Unknowing deviants

We’ve started working on our new show ‘Extraordinary Rendition‘. We’ve just got back from a residency at the brilliant Campo in Gent, Belgium and before that we were in Falmouth with In Between Time. In Falmouth we were staying in a house by the sea with the artists Jo Bannon and Nic Green. During our stay, because we were all in the early stages of working on new projects we spoke a lot about ‘unknowing’ as a deliberate strategy for making work. We spoke about the patience needed in a process to allow ideas to evolve. In a talk we did at the end of the week a student described this ‘unknowing’ as a deviant behaviour which I think is a great way of describing it. Unknowing is a hard thing to argue for, but in my experience the more ‘knowns’ you start with in a creative process the less interesting the final outcome is.

We don’t know what ‘Extraordinary Rendition’ is yet or what it will be about, but we want to create an experience that, through the lens of popular culture (Hollywood, TV, pop music, Karaoke), draws attention to the domestic presence of warfare and the shadow cast over our everyday lives by contemporary wars fought in far off places. Our research has so far been about finding the traces of the military that exist in the civilian sphere. Whats interesting about this is that the brutality and violence of war has become more potent and more threatening by the process of not looking directly at it. By tracing its shadows and unearthing its ambient presence in our everyday life we’ve become hyper aware of how we are at war, and how we are implicated in that through our participation in what, on the surface, looks to be banal and harmless. Singing along to Britney Spears on a Karaoke machine suddenly becomes an entirely different act.

I’m not sure its what Donald Rumsfeld was talking about when he gave his bizarre speech about ‘known unknowns’ but making this project has drawn many lines between creative processes, creative industries, left wing philosophy and warfare, and the making of art that always feels to us like a political act, starts to take on a whole new set of political connotations. In his book ‘Sonic Warfare’ Steve Goodman describes the ‘military entertainment complex’ as the idea that ‘target populations in wartime are also media audiences’. Military philosophy talks at length about war as theatre and target populations as audiences, and high up the chain of command one finds French radical left wing philosophy as grounds for atrocities of war and in some cases artists have actually played a direct role in military strategies. And although Hollywood jingoism is an often observed phenomenon, its the complex back and forth between less fist-pumping creative endeavours and the military that’s really terrifying. Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’ for example, actively critical of American foreign policy/the U.S military and the American dream but still used without irony as an anthem for American patriotism, and even as a weapon, played non-stop at high volume to torture detainees. By listening to it in the car with the window open, by singing along to it in a Karaoke bar, by hearing it on the radio over and over again we start to not hear it. by staring right at it, we don’t see it. We’re only hearing the chorus and the verses become shadows.

I’m don’t know what all this means yet, but what I do know is that by a process of continued ‘not knowing’ and by occasionally looking in the wrong direction, or deliberately (deviantly) trying not to know (listening to the verses as well as the choruses), ideas will eventually emerge that give audiences an opportunity to explore the same territory. To see the shadows, to hear the voices in the background, to see what lurks in the unknown realm of our peripheral vision.