The premise of the What To Do talk is something I’ve been trying out in a number of different guises for a couple of years: the possibility of creating analogies between disparate subjects or narratives, so as to draw attention to the surface fact of telling the stories themselves rather than focusing on the matter inside the texts.

I think it’s an ongoing concern of mine that somehow the matter of what you’re saying comes secondary to the fact of its being said, and to some extent we addressed this in the Conversation Piece talk with its questions about blank texts and crossing things out. But despite the overlaying of words in Conversation Piece, the relationship between the matter of the talk and the fact of the talk remained traditional I think: you watch us and we communicate things to you, and what you get when you watch us are the things we’ve written out to explain and perform to you.

That seems different from the relationship between matter and fact in What To Do.

(Here’s a summary of it:

The text comprises a number of short information summaries, researched mainly through Wikipedia, about the following things: surface tension on water and light reflecting from bubbles; aphasia; indoor gardening using a propagator; the normative influence of Classical Latin in the 9th Century AD; surface tension on water and light reflecting from bubbles; onomatopoeia in sign language.

The talk lasts around forty-five minutes. One section is repeated in its entirety four sections later; elsewhere one paragraph is repeated immediately after itself; frequently sentences from other sections spring up in the wrong places. The delivery of the talk is very obviously read out from a page, badly, with intonation that’s difficult to follow and suggests I’m not really following the meaning of the text myself. There are six or seven very long silent pauses between or within sentences. I never look up from the page apart from during some of these pauses, and during the pauses I never look at the audience but rather up at the wall, over at the flip-chart, or down at the floor. A diagram accompanies each section, drawn on the flip chart as I speak, and the diagrams resemble one another.)

My interest through all these gestures has been to draw attention to the surface of the talk itself – not so much in terms of the experience of sitting there, but in terms of the relationship between the viewer and the information embedded inside the talk. I’m interested in how the information (the history of Latin; planting cuttings..) can relate to us in any way; whether it can; whether it’s worth trying to make it relate, and so on. The possibility of engagement is a problem, and happily I find the title of the talk nicely fitting after all.

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