This, about Peter Higgs and hopes that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will finally find the Higgs particle and with it help figure out the origins of mass, when it starts to smash protons into each other next year. There's something fascinating to me about the view from now back onto 1960's science (be it computing, genetics or quantum) - the myth-making attention on the characters, their relations/rivalries/or lack thereof, the framework myth of science as a 'gentleman's game', the universities and research almost-before corporations, the present view on almost-amateurism and 'early days' in those fields that now seem long-established, institutionalised, utterly central. Also, I love those narratives, like this one - about a thing 'proved' first as pure theory but which then waits decades in hope that instruments or experiments will back it up as observed reality. Of his long wait for a confirmation of his theory Higgs, now 78 said "I have to ask my GP to keep me alive". I'm trying to figure out the possible relationships between that methodology (a theory waiting for proof) and art practice which so often (for me at least) starts by doing - action (words on paper or on screen, fooling around in the studio, arsing about with the video camera) first, and which then has to wait for a theory.
Also this (via my friend the artist Graham Parker) from earlier in the year, about Microsoft Research teaming up with biomedical researchers in Seattle, Boston and Perth, Australia, to see if anti-spam computer techniques can also be used to help design an AIDS vaccine. Something gripping about this idea too, not least because of the material/linguistic aspect - research founded on a pervasive (but-in-the-end-arbitrary) instance of metaphor.
Finally this - more mythological territory in science - about reconstruction of the Collosus code-breaking computers at Bletchley Park.
Something quite Philip K. Dick about this story of a dream-induced evacuation and this one also, with its promise of replacement pets cloned from the tissues of loved-but-lost animals.
Meanwhile, in a beautiful project for Art Sheffield Roman Ondak covered the floor of the city's Winter Gardens with autumn leaves, confusing first by virtue of switching the seasons and second because the Winter Gardens is all ever-green trees. The first thing that hit me walking through the space yesterday was the smell. Something deep, earthy, walking-in-the-woods - in any case a far cry from anything you'd expect in there. At the opening lots of people venture stories about reactions to the leaves. Adults don't notice them so much one person says, it's more the kids that engage with them, as if the adults don't have time. It's true that during the opening event speeches there are a few kids scooping handfuls of the leaves and chasing each other. Someone else describes how one particular shop/coffee stand owner in the Gardens was sweeping away the leaves in a neat circle around her space. It's good I think, says Roman, she becomes my performer.
“There is no known complete protection from the breakup event except to prevent its occurrence.”
True. From the NASA report, published yesterday, on the breakup of the Challenger Space Shuttle. More in the NYT here.
In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, N. Wayne Hale, Jr., a former head of the shuttle program, said, “I call on spacecraft designers from all the other nations of the world, as well as the commercial and personal spacecraft designers here at home, to read this report and apply these lessons which have been paid for so dearly.”
Looks like Ballard was right. It's not the writers who get the best sentences these days. It's the engineers. Beautiful.
In less apocalyptic mode Will Ashon invited me to do a "best books/art/dance etc of the year" which is now posted here along with contributions from a whole bunch of other people at his blog Vernaland.Permalink
[Quite sketchy this... grasping for something].
Was interested to come across a link at Ant's blog to this text here, a translation of On the Manufacture of Ideas While we Speak by Heinrich von Kleist (1811). It chimed with me a bit in respect of the recent Forced Entertainment rehearsals (which I just blogged about over at The Guardian here). Perhaps because there were some new-comers to the rehearsal process, and perhaps because we were working quickly - trying to stay quite a lot on our feet - I was super aware of the general procedure for the start-of-the-day - how to get things started, where to begin - which at this point always seems to involve a kind of rolling talking session, generally beginning with a monologue from me (apologies for that), but increasingly an informal and meandering discussion, quite spiky and concerted in its own drifting way. The start point for this talking always seems to be an attempt to recall the progress of the work undertaken the day before (literally - "So, what did we do yesterday?") and to roughly map any conclusions that we might have drawn from it. I know that usually I've not attempted to think through the rehearsal material much before we start work in the morning, so the talk is pretty much 'thinking aloud' - indeed mostly we start from a very hazy or clumsy anecdotal account of what we actually did or tried.
[Sidenote. The material from day before has been circulating/digesting of course.... just that none of us have grappled with it much on a conscious level. The morning-talking is wake up time too... getting us all back into what we're up against, and a kind of limbering up I guess, flexing, starting to move in (mental) space.]
To some extent this 'start of the day talking' works like panning the water, or sifting residues too.. an attempt simply to figure what has remained from the day before, however apparently arbitrary or disorganised that remainder might be. Complex events took place but by now, a good 18 hours later, these events are ready to be condensed into a story, into a version, into an idea... I guess there's some simple trust that 'what remains' will be useful, and a trust that the process by which some things might be remembered and others forgotten (even temporarily) might be a useful one.
Trusting this kind of osmosis or self-selection in the material I hardly ever take notes at this stage of the rehearsals, and rarely write anything down from the days work. In this way I rely absolutely on the fact that we're video-recording everything - every improvisation, every run through - so that if or when any of us might need it there are really super-detailed 'notes' on what has taken place. In any case, the important thing is that I'm not bothering myself with keeping track of everything - I know it's all on the tapes. Instead I'm more thinking about the shapes of the work, the smell or texture of it, following my nose through the material. Also, what I can say (going back to the Kleist) is that usually when we start talking in the morning I have no idea what we should do for the day, little or no idea of an agenda, not even much idea of what to 'say'. I'm not planning rehearsals - most days I don't even start thinking till I'm in the room. And yet somehow through the morning talking this kind of agenda does become clear. Some priorities emerge. And a way of addressing (or approaching!) these priorities also becomes clear or clear enough.
What's interesting re the Kleist is that once you step your thoughts out into spoken language they are solidifying, taking form one word at a time, in some unretractable way. Like the quantum notion of a reality that is constantly condensing/collapsing many-possibilities into one, where the reality we are in is understood to be produced moment by moment by narrowing infinite possibility into singular actuality, and then again and then again and then again, always narrowing, fixing, a moment at a time. I guess this kind of process operates literally in language too, at the level of sentences and word choices and somehow especially in speech (a temporal act, the process of which is real-time and relatively exposed - as opposed to writing for example where you can always edit, add and erase from the record invisibly). And what's interesting to me is that when speaking you're constantly building a road - in words and through time - a road which already hints at a direction - the future is already contained a little bit by what's been said already, and by the rules of comprehensible speech. The more you've said the more structure and apparatus is determining (opening and closing) possibilities for what's next) and there's something about this tightening of the present, via the squeezing of thought into language, that really ups the pressure and (perhaps) brings you to things you cannot come to in silent thinking. It's a version of the talking cure of course - it already had me thinking of psychoanalysis, the idea that you can talk your way to something that is otherwise unavailable. By the way, I'm not implying that as soon as you start talking and step into the flow of language it's all a done deal - you can of course always change direction, contradict and so on.. but even something like contradiction is a negotiation or manoeuvre that's only possible because of earlier choices..
Trying to talk something through. Trying to define questions. Trying to map possible approaches.
The possibility in these discussions also to try to pause the flow of the talking and re-start it in another place. (Never innocent, and not strictly possible of course.. but sometimes worth a go).
Trying to hold steady on a thought that's coming, or a direction that's forming, even when other people are pulling you onto something else.
(For balance - letting go of what you were fixing on in favour of an idea or a question that someone else is pitching into the discussion)
(Entertaining options. Staying loose. Not letting anything solidify too quickly).
Not taking too long on all this. 45 mins max then we should be moving.
I notice that I'm very often checking out in the discussions during the last fifteen minutes or so. In this period it's maybe too complicated to follow - more opinions. But I'm also looking for a way to make what we're talking about concrete. I'm not looking for a very complicated intellectual synthesis of the whole discussion (impossible) or for an 'answer' to the questions (also impossible) - in fact I'm just looking for a small thing - a single improvisational starting point that I can propose and which I hope somehow might kick us towards the goal. Often the sense is, to be clear, that this starting point might be woefully simple, just a hook that other things might come to hang on, an occasion that people might find to drag in what we've been talking about. What's also true I think, and again to be clear, is that the discussion can be very clear and very abstract at the same time and the proposal for what we do next will have to be entirely concrete. Often there's a sense, in proposing some improv, or a return to some combination of material we worked on yesterday, that I have to say "well, that's all very well.." (meaning the discussion) or "we are all very clever" (again, nodding back to the discussion) *but*... and the but is, of course, that no matter how great or impoverished our theoretical grasp on what we're doing might be, we still (in the end) simply have to do something in the room. And this doing something of course involves a shift to another kind of energy, another kind of thinking - through doing in fact.
Just remembered this piece, by the amazing Wendy Houstoun, which she wrote during work with us on Forced Entertainment's 2004 piece Bloody Mess. Not quite the same process, and a different perspective, but makes interesting reading alongside the above maybe.Permalink
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