[-empyre-] From Erin Manning - More about the Lab and the event

Lichty, Patrick plichty at colum.edu
Sun Apr 7 03:52:47 EST 2013

Thanks, Patrick, for getting the conversation going. Rather than getting into the thick of things right away (to the question of failure), maybe I'll set the stage a bit more. 

In 2003, the SenseLab decided to explore what an event could look like (and feel like) that didn't take the form of an exhibition (either in an art or an academic conference context). We wanted to see whether we could find ways to seed collaboration on the ground rather than bringing in a collaborative ethos after the fact based on work already underway. This seeded an event series called Technologies of Lived Abstraction, the last event of which occurred in the summer 2011 (Generating the Impossible). You can find a sketchy history of these events on the SenseLab website (www.senselab.ca).

When Generating the Impossible was coming to a close, I suggested to the group that perhaps the time had come to put an end to the SenseLab. I was concerned that we might unwittingly become the very institutional structure we were working against. The collective answer was a resounding no mixed in with a desire to regroup: let's continue with the SenseLab but ask it to take the next step, to reinvent not only modes of collaboration, but also modes of organization. Into the Midst was the first completely collectively organized event. 

We had originally planned to hold Generating the Impossible at the Society for Art and Technology (SAT) in Montreal, in the newly built dome that became the site for 2012's Into the Midst. In fact, the shift to another location happened very late in the process, and was central to how Generating the Impossible ended up problematizing questions of space. What happened, in brief, is that the SAT, an innovative and engaged arts space in Montreal, decided to undertake extensive renovations. The dome structure (an enormous multi-media environment on the top floor) was a key aspect of these renovations. The SAT (where we had housed the SenseLab for a number of years) were initially very interested in the SenseLab "exploding the gallery," making felt how a whole space can resonate artistically (rather than art hanging on walls or being constrained to a pre-determined location). But the renovations were costly, the financial market crashed, and the SAT found itself in debt. This meant that the SAT would have to make money from its artistic endeavours. This was a complex shift, both collaboratively and economically (collaboratively because the Montreal art scene is strongly focused on artist-run centres rather than private galleries, and there is a strong sense of art having a social and cultural function that should be shared by all without cost and economically because it potentially tunes art away from the experimental, which generally doesn't bring in large revenues). Because Generating the Impossible was at the heart an event about alter-economies, it didn't make sense for us to pair with an institution that had made this economic/conceptual shift. So we backed out and went our way.

But we had worked with the SAT for many years, and so many of us thought it would be interesting, after Generating the Impossible, to come back to the Dome at the SAT and further explore the issue of the "exploded gallery." So we put our money aside (the cost of renting the space is quite high as it requires the permanent presence of technicians who are familiar with the software used in the space, and who are the only people who can handle the equipment) and decided to spend a year thinking about how it might be possible to activate such a dedicated environment. 

The process of exploration was long and rich - we spent time thinking choreographically (how does a dome situate a body, what can a collective body do to open us such a space), exploring the neighborhood (the red light district) both through meetings with locals and the transfer of photographs from the neighborhood into the dome, reading work on architecture (Arakawa and Gins) and philosophy (mostly on the diagram) and generally scheming about techniques - including new media techniques - that would allow us to use the high-tech aspects of the dome without falling prey to their seduction (by, for instance, using their software but finding ways of playing with perspective or content etc).

I'll describe one technique we came up with before entering the dome, and invite others to begin to create a palimpsest of the various ways we collectively eventually entered the dome to test out its "explodability"!

This technique was invested in finding ways to engage with the neighborhood. It involved descending on the parc adjacent to the SAT (a parc known for its skateboarders, and of course its drug-dealers and prostitutes, not to mention the homeless) on a sunny Thursday morning in October with hundreds of punnets of strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. The berries were slightly mouldy, given to us by a local mile-end grocer called Bob from the Parc Avenue Fruiterie (you need to go there if you come to Montreal!). We set them out on a long concrete wall-like structure bordering the park and added red sweets we had baked the day before (the idea had been to make food red, thus playing with taste - for instance, making red key lime pie). This food was open for the taking (and the berries were definitely good enough to eat despite the few mouldy ones!). We also brought 20 skeins of white yarn. In large compost buckets, we squished the yarn into some of the berries, dyeing it red, paying homage in part to the red light district, but especially to the red square of the 2012 student strike. Once the yarn was dyed, we tied a few skeins to trees and handed out crochet hooks and white painters' coveralls. To anyone who was interested, we demonstrated how to make a simple crochet stitch. Then we let it go. 

Over the 8 hours that we were there, an extraordinary web was crocheted that eventually took up most of the park. People came and left, trading coveralls and crochet hooks: many people figured out how to use their fingers or their wrists as hooks, and with this came a sense of a stretching of time to include the kinds of short conversations that happen when your crochet line reach anothers' or when you have to escape the wasps attracted to all the raspberries, or when you just want to sit down and eat some sweets. This turned out to be a choreographic object, in the sense Forsythe gives the term - an event environment that activates movement in complex and surprising ways, providing us with a diagram for entering the space the next day.


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