It’s been a long time since I blogged on this site and a lot has happened in-between!.  Through A Wall is the main project I will be writing on, as well as all the stuff around it showing both what gets in and what opens the way to materialising what feels like an unwieldy basis for a work.

Right now, I’m resident artist at Blast Theory til the end of April so I am privileged to have some time and space – and expert support and context  – in finding my way through and forging a piece of digital narrative interaction (yes that sounds vague, it will become clearer as I work..)  to take through to the next stage of the project as both a point of dialogue and and a clear entry point into the later, main body of the work. Something we can use and play with /test out as we begin a series of  low – key workshops with groups later in the Spring.



I used to blog a lot, blogging was a vital and prolific part of my creative process, as a channel for communicating and reflecting on the ideas and processes that were creating my public work, and began on this site in 2009 with The shape of things : The Gifts

I am seeing – as I wonder why I don’t blog as much as I used to, or feel the need /find the time to –  that it has been a very gradual but concrete way into using longer form writing within my work itself  (I had previously  used only poetry and short form writing ). So now I spend a lot more time shaping work through narratives by:  listening, recording , writing, editing texts authored by myself or strangers I interact with. So the act of blogging (and the responses to what I have written over the years)  has transformed my work and the direction it faces (outward) and brought me a lot more confidence in  crafting pieces of writing for publication or performance (which I wasn’t doing when I began blogging). So thanks AN for being instrumental in that… :)

So, to this project, this Research and Development (due to end witin the next few weeks) has, over the last month or so, clearly turned into three projects! All of them inter-related on some level and based on writing – based, narrative forms. One is a collaborative audio piece (The Fourth Wall) one a solo performance and publication project and the other a future narrative based digital work (I will talk about these in the next post or a new blog entirely as the titles are all different )

The first one, The Fourth Wall ( taken from the theatre term denoting the conceptual /invisible barrier between audience and actors but into stretched here into other realms ) is most clearly linked to the original aims of this R+D,  to explore listening as a public medium and use it to develop work about conflict, belief, belonging and the sharp end of ‘otherness’. It will be finished next week and launched within the main community we have been working on the pilot with in  Mile End, London (The Mile End Community Project).

I spent most of the last week transcribing 10,000 words spoken by around 20 different people within the  – predominantly Muslim – community as we sat them down in pairs to respond to questions around people/places/times of safety, belonging, and conflict, to listen to each other and to re-tell (and record) each other’s story using the first person, so mirroring that story as if they were them.  So stepping into their shoes and facing a future audience. This both created a different kind of listening, ensured anonymity around some sensitive subjects and gave them an experience of removal from their original story. Hearing the narrative of a 59 year old man voiced by a young man or the narrative of Bengali woman voiced by a British white woman also creates a different kind of listening for the audience. I am not going to go into much detail here or give too much away as It will be on Soundcloud next Thursday (after a  live launch event )  and I will post a link to it and leave it to you to see how it comes across outside of the context of the time and place.

Nurul and Assan, who run MECP, are at the heart of really inspiring on-going initiative there, in the ‘Capital of Tower Hamlets’  – using mainly film –  to question stereotypes and work on cohesion and conflict resolution within that community. They seem to be known and trusted by people across all sectors of the community and I always felt like I was in safe and sensitive hands, with creative input and themselves also as storytellers. They set up sessions with the men after mosque, took me to meet  women in playgrounds and in their cars ( as the babies slept, a really effective space for a recording booth I realise ..) we  sat in parks, on walls and in a  kebab shop and took atmos recordings in all the spaces they were referring to in their stories.

We made most of these recordings on the day of, and then the day after the EU referendum. It wasn’t deliberate timing, it had been scheduled way back as they was the days that worked. A number of stories around historical racism, mainly from the eighties, when they had first arrived in this community, quickly emerged, recalled as if they were the “bad old days” and it was just the norm , to expect to be attacked when you walked out of your front door. Back then.  These stories were always qualified with how much better it was now, how over time – and often after  drawing clear boundaries or  the intervention of elders into the situation –  those neighbours who had called them Paki, or thrown insults or tried to exclude their kids,  were now  their “street friends”, their kids had done a lot of the work and  become friends, in some cases the mothers  sent food to their houses and saw them now as true neighbours and felt at home in once alienated environments.

In the piece I have been editing there is a reference to a road rage incident  where the guy was being told to ‘ just wait a few weeks and we’ll be sending you home once the EU result is out, but even when I heard that I wanted to dismiss it as a-typical, I wanted to deny that this sentiment might become widespread. Even when the kebab shop owner, who witnesses conflicts every day from his window, talked about the fights between gangs across in the park, he declared they were not through racism but because of multi -ethnic gangs – I think he must have  meant not white –on – Black / Asian racial lines.

I was gutted when only the day after the referendum (which was already a shock) –  and since, the kind of racist (white –on –Asian/ Black/ Eastern European/anyone really) incidents that were spoken of as a thing of the past, started being reported in their hundreds in the media and on the ground.

It’s as if a Pandora’s box opened, with so much dark assistance from the Brexit campaign –  and all those anti –austerity, anti – elites narratives just got switched at birth with an anti-migration agenda and created a grotesque new breed of intolerance and fear.

At the same time, listening back to the audio, I’m also reminded of what’s possible, beyond this, what has been possible before and what can be possible again.

MECP’s quiet, ongoing, dedication to cohesion and their consciousness of  the fragility of peace, but the choosing to look across borders and consider the perspectives of those through a wall of fear and intolerance gives me some kind of small hope. It’s also what I need to keep doing with this part of my practice. There are many sectors of communities I have not worked with because, as an artist with migrant heritage (my mother was Iranian), I always gravitate towards that and also our definition of diversity seems to be BME based. However diversity is broader than that.  But I don’t often really talk to or engage with my ‘white’ side (my father is English). That kind of sounds ridiculous , but hopefully you know what I mean. My  Kent and Sussex English Tory or old Labour roots, some of whose views I find confronting /offensive /excluding of who I feel I am, or to try to understand what the human need is beyond a narrative of ‘othering’ , as I can see MECP have done from many of the things they talk about in the piece.  I stay in the comfort zone to some extent. I feel at home in BME settings because I am a mongrel and its fed so much and so richly into the work and life I have made.

So that other kind of enquiry is to come and I have plans for that. But it feels like a mountain has risen up and I need a lot more energy and focus to set off on a path not taken before, with a small but powerful compass and a rather confusing roadmap…


I have been struggling with trying to keep the threads of this project together and moving in one direction – not to mention being able to take the outside eye on everything and blog about it. I was reminded that this is still R+D and work going in a number of directions and having things half- finished or unresolved is part of the process. Up until last year, I was on a constant production rollercoaster for about 7 -8 years so have been adjusting to really occupying the R+D process, which is slower than I had wanted it to be in terms of seeing a way forward, but after a number of dead ends and re-routing  the path is finally clearing.

Already the entire form of the original project changed through being on the residency at Blast Theory this Spring, and now, as I have been engaging in and preparing for workshops, doing a lot of writing for the project and also a number of public events, it is shifting once again.

I have been writing and researching a collection narratives relating to site, loss, memory and displacement – my own  and others and the testing out of the narratives that are forming the ‘starter material’ for a future  live and digital work.

Firstly at an ‘In Conversation at  INIVA with Christine Checinska Shaw last month – podcast here –   and then at a Visual Arts and Philosophy  Salon event with Kings College philosopher Sacha Golob at Fernandez and Wells, Somerset House, podcast here ).

If you listen you will hear a couple of the audio narratives at the start and end I have written, sourced from my own experiences of walls, barriers and borders – which was a general metaphor I have stuck to as a framework because,  it was agreed between us that it seemed to bring cohesion to a project exploring memory, conflict and belief but which, as the project is taking another track,  is now proving limiting (more on why later).

The feed back to me, both at the events and in the one-to-one testing and dialogues I have been having, of reflections ideas and often deeply personal responses to the work – to new audiences – has been a crucial part of this process of trying to find the essence and framing of a new work that will fly and take it with me – and then the public too. There is something powerful, moving and provocative people take away when they listen to these  narratives and are asked to step into someone else’s skin for five minutes.

Also, hearing other  artists and non-artists describe, reflect on and unpick the different elements of my past and present work (ritual, materiality, transformation, social practice) has been invaluable and made me realise I am not just reaching in lots of directions at once and medium –hopping when it suits me (which I sometimes worry about)and that there is a clear reason for the trajectory my work has taken and the themes it seeks to uncover. Sometimes it takes outside perspectives to show you there is continuity in the work,  and a reason to keep unravelling it even when you have no idea where it will end up, and when you start to really question where the hell you are going with it.

I have also been preparing for our main public engagement work in Mile End, London in association with the Mile End Community Project for the end of the month, to do workshops, street work and an audio installation in July responding to issues around identity, conflict and territory. Its low key work to which only the local community will be invited, but which I hope a section of the work recorded will form part of the final online piece for this R+D. Last month we also did a workshop as a trio in Slough with  young people. It used the theoretical theme of the project as a starting point and we tried out both our own narratives and ways of listening and retelling narratives but on reflection the lack of site specificity and not knowing the group well or having developed longer relationships with them over time  highlighted for me the problematics of ‘drop in’ engagement on themes that are deep and often dark. I realised that longer term residencies and cultural connectors / gatekeepers who are on board with the project –  inside out – are crucial for anything really meaningful unless there is a strong conceptual or physical framework in place, as a mediator.

Because quite a lot of the work of the themes I have been working with are about cultural hybridity, displacement and belonging, I have been in conversation with people who have first-hand experiences of refuge and conflict, of which I only have second –hand personal experience, as someone both in the UK, though with a migrant mother and having family and my own childhood affected by the fallout of the Iranian Revolution (contained in some of my stories).

I have become aware, especially through one of the interviews I did with a young man who recently arrived here from Syria whom I met through the Welcome Refugees – that I have to tread very carefully when engaging with people with first hand experiences of trauma, displacement and conflict –driven violence. I am not a trauma counsellor or social therapist and it feels unethical to go seeking stories from people, unmediated, who do not have the distance or are still reliving experiences which fill and often disable so much of their daily interactions and attempts to land here. There needs to be something between myself and them that serves as a bridge and I don’t have it yet. The Book of Debts performed this function, it was a third space through which a connection could be made.

The best people to narrate their experiences are refugee artists themselves, and this is exactly what I found on Saturday when  I went to LIFT Festival’s On The Move at the Royal Court Theatre –  a brilliant day of new works – new audio, installations, live and film works – responding to the refugee crisis and mainly authored by artists with experience of refuge and asylum.

I sat in Limbo of the White Sea, a moving ‘miniature museum of migrations’ by Lebanese artist Maya Zbib, among it I found stories printed on fabrics draped over makeshift dorm beds, music from her Lebanese childhood and a pack of cards filled with quotes and handwritten invitations to question a stranger with, on memory, displacement and refuge.

I watched Haunted, a paired down and skilfully intercut series of interviews with three sets of people in Syria/Lebanon on the verge of fleeing their homes: packing up, reflecting on what is to come and of what they know they are losing. Some profound reflections and perspectives on how much our identities are bonded to the places we grow in and the reluctance to lose that part of the self that may never be recovered. So much media around refugee stories is of people stripped bare and helpless, and often dehumanised. This gave full context to just what is given up and the fullness of a life then utterly devastated and displaced by violence and also how resilient and surreally good humoured human beings can be, in the face of crises. I remembered stories like these at the time of the earthquakes in Iran and during the Iran – Iraq war.

I went for a binaural audio walk in Another Place, by Doha Hassan and Victoria Lipton mapping out and intercutting sometimes brutally honest experiences of exile and displacement between London, Berlin, Beirut and Damascus and overlaid with a narrative relating to the immediate area, the route leading you ultimately to the deserted Syrian Embassy , via a 30 minute route from the Royal Court Theatre  (see image).

The sense of solitude and the intense, shifting space of cultural liminality struck me, as, appropriately, I walked the streets – alone – in the rain –  listening to the piece. Powerful. You can download and listen on sound cloud here.

But the work which moved me the most, perhaps because it involved touch, was ‘As far as my fingertips take me’ (Tania el Khoury in collaboration with Basel Zaraa). It was advertised as ‘A conversation through a wall between an audience member and a refugee. Sharing stories of people who have recently challenged border discrimination which can be kept or washed away.’ . Which obviously caught my eye because of our project title. But it was a different kind of conversation. You sat behind a wall with headphones on and lyrics of a song about seeking safety over the sea just in front of you. You put your arm through a hole, with your sleeve rolled up. Basel, the artist, took your arm and, as you listened to him introduce the song he has written and then it played, he started to tenderly tattoo your arm and palms with a series of drawings (see image). A line of figures carrying loads and children along the arms, a capsizing boat with tiny people in it in the centre of the palm, and a line running up from the boat up to your fingertips. Then every fingertip, the stamp of identity, blackened.  Maybe it was the feel of him blowing the makers dry or the emotionally moving content of the song and its refrains… ‘we just want what you want ‘ that made me cry. Or the simplicity of the act of connecting through a wall.

At that moment I realized that I have spent almost a year and a half trying to see anew and make fresh the ‘wall’ as a centerpiece of this project and what I am coming away with – both in my own and other stories and in all the work I saw that day – is about loss of place, not about division of place. I need to work with loss more overtly because I am gifted at it. Also, because I haven’t been working site specifically, as I have so often done , it has become disembodied and I have experienced great frustration in trying to make the narratives that are emerging ‘fit the theme’ , the  duality of a structures that divides and separates – and are everywhere! – when what I want to do is rematerialise spaces and structures of all kinds, connected not just to displacement but to losses of other kinds –  that create reconnection.

So when I woke up on Sunday a new idea came – which is a natural progression of all of the R+D but also drops –for me – the burden of the ubiquitous metaphor of the Wall, the border and the barrier – but will definitely include a number of them within it. In fact, the first narrative begins with a wall of my own.

I will write about this new idea next time. It is as if I have finally aligned. I am so relieved to have found a fresh way forward.

But on the note of loss, I’ll mourn the further loss of  family, friends and safety LGBTQ communities are feeling in the USA and beyond right now :(






“Work. Keep digging your well.

Don’t think about getting off from work

Water is in there somewhere

Submit to a daily practice

Your loyalty to that

Is a ring on the door

Keep knocking and the joy inside

Will eventually open a window

And look out to see who’s there

From The Sunrise Ruby  – Jalaluddin Rumi

Sometimes you have to dig deep to find the water. For many years  I have made work which has been been sparked by my own personal narratives  – as a starting platform for a dialogue and a bridge for the public to bring in their own narratives into the work, sometimes anonymously, through objects or texts and latterly, by performing them with me.

I hadn’t taken this approach to this project as from the start there have been a lot of other, often contrasting voices in and around the project. I had tried to find other, less subjectively-based ways of creating a framework for an interactive piece about encounters with walls, borders or  barriers in relation to conflict, place, identity and collective memory. Initially it began as an idea for a textile installation, with elements of performance and digital input.

A lot has happened and shifted, both in conversation with my collaborators on past research and our upcoming workshops as well as considerations of the agendas and views of  interested partners -and of course funders – but somehow it got more and more complicated. I needed clarity and  simplicity but couldn’t find it. So this was a good moment for a residency at Blast Theory  (especially as this one, though I don’t live far away, came with a room, so I could individuate from my family – at least for chunks  – during the stay and wake up writing rather than preparing for the school run)

Having the space, rigorous and effervescent mentoring from Matt Adams –  and opportunity to see and learn how Blast Theory keeps it fresh, productive and manages the immense amount of moving parts required to create work that is always pushing boundaries gave me a sense of need to focus right down. To seek simplicity and find what excites me, what creates momentum to get this project off the ground as the lead artist  and what is a natural progression for my own practice, the place where I can best use what I am good at? Where am I in all this? Also, being in such a welcoming context here in Portslade where there is a genuine desire to help me succeed at what I  came to do and a reflecting back of the qualities of my previous work when I  started to doubt my current direction, has been a real gift.

I’m always interested in taking a multi-dimensional view of any subject – in this case, how a wall / barrier can be both physical, psychological, emotional and mental. I did this with my last major project Burning the Books, so stories about financial global injustice were recited in performances alongside stories of personal, financial but also ’emotional’ debts perceived to be owed to family members. This happened because when I started talking about debt to people they talked back about so much more than finance. So this gave me the permission and scope to paint a fuller, deeply human picture of how debt as a construct affects the way we perceive and relate to ourselves , others and society. So I came to realise that I am in fact following on from this approach and developing it and that – in the way the narrating and deconstruction  of my own story of debt was the trigger for the content of the project across so many locations, the starter feed for this stage of this project needs once again to be located in my own subjectivity, my own stories my narrative voice. So I am step one.

One of the most striking aspects of touring the Book of Debts (the first time I had ever toured) was the very different narrative space of each book in response to site and how audiences sat and listened to my / our performing of them in such a broad range of contexts, from war museum to club night to town square but with equal focus … and the prism through which they re-evaluated their own view of what debt is and questioned its power and, in some cases, its legitimacy.

I want to create this kind of collective listening and questioning  again, but in any location and not necessarily collectively  – from alone at night in bed, in transit anywhere in the world, to inside an installation to perhaps co-performing the narratives in public contexts. So using a App as the core platform makes total sense and gives it space to grow, as the Book of Debts did. By the tour we had filled the book with over 1000 stories.

Also, as I have learned here, apps can be buried in almost anything and thanks to blast theory I now know more what it takes to make one and why it’s important to take it step by tiny step, testing the narrative carefully as you go.

I’ve been reworking the summary of the project as its what we need to communicate to future hosts and contributors what we are doing. I  think I am probably on my 20th iteration of the project description over the last year,  but it feels much closer now.

So…this project is:  An App which immerses you in a vivid set of interactive audio stories ; human encounters with walls, borders, the invisible barriers between people and those within the human self. And, more importantly, with what lies beyond them.

Be a stranger in transit on a bench at Tehran airport, or at a kitchen table in Belfast. Hear tales of fear overcome in the dead of night, acts of conflict transformation between former perpetrators and victims – or imagined reunions with estranged siblings.

An intimate, provocative and poetic lens on how the human desire to overcome barriers is often stronger than the power to uphold them – and the tension between these. You are also invited to contribute your own narrative in response to what you hear, as the project grows globally.

(The App will eventually form the basis of a touring installation and programme of dialogue and debate).

It took me weeks to see as legitimate and get down to writing my own personal experiences relevant to the project; the impeded crossing of a border in Iran in 1998, facing a wall of silence with an estranged family member, and a recurring dream of a wall from my childhood – only the first of which I have finished and tested out, the others are in progress and I plan to Finish this week).

Once I had written, recorded  and sent out to 15 people the first narrative – written into the second person to overtly invite the listener to step inside my skin as far as they wanted to – and tested it out, I  got back almost unanimous positive responses, with some constructive comments on the balance between how much controlled interactivity (through pauses and questions and positioning of the listener) enhances or obstructs the flow of the narrative and a whole list of similar stories from the listeners which were triggered by the narrative. I am making adjustments and there will be a second round of testing.

Also, when I explained how the work would be presented, the test group understood what I was talking about pretty quickly, which wasn’t the case a few months ago. I have been reassured by many conversations here  – and with other artists – that this process of working with the unknown and just how long it can actually take to articulate what you are trying to do to others (or even to yourself ) as you, as Matt puts it, are  ‘trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat” – is the mark of an interesting project. And that feeling like you don’t know what you are doing in the development stage is a necessary element in creating something new, rather than repeating yourself. I had forgotten that this time around, I should tattoo it on my arm.

Over the  last fortnight as I worked my narrative and tested it out,  I felt the electric current of something heading in the right direction. I have also asked Craig and Maria, who will be collaborating on the workshops, to write one of their own and have a shortlist of specific people to approach who I have met through this project over the last year or who have participated in the tests, to see if they will be interviewed for –  or willing to write or co-write –  one of the initial set of starter narratives to have for the prototype by the end of this R +D period. These are carefully chosen to reflect the different levels of narratives to which participants in the workshops and beyond might respond and echo back their own stories. I won’t say much more because I don’t want to spoil the surprise of the contrasting content of some of these stories, but I am excited at having found the form, more specific content and a new set of processes for moving it all on and taking my work across another border into the unknown!

Thank you Blast Theory. And Happy 25th Birthday.

By the way, I’ll be in conversation about this and my other related work at INIVA in London on May 19th, details here.


As part of my research I have been exploring at a number of interactive projects online that deal with place and identity in some way, create intimacy with the viewer and could be reference points.

I found a few through  The Creators Project  which led me to one of my favourite producer sites, the Canadian Film Board Interactive:  Pinepoint, a beautifully crafted and resonant interactive documentary on a mining town that was created then erased from memory, using personal character portraits and reflections on place, memory, identity and change. This then led to a deeply intimate and disturbing one called A Call from Herman, based on phone calls with the Black Panther prisoner Herman Wallace who has lived in inhuman solitary confinement for 40 years, where an artist has created a vision of a house to live in for him which he will never occupy. And from that a high end production with Arte called In Limbo which enmeshes. your own live, data into interweaving of narratives, interviews and poetic reflections on digital memory and the Internet as global brain.

I also was searching for projects which bridged online and real structures, involving lots of people,  and discovered that David Best’s resonant and. beautiful  Temple project in Derry was given digital life via a Space commission in the form of a minecraft version built with teams of school children, – Temple Craft – and virtually burned online. This is kind of the reverse of what I did with Burning the Books and I loved the co-opting of my son’s favourite game to create something meaningful and radically jubilant!

Matt also pointed me to an early Blast Theory project Single Story Building, where you are given menu options via a phone call to explore the pre – created private spaces of 100 people. This involved around 2000 branching options for a journey! Then to something simpler in structure Dreams of Your Life, (no longer online but on Vimeo here) the interactive project attached to a documentary Dreams of a Life, about a woman Joyce Vincent – who had friends and family – and whose body was found in her flat three years after she died, totally intact in front of the TV, still on, and no-one had noticed. Deeply moving and incredible story which I had never heard of. By showing me this Matt was underlining the economy of this project as a really simple (the keyword which I had lost sight of..) but powerful, poetic interface and  involving the viewer in a set of profound questions on the nature of their relationships and existence.

I alss made an appointment with the Journal of Insomnia, a website that doubles as a confessional as it invites you to make an appointment to listen to the story of a featured insomniac after 10pm one night and then to a whole fresco of audio, video and drawings and to contribute your own at the end. I looked at this a few years ago while I was researching interfaces for Burning the Books and I love it’s atmosphere.. And the quality of the voice as it lulls you to a sleep that will constantly evade you….

So absorbing all this, last week I trialled a simple guided audio journey (a basic prep test for something more interactive) involving a wall, with 10 people, some in person and some via email.  I asked people to think of someone they hadn’t seen or been in contact with for a long time and later placed a wall in their way.

All the journeys were vivid, moving and brought up the person’s  own very personal unconscious and – in many cases – unresolved relationships. I was taken to fortresses in the desert, walls of roses and thorns and walls that were membranes spanning the universe and met people living and dead…. It was deeply moving, often on both sides. It was very on the therapeutic end of the spectrum though and , listening back to them all and from feedback from Maria and Matt,it worked as a series of dreamscapes, that had a poetic quality and created intimacy with the listener and put them at the centre of the work. However it didn’t  do the work of making connections or creating narratives around with the broader themes of the project – actual and lived experiences of borders, walls and internal barriers and the turning points of reaching  or at least seeing through to the other side, that are going to characterise this work. He reminded me to keep the vision.

So after a mammoth session where Matt threw up all kinds of possible ways forward, we both felt like it had come back to complexity and an impossible task of connecting the personal and the political in a succinct and powerful way. So I went home a bit despairing.

But then, as sleep does, things kind of re arranged themselves in my brain and I listened through the recording of our session and realised there might be a possible path through.

I started writing an account of one of my own experiences involving an episode at Tehran airport, and turned it into an interactive script, with some further input from Matt as I took him through it. I’m going to edit /trial it these next few days…

I only have two weeks left!  I have hardly seen anyone this end of town I had planned to and there is a lot I want to achieve before the end of April – though time is sliced between here and family – but this feels like a concrete direction and I have to say the mentoring , the understanding of what I am trying to get to, and. the reminder to break down the intangible process into tiny, concrete steps is SO what I needed.

It’s hailing outside. And there is a rehearsal for Operation Black Antler going on. I stayed last night and was able to be up early writing. This kind of space is giving me some clarity at last


I was part of the Apps for Artists workshop run by Alex Peckham, the technical lead at Blast Theory, on the second week I was here. It was brilliant, crammed with references, strategies and concrete advice and guidance about taking artistic ideas forward and making them happen in the digital /interactive field, as they have been doing for 26 years now. It was like an uber rich chocolate cake that you can’t quite digest all in one go but you don’t want to miss one bite so you keep eating.  The 20 or so people who were there had brought projects from interactive web documentaries, to mobile-mediated performances to apps that make you sleep. One of Blast Theory’s projects which was talked through and very helpfully dissected was the making of Karen, a disconcerting coaching bot you can download on the App store, try her out, she is full of surprises..

It was inspiring to realise in how many directions /platforms  you can take an idea these days (I worked in the digital industry in the late nineties and so had the contrast of now and then) and how cheaply you can test things out. Blast Theory use a lot of post it notes and paper tests before they even touch the digital, they have a database of people up for testing and they have a rigorous task-based process of development and production, with one lead artist but everyone pitching in and included, from what I can see. There is a feeling of great clarity and focus which I am appreciating being close to, its what I need and sometimes with this project it has felt like it could go in so many directions that it might not find a focus at all.


When I arrived at Blast Theory, my aim was to find some focused time and space to listen in to what the form as well as the focus of the project might be. Last October,  as you can see from this short film made by Kings, it seemed like it was turning into the next stage of a pilot project I co-created in 2005 called The Loom: from text to textile.  This  focusing on an outcome was against advice given in the winter that it is a long term research project and I shouldn’t  even try and imagine what it will end up as…however I find this hard as often the end image of a work informs the way I work the process of making it, so, as it was only the first week I was there, when I came to present my project during the Pecha Kucha session on Day 2 of the workshop, this is what I presented:

‘ Let me speak to you of textile. As symbolic, a site of memory and ritual, a social fabric that evokes the drafting of code as well as the experience of touch and the remote engagement with an unknown other. 2500 years before writing, narratives were woven into cloth and textile functioned as a text. I love how it can be performative, speak deeply of social and political life and connect the long threads between past and future.  From The Jacquard loom to the Babbage machine, the links between textile and digital culture are well documented.

Textiles can also speak of those who are long gone, disappeared,unseen or unheard and draw them into a single frame, a piece of cloth, whether worn, slept on, hung or held. In 2005 we set up a loom that took emotionally rooted data (via a project website) – the names, GPS location of birth and death of two loved one, one living and one dead and wove it, live into a 20 metre cloth over 4 days. the weaving was webcast inside an installation chamber within which people could write on, tie up and read often deeply emotional texts on ribbons  about those who were being woven into the textile.

The textile itself was a beautiful though abstract work, carrying 18 ribbons running its entire length, each linked data submitted by each contributor. It was a pilot project but There wasn’t much  that could be technically done to literally embody texts into the cloth. There is a lot of talk about smart textiles – that can respond to heart rates, body heat and emotional states.what if the textile, instead of transmitting its memories through silent touch, could be an actual space  for a more vocal kind of narrative interaction or dialogue?

What if you could assign to each thread to be woven the disparate elements of self or society  –  the warp and weft –  of a violent conflict or the disconnected and broken relations of a family, community or nation, caused perhaps by migration, prejudice, belief or emotional/economic crises along with any routes learned through to alternative ways of thinking, resolving, transforming,subverting or accepting situations or each other..

So…What if you could put your ear to the textile  and literally hear embedded within it,  the story of each strand contributed by strangers across the world to its DNA ? This might happen remotely or in real proximity to it and this send of distance becomes part of its narrative . What if the textile could listen to you and find what you need to hear in response ? And you could whisper to it, like those who put their mouths to the wailing wall,  and have it find a place in which you can stand in along its length and hear the one, two or more sides of a story you can only right now perceive a small piece of because , well, you are just one, not many.

What would that look like and is it even possible!

(Note: Maybe this textile is not an actual textile, maybe it is a space of performance or a digital space ..)’

In the light of this workshop, and what has happened since, though underlying aims are the same, I have put this focus on a textile output to one side and tried to bring it down to working with the narrative imagination of the audience in the simplest way I can find and then seeing what happens. It may well be a live /digital project that draws inspiration from textile culture thinking  (which I will inevitably talk about and use more as it is central to my practice) or it may end up as something you can touch and exchange, within a textile installation. I had to drop my attachment to what it will end up being as it was getting in the way of moving forward. Then there was a space. Which was a bit scary and disconcerting.

So something became clear after that. I needed to:

Begin the next stage of the development of this project  in the imagination of the individual and their own unconscious and work outward. The idea that came seemed so simple that it almost felt like nothing, but it did quietly excite me. And when I had my first mentoring session with Matt  last week and he came in and read it on my pinboard – or the beginnings of it –  and talked about the possible ways of taking it forward and reminded a doubting me of the  value of distilling ideas down, taking tiny, concrete steps and using a rigorous testing process to take it forward (all qualities of Blast Theory I admire) I felt a kind of relief. And he reminded me that the thrashing around in the dark is all part of the creative process, it is what we do if we are creating something new.

And all this reminded me that what I love with my work most – and what I often fear the most –  is interactivity, and it’s why I am here.To connect with and find new ways for me to bring what I do to this project that we can use later,  in a fresh but clear and focused way. So that’s what I am doing.I have already written a simple script and done talk -throughs on 7 people and with each interaction it gets a little clearer. It’s not the thing  but its moving towards it. But it is tiny steps. More next time.