Collective actions - Ten Appearances

Ten spools on vertical nails affix to a board.

Each of the spools was wound with 2-3 hundred metres of strong, white thread.

Each participant was required to take the end of a thread from one of the spools and unravellings the thread from the spool, move in a straight line into the forest surrounding the field.

The participants were instructed to move in a straight line as far as the forest and then, entering the forest, to continue on into the depths of the forest for about another fifty to one hundred metres.

Having completed the trek, each participant was to pull himself the other end of the thread to which a piece of paper with facto graphic text was affixed.

No further instructions given - each participant left to his own discretion as to further action. They could return to the centre, or leave the place behind, moving on further through the forest.

EIGHT PARTICIPANTS CAME BACK WITHIN AN HOUR.

Seven of them returned along their own path and one along a neighbours path.

TWO PARTICIPANTS DID NOT RETURN.

The returning participants received photographs - each photograph depicted the portion of the forest into which the participant receiving that photo had walked at the beginning of the action, and the scarcely distinguishable figure of a man emerging from the forest. These photos were taken within a week before the action.

The fact that of the ten participants only eight, and not all ten, came to pass, represents in our view not a failing of the action but, on the contrary, underscores the realisation of zones of psychic experience of the action as aesthetically sufficient on the plane of the demonstration field of the action as a whole.

The planned experience in reality turned out to lie entirely in the extra demonstrational time of the event - the participant appeared from a non-artistic, non-artificially constructed space.

This work is a direct and succinct example of distributing a series of instructions to individuals, not knowing what they may do with it, and having to deal with the actions of the participants as they go.

The group conducts activity in which the actions cannot be deemed ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’, which creates this air of freedom but also an air of suspicion, because the activity must be FOR something. There is no right way of doing things, however - the director has license to pass judgement based on these actions, just as I have been analysing the actions of and communication between individuals after their performances.

There is a serious tension between flexibility and vigilance, because participants can complete the activity however they please, but a criteria is already agreed on before the activity has begun, and then the end results are then judged against this original criteria. So although this leeway exists there is still a rigid structure beyond it, by which it is being judged and dissected.

This tension is also evident in the fact that there are tasks that must be followed, but there are completely blank spaces of interpretation within these tasks. Because of these combinations is quite difficult to decide who is in control, whether the exercise is being dictated by the director or the participant. This is something I need to consider more carefully in regards to my own work. I have quite consistently thought of the participants as the ones who are steering the ship, but perhaps I have not been considering my own influence thoroughly enough.

The activity does in fact offer some kind of reward to those who complete the task in a certain way. By a reward I don’t mean a prize so to speak, I mean an object, a moment of recognition that a new stage has been reached. Those who never returned from the woods would never have achieved this moment of recognition, and may have left feeling even more lost and confused. So perhaps the reward is a every mild sense of achievement that a new stage has been reached. In turn there does actually seem to be a way of completing the activity, deemed ‘correct.’

A distinctive characteristic of the task, one that differentiates their work from the work I have been doing, is the way that it separates individuals, isolates them from one another, meaning no one can ever make movements based on the ‘other.’ It is a group activity consisting of individual acts.

The individuals are unaffected by each other’s actions : they couldn’t be influenced even if they wanted to be, because they cannot see each other. This interests me because I still feel inclined to think of the whole situation as a group activity, the members of the group are part of and connected through this system. They are aware of the other components of the system, they must have the other members constantly in mind - so they can be influenced by the others in this sense.

This kind of exercise appeals to me because it is something which is so inconsequential, nothing really results from it, apart from the reflection of what happens within it. So the activity is self contained, self sufficient, it is recorded, but it only really working towards the execution of itself. All that is left is the information that the exercise generated, it is reflected on, and then it is left. Another activity is decided upon.

So an important question for me is, how do the participants keep going without a motive? What is it that convinces them to participate, to trust the motives of the director? I think that one explanation for this could be the curiosity of each individual - they must feel like that are working towards some kind of end or conclusion. They don’t know what the task is in aid of, they are not informed of this, but they definitely must think it is for something. The relatively strong curiosity of the individual is confirmed by the effort that had to be put into the activity : because the activity actually required a considerable amount of effort due to the climate.

I now believe that I have to make a decision regarding how much information I provide the individuals I am working with, especially whilst I am workshopping my ideas out into a public space. I now realise that the amount of information I distribute/ the accuracy of the information that I distribute could determine how motivated my participants are, how much enthusiasm and input they will bring to the activities.