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Navigating the Unknown:
The creative process in contemporary performing arts
   


ResCen Seminar: Book Launch transcription – Theatre Museum Covent Garden, 23 November 2006

Speakers:
  Christopher Bannerman (Chair)
    Errollyn Wallen
    Richard Layzell
     
edited by:
  Marianne Tyler
photographs by:
  Vipul Sangoi
duration:
  25 minutes

 

 

Chris Bannerman: This is a very exciting evening for me and for ResCen. When we launched ResCen in February 1999 at the South Bank Centre, I simply could not have imagined that we would be here in the Theatre Museum launching a book in 2006, and therefore Navigating the Unknown represents an important milestone in the ResCen project. We have in recent years achieved a number of goals. We have developed a rich and may I say increasingly popular website. We have initiated ResCen Publications, and have produced items focused on the work of individual research associate artists.

This book Navigating the Unknown brings us all together, using guest contributors to continue the same dialogic approach that we have developed in our seminars, so that debates can be activated in a dynamic manner, dancing between interventions and then intercepting at key nexus points. The book presented challenges, and perhaps I sensed more than others the unease of many of us in the performing arts when we’re faced with the fixity of the page and the permanence of the written word, but we came to the determination to avoid productionist tendencies, and to do our best. If I can say this within the context of a semi-academic setting, to tell the truth, the truth as we experience it, with all of its complexity, contradictions, and at times we tried to say it with simplicity.

We were helped immeasurably to achieve this by the design of the book, which I mentioned earlier. The design really animates the page and leads the reader to a fluidity of understandings, in part because one can navigate the book in a variety of ways. The readers can if they wish pick up the suggested linear progression in the ordering of the material, which starts with the inception of the artistic idea, moves on to the working of the material and then finishes with the realisation of the performance. But simultaneously this progression is disrupted by the text, the visual presentation and at all times the surprise; the unpredictability, the joy, and even the drudgery of the artistic process are all acknowledged.

It’s important to say finally that this is not the summation of the ResCen project, but the book does present a range of voices and a range of registers. The words of the solitary artist, dialogues, conversations, commentaries, are all contained within one over-arching structure. It’s the closest we’ve come to a summation, and it is a weighty and significant master in the project.

I have to say some special thank yous. Thanks to NESTA, particularly for their support, both for the project and for this book and a special mention to our first NESTA contact and also to Vicky Costello who so ably picked up the project and ran with it. And to a person who began as our NESTA mentor and has become a friend and an invaluable support to ResCen, Anna Craft. Thanks also to MUP Press, to Middlesex University and to the ResCen team – Marianne Tyler for organising every day including this day, Helen Ryan for importantly keeping the finances in order, Dominique Rivoal and Sanjoy Roy for documenting, Andrew Lang for taking charge of a mammoth website and for adding additional design work. And thanks to you all as well. We are extremely honoured to have this ongoing support, and it’s a visible sign of encouragement to us which has been and is very important. The company of like-minded travellers is vital when it’s seen. Thank you for coming to help us launch Navigating the Unknown, thank you.

Errollyn Wallen: Hi, my name’s Errollyn. I’m currently writing for an opera which is about twin girls who refused to speak and it’s going to be called The Silent Twins. Their only expression was through their creative life. They wrote these marvellous stories, diaries, even novels, and they wrote feverishly about their dreams and longings, but to the outside world they were two sullen weirdos. Eventually they were sent to Broadmoor and were believed to be suffering from a psychopathic disorder simply because they refused to speak. No-one knew that they were artists.

For an artist the inner world offers secret places, places with bold magnificent landscapes and you don’t need language there, because it’s a place of refuge. It’s also a place where one can confront the most fearsome, terrifying, demons and dragons and swim across stretches of oceans. But the inner world of the imagination is, apart from being a world of making things, is a world where you can simply be. It is where we all come from and it is where we all return. It is enough to simply roam there undisturbed. Yet this world seems to pose a threat to so many. There’s nothing to be frightened of, but many of us, including artists and non-artists, seem to fear the world of the imagination.

Those will surely take us to the unknown, to the depths and how will you find your way back? What will you find? The thing that you find there, will it change you forever? How can you bear the consequences once you lift up that stone? How will you look after this new life? Will you remain silent about your secret discovery? Well we at ResCen have the answer!

When I first joined ResCen I simply didn’t know how. I just thought that we artists and non-artists are all basically in the same boat – that is we’re trying to be fully human, and we’re trying to find answers to some fundamental questions about the world in which we inhabit. We all have the desire to dream, to communicate, and to grow. It has only been through hours and hours - some of them I can tell you have been quite painful – hours of sharing our experiences and working methods, in discussions, seminars, lectures, performances, websites, that have enabled us to reveal what we have with this amount of clarity.

It’s as if now we see questions and answers everywhere we go. It feels as if the creative boundaries are just endless. Through this time at ResCen we are going to quite difficult places. I feel as if the inner world and the outer world became more closely conjoined through these five years and certainly at the beginning I felt as if it was better for me to be making work rather than to be talking about making work. I felt as if a vast amount of time was going by trying to describe the indescribable. Now I can see that the benefits of sharing my experience will benefit everybody because I feel that artists have got a lot to say to one another. It’s important to realise, that in this ResCen group we’re not just talking to other artists, as Chris said we’re talking to scientists, and I particularly remember talking to Charles Handy who is a business guru.

I would have never met these people otherwise, but in ResCen, we felt that they shone a light on our own language through their own particular perspectives. We have seen that everyone, every single person is intrigued by the world of the imagination, through an understanding of the thinking processes involved. I genuinely believe that in this new book we have taken giant steps in making the invisible visible, and in showing that the creative life is an essential part of being human, that we are engaged in it all the time through every decision we make, whether we know it or not.

Just the other day I was teaching some composition students. They said ‘Oh Errollyn we’ve got this creative block’. I said ‘Actually there’s no such thing’. I said, ‘Look just sit with me now and compose with me in the room and then we’ll see, we’ll just see what happens.’ Within minutes they were writing merrily away. I got them to talk through every decision they were making, and they were just simply talking themselves out of doing things. They’d say ‘oh yes I can do that one,’ or ‘that one’s going well’. I realised that in making work, any single person can make work, but once you examine your processes it’s about just letting yourself do things. I feel that every person’s life involves making sense of the inner world and the outer.

Anyway we have a book, and together the six ResCen artists together with Chris, Joshua and Jane, we’ve been navigating the unknown for quite a long time now, and it feels amazing to have the product of those years of loose talk, dreaming, playing and working and we’ve come up with a book. We have something that we can hold in our hands, and we have something we can give to you and we are very happy that our journey has brought us to this point. We thank you for joining us in the celebration tonight and hope that the next book launch will be selling book ends! Thank you.

Richard Layzell: Good evening everybody, I’m Richard Layzell. This is the fourth in a series of national occasion-based speeches that previously happened in Oxford, Stroud and Nottingham, and they do have a global potential I feel. So, there’s a lot of people in the world, ladies and gentlemen, and they’re not all here, but let me tell you this, if they knew about this, and they could come, they would be here. They would if they could be here with us tonight. There are a lot of people in Colchester, ladies and gentlemen, and there may be one or two of those here. Is anybody from Colchester here? No. Well if they’d been invited they’d be here, if they could. There are a lot of people in Finsbury Park, ladies and gentlemen, and I am one of those. Anybody else here from Finsbury Park? One. Almost, that’s good. Another one at the back, that’s two. But let’s face facts here – you’re here, and that is just perfect. It couldn’t be better. You are the people who came, you are here with us tonight, and it could not be better.

There are a lot of artists in the world, and we are not all of those at ResCen. And let’s face it, what is an artist anyway? And why are we here? What is it all about? What is it all about? Or to paraphrase Michael Foucault, ‘it was all so much simpler before Christianity, when we designed our own destinies in antiquity’. He talks about the aesthetics of existence. Mm! And to quote him directly, the elaboration of one’s own life as a personal work of art was at the centre of moral experience, in antiquity …… So we ask ourselves, is this what artists do? Is this what we’re all doing today in the twenty-first century? Are we kind of inventing our lives as we go along, treading our own paths? And is this what ResCen was aiming to do with us? This pin that Rosemary Lee used to speak of, this pin that had us pinned against a wall, to be bisected by this process of ResCen-ing. May it all be to the good.

There are a lot of books in the world, ladies and gentlemen, but none quite like this. And I’d like to acknowledge this view of the book. Now this is deliberate, I haven’t spoken to Roger about this but I am sure I’m not the only person who’s delighted by the secrecy of this. It’s almost kind of sexy. You put it on your bookcase, and nobody knows it’s there, and they pluck out Navigating the Unknown and thumb. And there are a lot of people who we couldn’t mention, although Errollyn mentioned quite a few, who actually touched this process in one way or another. They glanced; they bounced off it, into it. They know who they are, they’ve affected this process, and that’s for them.

I’m really enjoying the sounds this evening! Well, this particular speech is of course a collaboration with, Tania Koswycz who I’ve been working closely with for quite some time, and she’s requested that to conclude I make an action in the tradition of Polish performance art, because partly she is of Polish descent and she’s recently uncovered a step-cousin who was married to one of the senior Polish performance artistes, called Bitovsky. And I’d also like to dedicate this to my recently uncovered great great grandmother, Phoebe Layzell, from Colchester.

(PERFORMING ACTIONS)

I should have said that we feel that this embodies process and connectivity.

(PERFORMING ACTIONS)

Maybe we could toast Chris Bannerman for staying with us for so long, and being the brick behind the wall. To Chris.

Chris Bannerman: This is the cue for my next entrance, which is the last speech. It’s a sales pitch. Normally twenty-five pounds. Tonight, not twenty-four, not twenty-three, twenty pounds! And a special goody bag. In that bag Shobana Jeyasingh Animating Architecture, a DVD, a CD About Errollyn, Rosemary Lee’s Beached: a common place book. How could you go wrong? Twenty pounds only for you tonight. Thanks very much.

And you might convince an artist to sign one too!

   
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