Team Effort! is a twelve-month collaborative project for six artists from visual art, music and theatre at the Southside Studios. The project will focus on creating a community, a support network and a shared understanding of each other’s process with the aim of fostering a more informed, emboldened and eclectic group of artists.
See more on Team Effort! website
Throughout the year I’ve used my phone to document what I’ve been working on. Often I find it hard to get perspective on how a piece is going when I’m in the studio, but a few days later when I look back at what I have on my phone things are a lot easier to see objectively. It’s also been helpful to get other people’s opinions of whether something is going well or not, to remember what point things have got to when I’m working on a few jobs at once, and to show other team members on a project something specific rather than risk describing it badly and misleading their expectations.
An unexpected result is that I now have a chronological record of a lot of the pieces I’ve worked on this year. It doesn’t show many of the end results, the other people I worked with or the performances, events or shows they were made for, but it does show the stages of development I went through and gives an uncomfortable insight into how much time I spend prancing around on my own.
I’m as corny as Kansas in August,
I’m as normal as blueberry pie,
No more a smart little girl with no heart,
I have found me a wonderful guy…
It’s just not an easy thing to do. You open yourself up and you don’t know why. You ask people to listen but you barely dare to hear yourself. You embark on journeys into the unknown, following whims and habits and paths of desire, indulging yourself entirely and then spill your guts telling and showing where you’ve been as if anyone cares. “What makes you think anyone wants to see this”, my tutor at college once asked and those words alternate between empowering me and reducing me to paralysis.
It goes out there (that thing you made) but maybe doesn’t travel very far. Maybe it gets stuck on the first outing and only exists in the blurred memories of a few people. This is heart-breaking when genius strikes, and bloody lucky when mediocrity jumps on the band wagon. If I have learned anything, it is that there is not one true pure wondrous kind of work that can be good enough to make its way in the world on it’s own, just by being brought into being. Even genius will need coaxing and support and someone else to believe in it and see a way to polish it and present it in a shiny box with a pricetag. This can also be wonderful because something that’s just pretty good can then take you out into the world and sustain you and keep itself going. But the flipside of this is that many brilliant things just won’t go anywhere. Let’s have a moment’s silence to mourn for those perfect lost souls.
It’s not easy to know what the problem is and when you think you’ve named the problem, it’s really not that simple to solve it. Sometimes it’s even difficult to let go of the idea that you’ve got a problem even when that problem has actually been solved already. I realize that part of my internal narrative (and I hate narrative) is that I have to say yes to the work because I don’t have very much money and it’s really difficult to work on stuff because I have no money so I need to say yes to work…. Now I’m by no means rolling in it, but now, particularly after the bounty of the Commonwealth Games, I have some stores of fat for the coming winter. Now the real difficulty comes – if nothing’s stopping me, then what’s stopping me?
And the main thing I guess I’m learning as I’m becoming more myself and getting used to what that might mean, is that there’s never really one solution. I probably won’t ever thrill to doing admin in a timely and completely organized manner., but maybe I’m slowly getting better at it and finding ways to trick myself into doing it. I might always need deadlines so I force out my ideas in a flurry of passion, but maybe I can find ways to make my own deadlines earlier than the final deadlines. It won’t ever be easy doing this artist thing and I don’t think I really want it to be, but I can find ways to make it easier to bear through building confidence and authenticity and slowly putting things in place that give “notions of fixity within this instability” as Bill Viola put it.
I know that Team Effort has been full of notions of fixity as well as friendship, a port in the storm, a place to be understood, a space to test myself out in, room to cry and not feel weird about that, a chance to moan and then find the reasons to be cheerful within that moaning or a new thought about the way out of the trouble. I hope to hold onto these lovely notions. Thanks, Team!
All I could do was to offer you an opinion upon one minor point—a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved.
-Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
And so I have come to the end of my summer of madness and re entered the world of Team effort and the Southside Studios with no clear plan or deadlines to meet. The only project in mind is my culmination of the work with the group over the year and the question of what I’ll be producing at the end. However one thing is abundantly clear to me, and that is that I need space of my own to write.
I suppose it’s not a new concept or a groundbreaking realization, but what I have missed over the past two months is a space for work/ reflection/ administration/ creating. Being in full time rehearsals and having an out of office on or hastily responding to emails in break times has not been the best way to work. However, I realise that is the way it has to be sometimes, but still need to balance this with a place to base myself and focus. The Southside Studios has been a haven for me and allowed my work to have a place of it’s own.
This has led me to wonder, as Woolf did, to what extent does money (and opportunity of a room of one’s own) lead to professional success. I feel having a studio has given me and my work a sense of worth – that it is contained in a long white cube, created in an environment built for that purpose in a space with lots of creative energies flowing.
But does it make me more of a writer? When I am able to say “I am going to work” or “This is where I work” – does it legitimise the work? I must confess that for the first time I have felt less of a fraud. I have felt that my writing and theatre-making has clearly become my work.
But, like the narrator of A Room of One’s Own, money is the factor that prevents women from having a room of their own, and thus, gaining power and success. And my lack of money may lead to the same conclusion. If poor women remain in second place to creative men, will I be in second place to those who can fund a room of their own? Also, Woolf talks of interruptions and how difficult it is to avoid distraction. Without this private space it is almost impossible to keep focus on the task in hand, something I’ve been guilty of in the past. It has been a valuable resource, and one thing I’ve learned over this past year is that I have to have this space and continue in this way of working.
The lovely Turning Plates (http://www.turningplates.co.uk/) invited me to come up with some artwork for the cd release of their excellent album The Shouting Cave. It’s really a concept album, so the artwork aims to develop their concept visually. Here is how the band put it -
“The Shouting Cave is a concept album that explores the effect of the Internet on Society. The band
argue that the Internet is the purest reflection of humanity, a world built entirely of our own thoughts,
emotions and desires – “a sea to float our dreams”, as described in the album track ‘The Human Isle’.
What do we see in that reflection? Have we stopped to think? The album explores these questions by
portraying the Internet as a new wilderness into which we are born, telling individual stories within the overarching theme.”
This was the first really specific brief I have worked with and as a result there were quite a lot of unexpected changes and re-workings before the pieces worked for the band and for me. The fun came in trying to work out a way of realising a wilderness with signs of past civilisations, and the ancient/timeless, mystic figures to populate it, while maintaining a sense of my own practice and creating images I understood and could get inside. At a certain point I realised that the post apocalyptic, druidic dancing, hooded-man-out-for-a-walk-with-his-lion, mystery owl, caves/ruins/fountains/mountains look is ace and I should just enjoy having the chance to run with it, then suddenly it all slotted into place.
It’s lovely to see something you’ve worked hard on be properly realised, and I’m very greatful to Turning Plates for getting me involved.
Turning Plates are having a launch night for The Shouting Cave at the Old Hairdressers on Saturday 27th September, with Jo Mango, and you can find out more about it here – http://www.turningplates.co.uk/news/
I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy
A Yankee Doodle, do or die.
A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam
Born on the fourth of July
Born on the fourth of July
Ring the bells, clean the streets, repair the cycle paths, paint the faded roadmarkings, put up the signs, get out the flags, rally the volunteers, blow the budgets, hang the costs, wall up the venues, invite the world (at least some of them), close off the parks, hold onto your Tunnocks and bring on the bloody games!
I won’t have a bad word said against it. I was privileged and honoured to be part of the cultural programme for the Commonwealth Games with three different pieces. I felt like the work I presented was a chance to draw together the skills, connections, collaborations and ambition that I’ve been developing since I graduated in 2001. I was able to engage with thousands of members of the public from all over the world and see the effect of my work making people feel happier and more part of the celebrations in the city. It took me back to the performance work that I remember from the Glasgow Garden Festival of 1988 and the year of culture in 1990.
We presented Everyone’s A Winner, Baby! for three days in the run-up to the Games meeting the Queen’s Baton Relay and then every day of the games we had two teams of performers seeking out people attending the sporting and cultural events and giving them their winning moment. I was able to draw together a great team of young, enthusiastic practitioners who did an amazing job of tirelessly building people up and animating the public spaces. I felt very proud to be able to pay them all well for a job well done.
I would also like to say that I was shocked and upset by the death of a colleague and very inspirational person, Ian Smith. As artistic director of Mischief La-Bas I realised that I must have been aware of his work and creations since I was a child. He gave me a job on a project when I was working at Tramway. I got to be a nun in his Peeping At Bosch show and interacted with the audience helping them to evaluate the work in a totally ingenious way. I then went onto work with Mischief and have been performing with them for the past five years or so. I doff my hat to a man who paved the way for work like Everyone’s A Winner, Baby! and inspired me to find new ways of engaging with the public. I didn’t think I’d need to take two blogs this year to talk about the devastating loss of great Glasgow-based artists, but depression is clearly a major issue in our community.
The second project of July and the Games was part of Cargo, Camera, Action for GFT and this wasn’t really such a success from my point of view, but it meant that I got to work with some different people in a new form and made me think more about how I frame my work. Basically I envisaged and then commissioned a working mutoscope – an early flipbook-style form of film worked by a handle – that could sit on the back of a Victorian bicycle. This ended up with be down be the river in a Victorian costume in the dark asking people to look into my box and turn my crank…. I think there may be another performance in this…
And the third project was The Conference Call of the Birds which I presented once during the games and then over two weekends at Forest Fringe in August. I’ve really loved this project and I’m happy how it links in with my time in Team Effort. I remember talking the project out with Gilly and maybe Fergus on the roof in the sun at the studios before putting together an application on the deadline day. Somehow most of the Rip It Up piece became infused with birds and I found different ways to deal with the possible material through that collaboration. And then Greg and I would work in the studios and try out the sounds with anyone who was around.
I definitely want to take this project further, and I think that it works really well in terms of my professional development because I can see it as a work that is confidently eclectic and working on different layers through a variety of artforms and access points. I found a way to be a lead artist working with three completely different collaborators, not to mention all the other people I had to liaise with to get the work shown. In the responses from audiences I had a chance to realize that what seems quite normal and logical to me in my work can be very surprising and enjoyably refreshing to someone outside of my brain.
So. This is it. The Springer’s Final thought, the Amen, the Goodnight and Good Luck, the Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.
And I don’t really know what to say. Which has really always been the problem with these blogs: there’s almost too much to talk about and it always seem reductive to try to nail it down to a digestible summation.
I could write an essay about Team Effort! I could write something heartfelt, saccharine but no less true for that. I could write something snarky and analytical, something couched in the academic discourse of collaboration and theories of artistic conviviality, I could write a long treatise on just the things it has done for me: how it has moved, enriched, irritated, pushed, pulled, filled me with hope, filled me with joy, left me drunk and subsequently hungover.
Instead I will write a list. Because Gilly likes lists and she rightly likes to extol the virtue of lists. And there is a such a surfeit of things to say, good, bad, funny, poetic, complimentary, critical that only a list will compress these things enough to make them into a blog post.These are things I have learnt. These are things I have learned this year and smart, helpful things that the good cunts of TE! have told me or helped me to understand.
1) Try to be fearless. And when you are afraid try even harder to be fearless, especially if you know your fears are restrictive and irrational.
2) Know the difference between things you definitely can’t do and things you are worried you won’t be able to do. If you realise you are simply worried you won’t be able to do something that probably means you should have a right good fucking go at it. And if you fail, fail in a full-hearted headlong attempt not in a mediocre one.
3) You probably have a better brain than you allow yourself to believe you have but you will only find that out by using it, sometimes in extreme circumstances, sometimes under time pressure which seems untenable, sometimes in situations where you can’t see how you will possibly make something good.
5) Collaboration is difficult but it is incredibly good for you. If it feels like you are getting it all your own way, that probably means you are crushing someone else. It you feel like you are being crushed then only you are responsible for telling the people who are making you feel that as tactfully and generously as you can and trying to find a resolution which services all parties involved and moreover the work you are trying to make.
6) Chairs can be a surprisingly incendiary topic of conversation.
7) If there is no reason you should get involved in something or help someone out, there is probably equally no reason you shouldn’t get involved or help out. So if you can: DO.
8) Some of the most amazing people you will ever know are already on the margins of your life and you just don’t know it yet. Friends of friends, colleagues of friends, there are people on the fringes of your acquaintance,who are doing incredible things. You should meet them if you can, be interested in them they way they deserve to have you be interested in them and maybe you will end up doing cool stuff together. We’re all shy but it’s not as hard as you think.
9) Be kind. Be generous. Really, really listen to other people. If you are mainly waiting for your chance to say things, especially if those things are about yourself you will miss a great deal of precious treasure which is sparkling right in front of you and you will remain all full up of the things you least enjoy about yourself.And that will be shite.
10) Debbie Hannan, Eilidh Macaskill, Martin O’Connor, Fergus Dunnet, Stef Smith, Kim Beveridge, Gilly Roche, Kim Moore and Alan Madden are all peerlessly excellent human beings. If you haven’t seen their brilliant work or met them you should try to do both. Seriously, you kids are in for a treat. I’m quite nice and clever too but I’m a bit coarse and over eager to talk about bums and willies and tits and poo.
11) Know the difference between self-criticism and self-flagellation. It’s sort of like a hammer: you can use it to sculpt something beautiful or you can use it smash things up. Subject your work to scrutiny, you need to know it is as good, rigorous and well-crafted as it can be but don’t pull everything to bits until you can’t see the quality in what you make.
12) Be excellent to one another. Seriously. Do.
I started this post before. And I talked so much about the process of writing that I surrendered it to what it was becoming and decided this would be a separate post just about reading things aloud. Because astonishingly, that has started to be a thing I find myself doing with increasingly frequency these days.
Before I wrote scripts for performances, before I wrote short stories, before I wrote the novella which I have, to my own joyous disbelief almost finished and which to even greater, more joyous disbelief I am almost happy with, I just wrote bits of well, stuff. The things I wrote didn’t have names or genres, they were just fragments of writing which let me work through the affective power and feeling quality I wanted to imbue my visual works with.
They were little homeless things which pleased me and which sometimes pleased people I showed them to when I was drunk enough or excited enough to relinquish them to reading by others. Intoxication was always part of the decision to let other people see my work: either gin or giddy exuberance.
I think I always knew that the shorter written works were inflected with speech, they carried the latent potential to be uttered in my own voice.
And I disowned that fact like a harrowing public fart because I find that, despite the dizzyingly levels of bilious unchecked narcissism innate to my being, I am very, very frightened of getting up in front of people and having them look at me while words I have written come out of my face.
Reading things in public is like deliberately enacting the contents of an anxiety dream in real time but without realising you are naked, having your teeth fall fall out or having your old geography teacher who is also actually your dead nan riding a unicorn made of sausage rolls turn up.
But as well as being a stereotypical self-loathing, self-regarding narcissist, I am also a masochist and surprisingly brave for someone who is frightened of everything all the time. So I have been reading in public. And more than that I have taken up the challenge of writing new small works to read aloud at every single one of the IF events this August (except the one I can’t go to.)
Because I really do believe that doing things of which you are desperately afraid is incredibly enriching, especially when you know that the fear is irrational, especially when you know that giving in to that fear is stopping you from getting better at something you would actually enjoy becoming more proficient at.I feel like doing these little parachute jumps of the mind make you feel proud of yourself and enriched,and when you land you are thrilled to the bones of your wobbling jelly legs and desperate to experience the thrill of it again.
I have been so inspired by the incredible performers who are part of Team Effort! By Eilidh and Martin and Kim and Fergus and their profound capacity to get up on stage and act like they deserve to be there – which they do because they’re bloody mega stars, By Stef and Debbie who probably don’t technically consider themselves performers but who get up and entertain and enchant and move people when the situation arises. I am also always really impressed by the way Gilly compères our events. She is warm and generous and witty and would never say she is a performer, yet gets up at every IF and makes everyone feel welcome and makes the crowd roar with laughter.
That’s the great thing about being surrounded by those people, they set the bar high and make you feel like you should be brave enough to jump at it. They set the bar high and treat you like you absolutely can jump at it and then it seems like it would be churlish and immature not to try.
So I am trying. I am writing things to read aloud. And I am reading them. These little unconventional meanders which are not very consequential but which are sincere and which I do work hard on in the short, short weeks between events. Hopefully they are a little bit funny, a little bit poetic and a little bit touching. Hopefully people don’t notice that my paper is shaking like a leaf in a gale. Hopefully people don’t think who is that scared little imposter doing things it doesn’t seem like she set out to do. Two IFs down. Two more to go. I’d better piss off and write something for this Saturday….
1. Glad Cafe event.
This was lots of fun. Working with the amazing Rose was great. She is the best balance of generosity and intelligence, I’ve ever met. I think if more people were like the Rose the world would be a better place, and definitely more colourful. So between the two of us, we programmed a series of events which I feel very proud of. They ranged from thematic nights (essays and wilderness) to a night of readings by women reading the work of their favourite female author to a performance by Rose and resident Amy Khoshbin. That was a messy sentence, sorry, not sorry.
My friends Iskwe and Theo also performed and visited all the way from Canada, along with WOLF and LAW. Which was just a night of all my favourite ear worms. Such talented people, all of them.
It was exhausting but giddy-making. I’m not sure I’m cut out for organising events (because I just got to all the fun stuff) but it sure was nice to pretend for a while. And I hope we brought some stuff to light that might not have otherwise got in peoples eye line.
2. Howlin’ Fling
I’m going to talk briefly about this, because I think several of us will cover it in our posts. But I LOVED IT (except that bit where my tent leaked and my wellies leaked and my rain jacket leaked). Music, beer, food and no internet. God it was good. I also swam in the sea, which, is about as refreshing and cleansing as it gets. Saltwater is definitely good for the soul – rainwater less so.
3. Commonwealth Games.
Taking us all by surprise at Stef HQ was how much I enjoyed the Commonwealth games. The politics of it are shaky (on many levels) but I loved all the cultures climbing into Glasgow, I loved watching the dedication of the athletes. I like it when I surprise myself. I think it happens less as an adult – unless you allow it to.
Stef Smith is an amazing artist and a generally excellent human being. Seriously. I’m lucky to know her. You’re unlucky not to if you don’t.
She and I curated a week long festival of events at the Glad cafe in July. It was a real joy to put together a week of events which were unashamedly a bit speccy, a bit bookish and wanky, designed to educate, entertain and ask questions about the human condition: what we think, how we think, how and why we love what we love.
It felt like Stef and I managed to enmesh our shared interest in the life of the mind and create a week of events we were genuinely proud of. The only slight sadness was that I wish more people could have seen the things we put on.
I was particularly sad that the Monday essay night was so quiet as it meant that more people didn’t get to enjoy the incredible films of Stina Wirfelt and Harry Wilson, the peerlessly beautiful reading by Elizabeth Reeder and a great performance by superb actors Al Hankinson and Sam Keefe. Okay those two were performing my work but they are just brilliant and did me proud. It was a magical night that I wish had had the huge audience it deserved. Oh well. Into each life a little rain and all that trite but true horseshit.
Now to unmitigated joy.
Amongst all the great stuff Stef Smith has done by being an ace human in her own right, she also put me in touch with New York based artist Amy Khoshbin. Shyly, at first, soon excitedly we began to talk on Skype about the possibility of her coming to Glasgow to do a collaborative residency with me at Southside Studios under the Team Effort! umbrella.
And she did come and we did collaborate and it was a fucking excellent thing in my life. We had just under two weeks to make a new performance for Humans week at the Glad. Wooooft! Just under two weeks with a virtual stranger to create something you are proud to send out into the world? Shit. The. Bed.
And you know what, it was one of the greatest things I have ever been involved in and I have a made a friend and collaborator who I hope I always know and work with.
We created Mantrap, a movement based live work where we threw away our shared safety net of video and just went into a room with talc, felt, scissors, shaving foam, control underwear and a ladder and made something which I hope, and actually believe, was funny, moving and also pretty demented.
From the poetic to the pure troll, from the silly and crazy to the rigorous and intelligent, we shot through those two weeks developing our process, evolving the work, and it felt brave and stupid and exciting and amazing.
I’m not going to try to describe it, I think, for now, like the right joke at the right moment, you kind of had to be there. There was some Jay Z, some public information films and a lot of shaving foam and talc.
I hope we will do it again in NYC – Rose and Amy Trollz4Lyfe.
June and July were very busy and very stressful months in terms of work. Earlier in the year, I received funding from Culture 2014 in collaboration with Grinagaog Children’s Theatre Company to create a new work for the Commonwealth Games. We proposed to tie in with the Queen’s Baton Relay, which took place in the run up to the Games, but the idea proved so popular that the run was extended to the end of the Games themselves. My role was to write the show, which took place in an ice cream van, but due to the nature of the rehearsal process, the piece was devised, more naturally, between myself, the director, the composer, as well as the three performers. This loose definition of my role was quite difficult to deal with at first, as it wasn’t a way of working that I was used to.
The piece was a great success, however, and it’s safe to say I learnt a lot about roles and responsibility when creating work.
Roles and responsibilities also affected the creation of another Commonwealth project – Anamchara: Songs of Friendship, a community opera I co-directed with Scottish Opera. Given the size of the cast (120), the fact that the principal singers came form seven Commonwealth countries, and the huge technical and creative team on board, it would seem that it would be a walk in the park. Right? Well, sort of right. Not a walk in the park, but a kind of a staggering wobble that took longer than I thought it would. This was mostly due to the fact that I was working with another director, an associate director and a choreographer. For someone who is used to working on his own, in one-man shows, with tiny budets, this, at times, felt like an impossible task. Again, in the end, it was a huge success, and there were pats on the backs all round. I also loved learning more about main stage, full-scale opera projects and had a huge stage to play around on in the Theatre Royal. Amazing.
So what am I supposed to think about work that, on the surface is a great success, and to all intents and purposes was created in good spirit, but still has an underlying sense of difficulty or tension. Is this just the way it’s supposed to be? This is something I’ve been considering for a while (see The Power of Collaboration from last year).
The other conflict I have in making these works is that they were funded and programmed by the culture body connected to the Commonwealth. Being interested in Scotland becoming a Republic, and with abundant abhorrence of the British Empire and all that it represents, I felt that my politics were being compromised throughout. I found myself hanging about with High Commissioners and Duchesses, which was lovely, if a little confusing.
I’m sure plenty of my peers would agree with me, but they would also argue that it gives us the chance to make work, that, very often in the programming, reflected a distaste for, or a hesitance to celebrate, the Commonwealth. It also gave people a unique chance to explore their identity within the history of the Union, their connection to monarchy and Empire and with their own familial histories. This can only be a good thing, surely. Some folk did say that it wasn’t where the money came from, but what we did with it, that counted, and I’m glad that what I made in both projects centred on family, community and a sense of pride in being Scottish.
Whatever the outcome will be, or whatever I will learn from this, I am kind of glad that I got through the past two months in one piece.
As part of an exhibition supporting the Citizens Theatre’s Commonwealth project titled On Common Ground I designed and built a shadow mobile. I am still getting used to working to a brief, but this one was pretty open and I was left completely to my self to come up with an idea and deliver it. All that was asked for was something interesting that had an element of interactivity, for family audiences using the theme of the Ojibwa Clan Animals.
Having made interactive pieces a few times this year and had bits broken off or damaged by unsupervised audiences I was keen to make something that moved and changed but which audience weren’t really encouraged to touch. So a mobile seemed like a good plan. I played around drawing and cutting out animal silhouettes and found that joining two together at right angles gave a shadow which morphs from one animal to the other, and an idea of a shifting landscape with animals appearing, disappearing and transforming took shape. The picture the audience would see would be a combination of the mobile itself coming in and out of the light, and the changing shadows it cast on the walls of the small room.
My recently learned lasercutting skills (see earlier blog) came in useful, and these lasercut shapes combined with string, two branches from the back bit, two twinkling crystals, a healthy amount of glue and two tins of white spraypaint made the finished piece. The branches create a sort of mountainous horizon line topped with lasercut canadian trees, the crystals added a sparkling, shifting pattern of light to the walls and a small fan helped the mobile move and gave the room a cool, cave-like feel. As usual I was rubbish at documenting it, but I did take this short film on my phone.
JUNE! You, my friend, were a good one.
In June I went to Germany. One of my top 3 favourite countries – I pure love a pretzel.
I applied (and was accepted) to be on the Forum of Young European Playwrights. Which meant I was in a small German town of Wiesbaden for 10 days. During the day we attended a workshops and in the evening we saw plays from across Europe. It was truly empowering and supportive experience. We were 10 playwrights with nothing in common except we were all under the stage of 35 and lived in all corners of Europe and it turns out that is a great foundation for a friendship. It wasn’t competitive, it wasn’t bitchy, it was pitch perfect and full of laughter.
I learnt a lot about my own work as well as the work that’s happening across Europe and maybe for the first time ever (maybe) I felt proud to be part of Europe. It’s not that I didn’t feel proud before, it’s just I’d never really thought about it. But I love that I can be in Paris, Berlin, Zagrab, Budapest in just a few hours. There is a big world of work out there, it doesn’t start and it doesn’t end with Glasgow – thought it is a good place to start and end. And it’s nice to be reminded of that when my feet feel itchy.
June also brought a dear friend of mine from Banff (remember that place?) to Glasgow. Jennifer Norman who is a bundle of talent and warmth and intelligence came to visit us. We laughed, we thought, we shared secrets and fears and dreams and drank wine. The world felt smaller when she was here, in the best possible way. She took a risk in many ways but coming here and I’m thankful that she did. I’d like to see more of her in my life time. I think it will a friendship that rises above timezones.
It’s not often that I find myself running at a deficit of words. If anything I think I owe the world some silence. I am always talking, and when I am not speaking aloud I am usually holding a conversation in my head. Re-scripting the ones I shouldn’t have had, making them end better or holding the ones I wish I had had, storing up things to say for the future. And if I am not doing either of those things I am probably writing. Knowing that I suffer from chronic logorrhea I think I would have to remain mute for several years in order to pay back the excess of my words to the bank of quiet.
But actually, I owe a debt of words to this blog. Five months worth of words, and for once in an existence typified by verbal diarrhoea and frequent frenzies of typing, I don’t know where to start or what to say. Only because these last few Team Effort! months have held so much challenge, promise, frustration, hard-thinking and joy.
I find myself wondering why I haven’t put in the hours with this blog, I feel needled by my lax attitude towards this small act of recording. It should be so easy to sit down once and month and place a frame of considered analysis around the projects Team Effort has thrown into my path.
But I have been reticent to. do so because a) I have been living the joy of always having a “next thing” which isn’t always the case in the flux beset life of an artist. For the last few years I have experienced real voids, vast flat waste grounds of not enough to do, insufficient self-belief to work only because it satisfies me and the horrible fear that no one will ever ask me to do anything again. This Team Effort! year, the next thing has always been close and pressing and urgent.
Because b) I’m so aware that my relationship to self and work and the things I make and the words I write is ever at the whims of change, always mutable under the hands of new thinking.And that scares me. It has so often been that case that I declare my understanding of my own work and my own thoughts as if that is a stable, finished thing, only to find that I was wrong. That there were things I didn’t see the first time round – things I perceived as strengths which turned out to be problems, problems which turned out to be the best, most beautiful thing about what I had been making, how my head was working. So often I have thought I was wielding the flaming sword of righteousness, only to find I was waving a squeaky inflatable hammer after all.
So that’s why I have been negligent. Because I have been wonderfully busy doing all the terrifying, fun, exhilarating, interesting things Team Effort! has brought me. Because I am scared of saying the wrong thing about what I do and having it exist in the public domain. And because I’m an indolent shit who spends far to much time saying aloud the first thing which comes into my head (usually coarse and filthy) and not enough time writing this blog. Mea culpa.
Oh and the photo is just of something which made me laugh very hard indeed because I am ten year old boy trapped in the body of an old lady.
June is busting out all over!
The feelin’ is getting’ so intense
That the young Virginia creepers
Hev been huggin’ the bejeepers
Outa all the mornin’-glories on the fence.
Because it’s June!
June, June, June
Jest because it’s June June June!
June was a month of getting on with things being an artist. I was preparing the ground for the Summer projects, dividing my time between working on material for Conference Call of the Birds, working with Mari on the amazing bird posters, meeting with Ralph who created the website for the project and then trying to get all the costumes, props and performers for Everyone’s A Winner, Baby!
So the first half of the month felt like business as usual in the best possible way. Having the time, space and money to just do the work is so wonderful, particularly when the weather’s nice and part of your working day can be talking through ideas in the sunshine. I really enjoyed working with Greg Sinclair again on the sound for Conference Call of the Birds, but really he was very important in working our a lot of the practicalities of the performance albeit with an approach framed by how the sound might work.
I think if there was anything not so great about this time, it was that I missed the chance to test the work out on other people. Time raced away and I found excuses to avoid getting to a stage where I wanted to invite an audience, even though I knew that it would be hard to imagine how the piece would work without trying it out!
But then I went on holiday. We went to my old friend Maddy’s wedding, which happened to be held in a beautiful palazzo in Tuscany. We had a great time staying with other old friends in a lovely villa nearby that had a swimming pool and a wonderful position beside a vineyard in the valley.
Basically I had an amazing time! The food, the friends, the dancing! And it was good to stay with other artists so everyone could understand each other’s work. Having a holiday is not something I’m really used to. There’s been many years when I’ve just not had the money or seemingly the time to take time away unless it’s somehow related to work. But these kind of holidays where it’s actually about relaxing and not needing to do anything other than have a nice time are a revelation! I think I need to make sure I make time and save money to have proper holidays every so often. It was also the perfect way to recharge and prepare for the craziness of July
I went to Texas again this month!
Don’t tell anyone right, but Austin is one of the best cities in the entire world.
I talked about an earlier trip to Austin in an earlier blog so I’m sorry if you’re getting bored of me talking about it.
Also, not sorry.
Last time, I was in Austin for four days, doing a recce for David Leddy’s brilliant show Susurrus. This time, I was there for longer, setting the show up and making sure that the opening went smoothly and that staff and audiences were happy with the running of this very unique piece of theatre.
This trip could not have come at a better time. Our week at the Old Hairdresser’s and Stereo was incredibly fun and very rewarding (with WOLF playing her first ever headline solo gig among the highlights), but it was hard work and long days. In short, I was stressed out. The beginning of June marked three months left of Team Effort! and I was starting to freak out a bit about what to do next. People kept asking me what my plans for the project were, whether I was going to do it again and who the new artists would be. An awful lot of questions that I wasn’t able to answer.
So instead, I stressed myself out trying to think of answers that were not forthcoming. The thing about Team Effort! is that it was always supposed to be an experiment – a chance for us to ask questions of the way we work, the way we work together and how we can build a stronger artistic community. I could not imagine answering questions about “doing Team Effort! again” before we’d even had a chance to get some answers on our original questions.
Anyway, more on that over the next few blog posts, I’m sure.
I flew out to Texas with hunched shoulders and tired eyes. I felt lethargic, anxious and confused.
I love doing Susurrus for many reasons. I think it’s a great show. I get to travel to lots of lovely places. One of the main reasons, though, is that I get to be produced. As a producer, I’m used to booking people’s travel and accommodation, writing itineraries, planning for every possible eventuality. With Susurrus, a brilliant producer called Mhari Hetherington does all that, so I get to just turn up, get on with my job and then go home.
Being able to focus on doing one job well like this allowed me to stop panicking about what’s next for Team Effort! It allowed all those thoughts and ideas that had been panicking me at home to take a back seat in my mind and mull a little, while the majority of my focus was on making Susurrus as good as possible.
My shoulders relaxed. My eyes widened.
I sat in back yard bars with interesting people talking about my work in Scotland with animated fondness. I had the best BBQ food in America, went swimming in an enormous natural spring, played mini golf, went to roller derby and saw at least six real cowboys (one of whom parked this horse, in the picture above, outside a bar).
I returned totally re-energised and with head-space to think properly about what’s next for me and for Team Effort!
One thing is for certain, time is going to fly by.
As part of the Team Effort! week at Stereo and the Old Hairdressers I exhibited a new body of paintings under the title Bete Noire. The work was made over a short period of time leading up to the event and thanks to the larger space we are able to use at the studios I was able to work on them all simultaneously. This is a rare luxury which I thoroughly enjoyed. Unfortunately I was so out of shape by the time the show came around that I didn’t document it properly and have only got these fuzzy photos from my camera phone to show for it. It’s like I will never learn. Here are the exhibition notes -
Horror, derived from the Latin ‘horrere’ meaning to bristle with fear, uses fantasy to realise the impossible and show us the thoughts we hide at the back of our minds.
Throughout world history every society has dreamed up their own monsters, superstitions, cautionary tales and visions of evil. Horror has magical qualities, it feeds on our uneasy feelings and gives them sublime or supernatural form.
Horror films were established by German Expressionist artists, where light and dark, dynamic composition, withheld information and unexpected and uncanny imagery were used to create an atmosphere of fear and belief in the impossible. This style has influenced all visions of horror since.
CG Jung wrote that the cinema ‘… makes it possible to experience without danger all the excitement, passion, and desirousness which must be suppressed in a humanitarian ordering of society’.
Orson Wells called film ‘a ribbon of dream’. Horror is the dark side of that dream.
In looking at our shadows in this broken mirror we become obsessed with a mixture of fear, hatred and fascination.
These thoughts which we dread are our black beasts.
On Islay I bought a collection of poems by George Campbell Hay, a native of Argyll who wrote in Scots, English and Gaelic. He was influenced by Hugh MacDiarmid and the Scottish Renaissance.
I have been inspired by little nuggets like this:
Ar cainnt’s ar cultar, car sealain
ged rachadh an leagadh buileach,
cuiridh am freumhan’s an seann stoc dhidh
failleanan snodhaich is duilleach.
(Our speech and culture, | though they should be wholly cast down for a time, | their roots and their old stock will put forth | sappy shoots and leaves again)
I found some sheet music collected by Duncan Johnston called the Croon of the Sea, and hope to learn some of it to sing alongside the new work. I love this one:
In the quiet of the night my galley sets sail,
The ship of my sleep a-sailing,
The haven she seeks by the moonbeams, pale,
Where the laughing eyes are a-hailing.
I’ll meet with my people and kindred of yore,
The voices of childhood a-calling,
We will scamper and play among the green shore
In the isle of life’s fair morning.
I’ve written this in response:
A generation after
My dad raises my gran’s face with a touch of nephew. He says
Aye aye. Aye aye.
Empty air, halted in the larynx
A purgatory populated with saying it as it is
With to the point
With opening up and letting rip.
He steers his ship, with a crew of half answers
And the smoky air never clears
Never for a moment allowing us a good view
Of the whole scene and of each other
This is my last inheritance
In his mouth he brought
Embers, oose, talcum powder
Breath that fails to find the voice.
In May, I was utterly delighted to be invited down to Royal Court to partake in workshops led by director Katie Mitchell. If you’re not familiar with her work, you can read this interview with her – http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2014/jul/09/katie-mitchell-british-theatre-true-auteur
She has an impressive CV and even more impressive worth ethic. I don’t talk to many directors about how they work and it was really a joy to listening to director’s-director talk about how she works. I’m not about disclose the contents of the workshop on this WordPress, but it really was inspiring. The one thing I did learn and will disclose is I felt empowered to be okay with making the work I precisely want to make. Regardless of… well, lots of things. Rigour. I’m holding onto the word rigour.
I urge you to see Katie M’s work if you can.
I like really writers talking about writing and I like directors talking about directing. Those two distinct thoughts I remember having in May. I also really liked spending time in London. I’ve not sure I could truely live there, but I sure like visiting.
I spent a lot of May writing my two News Just In episodes. One looking at the para-Commonweath games and one looking at lesbians in sport. It was a really joy to be part of writing team, to have collective responsibility. To write something funny, joyous, momentary. To enjoy the process as much as the product and not hold on too tightly to what you created but still to feel ownership over the form. Everyone involved was equal and a comrade. It’s the closest thing I’ve ever got to a true working democratic collective… I suppose!
May also brought lots of exciting work news about projects for 2015. I was really floored at one point. At points I had to just remember it was my life I was living, not someone else’s. Life is so funny, sometimes. Sometimes.
In May I also went to my first Drag Ball:
Went to my first live football match
And saw Courtney Love play live (with a cracking acoustic version of Doll Parts)
May was a good month. I’m sure I felt tired and hopeless and broke and exhausted and unworthy and shit but the good thing is my diary is only marked with the things I wanted to do, looked forward to doing. Sometimes it’s okay to focus. on the positive. Which is out of character for me.
Oh and we won a pub quiz, YAS.
To do list
- Make the show
- Order the portable speakers
- Get places to do the show
- Talk to the costume designer about bird hats but also making a new costume for a Magnificent Frigatebird
- Decide on numbers of posters
- Create text for posters
- Check with Commonwealth Games that posters are acceptable for brand identity
- Get more yellow/gold costumes including more gold kagools and visors
- Get a hula hoop
- Get a trophy, fake flowers and a plastic champagne bottle
- Pay people who are doing work for me
- Pay myself
- Invoice for money so I can pay myself
- Plan my holiday
- Just make the goddamn show
Now is the month and time of making and doing. This is the time longed for in the dark days of planning and admin and applying and questioning the truth in calling yourself an artist. This is the hour. If not now, when? If not you, then who?
And of course there are jobs to be done within the making – jobs that feel like admin, like a chore, like drudgery. Searching the internet for just the right kind of portable speaker and ordering mini SD cards that should be cheap but not so cheap that they won’t work (fears of false economy…). These tasks do not sit well with my misty-eyed vision of what being an artist is.
When I look back at my college days to remember just what it is I think I’m doing, I picture huge sun-filled dance studios to roll around in, walks along the mighty River Dart contemplating its treacherous eddies and ripples, hugging ancient trees in beautifully-manicured gardens.
I’m not making it up. It was that way.
But do I think that these wondrous conditions are necessary for making now? Can there be artistry in making strong decisions about the kinds of technologies the audience will use in my work? If this is work about an interaction and it hopes to exist within the world then it must matter that the objects and clothes used in the work do the right job. It almost becomes the work itself, these choices of things.
Maybe that’s the little thorn for me. A little niggle in the background says it’s only gimmicks and flashy objects. That’s what you do. It’s not the real deal. It’s not the pure, Aryan race kind of theatre that other, better people make. Oh, it’s just for families… Oh, it happens outside… Oh, it’s just some iPads – you get an iPad and you look around…
And one way to deal with that niggle is to say, Fine, I’ll make a studio piece. I’ll go back inside. I’ll use lights and sound and I’ll do a dance in a big space and roll around and conjure up the river and the trees where there are none and the people will come out of that box with their eyes and ears and senses freshened and they’ll be laughing and hugging one another and wiping away a few happy, wistful tears and I will be proper and will take it on tour to the other proper indoor spaces and sell tickets and get per diems and see the world and do after-show talks and win awards and do interviews and get my picture in the paper.
But that’s not what I’m doing now. Just now I’m making my bird project and I’m refreshing my bicycle project and I’m enlarging Everyone’s A Winner, Baby!, all for the Commonwealth Games. None of them will take place in a theatre. All of them rely on carrying a portable theatrical space out into the real world and seeing what happens. So I have to use that niggle that says “This is just a bit of fun to pass the time or to pass by on the way to something better” and I need to ask how I can instill these seemingly simple works with meaning and authenticity. Then they can be fun, but also do something else.
Of course, it is tricky to trust the vision that helps you make decisions. Are you going for simple solutions because they’re perfect or because it makes life easier? What am I avoiding? What is being left out or muted because it is difficult to manage in this non-theatre context? How much can I ask of my audience? How can I manage an experience so that it feels safe but also risky?
And how to I get myself to just make the goddamn work? I say to myself and others that I’m not good at planning or being motivated, but then I wonder just how good I need to be and on whose terms? If the work gets made and the collaborators feel supported and valued then does it matter if it’s pulled together in the last minute?
But then my head goes back to that vision of the sunlit dance studios and remembers that there is something that happens there that can’t happen while waiting for an Amazon package to arrive and the vision tells me to carve out some sacred time and space – just in case that’s exactly what I need.
After I wrote this I chose some reading material for visiting the toilet and was heartened to see that I’d picked up a book called Navigating the Unknown: The creative process in contemporary performing arts and turned to a section called “All in a day’s work” which seems apt. Here’s the first paragraph:
“On the journey that an artist makes in the creation of contemporary performance, from the initial idea or commission to the manifestation of that work in a public engagement, a series of choices are encountered and a set of decisions are made. This ‘tying yourself to a particular choice’, as Shobana Jeyasingh conceives it, is ‘always a moment of suffering’. This suffering arises from the what might have been and the if only, a kind of retroactive configuring of the future possibilities of the work that isn’t about to be made, that results from the decisions that were discarded.”
This month was the final event in a series of three, late-night art clubs called BOOMBOX at the Citizens Theatre.
BOOMBOX was created in response to a conversation I had with Citz Artistic Director, Dominic Hill. He expressed a desire to diversify the Citz audience a bit and to galvanise their two small studio theatre spaces. BOOMBOX ran from 10pm til midnight, the bar was open and folk could come and go as they pleased. We programmed short theatre pieces, visual art videos and live music. The idea was to programme the BOOMBOX so that it felt like an “aftershow party” to whatever had been on the main stage at the Citz that night. So, the line up for all three events was as follows…
After Glasgow Girls on the Main Stage: Hector Bizerk, Martin O’Connor, Bigg Taj and Loki.
After The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler on the Main Stage: Creative Martyrs, Rachel Maclean, Suzie Ferguson and the Pictish Trail.
After The Libertine on the Main Stage: A special BOOMBOX/TYCI collaboration featuring… Rose Ruane, Eilidh MacAskill and Rosana Cade, Kirstin Innes, F.K. Alexander and Clare Simpson.
I wanted to make them feel a bit mischievous and a bit subversive. I wanted them to feel like we were an audience of sneaky revellers who had somehow managed to get locked in to the Citz after closing and thought “well, since we’re here, we might as well have a party…”
With this is mind, I started reading more about the Citz. A friend advised me to read about the Close Theatre and I duly devoured everything I could find. Suddenly, BOOMBOX had a precedent, a parentage; in the wild, provocative and controversial late nights at the Close in the 60s and 70s. You can read more about the Close on the Citz website or in this interesting article by John Riddell here…
I loved doing these events. The team at the Citz were brilliant to work with, particularly their excellent, outgoing Assistant Director, Danielle McIlven and the wonderful front of house and technical teams. Each of the artists that performed or shared work were brilliant and courageous, totally investing in the haphazard, experimental or mischievous tone of the evening.
And the audiences. Thank YOU if you came along and recorded a mix tape, ate some sweets, blew some bubbles, threw a paper aeroplane, made a zine, laughed your head off or just sat and enjoyed what you saw. I was delighted.
I’ve decided to use my Team Effort time to develop my poetry. Not something I thought I’d be saying, but for a while, me being a ‘poet’ has been somewhat problematic. I feel like I exist outside of the poetry scene in Glasgow even though I’ve taken part in slams and performed at many a spoken word night. But at the same time I feel that my performance work draws on aspects of poetry as well as encapsulating many other elements of performance, including monologue, stand up and text that may go beyond the idea of poetry.
But I thought I’d go to that place of defining myself as a poet for the year and see what happens. I’ve been interested in the idea of alcohol for a while now, and I want to see how that ties in with other themes I’ve been exploring such as the City, masculinity, Scottish identity, religion and dialect.
I was encouraged to think about research and places I could visit that would help me in developing my ideas. I thought of exploring Scotland, drinking my way around the country. That was a bit ambitious so instead I settled for a trip to Islay to research whisky. Nice work if you can get it, eh?
During my time there I visited a few distilleries, and asked questions about the impact of alcohol on the island (the island has nine functioning distilleries). There has been a difficult history with the relationship to alcohol, and it has divided the opinion of the islanders over the years. This resulted in a few temperance hotels (hotels with no alcohol) to appear on the island, and the idea of temperance in general of interest. On the back of creating my latest performance, Theology, I like the idea that you can become purer through avoiding temptation. I have been reading a lot form the Book of Revelation, and enjoy the idea that we will all be punished and judged at the end of days. I have been thinking about the effects of alcohol, of being completely imbued, of having visions and speaking in tongues, and it reminds me of this:
The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly, festering sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.
I think I’ll call this new collection The Mark of the Beast.
I’m not actually writing this blog in April. But don’t tell anyone.
It’s actually an interesting exercise. Without looking in my diary I couldn’t have told you one thing that DEFINITELY happened in April – though lots did happen.
1. It was the opening workshops of News Just In, with Random Accomplice. Working in that team of people has got to be one of the most positive and giddy-making experiences. I have smiled or giggled so much – at least a work for a while. I’ll write about this process more when in the next month.
2. Went for a Rum Tasting with Gilly. Delicious. AND I learnt a lot about rum.
3. Most importantly I visited my Grandad in Nottingham. I call him Gump. You should call him Mr Smith. He’ll tell you to call him Ray. He is 93 and still lives in his own house, on his own. He is like my Dad in many ways and not in others. He flew spitfires in WW2. He wanted to be architect but the war got in the way. The war got in the way of a lot of things. He reads The Telegraph from cover to cover every single day, there isn’t a news story he can’t walk about (all be it with a Telegraph slant). He is quiet and considered. He goes for a pint every Wednesday and Saturday at the local pub, or is that Tuesday and Sunday? I should see him more.
I spent time working with different recording techniques to make a piece for headphones for Glasgow Women’s library and Glasgow International Art Festival. You can still download it here: http://womenslibrary.org.uk/inspiring-resources/pioneering-podcasts/werunwewalkwerun-by-kim-moore/
Here it is too for you now if you’d like to walk and listen:
It was inspired by stories of women in the east end of glasgow.
I. THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
So April had a lot going on and in and around and under and above it was responding to Adrian’s death.
Anyway, life had to go on and first big thing to happen was making a quick one-day film with Kim Beverige. I had been asked to make a film by an arts centre in Baltimore called Centre Stage. It was a bit out of the blue as a request, but it seemed like a fun way to create some documentation for Everyone’s A Winner, Baby! and to collaborate with Kim.
Due to our schedules we only really had a day to get the whole thing filmed and edited but that gave us a very clear set of constraints for working and I knew that the other performers I was working with would be able to deliver the goods. The film follows us getting ready to go out into Glasgow to perform Everyone’s A Winner, Baby! in the context of the lead up to the Commonwealth Games. It’s a bit like a serious-mockumentary and I’m very happy with the results!
The film will be premiered in Baltimore (I don’t get to go out there, unfortunately) and then will be available online.
The next day I travelled down to Cambridge for two weeks R&D with Get In The Back Of The Van – three women who have been commissioned to make a Live Art Community Musical for the Spill festival in Ipswich in October. I was there as a performer/collaborator along with three other artists and they asked us to come along after taking part in a weekend workshop in August in which we tried to make a queer live art version of Calamity Jane.
The first issue in the R&D was that they hadn’t been able to secure the rights to do anything with Calalmity Jane especially since Jodie Prenger will be touring the UK with her own special version of the show. So we had to settle with The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas – a much lesser-known and altogether weirder musical. In Calamity Jane the fun of performing it through a live art lens was opening up all the queer signals lying just under the surface, but Whorehouse is already a very strange and self-problematising piece. There are no real heroes, everyone’s a hypocrite, there’s no happy ending, it has very confusing messages, but it has some really great songs.
A lot of the work involved learning all the songs and the harmonies led by a real bona fide musical theatre MD and that was really a pleasure to go to work just to sing songs. And then we would try out scenes playing various characters in an attempt to discover what a live art community musical might be. Would there be cameos from the stars of the UK live art scene? Would it end up with the whole audience on stage? Was this the perfect community engagement project for the people of Ipswich or would it be either patronising or too complicated to create a good show from such a process.
Throughout, the Van girls led the development with Hester as director giving the process the most shape. It was really wonderful to just have to turn up and find ways to follow the instructions each day without having to take the responsibility of coming up with the answers. I was really impressed with their rigour and their willingness to try everything out. So if an idea came up we would give it a go and often the results were not what we had expected.
I was also really impressed/shocked by how hard they work to keep track of all their projects. Most lunch times they would have a meeting together, or a meeting with producers to try to get more financial support for the project. Then in the evenings they would be rehearsing the show they performed in the first week of the R&D, working on admin, going through applications for an artist mentorship scheme they were running, and planning for the rest of their tour. It just hammers home how much work you need to do to be able to keep up with your own potential once you start to get support.
After Cambridge, I had two days dressing up as a Victorian lady cyclist and leading a bicycle parade around the Riverside museum which was fun.
Then was the almighty Buzzcut festival. I was asked to help out an artist, Rachel Mars, with her piece called Spirit of Envy. So I had to arrange a piece for a small choir which was fun, but took a bit more effort on my part than I had expected! But it went well and I think people enjoyed it.
I was also launching my new birds project by sharing the costumes made by my new collaborator Kirsty and speaking to people about the project. This has given me some good insights into how to work with the dressing up part of the project.
Mostly Buzzcut was just great for meeting with the live art community of the UK as a lot of artists came up from London and Brighton and Bristol to be part of the festival, either performing or just watching and participating. It was a very inspiring weekend and I felt really excited to be part of it.
I went to Austin, Texas this months to do a recce for David Leddy’s show, Susurrus. I loved the city and found it a heady blend of wonderful Southern hospitality and kindness mixed with inspiring liberal and progressive politics and an ardent determination to “Keep Austin Weird“
While I was there, I met with Lana Lesley, one of the Artistic Directors of a theatre company called the Rude Mechanicals. Lana and the others I met were warm and generous with their time and we talked about everything from narrative theatre to the cost of prescriptions on the NHS.
Before I went to meet with her, I did a bit of research into her company. In their “About” section, I found a brilliant bit of writing, which I am sharing here because it continues to inspire me and because it resonates with a clang to me, here in Glasgow.
We are hard on this city of ours, sometimes. Reading things like this makes me appreciate Glasgow with fresh eyes and renewed determination to keep working, keep building and keep Glasgow weird.
“We are lucky to live in Austin. We are lucky to live in a city where the press engages the arts in ways that are deep and supportive.
We are lucky to live in a community this creative and hard working and confident and intelligent. All this new work and all these open minds. We are lucky to live in a community where artists support one another, rather than compete with one another – where we lift each other up instead of trying to tear each other down.
We are lucky to have so many amazing creative people that can make work with us, that are interested in making new work of their own, that understand failure is a symptom of working well and working hard and working right, not a predictor of future success.
We are lucky to live in a city where the audience is well-read and has a good sense of humor and brags on itself and yet somehow doesn’t take itself too seriously. We are lucky to have an audience that wants to participate in the creation of the play – that knows it isn’t finished until they show up and bring their own associations and dreams to the piece. And yet an audience that holds us accountable – with honesty but never dismissiveness.
We are lucky to live in a city that is full of bands and reads a lot of books and likes the outdoors and knows that a creative community isn’t just the money-generating ‘movers and shakers’ but also the teenage punk rockers and the quirky artist who builds spaces from trash and the hippies with their butterfly bicycles and the students making films and plays and music and their own new thing, whatever the new form will be.
We are always asked why we chose to live in Austin, so far from the artistic meccas on the coasts. Why would we have chosen anywhere else? Here we have friends and colleagues who know the value of a life lived making art with comrades and taking time to relax on the patio and share a beer and not get all het up about ‘making it’ because ‘making it’ isn’t how much money is in your bank account or how famous you are, or how ‘respected’ or ‘hot’. But how rich the hours in your day are, surrounded by people you love and admire, in a beautiful place that is both a safety net and the trapeze high above it.”
You can read more about the Rude Mechs by clicking here.
What do you have to complain about? Nothing. What? Was the fair trade organic coffee you use to wipe your conscience on not quite hot enough this morning? Did you get a paper cut on your soft pink thumb from turning the pages of the society section of the Guardian a little too briskly, so voracious was your desire to grow pig fat and smug on the goodness of your compassion for the less fortunate? What do you have to complain about? Nothing. Did the Beckett play you saw last night deviate from his original stage directions a little too much for your connoisseur’s taste? Was the Pad Thai you ate in that darling little place with the great pre-theatre menu a little inauthentic to your mind as one who has consumed real Thai food in real Thai Thailand? What do you have to complain about? Nothing.
Except that. Except that the nothing grieves you. The nothing grieves you because somewhere, yawning and aching under your sternum is a want. A want whose name is nameless but whose ache is great so we shall have to name it something after all. We shall name it somethingness. We shall name it somethingness and in so doing acknowledge that it is real and alive and yours and a cause of distress and thus is something to be complained about. This nothing something of yours.
Your somethingness is a sorrow that you never can bleed off. The sorrow of not having bled enough, or suffered enough, or having experienced sufficient authentic misery to form a satisfying narrative that you might shock the boozy haze of the after dinner party table into reverent silence with survivor’s stories. Your unique pain, your narcissist’s excess of sensitivity requires an audience to hold it in awed, pitying regard, yet it is comprised of the knowledge that it is common and grey as Glasgow rain and ten times less worth noting. This somethingness of your is the universal agony of anonymity.
Yes your parents were cheese paring with their affections, you suffered the inadvertent cruelty of emotional austerity in a home where academic achievement was prized over happiness. Nobody beat you. Nobody starved you. They took you to baroque churches, Anglo-Saxon long barrows, museums of automata, troglodyte pre-history, cranberry cultivation and tin mining but they didn’t seem quite proud enough of you when you were picked to sing solo There is a Green Hill Far Away in church one Easter. Boo fucking hoo. Now mop the tears of your somethingness and tell me what you have to complain about. Nothing.
Except that. Except that you never can quite cry the top two inches off your somethingness which might be just enough to make its discomforts less present, less acute. Except that your somethingness is so deluxe and frivolous as to be humiliating and that self-awareness has no particular utility other than as a catalysing force. And so your somethingness is a trinket, a costume jewel worn on your chest like an ugly brooch, gaudy in its approximation of suffering, tacky in its simulation of that coveted diamond of real unhappiness initiated by real bad shit worth forcing other people to give a shiny, shiny little shite about.
So I will ask you again: what have you got to complain about? That your decency is under-appreciated? This speaks to your somethingess. That your neighbours played the whole of Yeezus four times through after midnight then fucked each other inside out at a volume which made you feel like you had fucked them both yourself and you didn’t even complain but lay there seething with the buckle on your tall, black puritan’s hat getting shinier with each thrust which they did not give a thought to? This speaks to your somethingness. Your somethingness is opportunistic – being dislocated and non-specific it is most efficient at identifying opportunities to nail itself to any minute instance of thoughtlessness which might temporarily be held up as the cause of it. Your somethingess sees nothingness then tries to make a nest in it. Your somethingness sees nothingness and tries to lay an egg in it. Your somethingess sees nothingness and hatches out its greedy cuckoo self, right in the very centre of it, flying out fat with self-selected melancholy.
So I will ask you again (and I am growing tired of asking you): what have you got to complain about? That your capacity for acute notice is under-appreciated? That you saw a single ballet shoe floating like a boat on the surface of a puddle in the middle of a desire path and were almost knocked flat by the simple poetry of it and that when you texted your friend (who, by the way, is a very successful playwright, because it should be noted that those sort of people are your friends) to describe it, she only replied ‘oh nice’ thus proving that even your inner circle are profligate with the rare and precious beauty of your thoughts? Please. Please. The cuckoo of your somethingness feasted on the worm of it.
I am not without sympathy for you and your somethingness: it must be hard to know your dreams are not worth mentioning, your sorrows bland, your suffering an indulgence and a bore. It must be hard to know the light yoke under which you labour still feels heavy to you, that you are conjoined to the agony of a practical joke which is that you have it easy but feel things hard. I am sorry for your somethingess. I am sorry for your complaint of nothing to complain about.
The splurging of my vague thoughts on the head and the body and their relationship from my February blog eventually turned into a more formal short piece.
I think in some ways that’s the virtue of this sort of writing: setting down those free form foetal thoughts can spark off some more structured thinking. They can be your own provocation to make something which talks to the same themes with better articulation.
Also I don’t think I have ever got over my childish enjoyment of imagining being on the moon. Especially when it involves the moon and talk of itchy bums.
Anyway, here follows a short piece of fiction based on my thinking about the same stuff since then…
Step on the hard black lunar maria: this is hard packed basalt under the ordinary tread. We call these seas, vast hollows on the face of this unimaginable place.
Here is the foot, more used to prosaic streets, banal rest under sheets, beading shower water on the fine hairs. Here is this foot on the surface of the moon. Furthest foot still attached to a body collapsing under the madness of what it is to be here.
Mind is a riot with the tender violence of such absurdity: a soft body, subject of a finite lifespan here on the timeless face of the moon. What are you little gnat, godless sack of thinking meat? Your little vessel on the grey rimed surface of another world. When your light goes out you will pull this record with you. Will it be your last thought as the life goes shuddering out of you? That you, this softly expiring shell, once stood and watched the earth rise like the sun’s blue other?
Even here, there is disappointment because even here there is you. In this ink and velvet chaos the stars open and suck at you like the white mouths of newborns. Insane that your body still demands the ordinary gifts of food and water. In this ink and velvet chaos the glowing meniscus of your world is wreathed in a thousand weathers. Insane that an itch is starting in your arse.
You cannot escape the smallness of you, in the biggest, furthest, noblest moment of your life you remain a sack of blood and shit. You on the moon with an itchy arse, driving you mad with its parity to home.
When you go back, this will be a place that you have been, like Birmingham. And you will feel the great cemented mass of expectation: people expect you to be changed. They search your face for some alchemical transformation, some mystic wisdom brought back across light years. You cannot tell them that the poetry lies in distance, impossibility. You cannot tell them that up here you feel less god and beauty than you have leaning against fence, measuring the glowing tip of your cigarette against the size of stars, slashing the nacreous face of the moon with exhaled smoke.
Here is your mouth, mad with tasting itself, dry with the anxious rapidity of respiration. Your boots; dumb and round as cartoons planted in dust only twelve other men have touched. Suddenly you have the softest thought for that marbled sphere of blue, rust, white gold, pocked with lights on the dark side. You wonder what’s for dinner at home. Huge headed, bouncing like a toddler you cannot even fall as you would like under the immensity of that softest thought, which pulls you apart inside your suit. What’s for dinner at home?
Void in the cold chaotic void, you are a void, the most alone man, the last man. It seems stupid that this may run concurrently with all earth. That down there an awed hush has not stilled the manifold activities and preoccupations of every last man, woman and child, they have not stopped in a silent unison to look up and say one of us is standing, is at this precise moment standing on the surface of the moon. They no more stop for you than think in reverent genuflection someone is bored in the stale air of their office, someone is swimming in the sea, someone is puking after chemotherapy, someone is teaching children what numbers are for.
You laugh in your suit, mad as a bottled shout, silent as a smashed bell. You are the only witness to this cupped joy. Nothing matters. Everything matters. All at once everything, you the receptacle and recorder of all human meaning are fat as a bursting grub with how tender and ridiculous it is to be and feel knowing you will one day be and feel no more. On the face of the moon a man with an itchy arse is laughing and crying and breathing and being and jumping up and down leaving footprints in the dust of a world we’ll never go to, like inking a moustache on the face of God.
‘There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.’
– Ernest Hemingway
March. You big weird month.
I had to look back at my diary to see what I had done. Here is a snap shot
- Taught a lecture at Glasgow Uni
– Done an unofficial reading of a play of mine with three REMARKABLE actors.
– Had a reunion with the cast of CURED. All of whom I love dearly.
– Heard a new play of mine read at the National Theatre Studio down in London
– Had my 27th Birthday.
– I also had a hair cut and bleached my hair twice.
It’s busy here at Stef HQ. I haven’t had enough time to see my friends or fellow team efforters. I’ve given myself some afternoons to think about new things but it’s not been quite as ponderous as I would have liked. My diary from here until July is full. That fills me with glee but it also makes me widen my eyes in slight disbelief.
I’ve had several moments over the last few weeks where I’ve said to myself – I actually write for a living. I don’t have a day job.
I don’t have a day job.
So no matter how much I bitch about being busy. Bitch about my low income. Bitch about what I did or didn’t get. I want to remind myself right here, right now, I write. I might not always. These things are feast and famine. This time next year I might be starring a day-job in the face. It’s a realistic prospect for a lot of us. I don’t feel entitled to what I am doing or what I have done. A specific set of circumstances and genetics got me here today. I still find it remarkable that I am not anyone else. Even though I spent most of my day living in someone else’s world, finding a way into someone else’s voice, figuring out someone else’s life.
I could have easily been a lot of different people. But I’m not. I’m me. I’m very specifically me.
There is nothing like reformatting your webpage to make you look your CV in the face and between birthdays and the loss of friends. Well. It makes you consider things differently. It has made me be very purposeful with my time. Even if only for a little while.
I suppose I have felt very empowered by my writing of late and that’s a nice feeling. One I don’t always have. I’m going to seek out joy in the next few months. Be with people who make me happy. Do things that make me feel happy. No matter how small or trivial they maybe (the things not the people). I read somewhere a while ago that in order to get happiness you need to give out happiness, and I think somewhere along the lines that’s true.
As ever. This blog is a fumble through my head. I look forward to reading it back.
I wish you more wilderness. Sx
“There is only one plot—things are not what they seem.”
Wow, March just disappeared. At the start of March I did not know the answer to the following questions-
1. What do you do if you’ve said ‘yes’ to a job because you think it can be done using photoshop, but it turns out you have to use illustrator, which you don’t have and don’t know how to use and you start work the next day?
2. What do you do when you stick your fingers to a tub of super-glue in a professional working environment?
3. How do you follow important instructions if you don’t understand them?
4. What if while you’re away working on this job, the roof blows off your studio and the other job you’ve been working on for three weeks gets rained on and swells up and doesn’t work anymore with only three days left to finish it?
5. What if you fix it and then the next day you paint it and because of the paint it stops working again with only two days left to finish it?
6. What if it’s all finally painted and working with only the most expensive part left to go on and even though you’re being extra careful you still manage to break it, on the day that you’re supposed to be installing it in another city?
7. What if your parents go to see it two days after you installed it and a bit has already been broken off and the whole thing doesn’t work again, but you are back in the first city trying to do the other job again?
I used to pride myself on being good at problem solving, but I see now that I am only good at solving problems which I already know the answer to. These other problems, ones which I can’t foresee and which I definitely don’t have an answer ready for, they are really hard to solve. The answers I ended up going with were -
1. Say you are working from home, download Inkscape for free and spend the day learning how to use it, then spend the weekend doing what you were supposed to have done on Friday and turn up on Monday acting like it went fine.
2. Pull off one finger at a time and after a while the sensation in your fingertips comes back.
4. Fix it quickly.
5. Fix it again, drawing on your recent experience of how you fixed basically the same problem the day before, and don’t go anywhere near those bits of it again.
6. Don’t fix it – there’s no time – just sand it down so nobody hurts themselves on the pointy bits and accept that anyone who looks closely will see that you messed up.
7. Leave it to your dad, who could have made it better in the first place anyway, and he will fix it over the phone and point out other likely problems which you missed and solve them too. (Thanks dad)
Well, what exciting questions will April have in store?
March was a month to get through and I managed, I think…
We started in London on our Team Effort trip which made me wonder how to “make the most” of opportunities. Visiting the lovely Matthew at the National Theatre Studio reminded me that it has been about 14 months since I had my residency there, but I’m not totally sure what has moved on for me from that. It’s good to know that the doors are open, but I’m not sure what I’m bringing.
The trip also made me question how much we Team Effort artists can/need to/want to understand each others’ practices and interests. It’s still in the air for me.
Then I was putting together an exhibition in a gallery in East Lothian… This was part of a slightly farcical project I’ve been involved in for over a year that has been dragging on. The exhibition itself is aimed at children and families as a way of engaging with ideas of museums and curating and is inspired by work I’ve done with a primary school class over the past months. Working with the children has been great, but made complicated and tiring by being in a school that’s really hard to reach by public transport as well as very loose and unclear direction from the gallery.
The goalposts of the project have changed greatly since I agreed to be part of it. So by the time I was actually doing the exhibition, which was originally scheduled for August 2013, the creative commission brief had changed from being an ipad theatre piece with £4000 budget to cover new technology, to having no budget whatsoever and no aims whatsoever.
So I made some things and displayed some other things. And it looks OK! I gave myself three days with some great helpers to put it together in situ, which is obviously a very short time, but it was hard to give more time to it. I’m pleasantly surprised with the result but it’s been pretty unsatisfying all in all. And I can’t totally work out how I could have managed it better apart from pulling out and refusing to complete the project.
Then I was working on a new project for Eco Drama. I devised and directed a performance/workshop for primary school children about worms and food waste. It was probably a bit crazy to say yes to this project as it had to be finished before the end of the business year to use up some funding, but it was a clear and contained project and paid well so now it will enable other work to happen. I was definitely pleased with the result, as was the client and the schools, and it also allowed me to work with a new collaborator on props and costumes
The most important thing that happened in March was that we lost a good friend and great artist in Adrian Howells. His death has been a real shock and very hard to deal with. The time since we found out he had died has been taken up with holding on tight to friends and finding a balance between taking time out to grieve and process, looking after each other, and trying to get on with everyday life.
Here’s to you, Adrian – missing you.
Here is a brief overview of the things that some or all Team Effort! members saw and did while on a group trip to London this month:
Our London trip was the perfect salve for the stress and focus of Rip It Up at Tramway. For this group of people, who had been so focussed on getting a show of their own together, to be allowed to wander around galleries, talking about nothing much or everything at once and learning from each other felt utterly necessary and important.
There have been moments over the course of the year so far that, for me, provide a perfectly clarified distillation of Team Effort! Many such moments occurred in London. A few are outlined below…
‘The mockery of religion is one of the most essential things’ Christopher Hitchens
I’m in the middle of making a new show, called Theology for the Arches Behaviour festival, and I need to get a few things off my chest. People keep asking if it’s going to be offensive, if I’m going to make fun of people, if people might protest. Here is where I am right now.
We need to start talking about stuff like religion in our country today. It’s a big elephant in the room, it’s covered in football scarves, it’s covered in child abuse, it’s covered in hypocrisy around gay marriage and the role of women. And theatre is a good way to do that. Theatre is a particular social space that’s a bit like a religious community where we can be critical about something and shed some light on it and look at it in a different way.
And I believe that religion should be treated the same as everything else when you integrate into comedy – what we do as a mature society. I think it’s more mature to poke fun and ask questions than it is not to – to accept it and ignore and put up with it.
I like comedy. And one of my big worries at the moment is that my show is not funny enough, or that it’s too crude, or that’s its one dimensional joke, a private joke, or it’s just stupid or I’m banging on about it too much, that I’m making the joke too obvious, that people will get it within 30 seconds of the start and then it has nowhere to go.
But using comedy in this instance for this show is really important to me. Comedy does loads of things. Comedy is a release of tension – and I think if I address it in a comedic fashion people will relax; I know the value of humour in settling an audience; I can play with stereotypes and portray ugly characteristics and arrogance and dominance all through comedy; Comedy shows us what is imperfect – failings and embarrassments and self-deprecation. We are not perfect. Religion isn’t perfect.
So when it comes to religion and comedy, I think, maybe in the past or usually when I see it – Comedy takes atheism as the default. Whereas I’m doing it from within. So does that mean I’m better qualified to do it or does it mean that it’s just a private joke?
Because we’re at a particular point in society where we ridicule religion – we’re much more secular – different from the Life of Brian or early Billy Connolly. We’re in a different place – a different generation. We’re maybe not that bothered so maybe I shouldn’t be worried about offending people.
So what about religion?
Good religion demands you to be critical and look at failings. Jesus was critical. Jesus was very critical. And when religion is something that is to be accepted and swallowed without questioning then that’s when the problems arise. People don’t have the power in Christianity – we’re always looking to a higher being – a God, a Priest, an elder. We’re being asked to look at our flaws but what about the bigger flaws of the constructs that make all this up?
In this sense we give ourselves up to the written word – the Bible and the teachings from school – we were taught to have a sense of wonderment and awe that I’m localising. That might be dodgy territory but for me that’s what it’s all about – poking a stick and seeing hat happens – I can’t help myself. But there once existed a Bible in Scots – it was replaces during the reformation and with the publication of the King James Bible that standardised language in Scotland – because the people who could read and write and were scholarly were the priests. But I still feel this need to elevate our language to this place and say – no – this is how we should say it – this is about people and congregations – not about individual men – white men who created all of this as a business to make money.
Is that too offensive?
As much as I’m willing to criticise and take on the idea of organised religion I am a bit wary that that might look like I’m having a pop at faith and I want to make it clear that these two are very different things.
There is more to religion than belief and just looking at what people believe isn’t the issue that’s to ignore the how and why we receive the information. How it’s fed to us through childhood and education. And that’s’ nothing to do whether someone believes in God, whether someone believes in Heaven or whether someone reads the Bible. That’s not the point. I suppose I’ve never been interested in that – I suppose I’ve always been more interested in the bigger stuff that society puts up with rather than people’s personal choices.
But: If you ridicule religion then I’ll have a problem. I’ll take offence and I suppose that comes back to me making a comedy from within. Some of the material might be offensive to my family – the fact that it’s me saying and doing these things – is that a public rejection of my upbringing? And is that tough for them to see? I would hope that the Catholics in the audience will appreciate the references and laugh at them knowingly, and that the rest of the audience will appreciate the comedy because they trust that I know what I’m talking about.
I’m also asking audience to be critical of themselves. I want them to think about their relationship with God and spirituality and mortality and adhering to a system and all of that.
I think a lot of it comes down to intent and content – expectation – assumptions – I think that’s where offence comes from.
But I’m taking the mickey out of myself – I’m kind of laying myself bare saying this is what I once believed. And this is a personal story of me growing up, trying to make sense of it all.
And is this blog just a justification of my work? That it needs an explanation? Can the work stand on its own without explanation?
February has been busy for me. Which is partly why I put writing this blog off… too much. I’m going to talk about 4 different things -
1. TEAM EFFORT! Made a show for RIP IT UP! at Tramway in Glasgow. A meditation on ceremony and birds in it’s most loosest form. I found the process both freeing, frightening and frustrating. It’s been a long time since I’ve worked in such a collaborative, flexible, loose style. And I found that both liberating – because it felt so different to my daily life and also difficult because it felt so different to my daily life. For the first time in a long time I performed my own work – I solidity hated it. It’s not for me. I get stage fright and certainly I am not able to put outwardly what is going on inwardly. But I did love seeing more of my fellow collaborators practices. Decision making was a big part of that week. I stepped back from a lot of them as my usual nature is to charge in with my opinion… this wasn’t the space for it. My brooding, control-freak teenager had to be baby sat, though she occasionally came out in moments of huffs and boredom. I don’t want to deconstruct the time too much. It lived in a moment. Not much of what I do these days exists only in a moment. It’s usually a long process. One thing is for sure, it made me feel closer to my comrades, and maybe – for me – that was the point.
2. The second thing I want to talk briefly about was my visit to Instanbul. I won’t talk about this too much as I feel it might come up again in another blog. I went there with Theatre Uncut, invited by DOT (a Turkish theatre company). I didn’t know much about the state of politics in Turkey prior to my arrival, I left knowing a bit more but still entirely aware of the gaps in my knowledge. I loved it. I got to meet 4 incredible Turkish writers who spoke so eloquently about their country and the politics of it. Our hosts were generous and open and hopeful in a time where it would be easy to dismiss hope. To narrow what is happening in Turkey down to a sentence is so insulting and reductive that I don’t even know how write about what we discussed. But I’d encourage you to learn even a little about what happened in Gezi Park. What is happening now. The image below is a ‘famous’ image taken from the Gezi Park protests of ‘the woman in the red dress’ having tear gas sprayed on her from only 3 feet away. She just stood there. As I look at that image today I’m suddenly hit by the thought of how remarkable humans are, how truly awful they can be but also how truly remarkable they can be.
3. TEAM EFFORT! does London. We all went for a London. We got soaked by rain. We saw art. We all got a little angry from not finding a suitable place to eat. I had fabulous conversations with all of Team Effort. I fell in love with all a bit more. Once again, we existed in a moment of time. I’m so pleased we got to do that. I had underestimated how important that would be. It was odd to suddenly be in London having fun, talking art after learning about the violation of basic human rights that was happening only four plane hours away… It’s about balance I suppose. I don’t think I even quite got my head around those two trips being side-by-side but they were both important in totally different ways.
4. Finally. Below is a piece of writing that I submitted to a evening which took place on International Woman’s Day. I was delighted to be asked to take part but I also proceed with caution under the banner of anything that has ‘International Day of…’ in the title because in general these things should have more than one day. It’s been a full on few weeks for me, for us all. The world has felt like a very strange surreal place. So it felt right to end this blog with this slightly surreal piece of writing.
I wish you more wilderness. Sx
- It starts small
– Like most things
– It starts small
– But there is no sense of smallness
– I should mention that
– I should mention that I have walked from one beginning to the next
– And still I find no end
– I never felt small, I should say that
– Licked envelopes
– Marched on concrete
– Shouted until I coughed up blood
– A sad song plays in the background
– Slow weeping violins
– A snare drum trips over itself
– A glassy eyed woman stares off into the crowd
– One last kiss before I go
– It’s like that scene from Evita
– The one with the balcony
– Another suitcase
– Another hall
– Take my picture off the wall
– Madonna was awful in that film
– We chain smoked in the center of Red Square
– Stood with coffee cups in our hands in a side street of Kiev
– Dodged tear gas in Gezi Park
– Bandaged limbs in Caracas
– Held a young girl’s hand in Cape Town as her test came back positive
– Picked up abandoned baby girls in Tiananmen Square
– Or not
– Or not
– We don’t have to do that
– If we don’t want - That is the prize we get for our genetics
– Better run
– Better run
– Because I do believe
– Believe in things
– I definitely believe in things
– I believe in my right to masturbate while I listen to gangster rap
– I find Snoop Dogg’s voice very alluring
– I believe in my right to dislike my children
– I believe in my right to hate lyrca
– It’s an unforgiving fabric
– I believe in my right to wear Croc’s instead of heels
– I believe in my right to a revolution
– You better run
– I will be the hopeful
– I will be the change
– I’ve bought stocks in moon-cups
– Last Christmas I gave everyone a copy of Caitlin Moran
– I donate to charity
– That charity for the mixed race one armed Islamic bisexuals
– I donate what I can and eat corn fed free-range chicken
– It’s never been so easy to change
– It’s never been so hard to see
– I take myself out on dates and try to fall back in love with myself
– With my hips
– My chest
– My love of carbohydrates
– And distinct addiction to bikini waxes
– But it turns out my date is a drunk and cries after 3 glasses of chardonnay
– I love chardonnay
– But I hate this city
– There is an ex on every corner marking the spot of a person and a place I could not fix
– Big ideas.
– And little me standing on the corner of a city that gives me enough choice to pacify my left hand while still shaking the right
– So you better run
– Because as I travel coasts and continents through snow and over shores
– I now know this to be true
– I may not have much family
– But I’ve got billions of sisters
– Using both hands to press down on the wound of fifty thousand years of being the second thought
– So let us take to the street
– Women wearing shirts from the men’s section of Marks and Spencer’s
– Women with enough children to start an Osmond’s tribute band
– Women who marry other women
– Women in head scarfs
– Woman who have male on their birth certificates
– Women who aren’t quite like the women the world would like us to be
– But liking ‘the me’ is the best thing I’ve got - Understanding the fact that the binary, is not helpful
– This isn’t us and them
– It’s not just me and you
– It’s not just a bad cover of Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car
– Because economic advancement is not human progress
– In the very moment you are in
– Because you’ve got one foot in the past
– And one foot in the future
– You’re going to end up pissing on the present.
– RuPaul said that - And he is a drag queen and a better woman than I will ever be
– Whatever that means
– Whatever that means
– This hierarchy
– This man-made system
– There are no simple solutions
– Alt, Control, Delete
– It’s a circle
– It’s one thing feeding into the next
– So you better run
– A glassy eyed woman stares off into the crowd
– The center of Red Square
– A side street of Kiev
– Gezi Park
– Cape Town
– Tiananmen Square
– Traverse Two
– Because we deserve better.
– We deserve better than this.
– We deserve better than one day a year.
– I have walked from one beginning to the next
– And still I find no end
– Still I find no end.
*this piece of writing may not be republished outwith this blog, without the permission of Stef Smith
February has been amazing, difficult, cold, inspiring, tiring.
I’ve learnt a huge amount this month in how we listen to each other, each other needs, and still try and communicate our own in the mix and stay strong to the needs of your process in a collaborative environment.
Week 1 and 2:
I started the month with working in Edinburgh on project ‘BlueBlock’ studio, where we are trying to figure out how to continue to collaborate and have consistency in sharing ideas, work around the project, communicate these deadlines, processes, time needed when we meet every month for a few days then we are away from each other, building an environment that can only come together finally 3 weeks before it opens as we are building the walls and everything about the space in how it will exist for babies and parents to experience.
In creating the work for Rip It Up, we worked really hard between an often very cold southside studio space and my living room to rehearse and play music together around a few central ideas, and create a series of pieces that had a loose form that could be pulled apart, shifted and broken as needed when we all came together in the space in Tramway with the rest of Team Effort.
Chicken and Egg….
There was the chicken and egg scenario again which I’ve felt in working on Blueblock and here on Rip it Up, a desire from people to want the music first to give a sense of environment, space, perhaps a structure and narrative to the work, but on my side a need for more information, inspiration, content to work from to feed into what that sound should and can be, emotionally, texturally, space wise, energy wise…it’s always a tricky one, how much of the same information do we all need to ensure we can all then take this away into our process and create something that will work together in the room, when our practices aren’t allowing, or don’t work in a way that we develop the work simultaneously alongside each other in the same space and time.
In the end we pulled it together in a weird and wonderful collage of pictures, characters, times, places and I was really happy with the sound and where we managed to get to with it.
It was also really exciting to work with a different sound set up and a large space with the musicians central with speakers towards and around the audience to help give a more immersive and physical experience of the sound and space.
From this week John, Gareth and I had really developed our playing and dynamic together as a 3 piece and it’s continuing into other projects and performances down the road.
After Rip It Up, I had 2 Wolf gigs booked in for the start of March, so Gaz, John and I went straight into rehearsals for that as I wanted to see how they could add something to the live performance of Wolf and help flesh out the ideas I’ve had for Wolf, this was amazing, but a really intense few days as we’d just spent the best part of 2 weeks playing nearly every day together, and then had to switch brains to a new music project with little space in between, we were all quite tired so the days were productive but tested our sense of perspective and dynamic between us alot.
I also recorded a 20 piece all female choir called the Madrigirls for an audio walk piece I’ve been developing for Glasgow International and Glasgow Women’s library, this was an amazing experience of how to lead ideas confidently and communicate them with a larger group of musicians, it was an experiment in recording for myself and John too who was helping out with the set up. Previously I’d recorded several Team Effort folk and others running and walking around Glasgow Green for the same project, again a big experiment in recording and how to communicate ideas to a group of folk outside your brain.
I went to London to see Jon Hopkins and Luke Abbott play at the Forum in London, 2 artists who I’ve been in love with for the past while, Jon’s production, his approach to sound I find really inspiring and it was great to see how he does this live with a new beautiful AV show.
I stayed in London this week working on a new score for a project with Bristol Reggae Orchestra, and had a great meeting and advice session with my mentor on the project a the Barbican which I’d never been too, there was a brilliant sound installation on in the curve which I spent along time in, exploring, walking, moving, listening, an amazing example of how the space of a building and sound and your experience of that and your environment alone and in the company of others can be exaggerated and your perception heightened, I left with my ears and eyes and sense of the outline of my body sharpened to the environment around me. It was also a bit scifi, which was playful and beautiful.
The time with Team Effort in London was really inspiring, we saw some brilliant and varied work, from Fuerza Bruta to The Mistress Contract at The Royal Court, visual art exhibitions and conversations between us and with new supportive and open folk at The National Theatre Studio, The Royal Court and I met with the wonderful Gareth Fry, sound designer and chairman of the Association of Sound Designers, we chatted sound design/composer roles in theatre, the issues in clarity that arise, the support there, the importance of clarity over process and needs early on in a collaboration, community within the sound designer/composer world, politics of unions/associations, the need for a sense of belonging, a need for dialogue about fair and supported practice. All in all very inspiring and I got a sneak peak at the set for the latest Katie Mitchell piece he is designing, it was a scale of production I’ve never experienced, at the amazing Three Mills Studios.
All in all February was full…very full…of alot of new experiences and collaborations, inspiring conversations and experiences, a reminder about the importance of really listening and not being afraid of voicing the needs of the way you work as an artist in a collaborative process, and learning from this if possible how to be better at working in this way, more open, more organised, more confident.
Thanks Team Effort!
Well now, February was a jam-packed month for Team Effort!
Our first ever residency wrapped up with a flurry of frenzied Hawaiian photo shoots with Eoin Carey. Eoin never fails to inspire and energise me. There is something infectious about his seemingly endless supplies of positivity and ambition. I learned tonnes from his residency – not least the work that goes into organising shoots of this nature. I wish I had been able to be more available to him as a producer and assistant, allowing him to focus on the minutiae of setting up the shots and taking brilliant photos. I think he learned lots too. He was working with a new (old) camera technique and difficult film. Eoin is used to being able to take 700 shots with a digital camera and then select the best, so it was fascinating to watch him have just one chance at getting a shot, then shifting his expectations and rejigging his ideas about the success and failure of those shots when they were developed. This may not have been the perfect result for him, but for me, and Team Effort!, it felt totally appropriate. If Eoin had come in and taken 10 flawless, digital photos in exactly the same way that he is comfortable doing, it wouldn’t have felt so courageous or have pushed his practice as an artist in the way that it did. That, in a nutshell, is what Team Effort! is for. I have nothing but admiration for him for being so brave.
After that, it was straight into our Rip It Up week at Tramway. The full team had its first day together in the the enormous, sprawling space that is T1 on Wednesday morning. We spent the day consolidating the thoughts that had been flying around over email during the preceding weeks and hashed out a running order for the sold-out public sharing that would happen three days later, on the Saturday.
Thursday and Friday were spent running through ideas, writing new material and making sure that all of the different scraps of this collage sat together comfortably in the space.
It was an exhausting, arduous and enormously rewarding week for everyone. I’m delighted that Team Effort! had the opportunity to create a piece together on such a massive scale and I’m fiercely proud of the artists for stepping out of their comfort zones together. It was never my intention to throw these six different artists together and force them to “make a show”. When I suggested the idea of Rip It Up to the artists back in December, they were thrilled and jumped at the chance, but it was never something I expected this project to create as an output. The trajectory of this Team Effort! year is constantly evolving as new opportunities arise and different collaborations begin to materialise, but none of it would be possible without the energy and flexibility of the six Team Effort! artists.
For me, the week was spent running between each of the different artists and making sure that ideas were communicated properly within the very tiny time-frame that we had. If Rose and Stef were having a conversation in the dressing room about something that would impact Fergus, I would run to backstage and talk to him about it. If his feedback changed something that Kim was thinking about for the sound, I would go and share it with her, Gaz and John on the main stage. If they felt that might change the way Martin or Eilidh were making their work, I would nip through to them in the cafe and talk it over. At times I felt like a spider, spinning a web across all of Tramway’s various spaces, and making sure that it was robust enough to catch us all if we fell.
The thing I found most tricky during the week was finding the balance between producer (in this context, someone who is dealing with logistics: money, space, agreements, press and press) and creative (in this context, someone who is having artistic input on the overall arc of the show, feeding back about the content of individual pieces and the performances of each of the artists).
There were definitely times when I overstepped this line during the Rip It Up week and gave opinions that were either not fully informed (because I spent most of the day sorting out insurance instead of involved in artistic conversations) or misjudged (because I am not a director, and lack the sensitivity and rigourous training that it takes to understand when to step in and when to step back.)
But I know the following things to be true…I am a creative person. I’m definitely not an artist. I have a reasonably experienced eye for narrative. I often have strong feelings about how a show could be tighter, clearer or more cohesive. I love being involved in a creative process, asking questions and giving feedback when it’s appropriate. I see no difference between the term “producer” and the term “creative producer” and think that the latter is tautological. I’ll keep trying to get better at the former.
I’ve found my feet on the tightrope.
I have been writing a lot. It’s the easiest hard thing in the world for me. Or the hardest easy one. I’m not sure. It’s just that writing is a simple matter of sitting down and not being too intimidated by that blinking cursor flickering sceptically at you at the very top of an expanse of white as if to say – go on then, get on with it, impress me, impress yourself.
I want to write all the time but so often everything which feels clear and lucid in my mind, gets bunched up and chaotic on the journey from brain to fingers and everything I felt sure would come flying out at a pace greater than I can be certain my deficient secretarial skills will allow is cramped up in my grey matter evading that simple act of transcription.
It used to be that when the mind/hand train-wreck occurred I would be hurled out of the process entirely and I would end my beginning with a disappointed giving up. I never really properly understood the role of editing. I mistook editing and correcting for the same thing and if the worlds didn’t stream out of me like a medium channelling spirits I would withdraw from writing completely. Immaturely I thought if my work didn’t fall from me like a foal, just about ready to get up on its own legs and run without me then it mustn’t be worth doing. Witlessly I believed I should just have to tweak the spelling and grammar. I never realised to what extent that first shot doesn’t matter much, that so much of the art is in the afterward of that initial rush and push. In the edit and re-draft. Anyway. I’m not a twat like that any more.
I’ve finally grown to know, certain sure as the knowing of my own name that you should never deal with things in the abstract when you could deal with them in actuality and that it is usually always better to crank out a bad something you can later craft into something good than to live in a world of infinite possibility and sit there at your desk smoking and playing Spell Tower in the hope that suddenly the muses will shift in you and you’ll get it all right on the first attempt.
That way all ideas remain within, swarming in the head like a jar of wasps.And I go home palpating, trembling with unrealised ideas, angry with myself for having let the hours drop to bits around my terror of imperfection.Someone much smarter than me, to my shame I forget who said “All art must remain only an attempt” and that’s true.
Samuel Beckett said “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail Better.” Fucking Samuel Beckett said that. And he was SAMUEL FUCKING BECKETT.And thus should be listened to and obeyed.
Yeah. Don’t listen to me. I’m just a really earnest, slightly daft, excessively introspective, increasingly aged word junkie who is really trying to get better at what I do. But you should listen to Samuel Beckett. He’s the don.
“Dude, you gotta go there. You know what I’m gonna say – you gotta do it. You gotta make it bad – take the bad stuff and make it the worst. What are you stopping yourself from doing? What is the block? Well, put that to the front and revel in it – make it enormous – make it everything – let it take over”
February started with a trip to London for a workshop led by performance artist Stacy Makishi. Part of my plans for my Team Effort time are to engage with Queerness and performance and Stacy’s work fits into this research. The workshop was also a chance to get back into making after spending a lot of time planning and doing admin – not the most exciting part of my practice.
The workshop was called Killing Time and was described thus:
“A masterclass by Stacy Makishi for artists working in any form.
Stacy Makishi is a Baaadaaaasss and she wants to kill some time / with you.
Do you have ideas for performance that you kill before they’re born? Then Killing Time is the workshop for you. Drawing inspiration from the 1970s film genre Blaxploitation, here’s a workshop that gets down and feels the funk.
Killing Time helps you:
Move faster than think
Write quicker than edit
Create faster than critique
Killing Time will explore identity in its full frontal glory and is open to artists willing to try out new ideas and walk into the unknown.”
On the workshop we were invited:
to dig deep down into the shit and wallow in it
To think of and create the worst, the absolute worst performance for yourself, to see what you’re scared of
To make the performance you’ve always wanted to make but have stopped yourself from doing
To recognise your default position as an artist and reject it and replace it with the best version of yourself
To take what you hate in performance and run with it, hybridise it, create something monstrous with it
To enjoy the pain of the expectations you have for yourself and your work and those expectations that you sense from outside
To go into the cringe
It was a very invigorating weekend with some great artists, although there were a lot of people who were really at the beginning of their careers which made it difficult to go very deep into the work. But it got me back into the mode of making and discovering through making rather than planning and creating a space for work to exist, which often takes up my time.
The challenge is to make space and time to engage with this kind of improvisation. When I’m working on my own it makes sense to answer emails, make plans, update social media, do some writing, make some to-do lists. But these aren’t strictly speaking my practice. They should be supporting the ideas that come through creating and experimenting performatively.
The other main thing I take from the workshop is Stacy’s generosity and passion for working with the participants. It excites her and fulfils her to try to get to grips with each artist, whatever stage they’re at, and to help them break through a block and open up their practice. It inspires me to be generous with the younger artists that I come into contact with and to be confident that my experience means I have something to share with them. It also makes me realise that there are great artists out there who might be able to help me from time to time, so I need to have a think about that…
This month, Team Effort were invited to create a one off performance for Tramway as part of Rip It Up (the banner under which Tramway supports and presents new work by a variety of artists). I’m not going to outline the whole process here but instead I’m going to focus on one piece and the thoughts behind it, and how it relates to my work.
The idea of birds became integral to the process and the main theme that we explored for the piece. Prior to that we spoke of fear, darkness and creating an intense mood for the audience. I was interested in writing and performing something sinister, maybe as a disembodied voice in the space. I also thought that my current work could move to a darker, more aggressive place, especially with the chats I’d been having with Fergus abut masculinity and the depiction of men/monsters in horror.
With the themes of Birds and Horror as starting points it seemed the most sensible thing to do was to watch Hitchcock’s The Birds. I had the idea of doing some sort of audio commentary, but I wasn’t sure what that would be. I began by writing some narration over the top of the action. Then, as a reference I read the screenplay. From there I had the idea to remove all dialogue and detail, leaving only the direction. It looked a bit like this:
CLOSE SHOT – MELANIE seeing him, and then turning away
CLOSE SHOT – MITCH the canary in his hand.
CLOSE SHOT – MELANIE startled.
TWO SHOT – MELANIE AND MITCH
I liked a few things about this – the space between instructions that could help the audience imagine the scene, the allusions to the narrative and the repetition of the language, which was sometimes a bit hypnotic and at other times completely ridiculous.
This also reminded me of another piece I have written, and one that produces similar elements to those above. This is The Order of Mass:
The Priest says
The Priest says
The Priest continues
The Priest says
This came from reading my own Mass book, given to me when I was at school. It contains all the spoken parts of the Mass and details what happens at each stage. Again, removing the detail, we are left with stark instruction, emphasising the interactive but subjective nature of worship. When performed this is also hypnotic, repetitive and ridiculous. I suppose these are the qualities of religion that I have identified through my current work. This structure also allows for the audience’s imagination to fill in the gaps.
I’m still not sure how much of The Birds piece was clear to the audience. I imagine they were in the dark at the beginning, but maybe with reference to some of the more popular images they understood the connection to the film. However I was quite interested in the fact that the film unfolded through the narration and that the audience had the space to imagine their own story, based on their level of knowledge of the film.
Last month, I went on a ten-day research trip to New York City. I went to immerse myself in New York’s famous experimental art scene, to meet artists and producers who could tell me about how creative risk is nurtured among young artists and to see some shows, particularly at The Public Theater’s Under The Radar Festival and PS122′s COIL 2014.
I must preface this post by saying that I had an incredible ten days in New York and I learned tonnes that I wouldn’t have learned from sitting at my desk here in Glasgow. New York remains one of my all-time favourite cities in the world. It is incomparable and unsurpassable. Equally, I don’t confess to be an expert on the contemporary New York art scene. Rather, I’m sharing a few musings gleaned from a brief trip, a few shows and several conversations.
I went to New York on a pilgrimage of sorts; to seek out, get to know and bottle a bit of the spirit that nourished thrilling experimental art movements and artists from Patti Smith to Paris is Burning, from La MaMa to Laurie Anderson.
But I quickly learned that the reasons for my pilgrimage were seriously misguided. (Was this because I was hopelessly naive to imagine that I’d find a 1980′s New York art scene in 2014? Definitely. But I learned years ago that I’d rather be naive, idealistic and impressionable than knowing, obstinate and cynical.) In fact most, if not all, of the conversations I had with artists and producers in NYC were not about risk or even about making art. They were about money, or rather, the lack thereof.
One producer explained that “in the eighties, you could get your East Village loft apartment for a couple of hundred dollars a month, which you could earn back from a few door splits at music venues or shifts at a restaurant. Now, that loft apartment costs thousands of dollars a month and artists need to do 3 or 4 jobs just to be able to afford to live in the city.”
“Young artists are moving out of the city and going to places like Austin, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh or Detroit, where you could buy an entire warehouse for $100.”
Which isn’t to say that there are no young artists left in the city – of course there are. But those artists have to work tirelessly to make ends meet, do art in their limited spare time and scramble to get the few opportunities that come up.
One of the things that this lack of financial resource does is to force young artists to think about marketing, “unique selling points” and their “brand identity” (words which we churlishly consider to be tainted by greed in this country). It spurs entrepreneurialism, resilience and an unflinching dedication. This is amazing, but in an ideal world, these skills would be consistently backed up by some cold, hard cash that allowed young artists to focus on creating work.
Another thing that became apparent is the power of reputation. I flocked to New York to see it’s Incredible Emerging Arts Scene™, only to find that it was very different to how I imagined it. That’s the power of a reputation forged in the white hot heat of 80s punk bars, drag clubs and studio theatres, I suppose. Wandering down a street on the Upper East Side one morning, I imagined amending my lexicon to include phrases like “Glasgow is the new New York/Berlin/London” or “Glasgow is the best place in the world to take creative risks” or “Glasgow has the most dynamic early-career artists in the world”, all of which I believe, but I wondered about the power of saying it out loud more frequently and of getting other people to say it too. Hopeless naiveté again? Probably. Shall we try anyway?
I heart NY. I learned a whole heap of unexpected things, which I’ll bore you with over a pint one day, if you like. Most of all though, my trip made me better appreciate how incredible this beautiful city of Glasgow really is and how lucky I am to have a strong, supportive community around me, a bit of financial resource to let me allow artists to focus and a bunch of chilly, dusty studio spaces to call home.
If London is our New York, then Glasgow is our Austin, Pittsburgh or Minneapolis. It’s the second city, the underdog, the sneak attack. It’s a city where artists can live and make art at the same time and where we are supported to take risks. It’s a city where the landscape is accessible and malleable enough that it allows each generation to reimagine it, to carve their wildest dreams and their biggest fears into it, and for those marks to remain visible to the generations snapping at our heels.
I’m going to take this chance to lay out my thinking behind the work I’m making for Rip It Up this month.
In my painting I have always had trouble representing monsters, because when you paint from an image of a real cinema monster it looks a lot like it would if you had painted it from your imagination. So it seems like a piece of horror art rather than a piece about horror. Also the monsters from cinema are so well known that it’s hard to make a painting of King Kong or the Gill-man look like it’s about anything at all except the film it’s from. However, puppetry provides the chance to make real monsters which are right there in the room. Making a puppet for an art exhibition always seemed like an inappropriate thing to do, but Rip It Up seems like the right environment to take a risk and see where it can go.
Puppets are a big part of what brings the impossible to life in film. They are monsters, aliens, creatures which represent fantastical or terrifying urges. Live action puppets and animated puppets have been filmed alongside actors, green screened into shots, performed in front of rear projection, mirror reflected, or otherwise super imposed into scenes with real actors to create a sense of the otherworldly since the beginning of cinema.
Film puppetry is very much alive, and modern techniques are sophisticated to the point that they often go unrecognised or are mistaken for CGI. As well as having one puppet sitting with the audience, I’ll be trying to use a version of the Schufftan Process (used in Metropolis and later by Hitchcock) to combine a miniature puppet with live footage of the audience.
There’s a school of thought says that a monster should remain unseen, because it is scarier to imagine something than to see it in life.
Sometimes the monsters in film don’t live up to their terrifying reputation and instantly they seem ridiculous and non threatening. I don’t know how mine will come across.
The puppets themselves are made from plastic bottles, lollypop sticks, string, wooden skewers, foam, elasticbands and a healthy supply of lx tape and hot glue. The methods I’m using are crude compared to the final results of film puppetry, but they are similar to the mock-ups often made before hand to test out how they will interact with actors.
This production shot shows an original test for the Alien Queen made out of bin bags, compared with the final puppet.
From here it’s about making the work I have fit with the work of the other members and bridging our ideas to make something which is united, but has a range that fairly shows the many approaches that have gone into making it.
At first, my writing was in service of the id. That is to say I blurted things onto paper for the instant gratification of making an utterance. It was in pure service of the pleasure principle that I wrote. Having loved language so long, the comfort of deploying it, however obscure the purpose was infant self-comfort.
As an adult it became a fetish; some scrap to stand for something more substantial. It was nonetheless beloved. Nonetheless precious in what it was pale substitute for. The cloth mother of a monkey still stands utterly for the true love object it denotes.
As such it provided the same comfort I received as a child from long hours of satisfying imaginative play alone – I was building worlds in which to test out the capricious and confusing real one free from irrevocable consequence. In this adult enjoyment of a child’s securities I experienced a shame. It seemed regressive somehow.
The admission of my ambition to write more seriously and to develop the skills needed to construct more conventional narratives comprises something of a killing of the father: that is to say a beating back of the superego’s excesses.
Yes the desire to sit at the centre of an imaginary world, doling out birth and death is egotistical. Yes the need to be a god who makes and destroys is narcissistic. But there is such a thing as healthy narcissism. The traditional self-loathing, self-regarding traits of the pure narcissist end in the unattainable pursuit of deserved plaudits so effusive and extreme that they will never come. It invites what it perceives as the deserved opprobrium – this too is equally unlikely to arrive. It believes it must be punished then decries a lack of recognition for its brilliance.
The pursuit of writing is not that. It is that finely balanced healthy narcissism which loves the self sufficiently to permit it to pursue its desires but equally chastises the self to effort, rightly criticising the lax and lazy, soliciting betterment and encouraging achievement. It allows satisfaction when enough has been done.
January! Where did you go?
The first two weeks in January were incredibly productive. I wrote the first draft of a play and starting making plans for a project which might very well be a few years in the making. The second two weeks in January – productive? Not so much. Partly due to spending some quality time with my jet-lagged girlfriend and partly due to a grim-as-fuck sickness bug. I’m try to be okay with the productive / unproductive sliding scale. It’s all about balance isn’t it.
Working on the RIP IT UP project has been really interesting. Due to my diary it’s probably the Team Effort project I can contribute to least. Which is frustrating but it also can’t really be helped. I’m enjoying seeing how people work, how they speak about work, how they approach it. Makes me question my own practice, which was a big part of my participation in Team Effort. I get frustrated when I can’t access peoples ideas in a way that is helpful / useful. And it’s not that my thoughts are too abstract or isolated or linear or logical, but it has become very clear to me that I access things through the ‘why’ and the ‘who’. In the broadest sense – the political element, the human element. And that isn’t a bad thing, but RIP IT UP has made it very clear to me these questions are fundamental to my work. And its good to think about how those things effect my work, how they effect me. In a way it’s confirming what I already knew but it’s a good chance to spend some time thinking how I feel about that approach.
To cast out a wider lens, I’ve been asking lots of questions recently. Some of them are triggered by unproductiveness, some of them by connecting with old friends and some of them from going to the Edinburgh version of the Banff Film Festival. Which gave me this double wammy of joy and longing. SO I thought I’d use this blog to share a few -
- When was the last time you bled, not because of an accident but because you were trying to do something hard / so hard?
- What does adventure mean to me?
- When does self sufficientness turn into a bad thing?
- When was the last time your muscles ached not from exhaustion but from excursion?
- When was the last time you forget about someone and didn’t mind the forgetting?
- When was the last time you saw the sun / snow / sea?
- What is the difference in what you dreamed your life to be and what it is? How can you make the gap smaller?
- Why are people drawn to feeling part of a group that helps define their identify? What does it mean to exist outside these?
- What do I identify as? How do I feel about that identity?
- Is my art really the art I want to be making?
- How do I collaborate with the other people and ensure quality and equality in that collaboration? Do I want to work that way?
- Will Cher and Cyndi Lauper tour the UK?
The last 4 questions are probably ones I will be asking all my waking life. If I come up with an answer in next 7months I’ll let you know!
Lots of questions, lots of answers. It’s all about balance isn’t it. I keep on talking about being brave. And I think I am. Slowly but surely. Both in my professional life and my personal life. As the moment is a subtle process, I feel like spring and summer will make me up my game, sunshine helps with that, just as snow did last year. 2014 is proving to be exciting. It’s nice to look ahead but it’s about ensuring you’re making the most of now. I mean it’s about balance isn’t it and being brave enough to look a lion in the teeth.
Wish you more wilderness, Sx
For DABOYA (discuss a bit of your art) with Team Effort! I talked about one piece of my work from beginning to end and the patient members of the team listened. I made a new painting for this, I didn’t have documentation of the process of making any of my existing paintings so it seemed like a good time to try it out. The image I used as a start point was the drawing from my last blog which I had been looking forward to painting from for a while. The images on the right show the painting in development, with the earlier stages at the right hand side of each row, and the painting as it is now in the final image. It is about six feet by three and a half feet.
The year has started quickly for a change and I haven’t managed to do any more painting on this or the two others I was working on at the same time. As we develop ideas for Rip It Up next month at Tramway, the team is reaching for words and ways of sharing ideas.
The cold is settling in throughout the studios and the coffee maker is constantly bubbling away in the corner. For now those paintings will have to bubble away too.
I’m thinking about how to “Be” an artist – not the doing part and making something, but the act and actions that I employ in the everyday performance of being me.
This has been triggered a bit by reading Gilly’s hypotheses for empowering artists, particularly this bit: “That if there exists a producer who is committed to focussing purely on artist development, rather than on creating a product for public consumption, those artists will become more confident and the long-term effects on their professional practice and public work will be innumerable.”
It’s the confidence thing. And I’m annoyed and bored with a feeling of “Not this thing again” by the fact that I think most of my struggles come down to a lack of confidence, because the evidence shows that I’m a pretty confident person otherwise how could I have done the things I’ve done? And yet… I think even when I was a child I recognized that confidence was the way forward and got things done. And I’ve long known that acting in a confident manner is enough to gain some of the benefits of actually feeling confident without anyone being any the wiser.
The problem with confidence is that somewhere in my psyche I see confidence as a gateway drug to arrogance and that scares me. It would literally be the end of the world if I thought people thought of me as arrogant. Not that I care what people think…
But recently I’ve noticed that without a practiced mode of being a confident artist, I’m gently sabotaging and undermining both my work and my sense of self-worth.
For example, I’ve received funding for a very exciting high-profile project and when friends have congratulated me on this my response is mostly, “ Yes, it’s really great and I’m very excited” but then turns into “I mean, I don’t know who was on the panel because it’s quite a weird application and I don’t really know what I’m doing with it and it’s not actually that much money and it might not work out at all”.
Even when this sort of chat is with friends who are probably adept at filtering out my self-deprecating bullshit, I can see that this narrative is damaging. And that’s before I even contemplate if I’ve given this impression of fecklessness to any professional colleagues. If someone was to feed this back to me and accuse me of being unprepared and ill-equipped and making it up as I go along and a bad choice for the funders, I’d be really pissed off and offended.
Also, like the self-help books say (I’ve read a couple), if the mind hears the voice saying anything it will take that as reality and run with it, even if you didn’t mean it.
I think the risk with any creative endeavour, and particularly with experimental arts practices, is that you’re embracing the unknown and deliberately putting yourself into a state of not-having-a-fucking-clue. But of course, that doesn’t mean that you don’t know what you’re doing. And maybe other people don’t always need to know about that part of the process all the time. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Which makes me think of The Wizard Of Oz. I watched this film on a loop when I was very young and rewatched it this Christmas. Obviously it goes without saying that it’s great and I love watching it with an adult’s perspective and wondering how much I understood age 3 about the deeper messages within the film and how much I was just charmed by the Technicolor and singing and magic of it all.
Anyway, when they finally get to see the wizard, (who is of course a total fake and played by the same guy who was Professor Marvel in Kansas and also all of the guards in the Emerald City) he tells the characters that they’ve always had everything that they’ve been looking for right inside them. And that all they need to access their own inner power is some small token to prove their worth. The scarecrow gets a college diploma and you remember that he came up with all the plans on their adventure. The Tin Man gets a weird clock in the shape of a heart and you realize that he’s been very emotional all the way through. (A study of the Tin Man as Hollywood “Cissy” to follow…) And the Lion gets a big medal for being Bert Lahr.
So with that in mind I think I need to work on developing my own “Testimonial” Talisman to help me Be An Artist. It will be a kind of performance and it will be a editing of all the thoughts and ideas and worries I have into a more palatable soundbite. It won’t feel inauthentic because it will come from the truth that although I don’t know exactly how projects will happen, I know I have the ability to find the ways through it. And it will strengthen my practice because I will hear myself speaking positively about my work.
Whaddya want, a medal?!! Yes please.
Sitting up into the wee small hours with my newborn son I can’t help reflect on the cycle of fathers and sons. And it’s these times I can conjure up images of my own father – at times from the look my son gives me, and at times from memories that are jogged.
There he is sitting with a pint in hand. Me next to him with a coke. Feeling like I’m in Spain because it has a slice of lemon in it. Picking at the dry roasted nuts. Not saying much. Even when another guy tries to make small talk all that enters the room are sighing ‘ayes’ and nods of the head. This is every Saturday while my sister is pony trekking in the nearby farm. Our pastime while we wait is less adventurous and a bit dreary. A visit to St Conval’s graveyard to check on his mum and dad’s stone. A quick tidy up, pulling out the weeds and some more small talk. And even though this is pretty routine it still takes us ages to find the plot. All the rows and stones look the same. And then, spending time with the dogs from the neighbouring kennels barking at us. Some allusions to reincarnation – which is by the way against Catholic teachings – that dog might be my granda come to say hello, that one my granny. And then as the years go on and the family starts to thin we replace them with a menagerie of reclaimed animals – that wasp that came in on an anniversary, those crows, that spider. But these things are never articulated like this. Just allusions. Nods and sighs.
There he is on the back step: his line always “don’t make waves, don’t bother” as he walked out for a smoke. Exiting as calmly as possible with the smallest amount of fuss. I like to think I inherited his sense of calm, or was it apathy? When really what you mean is you can’t be bothered. How much of it is the building of a wall?
This is how I remember my father, still: in terms of a soft, sighing presence. His anchor tattoos folded in wrinkled skin.
There he is, as usual, standing in the kitchen with a can, exhausted after his endless roll call of jobs building ships in Govan and later on Asda Govan. The job that would make a lesser man blush but with him it was a case of a good day’s work. Thick overalls and thick socks, thick soled boots and thick skin. Hard skin on palms and fingers. And then a seriesof trials from one part of the world to another, recalling his glory days in the merchant navy.
There he is… sighing, picking at the bits of chicken in the soup mum would make every Saturday. Silent words between them. Silent understandings and traditions. I try for emotion, but it never comes. Make myself cry as I know I should but he would dismiss that with a turn of the back and an exit out the back.
Are the dogs still barking and is one of them now him? Or is he still hanging in the air as a wasp, a crow, a spider?
As for mum, she occupied the kitchen in another fashion. Cloth in hand wiping every time the can was lifted to his lips. And there together orbiting each other with care and years of knowing they still are. Feeding together, smoking together.
2014 would be a lot of things to list…but I’m pretty sure by the end of this year I will have experienced 2014 fears, hopes, questions, desires, joys and maybe more.
This is an exciting thought.
This year is going to be a juggling act and juggling with things I really don’t want to drop and hurt…friends…myself…work expectations….space for new ideas and collaborations…health…
So…I’ve started the year with a strategy and a plan to help with all the doubts of whether i can do it.
Starting with the big red wall planner of tiny boxes. This was bought for me by the wonderful Gilly and has allowed me to see the work, the deadlines but more importantly to see the space.
There is some, and it’s these bits of space that I’m most excited and fired up in my belly, my toes, my fingers, my throat.
This space is full of hopes, desires, resolutions, promises to myself and made silently to others.
In this space I will spend playing my instruments…
In this space I will read…
In this space I’ll run and walk and run more…
In this space I’ll get into the wild away from our city…
In this space I’ll make time for family and friendships
In this space I’ll find time to dream (I used to take naps when I was little so that I could spend more time visiting reoccurring dreams and fight, run, dance, fly my way through them again)
In this space I’ll play more music with and for others
In this space I’ll play and experiment and fail and make and laugh more with co Team Efforteers, where I feel very at home.
In this space I’ll go dancing…
In this space I’ll try to remember to breath and smile more…
In this space I’ll remember to leave room to cry…
So it is written…it’s on paper…it’s public…
The space in 2014 has been planned…
I know most of these plans will shift, change, be destroyed, re write themselves, the spaces will shift and fall…
Just got to try and not waste any of it.
Team Effort Rip it up plans are cooking…
Wolf visual collaborations are developing…
The long awaited playlist from me to Team Effort is still in the making…it’s now several….
A film night is on the horizon…
A walk in the park with Rose…
and much more…..
over and out for now…
I have forsworn the cliché of the aspirational January blog: that kitschly righteous intermingling of self-flagellating melancholy for the year past and peppy optimism for the shiny new self which will make the coming one into a personal utopia.
Except I haven’t. I don’t feel I can righteously avoid reviewing the last twelve months and trying to sign up to a treaty with a better future self, however much I find that glibly idealistic in the face of my own tedious compulsion to repeat the same failures year on year, however much I find a simple changing of the date insufficient propulsive force for meaningful self-improvement.
Perhaps it is the the post-festive excess of embodiment which drives the mind to introspection. My weaknesses tell on me in the dough at my lap. I have podgy armpits. I feel like I should be able to unzip this fat suit and rise up to shake hands with the ideal me I will be this year, to breathe the spirit of that into myself.
As a feminist I am uncomfortable equating betterment with weight loss, however it is simply that now the shitty condition of my physical body is an avatar for the slovenly state of my mind. And that it is somehow inextricably linked to me – the physical body and its ever shifting relationship to the life of the mind.
I am a gold standard, international competition level migraneur. I have pretty much had a headache for the last five years. In this way my meatsack being on the fritz can be an enormous barrier to creative thought: at these times my body is an anchor with the mind tightly cased inside it.
Sometimes the wild array of neurological disturbances is inspirational. Visiting John Martin’s ecstatic visions of heaven and hell I experienced a sense of falling while standing still so sublime and terrifying it was like an ecstasy. This sublime panic was so rich it inspired a series of works.
In some ways the new year preoccupation with the streamlined self fascinates me on the basis of its intense distillation of the constant state of discrepancy in which we live, that unbridgeable gap between ideal and actuality, eye and mind, dream and experiment.
As a performance artist, having made my career out of filming myself for years I am often unpleasantly aware of the mind/body relationship. That transcendent thoughts are stubbornly denied realisation by the limitation of the physical. The body sometimes imposes the ordinary on attempts towards the preternatural.
Even Neil Armstrong probably got an itchy bum on the moon. Imagine that – the pure superlative experience of conquering other planets, gazing back on the blue dot of Earth, a moment only for the life of the mind surely but taking place within the deficient margins of a clunky, vulnerable human body.
The thought of that is a moon to shoot for. Extend the mind beyond the body is the root of it all.
In July, I was nominated for a prestigious arts bursary. In December, I found out I didn’t get it.
The aim of the bursary was “to respond to the compelling visions of outstanding individuals working in the role of cultural entrepreneur and offer transformative support to pursue the visions proposed.” I was knocked for six when I heard I’d been nominated and totally bewildered at the prospect of applying.
The application deadline was October. Team Effort! had only just started and I had no idea what my “vision” was, let alone how to articulate it in a compelling way. Team Effort! felt like the big “transformative” project that they were talking about, and I didn’t know where to start in trying to imagine another one so soon after this one had started.
I decided to apply to use the fund to support me over three years to answer a series of questions that Team Effort! has kicked up and have been brewing in my brain lately and see what kind of physical manifestation might arise from the answers I found. In short, I applied to take the ideas and ethos that built Team Effort! and interrogate them, build on them and hopefully create something more robust and long-lasting.
I didn’t get it, but I feel utterly humbled to have been nominated for it at such an early stage in my career. Realistically, I think the nomination came a few years too early for me, and I think the panel could sense that.
As is always the way though, I got an enormous amount out of the rigorous thinking and careful articulation that goes into putting an application together. For this reason, and even though it feels utterly terrifying to show people a failed bursary application, I want to share a bit of it here on this blog. This is partly to inspire a conversation, partly to share my feelings about the creative ecology as it stands, and partly for me to look back on throughout the year and see if I still feel the same.
This was the central question behind the application and, it turns out, behind everything I’m working on and thinking about at the moment. It feels important to me, and I think that finding a smart, multi-faceted set of answers will create greater trust and less insecurity between artists and producers.
How do we empower early-career artists to develop their practice, build a support network and take the risks that enable them to reach their full creative potential?
From my experience working as a producer and in setting up a pilot artist development project over the last twelve months, I have developed the following hypotheses, which I believe are crucial to addressing this central question. These are:
• That the physical space that artists inhabit, and the context in which their work is shared either with their peers or with the public must be informal, safe, honest and generous.
• That if there exists a producer who is committed to focussing purely on artist development, rather than on creating a product for public consumption, those artists will become more confident and the long-term effects on their professional practice and public work will be innumerable.
• That if that producer identifies ways to support artists from different disciplines to share with and learn from each other in a meaningful, sustainable way, those artists will become more eclectic, their practices will become more robust and they will be able to continually reinvigorate the ways in which they make work.
I’m going to New York for ten days on Friday in a deliberate attempt to seek out work, spaces and people who I think are ahead of me in terms of addressing this question, so I’ll see how I feel about things when I get back. In the meantime, here’s to a 2014 with a few answers and a whole heap more questions.
So after nearly 6weeks away, I’m back in Scotland now. Sitting on my sofa. I’m pretty sure one of my cats has forgotten who I am and the Glasgow accent isn’t sitting very warmly in my ear. I miss Banff in a way I hadn’t anticipated. My partner has made me a ‘re-entry’ plan, just one of many lovely things she had done to make this process less painful. It’s a form of grief in a way but as one of my new-Banff-friends Kirstie suggested – leaving is part of the journey.
My ‘Ode to Banff’ was written in early hours of Sunday the 1st of December, after celebrating American Thanksgiving in Canada… it was written in one 30 minute sitting, so it won’t be the most original in thought but I can promise you it’s all heartfelt… I’m a bit of a sappy sister after all. I wrote it to read at my ‘Open Studio’ where we invite other artists to come and read / listen / see / experience our art and studio. It was to sit next to a much darker and pensive work-in-progress called Swallow and so I wanted to write something that celebrated my time in Banff.
So here it is and heres to the next adventure.
30th of October 2013. I step onto a plane with a backpack, a laptop and the kitten of anticipation somewhere just left of my heart.
I get on a plane. British Airways – pretty ritzy. I have a glass of wine and watch 4 movies back to back. I get a bus and I get a room and I am armed with only an idea and sensation that something has to change.
I meet some folk and then some other folk and then some people doing something about space and feeling dizzy that after 4weeks I’m still sort of struggling to understand. But they include me, us and I feel welcomed by the arms of people I have never met.
And I get books from the library and watch films with people doing things I could never do. Moving pictures of people scaling mountains and living for the precise moment that they are in. Risking their lives so that someone else could see all that came before. They use equipment that you hang your whole life onto. So in a way, making art isn’t that different to mountaineering. Except mountaineers get bigger calf muscles and they smoke less.
And I get all wrapped up in the politics of land and animals and people. And I read and learn about a people who were here before the European financial system and Catholicism fucked it up. Before, as ever, white folk took what they thought was theirs and they couldn’t quite stop themselves from taking their dick out of their pants and sticking it in someone else’s land. And I get context for phrases like Indian Act, residential school and cultural genocide. And I have this odd sensation of reading about things that scare me in a place which is so free of fear.
Because somewhere in between the burning of sage and cedar, hope is still here. Loss and death are just lies we tell ourselves and in this world this is a painful kind of progress. Because it’s no longer about equality but rather equity. Because economic advancement is not human progress. Because we only have one chance at this and if you aren’t angry then you simply aren’t paying attention.
And my days are pensive and political and my nights involve music and rum and laughing in a way that I haven’t done in months. Girls who aren’t wearing bra’s play guitars and sing every song like it is meant for me. And tall boys, step back and forth to words richer than all of Calgary’s oil.
And it’s make mine a rum and diet with extra lime. In a room full of ‘I’ll-get-this-one’ and ‘your round is next time’. And we sit in uncomfortable chairs, strangers and artists, growing closer with time and red wine. And we talk space and ideas, some of which are small, and others inexplicably large. And we learn about our childhoods and our beliefs and there is room for just about anyone, especially those that fall in between.
And everyone says – “I just thought I’d get more done” but what I’ve realised is I’m just getting a different type of work done. Not the kind that exists on Word documents or canvases but the kind where I know exactly what it’s like to snow shoe to an off-grid cabin, or how to say ‘aw get out of here’ in Cree.
This is a process of unlearning – at least for me. I’ve unlearnt a lot of things about myself and my life and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about crossing the Atlantic. As I buckle up and get ready for the long haul flight back to myself.
Lessons unlearnt, lasting hugs, some new music, some new friends, some new ideas of how I am going to live my life.
And I know all of this sounds grand but as day trips into night and then sun catches the moon again. Thoughts cling to me. I’m not scared of the darkness here. I’m not scared of the light either.
Because we all stand a little taller here in Banff. We all stand a little more calm. And the woods and the wild and the artist cards hold us here only for a moment in time. Only for a second.
Now if I live to 75 – which is unlikely, let’s face it, my family has a history of heart attacks and I really like starting fires – but let’s for a moment pretend that if I get to 75 I will have lived 2.3 billion seconds and I will have spent 3 million of those seconds here in Banff.
It’s amazing what can happen in a second. A fruit fly of a life to change everything. But then time moves differently here in Banff, where 3 valleys meet under the watch of a sleeping Buffalo.
And if I had some advice for the new artists, I have 3 very simply things to say -
1. Be prepared for everything to change in every way something can
2. Be prepared to meet people who you think are wonderful and you can’t imagine not seeing everyday
3. Don’t get overexcited about the breakfast in vista’s – that shit never changes and the coffee is really shitty.
And for you I have two very simple hopes -
I hope that while you are at Banff you make art in a way that only you can.
And I hope that in the seconds and minutes and hours and days and years left remaining, I hope that you surprise yourself.
I wish you more wilderness.
I wish you more rum.
I wish you more Banff.
Things are happening almost on top of each other. I nearly started on a new body of paintings but that didn’t happen and lots of interesting other things did.
Sometimes there are long periods where no work comes in so I paint without interruption and at those times it’s like painting is a full time job. It’s not a problem that it makes no money whatsoever and rarely gets seen because I enjoy it and think it needs time. Freelance work comes unexpectedly and the idea that lots of hats are needed to make a quick switch from one task to the next makes sense to me. These jobs keep me on my toes and thinking fast, they give me a bit of distance from my painting work and before I know it painting is at the back of a long queue of things to do. The hats are often a bit dusty but once worn in they all feel good.
Workshops in stiltwalking, fire performance and unicorn hobby-horse making led to an event in a park late one wintery night where the young folk performing looked magical and really captured something wonderful about being outside in the dark with twinkling and flickering lights.
A long running circus workshop has taken several twists and turns recently, but the hard working participants are moving on with their skills now, and little breakthroughs like a first solo walk across the tightwire, or managing ten throws of a three ball juggling cascade are rewarding for us and them.
I got happily lost in a black and white world drawing for Wolf in response to Kim Moore’s brilliant words and sounds.
The meetings with other Team Effort members have been great, we can switch off from the world and indulge in art babble. Well, that’s what I do.
And working for new clients and companies has been difficult and easy at the same time. There’s something a bit confusing about trying to present yourself as the right person for the job when you don’t know for sure what the job will be or if you can do it. That’s where hats are useful because people see you with a nice hat on and it gives them confidence in you. Now I’m going to put my sequined painting fez on and get to work.
I have been battling between wanting to hibernate/run away/make make make with no sleep. I had an inspiring few weeks of visits to Paris and Bristol seeing some amazing gigs, Nick Cave being the highlight, and meeting with the Reggae Orchestra I’m working with this year.
I’m struggling a little with the balance between just making and living in the now and also knowing that I need to look ahead and plan, fill in funding applications and hold on to space where it’s needed, it’s a balance between going with the flow and everyday and having to be strategic in the look of thelongterm…the now…the present…needs more attention though i think…I need to stop running ahead…
Tonight I get to see Team Effort folk which I can’t can’t wait for and before that I’m going to try my hand at parkour. happy body = happy mind and my body needs a kick up the backside. I nearly had a typo there of lick up the backside…that is different. The idea of parkour sounds amazing, urban exploration, a workout through being a monkey, running about climbing jumping, getting to know this city in a different way.
I’ve been thinking alot about the city…about making outside buildings…
I met with Martin and we talked about taxi conversations…Those conversations with strangers, the spaces these dialogues happen…I’m looking for more of them…
I met with Rose and we talked about our paths we walk in the city, our public spaces, she gave me a beautiful piece of writing about ‘Desire paths’ we arranged to walk, to talk…Rose we need to set that date.
I’m recording this weekend a group of people for a sound walk audio piece I’m making for GI next year with Glasgow Women’s library. ‘WEWALKWERUNWEWALK’ I’m thinking about how we walk and when we walk alone and with others, when does the impulse to join or flee happen.
Debbie and I have been thinking about how we can still make, have conversations between 2 cities, I’ve liked the idea of starting a postcard project, you send a card with a small piece of writing and the other person responds…we talked about there being an email with sound, image, text, a provocation perhaps…someone sent me a link to a project called ‘SOUNDRY’ it made me think of ‘SONIC POSTCARDS’ ’The city rings’ project too…how do we experience our city through sound, how do we translate this to give someone else this experience. In our dialogues through our email postcards how can we create different environments? fictional ones? How can we experience new spaces, stories, together in different places?
I’m really excited about some experiments in sound and image happening with Fergus of Team Effort too. We have started a dialogue of song/lyrics/sound and image to create an album of work this year as a new performance project called WOLF that has been made hand in hand through conversations in image and sound. I have one of Fergus’ beautiful illustrations here that was inspired by a few broken lyrics/images I sent to him, in turn I hope to now take this image as stimulus for a song or a something. This week we meet to play with mirrors, glass, illusion, shadow, light, dark, lines, string, thread, dust…it feels like we are at the beginning of a collaboration that has many arms and legs….installation…theatrical…sculptural…musical…an album…a live performance…we shall see….it’s very exciting.
Right…Kim B is coming over we’re finishing an edit of some films we made together for another project and I’m hoping to pin a date down with her to look at live projection software for possible experiments with WOLF and improvised live film….
…one step…two step…trip…fall….get back up…one step….two step…
I’m on the train to Edinburgh and just realised that the right shift button on my little keyboard isn’t doing what it’s supposed to… no matter.
One of the fascinating things about Team Effort! is the way it throws a focus on how we work. Most of the time we all know why: the burning, palpitating sometimes maddeningly vague but nonetheless pressing urge to explore the margins of our world, stand against injustice, question, provoke, add beauty and meaning. The lights go out when the why is lost. This happens mercifully seldom. The how is ever present and ongoing, sometimes it is simply in the service of the need to be nosey, to know things and to create in response, often it’s a thorny issue which requires a complex series of promises, rewards, punishments and threats handed from the self to the self.
The process of negotiating how we will work with others in a manner composed of the right and satisfying confluence of jeopardy, fairness, risk, integrity and equal authorship throws a strong and welcome light on the mechanics of how exactly it is you do these things alone. It forces you to interrogate how you quantify success, both on the basis of small daily achievements and in a wider sense on the completion of projects.
On days when you are suffering a poor relationship with your own creative practice, especially in those despondent periods where the why has been temporarily misplaced, upright and out of the house can feel like a miracle. It really is a tiny act of heroism to go to the studio and hope that the muses will come knocking even if they haven’t been answering your calls or texts for days. At other times you have to drag them back to you by the hair bucking and rearing and leaving claw marks in the carpet because patience may be a virtue but sometimes there is nothing for it but to wrest back control of the work by blunt force. This often results in our most loathed creative abortions but I feel like one of the most important things I have leant is that it is frequently better to be dealing with a shitty something than the infinite and beautiful possibilities of a nothing. As Antoine De Saint Exupery said – “inertia is a raw form of despair.” And he wrote the Little Prince so he’s a fucking dude.
I guess it’s often about how you create functioning treaties with a near future self. That’s a process fraught with almost incalculable difficulty. Whereas working with other people makes it much simpler. I’m a total knob and I know it, so it’s easy for me to let myself down, drop myself in the shit and leave myself dismayed if not disappointed based on how crap my expectations were in the first place. With other people though I am bound by loyalty, decency and respect to keep up my end of the bargain, be creatively load bearing and genuinely not let go of my end of the metaphorical piano we are trying to heft up the narrow stairway.
This is the glory of working with other people. Self awareness alone has no utility, it is simply a potentially catalysing force. Collective activity forces the hand in wonderful ways. I think of the wise words of photographer William Eggleston – “Hold Still. Keep Going.”
There is another main aim of Team Effort! that isn’t listed anywhere on our website’s About page or on any of these blogs. This isn’t because it’s a secret (although I do wish that we had some sort of secret aim to take over the world in a Pinky and the Brain style calamity…). Rather, it’s because I’ve always felt like the other aims are far more important, exciting and relevant to people who are reading about the project for the first time.
This other aim is to develop my ability as a producer. Team Effort! should allow everyone involved to push their practice in new ways and bring a new rigour to the kind of work that they make. Including me.
Until now, I’ve been rejoicing in the dizzying prospect of this project actually existing, casually getting admin in place for the year, writing contracts, talking animatedly and passionately in meetings with partner organisations across the city and getting to know the Team Effort! artists better over coffee and notepads.
November has felt like a real change in tone. Month three of twelve, and it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty knots of this project. They wake me up in the middle of the night and snarl around in my stomach. So it’s high time I started to untangle them.
First, tie up all those admin loose ends. No one’s going to blame you if you still haven’t issued that contract/updated that spreadsheet/made that payment/found that receipt/sent that invoice/written that proposal a week after you said you would. But don’t let the clock strike December or you just look slack. (………..CLANG!).
Second, sit down with a proper, grown-up producer who you trust will give you the best advice and instate a “no stupid questions” rule as you go over your budget and accounts. Mhari Hetherington at Fire Exit has the patience of an angel and the wisdom of… an owl? It’s producers like her and Caroline that bring that “other” aim of this project screeching back to the forefront for me. Get better. Push yourself to be as good as these brilliant people. Work harder in the areas that scare you (and maybe try not to scare so easily next time…)
Third, communicate better with the Team Effort! artists. This project exists so much in my head, so I need to be clearer all the time about how I express it to them… The number of residency proposals we’ve received has taken us all a bit by surprise. I asked the Team Effort! artists to assess and feedback on these proposals, but I hadn’t given myself time to explain to them how to do this or on exactly what I was looking for from the residencies. By the end of November we had figured out some ground rules for assessing this sudden influx of ideas from people outside Team Effort!. (I’m also more than happy to talk about these ground rules with anyone before they write their residency proposal, all they have to do is drop me a line.)
Fourth, get on with it. September and October let us imagine our year, get to know each other and start to plan. November pushed us all to get things moving. For me, this was about sitting down with each of the Team Effort! artists again and finding the framework for a year’s worth of professional development activity. I asked questions. They answered. I listened and asked more questions. I drew a blank. More questions. More listening. More questions. Where do you want to go? Why haven’t you been able to get there so far? How are we going to get you there? Scrunched up paper and crossed out notes. A picture begins to emerge… Each of the six artists now has a plan for their individual professional development activity over the year – flexible and subject to change, but a plan nonetheless. Phew.
And, gradually, my November knots begin to untangle, just as December ones start to twist up around each other and January ones wait just around the bend. Like the best producers I know though, I am starting to love this process of untangling. And, knot by knot, I think I might even be getting a bit better at it.
The whole reason for moving to the Southside Studios was to find a place to work more effectively (more effectively meaning ‘not in my bed’) yet this week I have moved into another part of the building to work even more effectively.This act of taking the body out of a familiar space to help the focus is great in theory but not so great when you literally run out of places to go. Before this year is out I will have to physically move to another country to maintain my effectiveness.
But what is effectiveness anyway? It’s all crap. Can’t I just wait for inspiration to hit me? I really shouldn’t be comparing my artistic output to my output when I had a structured job in FE. The whole point in leaving there was to help me find out where I should be and how I want to continue as a writer and theatre maker.
Cue Gilly cracking the whip (see previous blog) even though I asked her to. So I have been resident in a pentagon shaped light box with infrared heaters and some artwork on the walls. There are worse places to be really. The light is incredible. And here I have been working on some new stuff as part of my Team Effort development. Throughout the year I plan to create a new body of spoken word/poetry and work on not being afraid to call myself a spoken word/poet. I have actually surprised myself in working up a body of pieces throughout this week, which are undoubtedly poems. Who’d have thought it?
I started out thinking about drink and pubs. I want to explore this city, and our generation’s, relationship to alcohol. With that however come ideas of families, my relationship with my father, nostalgia, country and western songs, football, religion and masculinity. So far so O’Connor, but the interesting thing here is that I’m approaching these through poetry not performance.In fact I have no idea if or how this development will become something performative or stageable. At the moment they are words on a page and it’s got me thinking about performance. There are definitely some pieces I have created this week which are to be read aloud. But there are some I think that deserve to be read. Maybe reread a few times, which is never something that I thought possible with my work, given that the main characteristics are rapid fire delivery, rhythm and sound.
Some of the Team are invited to have a look next week to give feedback, and I’ll post part two of this blog then if they anything good to say.
This week I have been in residence at Cove Park with a lovely group of other artists as part of an Imaginate/National Theatre of Scotland week. We’ve had our own space to hide away in but everynight made food together, chatted, told ghost stories around a fire, shared ideas and talked about nothing and everything.
When I arrived the first thing I did was set up my speakers, but as soon as I got to the point of plugging them in It felt wrong, the silence here, with nothing but wind, trees, water was enough and the stillness and space was needed as the first extended period of time after a summer of heartache, moving house several times, creating new work fulltime, performing, touring, searching, dreaming, just not stopping….
So despite thinking I had come here to make music I suprised myself by instead spending alot of the time being still, listening to wind and rain and staring at the loch, the trees, the sky, walking with binaural microphones listening to the detail of every movement and sound around me, writing, reading, sleeping and eating my weight in good food with beautiful people.
Was I as productive as I hoped? not in the ways I had planned, I learnt a little more about what was exciting about binaural recording, I thought and wrote about sound, I looked at graphic scores, read about acoustics in urban landscapes, read some more writing by David Toop. I wrote some words the starts of new songs maybe. I wrote to write maybe for something maybe not. I thought about walking alot, the difference of walking with intent and direction and walking with no end, allowing myself to get lost, to walk for the sake of walking. I learnt some practical knowledge about how to score with Sibelius software for upcoming project with Bristol Reggae Orchestra and future work, but really importantly I also feel like I learnt how to remember to breathe, to let my shoulders rest, the importance of not trying to make something happen and in that realising and trusting that ideas happen thoughts are still there, allowing for space is important…
Here’s a fact about walking for you…I did the classic google research I entered into the search box: ‘women and walking’ The first thing that came up was that scientists had discovered that you can tell by a woman’s gait, her walk whether she can achieve vaginal orgasm…it’s all in the hips apparently.
I’m thinking about sound in a more detailed way, and about the importance of space and silence, my ears have had some space but been allowed to focus on the small, the detail, someone sent me a passage from the book ‘Nobody speaks of remarkable things’ by Jon Macgregor, I read it a long time ago and the way he describes the sounds of the urban spaces with such sensuality, physicality it’s really beautiful…It made me think about how you can write about sounds, I’m working on a audio led sound piece for a walk for GI with Glasgow Womens Library, perhaps an interesting way to access finding the journey for sound is to write more too…
From Jon Macgregor:
‘If you listen, you can hear it.
The city, it sings.
If you stand quietly, at the foot of a garden, in the middle of a street, on the roof of a house. Its clearest at night, when the sound cuts more sharply across the surface of things, when the song reaches out to a place inside you.
Its a wordless song, for the most, but its a song all the same, and nobody hearing it could doubt what it sings. ‘
This week is full of more team effort meetings with everyone, I’ve already met with Kim B and we’ve chatted about how to create live visuals with live music performance and a way that the visuals of a gig can tie into a whole feel with music videos and performer, and have an improvised liveness to it, we need to set a playdate to try stuff out now. I met with Martin and we’re doing a writing exchange, we both approach writing very differently, I’d love to be able to write narrative, learn how a story can be told, so I’ll send him some of my writing that is more image led and he’ll send me something of his and we’ll then send back our responses…and we shall see what happens…we talked about voice and authenticity the responsibility of writer, editor in working with verbatim work and interviews, how music is set to words, the different ways that can happen…also something potentially for future team effort, spoken word and sound performance of a something…I just set a date with Gilly to meet mentor Johnny too which is very exciting.
I leave Cove tonight or tomorrow, with a feeling in my chest and belly that is not so similar to nerves…but I think it’s just excitement and the feeling of being completely overwhelmed in a very good way by life and all the potentials of things I know coming up and the huge space of the unknown in all it’s new findings, learnings, sharings, makings, playing, performing, writings, failings, dreamings, love to come.
I can’t wait to see everyone again.
2. Something characterized by bewildering vastness, perilousness, or unchecked profusion
So I am pretty sure I am due two blog posts. But one will have to do for now.
As I write I have slept 6 of the last 31hours and have traveled to Banff in Canada. It’s 7.35am where I am. I have been awake since 5am but I don’t begrudge it at all. My general cloud of panic makes me forget how much I enjoy being out of my natural environment. How being unsettled can be a tremendously empowering thing.
I am here for 5weeks. I have a studio called ‘The Davidson Studio‘. Which I will go and explore today. I have a lovely room which has a travel-lodge-but-nicer feel. The bed is HUGE. And apart from that, my time is my own. I am here to write. To read. To engage with the wilderness. My wilderness.
At the moment at The Banff Centre there is the Mountain Film and Book Festival so I am booked into a see couple of films over the course of the next 3 days. Which is a total privilege and a nice way to ease myself into a different way of living for the next few weeks.
On the plane over I started reading a book about Alberta’s First Nations. From what little I have read – and having no or little previous knowledge, I cannot wait to drive into the First Nation archives that are here. I want to share a passage that I read yesterday:
‘Young men sometimes underwent an ancient custom that had been variously described as ‘voluntary torture’ or ‘the making of a brave’. With their breasts pierced with wooden skewers that were then attached by the thongs to the top of the centre pole, they would dance, leaning backward against the thongs, until the skewers ripped free.’
I won’t unpick that metaphor for you. But I like the idea of dancing yourself free and of acknowledging the pain of it.
I added a photo of a map of downtown Banff and enjoyed that all the street names were named after animals. I get overwhelmed sometimes about how distant we are from the natural world. It creates a sharp pain in the space on left side of my ribcage. I think I will spend sometime thinking about progress – both mine and rather grandiosely, humanity’s. Dancing yourself free of wooden stakes in your skin sounds a lot less barbaric than the factory farming of chicken, where each hen lives in a space smaller than a piece of A4 paper.
And so in the middle of this jet-lagged, superficial philosophical, cultural tourist, badly written blog, I will simply say – We’ve lost our way. And I have had moments of losing mine. So now is the time to find the way back to ourselves, to be brave, even when it hurts.
The sun is rising now. For the first time in months, maybe years. I’m off to watch it.
I wish you more wilderness.Sx
October has been one hectic MF. I have flown through it, both metaphorically and physically. It has raced past me at a dizzying pace. It’s only now, as the dark begins to swallow the afternoons and the light actively retreats from this town, that I realise how much I would have loved October to stay a while longer. The clocks changing always feels like an ending of sorts. A chance to pause, reflect and appreciate something anew.
I began this month with my head stuck firmly in an application for a big award that I’ve been nominated for. From there, I hightailed it straight into our first Team Effort! workshop. Despite most of us being loaded up with colds and flus, this was a wildly inspiring day. All nine of us together in Ben’s big, cold studio, watching each other’s video diaries, sharing our mix-tape pecha kuchas and scribbling stories on massive sheets of paper stuck to the white walls. We are a group now. Flexible, malleable and open, but a solid group nonetheless. We’ll do another two of these whole-group workshops throughout the year, reflecting on what we’ve done and imagining the things to come at each one.
After workshop number one, I had two days to pack-quick before jetting off to Mexico to set up David Leddy’s audio play Susurrus. I was in Mexico for ten hectic but excellent days. I arrived home ready-set-go to jump right back into Team Effort!. I was itching to reconnect with the artists and to spend proper time dreaming up plans for them and getting balls rolling.
I’m going to be absolutely honest. When Debbie told me she’d been offered the new job in London, my heart sank. It flipped, actually. It gasped, contracted, ballooned, burst and thudded into my belly. My first emotional response was purely selfish sadness.
Pause. Big breath in. Big breath out.
As Debbie’s soon-to-be boss would often say after moments of fear or confusion, “I had a meeting with myself”.
Like the other five Team Effort! artists, Debbie has crafted this project with me since day one. Team Effort! has evolved around the needs, questions and ideas of the artists who inhabit it. Debbie is fearless when stepping up to new challenges and will always ask the questions that push her and her ideas further.
When I told her in May that I was setting up a series of seven events over the summer called IF and asked her if she’d like to get involved, she set about exploring all of the different cultural and social connotations of the number seven. Her response to my simple invitation? She’d do all seven: seven different events with seven different collaborators. A challenge set to herself. A provocation. Another chance to push herself further, to feed her natural curiosity, to learn more.
Debbie has dived head first into Team Effort! with generosity, openness, courage and intelligence. In two short months, she has become a co-conspirator, a fellow mischief maker, a trusted advisor and a valued friend to all of us. I have no doubt that she will do the same at the Royal Court and I couldn’t be happier for her or prouder of her. We will miss her deeply and feel the absence of her vivid, technicolour imaginings frequently.
Debbie and I have agreed two things. The first is that she will maintain her involvement in Team Effort! as an Associate Artist. In quintessential Debbie style, she has requested that the others in the collective devise a provocation, a question or a set of challenges for her to respond to throughout her year in London. She will continue to blog on this site when she can, and she’ll continue to feed into the ongoing creative conversations that are beginning to flourish between us all.
The second thing we agreed was that a sixth person should be invited to take her place in the team. That person should also have been integral to the evolution of the project and they should be bold in the questions they are asking of themselves and their practice at this point in their career.
On Monday, I invited Eilidh MacAskill to become our sixth Team Effort! collective member and she accepted. We are all thrilled by the energy and experience that Eilidh will bring to the year. She has been fundamentally involved in Team Effort! from the outset: from experimenting with new work at the IF events to challenging my ideas for the project over a cup of coffee on the roof of the Studios. She is the perfect fit, and we are all thrilled to have her officially on board.
And so. Off we go again, picking up speed and spinning off on tangents across the country. November will be one hectic MF. It will race past us at a dizzying pace. The days will get darker and colder.
With the speed of it all, you could be forgiven for forgetting the one thing that is building gradually, solidifying as we go and strengthening slowly, adding permanence to everything we do. It’s in conversations over cuppas and “here’s an interesting article” emails. It’s in giddy giggles in the Glad Cafe and focussed afternoons of advice. It’s in the meetings we have together and the jobs we do away. It’s in Allan, Debbie, Eilidh, Fergus, Kim, Kim, Martin, Rose, Stef.
So pause. Big breath in. Big breath out. See it? Now keep going.
So after many years of working on my own, 2013 has shaped up to be the year of the collaboration. More than any other year, and more than my other projects, it seems what I have been doing lately calls for proper shared ownership – not just working as a team, but sharing the concepts, structures and outcomes – then holding my breath as it is taken away from me in new directions by the director or performer(s).
Do You Nomi (January) was a case in point – having created the text I watched as other people got involved in interpreting what I had written. And there were many people – director, choreographer, dancers, actors, designers – all with their own take on it. I know it’s not like a major deal to have all these people working on something but in the past I had called all the shots – not because of megalomania but because that’s how it was: everything was done on a shoestring but now I find myself in positions where my role is fixed and acknowledged and separate from the others.
The forthcoming Wilful Forgetting (Tron Theatre 6th-9th November 8pm) is another good case in point. It is a piece that I have co-written with Donna Rutherford which she is directing and also performing. And making the films. Andoverseeing the music. And designing. I’m happy with the text we have created (which is made up of rewritten and re-appropriated text from literature dealing with a mother/son relationship), but again I have to allow the interpretation to move and change from my original intentions. I have also been hugely influenced by Donna, her work and process. I’m sure the final piece will not be instantly recognisable as an O’Connor Production™ but I know that I should allow myself to work in new ways.
I’ve still to see what Scottish Opera have made of my children’s opera Platypus in Boots (music by Rachel Drury) and Pop Up Theatre Royal (music by Karen MacIver) – both being directed by other people. The Power of Collaboration is also the title of a section from a talk I’m giving this week at a palliative care conference about a recent project at a children’s hospice. I’ll be talking a bout the risk involved ofbringing together artists, families, hospice staff, schools and community groups to make a piece of work. And when I say risk I mean ‘positive risk.’
All of this is good by the way and I am in no way saying that any of this should not be the case. I have spoken to writers who love watching their texts grow and be shaped into entities that they had never expected, and of course writers who are relieved that elements were interpreted ‘correctly.’ I suppose I have always seen a piece through from beginning to end – and have a clear idea about direction and delivery from the outset. But this year’s projects have all been worthwhile, and of course it is always a pleasure and a privilege to witness your words being lived through by another. In any case interpretation has always occurred every time my work has faced an audience.
But still my question remains as to what extent the writer has power in their projects. This will no doubt continue perhaps until I find solid working relationships with people whose work I know well, who I trust and who I enjoy collaborating with.
And so to Team Effort. The whole idea of people working together lies at the heart of this brilliant collective. Last week I had a meeting with fellow group member Kim Moore. We spoke about music and words; about honesty andintegrity; about singing and underscoring. Could this be another collaboration in the making? How would I feel if Kim were to take my words and perform them?
When is it going to stop being all about me?
Wait a minute – is someone else going to get the applause??
I find blogging damnably difficult. Difficult on the basis that my art practice often interrogates notions of self-regard and emotional manipulation. In order to support the integrity of that practice and to keep a clear, sharp boundary between the “I” that I present in my performances as a dramatis personae and me the living, misbehaving idiot, I have always avoided having a personal presence on the internet. I have a website which is purely a space to show my work and that’s it.
Within Team Effort! I see not just the validity, but the need to document discussions and shared processes and to be generous about offering that up as an experience other people might be able to learn from.
I think the mild discomfort of trying to be honest and unstinting in giving access to the evolution of the project is healthy. And I believe that in an age where we are acclimatised, even inured to the clamour of other people’s online acts of self-definition, it is important for me to work out innovative ways to show the work and the critical discourse which informs it without feeling personally exposed or jeopardising the integrity of an art practice which wants to discuss self-mythology without creating one.
The focus of this month has been the Modo street parade The Red Eyed Dog Of Crookston. For five years I have been Modo’s designer and over that time we have tried to work as much visual excitement into their street parades as possible. The fun of a street parade is that it is an outdoor takeover and that anyone can be involved or come along as an audience member. They are all about spectacle (which people sometimes say is a bad word, but it’s what I love) and the performance and making workshops that lead up to a parade really benefit from the excitement that a big public event can generate. As more people get involved you can feel the anticipation building and the momentum becomes pretty intense. I enjoy working out colour schemes, parade designs, big builds, props, costume and puppets, using each element to build on the others and hopefully getting to a point where it becomes spectacular. I get to be in charge of everything visual so it’s a wonderful designey power trip. I was really bowled over the first time I saw a whole parade that I had designed and made, I’m not sure why but I couldn’t believe it. It’s a busy old job and last year I spent almost six months working on street parades across Scotland.
On this particular project I haven’t lead workshops like I usually would, I’ve been building a giant evil hound puppet which will lead the parade. Operated by five young folk from Modo’s circus group in Govan, the puppet had to be light weight, simple in operation and visually striking. Standard street puppets tend to be made from willow and wet strength tissue paper, with a bamboo skeleton and a fabric costume, based on old school lantern making techniques. Both Welfare State International and Bread And Puppet have very interesting books on giant puppet making, and these were like bibles when I started.
Now that I understand it all a bit better I enjoy trying different materials and techniques based on what movement and character the puppet should have in the end. The wind is a big problem with giant puppets, to combat this they often end up seriously rigid, which doesn’t help in bringing them to life. So I wondered about making something purposefully skeletal, using pipe lagging (that foam that plumbers wrap pipes in) to make shapes from, because it weighs almost nothing.
The hound puppet has a spine, shoulders and hips made from cane so there are solid points for support and articulation, then pipe lagging to build out the body shapes. In practice it was better than I’d hoped because it naturally makes very elegant curves. Glasgow Playschemes Association’s wonderful scrap store had some foam blocks for dead cheap so I carved them into legs and I refined the silhouette and added detail with plastazote, another bargain from GPA. This stage was a lot of fun, trying to create the illusion of a solid, bulky form using ideas from shadow puppetry. Last year I made the Phantom Stag for Streetland, a life-size deer operated by three performers, to see if I could work out how to make a puppet like Handspring’s War Horses.
It turned out fine, but there was a bit of a knack to working it. This time I took a standard street/circus animal puppet shape and build the simplest control mechanisms I could so that the young folk operating it had the best chance of making a natural performance with it. The aim with the articulation was to get fast scary movements, and a convincing prowl. The puppeteers will be clearly visible, dressed in red and there are red lights inside the frame of the puppets body and eyes. Hopefully it will be a bit like a sculpted shadow puppet, appearing out of the shadows and terrorising the children of Pollok.
The parade is tomorrow evening and the forecast is for torrential rain. Yeeha.
(Found amongst the clearout: the 1 year old me, the 17 year old me)
First sentence admission: I find it really hard to write blogs. I am truly the child of a journalist, raised amongst hack-skepticism and dogged ambition, but have always leaned towards big-picture editorials and leaned (far) away from being a columnist. I’d picture myself as more of a seeker, a fact-checker, an idealist ‘speaking truth to power’, rather than a cushty headshot/ “I think, I comment”/pithy self-brand single-voiced megaphone. Or rather, I’ve never been sure that what I have to say is really worth a public airing, especially if it’s just my name in the byline. I worry, like I do whenever I make anything, about exposing too much of myself – of revealing an uglier, dumber, embarrassing part of me, and the reaction that could follow. But, my thin-skinned self is here, ready to jump – so I’m going to go against all my natural instincts and write this personally, in the moment, even if my present moment means that I’m sick in bed and have a vague sense of doom about several upcoming deadlines. Part of my job as a director is rigorously choosing which note to give and when – what words will keep the train on track and what missed articulation could de-rail any member of the cast or crew down a false path. Choosing my words is the main tool I have in making a piece of theatre – and the perfectionist in me dies when those words can be re-written live, in conversation, with an actor answering me back. Here, in black and white, the 25 year old problem, covered in dust but not yet dead, raises her ugly head – a fear of failure, of being caught, an imposter, full-hearted but empty-headed, which means not even trying in the first place.
However, Team Effort has given me permission to fail, monumentally, regularly, in good company and in fact, to stop calling it failure at all.
This self-induced pressure is nothing new. Two days ago I went back to my childhood home, where I lived for 23 of my 25 years and where my mother and brother still live until the end of this month, to begin clearing it out. My room is a dust-sodden tribute to a chubby infant, a 90s child, a leopard printed adolescent and a disappointed early adult. Digging through endless boxes, designating items as either trash or treasure, the clear out became a strange investigation of some other person’s history, some other curly-headed kid’s narrative, and what struck me most was the rise and fall of how much forgotten art this weird little girl made – sometimes there were piles and piles of drawings; long sci-fi stories; a notebook desperately attempting to record every human being I’d ever met up till the age of 12; a collage made out of images of skin; the obsessive documenting of every Manic Street Preachers lyric; print outs of incendiary political texts; scripts for plays in different rooms in a house. How much art – though not necessarily how good, how successful, how sell-able. Choosing which of these scraps to keep and what to throw away felt like a strange act of oppression. What happened to this unafraid little power-house? When did education systems, professionalism, status anxiety and reality ruin my thinking? I remember telling my mum I wanted to go to art school so I could learn to think like an artist. Instead, I went to university and learned to think like an academic – and the drawings and glorious madness stopped there.
At a certain point, theatre comes sweeping back into my life, and all that remains are boxes of grubby but proud flyers for shows. I’m taking Team Effort as a chance to be unashamedly unfettered, disparate and excited, to think like an artist, to make like a kid, to collaborate like an adult, and to read, think and create, with others, in an attempt to do all of the above better, sharper, more beautifully, more truthfully than before.
“This is a good time for secret ambitions.” Gilly said this at our first meeting, which shook the dust out of all my corners. I’ve never gotten round to business cards, or been able to work out my Unique Selling Point, but I’ve got a box of secret ambitions and questions and stupid ideas and chaotic impossibilities that I’d love to give a go. And it seems like I’ve got permission. I have been incredibly busy for months and months. It means my stress levels are probably tantamount to carcinogenic, though I read recently that stress is only bad for you if you believe stress to be bad, and I never have – truthfully, I enjoy having a full head and a full diary. In fact, I’ve filled the days I’ve had “off” since the end of my last project with cleaning, admin, meetings, and in any down time, a particularly sour-tasting crisis about my purpose in the world… But the space that Team Effort gives me, is a blessing in the disguise of an existential crisis. It is for reflection and articulation – to not just barrel my way through life and work, but to find a stillness amidst all the momentum: to think and learn and approach what truly fascinates me, not just whatever is booked in next. And of course that old spectre of the dusty, terrified imposter comes back – and instead of running, I’m going to meet her, face-to-face, amongst the dust of my childhood. Yes, my ideas might be terrible, but I’ll never know unless I try. Look at the all the mad stuff this ten year old did! You can’t edit a blank page. You can’t make theatre without first putting something in that empty space.
Over the Summer, I attempted to make a piece of work for every IF event with a different collaborator – I wanted to learn how to ask the right questions, to facilitate collaborative work, to be creative frequently and to challenge myself to take bold risks in a public setting. After working with Rose, negotiating my way through a brand new relationship and a brand new art work (as well as becoming her biggest fan), I already know that the highlight of Team Effort will be the other members of the team – the artists, producers and all-stars who’s shared genius will make this thing bigger than the sum of it’s parts. I can’t wait to collaborate with them, steal their genius ideas, have conversations, ask them for help, learn from their art forms, get that buzz of a fresh ideas and new working partners, and gain a whole new set of secret ambitions and sparks. This imposter has both shaken off the dust and is trying to stay still, and can’t wait to start failing.
For now though, normal service resumes: bed, busy head and deadlines.
I am currently refusing to admit that I have a cold.
It’s not a cold. I always sound this nasal and have a fondness for lemsips.
I am enjoying reading everyone’s blog. I feel slightly jealous, internet, there I said it.
My diary is crammed at the moment. I am in the middle of rehearsals for a new play called CURED and currently writing a new script for The Traverse Theatre which will have a reading in October. These two opportunities mean an incredible amount to me but they do (quite rightly so) take up a lot of head space.
So I haven’t had a true chance to dream about what Team Effort might mean to me. I’m just being honest. I’m a rubbish lier, even in Helvetica Font size 12. But I thought I would muse on a few things that are simply instinct about Team Effort.
My instinct says that Team Effort will allow me to PUSH myself. I look forward to creating pieces of work that simply would not have existed if it wasn’t for this project. I am really interested in the use of non-character voices and the tipping point between poetry and dramatic writing. I can’t wait to dig into myself and make new discoveries about my writing voice.
My instinct says that Team Effort will allow me to PLAY. I take my craft very seriously. I don’t have much margin for error at the moment and I think Team Effort will help alleviate any pressure I am currently placing on myself to achieve, achieve, achieve. I can’t wait to get to know everyone better and find out if there are any fellow rum drinkers amongst the artists, who else secretly loves 1980’s thrillers and thinks that Angelica Huston has made some odd career decisions.
My instinct says that Team Effort will allow me to PREPARE. This is a marathon, not a sprint. I would like to think I’ve got decades of writing and dreaming in front of me. And since I graduated University 4 years ago, A LOT has happened. I think Team Effort will give me time to consider my future actions, where I want to go, what type of artist do I want to be and what will be my next hair cut?
Push. Play. Prepare. They sound like great focuses for Team Effort and maybe just 2014 in general.
Now, pass the painkillers.
Thinking I’m pretty au fait with technology (having a soundcloud, twitter/fb, website, dropbox, skydrive, instagram and flickr account) it’s taken me this long to get this blog up because I couldn’t work out how to do it. I do, however, have a blog section of my website. During a residency at the Tron Theatre I thought I would use it to tell my adoring fans of what I was doing each day. The reality? I made three entries – two on the first two days and one at the end. Just because I felt guilty.
Having just gotoff the phone from Gilly (producer and chief Whip Cracker of Team Effort) who provided a tutorial here it is. My first blog for Team Effort! So what am I going to write about?
Normally all the accounts listed above contain mostly work-related publicity or pictures of my dinner. Mostly the latter as I tend to eat more than work. However this is not the intention of this blog.
So in deciding what I’m going to write about in this blog, having been prompted by Gilly, I’m going to write about two things: writing blogs and being prompted by Gilly.
The first I feel pretty funny about. I like to talk. I like to write. I like the idea of people being interested in what I have to say. I update my facebook status regularly (again, food mostly) however after an unpleasant incident I created involving a kind of inflammatory comment on the Church I have tended not to shout my mouth off in more recent times. Food is much less inflammatory. So in this world of instant fame from status updates and instant backlash, the whole ‘putting myself out there’ is quite an unappealing concept. I also feel a bit weird about our relationships with blogs. Becoming more supported by funders and arts councils I realise the weight they put on the idea of making your process public – indeed it’s in a few conditions in contracts. I’m totally fine with that in theory, however do I really want to tell the world my ideas, my process, my thoughts, my hopes, my fears? Does anyone find it useful and interesting? Am I excited when I see someone blog about their work or do I skim over it whilst rolling my eyes at their shame-faced publicity hunting?
However I am in a different place now. With Team Effort! I am being encouraged to take all sorts of risks. To think long and hard about what I want form a year’s development and work within a frame of my own making. So perhaps these blogs will be based around the idea of blogging a process. Perhaps I’ll give insight into elements of my work while remaining mysterious. Maybe it’ll be whatever is in my mind when reminded to blog again please Martin.
Which brings me to the next thing I want to talk about. Being prompted. I’m sure she won’t appreciate being labelled a whip cracker, but having a producer, mentor and other people on the team means that I can’t idly put stuff out there on social media whenever I get round to it (normally in the little rehearsal videos between dances on Strictly) but now I have things like ‘deadlines.’ Gilly has asked for a few things like availability, video diaries, contracts as well as these regular blogs. And while I do that teenage huffing thing I know deep down it’s exactly what I need. I never have anyone telling me what to do. For so long I’ve been my own boss and because I share a lot of characteristics with my boss I let myself off with not doing anything while letting my boss off for being a bad boss. Now there is a new boss in town and a whole lot of new people to take into account.
If I take this year seriously and commit to making something new, something that has a rigorous investigation and is a true exploration of my work, then these blogs will serve as an important document that I can use for reflection. If however I cock this up and make nothing by the end of it, my blog may be nothing more than a series of descriptions about failed attempts to do something worthwhile which nobody will read or find interesting.
I think I prefer working towards the first thing.
Okay I’m going to get up now. I’ll watch Strictly later.
I have butterflies in my belly sitting down to write this, still in bed warm feet and cold nose, in my new home, the 3rd of this summer, watching the rain run down and across my window through the standard Glasgow heavy iron bars placed over the glass.
This room will be my place of rest and my place of work, something I’m nervous about as the separation of the two can be good. I’m nesting trying to make the room a place that I want to spend time in and can feel inspired by so with bars on the window I was worried it would feel like a prison. I’ve heard writer friends say they need to go to writers jail to get some work done, perhaps this room which will become my sleeping space, my reading space, music making and recording space will lock me in a good creative space…we shall see….
Knowing that I have the break out space and environment of Southside Studios helps alleviate any worries though. I’ve found it’s really important to my brain and body to be in a space making things that feels right, and the studios offer inspiring open spaces and the opportunity to see other human beings which is good.
When I met with Gilly, what feels like an aaaaage ago, I was chatting to her about possible music folk to do things at IF, I started saying how I’d been craving a new arts environment to work and play in, how I was inspired by visual art, sculpture, had been making sound installation work in collaboration with artists and If I was in this environment I’d have opportunities to explore this more and also have another space to be in creatively outside the home to meet other artists, and try and move away from hermit artist type situation. Meeting Gilly that day was a catalyst of a series of changes and new beginnings, playing my first solo gig at IF night was a taste of what Team Effort can offer as a space to challenge but support at the same time, and I’ll say it again and again, but I’m so grateful and overwhelmed with this opportunity and to Gilly for seeing the need for a project like this in kim world.
I love seeing how other people compose in writing, composition of space in art, in theatre performance, in music, in dance, in film. Everytime I collaborate with an artist from a different discipline I feel I take something new into how I approach making music and write and how I think about performance and the experience for an audience of the work.
I can’t wait to get to know everyone better as people, as artists, and getting an insight into everyone’s way of making and thinking. I’ve chatted with Fergus already about possible magic experiments and illusion tricks which makes me excited indeed, Kim Beveridge about borrowing her binaural microphones to play around with sound in 360degrees space, I cant’ wait to play, write, perform with you all.
A big part of this year for me will be to pull together material for an album inspired by and made with you all perhaps, thinking about how it can be inspired by visual arts practice and theatre performance, I’m very excited that I’ll have Johnny Lynch as a set of ears and advice giver along the way.
Finally there’s something I’d like to confess…I’m afraid of my own voice is that a stupid thing to say? Perhaps, but I’ll say it now anyway and cringe later.
I’m scared to use it, as me, honestly and openly, I often hide behind others and when pushed to the front I crumble or I find myself adopting a ‘persona’ muting myself to be able to present and in that moment in front of watching eyes and listening ears. I want to be able to write, to perform, to make work live for an audience with more confidence and honesty, authenticity, having seen a little of you all over the summer at IF I know I’ve fallen into the perfect space for these things to be explored and I hope I can help everyone else in Team Effort explore their questions, practices too..I’ll be your guinea pig, a body, a voice, ears, hands, willingly, smiling at the thought of it
Following the excitement of Team Effort! receiving its funding I have been thinking a lot about what I will do this year. I’m excited about taking this chance to work with other people on puppet making, illustration, interactive game making and magic. Now I just need to convince some people that they want to do it too.
This is what I am doing now-
An album cover for the band Turning Plates. I’m pleased with it, although it’s pretty far from the work I usually make, and the experience of trying to visualise someone else’s ideas was difficult.
A large puppet hound for the Modo parade The Red Eyed Dog Of Crookston. I’ve taken the chance to do loads more research into puppet movement and articulation, which has been really interesting, and a lot of the online information comes from puppets made for horror and sci-fi films, which ties in strangely well with the themes of my painting work. So I’m spending even more time looking at horror sources and enjoying them as much as ever.
An interactive game with Gareth Johnston from Edinburgh uni, for cross Science/Art themed events. The idea is to explain Carbon Capture and Storage through the medium of pinball. Result.
Painting in the studio, trying again to move my work on a bit. I will let the images become whatever they become. The Peter Doig show in Edinburgh has convinced me that I need to develop my technical skills. My studio has become a tiny painting filled cave, so hopefully by using one of the Team Effort! spaces I can make bigger works more often.
Stroking Stephen the cat, which is making the cold studio seem much more welcoming. The image at the top is from last week. There was no plan when it was being drawn, but perhaps the man is about to walk through the doorway of a new beginning? And his giant hat represents hope? And his bag is filled with dreams? And the trees are uncertainty? And the bird symbolises . . . I ran out of metaphors.
I have been meaning to write this post for weeks. I’m glad I waited. As I hunker down for another Glasgow winter and a day of work in the studio begins to demand Arctic expedition attire, it is all the sweeter to look back on the summer evenings of IF and think that what we started then is gaining momentum now.
When I joined the project I had a real appetite to explore the theatrical properties of my visual art practice but a real absence of clarity in the matter of how to do so.
It was hugely satisfying to find that conversations; natural, enthusiastic but tentative came comparatively quickly as we began to meet and that tender little filaments of ideas and shared interests started to weave into a real fabric of possibilities.
A tipsy moment of throwaway enthusiasm between Debbie and I became a serious intention to work together in the service of our shared obsession with Richey Edwards.
It’s difficult, at this point, for this post not to turn into a disgusting sycophantic hagiography of Debbie Hannan, so interesting, educational and downright fun it was to work with her.
We had a short time to develop something brief but relatively ambitious and to find a shared language to bridge the discrepant space between our different backgrounds and disciplines and it was excellent to find that quite quickly we could accomplish that and take joint ownership of the work.
Having spent the last few years working almost completely alone on a art practice which concerns itself with extreme solipsism and self definition it is extremely edifying to submit yourself to a discursive process and hand some control of the work to another person.
As a performer to be directed, and directed so well by someone whose decisions and advice I trusted completely was a total giddy delight. I found that on standing to take the stage on the night of the performance I was gloriously unaccompanied by my customary urge to run away and be sick somewhere conveyed by jelly legs and instead felt calm and ready to show the audience our very new, very raw short piece.
So this is to say that already I have been lucky enough to have a taste of what Team Effort might do for us all – a sample of the thrill of working with other people in unexpected ways, or relinquishing total control and being repaid by the satisfying shared authorship of work I would never have made alone.
This all seems very sentimental and gushing, which is not my natural idiom at all which more than anything makes me all the more certain that Team Effort! is damn well good for me.
There’ve been a lot of conversations recently about how honest we can be on this blog. I for one, have had a draft blog post sitting on my desktop for the last two weeks about my own perceived inadequacy at administration.
I understand that in order to genuinely assess and evaluate my progress throughout this year of development, I need to be able to look back at where I was throughout it, what I found difficult, what I was scared by. But you might be a potential boss one day, so if I say I’m a terrible… mathematician… that might cloud your judgement of me, whether it’s true or not, whether you’ve met me or not.
I’m going to hedge my bets and assume that by the end of this year, I’ll be better at most of the things I tell you I’m bad at at the beginning. I’m also going to hope that you read these blog entries, by me and by the other artists involved in Team Effort! with an open and generous mind, that you don’t judge a group of people trying to learn from each other (and possibly from you someday) unfairly, regardless of the ramblings they engage in on the pages of this blog.
With that in mind, I wanted to tell you a story about broken sleep. On Tuesday night, I was woken up when my elbow collided with my sleeping partner’s face. “OW! Why are you awake??” She said, semi-consciously. “I was thinking about different ways that we could use the spaces!” (I hadn’t been) I replied, animatedly. I then proceeded to reel off a series of words that were, for all intents and purposes, unrelated to each other. The only one I remember is “public”. Then I promptly apologised and fell back to sleep.
This project, and the possibilities it creates, has completely overtaken every waking (and apparently every sleeping) part of my brain. I feel galvanised and energised in ways that I’ve rarely felt professionally before.
I also feel a creeping sense of panic.
This mild panic has been sneaking up on me for the last eight months or so. It started in the early days of Team Effort! when I was sitting with flip chart paper, pens and post-its in the inspiring, uber-supportive surroundings of the National Theatre Studio. It continued through summer, through to last week, when I sent out the contracts to the artists and to this moment, when I sit, scribbling this blog post down in a frantic, semi-legible scrawl in my notebook.
One of the amazing things about Team Effort! is the lack of expectation that has been placed on it. This is not to say that people – the artists, the venue chiefs, the producers, the people at Creative Futures – don’t expect us to achieve anything. Rather, it’s that we are free to experiment, to reach conclusions and to explore areas that we wouldn’t have previously imagined we would. It’s also the fact that, unlike other artist attachments with more illustrious or more financially big-hitting companies, none of the artists involved in Team Effort! expect a commission, an exhibition or a album deal at the end of it. And none of the head honchos that support me and the project are worried about having to deliver that to the artists at the end of the year. If those things happen, it’s an unexpected bonus, but it’s not how we will determine the success or failure of Team Effort!.
In fact, the only expectation being placed on anyone is the towering one that I’m putting on myself.
But I understand that this is, mostly, a good thing. It forces me to strive, to work harder and to imagine things more creatively.
At times though, this natural, healthy sense of ambition and expectation teeters over into panic. What if I fail them? What if I waste time? What if I waste money? What if people think I’m stupid/ineffectual/incompetent/boring? What if I fail to adequately address the needs of the visual artists because my experience is in performance? What if the project becomes exclusive or inaccessible or acquires the superficial, ephemeral gloss of “cool”?
But I understand that mistakes are a natural part of any process. As a producer, I’ve been taught to prepare for any eventuality, to approach a project from every possible angle, to plan for unexpected outcomes, to always have a contingency. But what about when the project is devised to be inherently unplanned and unknowable? What about when chaos and mistakes are actually desirable? How do you create a contingency for unexpected answers to questions you’ve not even asked yet?
The photo that accompanies this blog post is possibly one of my favourite paintings ever (I told you my background wasn’t in visual art…) It’s by six year-old Ellis, who put big blue spots under the eyes of her portrait to represent tears. When she lifted the painting upright, the paint ran down the page – a totally unexpected outcome that shocked and upset the tiny painter until she was encouraged by her teachers, who explained that the paint running made the tears look more realistic, that the mistake made the painting better, not worse.
I also know that if I wasn’t constantly asking all those questions (and others too) of myself, then it’s a sure fire sign that something’s going wrong. I know that, after our first full-team workshop on October 5th, these questions will become provocations rather than obstacles, they’ll open the floodgates of discussion and allow me to share the weight of them around the whole group.
So I guess I’ve ended up back where I started. It’s really important that we feel able to be honest and open this year and to be able to share all of our questions, fears and aspirations with each other and with you. You might even be able to help with some of them.
And, for the record, I am definitely getting better at maths.