Telling Stories in the Dark

[Response to NoNothing Salons in the Dark: Collaborative Storytelling, developed by Oreet Ashery between November 2016 and January 2017]

As part of her Chelsea residency, Oreet Ashery took cardboard and black sheets to the windows and doors of Babak’s Bar & Grill and invited James, Emily, Mark, Chiara and myself to sit in a circle and generate a story. In three sessions we experimented with a form of sensory-deprived improv, resulting in dreamlike narratives. We are yet to decide the editorial format for the recordings taken during the sessions, but the experience of writing from the Broca allowed a better understanding of the creative process.

I have always had a very pragmatic sense of art creation, I don’t believe in divine inspiration. I feel that language gives us one of our best experiences of the what and how of making art. Language production, and its subsequent conscious thought, takes place in a vague circuitous area somewhere between our collection of short and long term memories; the perlocutionary act and our reaction to that act, feeding back into a word flow. Think of starting the sentence, “That will be three pounds fifty madam”, on autopilot whilst running the ticket office of your local theatre, then realising as you are saying it that the person in front of you is male and owns the theatre. The sentence will adjust even as it leaves your mouth in tone, and even if it remains significantly identical its content may gain irony by its conclusion.

When we write, we exercise a form of locutionary acts where the receiver can be seen as the page forming in front of us. Writers rarely start a page with a predefined knowledge of what it will consist of; sentences form and are reacted to in a dialogue with the page. This dialogue involves the format of production, the person slurping coffee next to you, the whir of the fridge, the food in your belly, the paper, the pen, the keyboard, the fear. These influences are concentrated on the cursor or nib. As the words form on the page, or are structured by the hugely influential framework of the computer user interface, our understanding of where we are going adjusts continually in a conversational loop.

Generating a narrative as a collaboration is a more recognisable form of conversation, yet by removing the visual feedback we can rarify the dialogue to something mimicking the writing process. During Oreet’s sessions I found myself deliberately clearing my mind like a new sheet of paper and allowing the literary images to appear from whichever source was talking. I tried to replicate the same atmosphere in my mind that I have used when writing poetry, allowing the continuous mental hubbub to freely rattle and coalesce with as little interference from grammar or intention as possible. It’s a difficult process, you hold too tightly to some images, ignore others that contradict your expectation, and you curse some words that leave your own lips. Oreet’s sessions were a single draft process, no delete key, and the story continued without our complete control. It reminded me of writing music within a band; the jamming process, when you all explore an idea proposed by a vocal line, guitar riff, bass line or drum beat, taking it as far as it will go before it becomes repetitive or falls apart.

NoNothing Salons in the Dark: Collaborative Storytelling will be available in published form from the summer of 2017.

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