Generating the Impossible (2011)


A Potlatch For Research-Creation

In the forest: July 3-7 2011, In the city: July 8-10 2011

Art is not chaos
It is a composition of chaos

Step 1
Prepare for creative chaos.
Forty artists, writers, theorists, from all fields, gather for a week’s retreat in the woods. They have already met, virtually. The gathering has been preceded by shared readings and anticipatory discussion. The problem: the works they will bring will populate the same event, but their disparate requirements are bound to clash. Nothing is in place but an unformatted space.

Step 2
Compose an emergent attunement.
The week’s work will be to produce the conditions for a dynamic order to emerge from the chaos of intended cohabitation. The challenge: make the mutual attunement truly emergent, the product of its own creative performance. Preconditioned, yes, but not foreseen or preconceived. Self-curating event.

Step 3
Give forth.
The time: July 8-10, 2010. The place: the Society for Art and Technology (Montreal), newly expanded with built-in immersive media platforms and un-preprogrammed convivial spaces. The mission: activate the building, and its immediate surrounds, with the works’ dynamic coming into attunement. Invite the public to partake.

Step 4
Creatively return to chaos.
As soon as the attunement has emerged, blow it asunder as creatively as it built itself up. A ‘free radical’ – a latter-day trickster figure – will be loosed upon the event to joyously scramble the emergent order. Goal: produce a generative break-down in such a way that the public can take a piece of the event with them when they leave.

Specific G.T.I. (Generating the Impossible) activities:

‘The Gift’ Proposition

The Gift that Keeps on Gifting
 by Felix Rebolledo:

All participants bring a gift to the event. The gift can be store-bought, an artisanal object or artwork, or something that you have made yourself—it need not be fancy or expensive. The gift should be something that has some significance and value other than monetary as this will fuel the drama and excitement of our economy of gifting; the best gauge for value is that it ought to be something that you like or value, something you would like to own or keep for yourself. Joke gifts and re-gifted items tend to be disappointing to those that end up with them and please remember that people will have to travel home with their gifts. The gift must be wrapped in such a way that the other participants will not be readily able to determine the contents, and the donor must identify themselves within the package.

The gifts will be piled up, helter-skelter, in the middle of the assembly. As participants join the assembly, they will add their gift to the pile and leave a piece of paper with their name in a container (a jar, a baseball cap, a salad bowl, a tin can…) expressly designated to hold these scraps of paper from which names will be drawn at random during the event.

Once all the participants are assembled, the m.c. gets the ball rolling by drawing the name of the first recipient. The first recipient goes to the pile of gifts and chooses one. He unwraps it and tells the assembly who the donor is, everyone oohs and ahhs, and before regaining his seat, picks the name of the next participant.

The second participant now has the choice of either “stealing” the gift that the first participant selected or going to the pile of gifts. If the player opts for a gift from the pile of gifts, they will unwrap it, show it off to the assembly, and pick the name of the next participant before regaining their seat. However, if they choose to steal the gift away from the first player, the second player will take the gift away from the first player, and proceed to pick and announce the name of the third contestant before going back to their seat. The first contestant, now giftless, goes back to the pile of gifts (because he cannot steal a gift from the person that stole it from him in the preceding turn), selects one, and shows it off before going back to their seat.

From the third participant on, each player in turn will now have the choice of either going to the pile or stealing a gift from anyone that preceded him. The stealing business often cascades into a flurry of exchange activity throughout the group as players steal from one another; things will only settle down again when a giftless participant opts for the pile. As mentioned earlier, a participant cannot steal the gift from the person who stole his gift, i.e. if Jane steals gift A from John, John cannot steal gift A from Jane directly. Usually with a group of up to 20 participants, the event proceeds without too much delay due to exchange. However, given the large number of players in our event, we might have to set up a three minute “musical chairs” rule, where contestants keep what they have after three minutes of exchange and the person who is giftless must go to the pile for a gift. If it is felt that this rule needs to be invoked, the m.c. can serve as time-keeper. The gift event proceeds in this way until all the gifts have been distributed and all the participants have a gift.

Conceptual Speed Dating

A snapshot of ‘Conceptual Speed Dating’, which occurred each morning in a variety of formats for G.T.I.(Generating the Impossible).

Using the structure of speed dating to foster less hierarchical and distributed discussion. It generates dynamic conceptual assemblages and catalyses an ongoing and contagious development of understanding over time.

How it works ( courtesy of Andrew Murphie)

1. make sure people know if they are “movers” or “stayers”.

2. Stayers form a kind of rough circle of some kind (crucial here .. make sure that people have enough space to get close enough to talk .. eg someone behind a corner of two desks can be hard to hear)

3. Keep it to pairs .. people often want to just drift in, or form three, or move with their friends etc. All of these mean that the whole thing breaks down, and more than two means that at least one often ends up out of the discussion.

4. Tell everyone that when you say “freeze” or whatever, everyone has to stop talking immediately and freeze (like “chasings”).

5. Give simple instructions. People have to talk to each other—and they must talk about the concept (it could be a question etc). They can’t talk about what they were doing on the weekend, what star sign that are, etc etc. If you’re in a class or the like, and (some) people haven’t done the readings etc, they have to make it up, but they must talk about the concept.

6. Usually I go for around 3 minutes before moving people on. Better to stop each conversation at its peak (that is, interrupt it) than let it run too long. This maintains the energy of ongoing conversation.

7. When you begin, obviously announce that “The concept is ….” whatever you’ve chosen (or some people put together several concepts and get someone to draw the concept out of a hat, so to speak—this is the fancy version), and then “start!” (keep a sense of ritual about it). The concepts can be anything, but I usually of course try to make sure they are in the reading/relevant to the day etc. .. So people can look them up etc. And often we choose the less obvious (“minor”) concepts.

7. After 3 minutes say “freeze” (this will at least in part stop you going a little crazy trying to make people cease talking otherwise)

8. Get them to move around one to the next person.

9. Repeat

10. People should develop the concept during repetition, and often they might report on the previous conversation. If you go round and just listen in (and listen in, don’t join in as facilitator) … make sure they’re on topic. If not, gently remind them.

11. Often with undergraduates, I let a few repetitions occur, even one or two only, then I start developing strings of concepts through the process. So for example, a string of concepts from the one reading, or a string of related issues, maybe from example out to larger questions (or vice versa).

12. Finally (obviously) it is useful to get feedback in the larger class. I just ask what they talked about and space it out on the whiteboard. But here again I try to make them the centre of attention. There’s no doubt I make comments etc .. but I tend to write down all the things they say on the whiteboard. Where I intervene is in “diagramming” and sometimes developing what they’re saying … as in literally drawing arrows between related concepts/things they’ve been discussing etc, expanding this etc… it’s a kind of group mind I guess.

‘The Mist’ Proposition

Description via Nathaniel Stern:

The Mist, a “sentimental construction,” was workshopped between 52 collaborators from the SenseLab in the forests north of Montreal as part of SenseLab’s “Generating the Impossible” (2011). Each “construction” is a large-scale, site-conditioned intervention made of minimal materials and performed in public space. For “Generating the Impossible,” our group worked to re-conceive of what sentiments and constructions are, and how we and they might be introduced and activated, together. Our eventual environmental installation was approximately 45 x 6 meters of rope, rocks, mosquito netting, cable ties, pulleys and tape, all stretched across Mekoos lake. Its form responds to wind and light, and reflections and ripples in the water. Depending on the time of day, and proximity to The Mist – most traveled to it in boats – it waivers between appearing as a bridge, as haze, or as mirrored water from below. The Mist was later brought back to the city, and performed twice in Outremont, Montreal.


The Loom 

Excerpt from Tubular Loom Proposal written by Alan Prohm:

The Tubular Loom is a philosophical construction which seeks to materialize a fundamental metaphor for the mind as a body-scale, interactive diagram and performance staging. Building on sculptural elements and conceptual material used in the Reading Room installations (Slought Foundation 2008), and involving metaphors to be explored and analyzed in the companion book See What You Mean, the Tubular Loom will offer visitors the experience of entering an externalized schematic diagram of their own thought experience. Interacting with the structure will require physical activities, (reaching, pulling, threading, tying, twining etc) that correspond metaphorically to mental contents and mental functions. The metaphorical correspondences will become palpable as a real physiological coordination of body and brain, and the thinking something you can do by hand or dancing. (read full proposal here)