Wednesday, 29 February 2012

On the value of doubt, reflection, uncertainty and not knowing (quiet people especially welcome)

These are notes from a session I called at Improbable's 2012 Devoted and Disgruntled event...

I place a lot of value on spaces for reflection and doubt - and listening. And by Sunday morning, I hadn't really found a way for those spaces to be present at D&D, so I called this session.

What I didn't do was think much about how I might actually create the kind of space I was craving within a very loud room where lots of other conversations were happening simultaneously. I'm really grateful that so many people showed up and stayed present with the discussion - and can only apologise that the idea didn't occur to me earlier, when I might have come up with some brilliant way to create a more conducive space where we didn't have to shout. Nevertheless, we talked of...


Not knowing as a process in life

"There is so much we're supposed to know"

Engage with 'not knowing' as a process of moving forward - our constant movement between spaces of knowing and not knowing and how we might allow the value of each affect the other - the value in consciously putting oneself in a space of not knowing - but also needing a clear sense of self when valuing the space of not knowing. Which can feel tricky!


Relationship to Failure

Someone pointed out that uncertainty and doubt are always present in a rehearsal or making process - so what's the big deal?

Perhaps those spaces are always present, but at some level we are hardwired to think of spaces of uncertainty as spaces of failure. What transformations occur when we continue to inhabit these spaces instead of moving through them as quickly as possible towards a resolution?

What is the relationship between placing oneself in the unknown, and listening or empathy? What if leaving my own certainties allows me to be more in the world?

Thinking about timescales (and referring back to Simon Bowes' session on "It's going to take years") - what if something that appears to fail in the short-term eventually represents a really important shift in thinking?

Long timeframes towards change.

Again, how do we allow this kind of thinking to be something a wider audience can relish?

Audiences

There's no lack of makers interested in addressing these questions - but how do we respond to these spaces as audience members?

What does it mean to create a piece of work where the audience is free to be reflective and journey into a space of not knowing? How can we avoid slow, reflective spaces being antagonising or boring to audiences? Especially within a theatre context (as opposed to live art, for example, where this is more common)

Maybe we need to think more about how a piece of work is framed/introduced, how an audience is prepared for a piece of work. Thinking through audience expectations that are set up through the medium and its traditions (different in visual arts / live art / theatre), through the space (theatre, gallery, page, browser) and how the audience move through it, and therefore also the way that time operates within that space.

It is as if we have all been lowered into an atmosphere of glass - Anne Carson


Re-educate

Someone spoke of the importance of re-educating. My notes aren't great on this bit - but I think this relates back to the idea of frames, of thinking about the wider frame of presenting a piece of work, and acknowledging the notion of re-educating within a creative thinking process. If I want to really change the way audiences watch this work, what can I do to let them know?


Slowness as Resistance

Slowness is a resistance of narrative / expectation / speed / knowledge.
Sometimes that resistance hits the wall of a fast world. Matt spoke of not being able to engage with my show, Glorious, not because of an unwillingness, but rather an inability.


Transparency and withholding

Theron noted the difference between work where artists and audiences are entering a space of not knowing, and work where the artist is in a place of knowing and the audience is entering a space of not knowing.

We talked about transparency, and the extent to which knowledge is withheld from an audience - and how this is handled.

We didn't (but I wish we had) talk about manipulation of audiences, and whether this is desirable or unattractive or inevitable.


Gentleness can be counterproductive

Simon proposed the idea that maybe we're too gentle and worried around creating these alternative spaces. Maybe as audience members we sometimes want to be faced with an obstacle we can't get around. How do we create a culture that acknowledges that audiences can feel grateful for challenge and having been pushed?

We talked again about spaces before or after a difficult performance - the space for audiences after Internal by Belgian theatre company Ontroerend Geod, for example, or the lead-in to Coney's works.


Walking

We went for a walk at dusk.

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