make-shift – devised and brokered by Paula Crutchlow and Helen Varley Jamieson

www.make-shift.net || watch video documentation

On 20th June 2012, the networked[1] performance and discussion event make-shift was generously hosted by Mary and her guests at her home on Dartington Estate, Devon, UK and Anne with her guests in Providence, Rhode Island, USA. We were joined by 30 remote participants who contributed text chat commentary, instructions, directions and opinions through the online performance interface.

The video document that accompanies this commentary captures footage from both houses and the online performance interface in a sequential edit. It aims to give a sense of how the narrative arc and discursive participation of make-shift is held in and between these three spaces. This is the only document from over 20 make-shift events brokered between 2010-12 that shows all of three of these spaces working together. It offers the unique opportunity to experience the event in a way that is impossible by any other means.

 

Connecting Conversations – Helen Varley Jamieson.

In March 2012, Paula and I began negotiating between two separate-but-related events with the goal of connecting them conversationally through a make-shift event. One was Brown University’s International Advanced Research Institutes (BIARI) to be held in Providence, Rhode Island from 9-23 June, and the other was The Home &The World Summit (TH&TW) to be held in Dartington, UK from 19-21 June. I was going to be at BIARI, and Paula at TH&TW.

The two events were both concerned with how artists engage and interact with the world around them. At BIARI, I was part of the Theatre and Civil Society institute, which the theme of “Politics, Public Space and Performance”; TH&TW addressed how our identities and place in the world are defined by what we call “home”. Taken together, these themes fit closely to the themes of make-shift: connecting the domestic realm with the political, public and global through networked performance, making connections between small domestic actions and distant political or ecological events. Paula and I proposed a make-shift event hosted in both locations, followed by a networked discussion between BIARI and TH&TW. We were interested in what practical outcomes might arise from these events and how a make-shift discussion could help to facilitate that.

An important concept of make-shift is that Paula and I, as “brokers” of the event, are situated in two ordinary homes, from where we co-facilitate the event. The resident(s) of the home (hosts) and their friends, colleagues and other invited guests become physical participants and co-authors of the work, at times watching and listening but at other times actively creating the event in collaboration with us and the online audience. The domestic environment provides a significant scenographic context for the work – we are literally opening a window into the hosts’ lives, showing details of their home, and the people with us are relaxed and responding as they would when visiting a friend, rather than conforming to codes of behaviour for attending a theatre or art gallery.

The post-show discussion is another key concept of make-shift. Normally, Paula and I spend at least half an hour, sometimes up to a couple of hours, talking with the participants in the house we are in while we pack up our equipment and tidy the room; online participants can choose to tune-in to one or other audio stream and follow the discussion. There is usually the sharing of personal stories, discussion about issues such as recycling, over-packaging, state and corporate responsibility, and references to related projects and artworks. We’re also often eating at this time – sharing food and drink that participants have brought with them – which helps to generate a strong sense of temporary community. As the conversation allows, Paula and I listen to each others’ discussion, and comment and respond in the text chat with the online audience. This part of the event is informed and made possible by the hour and a quarter of performance that has proceeded it, and is a richly memorable experience for the participants.

Our intention with the event on 20th June was that this discussion time be shared between the two locations and events, connecting BIARI and TH&TW via a Skype connection. We believed that a fruitful connection might be possible between the two events, exploring common themes in a cross-cultural, cross-discipline conversation, and we were curious to see how such a dialogue might evolve. We deliberately sought host houses that were close enough for everyone to be able to return immediately after the show to the BIARI and TH&TW venues, where a larger audience had been watching a projection of the online interface. In Providence my house participants hurried back to the university after the show, while I did a hasty partial pack-up and followed with the host in a car. But even moving as quickly as I could, there was simply not enough time: I got back to the university just as the next presentation was scheduled to start. BIARI convenor Erik Ehn had connected with Richard Povall at TH&TW, but technical difficulties in Providence, such as only having one microphone for a large group seated around a big table, and non-functioning air-conditioning in a heat-wave, meant that it had not been easy. At TH&TW, the programme was better able to accommodate the discussion, which continued for another half hour after the BIARI programme had moved on.

However, both convenors felt that the event itself had gone well, with all participants engaging in the work and interacting with each other. As Erik said afterwards, “The work, deeply compassionate and radically international, was welcomed by the group in the room and by participants in the remote locations as well … [It] was well received and of substantial interest (poetic, politically forthright, both intimate and ambitious) … [and the discussion] helped amplify a layered and engaging experience.” Richard noted the differences and distances between the two events but agreed that it had been a valuable experience; in particular he was impressed by the way the work “moved in and out of the virtual realm, and both invites and disinvites participation from the larger virtual group”, and by how inspired the group of house participants were when they returned to TH&TW.

make-shift is a networked conversation of negotiation: from the very first proposal for an event, we begin a dialogue with a number of different people to negotiate houses, times, audiences, performance materials, concurrent screenings, publicity and so on. This conversation continues throughout the event itself and afterwards, via feedback and ongoing communication, evolving from logistics and organisation into topical discussions and shared experiences. Like conferences, events and summits, make-shift offers a specific, concentrated connection between people and conversations.

Our proposal was logistically ambitious: as well as negotiating a 5-hour time difference, both events had very full schedules, making our request for a minimum of three hours quite challenging. It was also perhaps contrary to the concept of such events, which seek to bring people together in a physical space for presentations and discussions; attendees have left behind their daily lives and work to come into a concentrated physical space, so interacting with an external, equally intense, group is not easy. Richard observed that at TH&TW, there was less interest in the two internet-based works than in other non-internet work; there may have been many factors that contributed to this, but the intensity of being at a particular conference or event for a short period of time may mean that people’s focus narrows. make-shift seeks to broaden people’s focus – to expose us to the daily realities of others that we might find we have much in common with, or that might surprise us by how different they are. make-shift seeks to highlight connections that are not always overt but that underpin the fabric of our lives, and to do this through interpersonal conversation. At events such as BIARI and THATW, there is perhaps more appeal for this interpersonal conversation to happen between those who are physically present.

 

The eye of the storm – Paula Crutchlow

When Helen and I first began devising make-shift together in 2010, I was reading The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard; it had been waiting patiently on my shelf for a number of years for ‘the right time’ to begin. Halfway through Chapter 2 Bachelard quotes the poet Rilke[2] as a means to explore the house as a paradoxical site of resistance to the storms raging outside it, and a secure place from which to imaginatively project ourselves into the whirlwind exhilaration of the wild weather. In Rilke’s writing house and space are not just set next to each other as separate entities, they are interconnected, awakening daydreams in each other that are oppositional and dialectic. It is an image that has stayed with me throughout my make-shift journey, as both an inspiration and a point of reflection.

We devised make-shift through remote collaboration out of our own homes in Exeter and Munich. Our starting point was Chris Jordan’s Midway: message from the Gyre[3]; a series of moving and evocative photographs from Midway Atoll in which the nest and the world outside it collapse into drastic violence within the bodies of dead albatross chicks. These are complex images and rather than to provide any answers or engender blame or guilt about the underlying issues, make-shift’s aim is to start unpacking that complexity and our disparate responses to it. We want to use the processes of live networked performance to connect people in throught and discussion around an emerging bigger picture.

Establishing a feeling of community is central and essential to making this happen across a dispersed event space, and make-shift has been constucted in conversation with a much larger community of contributers from the very beginning. ‘Rehearsing’ meant setting materials and actions next to each other in a loose structure, discussing its possible implications and then trying it out on real people gathered in our houses and online. We asked friends and aquaintances from across the world to contribute sounds and images of their homes and the things within them to create a digital scenography. We collected their opinions on our materials and themes by email and voice recording.  We also purposely structured the event itself to be impossible for us to achieve without the direct help of the people attending.

Everyone involved in make-shift is invited to take some responsibility for content and performance dynamic. House guests operate the webcam, hand things out, write things on post it notes, sing songs, create physical images, make things together out of plastic recycling. Online participants are invited to contribute text imagery, answering questions and describing their homes. At the end,  an inclusive ‘warm down’ discussion approaches what we might want to see change both about the event we’ve created together, and the themes it comments on. In this way each performance is also a form of public dramaturgy. We continuously alter, refine and re-work the form and content according to feedback both within and after the event. make-shift grows in response to our own failings, and through ongoing dialogue with the universe it resides in.

Both the challenge and the opportunity offered by make-shift, is that no one person can ever see or experience the whole thing. No one has an overview, they can only play their part in the ‘dispositif’[4] We each act from the space we inhabit, imagining what is happening elsewhere through the limited views offered by the different ‘windows’ of the online performance space.  We offer ourselves to be mediated by the processes of the internet, and our uncensored interactions with each other. We project ourselves and our opinions out into that online environment through image, sound and text, without knowing where and how we will land. We are all here together in a space that no one person can fully see or understand operating from a place of trust. It is both an exhilarating and a worrying risk to take.

In some senses a make-shift event is very ordinary; small groups of people gather as guests in different houses and use domestic IT to collectively imagine and discuss issues surrounding plastic waste and its affect on the natural world. But these gatherings have at times created an extraordinary level of intense and intimate exchange; really contributing to meaningful changes in perception of the impact of our daily actions of consumption and disposal.

I feel a great sense of privilege that I have been welcomed into people’s homes who I’d never met before make-shift created that connection for me. The hosts I have worked with have gathered their friends or even welcomed complete strangers into their living room; not to experience the event as a passive audience but to actively shape it as it takes its place the wider world.

make-shift is a multiplicity of provocations and interactions that are enabled in equal parts by the global connectivities offered by the internet, and the generosity of the people who host and attend the event in their homes across the world. In this way it is a process of ‘dynamic dialectic’[5] between the specific nature of each of the houses involved in the process, the imagination of the dreamers within them and the conditions of the wider universe they all inhabit.

 

 

We would like to thank Mary, Anne, all their guests and the online participants who took part in make-shift on 20th June 2012.  Richard Povall from Aune Head Arts and The Home & The World, and Erik Ehn from The Theater and Civil Society Institue at BIARI for hosting the event and discussion. Tony Walker (Dartington), David Higgins (Provdience) and Francesco Buonaiuto (online) for their video recordings. Helen would like to thank Vanessa Gilbert for her support and assistance in Providence. Paula is especially grateful to Mary Bartlett for the gooseberry fool which helped everyone to feel at home and set things on the right track, the book recommendations, parsnip tips, dinner and provocative discussion she shared with me before I got in my car to drive home much later that evening.

 

[1]   Networked Performance is real-time, embodied practice within digital environments and networks; it is, embodied transmission. http://turbulence.org/blog/about/

[2]   Bachelard, G The Poetics of Space, Beacon Press (1994)  p 42-3

[3]   http://www.chrisjordan.com/gallery/midway/#CF000313%2018x24

[4]   Foucoult’s term for an apparatus to which we both belong and act in described by Gilles Deleuze as  ‘machines that make one see and talk’.  Each dispositif is ‘a multiplicity, where certain processes in becoming are operative and become distinct from those operating in another apparatus.’ ie. The prison apparatus is an optical machine for seeing without being seen. What is a dispositif?  from Two Regimes of Madness: Texts and Interviews 1975-1995 pp338-348

[5]   Bachelard, G The Poetics of Space, Beacon Press (1994)  p 43