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Ghislaine Boddington    
The Weave

The writing of this reflection drew me into a re-examination of my work, especially the period from 1999 to the pressent, considering the ways in which intuitive and conscious processes had contributed. In looking back, it seems to me that my development has been led by intuition; through doing the work, more of my practice has become conscious. This might imply that the intuitive aspects are slowly disappearing from my work as it becomes ever more conscious. While there is an element of truth in this, the role of intuition remains fundamental and in many ways has been strengthened, especially in the moments of the doing of the work. This is particularly true in projects involving group work, so I have focused on that strand of my practice, particularly projects that have involved interauthorship, by which I mean a collective creative process which results in work that is credited to a group and not an individual.

The Unremembered Memory

How to reach your intuition is something you learn through experience. Like any body memory the memory of being in situations where one has to intuit on the spot allows you to record the feeling and recall it when one needs to use it for decision times...

Some of the issues surrounding interauthorship will be explored later in the chapter, but I should note here that the writing of this chapter has led me to use 'I' and 'my' in a way that would not normally be part of my practice. The context for me has always been a collective, an agency rather than an individual, as I will discuss later. Of course, there have been a wide variety of modes of practice even within those agencies, but the interauthorship projects are the main focus of this chapter. This is because they illustrate the ways in which elements such as the structuring and methodology of the projects have clearly evolved and are now almost fully consciously articulated - but a conscious articulation that has arisen from intuitive-led experience, which sets the stage for the next group process which provides more opportunity for an activated intuition. This interplay between the conscious and the intuitive seemed to offer interesting territory for investigation.

....other times it nags you, not leaving you alone until you allow it time to emerge, its always there in the back of your mind. How to solute a particular problem in the right way, how to understand a nagging doubt, why it is there, how to follow it through...

Another example of the consciously articulated is ‘the weave’ – an image I have developed as a way of allowing participants to envision the process and the progression of the work. The image acknowledges the various strands that make up the total – contributions of expertise, whether digital, dance, conceptual or pragmatic are all necessary to make a plait which retains the visible evidence of each, while also forming a unity stronger than any single thread. While this image was designed to communicate to participants, I discovered that it also clarified my role in the interauthorship process as the weave requires weaving, an act of engaging simultaneously with strands of investigation; holding one, while activating the other, drawing over, across and together to make the whole. This is an example of how the experience of these projects, led first by the intuitive, created the need to communicate to others, which in turn became a way of consciously understanding my personal process. The activity of weaving will be explored later in this chapter, but first an overview of the development of the work will provide a context and will demonstrate the ways in which intuition led the development of my practice.

When consciously choosing to use intuition it feels best for me to use meditative states concentrating on the question, concern, issue. One has to let go of the immediate tensions around the issue; they are distracters, effects rather than causes. Clear all else from the head and look beyond the horizon, opening your imagination wide. In a way you can open a world, one that is full of objective and fair solutions, one of which could calm the nag.

The reflective consideration of twenty years of work has allowed me to observe features that are revealed through a telescope/lens that is focused on a long view. This perspective reveals some significant changes – the methods, processes, structures, content and even the way in which I describe my role have all undergone fundamental transformation. As I said previously, the driver for these changes was almost always an intuitive, constant force or presence, which has led to a series of sometimes small, incremental realisations that in turn have meant that I selected certain paths and rejected others; and each shaped alterations to my work. But the accumulative effect of each chosen path or small, subtle change is that the work has evolved almost beyond recognition, while still being driven by the same concerns.

This is a feature of what I know academics call reflective practice: the reflection on the work leads to alterations, refinements or even radical change. The process of reflection and change becomes an intrinsic element of the work and so it becomes a reflexive practice, featuring a feedback loop in which the results of reflection are fed directly back into the work. However, the evolution of my work occurred without the benefit, or otherwise, of the academic understanding of reflexive practice. It was motivated by the experience of the work itself, it was this that stimulated the intuitive nag and led to follow a certain path. This was not just personal, as I argue below, the use of group processes allows for wide and varied inputs which enhance both creative practice and creative development in the group and in the individuals. There were changes too, sparked by external factors and, in looking back over the twenty years, it is significant that some things have changed fundamentally in a relatively short period of time. Revisiting the article 'Virtual presence and physical beings: From telegraph to telecast'[1] has allowed me to see that the time of writing has been eclipsed by developments in the field, and I now see some of these aspects quite differently, as I note in the article 'Sharing the process: a consideration of interauthorship in the performing arts'[2]. Perhaps more surprising is that some key aspects of my work have not changed, except to be reaffirmed. This is true of the foundations of my work, the context that has shaped me as an individual and shaped my thinking about the field. The forces that drove my earliest work, which I first experienced in a non-verbalised, intuitive way, continue to inform it and motivate me today.

One central part of this is my ongoing conviction concerning the cult of the individual in our society and particularly in the arts. I have never understood the fascination with stars and the cult of stardom. I can trace this back to the ambience of my childhood – a formative influence from an early age was my mother’s gallery in Wales, in which I saw a whole stream of interesting people come and go. I later realised that this was a kind of network, and I more fully appreciated the choreography of the ways in which they came and went and interlinked. The network did not centre on any one individual – what was exciting was the conversation and exchange between them, the ways that the ideas and the debate were developed and extended. It was a group process and it was a key influence for me. This shaped my view of the world and I intuitively understood that many areas of endeavour required, or benefited from, teamwork.

In that world are solutions and hints, links and bridges of many types, all placed there by experience...the experience of previous intuitive events and the experience we learn through tuition.

Later I was drawn, again intuitively, to people and places in order to re-discover and develop these interests. My involvement in the cooperative Chisenhale Collective, which flourished from the late 70s to the early 1990s[3], renewed my belief in the power of a variety of forms of collective expression, from folk dance to religious ritual, from club dance to early interactive technologies, all offering ways of enabling the joy of participation and creativity for many. However, I quickly realised that this perception of the importance of the group was not shared widely in the performing arts, and the resulting clash of philosophies and beliefs provided the motivation for me to reconsider my view on this matter, in order to understand why my views were at odds with most of my peers. I subsequently decided not to alter my view, but instead to work consciously towards finding those who shared my view of group creative practice.

This led to the formation of shinkansen, a partnership run as a collaborative unit developing work which was guided by the principle of collective processes which evolved through workshops, seminars and debates in the UK, Europe and the USA. From the beginning, technology was a key strand of the work, arising from my interest in the zeitgeist of the times, but crucially also from my enduring concern for group processes and connectivity. This was an area of practice that required collaborative working, as the specialist expertise was not shared, it was isolated within each community with little common ground. We viewed technology as a development by and for people, not a dehumanising, oppressive presence and not the preserve of a select group of techno-wizards. Technical expertise was essential, but it needed to be demystified and shared as openly as possible. Technology should enable the human endeavour, empowering us all and enhancing connectivity. Human connectivity must balance technology; so the work has consistently been informed by the human presence, including a concern for the human body, as demonstrated in the project Virtual Physical Bodies[4].

This understanding of my position was not something that I would have articulated at the outset - once again I was led by intuition towards the intersection of digital technology and human presence because of my unconscious interests, and once again a resistance. This time it was the resistance of those with digital expertise to allow for human presence and to the sharing of their knowledge, matched by the resistance of the arts world to group processes, which led me to articulate the stance that had developed from an intuitive, experiential understanding which had informed shinkansen's work. I had not previously felt the need to articulate the fact that technology was informing the development of our society and that the creative potential of groups was a good way, perhaps the best way, of grappling with the challenge and opportunity that technology offered. For me, even nearly twenty years ago, it simply seemed self-evident. But the experience of working from an intuitive base and the combined resistances I mentioned, led me to an articulation of the rationale for our projects, so that all participants would be clear from the outset. This became the Group Process Briefing which set out the foundation of the work.

Our tuition comes from all around us, from the moment we are born. My parents were for me by far the greatest influence; they tutored me well in the world of intuition. They encouraged me to feel where fairness lay in any situation, to be truthful and to look as widely as I could at diverse solutions. They enabled me to debate my point, to analyse my thoughts, to unpick stitch by stitch the various parts of an issue.

The pursuit of these concerns led to an international series of projects and workshops, among them the, European Choreographic Forum, SoundWorks Exchange[5], körper-technik/body-technology[6], Woven Bodies/Woven Cultures[7], and Club Research[8] all focused on collective working practices. This culminated in projects focused on the creation of CellBytes[9], short interauthored dance works credited to the group which produced them. This line of enquiry has focused on the use of telematics, using web based audio-visual interactivity for an artmaking process centred on bridging physical space with human interaction[10].

As these projects became more complex in their organisation and international involvement, there was a clear need for more pre-project communication and some aspects of the projects began to shape themselves – structures began to take form and ways of using the structures, methods of enabling group processes, also emerged. The preparation for these workshops began to use the almost ubiquitous email, to connect the group and this enabled a forum for democratised debate. We worked to develop flattened hierarchies, creating porous networks with active clusters of interaction. These networks continue long after the project has ended, a practical and powerful testament to the power of communication and the collective.

Throughout this period of growth in the work of shinkansen however, there was a continuing resistance from a surprisingly conservative arts community. In fact, it seemed that group processes were often perceived in the UK as an attempt to recreate the days of the Judson Street Church group of 1960s New York or the Chisenhale Collective which I mentioned earlier. On many occasions, in conversation with funders, or others in the arts, there would a cursory acknowledgement of this rich vein of work, then after a moment’s pause, discussions would quickly move on to individual artists. This continuing resistance and a growing confidence founded on increased experience, led me to reflect and make the case that the evolution of digital technologies had initiated a series of changes which had fundamentally altered, and would continue to alter, the ways in which art is made and received, as well as radically altering the relationships between the makers. And this focus on the individual seemed to me to be simply a blatant misrepresentation of the truth. While I recognised the importance of individual achievement, almost all activity in the performing arts relies on contributions from teams to create and present the work - a collective contribution which is often unacknowledged. I make the point in the Digital Creativity article 'Sharing the process: a consideration of interauthorship in the performing arts'[11], that one only has to compare the credits that accompany a film, with the credits in virtually any theatre programme in the performing arts, to realise that there is a gap in the theatre programme where the names of the many people who contribute to performance work should be recorded. Somehow it is deemed acceptable to leave this space, to render these contributions invisible.

In my head I follow a thought process of paths and branches. There are dead ends and sometimes one enters the wrong branch and reaches a dead end after wasting much time in many branches. As one gains experience even this time lost is rare as one starts to sense and feel the wrong branch early enough to re-analyse. I feel out, put feelers out in a way, tentatively, carefully. I feel out there into an interconnected web where latent clusters and nodes of points join in patterns unique to each. But if I try at all, I lose my path and feeling.

This sense of injustice at the lack of recognition of the reality of group processes combined with my perception that groups were effective in so many endeavours. These beliefs have informed virtually all of my work and the writing of this chapter has brought this home to me again. Of course there has been movement, development and recognition in the area of group processes and in the perception of group work, and in fact in some areas the resistance to group processes seems to have disappeared - now they have become not just accepted, but even fashionable. This should be a source of satisfaction for me, but too often I detect a discourse of collaboration and teamwork with no real commitment or understanding of the factors involved. The language has changed and the use of interdisciplinary, collaborative, co-authored, co-created has exponentially increased, but my impression is that these concepts have simply become buzzwords. The words run together, there is a slippage into merged, blurred meanings. Complex understandings are inferred, but not fully recognised or explored, and so their full implications are not acknowledged.

It may be a sign of progress that these process words, rarely understood ten years ago, are now in use by many, but if they constitute only a discourse of hype by industry, government and the arts community, their use encourages a sloppiness of thinking - a variety of meanings merged leaving superficiality to steer the debate and too often leading to superficial results. This is to be expected when discourse is not grounded in experience and the intuitive guide is blinded when experience does not provide a field in which it can play.

It is using the macro to examine the micro. You have to look beyond, open horizons, to float and flow in never ending space. You have to go blank, let go of all except the issue and even that has to fade into the background, a holding form waiting to be filled, a screen saver which grabs all the parts you find and juggles them for you in the background trying to find the right positions.

Simultaneously there are signs that the cult of stardom has changed fundamentally, a recognition that stardom comes about through a random process that confers little or no mark of substance - in fact often the opposite is true. The onset of reality television, Big Brother clones and the multitude of celebrities, not only infers, but actually celebrates, the ‘all style, no content’ status of stardom. And the rapidity of communication today means that Andy Warhol may have been generous in his prediction of fifteen minutes of fame. Today, stardom has passed beyond its peak. Its transparency and its shallowness easily offers a number of avenues, but it seems to me that younger generations see clearly through the whole star game - they see that such avenues ultimately lead to dead ends. They play it with ease and then discard it, moving onto the next game.

The question is what comes next? What lies beyond the counterfeit of the solo artist, the empty mystique of stardom? It appears to me that the collective approach and group processes offer a way forward. Of course, in the arts, as in many other areas it is necessary to make explicit the choice of the use of ‘we’ in such collective processes. While such practices emerged for me through an intuitive process, they are now articulated and in the public domain - the work of developing and offering explicit models has taken place. Such practices should not be surprising to us - they should be the norm as humans from earliest history have been social animals and a consciousness of the collective was required to form societies and subsequent social contracts and constitutions. It is ironic that the recent past has been characterised by a kind of schizophrenia for the recognition of the group as a viable and vital unit of effective action and creation.

It is equally ironic to chart the recent history. The burgeoning of group activity in the 1960s, which pushed these ways of working into the public consciousness, led directly to a period of experimentation in the 1970s. The pendulum swung back towards the individual and individualism in the 1980s leaving the 1990s to attempt another push forward, often with a weak sense of collectivism, or a veneer of collectivism, thinly covering a more a more singular, star-focused orientation. And now at that the beginning of the 21st century my perception is that the present and immediate future is, and will be, characterised by a confused and schizophrenic ‘I / we / I’ syndrome.

The right positions to make a solution or an understanding drop into place. Jigsawed and jiggled, sometimes for hours, to fill a gap which just cannot be filled. A part missing, two bits in the wrong place causing juxtaposition rather than unity. Opposition jars, reject and move on, return down a branch, shift branches, choose another angle, return to junction. Not making sense, puzzle and search, split the issue, looking at both ends of the problem, examining widest variations.

On the one hand open dynamic processes and initiatives such as Open Source[12] and Creative Commons[13], which encourage a sharing of knowledge and resources are evidence of the enduring vitality and pragmatic usefulness of the collective. On the other hand, many of us caught in the dual vision of the ‘I / we’ zone are genuinely confused by a discourse of collaboration and collective effort which ultimately simply does not accurately reflect the reality of the working conditions. Of course, the use of the two words is a feature of my work too and, even in writing this reflective overview, the ‘I’ and ‘we’ are both present. But I try to use the words as accurately as possible, so that the principle of crediting others, the group process and my own specialisation/s and responsibilities is maintained and all those involved are treated equally. This too, is evidence of the 'learned' a consciously known area of my work, and once again the guide of intuition led to experience, which led to reflection, which in turn led to conscious practice; but a conscious practice which is informed to this day, by the power of intuitive insight.

Remembering to continue to feel carefully, like insects, in a way refusing to look too far ahead, let go, don’t pre-suppose, never pre-position, and let it flow.

And intuitive insight is very necessary in the complexity of the ‘I / we / I’ syndrome of the early 21st century which is evident all around us in unbridled consumerism which, in spite of an interconnected, globalised world, appears to promise almost unlimited individual choice. Against both excessive individualism and excessive collectivism is the group of equals working together, respecting the individual, as well as respecting the group endeavour. Today, such people are often connected by networks, allowing an open exchange of information and an immediacy of communication. The networking becomes a part of the process of making work – it is a dynamic networking which facilitates the development of natural, intuitive, emergent patterns of behaviours. Because of the nature of their source/s such networks are simultaneously deeply dependent on ‘the other’ and yet require a highly independent engagement which results from personal choice. The ability to make such a personal choice seems to be related to an individual understanding of identity and its relation to the group. I intuitively felt that this was so intrinsic to the development of a meaningful group process that I devised an exercise to facilitate awareness and discussion of both what individuals bring to a group and how they see themselves contributing as an individual in an effective group process[14]. Today this kind of awareness is almost a requirement of dealing with the intervention of technology in artmaking, and arguably in life in general. The technology, in many ways, is developing exponentially and I am always fascinated to know what tomorrow will bring in this domain; but my interest in the human presence and human consciousness means that the technology is only a part of the equation. Writing this chapter has reminded me that, at the centre of my work, it is the human being and human interactions, with each other and with technology, that form the area of exploration for me. So, I work to achieve plait and, while digital technology forms a strand of the plait, it is woven at all times with the human presence and the processes and concerns with which we engage. This is the weave that I have identified in the work presented here. My intention has been to show some of the ways it has informed my work and, in what follows, I will attempt to describe the act of weaving.

The Act of Weaving

As I discussed previously, experience has been a prime driver for my learning; however I am also often drawing on various sources of information, written and visual, in order to develop my practice. The nature of my role in the practice, and even the terms I use to describe my work, have evolved considerably over the twenty years I have been working professionally in the arts.

You are drawing on multiple tuitions from your life of learning, and multiple pre-recorded intuitions from your life of intuiting. Some would also say multiple genetic knowledge is also influencing you at all times. Let it flow as the relevant parts come to the foreground, searching for their positions and looking for their links, seeking where they hook into another part. They look for you, this is the key, they look for you and you must let them. Trust the various parts, the ones you know you know, and those you subconsciously know.

I have chosen the word 'evolved' as the development was, at least in its initial stages, almost entirely intuitive. This was perhaps virtually inevitable, as the term 'Process Director' that I use today, is one that I coined in an attempt to identify and communicate my role in the developing area of collaborative practice. I initially considered using the term dramaturg to describe the role I took in this work, but I found a variety of understandings and misunderstandings were associated with this word, especially in the UK. A google search revealed that almost all references for 'Process Director' stemmed from the world of software development, so I felt that the term did not bring with it unnecessary, accumulated baggage and yet described fairly accurately the role. However this description of the development of the role might imply that it was a conscious, rational development. This is only true of the later stages. By the time that the decision became conscious, I had found, through intuitive experience, a path to the skills and knowledge that led me to first become the role, and then later to identify and name it.

The more you drop back, recede your consciousness, the more the parts, your in(tuitive) memes, come from with(in) you, step forward to help you. The unremembered memory, the knowingness of your being, slides together in your head, until you know, often very suddenly, you know.

My interest in emergence theory means that I do not see this as detrimental, in fact the opposite is true - the power of the intuitive has been strengthened by an accumulation of experience and this has shaped my practice and me as practitioner.

But once in the room with the participants on the first project, I saw that there was a need for 'translation' and a series of relationships that needed to be, if the project was to succeed. Quite quickly I realised that, in the act of coordinating the work of the group, I was in effect 'weaving' strands of material together – but the metaphor was preceded by the reality of the task – I saw the need and responded intuitively. Naming the activity was useful for communicating to the participants what I was doing, and demonstrated that their material was key to the process - and, if each strand were joined by others, the whole would be stronger than each individual thread.

You know what it is/what to do, the answer is in front of you. An agreement drops into place within your being, and it is between your intuition and your knowing that the place of agreement lies.

Seeing my key involvement in the projects as weaving also allowed me to refine my practice – I considered what constituted a skilful weaver and felt that I needed to enhance my sense of rhythm so that I could develop the timing my interventions as weaver required. And I needed to move the strands with clarity but care, not neglecting the other strands that were part of the fabric of the project but holding them and making sure that they felt their presence in the shared space occupied by the project. At first my engagement was very active – I made sure that my presence as weaver was known to all, and that they were reminded of it often. I signalled to the group when we were moving things forward, or when asking others to reconsider, or even wait. Even the 'holding' of a strand was an active holding, so that I could be sure that everyone was conscious of the group process - all must be held in mind and in the space of the process. This was demanding for me over the course of projects that lasted for ten days or four weeks - it involved an activity of weaving which was largely intuitive and in the moment - things often occur rapidly in these situations and an immediate response is often required. At that point in my work, the intuitive state was an altered state of acute awareness that ended in exhaustion when the project ended.

I had developed this from another strand of my practice that involved moderating seminars and, in many ways, the two strands are mutually supportive as group discussion is always a key part of inter-authorship processes. Both forms of involvement also require three hundred and sixty degree awareness, a constant state of attending to the moment and spontaneous, intuitive responses to individuals, as well as maintaining a sense of the collective entity. A performative aspect to the seminars evolved and they became staged events with circles of participation involving the core speakers and the outer circles of those attending. In the centre of the circle of core speakers a camera operator would be seated catching close-up images of those speaking which would be displayed on screens around the space visible to all[15].

So, in both the interauthorship projects and the staged seminar exchanges, structures evolved 'organically' allowing the intuitive to flow and be effective.... as the structures - 'emergence theory' and themselves a product of intuitive processes...but in any case space/time allowed in the interauthorship process for intuitive, reflective insight. But the weaving required in a daylong seminar does not match the work of an inter-authorship process lasting two or more weeks. The demands of the projects led me to refine the structures[16] of my engagement, to develop the skills of weaving so that, like certain dance forms such as release technique, a consistent awareness would be matched by a relaxed fluidity of action. With the right balance – not too much structure and control, but not too little – the energy is smooth and consistent... and then the moment when the intuitive processes enfold us, and a kind of group intuition emerges.

The work flows – the material and the people weave themselves, the material emerges and the people needed to create the material – the performers, digital artists, choreographers all arrive in the right place at the right time. This is the ultimate goal of the weave and weaving, but it has an ironic edge as it means that the Process Director is redundant.... the journey of developing this practice, a journey of intense personal engagement, a kind of altered state of hyper-perception and experience.... is over...after years of practice this is happening more – I have woven myself out of the process...I have choreographed myself out of the frame, a sense of emptiness is present. Yet the weave is weaving itself, calm and contentment prevails. The group process is working. I now re-insert myself into the emergent dynamic to celebrate interauthorship.

Ghislaine Boddington May 2006

 

ghislaine boddington



   
    [1] Virtual presence and physical beings - from telegraph to telecast

[2] Sharing the Process: a consideration of interauthorship in the performing arts Digital Creativity

[3] Ghislaine Boddington was a member of the Chisenhale Collective and Project Co-ordinator of Chisenhale Dance Space from 1985-88. The Collective ended in 1990, a reconfigured Chisenhale was formed and continues to operate. see www.chisenhaledancespace.co.uk

[4] Virtual Physical Bodies Symposium at Middlesex University 1999

[5] shinkansen was formed in 1989 and ran till 2004. see www.shinkansen.co.uk
It has recently archived its projects including Future Physical 2001-04. see www.futurephysical.org
The shinkansen Collection archives over 110 projects and 375 events visit www.connectivity.org.uk
plus 750 items of audio and video are held at the British Library.
To search the collection visit www.bl.uk/collections/sound-archive/drama.html

[6] körper-technik/body-technology workshop, at Podewil and Adlershoff, Berlin 1999 as part of Theater der Welt Festival

[7] www.connectivity.org.uk

[8] www.shinkansen.co.uk/archive/clubrese.htm and www.connectivity.org.uk

[9] CellBytes00

[10] for more information on telematics see Virtual presence and physical beings - from telegraph to telecast

[11] Ghislaine Boddington 'Sharing the process: a consideration of interauthorship in the performing arts' Digital Creativity Vol 15 No 2 (2004) 76-80 Taylor & Francis, London ISSN 1462-6268

[12] www.opensource.org/docs/definition.php

[13] http://creativecommons.org

[14] for and also see www.futurephysical.org/pages/content/biotechnology
/biotech/160203_BIOINTRODUCTIONS.htm


[15]Virtual Incarnations was a focus that Dance Umbrella Festival London co-conceived with Ghislaine Boddington (shinkansen/ResCen) to look at the use of the virtual and physical body in dance. see www.danceumbrella.co.uk/archive/2001/virtual2001/index3.htm
and www.futurephysical.org/pages/programme/past_events/vi_2002.html
also www.connectivity.org.uk
and for a review see www.londondance.com/content/923/virtual_incarnations

[16] see Ghislaine Boddington’s online pages for a fuller explanation of the structures employed in an interauthorship project
 
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