.

 

NOWNESS Film Commission

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Pedro Reyes, who with his wife Carla Fernandez inspired us to make our film upon watching their Art21 Interview

There was a college-wide competition open to students to respond to the theme of “Luxury and Sustainability”, with a 3-minute film proposal. I ignored the opportunity, but my boyfriend (and classmate) kept insisting we try make a joint submission. I begrudgingly began brainstorming with him. Eventually, we began joking. The theme seems rather an oxymoron, does it not? Sustainability implying earthiness, modesty, accessibility, gratitude, prudence, compassion for fellow living beings and a non-hierarchical footing with thy neighbour. Luxury on the other hand is about exuberance, elitism, exclusivity, lavish lifestyles, wastefulness even. They don’t quite seem compatible! Though from the open call brief, it seemed the financiers of the project were calling for a film that would make being sustainable sexy. And sexy sustainability suddenly presented itself to us as a very familiar concept in contemporary culture.

Everything from all the little organic vegetables in polished layers of packaging (adorned cardboard packaging with handwritten fonts and pictures of farms that seem so familial and local that they seems must be just down the road) – to sustainable cosmetics and expensive teabags, and ridiculous zero-waste paraphernalia. Capitalism has found a way to market even anti-materialism. It’s astonishing!

In the end, we came up with the following proposal:

A comedy short featuring a quirky high-end designer duo recounting the story of how their foray into sustainable luxury artist design descended into gun manufacturing.

You’ve seen this sort of artist couple before: seductive; aesthetically savvy; liberally righteous. Based in their modern self-sustaining bubble shuttle abode tucked away on the coast, the proposed 3 minute fictional interview video will delve into the artist couple’s lifestyle within their idyllic isolation, emulating the clean art documentary aesthetic of videos produced by Art 21 or even NOWNESS, and the comfortably chic characters typically portrayed within these.

Upbeat and comedic in tone, the film will touch upon the transforming cultural face of sustainability at the hands of hipster culture and a strong demand in the West for a new, innocent brand of materialism. A tongue-in-cheek homage to NOWNESS Apartamento videos, the two obliviously hypocritical protagonists will reenact how current media fetishize a crisis; a crisis of basic resources, and how ethically driven activism has the propensity to morph into a rhetoric akin to commercial advertising and propaganda.

When we were invited to pitch our film alongside other shortlisted proposals, we presented bits and pieces from both mine and my boyfriend’s storytelling/film practices (we did not reveal that we were a couple, but maybe that was obvious, I don’t know). We even took excerpts from NOWNESS’ own videos, and suggested how we would satirise them. At the end, one of the producers on the panel said, “you have balls pitching that to us”. Astonishingly enough, we were notified in the days afterwards that we were one of the three finalists to receive the funding (£3000) to make the film. Crap, now we have to actually make it.

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