‘Pushing the Envelope’ saw 6 of the CAS artists come together at Chapel Arts Studios to play/work/think/share. The momentum of the 2AM process (carried out some weeks before) had not only given CAS collaborative machinery a turbo boost but produced a welcome outpouring of thoughts, ideas and approaches which participants felt would continue to ripple out. With this in mind, the subject of relational activity was in the air and prompted me to look again at Kenneth Gergen’s research into themes of co-action and confluence in his work ‘Relational Being’.
Gergen’s broad mantra that all that we do is a product of co-action and relationship, with meaning constantly in motion, seemed embodied in the 2AM process. In turn, that meaning could potentially be altered by the subtle shifting of elements within that relationship, (whether they be living, material or object) pointed a way forward for experimentation. Here are some of the segments of text we looked at to underscore these thought processes, in this case, a game of baseball provides a useful metaphor.
‘What we traditionally view as ‘independent’ elements – the man with the bat, the bags, the men in the field – are not truly independent. They are all mutually defining… Alone they would [all] be virtually without meaning. It is when we bring all these elements into a mutually defining relationship that we can speak about ‘playing baseball’. Let us then speak of the baseball game as a confluence, a form of life in this case that is constituted by an array of mutually defining ‘entities’” (Gergen, 2009, p.54).
and delving further,
‘We may identify a baseball game as confluence, but in doing so we have arbitrarily cut it away from everything else. Would there be a pitcher without food, water and air, would there be a ‘home run’ without a fence…One may imagine here an ultimate confluence through which all existence comes into being, including our own. This ultimate confluence is beyond description. We are rendered mute and possibly awed.’ (Gergen, 2009, p.59)
and, now that confluence is affirmed,
‘the actions of the participants are increasingly Interknit, with meaning always in motion’ (Gergen, 2009, p.42)
During the 2am process, a collection of words were generated. In light of Gergen’s ideas, it posed an interesting excercise to keep these words ‘in motion’ as it were, continuing the rippling process of co-action. The twelve words were placed in envelopes and presented, either digitally in envelopes to remote participants, or physically to the group itself. Each artist duly responded with further words suggested/linked/provoked by the first. As each card fell on top of another, further words again erupted and added to the confluence. Initial instructions to add one word for each presented quickly disintegrated into a flow. We stopped and reflected on the results. Further instructions to find pairs amongst the words again dissolved as participants were drawn to collections and patterns of multiples that resonated in different ways. We removed these from the rest, placed them on a table and allowed a conversation, prompted by this collection, to flow.
All our experiences are different but they share so much and they erupt in different ways”
words are repeated in similar forms, it looks like they’re echoing”
This led on to deeper discussion around the table with some paper, markers and pens. Words were written as the conversation focused and moved on, doodles and sketches picking up on ideas and comments.
What does the term artist mean, is it freeing or constraining? What does it mean to ‘not know’ how much is ‘not knowing’ part of the work, are we comfortable with it, is it constructive?
As a result of the evening, CAS now has a repository of words, generated from the relational process – originally from 2AM, and subsequently through this further generative co-action. They form a small and compact library, to be drawn from, worked with and kept in motion, in whatever way CAS Associates may choose.