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Seminar transcript
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Transformation and
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The Artist as Catalyst – seminar transcription
Presented by ResCen

Monday 9 February 2004

Venue: Whitechapel Art Gallery

Catalyst seminar panel
Research Associates:
  Richard Layzell
  Rosemary Lee
  Graeme Miller
  Ghislaine Boddington
  Professor Christopher Bannerman
with Guest:
  Professor Tim Ingold
transcribed by:
  Ildi Solti
edited by:
  Hannah Bruce
photographs by:
  Vipul Sangoi

This seminar transcript can be downloaded in full
as an Adobe Acrobat pdf file (file size: 384Kb)


Introduction by Chris Bannerman

Chris BannermanWelcome to the seminar, ‘The Artist as Catalyst’. (There are various things going on around us as we speak). My name is Chris Bannerman; I am the head of ResCen, the Centre for Research into Creation in the Performing Arts, which is at Middlesex University.

I’m delighted to welcome our special guest this evening, Professor Tim Ingold, an anthropologist with a very distinguished career who is based at Aberdeen University, who is currently involved in… well, I’ve learned that he is currently involved in a number of projects, one of which is an Arts and Humanities funded research project, to work with Dundee College of Art. The project is to see visual artists and anthropologists as skilled practitioners, collaborating together to understand better the processes of learning. Also on the panel today are four of six Rescen research associate artists: Ghislaine Boddington, Graeme Miller, Richard Layzell (in the necktie) and Rosemary Lee. Many of you may have been to Rosemary Lee’s installation next door, Apart from the Road, in the Whitechapel Library.

So, in preparation for this evening, the Rescen artists have had a session, and we all had a session last week with Tim. We are going to start the discussion this evening by asking each person to reflect upon points that arose from last Thursday, or in the time since then. And of course we had the chance, as I mentioned, since then, to see a result of a catalytic exchange which is present in Apart from the Road. There are a couple of points we have plucked from the discussion, and we may address those points, and we may not. I have learnt during the wonderful experience of dealing with the artists, that sometimes to characterise that experience is a bit like herding cats. (Yes, that is one of the things we need to do!) And of course we entirely allow the spontaneity in the creative process to take a part in our work. I should remind us all that the project of Rescen is not in any sense to academicise the artist. Rather, it is to hear the voice of the artist, and hear their explanations for their work and the processes that lie behind their work. And on this occasion they were engaged with catalytic processes. In our ensuing conversation with Tim, you may find that there are some similarities or differences to be drawn; you may find that there are lots of similarities and differences to be drawn! But one theme that we thought arose was ‘making the invisible visible’ - artists and anthropologists both bringing a special kind of attending, or attention, to a specific situation. Tim mentioned to us a couple of (I suppose) metaphors: the blacksmith’s arm and the juggler’s hand. These are all part of a system. Rather than it being a skill that is learned and ticked off, on some sort of score sheet, becomes a sixth system of action, perception, feedback, and refined, or renewed action; all part of a skilled practice. And so there’s notions about do artists have skilled practices in working with others? For example instigating changes in performance participants, in order to achieve both an artistic goal and to provide an enriching experience. And that both those things are always equal in that process. There was also some rather wonderful, extraordinary thinking that Tim did on Thursday, in which he shared with us some of his ongoing, embryonic work about lines and writing, and the ways in which writing and song are different and similar. I’m hoping that at some point this evening that kind of subject and that thinking will come up, and if it doesn’t, I may just ask Tim to contribute on that subject.

So first now, five minutes from the artists on their responses to our seminar last Thursday, and thoughts they have had since then, and thoughts they had during the session. I think, in a long line, we’re going to start with Ghislaine Boddington.


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back to top Ghislaine Boddington      Ghislaine BoddingtonAs most people in our area, I work in group work. I always work in the process of inter-authorship. My main group is shinkansen (who you may or may not know), which mainly works with sound and movement research, and does a lot of work with performing arts and digital technology. So I’m going to talk a little bit about the catalytic side of what we’ve been doing. Over the last fifteen years (shinkansen is fifteen this year), we have done a lot of large scale group projects, and I think that some thoughts have come up from talking on Thursday and previous sessions (because certainly this has been coming through several sessions), about what comes through group work and interauthored work. This is both with the individual artists within it - myself, and my role in it - and also for work which is involving the public, or the audience in the long run: the creative user.

So, I tend to believe in interauthorship because I’ve been working with digital technologies a lot, and found that I really must acknowledge that I’m one specialist amongst many, on any project that we’re making. And so the interauthorship side of our work has grown as a methodology, to enable people to celebrate that collaborative endeavor. But also it is acknowledged that it is a shared authorship situation. And the dynamic of that mode, I think, has been really special across the years. So every project we have done with that methodology (each project can range from fifteen to sixty people involved, and we have done about a hundred and fifty by my count now, across fifteen years). And I think in that kind of dynamic group mode, when you are pooling your energies and knowledge, and sharing intensely, quite deeply, together, in a contracted co-authorship situation, there is a really big relief that people get from not having to be the one that comes up with the idea on their own. That sounds really simplistic, as none of us ever have come up with an idea on our own. I mean the relief of it being within a group, within a team, and the relief of coming through at the end of a project or making process, and not being able to find out who made this bit, who made that bit, nor who did how much either. But actually feeling the relief of letting that go, and all being there together, working towards coming up with a whole from the multiple individual's input within it. We’re still very clear about acknowledging specialisation within that collective work, so people do take roles. People also get a lot from it, in that they teach their specialisation within the group, as you do when you’re collaborating, but then we also acknowledge very clearly that each specialist is learning from each other at the same time. So I might be teaching, but I’m also learning a lot from the others who are within that group, who are bringing their specialisation. So that is the second thing: all the time it’s a learning situation, as well as teaching. So not having that role where you are having to be the teacher, or the one that is in control, or knows what you are doing: there is a kind of relief in it too.

The networking that comes out of it has also been quite catalytic, and I think we’ve got quite a lot of acknowledgement for that over the years. During a lot of European networks where we have worked, we have been able to be in touch with people online well before projects. Then we come together physically. And we have also kept those networks going beyond the project. A lot of the tangible results would come out of very small continuations, where it is people just keeping an email group together, right through to quite big collaborations, which are ongoing work, and pieces are coming from it. Those networks have been discussed a lot; not just ours, but many other artists who are making networks with their work, in particularly arts and science networks. There was particularly one; the Arts and Science Laboratory in Santa Fe has discussed the connections between arts and science in those group situations, and looked at the actual networks of interdisciplinary crossover as a kind of re-fertilisation. I do think we end up learning a lot about ourselves, the way we establish a group situation. Most of the time you are not on your best behaviour, but you are slightly better behaved then when you’re on your own, and people find the best in themselves coming through in those points in time. So, post project also, there’s been big changes in the way that people work afterwards, and also quite often personal life changes. I’m sure that is true in most collaborative work - big shifts happen in people. For myself, I think what it means is that you are in a constant state of re-evaluation; every single group project you are in is different, every single outcome comes through in a very different way. I learn every single time. So you’re constantly re-evaluating yourself, and also never quite know what is going to happen.

I’ve just recently been working on a workshop in Shanghai, actually, which was a really difficult workshop and I’m still re-evaluating a lot of the stuff that has come out of that. I'm having to go back to look at some particular issues, which I haven’t dealt with for years actually. So I think those are always really important, the way that you can use it for yourself, going backwards and onwards. And then, in relationship to the audience, (I’ll just mention a little bit about the audience side, working with interactive work, which shinkansen does in the main): in the last three years we have been running a research project called The Creative User. We are looking at how the public or the audience come into the interactive work, and how they are creative within the whole: what they actually make. How they add to the whole, and how their feedback goes back to the developers of the piece – to the artists and the software developers. So it is about whether the piece does what they thought it was going to in the first place, and whether it allows the audience into it in a way which allows creativity. That is also making some big shifts in the way that we are thinking too, the research coming back to us and that being fed back to other artists. What we are working a on a lot at the moment is the triangle that most people know here, where you’ve got the triangle of looking at what people are perceiving that they’re going to be coming into; when they’re in it, what action they take and how they interpret that coming out of it. We are looking at how an audience member begins to re-perceive, react differently and re-interpret. Digital interactivity does, (if it’s working well), take people round the corner, into thinking in different ways. So, there again, from the audience perspective, we are trying to get a shift forward.


back to top Christopher Bannerman     Thank you. Graeme…


  Graeme Miller      Graeme MillerOK. I kind of start with a blank canvas… We talked at the end of last week about trying to find threads between anthropology as practice, and our own practice. Tim came up with an idea about anthropology being innately systemic; not being able to separate the anthropology from what it is connected with, just as the society observed may not be (cannot be) separated from the environment. There was an overall systemic view (this is what I received from Tim anyway: I don’t know whether it is accurate or not).

In my own work, I’ve been very interested in finding myself in a situation where I’ve got a group of people and a given amount of time. This is mainly my performance work, that we’re looking at here. But obviously, I’m in a key role in this point. Relating to the question of inter-authorship, this always gives me a kind of embarrassment because I think that I’m in this role trying to provoke people into producing material and signing my own name to it in the end, and taking their credit. And I think there is a definite need to develop a simple system of accreditation, that allows the processes involved to be acknowledged, during performance and creation (and the amount of creation that happens during performance itself). But, as I say, I would see myself acting in those situations distinctly as a kind of provoker, or a conjurer of rules, in a way.

Perhaps one word would be an ‘experimenter’; I’m creating an environment where I’m asking people to surrender to a set of conditions and see what happens. One of the words that is important is ‘authenticity’, however contrived the rule might be. The issue of whether the individual is a trained performer or not isn't really relevant to their responses as far as I'm concerned, because I twist the rules until those rules tend to level the differences between performers and non-performers. I’ll be leading people into a kind of lost space. I’m conducting an experiment that doesn’t necessarily have a proposition. It may have a vague proposition; it might be departure from science. It might be really encouraging people to be lost, under similar conditions, with an idea of some kind of condensation, some kind of pulling of elements together, distillation, and finally making something that you can actually present at the end of it. These are workshops, their process is towards some kind of so-called finished work, and you could argue: when does a piece of work begin and end? But, as I say, there’s a kind of embarrassment about being … about authorship, there is a difficulty there, certainly. And I would say, yes it is shared, but you can also argue for a very particular role: the experimenter, the conductor, the maker of certain conditions in which things happen. Or are you a catalyst?

The attraction to me that comes out of the word ‘catalyst’ is in terms of the metaphor of chemistry. A catalyst might be like a piece of magnesium that you drop into something burning and it sets the whole thing alight. There is a degree of consumption that goes on in these situations, to the degree whereby my anecdotal experience is that whatever you are expecting people to do, you’re probably going to burn up a little bit of yourself that is equal and opposite to what you are expecting people to give. There is a kind of emotional, spiritual exhaustion in this process. There is some strange reason that it wouldn’t take place if you were not somehow an active part of this whole system. So I toy always with the idea that every piece of work is a world in itself, (and this does not just relate to performed work at all, but it becomes really clear when you make performed work). It is a system that you’re creating, even if you fool around with the idea of a microcosmic, analogue world, where there are only little puppets that mirror the big world. You are immediately engaging in a system, and that system will start to have rules, and those rules will generate something which has a life of its own. So good art to me seems to be something that is a world in itself, but can also, if it’s really clever, refer to the world in general and maybe comment upon it if you’re lucky. If it is going to be any good at all, it has to be a world in itself, and continue to thrive.

So, in performance terms, this simply means that you’re involved in a live capture: you are like zoologists going out, and rather than pinning butterflies to a piece of card, you are trying to bring them back alive and create some kind of system or ecology, (that continues to work in the minds of an audience in terms of performance). What I said earlier, you know, “How do you know that a performance is finished?” – you can’t really, there seems to be a continuous process of infection going on, and those very systems and rules might be what transmits, rather than the actual content. There is a question which has come up for me which I think I touched on earlier, about purpose. In terms of this idea about creating laboratory conditions (a little world in a box, and that box being the rehearsal room or a stage); there is a purpose to this. I think artists can be very successfully void of purpose, but one of those purposes that can come to you, can be to do with a sense of social meaning. And I ought to know in my own practice, to allow myself to take a holiday from things where I feel compelled to be a useful member of the village: to do things where I think I am instigating conditions that might provide change, with a vague hope that that change is somehow beneficial. There are a lot of pitfalls, and there’s a lot of pitfalls there, between things whereby what I’m catalysing … I may work in a situation where merely by observing things, or reporting things back, merely by making things visible (making the invisible visible), you are creating change. You are creating or authoring the world irrevocably just by showing it. That is the faith of the documentarist.

Then, I let myself off from being a useful member of the village, and I do things where I’m really dealing with my own inner world, but often there is still a catalytic process goes on within myself (or my selves), to allow particular voices out, or just simply to work with very abstract, non-socially-significant materials.

As someone who occasionally works with people’s voices, situations, biographies or histories on the one hand, and with music on the other, I felt myself particularly swimming between those two, because music is meaningless. It has social functions, but when you look at it, it is very abstract, amoral and simple. So I felt myself acting, occasionally, in two roles. One is the catalyst in the social situation with, to be honest, certain intentions to make a change, and others to do with just simply putting a stick in the water and seeing what happens in terms of my own immediate, available materials.


back to top Christopher Bannerman     Thank you.


  Richard Layzell     Richard LayzellI wanted to check whether you could hear me OK at the back. Is it vaguely amplified, or do I need more volume? OK. Thanks.

I don’t normally use the word ‘catalyst’ because if people say "Richard, do you see yourself as a catalyst?" I wouldn’t want to acknowledge that, because it means I might disappoint in some way. I don’t want to over-stress the points of result, because it may not work for you. Or them. But given that that is the theme of this discussion, I am going to embrace it. So, I’m reluctant to use it, but not reluctant to use it in terms of an audience – I like to be a catalyst for an audience. It’s slightly different from being a catalyst as a person or as a facilitator or an artist, it just feels slightly different.

As a maker, or artist, whatever I am, I've deliberately sought out difficult contexts, unusual ones, challenging ones, nobody asked me to. I thought that was what I wanted to do. For example, night clubs, car parks, with retired people in Liverpool, with sensory impaired people in Newcastle, with the entire cleaning force at Warwick University, with you this evening.

I guess I’ve consciously redefined m–y practice by choice – I continue to do so, no going back now. An example would be this work here [shows leaflet to audience], from 1989. It is called The Revolution – You’re In It. I had an invented persona, Bailey Savage, and it was an off-site commission in Cambridge, where I was aiming deliberately to satirise the political situation at the time, and to be provocative. It’s designed to be media-friendly, it had TV exposure, I went to children’s homes, I was the guest of honour at private views, I was on the street, I was in the river, I was often in a large, chauffeur-driven car. I was never me, I was always him. And it was convincing; it worked. This is his business card. It says The Revolution – You’re In It on it. So, that was fifteen years ago and I was kind of aiming at industry, profit and excessive growth - what seemed to me the opposite of what I, as an artist, believed in. There seemed to be no stopping it. And this was a little kind of “Hang on a minute, stop!” Worth a try. And then, I guess five years ago (ten years later), I’m actually working in industry myself as an artist. How did that happen? I don’t think I can tell you exactly how it happened, but it did happen.

I worked in a number of different companies for about seven years. One was called AIT, another was called Promise, another is called Unilever. Some of these companies have changed since then. The main one I worked with was called AIT Ltd, then AIT Plc. How did I operate within that organisation as an artist? One of the things I found was that it was better not to call myself an artist, because it was a confusing title for people. I was part of the organisation, and people wondered what an artist was doing there? I started there as an artist, but I changed my name to ‘visionaire’ and this is my other business card. One of the phone numbers on it is still correct! [I wonder if I may ask you to pass it to the end of each row; are you alright? A visual aid. Perhaps people can just pass it along. Thank you.]

What did I do there? The word ‘culture’ was used a lot. I helped to create a very unusual company culture, it was interesting to have been embracing the word ‘culture’, when I was from the cultural sector. It’s another meaning of the word, really. I worked with community, (treating that organisation as a community of people), I worked with communications, with the physical environment, and in collaboration with the local, wider community. Whatever you may feel about this, it was a very interesting experience.

What did I bring to this as someone who is basically a performance artist, a visual artist, an installation artist? How did I come up with some of these thoughts that are really genuine insights? How did I know that I needed a key sponsor at senior level when my sponsor moved into semi-retirement? How did I know that, in business terms, I needed a key sponsor at executive level, actually? Why did I know that there was a promotional power in what I was doing? That it was going to create a little publicity machine for this organisation, which is quite a conventional company? How did I know that? Why did I become an expert on corporate culture and people sought out my opinions? Why did I create local mythology, stories that ran throughout the local community about the history of this company and some of the people that worked there? Why did I rename buildings and rooms? Why did I bring in poets and artists? Why was I called one of the most customer-focused people in the organisation by the Head of Sales? I’m still not quite sure. But I was. Why did I become a mentor/ friend / fool to several of the senior people? Why did I then introduce performance events regularly? Why did I follow my intuition, why did I transform the physical environment dramatically? I also generated regular income for six emerging artists, designers, and I guess the culmination in 2002 was that AIT was named the fifth best company in the UK to work for in the Sunday Times Awards, and I was mentioned by Patricia Hewitt in the awards ceremony.

So, from not wanting to talk about myself as a catalyst, clearly I’ve gone into major PR here. But it is not really; this is what happened. Why did it happen to me? You know, there is no turning back. What am I doing with all this now? Because the company I was mainly working with had a huge financial crisis, actually. I’m no longer working with them very much. So, was that a good thing? I set out to question what was happening to me as an artist. I was never doing this full time. Was this a good thing? Yes, it was a good thing. It’s a question of what am I doing now. I’ve re-engaged more strongly in my own arts practice and I’m bringing some of this experience back into the arts sector, and my own practice. That’s it. Thank you.


back to top Christopher Bannerman     Thank you.


  Rosemary Lee      Rosemary LeeThank you. Is this sound all right? Yes? It’s strange to be amplified.

I think I get a slightly easier job because I’ve got a bit of work that most of you have seen, in the Library. I’m sorry if somebody has not seen it, I’m just going to talk about it for a bit. I thought that I could use it as a specific example to unpick this notion of the artist as catalyst. For me, I don’t think I’d be doing any of the work I do unless I believed in that notion, and unless that was the driving force for everything I do. If I’m honest, I hope and I believe that what we do can change the world! That is taking the John Lennon thing of "think globally, act locally", which I hope I try to do all the time. I often feel helpless as a member of society, particularly now, so I try to find a way of making myself feel less helpless, by trying to see that what I might be doing, even on a tiny level, is eliciting some kind of change.

When I told Lloyd Newson in the ArtsAdmin office, just round the corner, that I was going to be talking at this seminar, he asked “Catalyst for what?”, and I realised I haven’t asked myself that question in detail. I want to instigate change, but if you really sort of put the microphone out there, as we’re doing now, what change do I want to see and why does that start me doing any projects? I realised as I was sitting at the library desk, watching people go in and view my work, and look at the children’s artwork, that it’s actually all to do with the word ‘freedom’. I think that everything I’m doing, both for myself and the audience and the participants, is something to do with tasting a freer state. And that freer state is probably, for me, as a dance specialist, something to do with being freer in my movement. That sounds very simplistic, but I think it’s true. It is finding a state where I feel I have more space, where the horizon is further away, where I’m moved from the element of society that make me feel trapped. I just put myself on the line there, because I don’t normally say that out loud. But I think that is what I’m doing; maybe you can put the skewer in further to find out whether that is true or not. I’m not saying that there is anything I do that would cause a revolution. It’s something about small changes inside that can rebound out – at least, that is my ideal. So if I use Apart from the Road as a specimen, I’m just going to give you a bit of background about how that project came about (I do apologise to people who haven't seen the exhibition). Perhaps the catalytic theme will be there right from the start.

I was asked to do a piece of work for Dagenham. I drove to Dagenham in a car along the A13, because the money, believe it or not, was coming from Europe, not from Britain, to make the lives of the people who live around the A13 a bit better, because the A13 was going to get bigger. So I already had huge amounts of suspicion about where the money was coming from: whether it was anything to do with Shell, or Tarmac, or making roads bigger. I really was questioning whether it was OK to do what I was going to do. I went along very suspiciously, and looked at some of the artwork equally suspiciously, because it didn’t seem to me that it was making anybody’s life any better, it seemed to cause more obstacles as they had to walk around lights that have been put in, you know, it was supposed to be decorative, etcetera.

Basically, looking at that landscape made me very much question the world of the artist there, because it seemed to me that they needed a lot of other things before they needed art. So I went in there with a lot of question marks in my head about my role. And I think that is why I decided to find a section of the community that seemed to be hidden by the road. And I noticed that I saw no children. And if I had seen them I wouldn’t have been able to hear them. And I noticed that the houses and the shops were right against, or actually underneath, the road. So I determined to find a school that was tucked underneath the A13, surrounded by barbed wire, and find the children, and that’s what I did.

My assumption about those children was that it would be a white working class area, having read the stuff in the papers about Ford Dagenham - you may remember there was a big case of racism against Ford Dagenham, and that was right on the doorstep of most people there, (most of whom I assumed were employed by Ford Dagenham). But when I met the children, they were completely mixed, coming from war torn countries, and none of their parents were employed, maybe one. The unemployment rate was very high, and nobody was employed by Ford Dagenham. I guess I’m explaining this because sometimes you go in, as an artist, thinking what your role might be, and sometimes realise that you’re totally wrong about it.

The theme of Apart from the Road was to be ‘Home’ and when I saw those children, I realised that that would be completely cruel to even talk to them about home. I had showed them a map, and we were going to talk about school and how they come to school, (everybody is doing that now). But we did not do it, because the children started saying ‘Miss, Miss, where do I come from? Which bus do I come on? Where do I come from?’ It became obvious that they didn’t know where they lived because these things were changing all the time, and they were coming many miles on the bus to school and I realised that ‘Home’ for them could be only inside; that they did not know this area. So the theme of the piece changed, it became more about who they were and their identity.

My aim for the project was to discover those children and their voices, (and when I say voices, I mean to hear them as well). I wanted to make that visible to the community they are in. I didn’t expect people to come in like you are here; it was made for the people of Dagenham, with the people of Dagenham, really. And I wanted to find a place where people would find the art, where they would stumble across it, would not have to pay for it, or come on a special day, it was to open for a month, etc.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that my belief that the projects that I do can be catalytic, in the sense of giving people a little bit more freedom; that is what spurred the whole project on. I could talk on for hours! I realise this is an incredibly hard thing to talk about, harder than intuition, so I’ll try to shut up, because people may be getting tired. But I thought I’d just try to see where change happened, if I just list it.

Right from the start the whole project changed, in my response to the place. Then as I met the children, that changed again. Then, when I’m watching the children - what I’m trying to do when I do a dance workshop with those children, is give them a taste of my world. I think it’s a bit like what Graeme was saying about the different worlds. I think that because I cherish the taste of dancing, and what that does to me, I’m trying to give the children a taste of that. So I’m trying to sow the field; to make that a very fertile place for them to have, and make it easier for them to embody what I cherish or what I think is important in being human, and moving.

And to do that, I really – this is the hard thing; I never understand how we do that. I think that Tim sometimes can explain that better. But it’s anything I can do, any words, any music, any tone of voice, any way that I might be in that space, I’m trying to encourage them to taste what I taste, and to perceive, to look at movement, to look at themselves in a new way. To extend their horizons a little bit. I suppose I saw that happen. There were many changes that I saw happen in those children, not all positive. So I will just quickly list them.

Children that could not speak any English, started to speak after a week; I’m assuming this is because they felt equal for the first time, because dance is a universal language and everyone could dance. For the first time those who were at the bottom of the pile were equal. Secondly, as they began to speak and use their voices, their confidence grew and their expression made them in my terms, better dancers, (but that’s a judgement). They became fuller movers, if you like.

However, the children who were disturbed became more disturbed: when we talk about catalytic change, we should also talk about that other side. I think because I allowed all behaviour out, we could see disturbance more clearly, and that meant that when they went back to the classroom, the classroom was also shaken up. When you go into a school as an artist, you probably are shaking up some of the rules that they live by and that is something to consider: how you feel about doing that; how you prepare teachers for that; how you deal with it yourself. Certainly when I saw this one child, I thought that to see disturbance in her mind through her body was pretty shocking for all of us, really. But perhaps, if that had never come out, she wouldn’t have got the help she needs. All the children were more outspoken, more naughty in the terms of the school. The teachers saw them differently; that is a change, I suppose. And that could go on for ages. I saw huge changes in me, in my appreciation of their lives, my respect for what they’ve gone through and how they coped in difficult situations, particularly the traveller children and the children from war-torn countries. Also, a lot of them were physically abused and I could see that, and it was my first experience of working with children from those sorts of backgrounds. So I changed, I felt more helpless, I felt a bigger responsibility.

Then, when it gets into the Library, what I’m trying to do, (very briefly, and then I stop talking), is to change the environment: you expect a certain environment and then it changes. And sometimes if you shake that up a bit, it makes you see things in a different way. It meant that I was reaching library users who would never normally go to a theatre. By framing those children I’m hoping that you see just who they are freshly; that is my aim. And maybe you can hear them better and see them better by the way that we have framed them in the library. So my aim, finally, and I’m going to finish, is fundamentally to change the audience in the same way that I have changed and the same way as the participants are changed.


back to top Christopher Bannerman     OK. Now, just before I invite Tim to make some responses, I would say that there are two ResCen associates who can’t be here this evening. Errollyn Wallen, the composer, and Shobana Jeyasingh, the choreographer, are here in spirit but are not able to join us. I should also perhaps add that after we hear Tim, there might be a bit more internal discussion up here, of points that have come up that might be of interest, but soon after that, debate will be open to the floor. So please be prepared: we expect your participation. And after that, there will be a glass of wine and a few nibbles and the conversation can carry on. So I hand it over to Tim…


  Tim Ingold      Prof. Tim Ingold Thank you, everybody. I’ve been making a list of points as they have been going along, and these have been entirely spontaneous and off the cuff. I have written them down in no particular order as they have come up in the seminar. Actually, I wanted to start with something that Rosemary said just a moment ago.

She said that the question is “what is important about being human and about moving about”. I think being human means moving about in the world somewhere. I’ve come into this because I’m an anthropologist, not an artist, but it has begun to dawn on me that in fact anthropologists and artists are doing very similar things. And therefore, we might each learn from what the other is doing, and then do what we do better. If anybody wanted me to come up with a really good definition of anthropology, it would be “a discipline which is dedicated to the understanding of what is important about being human, and moving.” That is all what I’m trying to do, and those are the questions that certainly motivate me as an anthropologist, as well as Rosemary as an artist, and I’m sure any other practitioner as well in this kind of field. So that was my first point, that is where the convergence lies.

One of the points I wanted to make very firmly on Thursday when we met, was that I’m on the rebound, or reacting against what I see to be a terrible trend in my own discipline which is called ‘the anthropology of art’. That wherever you got anthropologists, they want to come along and turn everything into stuff they can analyse. I think that is very bad, and very regressive. What I want is ‘anthropology and art’, where we realise that we’re actually doing the same kind of thing – for example trying to understand what is important about being a moving human being in the world. So that is where I’m coming from as an anthropologist.

The other point I wanted to make refers back to something that Chris started off with, when he said that one of the things that we’re concerned with is making the invisible visible. I was reminded of two things. Firstly a statement by Paul Klee that I can’t remember word for word, but he said something in his Credo like “art isn’t about representing the visible, but making visible”. The point is that what we’re talking about is “how is it that we actually come to see”. I think it is fairly obvious that we can all see things. Seeing things around us is an entirely mundane thing. I can see people, I can see chairs. And we get accustomed to the idea that around us is stuff that we can see: we take it for granted. But we quite forget how astonishing it is that we can see at all, what it actually means to be able to see. It’s easy to say, “I can see things”, but then we need to move on to the next question, “what does it mean to see? How is it that I can see, how is seeing possible, and what is actually going on there?” And I think, again, that one of the things that anthropology and art are concerned with, is to understand how seeing is possible. There is a wonderful essay by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the philosopher, who said that art is about trying to get people to see as though they were looking at the world for the first time. And the world is continually coming into being and we’re always at the edge of this process. It is like you are always sitting on the edge of your seat, watching this world coming into being and seeing not something that is already there, (and saying, “Oh, that’s what it is, I recognise it now”), but actually seeing the emergence of that world in process, in movement. Again, I think it is not so much making the invisible visible; it is moving from “I can see all this stuff” to “I can see. Wow”. I mean, it’s such an amazing thing. It is equally amazing to say, of course, that “I can hear”, and light – if you ask “what is the meaning of light”, I think it’s just the same thing as “I can see”. And if you ask “what is the meaning of sound”, it’s the same, that “I can hear”. That is what light and sound are. Light is not actually a physical thing, or something in the head, it is “I can see”. Sound is not vibrations in the air, it is not something in the head, it is “I can hear”. So that’s my next point.

The next one, was when Ghislaine talked about her collaborative sound and movement research project, and Graeme talked about doing experiments, where you can set up rather contrived rules and see what happens, (where people respond in an authentic way, and there is no hypothesis). There are two things that were bothering me. One is that it seems to me that if you are doing research, of any kind, you have to have a question. There has to be something that you’re trying to find out. And I think whether you are an anthropologist or an artist, (or anything else), when you are engaged in a research process then you are trying to find something out, and you should probably be able to say what it is; the sort of thing that you are trying to find out. You are looking for answers, and there are so many curious things going on in the world, there is so much to understand, that I don’t think that we can afford the luxury of sitting back and saying, “Well, I’m just exploring”. We need to have something definite that we are exploring. I don’t mean by that that we’ve got to have a hypothesis in the natural scientist sense, where everything is worked out in advance, because we’re not doing research of that kind. I suppose it is more like the research of a detective, where you are following clues, and you go from one thing to another and that leads to another, and that leads to another. But at the end of the day, you are able to say, “I can now understand significantly more than what I started off with”. And you ought to be able to say what that is. And that, if you can’t do that, you are not doing research. But I think that artists do do research, just as anthropologists do. So that’s my point number three.

Point number four is also relating to something that Ghislaine said about specialisation within collective work, where each specialist is learning from each other. I think that is terribly important. We sometimes tend to have the idea that there is something called everyday knowledge, or lay knowledge, or commonsense knowledge, which is what everybody has, and which is a sort of plateau of knowledge and understanding. And against this plateau there are little spikes, or rocks, that stick up, which are known as the ‘experts’; people with specialist knowledge who ‘know’ things. So there is a scientist here, and an anthropologist here, and an artist here, who knows things that other people don’t. So we have this idea of the plateau of everyday knowledge. But if you try to find out what this sort of everyday knowledge is that we are all supposed to have, you can’t find it. You discover that, actually, everybody is a specialist, and an expert in their own way, because of the particular life experiences they have had. Every one of us, although experiences are shared, has had a different experience from the others. So instead of having this sort of plateau, with spikes sticking up, you have an infinitely variegated landscape. And I think, again, with the sort of work that Ghislaine was talking about, one is trying to generate understanding within that kind of landscape. In anthropology too, we’ve had to contend with the same issue, to get away with the idea that other people, other cultures, have knowledge that they all have, that there are cultures which have this sort of traditional knowledge. We have had to grow out of thinking in that way, and realise that wherever you are, each person has his or her particular body of knowledge which they share with other people, but you certainly cannot say that there is some sort of common, base-line knowledge that everybody has got.

I was also very struck by this notion that you mentioned, of a research project on the creative user. And I thought, “This sounds like a contradiction in terms”, because ‘creating something’ means bringing something into existence, and ‘using’ usually means ‘consuming it’. So there seems to be an interesting contradiction here. We have had the same thing in the research business, where the Economic and Research Council, which I am often involved with, invented a concept (or I think the other research councils did) which they called the ‘research users’. And I remember once having to go to a conference on how we are supposed to bring researchers and research-users together. There was a chair for the research-user, and throughout the whole conference it was empty, because nobody could actually own up to being a research user. It’s a bit like, somebody said that “Would you have a conference for hotel users?” I said, “Oh yes, I had to stay at a hotel, and I had to use the towel” or something. The whole concept is completely nonsensical. Everybody realised it was nonsensical, because to be involved in research is to collaborate; it is actually to be on the side of the producer. I’m not criticising the concept, it just means that we have to think about the concept of ‘use’ in quite interesting ways. I don’t think that ‘using’ is something that you get when you put, say, a practitioner with a certain body of knowledge and some purposes together with an instrument. ‘Using’ is rather something where you put people together in an environment, doing something, and there is that whole synergy, which is the ‘using’. So it is better to say that things and people are brought into use, rather than saying that there are people using things. It is just a question of language, but quite interesting to think about.

Graeme was puzzling over what the hell anthropology actually was, which is a thing that we puzzle about a lot, but it is something that I apparently said, (I think I did), that it is somehow systemic. And this is true, I just wanted to sort of set that straight. The whole point of looking at something anthropologically is always that you start off with somebody, people, doing things in a context. And anthropology is continually fighting a battle against other disciplines that want to understand things by taking them out of the context. And that’s why we have a continual problem between anthropology and natural science, because scientific understanding depends on taking things out of context and putting them into some sort of more generalising framework. We always want to get back into the context, and deeper and deeper into it and find understanding that way. And I think, again, there is a parallel with what an artist is doing too: one is going into the world, which means that you have to start not with human beings and their particular ideas and the ‘world out there’, but you have to start with the human being in the world, which means, for me, taking a fundamentally ecological approach to things. The human being in an environment is one system. If you talk about the mind, you could say, ‘Where is the mind?’ It is not in here, rather than out there, but inherent in that system. So if you look at the evolution of the mind, you have to look at the evolution of that whole system, not just at the evolution of the human being.

Another point that came out of what Graeme was saying is the issue about when a piece of work begins or ends. I think that that is actually a fascinating problem. I don’t think that anything actually begins or ends anywhere. I think it is just as well that things don’t end, because otherwise we would all be dead! Because we are talking about a life process, we are talking about performances that are going on in the life process. One of the things about social life is that it is going on all the time, and it always has. You can’t find a point where it started and, as long as there are people about, you are not going to be able find a place where it stops. It comes and goes; it has its own rhythm and so on, but it does not begin and it does not end. In that sense, I would have thought that a work of art does not begin or end; buildings do not begin or end (they have life histories). In fact, you can take anything: tools don’t begin or end. Pick up any tool and say, “Where did this tool begin?”: it is like trying to write somebody’s biography. Do you start at the moment they were born? No, you have to go back to look at their parents. You have to look at their grandparents and so on. There are no fixed beginning or end points. And I think that that is important. Graeme also said a very strange thing, and I thought, “I don’t think I agree with this”. You said, “music is meaningless”! “Very abstract, amoral, simple”. You were probably just being provocative. I think through music. That is where I come from, and I find that when I’m trying to think anthropologically, usually thinking musically helps. And certainly when you are creating music, because it is very embodied, it’s not really very different from dance. Perhaps the only difference is that you are making all this noise, but I suppose you could make noise whilst you were dancing too. I don’t suppose there is really a great difference between them. Music can be meaningless if you insist that ‘meaning’ is something that we attach to things. If we speak of music, or language, as a code, so if I sing a song and somebody asks: “well, what does that mean?” my answer is to sing it again, and then sing it again, and then maybe they will get the point. Because the meaning is actually inherent in the sound itself, it is not something that we attach to it, as we might think the meanings of words are attached to words. So the meaning is actually in the sound itself. And it is also in the movement. And that is why I think that with music, it is absolutely critical that one is talking about people who are actually engaging in the action itself (lets say they are instrumental performers, or singers). There has been a great debate amongst musicians, and musicologists, about the rights and wrongs of listening to music with your eyes shut. Should you listen to a symphony concert with your eyes closed so as to avoid all distractions and really concentrate on the music, or should you have your eyes wide open, and be watching the players like a hawk? I think you should be watching the players like a hawk. That is what Stravinsky said. In his biography, Stravinsky had railed against people who argued that you should not actually see the musicians, they should just be hidden away somewhere, and if you can see them, you should close your eyes so as not to be offended by the sight of them, because then the sound just washes over you and people can just sit there and let it go by. But if you are actually keeping an eye on those musicians as they play, only then will you really understand the music. It’s just the same as dance, I should imagine.

Richard raised another thing in my head. Very often, actually when anthropologists are trying to present themselves as they are, they say: “We are to social life as the Fool is to the King in a Shakespeare play. We sidle up and have access to powerful people. And although we’re regarded as a bit mad, and we can’t do anything, nevertheless, we have the ear of people in high places, and our task is to subvert conventional hierarchies, power relations, and so on”. So the anthropologist very much enjoys playing the part of the Fool, and I think does it rather well. Again, I think, this is probably also a pretty good idea of what an artist does, of being able to sidle up, worm their way into high places, and then turn the whole thing upside down, to excellent effect. That was clearly the case with Richard, apart from the financial misfortunes of the company.


  Richard Layzell      But that was nothing to do with me…


  Tim Ingold      That was nothing to do with you. And a final thing that I might add, (I hope I’m not going on too long), the final thing was in respect to Rosemary’s point about freedom, which I heartily endorse. I just wonder whether freedom is really what is involved here. The trouble with the concept of freedom as we have inherited it in the discourse of our modern Western society, is that it is set up in opposition to a notion of mechanical necessity. So that the image of freedom we have is sometimes that of atoms flitting around inside a box: the individual in society. Society sets up a set of rules, restraints and conditions, but it also allows some freedom of manouvre inside the box. Within this space, cut out by the motorways and fences, are these individuals who can jiggle about inside that constraint but cannot get out of it. A lot of the time when people talk about freedom, it is that kind of freedom which they have in mind, which turns out to be a kind of illusory freedom.

I think that what we need to be getting at is growth: the idea that one is growing and moving forward on the basis from where you are now. In other words, they shouldn’t try to pretend to be something other than … you can’t … I can’t wake up one morning and decide I want to live in the feudal era. I’m here where I am, and there is nothing I can do about that. And I have to move on from there. So we are not free. I think Karl Marx said it all when he said that “Men make their own history, but they do so not under circumstances of their own choosing, but under circumstances given from the past”. That statement has it all there: we are where we are, and we have to move on from there, but we can move on, and we can grow, and in growing, we also create the conditions in which other people can then grow and develop. My own view of history is that it is the process in which human beings through their actions, create the conditions in which subsequent human beings grow, and then they, through their actions, create the conditions in which subsequent human beings grow. So through our actions we can create the conditions in which that kind of growth is possible, and does not hit the buffers.

People are suffering in many parts of the world, but it is not so much that they are shut up, as that they have no possibility to move forward. It is as though they are trying to grow, and then every way they go, they hit a brick wall. So our job is to keep the process going, rather than to engineer some utopian final state. We keep the process going by creating the conditions in which growth is possible. And that, I think, is what we ought to be doing, whether we’re anthropologists, or artists or anything else. That is what I have to say.


back to top Christopher Bannerman     Thank you, Tim, a wonderfully expansive and exciting response, and I think you managed to provoke every single one of the research associates, but I’m not going to let them say anything now! I’m going to take a radical decision because of time and open it to the floor and if the artists wish to make responses, work them into the general debate and discussion. So, who’s starting off? Yes, please.


  Audience member      I just wanted to respond to that last point, because in a way I feel that what Rosemary was saying is very much in keeping with what Tim was saying, about the different languages being used. What I find fascinating is the language of anthropology, which has its own particular vocabulary and particular world of meaning, and how that is then applied to the different worlds of various different art forms. It seems to me that actually there is more concordance with ideas than we think. And that is to do with the languages and how things become boxed in, once you put them in different languages. And that is very fascinating in the context.


  Christopher Bannerman     Well, we could be ‘lost in translation’, or actually, may be only a translation blip … interesting.


  Rosemary Lee     Can I quickly respond to that? I thought that was fascinating, that really was helpful to me. I was saying that I wanted to find more space and I wanted the horizons to go further: that is growth for me. But in movement terms that feels like freedom to me, so I think I absolutely don’t believe in escape. You know, I’m not trying to escape, I’m trying to transform. I think that is about words, so that was really helpful.


  Christopher Bannerman     Another response? Question? Comment?


  Audience member     I was interested in what you said about research. It seems to me that if you’re going to say that if we want to call this (or in certain configurations need to call this) research, then we need to have a question, a very clear and definite question that we can articulate. And whilst I liked the very first question that you had, the question that art and anthropology possibly share, I wondered if that was good enough as a research question because your detective analogy may be problematic in answering that question. We are not here in the situation where we can move neatly from one pre-given or pre-visioned stepping stone (or set of clues) to another. And that is where I think the notion of research might become problematic, or research questions might become problematic.


  Tim Ingold      It is very problematic; I’m having problems with it myself in trying to sort it out, and many other people do. What we’re trying to do, certainly in anthropology, is to come to a different sort of model of questioning and answering than the kind of model imposed on us (mostly by our paymasters, who want to follow the very clear natural science paradigm). The imposed model suggests you should first have your theory; from the theory generate a hypothesis; and from the hypothesis produce a certain experiment or questionnaire or something that would yield answers to test the hypothesis, and therefore indirectly the theory. Now, we want to get away from that kind of model, which is disempowering in lots of ways, most obviously disempowering for the people amongst whom one’s research or art is carried out, because they become simply targets of a pre-set inquiry. We want a system or research where people automatically become collaborators in the whole project. But the thing is, you often start off with very big questions like “What does it mean to be a human being in the world?”. You cannot just walk up to somebody and ask this question. I mean, you can, but then you are going to get answers that are very heavily contextualised. So what you need to be able to do is to translate those from the very big questions into the sorts of questions about which you can have sensible conversations with people, and get sensible results. So it is a kind of scaling problem. But I still think that the kind of questions that we need to ask are… there are all sorts of things happening in the world. For example, people walk about. How is it possible that people walk about? People find their way. How is it possible that people find their way? Societies are grossly unequal. How is it possible that societies are grossly unequal? People live in societies. How is it possible? I mean, there are all sorts of “How is it possible?” questions that drive me, anyway, and that is what I mean by research questions.


  Christopher Bannerman     I expect there is a kind of comparison to be drawn there but I won’t attempt to draw it and let the artists or indeed someone else put it forward. But there is the notion of an ‘emergent premise’ sometimes. Yes?…


  Audience member      I was interested that Graeme was talking about authenticity and authorship. Taking those couple of words and pointing them back at Richard and your practice: you were subsumed within this character of Bailey Savage and you said that it worked in some way. And then you went to the AIT, you helped to create a very interesting company structure, so that worked in some way. But then it seemed also that you seemed anxious, almost unwilling to enter into being part of AIT. You changed your name from ‘artist’ to… (I forget what the phrase was…)


  Richard Layzell      Visionaire


  Audience member     …visonaire. You then said that when you left AIT, you re-engaged with your art practice, as if you were disengaged while you were there. Also that the financial collapse is nothing to do with you. Directly of course, it was nothing to do with you, but you did work for that company, didn’t you? For me there is a question about where you are placed.


  Richard Layzell     I haven’t quite got the question you’re asking. There were quite a few in there. If you could ask just one, what would it be?


  Audience member     It was relating to Graeme’s idea of authenticity, and where you felt yourself placed at AIT.


  Richard Layzell     Well I suppose the reason I showed those two examples of Bailey Savage and then talked about AIT was a kind of paradox, really, that I was making a political statement as an artist about what I saw, relatively naively, as what it was like to run a business. Bailey Savage was a successful businessman, that was his CV, well, he had founded a company. I was working closely at AIT with the founder of that company. I found him to be imaginative, charming, tough, insightful: a collaborator. We worked together on a lot of the things that I did there. And when I got really involved in that project (as I think of it now), I was completely committed to it. I was an artist, working in industry. I changed the name of artist to visionaire because it did not make sense to other people. For me, I was still an artist, in different shades of my practice. Sometimes it was clearly related to visual art, performance, to facilitation. Other times it was new territory for me. And I think that was when it became very interesting. I changed the name because it was a playful thing to do, but also it ended up being the smart thing to do, because I was with a group of people who mostly had nothing to do with the artworld: they had never met an artist or a poet before. And if I said I was an artist, they would say, “Well, what are you doing here?” Whereas if I said I was a visionaire, they would say, “Oh, cool”. Genuinely, they did. They got something from this invented name that implied that I was doing something different that was about creativity, which they could read in their own sense. At the same time, it was seductive. Now that I’m earning less, I see that I was… that I prefer what I am now, actually. I don’t regret any of it now; I learnt a huge amount from it, but was I authentic? I’m not sure that I was a hundred percent. I thought I was at the time. I feel more authentic now, if that is a fair answer…


  Christopher Bannerman     Good, yes…There must be another question or comment. [Pause]. I can’t believe it, all those people there…Yes, I can see three hands up…One, two, three.


  Audience member     This is a question for Rosemary. Given the kind of freedom that has been presented as movement or motion that happens within a defined space or a space that is restricted, I was thinking back to the Apart from the Road exhibition. I was thinking about how each of the children's work was obviously patterned in the same way, for example the ‘wish poems’ or the ‘I don’t want an ironmonger for an auntie’ patterns. So I was wondering whether you could talk a little bit about how each of the projects was done with the students. Did you present a pattern and then they followed it, or was it something that came up within the work that you did with them? Where then does that locate the creative process? How much is with you as a teacher, and how much is with the student?


  Rosemary Lee      That is such a good question. I suppose those structures are there in the dance as well, particularly because they had to be filmed and framed in a very particular way. I thought you were going to say that. I was thinking, “God, talk about boxing someone in” – I was just stuffing them in the bookshelves and they could only be that big! It is that juxtaposition of framing something really perfectly, and saying ‘Your nose has got to be right around there' (looking at the red light), and yet I’m talking about freedom. I’m a hypocrite! However, for me as a maker, limitation usually frees me in a way. If I don’t know where I’m going, if I feel too lost, nothing happens. So, I suppose I could say that I was hoping that the structures I gave them would free something up; that is one easy way of answering it. But I actually had a real question after I saw the first one, in Dagenham, and I saw the poems. I was quite worried. I thought they were too limiting, that the skeleton structure I was giving them was directing the children too much. One head teacher in Whitechapel thought it was limiting the children. However, when we tried a different format here at Whitechapel, and the poet was working with the children in a really different way and didn’t give a skeletal structure, the work was much weaker. When I say weaker, it was weaker in all kinds of ways that a teacher could say - spelling, and that kind of thing - but also, in my terms it was weaker because actually I didn’t feel that I was hearing the child’s voice easily. So I felt quite confused about that. Somehow, for those children at that time, those skeletons gave them the potential to open new doors (especially the ones where I think English was a problem). But I really take your point. I think that has always been the difficult point for me: how much am I allowing the children’s voice, and how much am I moulding this ‘authorship thing’, and how do I balance that out? These are questions that I’m always asking. And I was very surprised to find that the skeleton ones work better than the ones that were in the books. I think hey seem a bit more lost; I don’t think they knew where they were going so they needed that kind of guidance. But I also think it is different for different children, different classes and different backgrounds (and whether English is a first language). There are a lot of things in there, but it is definitely an issue for me.


  Christopher Bannerman      Right. Number two.


  Audience Member     Yes. I wanted to go back to this question about questions, the new response to Graeme’s comment about the vague sense of something. I guess it is more about 'what is ‘knowing’'. Are there forms of knowing, or ways of asking questions, that don’t begin with the question necessarily? I know from my own anthropological fieldwork that I encountered that sense of not asking questions as ways of knowing. So I wondered if you could just speak about that, ways of knowing…


  Tim Ingold      Ways of knowing…wow, well, that is interesting. First of all, I think there is a basic way of knowing, which is experiential, and comes from our immediate engagement with our surroundings (by attending to our surroundings in particular kinds of ways). I can’t separate out, at that level, ways of knowing, ways of acting, or ways of being. As far as I can see, these are all, in a sense, the same. And we can share other people’s experiences, other people’s knowledge, simply by sharing in their activity. And that, in anthropology, is the basis of ‘participant observation’. The fact that it can be done, the fact that we can participate in other people’s lives and learn from them, proves that fundamentally knowledge is about shared experience that comes from immersion in doing the same things, in the same environment. It is also true that funny things happen to knowledge as soon as you start writing it down. There is all sorts of stuff that we know, which cannot be written down. Or if we did write it down it would be so utterly transformed that it would not be the same knowledge anymore. And it is precisely for that reason that we need to find other forms of.… what we want to know, what we want to be able to do, is to share that knowledge with other people. So if that knowledge cannot be expressed in words, or in writing, then we have to find other ways of doing it. And that is precisely where the issue of the relationship between anthropology and other art forms comes in, because they might offer possibilities for us to do that. And that is why I think the relationship is there. But I still feel that it is something to do with discipline. When I’m in seminars with people from other disciplines, in other areas of the academy, whether it be scientists, or historians, or whatever it is, anthropology always seems a left bit out, a bit zany: doing things and asking things that other people don’t ask. It is always regarded as a bit on the edge. When I find myself sitting with artists, I end up feeling like a stuffy academic, insisting that there be clearly defined questions, because anything goes. I think it cannot be quite like this. There has got to be a very tight discipline. If we call ourselves researchers, we have got to be fired by curiosity about the world. And we’ve got to be able to direct that curiosity in disciplined ways, so that we end up knowing more than we started with. As I say, knowledge does not have to be in the form of some accumulation of mental representations, or books, or articles, but a deeper, richer understanding of what it means to be a human being living in the world. That sounds a bit vague, but once you get beyond that point, it is very complicated… it would take too long.


  Christopher Bannerman      Well, we are talking about things that can’t be said. But from the first part of your answer, I take it that you might be submitting your next application for research funding in the form of cello playing.


  Tim Ingold      Yes, exactly, I mean, that’s it, that’s exactly it.


  Christopher Bannerman      Good. And was it Adrian, who wanted to have a word? Good, and then…


  Audience member      Yes, I wanted to comment about something that Ghislaine said right at the beginning. She talked about a sense of relief of not being the one who came out with an idea on their own. And I thought that was actually very interesting, because in terms of what has come since, it raises a very curious series of questions about what a catalyst is. In this sense, you might say that after you’ve come up with something, the catalyst turns out to have been that you experience the relief of not having been alone to come up with it. And that is quite different from the catalyst which provokes an individual act of authorship, such as that which Rosemary is accomplishing with the children. Where there are, in a sense, basic structures, but there is also something which gives them the relief from having to do it all yourself. So I was thinking that these are two almost incompatible notions of what the catalyst is. And yet at the same time, they are both functioning. So one couldn’t say that it shouldn’t be there just because it’s contradictory. But it takes us a long way from the idea of someone who is a real catalyst for change, or someone who is a real catalyst for entropy, or whatever it might be. So I was wondering if you just wanted to talk a little more about that.


  Ghislaine Boddington     Actually I can bring it back into that ‘creative’ question too, because the whole thing about having a research question… I did research with shinkansen which I mentioned in the beginning. We started in 1989 as a process unit and a research group, and it was a group of people who had a set of questions. Actually, there are lots of examples of that, not just in the arts, but in politics, and activism of all types. Very often it would be groups of people who have got a set of questions or something that they want to find out more about, and don’t necessarily have the answers. So for example, we probably had seven or eight quite big questions over the last fifteen years, of which the most recent one was the Future Physical program. This questions what happens when you put the human body in the centre of digital interaction, rather than just holding it out at the edges. We actually set up a whole set of work, commissions, seminars, exhibitions, debates, etc about what is the future of the physical body when you put the body in the centre of the digital interactive debate, rather than the tools of technologies, the software, or whatever. I think that is a big program of work, and then I can take it right down to much tinier examples like when we worked with telematics. For the remote connection work, my direction role in those pieces, along with other specialists (I’ve got a particular set of directors, there are video directors, and an interactive director too) was to look at very specific, tiny little questions, like “can we really touch at a distance?”. So, I think when it really gets down to working on those tiny questions because I work in dance and music, the catalyst becomes quite embodied.

There was a discussion that happened at Roehampton (where quite a few of us were involved before Christmas, the dance conference), where we ended up talking about what is research for dance, for the body, from the body, within the body? In my panel we ended up thinking that questions maybe are not there beforehand. They actually come within the studio, (this is where it becomes closest to Rosie’s examples). When you get to the studio, you end up with a set of questions that come from the body. It is that embodied research. In a sense, the body starts to set the next question up. The next question comes out of the body, and then you do that and that and that, and another question occurs. And in that sense, I think Graeme and Richard’s processes are not dissimilar either. I’m not sure that I've completely answered, that I was completely straightforward… but I think a catalyst in my bit is as an individual, being part of the group situation. It is not always the same groups; it is all sorts of different groups with a knock-on effect within the group. Actually it is like a domino, shifting when you knock it forward; it is all coming together in a way, but it is not clear precisely what has come through whom, or even how it clicks together. But that doesn’t really matter because actually what is precise is what comes out at the other end of it. And the catalyst thing is happening throughout the process, from the beginning of a much bigger generic question, right through to the tiny decision of which bits of film to take that go in the photocopier in the library. So, and the catalyst thing doesn’t stop happening then, because then it’s actually happening when people are seeing it. And opening the photocopier and seeing it, the fitting of those different bits. Does that answer your question? I think it is all woven up, these things, individual and group, layering in together all the time. But I tend to think from the group first, because I genuinely do not believe that people have ideas on their own. I think people do not recognise and reference enough outside; they do not realise where the stuff is coming from. And I think particularly in the arts we’re not very good at recognising that, and in many other areas you have to. It is not essential to reference every little thing; I’m not a big one for all that. It is just actually recognising yourself; that you’re gathering from all around you, and that other people start following in you and though you and groups… I believe we can go further and recognise that in the group.


back to top Christopher Bannerman     Another question? From the floor? Or comment, or…?


  Audience member      Sorry to have more questions about questions. And maybe I should say that I’m an archaeologist, but I also work in a drama department, so I’m somebody who sits in between the two. I’m still wary of this overdetermining of the question, and actually what has been coming out seems to show up that these practices are very similar. Perhaps for reasons that we are not really thinking about, because of course the privileging of prior questioning to full research when you are in the academy bears so little relationship to the process that one actually engages in within the academy. Actually what we do is very similar to creative arts practices: we go in there, we mess around, we come up with questions by having that very embodied engagement, even if it is with library books – that sense of delving in, smelling pages, touching pages, thinking what does it touch on in our own personal experiences? Through that whole network of understandings, we may or may not come up with a series of questions. In fact, towards the end of the process (because we don’t want to say the end of the process) you realise that that is what you wanted to talk about. The mark of good research, presumably like the mark of good creative work in the more traditional arts context, is that you realise that toward the end of the process rather than at the beginning. So this isn’t really a question at all - and I’ll leave it there.


  Christopher Bannerman     Another comment over here?


  Audience member     Sorry, it is a comment from the other end of the row, so I apologise for the delay. Chris, you made a comment several moments ago that you rather threw away and I think it relates very much to this question of research. It was the ‘emergent premise’; that is to say what emerges as we go along. I’m very keen on the idea that we don’t determine the questions too early. My knowledge of physics and chemistry is way back in the mists of history, but I think it was Einstein who said that “if we knew where we were going, it wouldn’t be research” (or something similar). And my knowledge of chemistry is that if you are a catalyst, you actually speed up the chemical reaction but you remain unchanged yourself. Now I don’t believe that that is what artists are talking about when they describe themselves as catalysts, I think they are changed as well. There was a comment earlier about ways of knowing. I just refer you back to John Berger and Ways of Seeing, because you will find a couple of essays in that book which are just purely visual statements, without questions, that you will find your own questions amongst. And I think of research as exploring territory, and that in turn brings me back to another favourite quote of mine, which is about climbing mountains. That is to say I think we do not climb the mountain because it is there, we climb it because we are here. I think that starting point of ‘we are here’ and what sorts of territory we want to explore, followed by an examination of the unexpected in that territory, is close to what I think is the territory we are exploring this evening. Lastly, for you, Tim, you spoke earlier about the anthropology of art, you talked about art and anthropology, but there is also the art of anthropology which perhaps you might comment on at some point.


  Christopher Bannerman     Right. Who will respond?


  Tim Ingold      It seems I raised a hornet’s nest with this thing about the question, but it is terribly important, so I’m glad it has come up. I think it is an absolutely crucial issue, and I actually agree with everything that everybody was saying. It seems to be that there is a notion that to ask a question introduces closure. I don’t think it does. I think a question is an opening. It is an opening that then leads on; it is not a closure. To ask a question is not to predetermine anything, it is to mark a point of entry. To say, “we now embark”; it is to say that you are going on a ship, and the ship has now left the shore, it is not on land anymore. That is the point of asking a question. So I think a question is an opening. After all, kids are asking questions all the time. Very good questions; often very difficult questions. In fact, questions where the only way to answer them is to live. And then gradually the answers will come through in their own particular way. So I agree with you saying that we are exploring, and it is an open territory, but for me it starts with a question. So for example, the question that has motivated much of my own recent work is simply “why do different people perceive their surroundings in different ways?” We all know that they do. But the question of explaining, trying to understand why they do, is extremely complicated and difficult. And also very interesting. And then when you start trying to find answers to that, it takes you into all sorts of subsidiary questions, and you go on and on and on. And that is how I think a question is an opening rather than a closure. I don’t really think there is any disagreement amongst us on that one.

As far as the art of anthropology - what was it - the anthropology of art, art and anthropology, the art of anthropology… I think of art in this context as a skilled practice. So I want to think about art in its original sense as skill, before the modernist dichotomy of art and technology. An anthropologist is a skilled practitioner, just as an artist is a skilled practitioner, or a musician is a skilled practitioner. And there are particular skills that one has. It is quite hard to put a finger on what they are. For example, there are skills of remembering. You have to be an incredibly good rememberer to be an anthropologist. You have to be an incredibly good listener. If you are engaged in an anthropological project, you listen to people, and you remember what they are saying, in a way that is quite different than if you just listen to people remembering in the ordinary course of life. I think you have to be a very good observer, and observing is a skill. We learn all these skills through the research process itself. I don’t think that anthropology is like one little segment of academic division of labour. It is a way of being, and to students I say: “You are all anthropologists from the outset”. Because even if you start writing a diary, and start paying attention to all around you, you become an anthropologist. It is not some specialised thing that you have to acquire in that sense.


  Christopher Bannerman     My friends, we’re coming close to the end, but I know there was a comment here, and I know that Richard wants to make a comment too, so if there are more comments, this is coming up to the last chance.


  Audience member      Thanks, I’m glad I made it. I wanted to return to this idea about freedom and the proposition that it is a false notion of freedom which defines it as the absence of constraint. It seemed a way perhaps to put Rosemary’s mind at ease, in that if it is indeed false to celebrate escape from freedom as the absence of constraint, then by imposing different constraints, by shifting the constraints, you were finding a way of avoiding an illusory sort of freedom. I want to go on from that to ask in what way might we be suspicious of art that celebrates escape, of escapism? And in what way we might develop an aesthetic which valorises the exposing of constraint. I think that might be an aesthetic that anthropology already has. And I think it is something that you probably share as artists, so I’d like to hear some comments on that. Is that clear?


  Christopher bannerman     Well, let it settle for a second. Richard has already wanted to say something which may be related or may not, but we will come back to yours.


  Rosemary Lee     I’m trying to think what you mean, ‘escapism’…


  Audience member     Well, it might make sense in terms of the cultural industry and mainstream culture, which simulates freedom rather than providing it.


  Christopher Bannerman      You can go home and have a choice, you can select which escapist fantasy you want, but they are all escapist fantasies.


  Rosemary Lee      I don’t know if I’ve got a thought, actually, sorry. All the work I make has got some element of escape in it. For me, when I make a work, there is usually something that has got to do with flying or wings. I’ve only just discovered this recently, which is something to do with trying to get away. But I think that is quite personal. But I think I probably had an assumption that other people wanted to fly as well. So there was probably something about escape, but then I wouldn’t want to be a kite without a rope. So that is my answer.


  Christopher Bannerman     I know Richard was waiting to make a comment…


  Richard Layzell     Well, while this is a particularly nice room, and you are very well lit, there is a sense of artificiality about us up here being the experts. And I know there are a lot of very experienced people in the audience. I wanted to acknowledge that for me it is as much about you as about us. But I wanted to say something that sounds like I’m grovelling, but I’m not. It’s about ResCen. For me, being attached to ResCen for however long it’s been, has really forced me to look at my process in a way that I know I would not have done. This is a very recent insight, or attitude, or position that kind of relates to your comment: for the first time in a long time, I’m feeling that my work is research and process. It is not so product/project based; it is a continuum which relates to some of the points that Tim was making, and I’m very much enjoying perceiving it that way. It is not fixed, and things happen, and I share them, and something else will happen. So it is an acknowledgement of the whole thing, really.


  Christopher Bannerman     A last call for questions and comments… I think the microphone holder has a question herself, I guess that is allowed… Ildi…


  Audience member     Thank you. I was going to ask you about ‘meaning’. Sometimes people outside the arts think of meaning and look for meaning in what we do. Do you think that, based on this discussion, we could think of meaning, whatever it is, as the act of intervention in the environment of your audience? Whether it is visual, or movement based or sound-based. Whether you can think of the meaning of something that you want to convey as the act of intervention? And is it necessary to have some knowledge about that environment?


  Christopher Bannerman     We are finishing with a big question, but we have time only for a quick comment. Graeme…


  Graeme Miller     I’ve recently been filming birds on telegraph wires. If I find telegraph wires with birds on it, I film that and interpret it as music and also as words. It is interesting how easily you can apportion meaning. The whole research has taken me days on end, with my bicycle in the Kent marshes. An interesting question about what Tim raised: I think it is absolutely true that we know everything through our ears, through our senses. We know nothing else. We have this residual faith that it exists when we are going to sleep. And I have been delving into this question. It is quite easy to make up meanings out of random patterns of birds on telegraph wires, but then when you see the flocking of a quarter of a million birds reeling around above you, you get the sense that there is language going on. That when you are talking about the environment in which it exists, the ultimate context in which you exist, and this relates to sound as well, saying that we sound as only what we hear. But then there’s the sound, there are the noises that we have faith in and make. When we are long dead and gone, and the birds that exist when they are not observed. But there’s maybe a key process and I think that that’s perhaps where the frame of what we call meaningful music, wedding music, party music, disco music, sad music, manipulative film music is, what I would call meaningful music. And our shared interest in pushing the frame away to the edges, where we might be just reaching out into our environment where our known context starts to shift and has got frayed edges, like all fields of knowledge. And I like the idea that as artists we are duty bound to steer the ship off the road and into the fields and go off in that direction. In Tim’s sense as an anthropologist that was a necessary process of re-framing, re-evaluating, looking at what is new. And probably that is as simple as steering your senses, (which is all we have), into the environment, and creating conditions in which… and probably yes, meaning will derive from that interaction, and there is nothing else probably…


  Ghislaine Boddington      This links into the creator-user comment that came up. I want to go back to what you were saying about intervention and participation in environments, and how that actually creates meaning. With interactive installations where you actually use it, and therefore you bring it into existence at the same time; there definitely, that whole research is looking at how people evolve meaning from participating and intervening in environments that are originally made by artists. That gets quite complex, but I think a more complex-simple route starts to come through because of the technologies.


  Christopher Bannerman     Although nothing ever ends, and this will not end, I think it is time to move on to another phase over a glass of wine with more conversation. As Richard quite rightly pointed out, there are many of you who have a lot to say about these issues, so we look forward to that more fluid conversation. But first, a last comment from Tim Ingold… a very last comment…? [Shakes head]

And I need to say thank you to all my ResCen colleagues…Thank you.


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