My final project for my Beyond the Studio module was a complex, yet entertaining piece involving a large group of 20 students in an enclosed space. The activity was simple: the students had to guide me from Point A (a disclosed location within the LICA Building), to Point B (a student hidden somewhere within the building) to Point C (LICA CO9 - the space that the group of students was based). Each member would take it in turns to dictate a direction for me to walk, for example: “three steps forward, then turn right”, until I had safely returned to them, thus ending the performance. My position was broadcast live on a large TV via the Bambuser app. This provided the group with a visual indicator as to my whereabouts in the building. In conjunction with this, I communicated with the group via a Skype call that was connected to a Kindle that I was holding. This allowed the students to dictate directions to me whilst seeing if I was completing them as they desired. To add to this, I was blind folded, meaning the group had to use their knowledge of the building to guide me. There were a number of key ideas behind the project.
Firstly was dialogue. The piece centred on the dialogue between the group, i.e. where they wanted me to go, the dialogue between me and the group, my dialogue with the group and my dialogue with passers-by had the group told me to speak which, in this this case, they did not. Secondly, the project was about the journey I made, how I traversed an environment I was familiar with but could not see. I required the help of someone else to get me through. Thirdly, it was to do with how well everyone knew the building that they would consider recognisable. Finally, the piece looked at our dependence on technology and how this is beginning to shape and change our lives and how it can sometimes fail. We need a screen to get places; we need and use maps on our phones when we’re lost, as opposed to asking others or reading signs. These do not always work, however. In this piece, there were instances where the stream was interrupted or stopped completely due to loss of service, highlighting that technology is not always reliable.
The project was partly inspired by ‘The Missing Voice’ by Janet Cardiff & Georges Bures Miller. Like ‘The Missing Voice’, it was the voice of strangers that guided me. While I may have known the names of the people in the group, and may have known some better than others, everyone was still, to some extent, a stranger. The piece created a relationship between me and the group as I was putting my trust in them. I had faith in them and trusted them not to put me in any danger. In case they did, I had a tutor act as a spotter, telling me to stop if I was about to walk into something or someone.
I chose to document this piece as a video as it was the best way of showing what happened during the performance. By filming three different locations (the room with the group, the Bambuser Broadcast and a GoPro attached to my head) and putting all these different videos together I was able to provide all the perspectives from the performance in one place and show the contrasting forms of dialogue that took place. For example, in the video it is clear to see and hear the main group discussing where they want me to go. It also shows my reaction to their instructions which, in some cases, make the performance more enjoyable. For example, early on in the video, one of the students can be heard saying “jump”. After a short delay, the camera appears to show me jumping. By putting the footage from Bambuser, as well as the footage from the room together, the audience can get a new perspective on the performance and can relive it as though they themselves were there interacting. To further this idea, links to the full individual videos can be accessed from the main YouTube video, meaning viewers can watch both the integrated video, as well as the individual angles to see what they were like. By documenting the full length of the performance as well, I am able to give new viewers a chance to experience the performance, despite not being present when it actually happened, allowing them to form their own opinions on the piece.
Students that took part in the performance noted a number of things. Most noted that, at the start, the performance seemed to be like a video game. The students were controlling where I was going and there was a novel quality to the whole thing. They noted, however, that as they became more used to the idea and as time went on, they began to take the concept seriously and worked hard to try and find the hidden person. Some also noted that the initial stages of the performance were humorous, but that it became more serious as the task went on. They all considered it to be incredibly difficult and stated that they would have struggled had I not given them a clue. A number of students also noted that they became more aware of me as the performance went on and were considerate towards trying to prevent me from getting injured.
I came across a number of challenges during the performance. I had found from previous experiments that the wifi signal in the LICA building was not consistent and noted the areas where it was weakest. Despite this, however, both the phone and video signal cut out on a number of occasions, meaning the group and I were cut off from each other. To combat this, I told the lead instructor in the group to refresh everything should the signal cut out prior to starting. As a result, we were able to get the performance back up and running again. Another problem I faced was not being able to walk straight because I was blindfolded. This meant that the instructions the group gave often did not correspond to what they wanted. There was no way of preventing this during the performance. The group decided, however, that after I had found the missing student, I should hold on to her shoulder so she could guide me back. This was a clever solution to the problem, and meant returning to the group was quick.
Below are photos from the performance, taken by Ollie Bradley-Baker.
Click the links below for the individual videos.
Main video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mn2Ft-8xkvQ
Bambuser Broadcast: https://youtu.be/otR2yEmnn1M
GoPro Hero 4: https://youtu.be/8pB_ZAci-Mw
Canon 70D: https://youtu.be/G6W1yEzNgKk
My proposal for my final project can be seen below. It displays the influences for the piece, as well as my original plan to use a GoPro and the ideas surrounding the performance.
On Friday 13th November, a series of co-ordinated terrorist attacks occurred in Paris and the northern suburb Saint-Denis. The attacks killed 130 people and injured 368. 89 of those killed were at the Bataclan Theatre, where gunmen opened fire on a large crowd of concert goers before taking hostages and engaging in a stand off with police.
In response to this act of savagery, one of the students decided to base her project on the people that were caught up and killed in this attack, as well as the attacks in Beirut (in which 43 people were killed) and Mali (where 27 people were killed). The names of all those that were killed in these three attacks were printed and stuck in and around the LICA building in a number of locations. The aim of the piece was to show that these people are now just names. They had their own lives, their own families, but now they are dead. Their names are ignored. Despite the fact that students noticed them around the building, no one stopped to consider why they were there or who they were. Admittedly, I never considered looking further into the names. I assumed they were for someone’s work so ignored them. This is perhaps why they were ignored, they were in a space where art works like this are expected. Having said this, however, the main aim of the work was to show that these people are now just names. We don’t care about their stories or how they died.
To document this piece, I wanted to create a sound recording describing the life of one of the names. Having already experimented with audio work in my first piece of documentation, however, I decided to create a short video consisting of a monologue, read over pictures of news reports and mobile phone footage from the Paris attack. The man I chose to research was Mathias Dymarski, a 23 year old French man. Dymarski was a well known BMX rider who was attending the Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan Theatre. He was brutally shot dead along with his girlfriend Marie, who he had been dating for six years. Dymarski was from Metz, but moved to Paris with Marie in September 2014. He was an engineer and she was a student. He was described by his friend Matthias Dandies as:
“a good looking guy, really talented on a BMX bike. He was not a professional rider in the textbook sense, but he was riding a lot, was super stylish, and he enjoyed every bit of it. Every time I met him for a session or at an event he always had a huge smile on his face, always joking around and always down to party.”… “In the end, he was just a positive dude that liked to ride his bike and have a good time with his friends. I’ll always remember his smile…that’s what stands out for me. He was ALWAYS smiling and had the best sense of humour. His nickname was Maccain…”
Dymarski’s name was displayed on a toilet door on the third floor of the LICA building. It was a name that I personally came across on more than one occassion, but did not register it. The reason I chose Dymarski was primarily because of the location of his name. When one finds out about his death, the placement of his name appears distasteful. Without this context, however, the placement is innocent. This was something that struck me deeply.
My documentation of the piece opens with breaking news reports from Fox News, CNN, and Sky News before the monologue begins. Amateur footage is displayed over the top of the monologue with the song ‘Went Missing’ by Nils Fram playing in the background. The monologue begins with the phrase “do you see me?”, a key concept in the original piece. Each new phase of the monologue plays on this statement “do you see me?”, almost as though Dymarski himself is trying to grab people’s attention, saying “don’t forget me.” The monologue continues, stating “You’ll never know me, the world will never know me. You might know my name but you won’t know me.” This, again, is making reference to the key ideas in the original piece–that of not knowing the stories of these victims; refusing to acknowledge their lives at all, only accepting their names. The monologue progresses further with the line “promise me you’ll remember the name: Mathias Dymarski.” being repeated in the final three paragraphs. Here, the piece is trying to address the idea that, in the future, Dymarski will be forgotten; bound to the history books, merely remaining as “a number on the news; a statistic in a book; a name on a wall.” Indeed, this notion is reiterated in the penultimate paragraph in which the narrator (who is portraying Dymarski) states “it’s been 2 weeks and you have forgotten already.” Images of the ‘This Morning’ program are shown with presenters Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby joking around, suggesting that the shock of the attacks has worn off and people have continued with their lives. This is what the original piece looks at and is key in my documentation. The final line brings together the two main notions of the original piece: “Do you see me? No. Just promise me you’ll remember the name: Mathias Dymarski.” The video ends with Dymarski’s name on a black background.
The monologue is almost like a piece of poetry. It evokes an emotive response and plays on the structure of the words. This is specifically seen when the narrator speaks the words of the BBC News presenter “They went in and calmly reloaded their weapons.” What's more, the phrase "the door to heaven" is referencing the bathroom door where the name is located. Yet, what is important about the monologue is the repetition of the key themes. The notion of being forgotten is central throughout the entire piece, something that stems from the original piece (as previously noted).
The video is in black and white to draw attention to the monologue. While the images are significant, removing their colour draws attention to the audio as opposed to what is shown. What’s more, by being in black and white, the piece suggests that these videos are a memory; they are being forgotten; they are in the past. The use of music is also significant in that it creates a stronger emotive response. Without the music, the voice would be speaking over silence. This may have reiterated the idea that Dymarski is now alone, but the use of music provides a deeper meaning to the monologue; it is more moving.
The piece was recorded with a RØDE USB microphone and edited using Final Cut Pro.
The whole monologue can be read below:
Do you see me? Do you see me dying? That man, that woman, that child. Right in front of you on your television screen. I was in that theatre. I was in the crowd. How was I to know? How were we all to know? Who ever could have thought that this would happen. But it has. And now I’m caught up in it.
Do you see me? The one on your phone, the one youre just hearing about, the one that may already be dead. You’ll never know me, the world will never know me. You might know my name but you won’t know ME. I’m gone. A number on the news; a statistic in a book; a name on a wall. Removed from the present and stuck in the past. The doorway to heaven. I see it. But do you see me?
I’m in front of you now. Mathias Dymarski. I’m a BMX rider. That was my hobby. That was my life.
Here I am in Spain. With Marie, my girlfriend of six years. She’s Lying beside me. With me. I see her, she sees me. Together eternally.
But do YOU see me? Do you care? I guess not. I’m just one of the 80 people shot dead. They went in and calmly reloaded their weapons, and with that I was gone. We were gone. Maria and I and all the others, wiped from the present. Promise me you’ll remember the name: Mathias Dymarski
Do you see me? It’s been 2 weeks and you have forgotten already. I’m there when you least expect it. When you need the privacy I’m there. My name. Me. I asked if you if you saw me and you ignored me. Do you see me now? Just promise me, remember the name: Mathias Dymarski
Do you see me? No. Just promise me you’ll remember the name: Mathias Dymarski.
For week 3’s theme ‘Food’, students lay down in Alexandra square with sweets across their bodies. The idea of the piece was to test the boundaries of social interaction and to see who would be willing to take free food from a stranger's body.
To document this piece, I chose to use Yik Yak, the social media app that allows people to anonymously create and respond to discussion threads and posts (called ‘Yaks’) uploaded within a 5-mile radius of the user. The app is incredibly popular with Lancaster University students as it allows for complete anonymity, with posts often being humorous or witty. The app also provides a valuable way of finding out what is going on on campus with users posting updates mocking or informing others of activities occurring at the university. I felt this would provide a unique form of documentation as it would give me the opportunity to post my own ‘Yaks’ as though they were written by passers-by.
The Yaks that I posted (shown above) consist of key snippets of conversation I heard from people walking past the performance. In some cases, the Yaks are comments that people made when I myself was talking to them. For example, the Yak “Love how people are so scared to take sweets from people’s bodies, especially if they’re lower than the person’s stomach.” was influenced by a comment that one of the third year students made during the performance.
The decision to choose Yik Yak was influenced partly by its ease of use and the anonymity it provides, allowing me to pretend to be 12 different university students, but also through the reactions it would cause from other users. Yaks are significant places of conversation, with users either joining in with the humour, providing helpful information or simply being a nuisance. By using Yik Yak, I was able to start a discussion with other users, and see their reactions to the performance. These cannot be seen in the screenshots, however, as Yaks are only available for a limited amount of time and if given 5 down votes (-5) are automatically deleted from the main thread.
One limitation to using Yik Yak was that by the time I had posted one Yak, a number of key comments had been made that I had missed. The time it took to type out comments also meant I missed key interactions, such as one girl having a conversation with one of the students lying on the floor (a photo of this interaction can be seen below). The advantage of using this social media app as opposed to a more popular like Twitter, however, was primarily its popularity amongst university students, but more the anonymity it provides. Whilst Twitter ultimately creates the same environment, the anonymity of Yik Yak provided me with a large window of opportunity, giving me the chance to post yaks that would make it seem like this performance was a key piece of social interaction at the University, which it was.
The Yaks I posted during the performance are presented in the slideshow above. I chose to put them together in a digital slideshow, as opposed to printing them out and having them in a book, because I wanted them to remain digital. Yik Yak is an online forum, it is rooted in the digital world. It does not expand out into the physical world, it remains on our phones. I wanted to maintain this notion.
5 small groups of students were sent off into Lancaster town centre with a question and a task. The objective: to get a member of the public involved in their discussion; to see how long they could engage with a total stranger; to see whether anyone would respond to the groups’ requests for a discussion at all.
The piece addressed a number of key ideas: Do we ever take on difficult questions in life? Are we all just selfish, ignorant people who completely reject anyone outside of our close circle of friends? Are we scared to ask for help? Would you ever ask for help? Would you ever stop and ask for a stranger’s opinion on something?
Town centres are often considered to be busy, social places filled with engaged and interesting people. In reality, they are quiet, lonely spaces where people refuse to break the social norm and talk to strangers. Even talking to a homeless man is considered to be radically against the status quo: “why are you talking to that man? You don’t know what he might do.” Admittedly, we were all taught as children to not talk to strangers. But perhaps this statement is outdated; meaningless in our 21st century society. In this new world of technology and networks, of communication and involvement, maybe talking to strangers is inevitable. You could be talking to a stranger on Facebook right now. How well do you know that girl/guy you’re talking to? When’s his birthday? What’s his favourite meal? Where does he live? This piece attempts to create this conversation with members of the public to address the notions surrounding the town and the boundaries of social conversation. How far can one go when talking to a stranger?
The 5 groups were given the following questions, some more challenging/comical than others:
Each group received different responses from the public. The first group found that the person they asked gave a scientific answer, but also changed the conversation. The second group noted that the group they asked were adamant that an extremely intelligent child would be more beneficial and refused to change their mind. The third group stated that people were not willing to talk about the question, but described the answers that people did give, noting that the response they received from the homeless man was moving. The fourth group found that the wood carver that they asked was willing to engage in conversation with them, perhaps because he had been working at his stall all day, which would ultimately require him to be social. The final group found that they drew agitated responses from members of the public. They found that people were irritated that they had asked them such an obscure question and a few did not even stop walking to answer the question.
What is interesting to note from these results is how strangers often refused to give the groups the time to discuss their questions. They, instead, stated that they were in a rush and went on with their day, perhaps to avoid having to answer the questions and finding themselves in an awkward situation. Especially in the case of fifth group, strangers did not even stop to engage in conversation. The results show the extent to which the phrase “don’t talk to strangers” is still enforced and reiterates the notion that the town centre is a quiet space filled with people who refuse to break the social norm. People would much rather be enclosed in their own social bubble than open out and talk to others, partly because it is seen as an odd thing to do, specifically in our culture.
The piece was originally intended to be conducted in Lancaster train station but was moved to the town centre after concern was expressed by the Station manager. Each group was also originally intended to have their own microphones when talking to members of the public, but for reasons of consent, it was decided that we would interview the groups after their conversations instead.
The audio recordings from the interviews with the groups can be found below: https://soundcloud.com/harryjamesmcgill/sets/btsinterviews
The transcribed interviews can be seen below showing the group members, their location and the question they were given.
The sped up video below shows Sara and I brainstorming the idea for this piece in our studio space. This piece was a collaborative effort between the two of us.