January 2019 Project Review – Alan

Dear Marie,

Here are my reflections on the project so far, organised as answers to the questions we agreed. these reflections will form the basis of my contribution to our dialogue with your collaborator Mette Terp Høybye on Friday 4 January 2019 (tomorrow).

1. How well do the introductory texts describe what we have ended up doing? How might they be updated to better reflect our activities?

I felt these worked fine.

The introduction at top of the ABOUT page is clumsy and might be rewritten. The pull-down rules on the same page need some editing too: they still bear the marks of their original context in the ‘Two Trainers Prepare’ project. The ‘not talking about the task/project’ rule is misguided, I think — at least about the project. We have avoided talking about the tasks (for the most part) but there have been some very productive discussions about the project and our individual working approaches and poetics. I note though that you write in response 7.2 that the ‘no talking’ rule helps to: ‘maintain some distance between the work collaboration and our private lives’; ‘[honours] the rule of “equality” that we have set out that ensures that we distribute time equally between your and my work and talking about it privately could tip this balance’; ‘make sure that everything we do concerning the project is “official” and transparent for potential viewers of the project so we do not hide the “stitches” and our disagreements on rules and negotiations’. Still, we have been talking about the project — sometimes quite vehemently!

I hadn’t registered previously the suggestion in ‘rules for responses and documentation’ that we might include ‘Ideas for further reading/watching/doing’. Good idea!

The two individual introductions still read well, in my opinion, though they are a snapshot of thinking and preferences at a particular moment and some of the thoughts have evolved. I didn’t feel they need to be updated. Instead, we need to revisit some of the ideas they contain in reflective pieces to be posted as blogs. Links can then be added.

I noticed, rereading your piece that you are explicit about the importance, for you, of process (as distinct from product), which has continued to be a testing theme in our working relationship; I felt though that there might be an interesting tension with the idea of documentation, and I will return to this below. I think the material on inequalities in my own piece is still valuable. I think it would be very interesting, in a separate reflection, to answer the questions you ask in your piece:

  • How can setting parameters work as a way for a life partnership to become a creative partnership? What will change in our relationship, if anything?
  • How will a model like ‘Two Trainers Prepare’ translate from being a transnational online encounter to being carried out between two people sharing a household and a family?

2. Looking back, which of the tasks do you like? Why?

In general, I like them all, and I believe the project as a whole is progressing well. The number of tasks and responses is a strength of the project, so it might not be wise to overthink things and to stall the project much longer into January. That said, I wonder if it would be worth asking a sympathetic interlocutor (or even a sceptical one) for feedback on the project, to spot what we might be missing — Mette might do this for us tomorrow, of course. Tasks and aspects I might single out in particular are as follows (though in effect I find these difficult to differentiate from the responses, so there’s more below):

  • Task 4 – There’s something interesting about re-working material that already has a strong form.
  • Task 5 – Because it gives a sense of the ‘tennis rally’ exchange. But one interesting thing about the project is that it turns the ‘serve’ into an act of generosity in which the very real differences and disagreements we experience are reconfigured as a kind of gift. The ‘rally’ in this case is like a warm-up before the tennis match, where the players are encouraging, not frustrating, the return of the ball. (That said, I wonder about the utility of setting each other ‘impossible’ tasks which will test our ingenuity and be a more aggressive form of flirtation.)
  • In general, I like those tasks which riff on the conditions of family life (cf. material on proximate modes, below) and/or require the collaboration of Lisa.
  • I also like when tasks articulate questions to consider, though less when these questions are about personal feelings and more when they encourage theoretical/analytical reflection. (Did I really just write that?)

I thought the progression through the project was notable, with several themes and concerns recurring or developing. The following jumped out at me, but a neutral observer would spot several more:

  • Place: trajectories and scales (locality, city, nation)
  • Time and repetition/reenactment.
  • Relationships (people), including the intended or imagined audience or viewer for tasks (as per task 15, which asked for the images to be designed for Lisa. Marie writes in response: ‘Imagining that I should explain the “drawings” to our daughter Lisa steered my construction of each collage.’)

3. Which of the responses do you like? Why?

They all seem to me to be thoughtful responses to the activity or challenge. I liked how they offered glimpses of the discussions happening around the project. These conversations are a crucial aspect of the project, it seems to me: they’re where we define our differences which are in turn negotiated in the tasks. Individual responses I’d single out:

  • Response 3 – I thought the trailer surprisingly good given your reservations. As with all my project films (but one), further work could make something more satisfying, but it’s the point of the project to generate rather than exhaust ideas, I think.
  • Response 4 – Thoughtful account which analyses even as it entertains (even though I say so myself).
  • Response 6 – The title sections seem to me to point the way to a desktop documentary aesthetic. I like the homemade character that evolves from yours in the choreography film.
  • Response 7 – The grumpy tone of these multiple reflections was useful, though invigoratingly unfair to me.
  • Response 9 – Watching all your films again was enjoyable. This one was intriguing because the reenactment on the right screen was also a kind of instruction to notice and compare with your performance in the ‘original’ (left screen) and to enquire into the meaning of a ‘performance by a 26-year-old body recreated by a 38-year-old body’, as you put it.
  • Response 10 allowed me to make a piece of abstract art. As an academic, I am over-concerned with the meaning and the content of my own written work — so it was delicious and liberating to make something whose meaning and content is the thing itself.
  • Response 14 – I like the lightness of it and the cultivation of proximate modes. The humour is important for me — or at least the non-sombre approach to material. The over-sombre aspect is what spoils for me the film I produced in response 16.
  • Response 15 – I like image no. 5 — the conceptual ‘overview’. I wanted to use Australian Aboriginal art, which sometimes does something like this, to illustrate the original task, but it felt too appropriative.

In general, the ‘meta’ reflections on the character or process of the project seem to me interesting throughout and could be collated. Examples like this (from response 2): ‘I’m dissatisfied with what I did do because what I produced and how I produced it function more as a metaphor for the state of in-between than as a formal instance of it (which would be more artistically interesting).’ To put reflections like this together is to begin to articulate a poetics and to open it to challenge. I also appreciate it when we bring in material from commentators or other reading, partly because it gives a more academic tinge.

4. Do any of the activities in the responses introduce novel forms of working or surprising ways of dealing with tasks? Do any of the responses point the way forward to something else?

Yes and yes, though I wouldn’t want to suggest that anything we’ve done is particularly novel, really — rather that the concentrated attempt to respond to a task has sometimes usefully foregrounded particular approaches or techniques that I would enjoy developing. Here are a few that struck me as I was reviewing the material:

  • Response 4 – I introduce the (for me) productive notion of ‘unresolved juxtaposition’ and I think the response demonstrates the potential of parameters or algorithmic/machinic co-creation (with my laptop’s pre-programmed slideshow settings, in this case).
  • Response 5 – I like the rough aesthetic of the choreography film. It’s kind of retro in an age of easy downloading and screen recording, and its lack of polish communicates something of the urgency or rush. It shows that the materials are always provisional and to be worked on; the less polished the source material, the more we can intervene. I also liked the use of the viewer to do the synching of the music; again, there’s something about an ethics or poetics of co-creation in this.
  • A powerful theme of making throughout is that of ‘material thinking’, which is first outlined in response 6.
  • The whole question of proximate modes is vital for me. As I write in response 14: ‘one of the interesting aspects of our project are the blurred boundaries between it and other, proximate, modes. The project is at once an academic undertaking and a set of self-help exercises that might be set by a relationship counsellor. It’s like a family scrapbook as well as practice as research.’ The impurity is productive I think: it makes the project usefully, uncomfortably and genuinely interdisciplinary, in that it strays from the academic and analytical and even from the artistic in its cognitive and investigative modes.
  • I think it’s an error, but there’s a moment in response 7, version 1, where the font size changes, which I liked: it seemed to encourage you to work out why. It linked for me to the theme of task 11, which asked for the creation of new forms to be adequate to expression of thought (or to enable thought itself as material thinking).
  • A concern that emerges for me across the project (eg. in films made in responses 6 and 8) is the relationship of body and text. This is very interestingly developed in response 11, where the body itself becomes a form of writing (and you do a nice framing thing with text in the titles). The theme links to a worry you express somewhere about your medium of the body (and performance) versus mine of academic writing: you worry about your work’s ephemerality. In any case, I’d like to look at other art (etc.?) for work that interrogates the body/text relationship (eg. the TV work or films of Peter Greenaway — The Pillow Book would be an obvious one).
  • Another recurring theme is that of ‘ordinal’ versions of stuff: first, second and subsequent as well as condensed drafts of material, as in response 8 where I write four longer texts from which the short film voiceover is extracted. There’s potential here for something. Perhaps it’s that the ordinal version approach makes visible a kind of translation, which is itself a kind of parametric work. So, the number sequence reproduced at the bottom of response 10 is translated into a film (intersemiotic translation). In response 11, perhaps transcription is a form of translation. Once again, in response 12, the different forms of representation of the same experience: different ‘languages’; translation into different media. If this suggests that all versions are equal though, that’s not what I mean. I talked about unresolved juxtaposition within a piece of work (a film, for example), but in response 12 you get the coexistence of different versions. Is there a hierarchy? I think so, yes. Unresolved juxtaposition/intersemiotic translation allows different discourses or media to coexist (dialogically, Bakhtin would say), but the project encourages us find a way to signal and to challenge the status and power differentials.
  • In attempting to satisfy the task, certain moments of unusual form emerge — like the 1:1 aspect ratio in the film in response 10, or the superimposition of different activities in response 11, or the multiscreen composition in the ‘Walk through Viby’ film in response 12.
  • One individual technique I liked was the use of voiceover commentary as such, and particularly when directly commenting on the content of the images as in Erin’s description of her map in response 12 (the commentary here is a translation, again, of a drawing, which in turn is animated according to her commentary).

5. What differences between our creative personalities have been revealed?

This is a big and key question which I can’t do justice to here — I hope the answers will come out in the conversation we have planned with Mette. Here are a few notes.

  • We still speak something of a different language. I sometimes don’t understand your way of describing, or the kind of questions you ask, as in task 2, and I think you felt the same in relation to, say, task 13 (when I spoke about the ‘ethics’ of handing over material). Partly, this is disciplinary. You come from a dance background and me from an academic background. We simply have been immersed in different concerns and discourses for a long period, and don’t (yet) share a set of points of reference.
  • Plainly, there have been some challenging disagreements, especially around the role of parameters and the relative importance of process and product, that have even led to difficult discussions and knotty feelings in the kitchen. You write in response 5 as follows: ‘I have tried to take on board your comments about how to use the parameters not only as guidelines but as constraints. I am still figuring out exactly how to do this and negotiate this within my own artistic interests. For Two Trainers Prepare, Maria Kapsali and I were mainly using the tasks as an entry point into an exploration not as an end point in itself. So it is a new way for me to work, to focus on satisfying the parameters rather than following my own creative instinct to resolve the instructions.’ This is a set of points I hope to follow up in my presentation on parametric approaches at the Interacting Minds Centre in Aarhus.
  • Our different backgrounds mean we have a different sense of what’s essential or important. You several times mention the need to have a physical activity or practice in the performance of a task and get annoyed when one isn’t encouraged. In fact, there is much joint grumpiness particularly in the early responses, expressing exasperation with tasks set. In part, this is a normal getting-to-know-each-other as we attempt to negotiate a shared set of procedures. In part, though, I’d like to keep this irritation with each other: it expresses a set of priorities and values that need to be teased out and argued for.
  • I wonder if the disagreement we have about ‘process’ and ‘product’, which is in part an expression of different aesthetic or temperamental preferences, may also be down to different understandings of documentation. I’m becoming aware that the question of documentation is a key one for performers — what is the relationship of document and performance; does the document risk superseding/replacing the performance; etc.? Perhaps for you, the performer, the performance itself is the ‘real’ thing, and the document just a trace; and perhaps this performance/document pair maps onto the process/product opposition? For me, on the other hand, the ‘document’, or piece of writing, isthe process as well as the product: I don’t write reports of research (or hardly ever); I use writing as a tool of investigation. You note this in response 7, version 3, where you also write that: ‘The difference in the product between your medium of thinking/writing and my medium of improvising/dancing is that mine is ephemeral.’ So for you, is ‘product’ somehow a betrayal of the ‘real’ thing, while for me it is identical with process, at once the means and record of thought?

6. How can these differences be deployed productively to take the project to its next stage?

Perhaps by designing tasks that deal directly with our differences? (We have already done this in some of the tasks.) I think the ‘meta’ aspect of the project could be more deliberately developed. This might also get rid of a certain sense that the selection of tasks is arbitrary. It’s important that this project leads to something — another project or a more advanced collaboration, or at least an article. Foregrounding the ‘meta’ aspect will help with this — will help to secure a future I mean. More on this below.

7. How well does the project as a whole serve our goals (as set out here)?

These goals are:

  1. laying the groundwork for a hybrid mode of artistic/academic work;
  2. offering a model for artistic/academic collaboration;
  3. developing the mechanisms and protocols for innovative creative research.

I’m not sure. I definitely think the tasks so far have represented a necessary stage, but it has definitely been a first stage. Maybe it’s a first stage that needs to continue, though, for a while at least? As we’re doing in these texts and the planned conversation and film, we need to regularly take stock.

I feel like I’m avoiding the question, though. Maybe this one I need to think about in conversation, and perhaps I need to try to explain and defend the project to our interlocutor/interviewer, Mette Terp Høybye.

8. What can we do to take the project to the next stage in terms of achieving these three goals?

I believe we should continue with the tasks and responses, perhaps in an adapted form, but to add reflective pieces that elaborate on issues that go beyond individual tasks.

  • As suggested above, tasks might deal more directly with the ‘meta’ aspects of the project; be directly concerned with issues like process and product, material thinking, physical versus theoretical/desktop, proximate modes, practice as research as such, etc.
  • I’d like to bring in other work and readings more regularly and deliberately. One way to do this would be to use ‘epigraphs’ as a point of departure.  This is a popular technique in videographic criticism and was one of the exercises we did at the Middlebury workshop. (Catherine Grant does this a lot but I can’t find an example right now.) But the epigraphs needn’t be ‘textual’ — they could take the form of a recording of a yoga pose or dance moment, for example. However, they should stage or signal a question to do with the ‘meta’ aspect of the project.
  • We could ‘redo’ some of the 16 tasks already done, but reworking them and swapping (so that I do the odd numbers and you the even numbers). This would bring out the differences in our approaches and generate interesting comparisons and contrasts that could be described and analysed in reflective pieces.
  • We have already collaborated more directly on writing in a pair of well received dialogues on yoga (here and here) initiated by you. Maybe we can build on this successful collaboration by designing tasks where one person leads but the task is carried out together?
  • I wonder if we should ‘respond to the other’s response’? We have done this to some extent in the setting of tasks: some of these have taken their cue from the previous task or something in the response. But it might be useful to provide short feedback where we say what is striking to us in the other’s response and how the material might be developed.

For me, a key addition needs to be the composition and posting of reflections (not necessarily long, and not necessarily prose…), picking up themes from the tasks and considering aspects of the project that emerge ‘around’ the tasks. I have in mind the kind of thing described above as our ‘differences’, but also reflections on practice as research, on parametric approaches, on epistemological questions (knowing that and knowing how), etc. For myself as an academic, and for the purposes of making our work sustainable (i.e. fundable and REFable), I need to read about, and get advice on, and think through the academic value of the project. Part of this will be done in presentations at Aarhus over the next few months, and I will develop and report these as reflective posts on our website.

9. Are you happy with the website?

I am.

Finally, I want to say that this project seems to me to be working. It’s challenging and time consuming, but it has been good fun and really rewarding so far. Thank you. It’s great working with you!


ps. I realise I haven’t used the term ‘practice’ once in the above. Plainly, I need to be challenged and rebuked about this!