Revisiting ‘Off the Route’

Tues 19th June – 11.21am

I arrived at the studio with a hearty list of things to do and a sense of impending deadlines (already!). Whenever I start these residencies I find the first few days/weeks (depending on the length of the residency) are rife with my own stress of not utilizing the time and space to its full capacity. Laura Hindmarsh is familiar with this I think – I once woke her up at some ridiculously early hour by talking in my sleep about how we needed to get up now and start working because I was dreaming about wasting time!

During my time at the Firstdraft Depot I proposed to revisit and extend my honours series Off the Route (If you’re not familiar with Firsdraft check them out here). Its quite interesting to have the time to come back to a work you’ve left alone for 6months or so. One thing I’ve found is that I need to get my head back in the space of the artwork – bringing back to the surface the things I was investigating and remembering the reasons behind certain decisions. Now I should add, because I’m talking like the concepts in Off the Route are things I’ve been uninvolved in for some time – this is not the case. The theoretical concerns that underpin Off the Route are in fact concepts I am still very much involved with and interested in. I’ve just been investigating them in different ways. I also don’t think of it as an area that is about reaching a conclusion/solution through process – rather I think of it as an ongoing investigation (hence the ongoing series format).

FYI: this is the description of the series I included in my proposal for Firstdraft:

How, when so much of our daily lives are fast-paced, where our attention is split by a never-ending stream of distraction, do we understand the notion of ‘experience’? How can we locate ourselves in the ‘now’? What would happen if you gathered a group of people in a space and asked them to perform one simple task, repeatedly and simultaneously for an hour? These were the motivating questions for the Off the Route, a series I began in mid 2011 – a durational live encounter that invites visitors to participate in experimental performative workshops. On arrival to the designated space, participants are assigned one of three tasks: to speak – to read aloud a given quote repeatedly; to type – to record on a typewriter everything they hear; to observe – to watch and listen, taking in the event as it unfolds. All three tasks are to be carried out for fifty-five minutes, at which point everyone ceases and holds silence and stillness.

 Influenced by Fluxus, performance and conceptual art and theoretical concerns of the live event and documentation, Off The Route is a series that attempts to interrogate notions of ‘experience’, ‘authenticity’, and ‘(re)mediation’. While Off the Route is based primarily around live performative workshops, the documentation (audio, video, hand-typed paper documents) are vital components to the series. Thus it is a series primed for multiplicity setting out to deliberately blur the distinction between the live and the recorded. Each individual experience (whether encountered live or through various forms of documentation) constitutes the artwork – there is no criterion for the ‘truth’ in experience, no one location where the artwork resides.

Since coming back to Off the Route I’ve been musing over the texts that were the starting point for series. The quotes given to participants to perform were sourced from a variety of written texts and range from Tim Etchells to Nicolas Bourriaud to Edward Siad and on to statistics from the 2006 Australia Census. Off the Route was somewhat of a sharp turn in my practice, which until that point was focused mainly on installation, and conceptually was engaged with the investigating the contemporary manifestations of multi-culturalism (post-colonial theory) to speak broadly.

The texts I selected at the time were a way to bridge this new interest with the relationship between the ‘live’ and the ‘recorded’ with my interest of post-colonial theory. Looking back on it… I’m not sure its relevant. If it is, should the post-colonial element of the series be highlighted more (although I’m not sure what this would entail)? As I do feel like I have overlooked it through the emphasis placed on the ‘live’ (thus maybe making no longer relevant to this particular series). There is also the idea that these texts are too dense a starting point…

The alternative is to begin afresh with a new set of texts. But what would I choose? And why? And then I come back to this same old problem of ‘authenticity’ and being ‘true’ to the series – if I change an element (no matter how big or small) now would this cease to be Off The Route and become the beginning of another body of work? (Is this even a problem?).

What I decided to do, as a way of working through this problem and to move away from asking a string of questions, was a practical experiment. I decided to take every document from the Off the Route series and read them aloud, one-after-another, recording the process. Afterwards I would consider whether keeping the texts was a good idea or to discard them in favour of ones that seemed more relevant. I thought I might even decide that the starting point was perhaps irrelevant in a series that aims to have multiple beginnings and endings and where the process is more important than the final outcome.

Tues 19th June – 2:52pm

I only got halfway with my experiment (which but this stage was an hour worth of talking). A few thoughts from the process:

  1. the text I initially started with probably aren’t relevant anymore – but the text that I would be working from is far removed from the initial texts anyway – so it probably doesn’t matter what the initial text was. However I thought it would be interesting to ask the participants for my first performative workshop at the FD depot to bring along their own texts. These could be anything from theoretical texts, to scripts, to txt msgs. In this situation I would be setting the controls but the content would be a subjective mapping of the participants interests. This appeals to me as it mimics the subjectivity of the typed documents (which is the participant trying to locate themselves within the present and simultaneously record this)
  2. I also thought it would be helpful to get a core group of people on board for the duration of this instalment. To date I am the only participant that has performed all the tasks as well as participating in all the workshops. My understanding and reflections on the performative workshops are influenced by a layering of memory and this is something I would like to explore further with other people.
  3. My final conclusion is that the text isn’t actually that important – the process of performing and recording the text is. Actually I think the main point was to see if the text would become familiar and then de-familiar through serial repetition. Is this a way for us to locate ourselves in the now?

The other thing that I discovered today was a time lapse app for my phone – hello video documentation! In fact I made a little video of me writing this post. I don’t actually think the quality will be high enough to use to document the performative workshops but I though I’d try it out. You can watch the video here.


2 thoughts on “Revisiting ‘Off the Route’

  1. Lucas

    hi boni

    have you listened to cage’s “lecture on nothing”? you can find it on the downloads around and about. some pretty interesting looping goes on in there, especially when he starts talking about how “we have now reached the fourth large part of this lecture” etc.

    another thought – what about working with your own texts? texts are easy to generate, you don’t necessarily have to “find” them.

    perhaps as you are the most knowledgeable participant in your own work, you are now in a position to actually compose a text which you think might interact in interesting ways with your iterative process?

    i recommend you get in touch also with ruark lewis, who is a master at composing texts and then performing them verbally in ways which bring the text to life. i’ll send you his contact.

    1. bonicairncross Post author

      Hi Lucas,
      I had a look around for Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing”. I found a few snippets on youtube which gave me a sense of how the lecture sounds when performed – but I realised that I had a full copy printed in my Silence book! So I had a good read, attempting to read it like it would be spoken. I quite liked the repetitiveness of the section you mentioned. Which did lead to me thinking about generating my own text (there is a post coming about this!). Thanks.


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