> How do instructions tell stories, or utilise storytelling?
> How do products and services we interact with everyday involve us in their story?
> What are the processes of making, assembling?
> What is the relationship between a script or score and its performance, a drawing and a building?
> What effect do instructions have as rules or restrictions?
> Who conceives, makes, uses the work?
This special extended edition of Soanyway, 'Instruction: Storytelling in Art and Design', looks at the interconnections of art and design through ideas of storytelling and instruction, exploring systems of making and engaging.
In Design as Art (1966), Bruno Munari wrote of the need for art to be dynamic, communicative and engaging, and contemplates his metamorphosis from artist to designer. He states in his first chapter that the "designer of today re-establishes the long-lost contact between art and the public, between living people and art as a living thing." Rather than looking at a metamorphosis in this manner, this issue of Soanyway opens a conversation between various methods and ways of thinking, making and engaging; the relationship between creator, maker, audience. Munari concludes the chapter, "When the objects we use every day and the surroundings we live in have become in themselves a work of art, then we shall be able to say that we have achieved a balanced life." This is a useful image, because it might imply a shift in thinking, rather than necessarily in practice. Contributions to this issue consider everyday movements and objects and the various ways in which these are translated in art and design.
Conceptual Art, emerging in the 1960s, frequently uses forms of instruction, as part of the work and for the making or installation of the work, including works associated with the Fluxus movement. Yoko Ono's artist book Grapefruit (1964) includes over 150 instruction works divided into five sections: Music, Painting, Event, Poetry and Object. These works are 'Event Scores' which involve various actions and objects from everyday life translated into performance. As part of the Oulipo group, established in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais to create works using constrained writing techniques, Georges Perec wrote Life: A User's Manual (1978) partly generated by 42 lists, a 10x10 grid, and chess rules. Although the book itself provides no instruction, the title is interesting in bringing together 'life' with 'manuals'. Samuel Beckett's Quad (1981), a work for four players, light and percussion, with diagrams and step-by-step instructions, bears similarity to Sol LeWitt's diagrams for wall drawings, such as Wall Drawing #49 (1970). These works referenced above place an emphasis on the process of the work, and like a script or score, these will vary depending on the performer.
On the design side, instructions and manuals, plans and diagrams are perhaps perceived as more a matter of course than those utilised in the arts. This issue of Soanyway converses between art and design, exploring the potential for diverse mediums and disciplines, and interactions between them, to involve people in their thinking and making, involving them in their story. It includes the regular two features documenting recent exhibitions, events or launches: the exhibition Storytelling with Objects (December 2022, Japan) organised by Natsumi Tabusa, and the presentation of Stork and XYZ (December 2022, UK), two furniture concepts created by George L. Legendre of IJP Architects. There are three additional contributions in this special issue to initiate the conversation: an essay on a unique phone manual by the design and invention studio Special Projects; an essay on the poetics of furniture in the work of furniture designer and maker John Makepeace; and a work by Bruce McLean made for the exhibition Make-shift, Black Barn, Cockley Cley (2016, UK) which comes in the form of a letter addressed to the curator Jo Melvin as a series of instructions and diagrams, continuing and developing McLean's installations from 1960s using hanging wood and other materials to create plays of light and shadow between interior and exterior spaces. This issue incorporates our third 'Insert' (our first being on the Spoleto Artists' Books Programme and the second on Early Music), this one dedicated to the American industrial designer Douglas Kelley (1928-2021).
Natsumi Tabusa - Storytelling with Objects
The final exhibited objects: the artwork and captions about the stories told by the participants
Storytelling with Objects was a workshop and exhibition organised by experience designer and researcher Natsumi Tabusa at Manariya art gallery, Japan, in December 2022. The workshop used a variety of everyday objects as triggers to elicit stories from 11 participants aged between their 70s to 90s. The aim was to allow stories from people's lives unravel via their individually chosen objects, and resulted in an exhibition of 11 objects and 11 artworks in the gallery which was formerly an acupuncture clinic.
Tabusa describes the concept behind the project: "Home products that support our daily lives are not just there as objects. They also function as mediums that carry stories about them."
Objects typically used in daily life in Japan were prepared as triggers to elicit participants' narratives
11 participants from their 70s to 90s were asked to pick up an object randomly
The workshop used a variety of everyday objects as triggers to elicit the narratives of the 11 participants. They selected an object at random and created an artwork showing their memories related to the object they chose. For example, one chose a bag and presented her happy memory of working at a flower shop.
As a practitioner, Tabusa strives to transform how people look at the objects around them and to reconstruct the relationship between consumers and daily products. She focuses on developing experiences using traditional handicrafts such as pottery, textiles and woodwork. Noting that "local culture is getting lost under globalisation", Tabusa utilises the nature of traditional handicrafts, particularly those that can only be made in the climate of the region where they are produced and are therefore unique to their location of production. These particular objects have had users interact with them for many years, and makers have passed on traditional techniques through the ages. In this way, the object contains the rich potential of holding various stories and offers excellent possibilities as a medium.
Tabusa says she wishes to "continue the social practice at the intersection of design, art and business so that more people can encounter opportunities for 'Storytelling with Objects' in society." By combining creative and strategical approaches to open up the relationship between artworks, products, consumers, nature and society, this workshop and exhibition explored how storytelling as a social practice creates an interaction between fields of thought, individual and collective memory, the purpose and function of objects as mediums and how people enjoy them as part of daily life.
Participants created artworks showing their memories relating to the object they chose
Participants created artworks showing their memories relating to the object they chose
Participants presented their memory in front of their artwork showing the objects
Participants created artworks showing their memories relating to the object they chose
Images courtesy Natsumi Tabusa.
IJP Architects - Stork and XYZ
In December 2022, London-based IJP Architects presented two furniture concepts derived from mathematical equations. These two concepts, Stork and XYZ, have been created by Design Principle at IJP Architects, George L. Legendre, and are based on his concept, 'Form Haiku'. Taking inspiration from the structures of the Japanese poetic form, these furniture concepts are written with three lines of mathematical notation describing the essence of the design. The formulas Legendre has used in these furniture concepts are 'periodic', repetitive, design expressions. The emphasis on this origin indicates that the creative process behind these pieces are as important as the final objects.
IJP Architects: Stork and XYZ. Photo credit: Aleks Belov.
Stork and XYZ, prototypes built using birch plywood, stem from Legendre's ongoing work in the crossovers between architecture, mathematics, sculpture and computation. 'IJP The Book of Surfaces', an architectural manifesto published by Legendre in 2003, is about creating architecture from equations. Following this, in Pasta by Design (Thames & Hudson, 2011), Legendre presents a series of formulas which perfectly describe 92 pasta shapes. His exhibition 30 Pieces, held in 2015 in honour of the 150th Anniversary of the London Mathematical Society, displayed miniature 3D-printed models (including a skyscraper, chair, table and football stadium) alongside detailed plans, exploring the relationship between formula, drawing and object. As Legendre said of this curation, its aim was to place the "familiarity of the everyday against the uncanniness of the mathematical”.*
XYZ detail with 3D print
Stork detail with 3D print
Most recently, the conversation between formula and form are revealed in Equinox, a public sculpture unveiled in July 2022 in Birmingham city centre which was a collaboration between Legendre and John Pickering (the sculptor who pioneered the use of mathematics in British art). Intended to reveal no structural hierarchy and based on Pickering's inversion principle, this translucent steel and metal sculpture, suspended nine metres above ground, combines two parts symbolising polar opposites, "night vs day, summer vs winter, harmony vs discord" joined by "a line of equilibrium, or equinox".
The furniture concept 'Stork' draws the legs, seating and backrest of the chair into a single continuous profile, creating a sense of equilibrium and poise. Its back legs are distanced from the backrest, allowing the seat, from side profile, to suggest denied support. The surfaces of 'XYZ' resembles repetitive angular folds. In writing these concepts, Legendre looked at a correspondence between his understanding of the function of the chair, and "mathematical deformations" reminding him of the relationship between seating, backrest and legs. As with the 30 Pieces exhibition, drawing together the familiarity of the everyday and the potential strangeness of aspects of mathematics, Legendre notes his reflection in 'Stork' and 'XYZ' in the "coincidence between the power of mathematical abstraction to give form to anything we can (or cannot) imagine, and the form of everyday objects handed to us by centuries of use and material refinement".
Images courtesy IJP Architects. Photo credit: Aleks Belov.
Special Projects - Out of the Box
'Out of the Box' was the only phone manual to be featured in the 2011 exhibition 'Talk to Me' at MoMa New York. Designed by Clara Gaggero Westaway and Adrian Westaway, founders of the design and invention studio, Special Projects, based in Richmond, this instruction manual is aimed at senior citizens to enable a more comfortable and enjoyable experience of setting up their mobile phones.
Out of the Box by Special Projects
Special Projects describe their mission as being to "enhance the unquantifiable aspects of life: empathy, wellbeing, delight, with meaningful design and invention", and key to their approach is human insight, optimism and magic.* They are dedicated to the thinking and narratives behind human-centred design, and striving for creative solutions that not only bring about improvement and change, but also prompt excitement and enchantment. The studio innovatively combines rigorous research, human insight and technology with the thinking of magicians (Adrian Westaway is also a full member of the Magic Circle), in order to address challenging problems, and their clients include BBC, Google AI, Lego, University of Oxford, Samsung. Design solutions should not only solve but reinvigorate, promoting added value to objects, experiences and interactions in everyday life.
Approached by Samsung in 2009 to look for solutions as to why elderly people were more reluctant to use smart phones, Clara Gaggero Westaway and Adrian Westaway worked closely with Samsung in collaboration with the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design (an interdisciplinary design-research centre at the Royal College of Art in London, dedicated to projects aimed at improving people’s lives, especially the elderly and disabled). Gathering insights from diverse locations in Europe, in the UK, Italy and Norway, the designers made home visits and conducted workshops involving various activities and conversations. They found that older generations were expected to use discriminating and oversized phones; during their research, the designers discovered the phones specifically targeting and recommended for the elderly patronisingly looked like toys, and as though they were for emergency use only with a minimal number of contacts.
The conclusion was that the reluctance to use a mobile phone was not due to the phone itself or the user's age, but the unfriendliness of the instruction manuals which came with the phone. The indifferent design and manuals' use of incomprehensible terminology meant people did not even want to begin setting up their phones. Looking at these manuals, the temptation was to give up before they began or commit themselves to hours of a painstaking attempt to go through all the obscure information. The designers found that books were welcomed as a preferred way of learning. Processing these findings, their solution was to utilise the book form, bridging the gap between the familiar and unfamiliar, analogue and technological, to enable older people to not only use but also enjoy mobile phones.
Out of the Box by Special Projects
Out of the Box by Special Projects
These books are beautifully made, with clear typeface, hardback covers and a case. The design of the book and graphics are elegant and aesthetically-pleasing objects in themselves. Two books come inside the case, 'Preparing your Samsung Tocco Lite' and 'Using your Samsung Tocco Lite'. Inside, they guide the users step by step through the process of setting up and learning to use their mobile phones. Page by page, with perfectly-cut spaces in the paper holding the phone and the phone's components, and annotations around these spaces, the book forms an immersive journey through the preparation and use of the phone. This offers an exciting approach to what an instruction manual can mean, represent and involve. It is an object in its own right, with the power to take someone through a process of making and engaging, and create another object. It offers a different view to the use of the book, user's interaction with the device, and the relationship between book and technology, paper and digital.
Through the process of the book, the turning of the pages, the product is constructed. The phone grows from the book and the user's tactile movement through it. This creates an exciting and innovative approach to the process of instruction, engaging the user in a friendly way, as part of the story and journey and making. MoMA's description of the manual, writes how the user "encounters" the assembly instructions and the corresponding hardware parts gradually, integrated within the bound book.† The use of the word "encounters" emphasises the sense of a journey; a journey through the pages of the book, connecting the parts to make a whole, as a reader does in a different sense journeying through a story.
As the phone is held by the book, the book also acts as a container, transforming the idea of packaging. The packaging/book can then be stored on the shelf, holding the remnants of the process behind making the phone a functioning device, as well as a reminder on how to use certain functions. With the phone 'hidden' inside the book, there is an aspect of surprise and excitement which reminds me of the history and trend in thriller fiction of concealing objects in a book for communicating, smuggling, escaping. Like secret bottles of whiskey hidden in a Bible, or James Bond gadgets hidden in a copy of War and Peace. No wonder the response to use of this manual was with such delight. The manual, causing widespread excitement in its empathetic and innovative solution, was also shown as part of Design Diversity at Wagner:Werk, Museum Postsparkasse Vienna in 2014, a show focusing on age and design and intending to challenge traditional ideas of later life and call for more inclusive design. In 2017, it was included in the exhibition NEW OLD at The Design Museum, curated by Jeremy Myerson, which explored the potential for design and innovation to reimagine and enhance how we live our lives into old age.
The book form might also suggest gesture towards the idea of the book as a container: perhaps like a play on Ursula Le Guin's The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction (1986), "the proper, fitting shape of the novel might be that of a sack, a bag. A book holds words. Words hold things" or Ezra Pound's line in Guide to Kulture (1938), "A book shd [should] be a ball of light in one's hand"; in a way, this instruction manual by Special Projects is a book containing a ball of light. An immersive journey through instructions, this manual represents a collaborative act between designer, product and user. As Catalina Bolozan writes in Medium, "The manual, which was shown at MoMA in NY, is a reference in innovative design".‡ It is an exciting example where empathy, technology and magic can transform an experience and prompt delight in unexpected situations.
Text by Gertrude Gibbons.
Images courtesy Special Projects Studio Ltd.
John Makepeace - Stories in Wood
Cushions Chest by John Makepeace
What stories do objects tell? How might their materials speak of process, history, society? And to whom do they speak? What of a poetics of furniture?
Makepeace's distinctive furniture invites close reading. His poetic pieces respond to multiple sensibilities; the sensibility of the human form, visual sensibility, and material sensibility in an ecological sense as well as practical and aesthetic. As he states, "I am constantly searching for more eloquent concepts for furniture. My objective is to achieve freer, lighter, stronger, and more sculptural forms better suited to their function."* The use of the word "eloquent" gestures towards the potential for these to speak, express, articulate. Makepeace, at the conception of his designs, thinks primarily about the function of the object, in order to free the preconception of what the object should be and look like, and instead respond to the human requirements of that activity; the chair is considered in relation to its use in conversation, for relaxation, for work.
While Makepeace creates unique sculptural forms and concepts with his chairs, they are carefully planned to ensure the comfort, health and posture of the sitter. He uses materials for their best properties, combining materials to place these in dialogue. Makepeace says that Scandinavian designers had a major influence on him early on; they were creating furniture that was more "organic in form and more responsive to human needs."†
One of his designs, 'Cushions Chest', made from rippled sycamore, calls for the passer-by to sit, seductive in its smooth curves. Once sat upon, its shape seems to fit to one's own and it is difficult to leave. With subtle curves in the top of the chest which also acts as three separate lids, there is the illusion of soft cushions that have already been sat in, bearing the impression of the previous sitter. This illusion reminds me of marble pillows, like those sculpted by Bernini or Jacopo della Quercia. The gesture towards cloth is emphasised by the natural patterns in the wood which, as Makepeace points out to me, is similar in character to figured maple (used for musical instruments), and evokes moire fabrics; as well as the possible musicality or voice of the wood via its recollection of details found on violins. Curving waves in the front of the chest move as though through or against the horizontally running grain of the wood; the waves dance upwards to meet between the cushions, closing the gaps and making the chest whole.
The sides of this chest provide contrast, with a grid of squares revealing grain working in varying directions, such that the patterns create diverse relationships with each other, and point towards the inherent characteristics of the material. They signal perhaps at some secret the wood contains. These squares might also recall the pattern achieved with end grain blocks sometimes used like tiles to create patterned flooring, suggesting a movement from floor to sides, defying direction. The bottom of the chest has waves on all sides, curving away from the ground and meeting the floor like the stroke of a brush in the corners. This underlines the sense of softness, floating, the play between solidity and softness, rest and motion. Would this chest, performing as cushioned bench, encourage the imagination to roam free, travel the world from its stationary position? Sitting there, I think so.
Wings Cabinet by John Makepeace
Wings Cabinet by John Makepeace
Chests and cabinets are containers of hidden spaces; their interior spaces may metaphorically be associated with intimacy, and intimacy within the intimacy of the home. Arthur Rimbaud's first published poem 'Les Étrennes des Orphelins' (1870), describing a big and locked wardrobe, "on rêvait bien des fois / Aux mystères dormant entre ses flancs de bois (we often dreamt / Of the mysteries sleeping between the planks of wood)", imagining soft sounds emerging from within the wardrobe, "vague et joyeux murmure (an obscure and happy murmur)", a poem discussed by Gaston Bachelard in his chapter 'Drawers, Chests & Cabinets' in The Poetics of Space.‡ Looking at Makepeace's 'Wings', a cabinet made from a single tree of ripple sycamore, I thought of Rimbaud's words and the mysterious or quiet voices that the trunk of tree might hold. The doors curve into each other, meeting as giant wings, entirely concealing the cabinet's interior. Made from this single tree, these wings, reminiscent of those of statues and frescoes within cathedrals, speak of the majesty of trees. Another piece that makes me think of trees and woodlands in this way is 'Millennium Chair', with its curved framed back like the branches arching in a forest, like a woodland cathedral.
How do we read chairs? In Modern Chairs (2002), Charlotte and Peter Fiell propose an interesting idea that chairs, "More than any other furniture type, the chair offers an insight into the souls of men." Indeed chairs are significant in their power to represent a person; they appear to become associated with the person to whom it belongs, or whoever sits most frequently in that seat. Chairs offer a sense of belonging and homecoming. Chairs represent power or position too, thrones differentiated from other chairs. An empty chair at a dinner table has spiritual symbolism, indicating loss or, as in the Polish Christmas Eve tradition, the possibility of an unexpected guest. As Makepeace tells me, chairs around a table can articulate space, even when nobody is there.
Makepeace's 'Trine Chair' made from laminated yew layered with bog oak, displays a dialogue between materials. The rings of darker wood appear to echo, looping round the seat and back of the chair. This darker wood, bog oak, has a mystery about it that fascinates me. It is over 5,000 years old, from oak trees that were uprooted in storms and were buried for thousands of years in peat bogs, undisturbed until the Fens began to be drained. Then, as the peat dried, the trees came closer to the surface. In 'Trine Chair', this wood contrasts with the golden brown of the yew, emphasising the rich darkness of the bog oak's ancient and mysterious origins beneath the earth. These materials speak forth, their past and future stories offered as a dialogue between people, material, form and function.
Trine Chair by John Makepeace
An early advocate of material innovation and sustainability, having established Parnham College in 1976, Makepeace set up Hooke Park as a School for Woodland Industries and Forestry Management in 1982, to encourage architects to understand forestry. From its very origins, Hooke Park promoted a set of ecological values in the use of material. The forest there was half conifer, half hardwood (largely beech and oak with some ash), but the conifer was largely neglected. Makepeace proposed finding a way to utilise this material which is taken out of a woodland in order for the other trees to thrive (and generally simply used for firewood, fencing, or pulped if there is a pulp mill in the area), as structural components for the new campus. There was no existing precedent for the use of this material, the thinnings, and there were no regulations in place for its use. This necessitated a huge research project (involving five universities across Europe) and dialogues with foresters, designers, architects, scientists and engineers to address this design challenge. Makepeace had heard Frei Otto talk at the RIBA in 1972 on how to utilise forest destroyed in the Second World War for materials in buildings. So Makepeace approached Otto and his collaborator Ted Happold and worked closely with them along with several different architects at various stages, including Richard Burton, Ted Cullinan and Peter Clegg, to build the campus buildings entirely out of the timber which had to be removed from the woods to improve them.
The English word 'furniture' is unique, unrelated to corresponding words in other European languages, in which it relates more to etymologies associated with movement. The use of a word without association with movement suggests an attitude towards it as less portable, and more a sign of permanence, with a stable place in the home. Furniture has the potential to long outlive a human lifespan. Makepeace's works consider the history and story behind the material, using them in correspondence with their best qualities, and their offer of further future stories. These materials via making are translated very much alive and vocal; they are works of furniture which, from their still position, encourage a travelling imagination.
Text by Gertrude Gibbons.
Images courtesy John Makepeace.
‡ See chapter 3 'Drawers, Chests and Wardrobes' in Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, Orion Press, NY, 1964, pp. 74-89, which also discusses 'poets of furniture', dreams, intimacy and quotes multiple poems including the above by Rimbaud, Oskar Miłosz, André Breton, amongst others.
Bruce McLean - Make Shift Making Another Shift, Shadow Shift, Shift, Work. 1967-2016.
This work was made for the group exhibition Make-shift Black Barn, Cockley Cley (2016, UK). It comes in the form of a letter addressed to the curator Jo Melvin as a series of instructions and diagrams, continuing and developing on McLean's installations from 1960s using hanging wood and other materials to create plays of light and shadow between interior and exterior spaces.
Images courtesy Bruce McLean and Jo Melvin.
Isabella Kuijers - Alphabet of Instructions
Anna McQuillin - Seven Chimes and N+7
In Seven Chimes and N+7, instructions have been created, followed, or used as text-based material. Labour is shared: instructions allow work to be made collaboratively, sharing skills and resources, or to be handed over or reimagined completely. In N+7, I used the wording of Soanyway Issue 14’s callout to produce a systematic subversion. Each of these works, if the method creating them is repeated exactly, can be reproduced exactly; however both works can also be transformed by introducing small variables: a different dictionary, making the pipes from a different material, or hanging them in a different formation. They take the themes of seriality and variation, and are especially informed by the work of Sol LeWitt (who gave instructions in the form of a script for the production of his art, to be interpreted by assistants) and Pierre Huyghe (and John Cage, whose score Dream informed the work Wind Chime (After Dream)) for whom, whilst sharing a reliance on the interpretation of a script or score, chance operations are also key. In Seven Chimes, the movement and sound of the chime are also dictated by natural forces.
Seven Chimes is one of a number of works responding to a control panel used to operate a model railway, and features a track plan of seven coloured lines taped to its surface. (Another of these works is Seven Coloured Lines which details the seven lines and all their combinations of colourways: 1-7 (127 in total) as an artists’ book. I created instructions for all 127 combinations to aid the printing process.) In place of colour, Seven Chimes gives both form and sound to the seven lines as brass chimes, relying on the wind to play the order of combinations at random. The work was hung in Old Paradise Gardens in Lambeth, London in summer 2022 for a Wind Chime Festival and later documented as a video.
We are looking for worms that engage with the conductor of interests and malady. How do interests tell of stotties, or utilise stovetops? How do programs and settlers we interact with everyday involve us in their stotty? What are the processions of malady? Who makes the worm? How is a worm assembled? What is the relevance between seafood or scotch tape and its peripheral? What effective life do interests have as runways or reunions?
I began using the N+7 method ( La méthode S+7 ), invented by Jean Lescure of Oulipo as a way to apply the use of the number seven to text based work. The method involves replacing each noun in a text with the seventh one following it in a dictionary. The process that generated the text above is outlined below:
We are looking for works that engage with the concept of instructions and making. How do instructions tell stories, or utilise storytelling? How do products and services we interact with everyday involve us in their story? What are the processes of making? Who makes the work? How is a work assembled? What is the relationship between a script or score and its performance? What effect do instructions have as rules or restrictions?
story-story mode-story board-story book-storyline-storyteller-storytelling-stotty
process-process analysis-process flow chart-process improvement-process management-process owner-processing-procession
relationship-relative-relative clause-relative pronoun-relaxation-release-relegation-relevance
effect-effect size-effective age-effective annual rate-effective capacity-effective date-effective exchange rate-effective life
Stephen Chase - O Zeno
O Zeno is a performance text or score from a book of pieces which deal with walking, listening, and interaction between people and place. It was first performed by newCELF on 11 Sep 2019 in Cardiff.
Adam Walker - A Rolling Series of Encounters
This sequence of three texts documents a series of walks the artist went on, dragging a large found cable drum tied to him with a length of found rope. It, in turn, constituted ’the work’ exhibited at an exhibition (see first text). Visual documentation was avoided and these records, in their step-by-step form on A4 paper, are the only thing which remains of the event.
Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian - Instruction as rite and lore
When the pandemic began, I lost my creative urge for the first time in my life. Not the ability to create, but the desire to create at all. Eventually, my ideas returned in the form of instructional text for performance – a process which held the essentials of storytelling; a world with limitations which are tested by those within it.
The imposition of rules appealed as an attempt to distance myself from the work enough to try the unknown. Olivier Messiaen credited birds as the creative force of some of his compositions, with himself as the scribe of their songs. According to Peter Hill in his studies of his sketches, Messiaen did this to draw himself through writer’s block. My first creative instruction, therefore, was just to do something artistic as if it were any other essential function. The brain itself sends instructions at all times, otherwise we would not breathe in and out, and our blood would stand still.
Songs To Be Burned And Misremembered
Since the pandemic brought personal tragedy to me and those around, I have become focused on instructions as a practical aid to cope with death. Rituals of mourning are written as instructions in religious, spiritual, and legal texts, and documented in the world’s folktales and artistic works. I am writing Songs To Be Burned And Misremembered (with printer Emily Juniper for “Utter” & Press), a piece for print and performance, based on a daily practice I created for myself while in mourning.
Rites For Crossing Water
Instructional text can be shared as a means for collaborative performance, leaving room for interpretation and co-ownership. In Rites For Crossing Water (my recent installation for Coventry City of Culture with instrument-builder Crewdson and animator Jessica Glover), we created rites for visitors to perform on 19 bridges across the canal which were installed as projected text and imagery along the water, as well as printed as a guidebook for travel, and woven into the lyrics of new folksongs to accompany the journey. The instructions imagine the folklore of societies far in our future where the origins of their practices are hidden in our present.
Rite /3 (Cash’s Lane Bridge) what3words ///lakes.drips.search
Other instructions encourage social interactions and creative acts while crossing:
Rite /5 (Priestley’s Bridge) ///copper.bits.loves
present an offering
to your smallest companion (infant or insect)
in exchange for
permission to cross
Rite /8 (Heath Crescent Tunnel) ///trails.above.cabin
under the bridge
send a song
to the ceiling
leave it there
As well as being a popular subject for many contemporary artists and performers, daily rituals are a common tag on social media, particularly amongst women. Health, food, and hygiene customs are regularly shared. Within the folkloric context for instructions, it is therefore worth crediting its female contributions. Old wives’ tales are a form of instructional storytelling in the West, though traditionally part of spoken, not written, practice. Religious texts have rejected them as profane, while scientific studies may find evidence to prove or disprove certain claims, but ultimately the instructions of lore aim to present tools for existence and survival. To return to where I began, they offer an exploratory system at once practical, imaginative, quotidian, and profound. Women throughout history, as mothers and carers, have been the first to explain the limits of our world, providing rules to be tested by our curiosity.
Image: Rite /10 (Phoenix Way), Rites For Crossing Water. Photo credit: Andrew Moore, 2021. Commissioned by Ludic Rooms for Random String Festival, printed by Secret Knock.
Film credits: Writers & Producers: Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian, Hugh Jones; Mixing: Matthew Herbert Mastering: Simon Davey at The Exchange Animation: Jessica Glover; Commission: Ludic Rooms, Random String Festival.
Tom Rodgers - To Photograph Without Taking any Pictures
This project explores the processes involved in making photographs, without making any photographs. As the artist notes, "By performing all of the actions and processes of photographing–being in the world, with a camera, pointing the camera at ‘subjects’, releasing the shutter–but having no film in the camera and, thereby, not taking any pictures, I am removing the predominant role of the image within photography, to focus attention upon the performative habits, behaviours, choices and decisions that go into the production of photographs." Included here are photographs from Rodgers' notebook recording the artist's written reflections.
To Photograph Without Taking any Pictures - 01 Session 01
To Photograph Without Taking any Pictures - 01 Session 02
To Photograph Without Taking any Pictures - 01 Session 06
To Photograph Without Taking any Pictures - 01 Session 01
Adam Knight - Constructing Doubt (a lecture)
The video threads together two found materials: a collection of obsolete instructional slides found at the artists’ university workplace, with text sourced from an academic paper which explores ways to translate semantic information into a visual presentation. The selected slides were part of an unknown lecture series focusing on shapes, forms and pattern, which Knight re-ordered into pairs, highlighting formal cross-over transition points. This work reflects on the complexity of its proposition to weave these found instructional and educational elements together in a cohesive format.
Joe Hancock - How to put up a shelf (I)
I videoed myself putting up a shelf in my studio, and then reviewed the footage, recording all the decisions, no matter how small, that I could see myself making. Taking a decision to comprise a question and an answer (Q. Do I want that? + A. Yes. = D. I want that), I wrote what I believed were the questions I was asking during the process, e.g. ‘Is it level?’, ‘Is the drill set to the correct speed?’
The resultant list of 553 questions became the first part of my open-ended preoccupation with shelves.
Included here are the first 30 questions, and an audio excerpt of questions 152-176.
Audio excerpt of the artist reading questions 152-176:
Pascal-Michel Dubois - From the Point Blank series
Point Blank is a series of four anatomical diagrams from a 1980s dictionary which have been erased with the exception of the arrows/pointers. This series has then been superimposed onto reproductions of paintings of various martyrs, including the one below, taken from 'Andrea Mantegna's Saint Sebastian'.
Simon Lewandowski - So first I want to say thank you
So first I want to say thank you for reading this piece of work and agreeing to be a part of it.
Assuming you will have.
(Done those things; reading and agreeing…)
I like to think the work will exist, or maybe unfurl, in a space triangulated between us and these words. You and I and the device you are reading them on perhaps.
You’ll notice the italics there.
When I put a word in italics, I mean to emphasise it – for you to emphasise it in your mind as you read it. As you might read it aloud.
In your mind.
I want you to try to really hear my voice – or what you imagine to be my voice.
Maybe you’ve met me before.
In which case you might remember what my voice sounds like.
Maybe you haven’t so you could imagine all kinds of things about how I might sound.
The voices my computer uses to read out aloud have different names:
‘David’. ‘George’. ‘Susan’. ‘Hazel’. ‘Mark’.
I like ‘Hazel’ best.
You can see my name is ‘Simon Lewandowski’ so maybe I have a Polish accent?
Maybe I have a languid upper-class drawl; or slightly clipped Received Pronunciation?
Maybe an irritating, blokey sort of “mockney”; or a calm, sympathetic therapist’s delivery?
How about you start again and try out a few different versions?
See which you prefer.
Even if you already think you know or remember what I sound like you might prefer another version.
I often think I would.
Prefer another version of my own voice, that is…
Start again and try out at least one different version.
Consider it an Instruction.
Has that made things easier?
Has it made things clearer?
Has that made things more interactive?
Has that made this feel more like Art, even?
Let’s say that now you are reading out these words in an interior voice with which you feel comfortable.
‘David’. ‘George’. ‘Susan’. ‘Hazel’. ‘Mark’.
Maybe not ‘Simon’, I never liked that name much. I heard someone say “Simon is a Good Boy’s name” - a name parents give their child in the hope he'll be well-behaved and do well at school…
Sort of worked a bit for me.
Never mind that.
‘David’. ‘George’. ‘Susan’. ‘Hazel’. ‘Mark’.
Now that we’ve got the voice more-or-less lodged, speaking to you and being heard somewhere.
Now, I want you to make sure you are sitting in a comfortable position, with your feet on the floor, your hands in your lap (except when you need to scroll down the screen I suppose) your back straight but not stiff.
Let your eyes close.
Keep them closed.
That leaves us with a problem - Left us with a problem - should I say? Because of course you won’t be able to read what I’m asking you to do. Unless you decided to read ahead and find out.
I’m not sure I want you to do that. Not sure you want to do that.
I’d like to think that you sat a while with your eyes closed, thinking about what you were doing maybe, or maybe not.
Maybe not thinking about anything.
Did you think about anything? That’s not a question you have to answer – not out loud anyway.
But I’m sure you’ve opened your eyes.
You’ll see this now.
Let’s start again but when we get to the point where I’m about to say “let your eyes close” I’ll say:
Let your eyes close and keep them closed for a slow count of 10 then open them again.
So, now as you sit and read this you will become more relaxed and receptive, you will be aware of other sounds around you of voices or peoples’ comings and goings of traffic or the sound of other things in the background, the wind or maybe the rain, birdsong, the sound of your washing machine in the room downstairs, a dog barking, the slight hum of your computer even but these things won’t bother you or concern you because you’ll be listening to my voice, or this voice, in your head sounding like whoever you imagine it sounds like and I want you to start slowly counting down, each number timed to the point where you breathe out: Ten you feel a pleasing sensation of warmth and comfort come up from your feet and permeate your body: Nine you let your mind go blank and those incidental sounds around you cease to matter: Eight feel a pleasant wave of relaxation over your entire body, from the top of your head to the tips of your toes: Seven Just let every muscle and nerve grow loose and limp and relaxed: Six You are feeling more relaxed with each easy breath that you take: Five you are getting drowsy and calm and relaxed: Four you’re relaxing more with each easy beat of your heart: Three with each easy breath that you take and each sound that you hear. Two you start to feel yourself drifting up or down or maybe in both directions at once:
You feel completely weightless.
In a good way.
Like “Hazel” feels when she stops reading out the letters we type.
Like you’ve got your eyes tight shut but you can see through the lids because they’re not there. You’re not there.
Of course you are. It’s all happening to you in a good way.
There’s you and the words in front of you.
(I apologise, by the way,
I didn’t make it clear there might be an element of Hypnosis in this exercise.)
So, there’s you and the words in front of you; and now there’s a colour.
It’s a colour you don’t have a name for but if suffuses everything in your visual field.
With your eyes open, it is a layer which colours everything and through which you can only see these words.
With your eyes closed, it so intense that it replaces everything you could ever imagine envision picture in your Mind’s Eye. It’s the colour of all the other colours at the same time.
Look at it.
Because now there’s you and the words in front of you; and a colour you don’t have a name for.
And now there’s a sound.
A single note that cancels out every other sound you might be hearing in the World at this time as you listen for them.
A single note that cancels out every other sound except the sound of the voice in your head that reads out these words.
In a few moments there won’t be anything more to read.
In a few lines there won’t be anything more to hear.
Until you decide there is.
Now do something else.
 Hypnosis is the black sheep of the family of problems which constitute psychology. It wanders in and out of laboratories and carnivals and clinics and village halls like an unwanted anomaly. It never seems to straighten up and resolve itself into the firmer proprieties of scientific theory. Indeed, its very possibility seems a denial of our immediate ideas about conscious self-control on the one hand, and our scientific idea about personality on the other. Yet it should be conspicuous that any theory of consciousness and its origin, if it is to be responsible, must face the difficulty of this deviant type of behavioural control. Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. (New York, Houghton Mifflin, 1976) pp 379. That this is the only textual reference might be significant.