Today was a Stellar Network Story Innovation day. It was at Blast Theory in Brighton with Matt Adams, in the bat cave where me & May spent those weeks in the Spring (mainly writing on the white board and talking to Ju… and coming up with the core concept behind Door Into The Dark).
Matt, it seems, is really interested in getting people to ask questions – of each other, but really of themselves. In Blast Theory’s work, these questions often boil down to – am I who I think I am? Is there a gap between my perception of myself and what I actually do?
Dialogue, he says, is what came first – and all this nonsense about stories is a red herring. I’m not sure it’s supposd to be a competition but I can see what he’s talking about. As a documentary maker, this appeals. I like asking questions; it is a delicate and elusive artform.
This underlying intention has informed much of Blast Theory’s work – or, much of what Matt has put into it – and you can see it in pieces like Ulrike & Eamon Compliant, Ivy4Eva, A Machine To See With… All of them place you in a situation that you can empathize with, extrapolate from and, once you are hooked, they blur the boundaries between the ‘game’ you are playing and your own relationship with it – the boundary between what you consider to be fiction and reality.
It is then that a question is posed; this is the heart of the work. In Ulrike and Eamon Compliant: “What are our obligations to act on our political beliefs? And what are the consequences of taking those actions?”
The artistry comes in the priming before the question is asked – what situation is created, and how does that affect the state you are in when the question is asked.
So, he says… A QUESTION is a CALL TO ACTION. It opens everything up, it is POSSIBILITY. It is the start of dialogue. It is exposition: setting the scene, introducing the background, establishing the context and setting the tone. It is EFFORTLESS, tiny, humble. Every detail of phrasing is semantic, every nuance sends meaning. Fanatical attention to detail is crucial.
In the workshop, he asked us to formulate a question about something that matters to us: a personal issue. The first thing that came to my mind was about my parents. When will the balance tip, when will I become the carer and they the vulnerable ones? Will I be ready? I have already had echoes of it, feel the pull of the responsibility and the weight of my own place and position. Are we all struggling with this, in our fragmented cities where families split apart and live so far from each other? Is family intimacy important to maintain a relationship that does not become a burden?
It is these questions that can form the beginning to a piece of work. Not sure if I’ll do anything on that one any time soon…
With Door Into the Dark my question was something like – can you handle getting lost? It came out of reading Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Necessary reading for the freshly heartbroken, or those feeling confused by where they find themselves.
She writes: the pre-Socratic philosopher Meno asked ‘How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?’….The question struck me as the basic tactical question in life. The things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation. Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration- how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?”