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To us as outsiders the landscape around MOKS is still non-defined. Each road out of Mooste means nothing. They’re just routes to somewhere else non-defined. A blank, a location, a zone, a space but never place-like. We have a sense of being on the edge. We are on the edge of our own life and not yet in the centre of another’s.

On Tuesday we met a group of visiting art lecturers from around Europe. One of them said in passing that Estonia was science-fiction: a wilderness of disused submarine bases, derelict collectivised farms, one million people living in a country bigger than the Netherlands but with 1/16th of the population, survivors perhaps, of what who knows? The ghosts of the Cold War squat the Western imagination. Initially I thought it a little unfair to the one million who now live in a resolutely contemporary and capitalist present, but walking around Mooste, these ghosts still speak to us. Perhaps only the Western European sees them, as they come from spy films, old propaganda and the once primordial fear of nuclear winters. Now this is all science fiction. A paralell past that never really occurred.  These visions have nothing to do with Mooste itself, or modern Estonia.  They´re all hocus pocus.

I think the edge of Mooste is affecting us. Our pair-ness is accentuated and interrupted by it. Today I sung some songs and Trish slept. We then filmed ourselves running into glass. Trying to find the edges.

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Doing something for the first time has its own quality that is difficult to recapture second time round. Take 1 of Smudgeface had us both laughing the whole way through. In reshooting the film to sort out some of the technical issues to do with the glass and its reflection the film lost it´s freshness. So we´ve stuck with the first version despite it being somewhat rough and ready. It´s interesting to think about what consitutes quality.

Our remote location, coupled with the activities we´ve set ourselves keep giving me flashes of  being in a self imposed version of  “I´m an artist get me out of here.”  It´s hard to work out whether our attempts to do things differently are yielding results. On the whole it feels as if we are working against ourselves. The challenges we´ve set feel counterintuitive to how we “naturally” work and random exploration easily turns into anxiety over outcomes. I´m really surprised at just how difficult it is to play freely, and keep questioning whether what we´re doing has a point or value. I find it hard switching between ideas, as opposed to just developing one strand of work. And there are competing aims – working together, reflecting on what we do individually, trying to play and be in the moment, thinking about the overall purpose of this residency. At moments I feel liberated. And at others confused by stopping and starting and switching and unpicking. Some things we do work. Some things we want to change. But are these experiments hinged on random fairytales helping us work out what we think we want to work out, or giving us the answers to questions we havent asked at all. And does it even matter?

How the old man waited for death is a game Trish and I played this afternoon.

We had spent much of yesterday waiting, in various ways; for a file to upload, for a good idea, for a bus. That morning we had chosen the Estonian fairytale How the old man waited for death as the title for our next pairwork piece, but we did little about it. Today, in a roundabout way we made the piece after waiting a whole day for it to occur. The piece arrived in the form of an object-based game. The rules were simple:

Take turns adding or removing elements to a constantly morphing sculpture.

We gathered the elements from a barn next to MOKS that is full of detritus from an old collectivised farm that used to function here. I cleaned the bits and we laid them out in the studio room.

This connection to Moost might make the sculpture site-specific but we make no reference to this history in the game. We are not concerned with history right now. Our play is entirely in the moment. Of course, its hard not to make associations. When we had finished I thought Richard Hamilton´s take on Duchamp and Trish thought Alexander Calder, and Erwin Wurm once we involved our bodies. However, these associations are irrelevant.

We said nothing during the making. We were intentionally silent. I felt great tenderness for the thing we made. We didn´t mean to make anything good, we just meant to silently stop waiting.

Constraint, support, tension, dependency and vulnerability all characterise pairwork. But can these be given physical form?

For half a day we attached ourselves to each other via a length of fishing wire and then went about our normal business – walking, shopping, working, cooking, eating, napping, using the bathroom etc. To extend this performative experiment we then staged a few actions for the camera. Small gestures didn´t register, and for the Buster Keaton style effect we were after the threads connecting us needed to be tense at all times. We were left with the frustration of how best to communicate our morning´s efforts, and how to develop the video work. Two very different directions: One performative, experiential, an intervention in everyday life, a subtle experiment on ourselves and those we came into contact with. The other a performance – straying into contemporary dance and movement.

We´re interested in exploring new ways of generating content. Usually we start a project by developing a concept or narrative. But what if we start with formal play – with no thought as to what we´re doing and see where this takes us? Maybe it will lead us into new and productive territory? How can we then develop and refine our play? Will this take our practice in a new direction, provide a new dimension to how we work or just serve to shed light on our usual way of working? We havent worked intensively together for a couple of years now so it will also be interesting to revisit what happens when we work together, as opposed to when we work alone.

Things to consider:

  • Spontaneous play (concept last?) v Structured process (concept first?)
  • Thinking v doing
  • Simple distlled actions v multilayered narratives
  • Performance – Performativity; Intervention – Spectacle
  • Experiential for who?
  • How does being a pair influence the work? In terms of physicality, communication, roles, encounters with people/place and how do our ideas combine through all of the above?
  • Can we extract aspects of being a pair as a methodology for making work? i.e. make work that focuses on the communication of ideas between 2 people? make work that focuses on the physicality of working together? make work that focuses on the roles we take up? make work that tests our own boundaries and limitations to open up our process.
  • How will this then relate back to the site we´re exploring? We don´t want to get too introspective. Is collaboration the subject, the methodology or just an aspect of our methodology? Probably the latter though upping the anti may help to generate new ways of making work that allow the work and concept to develop in tandem rather than the work illustrating a previously identified concept.
  • We´ve decided Estonian fairytale titles will provide an arbitrary starting point for generating new content in relation to ourselves, our process and this place. We´ll consciously approach making work differently, rejecting old patterns, trying things out with no end point in mind, both working beyond and pursuing what feels individually comfortable.

The work we make together usually entails a subtle re-imagining of place that goes against ´nature´. We´ll apply an incongrous concept to a particular site, to highlight how the perception or experience of somewhere (and the value placed upon it) is shaped by certain linguistic and institutional frameworks (e.g. business speak, the language and aesthetics of heritage etc). We take a sideways look at places – both reimagining what´s happening and foregrounding the constructed (and hence arbitrary) way that places are understood. Perhaps what we do is site specific conceptualism? We reimagine places – imposing new frames and narratives.  But at root is always a conceptual twist.

We´ve spent all morning taking stock of projects we´ve done thus far. And it´s raised certain questions: If our work about a concept does the idea need to be worked? Can an idea just be presented as an idea? Do we overlabour the concepts we come up with? We´ll often make about 6 pieces of work as part of a project. Are these all necessary? Do we end up making the same point in 6 different ways, in order to cover all bases and appeal to a wide and nebulous audience? This could have the effect of diluting what we´re actually trying to comunicate. Perhaps we should take more of a suggestive approach, provide fewer explanations and let people take or leave what we´ve done. Perhaps we need to distill, simplify and clarify and give the work the space to do its job. Do we consider audience too much, or not enough? How do we decide what is good? What is process and what is work? Do we value productivity over quality? If we upscale our production what would this look like?