As described in the first blog in this series, the discovery of a ‘contemporary folk archive’ of ‘How To’ videos on YouTube, set me on course to devise the central component in Demonstrating the World for Unlimited 2. The sheer volume of this unofficial, seemingly endless archive meant that ‘the world’ was practically my oyster (Yes, there are a few ‘How To Shuck/Open Oysters’ videos, such as this one seemingly presented by Star Trek’s Capt. Jean-Luc Picard).
So what in the world would I be ‘Demonstrating’? The physical context for the performance was established early on with my producer Edd Hobbs. Since the final work would primarily focus on being a public-intervention performance, we decided that some sort of attention-grabbing ‘roadshow’ vehicle or float would suit us. As in some of my past works, Demonstrating the World would have a high public-camouflage aspect. We wanted shoppers and passers-by to both identify the mode of performance (i.e. a public demonstration of some kind of commercial product), but with it also being absurd enough to make audiences take a closer look. A key theme established from the outset was the figure of the ‘alien’ or ‘other’, someone who appeared to have fell to earth and landed in the market places and shopping centres of our towns and cities to demonstrate worldly functions back to the earthlings.
We had then, to decide upon what my goods atop the demonstrating platform would be. Potato peelers, remote-control toy helicopters, new flavours of ice cream: all were familiar tropes of public pitches and indeed find their counterparts as ‘folk performances’ on YouTube. To take us out of that box, Edd proposed a collaboration with Ida Martin, a Copenhagen-based architect. Ida came to London and an instant rapport was established with decisions being made quite quickly in the way that good collaborative work falls together. We wanted the platform to be both domestically identifiable whilst being slightly ‘off’, not quite right. We talked about the ‘strangely familiar’, the ‘unheimlich’, and started thinking about the work taking place within a room arrangement housed inside a trailer, its fourth wall exposed to the public.
We started to design the ersatz contents of this the trailer to imitate the manner of an IKEA-style display room. However, the room’s furniture would be elaborately detailed with innovative and absurd features. These would be designed to operate as collapsible or concertinaed fold-out designs with components that are capable of being transformed from one domestic function into an entirely unrelated other. A side table can be opened to form an ironing board. A cabinet would incorporate pull-out steps to reach a small cupboard in which an old-fashioned radio can be tuned and its aerial adjusted. A picture on the wall converts into a table for two, and a clock transforms into a vacuum cleaner.
For inspiration we watched Buster Keaton’s ‘The Scarecrow’ (1920) and ‘The Electric House’ (1922); and Snub Pollard’s ‘It’s a Gift’ (1923). Each of these silent comedies depict a young inventor demonstrating ingenious labour-saving gadgets and fittings by which to transform a house into an alien dream-logic capsule.
We also talked about the mode of the performance behind the demonstration. I’d already developed a ‘running commentary’ style for a work-in-progress presentation of Demonstrating the World for the Association of Medical Humanities at Dartington Hall in June, and this version included detailed descriptions of handshapes and postural movement required to perform the simple domestic activities I was enacting (tying shoelaces and so on). Now though Ida and I decided to formalize this conceit by devising a ‘vocabulary’ of hand-shapes. You can perhaps picture these hand-shapes by the names we assigned them: the cliffhanger, the crab, the gun, the hook, the pecker. . .
Since then we have established a further collaboration with furniture makers Emma Leslie and Wilkey (Studio LW), who, together with myself Edd and Ida will be occupying the Shape Gallery at Westfield, Stratford between 19th August - 4th September to build, as a public exposition, the furniture for our eventual Demonstrating the World vehicle. Do feel free to call by and check how we are proceeding and learn more about the scope and aims of the project.