On Process

I remember Ros Warby talking about her process in a ‘meet the artist’ discussion after her Dance Umbrella performance some years back. She talked about how she begins from the space, and how content comes “from the ground”. She doesn’t start with an idea. She starts by just starting. Someone in the audience asked her how she manages to generate the funding to create a new work when her starting point is so open. She admitted it was difficult, but that she would talk to programmers about her process and help them to see that the quality and identity of her work was the result of that process.

I don’t think it’s irrelevant that she is a female artist. I wonder sometimes if the reason women find it harder to secure investment for work is something to do with our approach being less linear. Maybe we’re asking the wrong questions when is comes to the gender debate?

I want to write this to say something about my process. I’ve spent the last month writing about my next work. But no matter what I say, I’m finding it hard to create the punch. And the reason for this is very simple: I don’t know what this work is about yet. I have interests and starting points. But the about-ness needs to come out of the process.

When I started making “Where am I?” I had no intention of making a piece about a brain in a vat. I hadn’t even heard of Daniel Dennett. My starting point was the much drier “I want to make a space talk back to a performer” or “I want to map a talking space onto a dancer’s body”. Somehow you can see the brain in the vat within the starting proposition, but it wasn’t explicit. In fact the brain only turned up in week two of my research.

Similarly “This is a Square” was meant to be about “Strange Loops”. My starting point was Escher, who led me to Hofstadter and to an obsession with recursion (that was also the starting point for Where am I?). The square came out of the work we did in the studio in the second week of rehearsals. In fact I had all sorts of clever ideas about how the space was going to fold in on itself etc. But what stuck was some lines of tape on the floor.

What I’m trying to relate is something of the messiness of artistic work. Funding structures are set up to support “Good Ideas”. What if I don’t really have any good ideas? What I have is a good process that leads me to ideas I could not have thought of previously. That is why I get into the studio. It’s not because I know what I’m doing, it’s because I know that if I dig around this rough area then I will find the treasure.

An analogy that stuck in my head some time ago was this story about a sculptor and his apprentice. The apprentice watched as his teacher chipped away at a stone. By the end he had created a sculpture that really stood out from the stone itself. So the apprentice asked: “How did you know that was in there?”.

When I approach the making of a new piece I don’t always know the outcome. I have a faint outline in my head. But what comes out is really the result of listening to the materials I place and select in front of me. It’s the process not the idea that creates my work.



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