Emergence and Divergence

In December 2010 I attended a workshop with Joao Fiadiero in Real Time Composition. Here were my thoughts immediately following this workshop:

This week I attended a research lab with a dance artist called Joao Fiadiero. He calls his work Real Time Composition. It has some resemblance to a group improvisation or a devised theatre piece, however he insists on some very particular details. The idea is that as a group we work to develop a line of thought (emergence) and sustain that to the point of collapse. Communication is completely non-verbal during the actual composition. However after the process he would dissect each move and discuss whether it was the strongest option or not.

We had a lot of problems with various members in the group either willfully or unknowingly sabotaging the work with their own ideas. Luckily towards the end of the week this somehow resolved itself with these individuals becoming quieter, participating less and in one case not returning to the sessions.

The process of composition involves making choices. In a group situation this is complicated by the question of others intentions. To remove this problem Joao has three rules. The work starts with someone providing an initial image / idea / action. It’s direction is not clear. So the first rule is to inhibit one’s impulse to act on a situation, to consider all the possible next steps and then to decide how to contribute. Of course if your initial idea still seems to be the best option then you can go with that. In the mean time someone else may have already contributed a second action. This second action gives the first action some direction. In this instance everyone has to re-adjust their minds to the situation and take in this new information, letting go of the previous idea. Letting go is a second rule. A third action confirms the direction and establishes a line of thought, what Joao calls a “Tube”. Now the whole group contributes to this tube of thought taking it to the point of exhaustion or collapse. The third rule is to do with making a change. The tendency will be to try to see something different, to originate a new idea before the previous thought is completely exhausted. If everyone did this then the direction of thought would never be established, the work would keep falling apart at the third action. So Joao’s third rule is to do with when a change should take place. This, for him, should not be a question of individual choice. It should be a necessity. You can initiate a change when you run out of resources, when an accident happens that changes the situation or when the material begins to loop. An accident could also mean that someone in the group misinterprets an action generating a new line of thought, for example. Or if something placed in the space accidentally falls. This brings about a divergent strand of thought, a new paradigm, which grows into another tube.

This notion of emergence and divergence occurs naturally in evolutionary and social theory. And of course it has many obvious applications to composition, creativity, scientific research etc. But I felt it resonated strongly with the question of choices in life. If 90% of your life is out of your control, then the question of autonomous decision-making needs to be adjusted. You cannot expect all the things that you want to happen, or all the things you work for to pay off. You could keep attempting to construct your life, but the truth is that this would take a lot more energy then necessary and it is simply inefficient. So the best solution is to make decisions based on the way things are, and to learn how to let go of your intention when accidents arise, to learn how to reconsider your options in the light of this new information and to discern whether it would still be valid to continue with your original intention or if that pathway has now ended and your energy could be more efficiently used in another direction.

The clarity of this image has resonated strongly with me on both an artistic and a personal level. During the course I was running off to teach every evening. One evening, following the second day of workshoping I realised how deeply I had been invested in the work. The whole day had been spent practicing RTC by breaking down every single move. Analysing each contribution, and inhibiting every impulse to act. That evening I turned up to teach my class, intending to go through my usual class format. At the end of the class I realised that I had only been able to get through what would normally take up only  15 minutes of the class. My sense of time had been completely distorted, and the number of options at each stage in each exercise had multiplied tenfold.

I know Joao’s workshop will have a long-lasting effect on me and my work.

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