Anna lives in Devon, so she was not able to attend The Paseo in Taos, New Mexico with Claire and their collaboratively created “If you’d like to unit….” on Sept. 26, 2014, but she has lots of questions about the event, so we decided to share her questions and Claire’s answers with you here….(We’ve included a short video from the event at the bottom of the page!) Anna Interviews Claire about “If you’d like to….Taos Off-Grid” piece at The Paseo: Anna: What was your experience of The Paseo? How well did it work as an event? Claire: It was a fantastic event for Taos and it was really well organized, especially considering that there were 20 artists all showing outdoor works along a half mile stretch of the main street of Taos, each with different technical requirements, locational needs etc. Matt Thomas and everyone on The Paseo committee and Advisory Board were really conscientious of these details and needs. I know that a lot of work went into choosing artists to invite, crafting invitations and the public face of the project and selecting works submitted by invitation and it showed! I think it was very smart to make it part of the Taos Fall Arts Festival. This was its 40th year and its focus is on more traditional, “hangable” visual art events, musical performances, literature events, etc. set up for Taos artists that fit within more familiar art contexts. So The Paseo was a big innovation this year, creating an awesome venue for more experimental, non-gallery based works. It brought Taos OUTSIDE onto the streets en masse to experience experimental artworks and people LOVED it! It seemed to us that people were curious, respectful, and excited. We were joking that it felt like “Arti Gras” (like Mardi Gras, art-based, less booze on the streets and in Taos, not in New Orleans – haha!) So it was such an honor to be among the chosen artists in its inaugural year! I would definitely like to participate in the future if we are invited! We’ll have to start thinking of new work that would be appropriate…. Anna: How did our piece fit into The Paseo? In particular, how did the roving element function? Claire: As you say, our piece was listed on the map as “roving” so, we didn’t have a set place to be and we didn’t have an assigned number and a large orange “X” marking our spot as most other pieces had. (As a side note, the large X’s were really cool actually. Standing just over 3 feet tall they were made of finished plywood and well-painted by Taos High School/University of NM students in a shop-design class. I loved that The Paseo organizers involved students in that way while at the same time relieving themselves and their purse strings of the job. Great networking and creativity!) The nature of our piece is that it can move from place to place, that it is mobile. That people and seek it if they want, but that it can also seek out people and places as well. So I think this was an important premise to maintain and not become locked into having to stay at one site. In reality we were really only in two areas of The Paseo, though the unit did move around a bit within those two areas as people came and went and the crowds ebbed ebbed and flowed, but know that we could move to another spot felt important to the nature of the piece. Some people complained and expressed regret that they weren’t able to find us, but that’s the nature of the piece and this time we had the additional element of being “Off-Grid” so not being “on the map” also felt significant in terms of that metaphor in the piece. Some people already had our postcards in hand from The Paseo info booth when they happened upon the piece and were excited to see it in person and other people who had no idea what it was were interested and excited to bump into an interactive artwork. So that’s the flipside of not being on the map – the element of surprise and delight when people happen upon you. I would say 95% of people that came across the piece wanted to listen in to the options and spend a bit of time with it….when it became really busy, we had a bit of a line of people waiting to listen, people going to check out the other artworks in the vicinity and coming back to listen etc. Anna: I wish I could have been there. Reflecting on your recent experience. What was your role? Claire: In general I felt like a kind of signpost, directing people to pick up the headphones and responding to their questions. Near The Paseo info booth I found myself having to invite people to listen and instruct them on what to do, hand them the headphones and so on. Since it wasn’t very busy there, people weren’t seeing other people with the headphones on as a model. So I moved to a busy spot near The Axel Gallery, between popular exhibits, people were literally “mobbing” us and waiting in a huddled sort of line to listen, so it was more about responding to people’s questions and comments at that point rather than trying to get people to listen. The piece works one way, when we, the artists, accompany the unit, as a sort of a keeper of our little pet and a person to answer questions. I felt like I often played an important role in helping people interface with the piece and also chatting with the people that were either waiting to listen or had already listened and had questions about their experience. It’s obviously not a performance per se, but when we’re out roving I do feel that we are all a part of the piece and whether we’re both present or just one of us, we have an important role to play as “Keeper” of the unit. I had never thought about having a volunteer “man” the unit, but some of the artists at The Paseo were able to the leave their pieces once they were installed and went on to enjoy the rest of the event and other artworks. This was something that impressed me about the organization; artists were able to specify what kind of volunteer help they needed and then a call was put out for volunteers who were briefed and directed on where to go when to help with a particular piece for a particular time. We’ll have to think more about this as a future possibility. It’s an interesting option that could add another dimension to our piece. Also, this got me to thinking, the piece has been installed in exhibitions in which no one was standing by to answer questions, but it’s hard to know how well that works, since we aren’t there! It’s almost as if the piece has two different incarnations, one in which it can work solo in a gallery and one in which, we as the artists (or a well-trained volunteer perhaps), take the unit out into the world. Anna: That’s interesting. Since the piece is about different ways of experiencing the world, do you think we could transform this into a useful tool for others to use to explore familiar and alien environments and cultures? Claire: Yes, potentially we could clone the unit for others to use in their communities, youth groups, elders and others to explore their worlds from expanded perspectives – through the eyes of different species as well as in different times and places. The unit is a device to do just that…..both the creation of the options and the listening to them is a process of exploration, so if communities were involved in both stages that could be interesting too. This could be an interesting thing for us to explore and offer in the future! Anna: We added the Off-Grid theme to the piece for The Paseo. How did it work and how did people respond to it? Claire: There seemed to be three levels in which the Off-Grid theme worked: 1. The literal and obvious off-grid qualities of the piece – solar-powered and the off-grid options that we sprinkled into the script for the audio piece. The solar panels really worked well for this. They were like an “Off-Grid” banner that people noticed right away and liked. I got lots of “Cool” and “That’s awesome” responses when I described how the solar panels worked to collect the energy and that the piece would work even without sunlight on it due to the batteries in both the solio panel and in the mp3 player. I didn’t get to talk to people much about the Off-Grid options on the sound piece and didn’t get any specific responses about them, so it’s hard to tell how successful they were, though they were definitely an integral part of the piece. Originally I thought that the off-grid audio options were the most important off-grid element of the piece, but that didn’t seem to be the case! 2. The “off-grid” effect that the piece had on people by asking them to engage their potentially rusty imaginations to envision the options on the audio piece was another slightly less obvious, but perhaps most important off-grid aspect of the piece. The wooden buttons that people were asked to push to register their choices are just a prop to give a physicality to their choice, but everything else happens in their imagination. The piece seems really timely right now because it references exploration and expanded options and technology and yet it isn’t connected to the internet, it isn’t a computer or cell phone. The piece still references the tech world in a kind of tongue and cheek way with its blocky wooden keypad, but instead of “doing something” for the participant it relies on the participants themselves to make the piece “work” with their imaginations, when the words, images and ideas illuminate sensory experiences in their minds. We thought that this particular incarnation was an off-grid version, but it seems that the very nature of the piece holds this off-grid element….. it doesn’t DO anything. Instead it requires people to take an imaginative leap! 3. As mentioned above in a previous question, the fact that the piece was roving and not “on the map” was also another way that its “off-grid-ness” manifested, both when people couldn’t find it and when they happened upon it unexpectedly. Anna: How did people respond to our piece? Which responses stick out in your memory from the day? Claire: In general I think that the response was positive and that people enjoyed it, thought it was funny or at least a bit amusing and I think people enjoyed the design and craftsmanship of the piece as well. We had some comments about that. Some people wanted to do all the options and pressed lots of buttons. Some people seemed to feel that they could only choose one thing. Some people didn’t feel like doing almost any of the options. It was so interesting to witness the diversity of perceptions and responses to the piece. The piece creates a very personal experience and at the same time, if there are lots of people interested in listening, a very public, almost fishbowl experience. And the participant-listener almost becomes a performer, like on reality TV or something, with others watching their responses and wondering what they are hearing. As onlookers, we watch your expression, reading you as you listen, and we can’t share in it, unless you decide to tell us about what you’ve heard afterward. It’s a strange combination of public and private space. Friends in a group listened to different options and then in some cases I heard people comparing notes about what they had heard. This individualized experience shared in a group was fun and interesting to witness. Several people asked if it was registering or tabulating their choices, which it was not, but I found it interesting that so many people assumed it was or at least thought it might be, since that kind of technology is so prevalent in this day and age. After listening some people wanted to share which options were their favorites and which they wanted to do….some people didn’t. Anna: Are there any particular responses that stick out in your memory of the day or are important for the development of our piece? One person requested Bluetooth for hard of hearing folks who had hearing aids. She said that if it had blue tooth capacity she could hear it directly in her hearing aids, but that all she got was feedback when she tried to listen to the headphones. So that is an interesting puzzle for us to mull over! One woman who listened to the piece told me that it reminded her the Parisian man with the wooden cell phone that she met while in Paris. She said that the cell phone, made entirely of wood, was owned by a man who spent a lot of time sitting in an open air café and he would keep the cell phone out on his table. She said that it started all kinds of conversations and discussions. And people would ask him, “Does it work?” he would answer, “Yes, it works! It got us talking, didn’t it!?” I told her about our conversation props that we used in our Radio Dreaming Tour in the “Off-Grid Hatch” of The Pod. One woman said that she was very nervous as she was listening and felt pressure to choose the right thing until I told her that it didn’t matter what she chose, that the choices registered in her imagination and that was where something happened not on the unit. Then she said she felt free to enjoy the poetry of the options and was really enthusiastic about how great it was. There was one young child who had a melt down while listening. She said that the options were too fast, that she couldn’t understand some of them and that it wasn’t fair that she got grown-up ones and that her mom got kid ones. Other kids have listened and really enjoyed it, but this young one found it really overwhelming and hard to process, which was eye-opening for me that it could be perceived that way. Anna: Any new thoughts as to how our piece functions as a work of art? Claire: From this event, I realized that the strength of the piece is that it is low tech, does not “DO” anything and asks participants to engage their imagination. I found myself saying this quite often to visitors, “In this piece, low tech meets high tech and the high tech part is your imagination!” when they exclaimed, “It’s not working!?” I think it is really important to have artworks that reflect on our dependence and addiction to technology and I think that our piece does that pretty well. It’s interesting that we developed it six years ago and in that time frame the technology addiction has really boomed. It seems like the piece is more appropriate now even than it was then, as much or more for the commentary on technology, than for the different perspectives offered in the options of the soundtrack, which was the original inspiration for the piece. Anna: That leads well into my next question….I’ve been thinking back to when we first came up with the idea for the piece. What is your memory about how it came about? Claire: We were walking together back from the moor in Dartmoor National Park we came up with the concept of using the annoying phone options format to explore the ecology around us. It started on a whim, each of us thinking up options and saying them out loud as we were walking. There was a great deal of hilarity and laughter and once we started we couldn’t stop thinking of options, options and more options! Then I had the idea of giving it a physical home – something referencing a phone, but not a phone. As the daughter of toy makers, I’ve been around wood all my life so I think that influenced my idea. I had the aspiration to make it physical – like a toy. I remember Chris (my husband) was over on a visit at the time, so I worked over a pilot design with him. Anna, you loved it and together we manifested it in the workshop at Dartington College. We used it to create “If you’d like to…” versions for different ecologies in England, but we also wanted to give it life back home in USA. So when we got home, Chris helped me “clone” the original, so that we could have a version in the states as well. We made some design improvements and chose American hardwoods as opposed to the original pine. It’s the clone that is now roving with me here in USA and made the recent appearance at The Paseo. Anna: Should we make any changes in the light of the experience? Claire: Still thinking about this….new ideas for related future projects are brewing as a result of focusing on it again and bringing it out into the public eye. For such a seemingly simple idea, there are lots of applications and directions that we could go with this. It’s too early to tell, but I see developments on the horizon! Don’t you!?Were you at The Paseo? What did you think of the event? Did you get to see our piece? We’d love to hear! Leave a comment and let us know what you thought! Also Stay tuned, as we already have new ideas brewing for the piece and we will share them with you soon!
News from Claire and Anna
- Report from “The Paseo” (in interview form) October 28, 2014
- ‘If you’d like to…(Taos Off-Grid)’ at “The Paseo” Sept. 26th! September 24, 2014
- “There is an early Celtic tradition that the earth remembers everything, perhaps accounting for what some call "dreams of place," in which the land speaks through the dreamer.” -Patricia Lee Lewis