The problem with themes
Extract from LOF work logg April, 5th, 2016.
Before I started working on this project I approached a few colleagues for advice. I wanted to hear their views on using "a set narrative" or "a theme" in their projects, when faced by the expectation of
delivering a "great performance".
– How can the artist remain free in a live improvisation, without getting trapped in tried & tested themes and formulas? I asked.
Some people, with a lot more substantial experience in live performance than myself, found it hard to relate to the question and grasp my problem.
– Failure is of course part of every real improvisation, they shuddered.
I was not entirely happy with this answer – as it simplifies the dilemma.
I find it a little naive, and very hard to believe, that even the most rugged live performer, is a solid 100% comfortable with failure.
When working with The Lost and Found project I wanted to test a formula that I realised highlighted my own insecurities of improvisation. It was therefore surprising that some artists denied such pressure even existed.
Nevertheless, one advice that stayed with me, was the advice of Jean-Louis Huhta.
He is probably one of Swedens most notorious live musicians and experimental composers operating in various fields ranging from electronic music to noise to sound art.
– When I improvise live I always start of with a type of intro which is not improvised, like a prelude. I do this for me – to know what direction the set is heading, Huhta explained.
What is interesting and revealing in Huhtas answer is the relation between safety and freedom. It incites that with a theme Huhta feels reassured and safe and consequently free to do what he wants. The theme makes it possible to trust himself – as the performance is no longer randomly – but through magic logically – constructed according to a, by himself, given narrative.
The artist and musician Jean Louis Huhta uses the theme to ”get into the right vibe” when playing live.
I call it contextual direction but it can of course be a lot more abstract and emotionally based.
The audience grab it to paste together a narrative.
It is all the same, really.
Although, I accept our undeniable, mutual need of a theme. I cannot help feeling like it is cheating in relation to the Lost and found project.
How can we even begin to find new narratives when we already know in which direction we are heading?
Without a theme we are apparantly all totally lost. And… being totally lost is not only really scary but apparantly neither desirable.
When not even the performer herself knows what she is doing, the situation becomes embarassingly uncomfortable, also for the audience.
Being placed in the hands of a loose canon – totally out of control and prediction – can momentarily – face it – be very scary.
Still… is it not right there? In that uncomfortable, unsafe, but totally free, space, we need to be, if the aim is to further investigate art practice?
”The statement where it all ends and begins again is a truly wellknown maxim. While life itself is messy and illogical, full of contradictions and dead ends and provides hardly any answers, a narrative has to make sense. No matter how non-linear or experimental it claims to be – a narrative must make sense. There is a sense of an overall comprehension that is mesured in terms of ”what is just about enough” – enough, to stand and maintain its inner coherence”, claims Mika Hannula in the anthology Microhistories." (Hannula, 2016)
Interpreting Hannula, it becomes clear that it is pointless using random leftover sound fragments and improvisation, or any other method, to try to come up with new types of narratives. Because there is in fact only one (however wide brimmed)truly universal comprehension of an acceptable narrative.
If there are no other acceptable narratives,outside of this narrative, everything else is nothing and will therefore be translated as nothing, as well as a failure – as it apparantly lacked comprehendable meaning.
Another classic maxim in art and art’s education is:
"Limits (as in limiting themes, limited funds etc) create artistic freedom."
This maxim implies that total freedom, is in fact,limiting the artist’s expression.
I agree, that without any ideas or concepts, total freedom can sometimes result in poor art.
However – it is only when related to the results that limitless practice becomes a problem.
This is becauseits results might be considered useless in comparison to other, more comprehendable, narratives.
Art creation and artistic research is obviously a more manageable operation when equipped with various limits and boundaries and a consistently high success rate.
The question is – how progressive is it?
”Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again
– expecting different results.”