The closing party – thanks to everyone who came along!

After the workshop on Saturday, we had a little closing party for the project at Top Shelf Gallery. I invited anyone and everyone, and we had an exhibition of all the messaged created during the workshops, a little artist’s talk, and some tea and biscuits (and wine) on offer.

I was delighted to see so many of the participants again, including Karolina, Liam, Gabrielle, Michelle, and Nicky, and of course Travis and Ari from that morning’s workshop. Also present were my lovely friends Demelza and Jeremy who volunteered their time for the prototype workshop in October last year.

It was great to see all of the video works on display together, across two TVs and a projector. Seeing all of the messages together made me think once again how all the works are of such a consistently high calibre, which was something of a surprise to me given the diversity of backgrounds and the time limitation involved. I think I honestly didn’t know what to expect from strangers in one hour, but also I was focussed on the experience of the workshops, rather than any products or outcomes. I’ve been really impressed by what is achievable in a short amount of time, with such a variety of participants. It was also made clear in seeing the exhibition both the correspondence, and the range between the messages that were discussed in the workshops. I documented the exhibition, so you can take a look at the images, below.

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CA9A9732 CA9A9752CA9A9754 CA9A9749During the talk I gave a little bit of a background to the project, and discussed how it had evolved from its conception, through the prototype and various applications, during the Skype Variation for Light and Wire, then at Top Shelf across the course of the residency. I also talked a bit about my motivation for creating this kind of work, and my experience of participatory works, like Stuart Ringholt’s Anger Workshop at dOCUMENTA [13]. The talk merged into an open discussion, and it was beautiful to get feedback from so many people who had been involved, and listen to their various experiences and opinions.

I really enjoyed the atmosphere in the afternoon, as people helped themselves to tea and coffee, sat down to eat lunch (myself included), chatted about the project and got to know each other a little.

I wish to thank everyone who came in and took part in a workshop during the month, for their time, their honesty and for their efforts to communicate with me. I really love all the works that were made at Top Shelf, and it was a great pleasure to meet such a collection of wonderful people.

My special thanks go to Ariele and Oliver for granting me the space at Top Shelf to use for the project, and for their ongoing support. Last but not least, it hasn’t been easy doing these workshops, working part time and also working on other ongoing art projects. I really want to thank Andrew, my partner, for the input, critique and practical assistance he has so selflessly provided, and for his understanding of things for which there is no apparent financial or critical reward.

The Communication Project is not over! I will continue to develop the project, and it is scheduled to appear in Melbourne next January in the Melbourne Music and Video festival. Anyone who is interested in offering a space or group of people to take part, please contact me through email.

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An eye-opening last week …

So last week finished off the Communication Project’s residency at Top Shelf, and I had a workshop on Thursday, another on Saturday, and a little closing party on Saturday afternoon.

Thursday evening I had a one-on-one workshop with Bahman. Our discussion touched upon some of the themes that have been common to a number of the workshops; opening the eyes, new experiences and learning from others. We also talked for some time about the fact that our own knowledge is far smaller than the breadth of the information beyond our comprehension (both as individuals and as a society). From these themes we settled on the message “open your eyes, to go beyond what we know”.

After talking about opening our eyes, we had the idea of being blindfolded. We thought perhaps by walking blindfolded, trying to find something, it would illustrate how a narrow focus can effectively blind you to the world surrounding you, and can incapacitate you in ways you may not be aware of.

So with Bahman blindfolded, and myself behind the camera, we started recording. Take a look at the video, below.

Bahman was trying to find the door pictured centre in the frame. In fact he ended up walking straight towards the camera at the end, at which point I concluded the performance, as he would have walked into the camera (or I would have had to tell him where he was, thus giving him a direction).

We both felt it beautifully expressed how being blinkered can lead you astray. I was really interested in Bahman’s experience of the gallery while blinded. He said there were many features he hadn’t noticed until he bumped into them (literally), such as the windows, the posters on the walls and the second TV. He said especially those things that were behind him when he was sitting at the table (even though he would have seen them when entering the gallery) such as the door to the storeroom, were a complete surprise when he ‘discovered’ them during the exercise.

I would like to thank Bahman for his time, efforts and honesty in the workshop, and for the wonderful ideas he brought to the project.

On Saturday morning I conducted the last workshop at Top Shelf, with Ari and Travis. During our rich and lengthy conversation, we discussed the perception of borders, how we perceive otherness, attitudes towards children and infancy, humanism and many other topics! We finally agreed on the message: “We are all born, and we all die, as humans. P.S. Be excellent to each other.” We felt this emphasized how we all all human, and whatever divisions may lie between us, we are all born, and we will all die, and we are all just humans, none being superior to another. The postscript we felt was necessary to carry the message of treating each other with the respect, tolerance and generosity that we would like.

Thinking about what we all need as humans, we liked the idea of creating some kind of shelter or haven that anyone could find and understand. We decided that what was needed was like a little cubby or fort made for one, with a place to sit comfortably, privacy, some water and some food (chocolate of course). We also wanted to include a mirror, to remind the inhabitant that they are a human, however the little shop next door, where I have been able to buy all manner of miscellany, was unexpectedly closed, which meant we did without the mirror.

We constructed our fort out of chairs, fishing line, hooks, gaffer tape and a plastic orange drop-sheet (which had previously featured in the video from “what could you do without?”). We then assembled a little refuge inside with a rug, a beanbag, a pitcher of water, cups, and a plate filled with Freddos. Needing to test it for quality of course, we each took a turn inside our shelter and ate a Freddo while reflecting on humanity.

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CA9A9703CA9A9689I would like to thank Ari and Travis for their contributions to the project, and for the wonderful installation we made together.

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Saturday’s workshop – meaningful gibberish

Saturday afternoon I had the good luck to meet Gabrielle in a one-on-one workshop.
In our discussion, Gabrielle brought up the idea of honest and open communication, a topic that I am (clearly) quite passionate about, and her message of “honest question, honest answer” really resonated with me. In particular, it reminded me of the fantastic book Lying by Sam Harris, which I’d read a few months ago. Harris makes the argument that there is no justifiable lie, and that to be honest improves relationships, and demonstrates respect for everyone involved. This sounds pretty obvious, but how many people could honestly say they haven’t told a single lie in the past seven days? Harris uses some beautiful examples to demonstrate, and the short book (readable in two hours) is definitely a recommended read for anyone with an interest in ethics or psychology.
I really appreciate the message “honest question, honest answer” because it also puts emphasis on the person asking the question, and highlights the fact that honesty is not one-sided. It certainly reminds me to be more transparent in the question you’re phrasing; as in are you really open to an honest response, or do you want a validation of something you’re not saying?
To express this message, we both liked the idea of using voice somehow, and the importance of question and answer. As neither Gabrielle nor I liked the idea of singing, it left only sounds. So we decided then that we would create a conversation out of sounds. Take a listen to our dialogue below.


I am delighted by how effectively the nonsense-sounds demonstrate questions and answers, and how the pauses are filled with the earnestness and sincerity of considered speech. The recording makes me think of how an analysand might respond to questions from a psychologist, or a witness to questions from a judge.
It was both rather challenging and a lot of fun to try to speak without using any known language. As you can hear, occasionally French and German prepositions slipped in, even though we tried our best to avoid sounds or words which we knew. It is charming how pieces of sound get thrown back and forth, used like words and elaborated into new phrases as we went along.

In later consideration, I wondered whether this work had contradicted the principle of communicating without using language. My test of this though, has usually been: “would someone who understands no English be able to understand the work just as well as someone who does?”. The result in this case is yes, that both the English and non-English speaker would be equally baffled by the recording. What the recording does capture is the parts of speech that aren’t language; intonation, speed, pauses, emphasis and in particular, the elevation of voice to indicate questioning.

I wish to thank Gabrielle for the abundance of wit, honesty and intelligence she brought to the project.

There are still plenty of spaces available in the workshops this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, so book now if you want to get involved.

The project ends its residency at Top Shelf on Saturday, so to celebrate we’re opening the gallery to all comers, with an open workshop at 11am, an artist talk at 2pm and drinks from 3pm. Come and join the party! More information about the event is up on Facebook, so head over there to register your attendance and grab the details. See you all soon!

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A string installation – Friday morning workshop

This morning it was a pleasure to have Nicky in to do a workshop. We’ve worked on projects together in the past, such as Gertrude Street Projection Festival and Melbourne Fringe, and we first met when Projector Obscura (of which Nicky is a member) was installing work at Harvest Festival in 2011, while I was setting up giant kaleidoscopes.

Our discussion this morning touched on many points, however the message that emerged was “stop what you’re doing”. This seemed to tie together mutliple points from our discussion, such as the necessity to simply sit and reflect, as well as the need to be still and listen to what’s going on around you.

To convey our message, the first idea that presented itself was of a kind of string, that comes to a stop, and is faced with something entirely different. Thinking literally, we located some white thread, and weighted it with a metal pin, then suspended the thread from the ceiling over a small pool of water, contained by a reflective plate. As we arranged the thread, we started talking about it as if it represented a line of thought. Wanting to emphasise the meandering and indirect nature of thinking and consciousness, we attached the thread to points across the ceiling, making it curl, double back and get tangled as it moved along its path. Take a look at some documentation, below:

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I like how the string is reflected on the surface of the plate, implying the reflection that occurs when you stop and take some time to just think. We both appreciated how the water is almost invisible, and how close the pin comes to the surface. It reminded both of us of a pendulum, and in particular of Foucault’s pendulum, an example of which I saw in Kassel last August. Looking upon it later I noticed that it gives a fine kind of pleasure to see such a straight line, especially where it comes to such a perfectly defined stop.

The installation also seems to allude to other concepts that came up during our discussion, such as the necessity to confront differences, and of confronting oneself with new experiences. I feel that the relationship between the string and the water brings up a lot of different ideas; serving as a very versatile metaphor, especially for difference.

I would like to thank Nicky for her time, and for sharing her thoughts with me.

Workshops are on tomorrow, and more next week. Book now to secure your place, and your freddo!

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A rainy afternoon, a beautiful drawing.

I had a wonderful encounter on this wet Melbourne afternoon with Hatice, who came to the 2pm workshop at Top Shelf. She seemed very quiet to begin with, however during our discussion she burst forth with many ideas and anecdotes from her experience. An idea that cropped up repeatedly in our conversation was the idea of limits or boundaries being broken open, whether they be national borders, or emotional/psychological barriers. We also talked about how people can be resistant to change, regardless of whether it is something that would benefit them, simply because it is different. From these and other concepts, we agreed on the message “open yourself to change”.
Expressing this, we at first thought about the idea of a human figure, somehow being opened up, however we acknowledged that the image of the human body is somewhat over-represented within the commercial sphere, and has become a bit too much of a symbol.
Thinking about change, another image that emerged was that of a cocoon. The cocoon very succinctly expressed the necessity of change, and the idea of opening, or breaking out of something.
Hatice was happy to draw, so we decided to simply draw a cocoon, using pencils on paper. Have a look at the result, below.

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Working together, it was clear that Hatice is a talented artist in her own right, which was later confirmed when she showed me some images of her paintings. I enjoyed working together on a drawing, and found myself becoming very conscious of where my hands were, so that we could both work productively.

I like the allusion the cocoon makes to bursting through a kind of boundary; of a physical barrier that by its function is inherently there to be broken.

I really appreciated the experience of working so intimately together on a shared piece, and I would like to thank Hatice for her time and honesty, and her amazing talent, shared in the workshop.

There are more workshops available on Friday and Saturday, and next week too, so book now if you wish to take part.

For those who have already been a participant, or simply those interested in seeing the outcomes of the workshops, we will be throwing open the doors on Saturday 31st August for an open studio – closing party. There will be an artist talk at 2.30pm, and drinks available from 3pm. I hope everyone who did a workshop will be able to make it back, to see all of the amazing works that have been made!

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Saturday’s workshop, and a fantastic video.

On Saturday I was lucky enough to have four people, Gen, Louis Jess and Amanda, for the workshop in the afternoon. Although a comparatively quiet group, the ideas which emerged from our discussion were diverse and complex. After no small amount of consideration, we settled on the message “what could you do without?”.

In our conversation, an idea that had kept coming up was of shedding the unnecessary, whether they be material, conceptual, or emotional possessions. We also talked at length of how we all knew someone whose room (or even house) so cluttered or messy that just to look at it would tell you there many things they could do without. We wanted to capture this self-evident quality, to make something whose overall needless-ness was obvious from a glance, and then to shed to retract the layers until it revealed only the kernel.
Hoping to express the possible conceptual, psychological and emotional things that could be disowned, we decided on a core of people at the centre of our mess.

So the next step was clearly to make a mess! While putting it together, we attached strings to each object and arranged them so that we could pull them away with ease (and so it wouldn’t come crashing down on top of the people hiding in the middle).
With everything in place, and Gen, Louis and Jesse seated comfortably at the centre, we turned the camera on, and Amanda and I commenced on pulling it apart piece by piece.
Take a look at the resulting video, below.

On watching it back, we all felt it captured well the sense of superfluity; the redundancy of the many objects piled up. Also the use of people at the core gently implied the alternative messages that had been suggested in our discussion – of people being people, and a need to be better, and kinder, as humans.

What we had anticipated as the simplicity of objects being pulled away from off-screen, turned out to be hilarious as the chairs, broom and other inanimate times suddenly seemed, one by one, to be magnetically repelled by the core, and to slide, be dragged, or trail away. It also created a delightful suspense as we tried to work out what went next.

I would like to thank Gen, Jess, Louis and Amanda for taking part, and for making such a fantastic video work. It was a considerable amount of fun, and to watch the video again results in laughter each time.

And the workshops continue! There are places open in the Thursday, Friday and Saturday sessions, so make a booking now. And if you have a friend or two who are free, bring them along too!

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A spectacular Thursday of workshops

Thursday morning I was lucky enough to have Ronald and Kimberley in to do the workshop. Although our ideas were diverse and we saw things from different religious and ideological perspectives, we shared similar focal points. From different angles, we each believed that it is important to be and do the best you can, and to be aware of your actions and what the consequences of those actions are. To frame this into a shared message, we agreed on the following – “be the best person you can be”.

Although we did want to somehow demonstrate this sentiment through action, it seemed either too difficult or contrived to go out onto the street and try to help or do a service to people without being being asked to do so (namely, we feared our good intentions to help an old lady across the street might result in being charged with assault). We did however want to use ourselves to communicate the message, so we settled on the idea of forming a human pyramid. This conveyed both being the best, through physically  rising above, and also helping others, through the base of the pyramid. Take a look at the video below.

It was great to perform it ourselves, as I think it communicates well the aspect of both being and humanity that is at the core of the message.

Even though Kimberley was at first hesitant to be at the top, when we filmed the message she seemed to gain confidence, and after a quick  rehearsal she scaled to the point of the pyramid with ease.

Importantly, it also expresses how being the best you can be is sometimes about helping others, or accepting help, and that major achievements rarely result from the efforts of a single person.

Many thanks to both Ronald and Kimberley for participating, and bringing such honesty and enthusiasm to the project.

In the afternoon I had the unexpected pleasure of Alex, a walk-in who had seen the poster on the A-frame sign out the front of the shop, and decided to give it a go. Our lengthy, erratic, and intensely fruitful discussion ranged from perceptions of foreign cultures, to education, philosophy, drugs, the human mind, and what it means to understand others. However we eventually settled on the message “stop, look and listen; think for yourself”.

We were a bit stuck at how to express this message, and eventually agreed to the idea of generating something that would force the viewer to undertake our directive. From this, we went out to the street to film our piece. I recorded video of Alex talking to the camera surrounded by moving traffic, and then we recorded the sounds of the traffic alone, and put them together back in the gallery. The result is a video where the man on screen is talking, however all you can hear is traffic, forcing you to listen closer to try to work out what it is he’s saying so earnestly. Have a look at the video, below.

I really like how the traffic moving past mimics the movement of thoughts and words, and I myself find that in watching the video, I think I’m hearing words, even though I know they’re absent, and also start to perceive car horns and tram noises as sounds coming from his mouth, which is quite bizarre.

We agreed that it effectively forces the viewer to “stop, look and listen” and without words there to hear, it indeed encourages them to “think for yourself”.

For the Thursday evening workshop I had a another one-on-one, this time with Liam. We dived head-long into the workshop, and from our respective suggestions of “slow down” (Liam) and “cycle” (me) we created the wonderful hybrid “ride slow”. We both appreciated how chilled the message was, and its effect as a command not just to ride, slowly, but also as encouragement to take note of your surrounds, to relax, to calm down.

It was pretty clear how we should execute the message. While we bounced around a few other ideas as well, both of us agreed we needed to get a bike and take it for a slow ride around the gallery. What resulted is the most comic work I’ve seen in the project so far. I had to stop recording at the end because I was unable to hold in the laughter any longer. Watch it for yourself below.

For a simple message, the video expresses both the content and the sentiment of “ride slow”, and added a brilliant layer of hilarity. I did not expect how funny the performance of riding a bike around the gallery would be; it made us both double over when watching it back afterwards. Liam was a delight to work with, for both his character and for his abundant talents in dance and choreography.

A big thank you to Liam, Alex, Ronald and Kimberley for sharing their time, thoughts and honesty, and for making such amazing artworks.

And now I’m getting keen for more workshops tomorrow. I wonder what they will result in? Stay posted.

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