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Postgrad Seminars 01
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Virtual Physical Bodies
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the Motivation of the Artist – seminar transcription
Presented by ResCen

Tuesday 25 May 2004

Venue: The Clore Studio, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Research Associates:
  Ghislaine Boddington
    Shobana Jeyasingh
  Richard Layzell
  Rosemary Lee
  Graeme Miller
    Errollyn Wallen
Chair:
  Professor Christopher Bannerman
     
transcribed and edited by:
  Jane Watt

 

This seminar transcript can be downloaded in full
as an Adobe Acrobat pdf file (file size: 240 Kb)

 
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  Introduction by   
Christopher Bannerman   
My name is Chris Bannerman, I’m head of a research centre called ResCen – the Centre for research into creation in the Performing Arts. I should say welcome to the Clore Studio at the Royal Opera House. We’re very pleased to be here and thanks to you, the Royal Opera House for arranging that. This is actually the last of this year’s series of seminars that we hold each academic year.

We’ve been meeting for some time as a group – over three or four years – to have a number of discussions about the processes involved in the making of artistic work. From those discussions, certain themes have been selected as they have surfaced on a number of occasions. I have done the selection. Although I have to confess that tonight’s theme – the motivation of the artist – was also suggested by some of the Research Associates who are sitting here with me. They will be introduced to you in a few seconds.

I took some time to agree to this theme because obviously, we’re moving into an area that is so personalised that it may be very difficult to talk about. But on reflection I thought “No, lets enter this territory”. We are, in a sense, ‘road testing’ ideas, looking for areas of interest that can be followed up at a later date. We had an internal discussion on this theme and so decided that sometime in the coming academic year, next year’s series of seminars, we will be joined by one or two psychoanalysts, to discuss this theme further. I hasten to add that there are no therapists that I know of here present tonight, so we’ll save that aspect for later! So I’m delighted to be joined by the ResCen Research Associate artists: Graeme Miller, Rosemary Lee, Shobana Jeyasingh, Ghislaine Boddington, Errollyn Wallen and Richard Layzell.

I thought that it might be useful tonight to put forward three ideas that the associates could either run with or not as the case might be. It’s about motivation in each case, but it might vary at different stages of an artist’s career. So what was the original motivation? The second part is about key, or significant moments, perhaps when creative motivation was lacking, or underwent change. Then the final aspect to look at in motivation is to see what keeps people engaged in their practice today.

I, like the ResCen artists, probably not unlike many of you in the audience, have been engaged in art for decades. I’ve seen that people don’t start making work because they’re interested in making money. There are easier ways to make money than becoming an artist. In our internal discussion about this, I also ventured the notion that each of these artists didn’t start with a career plan in order to be able to make work. They had to almost invent a pathway. And I wonder if that’s a general perception, or if that’s something specifically in this group.

So now, without too much further ado, you’ll hear from each of the ResCen associates. I’ll give each of them five minutes, then we’ll hear from you and engage in more discussion. It would be good to see where we can take this issue.

I should remind you all that tonight’s proceedings are being recorded to be used in academic purposes and for academic purposes only. So when prompted with your chance to contribute there will be a microphone that is passed around and while we can hear you pretty well, the microphone is important. Following usual practices, the material will go on the ResCen website. So without further ado, I’ll come straight down the line and start with Graeme Miller.

 

 
back to top Graeme Miller      OK. Yes, I think it’s an interesting process to go back and ask “what first motivated you?” For myself, there have been certain journeys of enquiries. The key fact for me is the fact that I was brought up in the suburbs. As such I think I’m one of a whole group of artists who have a particular set of motivations. They have been precipitated into making work, not in response to life events, traumatic life events, not because they’ve been brought up within a creative tradition. But because they found themselves at a particular age in an environment that somehow seemed inadequate. Somehow it didn’t seem to be the whole story and they began to invent themselves: self-invention. It means that you define yourself by the world you wish to exist in. And, in a way, by having a certain role as the originator, or creator of that world you start to make it come true. In a sense it’s to do with craving possibilities.

I look back into my own life story and identify specific times when a kind of, almost, belied pathological need to kick start came from thin air. It was like making a journey by pulling up the railroad tracks behind you and just laying them in front of you. Then pulling the ones behind again and laying them in front without any real questioning of where you might go, other than probably a more interesting drive towards somewhere. I mean, in geographical terms, it would be either towards the sea or towards London if you live in the suburbs of south London.

I think, there’s this interesting thing about artworks I think all artworks are worlds within themselves. They are not even necessarily microcosmic in that they don’t necessarily reflect everything about the wider picture, but they are inseparable from life – they have certain rules and structures. They will inevitably have kind of internal rules. In particular, dealing with performing arts, unless you’re making solo work for yourself, you are immediately involved in a social group of people. So the idea that you are making a world (and possibly trying to make it as you want it) becomes doubly true. Not only does the imperative, or the demands of the thing you’re working on, involve you, as both a creator and a kind of performer within it, but also the actual mechanism of putting it together and making a social world of it. This is particularly true of theatre. It becomes a world. There’s no doubt that for me, theatre, when I was in my mid-teens meant possibilities. It also meant meeting girls. That was, in more practical terms, a getting you away from a sort of isolation. The actual world, the social world, then would extend into the art world, the theatre scene, the ballet set.

I wonder if you make worlds, to what extent there is a danger of a kind of Pygmalion-like relationship with it, in that it is the only world that you will inhabit. And that the world, and what it might promise, can also create a kind of addiction. I’m not saying that this is what I’m in, but, I’m very suspicious about those motivations. I still would say that the practice I’m involved in to this day is in making worlds and the idea of possibilities that linger.

An example of belonging is that I try, in a way, to set myself certain ideas that have come from distinct, philosophical moments, or decisions if you like, in my life. One is that as an artist, you’ve got a wide range of possibilities to be a complete tosser, or to be a useful member of the village. They are equally possible. It is possible economically, but not necessarily the wisest decision to be a useful member of the village. One kind of prime directive I’d set myself has been to try and at least view what I do as useful. So the question is whether it is useful, or whether in analysing your own motives whether there are, in fact, other things. There are other things going on that might be less altruistic, or indeed, being useful may not even be altruistic, it may be a kind of conceit.

I’ll just finish with this insight into what I think are possibly those other sort of motivations and things that might just simply be a background radiation in the motivation of artists. One that we don’t feel very comfortable looking at, is what I describe as a sort of nose-dive, in terms of career. Not everyone has experienced periods in the cold, but certainly a lot of people do. When the world of public acceptance and even praise for what you do – airing, communication, connection with an audience but also connection with a milieu, connection with other artists – dwindles, year by year. It happened in my life and it gave me a very clear perspective. I could suddenly see over the wall into the next door’s garden. I wasn’t part of the art world for a certain period of time. Then gradually, I moved back into it in a certain way. I had subtracted certain things in terms of my motivation, they were connected strongly with belonging and with the kind of gratification, the sheer pleasure of doing work and being appreciated. Being appreciated is definitely a part of the equation, but not necessarily everything that motivates me to make.

 

 
back to top Rosemary Lee      I’m a choreographer (I started out as a dancer) and I think it’s very hard to separate and stepping outside the desire and the motivation to dance from how that bleeds its way into making work. I was trying to unpick the motivation to dance which probably began in my carry-cot, so my mum says, because I was taken to my sister’s ballet classes in the carrycot and I have a feeling that it was music that started the whole thing off. It was hearing music and rhythm probably sort of on the subliminal level. Then when I was conscious of dancing, I know that the bit that is still what draws me to making work is that it allows me to play. But with the seriousness that I have, I played seriously. I seriously believed that I was a fairy. I seriously believed that I was an ice-cream. This really came home to me, because my nine year old (who is quite worldly and tall now) came skipping in yesterday and said “Mum, we were ice-creams, we were ice-creams in ballet.“ And I thought that this is good, she’s doing creative work with them. She said “you know the goo, the strawberry goo that in the ice-cream van they put all over those disgusting ice-creams? It was dripping out of my feet, so when I pointed my feet the goo was coming out of my toes!” She was so excited about this goo coming out of her toes that reminded me of that unbelievable excitement of being able to embody your imagination in your body. It’s true that the goo is coming out of your toes. I can’t explain it more than that. And that is what kept me going, and still does.

So it was about fantasy, it wasn’t about trying to get my leg up high and my knees out over my toes, getting into the Royal Ballet (which I didn’t try to do luckily because I would have failed). It was about make-believe and it was about playing and pretence and in that sense, like Graeme, that’s probably about creating a world that is more pleasurable than I perceived my real world to be. It’s escape, I suppose, but I just think it’s too simplistic to say it’s only escape. It’s some other world. It’s some other layer.

Why did I carry on after that? This is going to sound quite strange, but apart from the fact that I enjoyed dressing up and I enjoyed playing, I think I was drawn to the beauty of the form. I was drawn to something otherworldly, a grace that was so different from my body when I was walking to school. I was drawn to that other place that I could go and that I could change into through training in some way.

I’m not a ballet dancer now, but that was where I started. So there’s the ballet side, but there’s also the other side: I was also in Am-dram (amateur dramatics). I was doing pantomimes, Rosemary I Love You and Carousel and juvenile leads in Sparrow’s Nest Cold Theatre, a freezing cold theatre on the seafront in Lowestoft. So I think you can understand how sordid that was. One of my key memories of the things I knew I was going to avoid was being in showbiz which at that time seemed the only alternative to ballet. I was wearing an old tutu from the hire place labelled Gene Teirney – I think that’s how you pronounce it. She was a film star. This was when I was fourteen and a bean pole. I had a tiny costume ( I couldn’t get into it then, let alone now). It was at the beginning of Carrousel and I was standing in the wings on the edge of Sparrow’s Nest stage. There was a man in a bear outfit and I was supposed to take him on at the end of a chain. I was the sort of dancing person – automated ballet dancer – and he was the bear. He tried to maul me through his bear outfit, and I remember thinking this is NOT what I’m here for, this is not art. And yet in a strange was it was as well – it was part of my training ground.

So there were moments of things like undressing the women that danced in the musicals who had affairs with the Lowestoft musicians and all of that sort of thing. I thought that this isn’t me. I’m going to transcend this entertainment side and I’m going to be a serious artist. And that’s still what I’m trying to be, I guess, trying to avoid the bear.

I can’t tell you how strange Sparrow’s Nest was with all the social outcasts. There was the woman with scars across her wrists because she had tried to commit suicide so many times that tried to belong in this pantomime. Sam on his organ, he’s still there, he’s still playing the organ and it comes up out of the pit. All of that taught me that it was a place to belong, it was inclusive. You could make magic, even with this strange mixture of people. And you could go beyond the sort of tragedy of ‘… being human‘

I’ve forgotten what I’m talking about [laughs]! You could find the good bits, you could bring people together. I was also brought up a Quaker so there’s that pushing in. The main premise of being a Quaker is that you look for the good in everyone, you look for the inner light in everyone. And although I don’t remember ever being told that, this is what you’re going to do in your life. I really feel that transcendence is something about finding that good bit, for me, I think that probably pushed me on. Now, I’m far more cynical, unfortunately.

I think that was very much a driving force. By dancing and then by making dance with people, I could help, I thought, and I hope, still, when I’m feeling idealistic, that people can find an inner light, whatever that is for them. It’s something about a potential to transcend the mundane and the trivial, the bits that for me don’t make me feel like I’m growing as a human being and don’t make me feel like I’m living, sort of, my life in the fullest way I can. So I think it was a kind of escape from the drudgery and the trivial and the Lowestoft life, to find something that was on some other plain in a way. I guess you could say that it is the kind of spiritual motivation and the socio-political one of doing good and creating communities and bringing people together, however disparate. The other one, I realise, is the motivation to know more. I want to experience myself more, and that is about knowledge. I want to find out how far I can go, as a dancer and then as a maker, into this form, and experience more about myself and be more myself. So I would say that’s probably motivation.

I’ve forgotten what we were supposed to think about key moments. A good one for me was probably in Liverpool about twenty years ago. I had to make a piece for lots of young people from Liverpool in a jazz disco dance group. I saw them come in their lycra all-in-ones. I don’t work in that kind of way, so their training is very different for me. I thought, I’m going to trust what I’m going to do, I must trust it, I must trust the form. So I decided to do what I was going to do – all interior work and really try to get them to feel themselves and find images in their bodies. I was demonstrating what I call ‘the head string’ with this girl. She was terrified. Imagine her in turquoise lycra. She was absolutely terrified that a teacher was touching her for a start. You take the tips of the ear and you lead up through here and you press down a little and they feel their feet on the ground and then you release it. Oh I wasn’t doing a head string, that’s a head string, I was doing a… [to Graeme Miller] Can you stand up?

[Graeme stands up]

RL: I won’t send you round the room.

GM: Imagine me in lycra!

RL: I was standing with my hand on her belly, which was really big thing for her. It was in front of all her friends. I was standing like this, and I said “We’ll just see what happens. When I release my hand, you may feel like you want to walk round the room.“ Basically what I’m doing is I’m warming up Graeme’s centre, getting the fire going, finding his centre (I’m not going to do it now, because he would want to charge round the room). And when you take this hand away slowly people want to walk, or they may want to run. This girl took off, I couldn’t keep up with her. She was so amazed by her own body; running when she hadn’t planned to run. She thought she was just going to stand there. She was screaming. She was going “Aaaahhhhhhh!” She just screamed for five minutes. I was running round saying “It’s great, it’s great! Look, you’re running, you’re running”. She was transformed.

It taught me that I had to trust that everybody has that sort of subtle body and we can connect into. I was feeling a force of movement in her that was not controllable in a kind of conscious way. That makes it sound bad, I don’t think it is. I think it is a powerful and wonderful force. It’s finding the flow if you like and she found it. And that made me carry on. Yes, I have to remember that, that’s helped me carry on from there on.

 

 
back to top Shobana Jeyasingh      The word ‘fantasy’ I suppose is a good place to start, which actually reminds me of my mother, which is quite strange, because I think as an Indian girl learning classical dance, one’s personal motivation always starts with one’s mother. I think it’s probably the same now in Britain. Going to dance classes was very much to do with the fact that my mother wanted me to go to dance classes. She did that because she was born at a particular time where the whole move towards Indian political independence had made all middle class women in cities want to do Indian classical dance. It was part of the much bigger move within India: to convince Indians themselves that they had a culture that was equally as serious as the one that Rome and Greece had to offer. So it was a huge kind of movement towards self-respect. People of my mother’s generation really wanted to dance themselves, and I think my mother was a little bit too old by the time this came round. So I think it was very important to get her daughter to go to dance classes. So again, it was political, but with a kind of small ‘p’. That’s why I went to dance classes.

At the time, Indian cinema was just becoming this huge industry. What was happening in Indian cinema was that the recruitment of the leading ladies really led the directors straight onto the classical dancers. The star students in my dance master’s school were the ones who were recruited into playing the heroines in these films. Of course in the earliest films, the leading ladies had to sing and dance, and the whole kind of acting style – I don’t know if you’ve seen a lot of Bollywood films – but actually the acting style is incredibly overblown. It’s very stylised. In a way it came from the classical dance world. So as a young person learning dance, our role models really were these beautiful dancers who were also in this incredibly fantasy world of cinema.

So, you know, if you’re six or seven, that exerts an incredible pull on one’s imagination. Probably, if you’re learning ballet it’s Margot Fontaine, but of course she wasn’t a film star, so it probably wasn’t the same. The first picture that I saw of Margot Fontaine was a black and white and she was looking beautifully lit and very spiritual looking, but my heroine – Kamala Lakshmanan I really knew her as a film star.

I used to come home from boarding school for holidays, the first thing my mother would show me were all the pictures she collected in magazines: the Bharatha Natyam dancer were always dressed in incredibly bright colours. The magazines were quite cheaply produced. I don’t know if you’ve seen matchbox labels from India? There’s a particular kind of graphic – great primary colours, shiny paper – so these figures just seemed larger than life. I had a huge collection of these.

I felt that if I had a chance, I would want to go and learn from the teacher, from one of these gurus. It’s quite difficult to explain, because, you know, now, the world of popular cinema and high art seem worlds apart, but actually, at that time, they weren’t that far apart, because the dancers in the films were actually brilliant dancers. They were also very good artists. Every Diwali, my mother’s favourite magazine called Kalki used to do a big spread. They would choose a dancer and there would be lovely photographs, a whole series of photographs of the dancer going through moments of a particular dance there was a particular one of Kamala and her teacher. I just have this sub-conscious thing that I had to learn that dance sometime. So that was really my first motivation: to go and be like one of these beautiful gaudy butterfly people who seemed to be doing wonderful things.

Later on actually, as a classical dancer, your motivation, in a way is to put this kind of perfect shape inside your body. Of course Bharatha Natyam like ballet, demands something incredibly difficult from one’s body – turn out perfect lines. Then I think the real challenge of Bharatha Natyam is actually speed and that is what we were all learning and trying to perfect. Doing everything with really clean lines in the first speed (which was really easy) and then the second speed and then of course, as you got better the third speed. I was explaining to people yesterday how we have a very geometric, and incredibly rigorous style. The moment you discover that the only way that you can deliver that language at speed is to calm your centre to such an incredible degree, probably whirling dervishes can do the same separation. So you have an incredibly calm centre and the distance between your limb and your centre just seems to get more and more objective. It’s a wonderful feeling which is very hard won. So that’s a big motivation – I think probably all classical dancers might be motivated in that way.

I think what I got from the sort of classical background is that I really believed that the way to the internal is through the external. And I think that’s a very classical dance type of gospel. So you don’t actually start off with your motivation, and I still don’t. I find what’s interesting with dance for me is that the motivation is very external. It’s led by the eye and then you make the journey to the internal from the outside. That’s why, later on in Sri Lanka, when I went to a very Victorian type boarding school, I had a choice. I could either play cricket or I could learn Bharatha Natyam. As twenty-nine people rushed out to play cricket, I found I was the only person in the class who wanted to dance! I suppose that was a kind of motivation that I couldn’t have articulated when I was that age, but obviously there was something inside me which was intrigued by dance.

Much later on, having done quite a few years Bharatha Natyam I think there were lots of questions in my mind which were just to do with dance really, about the body, space, time, expressing something with those elements. This is a kind of ‘significant moment’ coming up! I hadn’t really thought about choreography until John Ashford from The Place said, “I want you to do this piece that you’ve made for yourself, but I don’t want you to do it as a solo”. So that was a bit difficult because I was a soloist and I had made this dance for myself. I then had to go and find three other people to make this dance. And in the process of actually making it, I found that it was something that I really enjoyed. And all the questions that had been bubbling inside my head, when I was a classical dancer, strangely enough were being answered by this process of making the choreography for three other dancers.

So now, I think my motivation really has two layers. One is very immediate because, I think most of my interest is very short term. It’s really within the studio concepts – maybe music, dancers, ideas, often deadlines. Obviously when you’re in a company that’s a big motivation because someone has already booked your premier, you have to deliver it at that time, so that’s a kind of everyday interest. It’s like opening a book and you have to get to the end. You have a problem, or a series of questions which you want to answer in the studio. But in the longer term, I think these kind of motivations are very retrospective. Often you don’t know what is your motivation as you’re making dance, because the decisions in the studio are so small and everyday. You don’t realise that you are making a kind of residue within yourself because you’re too busy in the world of making dance.

I think in retrospect, now that I have made dance and have had my company now for about fourteen years, I realise now that my major motivation over the years has been translating the politics of the body in a way that history has made it visible to me. I think that as a person who came from a country that was colonised, and then as a person that was given a classical vocabulary (I didn’t choose the style that I was taught) I found that I had a very intriguing (for myself anyway) set of things. There was this incredibly political situation that I found myself in with a language that seemed to be going in the opposite direction. But then I found that in fact, the tension that I get from trying to say something historic and everyday with language that seems in some ways ahistoric, to me seemed a way of saying a truth about ones own body. I think the fact that I am an Asian in Britain, probably gave that a kind of greater poignancy. Often one’s own cultural situation as a British Asian is something that is very new and people don’t know what that landscape is because it’s new, it’s just being formed. So often, if you’re Indian and you dance, the area for misinformation and misunderstanding is so vast that I think, whether you want it or not, these motivations are given to you, they are forced on you by the situation in which you find yourself. One of my motivations has become to explain the migrant’s culture, the politics of the migrant body through dance. And that is something that I didn’t plan when I was six looking at that gaudy picture.

 

 
back to top Ghislaine Boddington      At moment I’m at a shifting point in time, so it’s quite interesting for me to look at motivation points at this moment. The group that I work with is called Future Physical shinkansen. Having finished a huge set of work over the last two or three years, we’re now at an evaluation point. We’re working towards the development of work for the next three or four years. We’re doing a lot of re-looking at the group work we’ve done and also at ourselves individually. Most of us, have been involved in this group work for ten to fifteen years so now it’s a clarity time. I’ve got a lot of questions about myself and my own future motivation. So it’s quite a good point to talk.

But going back to what starts one off. I am maybe slightly different to most people here in that I grew up in an arts background, in a kind of downsized hippy family. My parents moved from Warwickshire to Pembrokeshire in Wales when I was six. My mother ran a gallery and I grew up in the middle of a mass of visual artists – Welsh, English, German, Australian, everything. It was a kind of network but it wasn’t called a network at that point. My mum was involved in visual arts and writing, and my dad was an amazing dancer – a social dancer and a music person – although he never did it professionally. My sister is now a graphic designer, and I’ve carried on with the dance side.

I think, we had a ResCen session once where we looked at what starts you off being an artist. I think that number one was if your parents were artists, or if you were from an artistic background. I grew up with artists around me and I grew up in the middle of groups of artists in a slightly wild bohemian way. I remember one, who was quite a well known Pembrokeshire artist. She was in her seventies when I was nine or ten and she’d done quite a lot of Duncan-style dancing. I remember going up the garden with her with sheets and running round the orchard and doing wild Isadora Duncan dancing. I had quite a lot of wild influences at that point in early life and I had also an amazing ballet teacher Jonathan Cope who was also in Pembrokeshire. Jonathan was at the same school as me. I went to convent school (because my mother is Catholic, Irish) where I had this crazy nun who just did crazy dance with us all the time.

I don’t know whether it’s luck or what, that you get these inputs. However, because I was in this environment, I was totally encouraged to make up worlds. We had a room in the house – it was a big old vicarage – which we could just make worlds in and leave them up and run and run them for weeks. My sister and I made all the kids in the village do this with us.

I also grew up very much with the philosophy around me that everybody is creative, and that creativity makes life good. It’s not about being born creative or not. When I went to University I didn’t even think about not doing art, or being an artist. A bit like if both your parents are in medicine and you just automatically go on to be a doctor or a nurse. I realised later, at thirty-five, that I hadn’t even thought about it. I just applied to arts courses, went to the Performing Arts course at Middlesex because it was the most crazy one, which suited me well. My parent’s philosophy was that it’s not about opportunity. It’s about bringing out creativity in everyone and that makes life good.

I’d learnt to be open about my body and about love and about the good things that came from that. And I also learnt to say what I needed to say. So I think, a bit like Shobana, from quite a young age I ended up having a very big body politic thing in terms of openness, feeling good, fairness and equality came in too. I remember somebody gave me a quote about two years ago that they felt really suited me. I can’t remember who said it (somebody might know in the audience). It was “if I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution”. I don’t know if anybody knows who that’s from, but it was just perfect for me.

Thinking about key moments, beyond the mad nun and various bits of crazy childhood, I actually went from a very utopic childhood to really being a bit shocked about how it really was in the real world. For example, I was very naïve when I came to Middlesex, I was seventeen, and in London. I was totally shocked that people didn’t love their parents. I didn’t think that was possible. I remember in the first year being very stunned by it, and going home and spending a week at home in slight shock at that.

From then on the things that really got me were fairness, and equality. I think that was about your body; you’re born and you’ve got creativity in you. How can you actually all get that opportunity? Who says who’s an artist and who’s not? Who says who should be creative and who’s not? And how do we relate and understand each other? And I hit inter-culturalism in a big way coming through university. I did some work with the African Music Village at the Commonwealth Institute and started to work with Asian dance and with visual artists, lots of visual artists. That really pushed me into thinking a lot more about body equality and fairness in body issues.

I was already into that social dance thing. I had spent a long time in social dance worlds because my dad hadn’t danced professionally, it was more social dance. The other key moment was alternative club culture, I’m still involved in that. I love that joy where lots of people are dancing.

The other thing that was a big key moment was going to Australia to an Arts Council conference in Alice Springs, of all places. I heard two speeches by Canadians who were talking about change and change management. They pointed out how stakeholders can stop change. They also talked about networking. This was ’88 or something, and networking in Canada was quite advanced for that point. I suddenly clicked that it was what my mum had been doing with all these visual artists and that’s what I wanted to do.

So my main motivation since leaving university has been from group experiences. I’ve been doing that with a number of groups: Chisenhale Dance Space where I was part of the collective for four or five years; a new dance collective – shinkansen – which is a specialist collective group; ResCen; and Future Physical which is quite a large collective project for a two year period. Then I’ve also been into networks and group workshops, working with inter-authorship: pulling and linking ideas. Yesterday when we were talking, I realised that actually when you’re in groups and working in groups all the time, there are very few times when there’s no ideas. It’s actually quite organic, the evolution of the next idea is quite natural. It’s like we did that, we evaluate it, we could have done it better (we always want to do it better next time) but what’s needed is the next question. Quite often in group work that’s obvious when you’re doing a re-evaluation and you know where to go next because straight away it’s on the table. So there are never no ideas on the table. In some ways that’s quite tiring because it’s never-ending, to get to a point where you’ve never finished what you can do. But I think the motivation from issues which are not just mine, but are coming from a group of people – like how you can work to make things go further, how you can make things better – has been the main push for me over the last twenty years. I think I realised about five years ago that that I had been very strongly influenced by my childhood and the background of this very group situation that I was in all the time.

I’ve got some more notes here on how hard it is to keep up motivation, but maybe we will come back to that?

 

 
back to top Errollyn Wallen      Well, my earliest memory as a child is of adults being rude to me all the time, my brothers saying “Errollyn, Errollyn, Errollyn!” and people shouting at me. Dreaming is a thing that all children love to do and I think in some ways that composing has enabled me to carry on doing that thing without people. Music, and the writing of music, is a place for me where my imagination has its fullest rein. It’s strange in a way, because I always thought I might be something like a writer, and be making up stories and things like that. But somehow the abstract nature of music allows you to go, in many ways, more fully in the world. For instance, often when I’m writing music, I’ll be remembering atmospheres, or smells, or sort of intangible things from childhood. I’m still surprised, to be honest that I’m a composer, because it’s not a thing that I ever called myself, it’s just a thing I seemed to be doing. And, like Rosie, I don’t know how you separate the act of playing music with composing. Not all composers are like this, but for me, writing music comes out of the physical experience of making it.

The number one thing for me is that I can absolutely do what I like with my imagination. And it sort of leads onto the next key point for me which is the element of power and control. When I’m asked to write a piece of music, all I’m asked is to come up with twenty minutes of passing time. That’s all I get asked to do. I love that because it’s just another opportunity for dreaming. The power aspect comes in that it was at quite a young age that you could control the sensation of passing time. It is such an exciting concept. I’ve talked about this before, you can make a twenty minute piece sound like a three second experience. Or as Graeme was saying, you can create a whole world in music where you can actually stop time, or you can rush things along. Some music has this ability just to do that: stop time and manipulate time. So that, to me, will always be a fantastic thrill.

It was only when I was about nine, I remember saying “Oh I can hear all these sounds. But I’m not quite sure what to do with them, they’re there, sort of clamouring”. It was only a while later that I realised it was the sound of electronics and string orchestra. I’ll probably still have to write that piece.

I think we all have particular sounds and influence within us, but for me, music is just where I am most at myself. It does seem to be this continuing adventure in thought. When I listen to music that I admire very much, I can sometimes get a sense of the composer thinking. I think when people feel connected to music, it’s a sense of thinking and experiencing. Whether it’s beyond words, in a way. But the act of composing is so solitary, and in a way, I like the idea of being alone and I thought composing is a good way of escaping. In fact I met a writer colleague, Donald Antrim, he’s an American writer and a well known novelist. He said, “I’d love to be a composer. I feel I could escape more than when I’m writing novels”. But the thing is [sighs], being a composer, I thought that would be true – that I could escape – but of course there’s all sorts of responsibilities. Once you’re a professional composer, I can’t tell you what the endless practicalities are that you have to deal with while even creating this score. I just wish I had better secretarial skills. I wish I’d studied architecture, I wish I’d studied simple arithmetic, because, actually you’re always dealing with these very practical things, like page turns and the range of instruments. If you’re writing for percussion, you’ve got to consider just at what point the percussion will put down their sticks and move over onto another instrument to pick up other sticks. So in a way, when you’re writing a piece, once you have your initial idea, it’s the practical things that really govern everything. I’m writing an opera at the moment that involves the employment of seventy to eighty people. Before I can really dive into it, I need to know just exactly the layout of the stage and whether we can have a particular sort of film screen. It’s only when the practicalities are in place that I can actually let my imagination fly. So you’re always skirting this thing between wild fantasy and being really down to earth.

The other thing that I was never prepared for, I mean I got into composing in some ways to escape from people. But I deal with people all the time, all the time my world is full of people and I love it. But it’s interesting that I’ve come full circle and in some ways. I originally wanted to do composing because it was a bit like playing and dreaming, and all these things. Now, to be truthful, I do have this increased sense of responsibility, and a responsibility to retain the sense that I had as a child in which music was always an un-self conscious thing. But there is also this responsibility to other people. For instance, I’ve been commissioned to write an opera, but actually it will involve the employment of maybe seventy to eighty people, that’s just how it is. So I have to make it a worthwhile experience and it’s not just the writing of a piece of music. In the end, it isn’t actually so much about me, I’m like a conduit, in which all sorts of other things happen.

If I have any particular goals, I like to think of the music perhaps, seeing it happening, and becoming more absent. So, for instance, I’ve just had a piece of music performed in America. I got off the plane, and people knew nothing about me, but they knew a lot about this piece – they’d learnt it. And they knew all about the atmosphere of it. And I loved that, because actually they don’t need to know about me. They just need to know about that little world. And that is good. So in other words, that motivation has increased me to write music that moves away from me more and more.

 

 
back to top Richard Layzell      I’m the last person to speak – pretty obvious really. I’m the visual artist (by training) in the group. We’ve all been talking about ourselves. I hope it resonates with your stories, because it’s strange to be talking about myself, not very, but… So for me it was not mother, but brother. My elder brother used to draw and I’d copy him drawing. Drawing was an acceptable activity at home and it was at school: “You can draw, Richard. That’s good, you can draw birds and trees”.

My story is also a suburban one – I grew up in a suburb of West London called Greenford. In order to escape the kind of visual and psychological oppression of these houses that all look the same – all identical houses – I went to a bit of open land called Horsendon Hill. I think it is still there, though the elm trees that I used to draw of course aren’t there anymore, because they got the disease. So it was a place of freedom to go and draw and confront oneself as a teenage, angst ridden grammar school boy. I went to a very competitive grammar school. I didn’t really succeed academically, but the art room was OK. The art room was quite a cool place to be. It probably is in most schools. So it was not only the brother, but also the art room. That then led me onto further study. I was going to do architecture, but when I was about eighteen doing my A-levels I met and architect through my brother. The architect was a really obnoxious person and put me off architecture completely. So that was a critical meeting really. I then didn’t want to do architecture so I went to art school and upset my parents, as you do.

But, I’ve been thinking about critical points as well as why we start, which I think is interesting. I’ve come up with a story, a critical point that isn’t a happy one actually. I’d been through my period of art school. I had done lots of training, some of it was very good, some of it wasn’t great. I lived in a house in Bow through something called ACME Housing (which is still going) which provided short lease housing for artists. There was a studio in the house. It was a great thing to get, but it was in a pretty rough area – looking over the gasometer, near Tower Hamlets cemetery. So I found myself in this slightly privileged position really, having a whole house, but not feeling great, I must say. I was thinking “what am I doing in this house overlooking a gasometer with a studio which is a whole top of the house?” I was with my partner who had kind of given up art. I think we were married. I was doing a bit of teaching in a school, I think, or maybe no I wasn’t then. I can’t remember. But I wasn’t feeling very good. So I had to confront what this reality was of trying to be an artist. Being an artist, being relatively privileged, but actually being very poor in one of the roughest areas of London. I really challenging myself as an individual, and I came out of it eventually thinking that I’m going to make a go of this, and that I’ll do whatever I have to do to create some kind of career as an artist. So that was a very critical point of being in some sort of life crisis, and then thinking “OK what do you do now in a situation like this?” And finding many strategies, some of which I still adopt. I guess this all comes under the heading of “making sense of life events as critical points”.

A further point was finding myself out of that relationship and living in another house, a very nice house in Islington, that my friend, the painter Deborah Law, still lives in. I was a part-time single parent and the only man in a house that became the London office of the Greenham Common Peace Movement. I was answering the door with my son who was a toddler, having breakfast, his nappies on the line. This is not a sob story, this is just, you know, what happens to people, what happened to me. I was giving him his breakfast with reporters from the Sunday Express sitting at the same table. And you know they’re going to write a story that somehow you’re implicated in, because you’re a man in a house feeding your son breakfast. I was living Greenham Common, literally living it, breathing it. So I was trying to make sense of all of that in terms of how to integrate it into my art practice, So I made video tapes about it, I made a performance about it in the end. And I guess, that’s another avenue really.

Another aspect of the critical point would be confidence. At one stage I thought “what would be a really wild thing to do? What would be a very ambitious, adventurous thing to do?” Perhaps to do a work that involves people making works overnight that I’d curate in a gallery that I was working in at the time. I’d curate it and I’d curate myself into this eight day event – why not? Something very interesting came out of that, for me and probably for some of those other artists. Extremity comes into that too. What would be a really extreme thing to do? What would be the most extreme thing I could think of?

So, today, what motivates me is… well there is a choice today. I don’t have to do this, I’ve discovered that I have other skills that I could probably make a better living doing those things. So why do I chose to do this? Because it’s interesting, because it’s neverendingly challenging and because people want what I have. I have people in other worlds who say “I really admire your life Richard, how do you get away with this? How do you do this?” I think, this has not been easy to achieve, to get this life together, you wouldn’t believe how many hurdles there have been. Although it’s not very well paid, it is very, very interesting, challenging, dynamic, all those things. So it looks easy, but it isn’t. It really isn’t, or it hasn’t been for me, but that’s part of what’s interesting about it.

I have particular challenges at the moment – one of them is a change of field which is making permanent, site-specific works for buildings. I’m just in the middle of making one at the moment, don’t know if I’ll do more. But somehow I have a change of direction from visual art to installation art to performance art to video art to outreach art to working as a facilitator in different ways. All these things are there so why not try them? Another thing that has come out of ResCen is this sort of engagement with process that has led to a possible publication where I engage with a writer and an adopted persona who is not really a persona, but someone I talk to.

I’d just like to end on something for Graeme. I was in a festival recently called the National Review of Live Art and Tim Etchells from Forced Entertainment just happened to be mentioning ResCen (Graeme hasn’t heard this, or I don’t think I’ve told you this). I talked about ResCen to Tim and I said that of course Graeme Miller is part of this. And he said “Graeme Miller is a superstar.” So, when we have our periods of gloom, it’s very nice to hear voices from other places. I’ll stop there.

 

 
  Christopher Bannerman     Good, well, my friends. We’re hoping very much that you’re going to share your thoughts and comments. There appears to be one microphone which will be brought to you so that we can all hear your questions and comments.

 

 
  Audience member      The thing I picked up was discussion about environment – particularly the suburbs coming up twice – and the notion of the political thoughts to do with cultural heritage and so forth. Also the tension between what I’d call the inner motivation, hearing things in your head, or the need to talk and cope with the bear as Rosemary said. They were fascinating, all of those things. But what about the tension between what drives one to carry on from the inside and what conditions are experienced that come from the outside, or to push a way through… if anyone wants to comment?

 

 
  Christopher Bannerman     Shall we take two or three comments and then try and deal with them? Another thought or comment?

 

 
  Audience member      I think there’s some really fascinating explorations of motivations and some interesting dichotomies. Just as Graeme was starting to talk, I wrote down ‘Grommit and the Train laying the tracks’, and I had that memory of Wallace and Grommit putting the track down from behind. There’s something very appealing about that as an image – drawing from your past experience and placing it down in front of you immediately again. Then that led onto a whole area to do with directed and undirected time and the stultification of other stakeholders… the deadlines that I think Rosemary and Shobana talked about. I was reminded of Ken Campbell’s exchange with Richard Eyre when he was at Nottingham Playhouse. Ken went into Richard and said “Well what are you doing?” And Richard said “I’m planning the next season.” “Well why are you doing it now?” “Well because the brochure needs to be published next week.” And Ken said “So are we doing brochure theatre now?” [laughs].

Then Ghislaine was talking about the next question of ‘never no ideas on the table’, which again is a bit like the constant energy that comes from past experience into next experience and so on. That is something that people at Artangel have talked about in the past: points of transitional change of direction and all of that potential comes around by just messing about with free time, playtime, undirected time, negative capability, or confident uncertainty, or whatever. I think what I’m trying to draw out of that is where it is beyond your control. Because it’s either that self-motivated, motivation that comes because you’re sitting on the train and putting the tracks down in front of you. Or what comes when you are just in a different state and messing about really.

 

 
  Christopher Bannerman     Good, good. Quite a few things there. Well we’ll ask for some responses and then come back to you. Anyone want to pick up on any of that: the inner and the outer was mentioned first; then the Wallace and Grommit track laying; undirected stakeholders as a contributing factor; deadlines; brochure theatre; never no ideas; limitation of potential; beyond your control…?

 

 
  Graeme Miller      OK, I just want to say a thing about the inner or the outer. It is about a trick I use (I’ve talked about this before). It’s about communication. I pretend that I have an audience which is entirely made up of me. But it’s me in various badly fitting wigs, disguised as other people. The empathetic premise is somehow what is necessary so that my internal world generates the whole thing, including this audience. Somehow, by some fluke, a lot of the time it seems to work out that the very thing you hope to effect upon your own inner puppet audience actually seems to work on a real audience. It’s interesting then to look at motivation and ask “what effect are you trying to have on your own little fantasy audience itself?” Some of the time I experience a very strong motivation that I’m trying to open up things for myself that are maybe a bit scary. Perhaps this relates more to performance, but I certainly have a feeling of being in the state or a sense of having been taken to some place where I will be irreparably, not damaged, but transformed. Irreparably is the wrong word, but I will undertake some kind of transformation. I can think of performances that I’ve seen and my jaw hasn’t sprung back to the top half of my head for another few days. Of really feeling transformed. I may not be able to achieve that, but there’s some kind of motivation. And I can just see a little loop there with the act of faith between what you imagine an audience to be – one that is made up entirely by you – and the real audience.

 

 
  Christopher Bannerman     Anyone want to respond to the other points?

 

 
  Rosemary Lee      I love that image of laying down the tracks. It does remind me of Grommit doing that. Yesterday I was saying that the motivation to make work felt so much clearer when you’d just come out of college and you didn’t have any support. It’s just as tough now for other reasons. And sometimes the toughness is you can’t find the tracks to lay down. You can’t make your own path (I don’t want at all to sound like I’m complaining about success, or about funding). It’s more about how you find your inner voice when there are commissions, or you’ve got the practicalities and the brochures. How do you stay honest to what you started off with, trying to make your path? I found that really difficult. It seems that the weeds seem to gather and you almost can’t see. It’s harder to find the motivation. I think that was why I got so excited when I was talking because I re-found it for a minute when I shared it with you. And sometimes you just can’t find it and you feel very jaded. It’s difficult. So it’s good to remind oneself. I think the thing I try to do is to always change the context I’m working in, which makes it harder for people to pin me down. So the stakeholders can’t say that Rosemary does this (although they do still try). I can’t get stultified. At the moment I’m working with technology up to the teeth now which is driving me absolutely potty. Yesterday I told my manager in an email that she’s to shoot me if I get any technology into the next piece of work. It’s going to be bodies and candle light! So that’s my way of trying to set my path and keep the challenge, even if it’s going in different directions. I guess motivation might be about constantly challenging, constantly risking. What about this sort of chance to stand on the edge? What is that? There’s the death wish Thanatos. What is this thing we seem to need to be in places where we expose ourselves more, or challenge ourselves more, even if it’s not visible. Maybe… it makes good work sometimes but it’s difficult to live with.

 

 
  Ghislaine Boddington      I can follow on from that because it links into this whole idea of when you’re working, without really knowing it, you know it. But when you’re within groups situations, if that group is going well – which groups can, very easily, given the space to flow well – the actual concept of the dynamic emergence of ideas, which are generated from within that group is what completely fascinates me. I think that it’s not any different if you’re working in a group project than possibly works for me in my head. It’s that typical model that we all know nowadays the Buckminster Fuller thing where you’re actually spinning onto each other. There’s links going everywhere, there isn’t necessarily a central point and if you can let it flow and allow the linking and the connectivities to happen. I do believe there is not shortage of ideas and as long as there is also implementation. I remember when I was growing up my godfather always used to say “Ideas are two a penny, it’s implementing them that really matters”. I grew up with that very strongly. Again, that is backed up by the idea that everyone is creative. It’s actually about getting out there and doing it and taking the risk to do it.

I really love that organic evolution when you can just let something flow. I know lots of people that are in this group, who believe that group working is very inherent. But I think, like Rosie, that it’s having a balance between actually being allowed to do that. With shinkansen, we’re looking at modellings at the moment, where we’re meant to actually put forward a very stable base which is hierarchical basis to the funders. This seems safer as an operational place to be. Graeme and Richard mentioned a bit about fulfilment and performative feeling. For example, your public are enjoying what you’re doing and the artists you’re working with are getting a lot from it, but there is also this constant assessment by a funding bodies with constantly changing officers and you never quite know where you are. You never have a line through. I’ve been doing this twenty one years, I cannot say what the line is, in terms of whether there has genuinely been any sense that we’ve been doing great work, at all. Because it just changes all the time, different officers, you know, really nice people, no criticism on most of the people. But I do remember in the mid 80s, the mid 90s getting this assessment back which said “shinkansen are deliberately maverick. Why don’t they just decide what they’re doing and do it!” That made us even more maverick. They would ask: are you touring groups? Are you commissioning? Are you curating? Are you directing? Are you making work? Well we’re doing all of those, but we’re particularly working with the issues of the body politics and technologies. Can’t we do that?

Now that seems to be more OK. But it is still held back by this kind of stake holding view of actually how things should be. There is this waterfall, or hierarchical model, with the author at the top, the executive director at the top, whether it’s in operational terms or artistic terms. That always makes me feel a bit sad. That’s where I have some questions at the moment about how much you can continue. Now, in 2004, are we allowed to work like this or not? Because it’s happening everywhere else now, dynamic emergent networking is modelled, it is happening within computer land but also within people situations all over the world and in many different areas.

 

 
  Christopher Bannerman     We’ll take some more comments and then go back to more responses… So, yes?

 

 
  Audience member     I think of myself as an artist. There have been a number of the motivations that have come from the panel: the rebelling against suburbia; the bohemian family input; the idealising some kind of like film star; Bollywood etc. I think all those things resonate for me and have made me want to go out and make work. But I think when you start off, you really feel that you need to make work because you really need to express something. But I think it’s very difficult to sustain that level of needing to express yourself. It’s a very unromantic view of myself as an artist now, in a way, through that need to express myself, I have become an artist and my motivation is simply that, my motivation is that I am an artist and that is what is expected of me, and I get commissions and I get work. And the need to express myself isn’t as strong but that doesn’t mean that the work suffers. I’ve still got lots of things to say and the motivation simply comes from the fact that that is what I am now; from that need to express. That is what I am and that is what is expected of me. That somehow is simply the motivation and it’s a very unromantic vision. But I think it’s often as straight forward as that and I wondered if that resonates with the panel as well?

 

 
  Christopher Bannerman     We’ll take one more point and then back to you.

 

 
  Audience member     My favourite bumper sticker in America is “It’s never too late to have an unhappy childhood”. And to a certain extent we’ve listened to sort of lots of narrative, both about being children and having children and the relationship of the two in relation to artistic endeavour. We’ve had lots of vignettes and beautiful stories about being young, or appreciating youth, or being with children. And one of my concerns, or interests, is when do we start? And when is it too late? Or is it ever too late?

 

 
  Christopher Bannerman     Any responses to either of these points?

 

 
  Richard Layzell      I think you’re absolutely right. It gets to the point where you find you’ve built your career and you’re in it. And I suppose why I said that I feel I have a choice is that it’s been interesting to think about it. Another story that I was going to tell you was that this year, again at the National Review of Live Art in Glasgow a few months ago, there was a talk by a New York artist called Tehching Hsieh. He has stopped being an artist and his talk was about the work he’s done. He was very clear that he had stopped. And what he did now was talk about the work he did, which was very famous. But I think it makes everybody think “Well do I want to stop?” and “What would that mean to stop?” So although we have built these careers as you’ve described and we respond to requests or things that we are proposing, and you think about what you are going to do next. But you can stop. And why don’t we stop? I think it’s a good question. I don’t think I want to answer it. I think “why don’t we stop?”

 

 
  Audience member     I haven’t stopped because this is what I’ve been doing. I’m now invaluable.

 

 
  Richard Layzell     But surely you’re not?

 

 
  Graeme Miller     No you are! You are!

 

 
  Errollyn Wallen      But in some ways I tell myself that if I were to stop, no one would care particularly. Somebody might like someone to care, but I think the world would still turn. So my reasons for doing work are always quite personal. I think the work you do is often pragmatically based on things: the people you like to be with; where you like to live; how you like to spend your time. I hate being told what to do, so composing is perfect for me because nobody really tells me much what to do apart from twenty minutes, an hour, five minutes, so it suits me perfectly. There’s lots of very interesting things happening in the world and I think you can stop and start. I’ve always had to stay a bit away from this sort of mythical idea of who the artist is. Something we didn’t talk much about, but actually what draws a lot of us to work, is the solving of problems – looking for something and the idea of abstracting yourself out of it. The idea of getting beyond yourself and connecting to something other than yourself. These are the things that drive me.

 

 
  Christopher Bannerman      Never too late to stop!

 

 
  Errollyn Wallen      Never too late!

 

 
  Ghislaine Boddington      I think it never is too late to start either. I really think that’s very important. I’ve met many, many people in my life who have started on retirement and we all know of some people who are absolutely amazing, in the visual arts or writing, when they actually get the chance to put time on to it. I have a little bit of a comment back on your comment about not being very romantic, just the need to express myself. I think you’re putting forward a very romantic view and I think that I challenge that. Because I work with so many groups of artists all over the world and when you’re going round asking “Well why are you an artist?” Everyone can say “Just to express myself”.

 

 
  Audience member      I think that’s the starting point, that’s what makes me start… To my mind what I do is express myself, but when I get a commission I do something and I just get on and do it in order to fulfil the brief…

 

 
  Shobana Jeyasingh      I think that’s what happens when you become a professional artist, which is not a bad thing. Especially in dance, you might think when you begin that the motivation is the inner and then the outer seems to take over. Often people ask me “isn’t it really awful that every year you will make a piece of choreography?” Obviously my company has a particular contract with the Arts Council which means that yes, every year… but for me it’s not a chore. And I think that part of growing up as an artist is that kind of dichotomy between the inner and the outer, in some ways, ceases to exist. Maybe that’s a classicist way of looking at it. It’s not about the lack of being motivated just because someone has commissioned you because, in some ways that’s what you want. You want situations where you inner can respond to. And you know it could be from an Arts Council or a private patron commission. Or it could be an idea that you have, it could be another dancer. I don’t think any one is less valid than the other. I don’t think it’s more valid if I went into my attic and said that I really want to make this dance, or someone rings me up, as they did from Canada, and says “Can you make a dance with this dancer? And I want it to last twenty minutes”. I think they’re both valid motivations. And I think it’s probably when one’s younger, when you’re starting out that you give a lot of credence to your inner, almost making it in this mystical thing. But I think that you realise that the outer is just as mystical.

 

 
  Christopher Bannerman      Our last seminar was on the theme of Working and Playing and we are on the verge of revisiting some of those issues tonight which is interesting. Other questions/comments?

 

 
  Audience member      I just wanted to say that in the research that we’ve done in the US on nurturing talent in young people, we talked about children who were considered prodigies. They said it didn’t matter where they came from, they grew up in the suburb, or they grew up in the city. The one common thing all of them had was that they were nurtured. It was either by a parent, or a teacher and I think most of you have talked about either nurturing it yourself, or having the space to nurture. And I think that’s very important thing for talent, and I don’t believe that it’s a good thing will out. I think you can completely stamp out creativity.

In terms of the hierarchical organisation that you were talking about, I think people have always had a problem creating organisations that nurture creativity, whether it’s in the IT industry or scientific research. Different experiments have been carried out on organisational behaviour, organisational structure and research. I think maybe in the arts organisations, the smaller the arts organisations stay outside of them reporting to the arts circle. All of you have been able to have that control that you talked about with greater flexibility. I was very intrigued by the rail track picking up and laying forward. And it was wonderful that you didn’t know where it was going to head. I wanted to direct this question particularly to Shobana, because she would have come with the rail track and she knew where it was coming from. How did you pick up (if you want to use the same metaphor) and head wherever you did end up heading with the kind of work you do?

 

 
  Shobana Jeyasingh      It is difficult If your training in the arts has come from such a formal, very conservative path in that it was such a codified language of learning, because in some ways you learn it because it’s showing you where to go, that’s the kind of allure of something classical. That’s what gives that kind of art form its security and that’s why people like mothers want you to do it because no mother in her right mind would ever want you to do anything where you don’t know where you’re going or where you have to do it yourself. So actually on the whole, you’re channelled to those activities. I suppose the motivation maybe came from not wanting to do what my mother wanted me to do. It was probably quite as simple as that. Even though I really enjoyed Bharatha Natyam for many years, it was something that was driving me. I think questions came up from doing it where the art form itself couldn’t answer to my satisfaction. I suppose that was, for me, making my own path. Because, you know, often with my teacher Valluvoor Samaraj Pillai – whom you know – we’d come up at moments in a “Padam” where that’s the way you were supposed to go. And I always had a question as to why it had to be like that, why couldn’t it be like this? And I think, those kinds of moments that make you kind of look back, pick up those tracks and say, well actually, probably I should be going here, but lets see what happens if I put it somewhere else.

 

 
  Richard Layzell      Looking at chance as an element within art making just compounds that because life is full of accident and chance. I didn’t know the house was going to become the London office of the Greenham Common Peace Movement – no way. Lots and lots of chance. But maybe less for some other people.

 

 
  Errollyn Wallen      You know when you said that thing about being nurtured, I can honestly say that I was actively discouraged. I grew up in Tottenham. I can honestly tell you that I would love to listen to classical music, so I would go to school and I was called weird. My sister was listening to soul and reggae and every music teacher I had would say “why do you want to listen to classical music? Why do you want to play the violin?” Then I decided to be a composer at twenty one only simply because that’s what I seemed to be doing all the time and friends said that what I’m doing is composing, I didn’t seem to go to lectures. I got myself through my MA course (which was part-time) by playing at old people’s homes, playing piano which was a lot of fun. So at the end of my degree, my tutor said “You know, Errollyn, you’re very good at working with people, I think you ought to be a secretary”. So that was the kind of encouragement I had to be a composer. But as you say, through doing something, you just are that thing. You don’t always want to be nurtured.

 

 
  Graeme Miller      I think there’s something to be said about sheer bloody mindedness as motivation as well. Particularly, in my own early theatre background, there was early impact that existed before there was even any kind of content. There was the desire to be part of this shaven headed group of people who were going to make theatre happen before we even knew how to do it. It was the same time that people were forming punk bands. You just figured out how to make the guitar where it goes. There was a kind of antagonistic motivation. I felt a real smell of it in recent weeks actually, looking at the broad sort of theatre scene and feeling that I don’t want to make a piece like this because it’s a real pain in the arse to do it, but this need to do it, to do something that is a response to other people’s work. I think that has been, in my experience a very strong thing. Of course a lot of the history of modernism in art movements has been the desire to reinvent and to respond to what’s going on. And even within the British weird theatre scene, there’s this intense rivalry between groups whose works overlap to see who could deliver better, better work in a way. It’s nothing to be particularly proud of, but I do think these strange things affect you more when you’re younger. But this has always gone on and I think it’s gone on in the evolution of classical forms as well – a sense of making a step forward. The pace is a lot slower. We operate in response to the field, we don’t work in absolute isolation.

 

 
  Audience member      I realise this might be opening up a can of worms, so I’m a bit cautious. We’ve been talking about motivation and with the inner and outer question of something going on inside your head, or there’s something to rail against as Graeme was just saying, and catalysts to make things happen. I wondered if anyone would want to talk about the idea of feeling thwarted, where you’ve got a motivation to really do something, but you feel bitterly thwarted…

 

 
  Errollyn Wallen     Actually those are often the best conditions for work in a way, the thwarting…

 

 
  Audience member      OK, great!

 

 
  Christopher Bannerman     Did you say thwarted or courted?

 

 
  Audience member     Thwarted [laughter].

 

 
  Graeme Miller      Are you courted or thwarted?

 

 
  Errollyn Wallen      Because you see I believe in plan T and… most of the work we do is usually plan X. Do you see what I mean? So you start with this perfect idea and then through a series of being thwarted, you end up with something else which maybe is different, but being thwarted makes you ask yourself why, or what is indispensable and how you can keep the essence but within practical reasons…

 

 
  Audience member     There is sometimes, or some things where it just cannot happen, even though you’ve shelved it that many times and re-brought it out, it doesn’t fucking happen.

 

 
  Graeme Miller      Really thwarted!

 

 
  Richard Layzell      I don’t think I’ve had one, really because I’ve always managed to do something, however thwarting it’s been. I think even if it’s been a very tough, difficult experience, something happens, and I find all that part of the process really.

 

 
  Ghislaine Boddington      I was thinking about the process, whether it’s in your head, or whether it’s inside or outside. A little bit earlier, something was said about it is just luck, or it is just that you hit on it. I don’t think it is either. I think it is partly about this whole thing of a network emerging and networking. It’s like that metaphor of the tree with branches and you’ve got to find the right branch for you to go along. On the way, there are many branches going off and you’ve got to try them, you’ve got to go back again… I do know that feeling of trying lots of branches and various twigs and various limbs and then I’ve got to go back again and try another branch because actually that one isn’t going to work because there isn’t funding there, or there isn’t the right place, or the people aren’t understanding me. And I think that’s what I mean by I don’t think it’s very much about luck, or where you find yourself.

Everybody has to maybe come back to their centre and try a branch or another limb another time in the hope that they will ultimately find where they can do it, in whatever way. We’re all quite persistent. I think there’s about two or three shinkansen ideas like Future Physical which happened between 2001 and 2003, but actually we put it on the table to the Arts Council in ’97. I think probably everybody has had these things. It usually takes five years to get what is a very innovative thing out.

 

 
  Christopher Bannerman      It’s like climbing on a branch that isn’t there yet.

 

 
  Ghislaine Boddington     Yes, in a sense. But actually having to go back and not letting it drop off, but waiting and feeling, and trying another branch.

 

 
  Audience member     In my own work as a performer, I found that it could be called thwarting – possibly that’s an attitude of mind and as Graeme said, it’s about being bloody mindedness. It is a sort of working through, provisional mind set so things are made and tried, but there’s not this feeling of completion in my own work for a long time. So even though you’ve made the object, you’ve worked with the puppets, or whatever, you’ve got all that in place, but even those are very provisional. Then you’re working with an audience that is another new area of space. I’m not quite sure when I’ve ever completed anything. I get to a point of sort of satisfaction and then I bring it out again and it’s going to be slightly different again and again. So I think it’s having that attitude like non-completion. I suppose you’re never disappointed are you?

 

 
  Richard Layzell      I think that’s also the other thing that happens to me, I don’t know if it happens to many people here? That there’s this incredible motivation to finish something and the pressure increases and increases until that thing happens, whatever it is. Then I have this usual sort of rejection of it. What was all that about? What’s the next thing? And that’s an extraordinary transition that is actually in some ways painful. But I know it happens ever time with me.

 

 
  Audience member     I think it’s got something to do with the inner and the outer that you were talking about. We heard a lot of really interesting things, things that motivate you to do the art, or the artform, or the work. And I’m wondering what motivates you to be in the work. All of you are performing artists, if you compose you play, so being on stage is a very peculiar thing to do. And I’m wondering whether you can say anything about it – if it can be said. What is it that makes you do it – to be in there in the moment?

 

 
  Audience member      I’m wondering if there’s a difference between being in the front line, because sometimes as a performer I feel like cannon-fodder. You know, you’re over here, you do this, you’re over here, you really have a lack of creative control. I was imagining that Shobana could still create a dance in an attic, Errollyn could still compose her piece and it would exist in all time, really, but performing is so ephemeral, isn’t it. I mean I think they’re different things really.

 

 
  Errollyn Wallen     Many, many people compose and there’s a pile of manuscripts in drawers that are never ever heard… Often, I think there’s a lot of work made that we never see and we’ll never hear about them and I think…

 

 
  Audience member     Yes, but there’s always the possibility of it being heard because the blueprint is there.

 

 
  Errollyn Wallen     I see what you’re saying.

 

 
  Audience member     There’s just one other thing I wondered… I think when you’re young and you start out, you’re very self-obsessed and your urge to explore and express is partly to do with investigating yourself really and wanting to use yourself up, wanting to burn yourself up, and I think that’s part of the drive…

 

 
  Christopher Bannerman     …and as you burn yourself out…

 

 
  Audience member     As you get towards forty I find you become much more interested in other people’s stories and channelling other things, having a sense of responsibility and duty and all the things that have preceded you really, as well as the function of art in the world.

 

 
  Christopher Bannerman     Mm hum, lots of ideas there. Anything quick responses?

 

 
  Rosemary Lee     I like performing, but not in my own work, I haven’t done that for ages. But I like performing because I don’t feel I’m cannon-fodder. I think that it’s bliss, I’m not responsible for the work. I’d just die to perform more because I feel so much happier and less stressed. I can see I’m putting myself on the line in another way, but for me, the most stressful thing is being responsible for the work and sitting in the lighting box and watching it, which is the worst.

 

 
  Errollyn Wallen     There’s something very intoxicating about performing without fear and being ‘in the moment’, those two things combined. It’s very difficult for me when I’m removed and you’ve got a lot of time to make work and then it goes off to somebody else. So I’d say, for me, that’s the difference. And that’s the palpable feel of an audience that you can see at first hand, or feel if something is working or not, which you can’t if you’re in a room.

 

 
  Audience member      I was intrigued by the fact that being nurtured and being thwarted are two aspects of the same process. When things flow and then when there are obstacles and different aspects of creating, the creativity that emerges as a response to frustration, that it’s almost a kind of desire to transgress limits, versus the creativity that emerges as a call and response to a call to create. I was wondering if the other antithesis that runs through everybody’s lives and possibly the lives of creative people is the antithesis between rules and freedom. You’ve all spoken about the meaning of your creativity as the ability to find some kind of personal truth or freedom from either external constraints or freedom from the demands of external reality. However you define the constraining world – you’ve defined your creativity – as something that gives you the freedom to play, or the freedom to find something that is internally true. For some people the existence of rules was actually part of the creative process: the classical dancer works with rules and through rules by transmuting them. The composer works with rules of time, the compression of time and the expansion of time. Some of you have described your creativity as the absolute need to transgress rules, to make things up as you go along, not be constrained by any pathways or by the way anyone else who has ever done anything, by history. I was wondering if any of you had anything to say about that? Is that something you think about? Do you think about rules – if they’re helpful or constrictive?

 

 
  Christopher Bannerman     Can I just say something quickly first? I didn’t say this at the beginning and you illuminated that omission for us. I should have made it clear that ResCen is a group of individuals, so it is not essential, or even important, that the Research Associates agree with one another. So, rules…? Freedom from?

 

 
  Rosemary Lee      Couldn’t work without them. I’d have to make my own up. My rule for a piece could be that I’ve got to have all thirteen performers staying on the stage for forty five minutes. Rather than exit and entering because I’m having so many problems off in the wings. That was a rule of a piece recently. So yes, I couldn’t work without them actually. I wouldn’t know where I was…

 

 
  Shobana Jeyasingh     …We could make them up ourselves…

 

 
  Ghislaine Boddington      Quite often, when I’ve got a group who are getting to know each other and I’ve got a two week workshop, at the beginning of workshops, for the first three days, I put a set of rules in place because it actually gets the group to belong and find something that they feel held in. Then after day three I take the rules all away, which is quite interesting. It’s a bit like, you know when you’ve all got to know each other and they’re all belonging in their own right, then to take that away and let it go free again completely. When Shobana and I were talking yesterday (we had these little duo-talks yesterday) both of us admitted that even though we’ve got our own companies which are funded and run on year after year, that neither of us were the right kind of rule-based people to be the main choreographer of a major company, or for me to be directing within a major theatre. We knew that is partly why we set up our own things. So there is, in a way, a rejection of sets of rules that are there, as well as making your own situation which has other rules.

 

 
  Christopher Bannerman     You set your own rules in a way?

 

 
  Ghislaine Boddington     Yes.

 

 
  Christopher Bannerman     Sometimes I imagine a group of people who invent problems for each other. Why would anyone want to spend lots of energy creating problems for themselves? That seems to be a creative stimulus which has renewed each of the ResCen artists and is a strand which connects them.

I think the time has flown passed and we will stay together in the bar if we wish to have a further chat. But I shall say thank you to the ResCen team and Natalie, Ildi and Dominique with the video and Roberto Battista and Andrew Lang the web designers that work with us. Thank you too you very, very much for coming along and we hope to see you again next academic year.

 
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