On the last day of Cthuluscene, the first exhibition that took place at ONCA gallery in 2020, artist David Blandy and ONCA co-director Persephone Pearl talked about the project and its themes in front of a small audience.
Persephone Pearl: Yeah, and we just thought it would be really nice to – as a coda, at the end of David’s exhibition – to have a little chat. Reflect on some of the works and explore the art and some of the ideas and the thinking behind them. David is an installation and video artist who’s based in Brighton – mainly? – and London?
David Blandy: Completely Brighton. I’ve been spending a lot of time in Essex over the past couple of years but I’ve been living in Brighton for the last nine years. So I was born and bred in London, but yeah, it’s Brighton is definitely home now.
PP: And your work explores, you like to explore sort of where popular culture meets art and you’ve got a passion for gaming.
DB: Yeah, it’s not so much like where popular culture meets art, it’s those kind of like, those lines where, where do we get our ideas about who we are and and our place in society from the things that surround us? So sort of seeing popular culture as part of almost like a folk art I guess, and a folk expression of some sort. But at the same time seeing the problematic aspect of the fact that it’s actually, it’s a mass produced culture, it’s produced by often, kind of in, in league with, with corporations and makes lots of money for certain people and how do those things work? But then it still becomes very important to you – you know, you love that song, you love this singer, or you love this video game. It is you know, this virtual space you spend a couple of years in becomes part you, becomes part of your experience. That was one of the things that brought me and Larry together for our collaboration – it was our shared love of video games and hip hop.
But yeah, in a way, the space that brings me and Claire together – apart from our mutual love – is the filmic space. She’s an incredible cinematographer and photographer, and filmed all of this and those. And we’ve worked together on lots of things before, but this is the first time that we’ve kind of called it – actually, the second technically – time that we’ve called it a proper collaboration. Which was Cthuluscene, the film there, which was a way of bringing Claire’s practice kind to the of fore out of – I dunno – becauseI guess it’s it’s sort of very often she’s been like a producer role like, forming ideas, things, but it felt necessary to make that more evident.
I guess very often she’s been like a producer role like, forming ideas, things, but it felt necessary to make that more evident. Yeah, exactly creative, important. The fact that, you know… it’s a funny thing, art and authorship, and, you know, naming – what name you put to a thing. I’m, you know, like that book back there that’s, that’s in the work of, I would say, I think around 20 people or something, and but, you know, it was it was kind of – on the cover, it’s got me and Matt, and that kind of makes sense because I sort of instigated it and oversaw it and kind of, you know, brought it together did the design etc, etc – it’s sort of a blueprint of a world that I’d thought up – but Matt Goulson created the game engine, the way it functioned as a working tabletop roleplay game for people’s imaginations. So that made sense, but then there’s all these other voices that come into it and they’re equally important really, but just yeah.
PP: Would you like to talk to us a little bit about the creation of The World After – the roleplay game?
DB: So okay, yeah, let’s start there. So The World After – I don’t know if you have time – but it’s a half hour film, which was initially presented at Focal Point Gallery in Southend. And it is a site specific work for a place called Canvey Wick in Essex, which is on Canvey Island. I don’t know if you know about Canvey Island, but it’s a place that was initially I think four islands, which then were combined in the 17th century using Dutch technology into one island that’s below sea level. So you know, it’s always at risk of being inundated by by the sea, it’s right on the estuary. But they used, you know, all the silt and sand they and built large dikes and it’s, they had a terrible flood there in 1953, where tens of people died. It was the same flood that killed hundreds of people in Holland as well. There was a really high spring tide and it upped the walls. Of course, you know, they’re imminently at danger of sea level rise. But the site particularly I found interesting because it had been due to be an oil reserve. So somewhere where they would store oil – tankers would come in on the Thames, and then stop at the end of this enormous jetty. It’s almost two kilometres long – from the site going out into the deep water, and all the oil would be then siphoned off and stored in these great big tankers and kind of used for various things around. But it never happened because of the oil crash in 1973. So it just became, the land was abandoned, and it became just this kind of derelict site for about 40 years. And they, kind of – obviously, like teenagers went there, and occasional dog walkers. And it became, they started looking at it, and it was discovered that it was an incredibly rich habitat, it’s one of the most biodiverse spaces in the UK, because of the mixture of types of soil there. Because of the use of the silt and sand and then kind of being on this shipping route so they’d get all of these plants and arachnids coming on. So it’s got wild orchids and unique bees.
PP: Is there a spider…?
DD: I believe so.
Audience: Is that alien species that have come?
DD: No. Well, they’ve, some are adapted to that area and some, there are aliens as well that like, I don’t know, there’s a succulent you can see in this film, which like, succulents aren’t sort of native to, to there, so… But yeah, I guess that’s one of the things I’m quite interested in – that whole concept of what is a natural space. But yes. And this tale of rebirth from industrial, the depths of industrial use into kind of a living space again, these are these the kind of tarmac areas and you see that these are these huge tarmac circles that were the basis for the oil tanks. So they’re still there, mostly used by people coming in at midnight and cycling around, going around on motorbikes, but you see the tyre tracks and occasional beer bottles and… So yes, Claire and I went there for a year, filming through the year, documenting the seasons. And then, but I also wanted to bring in a, an imagined future world of what, what would happen if the climate crisis turned into a kind of cataclysm, and we had to escape the surface. If the air was no longer fit to breathe – Australian wildfires etc creating this smog – and water’s getting more scarce, food supplies, everything. So imagine this world where kind of a certain amount of people managed escape into underground silos. Huge great bunkers underground sort of, you know, can only really exist in the fantasy space because they’re so huge and all encompassing, and they’re only emerging now, 8000 years later, after this magical force of ‘Essence’ has been released by by the by the Earth, by the Earth’s crust to try and counter this, yeah, environmental destruction. So it’s sort of like a Gaia force. And that yeah, that’s The World After. And then we started creating this collaborative space with a bunch of gamers, tabletop roleplay games from Essex from the, from the area that we’re talking about. So it sort of became a game about the space that they inhabit, in a way.
And so yeah, then we were mentioning that each of these different there were a whole bunch of different havens, and each of them would have evolved completely independently. So they would have evolved in different ways and none of them would be homo sapiens anymore, there’d be something else – this new, this new creature, like you have the Neanderthal, the Denisovans, etc – you have now the Shard, the Dara there are all these different types of people. And now 8000 years later, they’re coming back onto the surface and trying to, they’re meeting each other for the first time, they’re kind of trying to make new connections and trying to forge some form of community solidarity out of this separation. So, so that’s the story of that book. And those, some of the stories from that inspired the text that goes with this. So it’s almost like I have a collection of stories from that time. So, it’s people looking back on our time as sort of a mythical, legendary time. But also kind of encountering this new space and just, just experiencing the raw reality of encountering insects. So this sort of reverie in nature, and thinking about the conflicts…
PP: So you worked with local gamers to come up with a kind of site specific but imagined universe?
DB: Yeah, it’s kind of a collaborative process towards a collaborative vision for the future.
PP: So the game is collaborative?
DB: Yeah, it’s I mean, all tabletop roleplay games are collaborative in the sense that you, if you’ve ever played something like Dungeons and Dragons, you have a central person in Dungeons and Dragons who’s called a Dungeon Master, that in our game is called a Mentor who effectively creates a scenario for the players around the table. So normally, it would be like four people plus a Mentor. And you would be describing, the Mentor describes a space, describes a scenario and then says, What do you want to do And and the four people as their characters, will say, ‘I want to investigate this rock,’ or ‘What’s that light over there?’ It kind of becomes a back and forth and you all sort of start to imagine the space together, it becomes like a collective, yeah, virtual space, really, with almost like, you know, infinitesimal detail because the more that someone investigates something, the more the Mentor has to describe it, and so it becomes like, it, yeah, ‘Oh, is it red?’ or ‘What colour is this rock, it’s red,’ and ‘Is it shiny or dull? ‘Well, it’s shiny and it glistens in the sun, and you notice in the reflection something that…’ You know, it becomes, yeah, unique. It’s halfway between like, a game of chance because there’s dice rolling involved, and almost like improvised theatre. So you’re kind of acting as a person but it also – I was thinking that, because I was talking with a friend about the situation – it is like a form of ritual as well, because by just sitting down to take part in this, you’re sort of agreeing to take part in a collaborative imaginative experience. You sort of, you know, you kind of let go of that idea that you’re not supposed to say things. And kind of, yeah, it’s like saying again, it’s like that thing in the playground: shall we play a game? And you kind of, you know, for six year old kids that’s just natural – you just kind of, you know, hold hands and go, ‘Right, you know, that’s base; you got to gotta stay away from those guys’ – and then that kind of becomes the game instantly. Whereas in adult life, you have to form kind of a ritual to clear space around it and say, this is the time that we can just imagine something. So I found that incredibly interesting and powerful, especially as I’ve been playing with my kids, Dungeons and Dragons, for a few years –
PP: They started young –
DB: Yeah, it’s my son who’s kind of most keen, but then Phoebe got really into it too, so I wanted to try and tie that into the work somehow. So yeah, so the two things inform each other so that you’ve got the book and the film and they’re, I think, both the richer for experiencing the other in a way.
PP: It’s like a sort of, do you think this, it becomes a sort of supportive space for sort of the practice of imagination, which is often something that falls by the wayside. Because we don’t really have that many spaces. I guess gaming?
DB: I hope so. Yeah, yeah. And I think I think there’s so many – it’s still a very – it’s kind of a very closed world, that world of gaming in the sense, you know, a lot of people are put off by the mechanics around it, or just the image of the people who play it and things like this. And, you know, it’s, it’s saying, this is actually a space where you can imagine different futures. And that’s, that’s sort of, you know, I think that’s a very powerful thing to do. So. So yeah, it’s just opening – and in a way it comes back to what you’re saying about me working with popular culture – it’s often, it’s thinking about, you know, can it be a space where we can come together, in a way? Can it be a space for solidarity and, and a space for thinking about change? Rather than necessarily, I don’t know, as just a pure escapist fantasy, which, of course, is inherent the work but anyway, that’s part of art in some ways.
PP: And that’s where you took the Grand Theft Auto sort of world in your project with Larry? From the violence space into a space where you could –
DB: Yeah, exactly, a space, you know it’s a space associated with violence. This is a work called Finding Fanon 2 which I made with Larry Achiampong, which, where we’d already made a previous work in kind o of using filmic reality. So we were, we were dressed in tweed suits like Sartre and Fanon meeting in a cafe, in a boat in Shoreham by Sea. Like one of those those houseboats – I don’t know if you’d be down there – it’s an incredible collection of houseboats. One of them is called the Vada, run by Hamish McKenzie, made by him. It’s like a bus welded onto the top of a boat. And it kind of it’s got a washing machine stuck on the side of it. It’s like it’s incredibly like, yeah, real steampunk kind of post apocalyptic sort of site. And we filmed in there, Claire filmed that as well. And then we filmed on the beach in Shoreham by Sea, kind of made this work. But we thought, yeah, but we didn’t deal with you know, one of the spaces where, you know, a lot of our conversations about identity and race have been being thought about – which is inside the virtual space, inside a video game. So then yeah, we were thinking about different options for what what video game could we work with, could we work with Skyrim, which is sort of like this Dungeons and Dragons space. It’s like a Nordic, lots of pine trees, everyone’s in medieval dress. And then there was Fallout, which is sort of more post apocalyptic. Everyone’s in sort of, yeah, gas masks in this space. But then we were looking at Grand Theft Auto. Grand Theft Auto 5 had just come out on the PC and it was like, you were able to soup it up to be 4k resolution, and it had this editor mode. It’s like, well, actually, this could be really interesting, because this is a space that’s based on violence. And we could talk about cultural violence inside this, this space. So we formed our two avatars, we managed to find these tweed seats that look just like the tweed suits that we had in the first film, and met up online because we had to have two different computers to have two avatars in this space. So, and then we kind of say, I dunno, ‘Shall we mean by the pier?’ and then both steal cars and kind of drive down to the pier. Sometimes it took like 20 minutes or so to get to the right place, and then you kind of wander around together in this space. And then yeah, take it into this, this editing mode where you can define what the camera angles are, and you can do these incredible kind of pan shots and, and drone shots and all that, you know, it’s like having a film sandbox, it’s incredible to experience that.
PP: Just at home?
DB: Yeah. And then used that. Yeah, that kind of formed a – yeah, we’d made this work, which was for the Brighton Digital Festival. It was screened there and then it’s kind of, yeah, it’s kind of taken on a life of its own. It was kind of picked up by people about, looking at that kind of crossover between art and video games, and it’s part of a genre called machinima, which is where you create films inside of computer games. It’s a genre that’s sort of existed for maybe about 15 years or something. Since I think the first proper machinima were made inside this game called Halo, where people will kind of form clans and rather than shoot each other, they would, like, act things out. So this, it’s kind of moved from there. And it’s now, yeah, I spent the last week, last five days kind of basically teaching this technique to a bunch of students in Amsterdam, it’s an MA film course. And it was quite an interesting way of looking at film but also, yeah, thinking about where, um, how to make narrative and kind of looking at the virtual space, so it’s lots of things at once. And yeah, they worked collaboratively and made a whole bunch of films which are really cool. So it’s very good, very quick way of creating imagery.
PP: And wonderful in terms of it offering an opportunity to subvert something which you don’t necessarily think that you can?
DB: Yeah, I mean, it’s quite, yeah, it’s a, it’s both a very closed space in that it has edges and it’s kind of filled with its own language. It’s, it’s kind of every billboard that you see is like some sort of subversion of, of a popular trope. It sort of has its own humour in it. And yes, I mean, the only actions you can do in it really are jumping and hitting something.
PP: And striding.
DB: Apart from walking, yeah, so it’s, you know – and swimming actually, swimming’s quite good in that game. But it’s, yeah, it kind of it makes for a really beautiful sort of, basically, walking simulator – you can kind of find all these different environments and find, yeah, they’ve – during this week, I’ve seen some spaces that I’ve never seen before. Because it’s such a vast virtual environment, it’s like, dunno, it’s probably bigger than the size of Brighton virtually. Like, you know, it takes takes a long time to – I think it would take about a day in game time to walk from one side of the site to the other. So it’s pretty huge.
PP: And you and Larry decided within the world that you weren’t going to engage in the sort of stuff on the ground, but that you were on a quest to find the lost place –
DB: Yes. Exactly – so this was the, kind of the narrative of the three films – it was a trilogy – of searching for the plays of Franz Fanon. Franz Fanon was a psychiatrist and philosopher theorist from the 50s mostly was when he was doing most of his writings: Black Skin, White Masks, The Wretched of the Earth were his two main books. The Wretched the Earth has a really great introduction by Sartre, which was a nice introduction to his, his writings. But yeah, I mean, incredible theory, and analysis, like looking at how race is created and sustained and how it affects people psychologically, but it also, but it kind of doesn’t offer almost any solution. I mean, not as a solution. Not, where do we go from here? It’s more kind of a document of where we’ve been and how, you know, the current situation. And there is this kind of possibility of some sort of redemptive aspect of these plays, these fictions, which may or may not be in those those fictions. So that was the idea. It’s kind of a metaphor for this search, I guess. And so we were searching through these different spaces: the past in the first film, looking at mine and Larry’s relationships to colonialism. So for Larry, it was his uncle being in various detention centres in the UK, for – just because he was Ghanaian. And then my, on my side, my grandfather was a horticulturist and he taught pineapple growing in Kenya. As part of the Swinnerton Plan. I don’t know if he knew it was part of the Swinnerton Plan but – which was a British secret plan to create a black middle class in Kenya, in order to repress the Mau Mau Uprising, so it sort of… obviously failed, because Kenya became independent very soon after that. My grandfather left and ended up in Burma, which also had similar problems very soon after. So he kind of went, was, yeah a colonial marker. But you know, to him it was a job, something to do, but at the same time, very much implicated in it. You know, this crop that is not indigenous to, is indigenous to South America. So you know, trying to grow that in Kenya, and it’s not for them, it’s a cash crop. It’s not for actually consumption locally. And in fact, those plantations still exist – they’re owned by Del Monte and they still ship tinned pineapple all over the world. So yeah. Extraordinary really.
PP: So you the filmmakers were able to kind of visit those stories in a way that potentially the original experiencers weren’t?
DB: Yeah, and then how those histories have informed the present moment, and then, and how that impacts on our friendship. So that’s kind of the subtext for that. And then Fanon Two is very much about the present virtual moment and how ideas around race kind of move. They’re not left behind when you go into the virtual realm. It’s felt like, you know, that for a long time there was that thought that, you know, oh, it’s, you know, it’s like a clean slate. Everyone’s equal and it’s, it just, yeah, it’s an – in fact, it’s, again, an intensely racialized space. So, yeah, how do we, how do you deal with that? And then we went in, on to the third film, which was thinking about the future. So we’ve worked with, with our children, we both have two children. And then, you know, a lot of the film is watching them playing together and kind of journeying together through to this final scene at a fire, contemplating where we go into you know. In a way, in a way I think the the conclusion of the whole thing is that really – Stuart Hall, a British theorist really said – that it’s just an unfinished conversation and you have to, it’s some, it’s a process and it’s something that has to be kept being talked about, because otherwise it sort of, it ossifies. There’s no resolution to this thing. So yeah, so that’s Finding Fanon.
PP: So chronologically: I know that this is an ongoing collaboration, and that there’s more work that you’ve made since then and coming up next year, but I guess sort of to bring it back to Cthuluscene and The World After, do you feel they, you made them after Finding Fanon, do you feel that, how do they connect to that?
DB: I guess, they are definitely linked in some way. I mean, Finding Fanon set up a – you know, it’s very much a subtext of the work – but there’s an idea that there’s a sort of post-apocalyptic space. There’s a kind of –
PP: The boat, the woods?
DB: Yeah, and also like, it’s a space with no other people. So it’s sort of like you have, yeah, both the kind of post-apocalyptic boat, you have the whole area of Grand Theft Auto which, you know, these huge cities with no one in them. And then, in Three, you don’t see anyone up on the Downs or anything like that. It’s like you’re the only people left on on earth. And then there’s sort of these references in the script to the place of ‘the intersection’ and ‘going across the grid’. And then in The World After, the book, the space, the surface world is described as ‘the intersection’: it’s the space where these places meet. So yeah, it was, it was kind of like, it felt like a natural kind of progression from then. You know, maybe Finding Fanon comes straight after the, I don’t know, there’s sort of a moment around 2100 where everyone’s escaped into – either has died, or gone into havens – which, which sort of would be the place of Finding Fanon – and then this is 8000 years later, when people have evolved into something else. I mean yeah, the Cthuluscene sort of plays with that fiction: there sort of like, the voice is – it’s obviously a voice of now because it’s talking about, you know, we’re in the middle of a mass extinction now. But it’s, it doesn’t quite feel of this time – sort of semi, it’s kind of semi outside and inside the space. So yeah. It was a conscious decision to work with a non-native English speaker to do the voice, and partly it’s a of reference to Greta, but partly just to kind of take, yeah, bring it outside of this sort of present space and make it something else.
PP: And not not the sort of classical male scientist.
DB: Yeah. I didn’t want to hear my voice again.
PP: Why did you make Cthuluscene?
DB: It was a mixture of things really. It was partly, I mean, Claire was really fascinated by the space…
PP: The museum? The Grant Museum?
DB: Yes, it was filmed at the Grant Museum which is part of the UCL, which is University College London. And it’s a, I guess it’s a bequest museum. It’s a museum that’s kind of created out of one person’s collection, which is then added to. Mr Grant. And it’s, yeah, it’s sort of it’s like a record of a certain mode of inquiry where everything is sort of bottled and jarred and put in big shelves. And so you’re comparing this sample to that sample. And in some ways, it was a reaction to the work that Larry and I did after the Fanon work, which was called A Terrible Fiction. It was in the show, Genetic Automata at Arts Catalyst, which was looking at the story of John Edmondstone, who was a freed slave who taught Darwin to do taxidermy at Edinburgh University. Well, it wasn’t as part of his studies at Edinburgh, but he took these individual lessons in order to, because he knew it’d be important for his biology, Darwin did. So this this whole, you know, and without that taxidermy, he wouldn’t have been able to get any samples, the Galapagos Islands, and then we wouldn’t have the theory of evolution, basically. So it’s sort of like that, that relationship is kind of integral to that, the development of that theory. So, which is kind of so central to modern biology, well, to biology full stop really.
PP: That Edmondstone is erased?
DB: Yeah, well, I mean, he’s definitely not as famous as Darwin. Maybe rightly so. Even though Darwin, Darwin published a great big fat book or two, and, but at the same time his part of the story is very important, is key. And there’s a kind of interesting, yes, it is a problematic relationship in the sense that there was these letters where Darwin chose to work with Edmondstone because he was cheap, and it’s sort of like you know, wondering what quite what the relationship was. But anyway the skills were there, and then you know, and then we kind of started imagining these conversations about Edmondstone’s earlier life which was on, in the West Indies, and kind of collecting samples. And then, yeah, coming to England, well Scotland in fact, and then having me this this other life between these worlds.
So there was there was that, and that film is very much like it’s me and Larry filming each other’s skin very close up and lots of macro shots, and then filming these birds as these kind of dead specimens from the Darwin collection, which is part of the Natural History Museum’s collection. And then yeah, then looking at kind of, there’s this kind of thing into faces. And it starts kind of thinking about things like eugenics. Yeah, and I guess that intersects with a certain part of my own practice, which is looking at notions of objectivity and what, how objectivity has created a lot of interesting, very essential things in this world, but it also creates lines around things and says, kind of separates one species from another in a very definite way, which is not quite how nature works, because everything’s much more fluid. And, you know, as an artist, one of the things you learn when you’re drawing is that, you know the line is an artificial boundary – that we use line because it’s a useful shortcut, it kind of mimics how we understand the world. But in fact, it’s just it’s a construct, it’s just – we are connected intimately to the thing – the atoms from my hand are meshing with the atoms from this piece of paper right now, and then they’re separated again. Sort of like, we’re just part of a continuum, but this is often denied in order to create boundaries and you know, it’s kind of definite, deliberate. A kind of metaphor with things like, yeah, boundaries between nations and boundaries between people. And you know a lot of it comes down to that scientific method of separating and naming and saying this, you stay in your box, you stay in your box and everything’s controlled. So that’s, that was kind of at the heart of what I want to think about with the script. And it was really inspired by kind of just the act of looking and kind of, you know, being in that space. And yeah, it’s great. And I guess my, my main input to that is kind of the script, the script work.
DB: Well, I guess. Yeah, that’s kind of how I write, I guess. I’m not very good at just straight prose, which is why something like The World After was such a struggle. Trying to make sense for a really long period of time. I much prefer having things that like, one line kind of intersects with another, kind of creating this friction between different – like, like, say have a bit of scientific text, and then a bit of kind of more poetic description and they kind of, you know, how do these intertwine, these different modes of language? How do they describe the same thing? So that is what I kind of get excited about seeing. Yeah, often it’s that intersection between sort of like the found object and then the kind of imagined something, and mashing them together and seeing what comes out of it.
PP: Mirroring what you’re saying about artificial boundaries in science.
DB: Yeah, I guess.
PP: The name Cthuluscene – it’s an amazing word.
DB: A neologism.
PP: It’s a neologism of the Anthropocene.
DB: Yeah, it’s obviously inspired by Haraway. Donna Haraway’s book, ‘Staying with the Trouble’ – she coined it in that. Well, she talks about two Chthulucenes, both spelled slightly differently, which, but both spelt without an ‘s’ at the end, which are either the coming together of species in order to find a common future or the not coming together and there being kind of mutual destruction. So that’s kind of, sort of a being like, and that’s the Cthulhu, which is like, yeah, the Cthulhu of Lovecraft, HP Lovecraft who imagined this being that lives in the in the depths of the earth, that kind of inflicts madness on everyone and, and kind of is there waiting to kind of take over again. In a way, yeah, it’s that kind of cosmic horror, which is that man’s place in the universe is completely insignificant and pointless. And that that realization creates madness – that’s kind of like the HP Lovecraft thing. And so it’s that tension between those two positions, but then I kind of, I was thinking, you know, but what we want to do is we want to create a scene we want to create like this, this, yeah, kind of like a coming together community like, I dunno, like a… There’s a song by Dinosaur Jr, called ‘Freak Scene’ which is like all about, I don’t know, I guess it’s the skateboarders and the surfers, and the druggies and the students all coming together and working, you know, kind of just having fun together and like forming this new community. And then, you know, the idea of the gay scene and like kind of people working together because because they have a common interest, a common type of sexuality. So, like, you know, the idea of the scene kind of became – I thought it would be interesting to meld, merge them, and kind of make them this complicated word that doesn’t, doesn’t quite make sense, but you kind of get a sense that it might be like an era and a collective. So yeah.
PP: And an invitation?
DB: Yeah. Come and join this journey. Into a world without lines.
PP: Because the the text is full of questions. I think I’ll just ask you one more question. And then maybe we can open up and other people will have questions. Yeah. [To audience] When you when you came in, you would have heard Cthuluscene playing because you’ve chosen to put the arguably more uplifting The World After on with the headphones. Obviously Cthuluscene is the newer of the two works. Why did you choose to fill the gallery with, with that as the, with this, this sort of paradigm?
DB: Yeah. I mean, yeah, this is an idea to almost mimic the museum structure. So you have these kind of these shelves, the specimen bottles kind of moving across them in a way, even though they’re mirrored. But I guess it was, one it was a practical thing – I wanted to really highlight that work and kind of give it the attention it deserves, because this was on simultaneously at Focal Point in Southend at the same time, so – but you know, and then if you have two lots of sound playing in the same space, it becomes very distracting. So, it felt like – and this [The World After] is such a, it’s a work that you really have to be with. I think it’s very difficult to watch it for three minutes and get, you know, get a real sense of what it is. Whereas with Cthuluscene I think you get it quite quickly, it almost becomes more like an object, more similar in a way to most of my work, which is that it’s a moving visual object in space, so that you can kind of walk around and maybe experience a few minutes of, and you get a sense of you know, like Shakespeare’s plays, you kind of get a sense from one scene what the whole play is about. And in, you know, I try my work to make it so that even if you’re just passing through a space – because that’s most people’s experiences of video art in a gallery space – that it makes sense, that you get something from it. And then if you sit with it, and kind of really watch it a few times, you start to get all the nuances of what’s going on there. So. Yeah. This [Cthuluscene] feels more like a work that kind of holds the space, this sort of space in a more natural way.
Whereas this [The World After] is something that really you had to spend proper time with and you know, in some ways, it makes more sense in an installation like when it was shown at Focal Point it was in a room twice the size of this with a, we built a pier out of old wood from the Southend pier, which we just recycled into this thing that you could walk up onto and then look out over a sea of this kind of, yeah, this is like recycled tyre, like when it gets turned into pellets and stuff, that was just all over the floor with with a bunch of polystyrene broken columns, which looks a bit like the polystyrene columns there. So it’s almost like you’re going inside a game set or you know or you can kind of take it as the image that you see, which is sort of like this post-apocalyptic, sort of the last remnants of these. Concrete is some of the last stuff that will be surviving after us. All the all the metal inside them, of course, will have rusted millennia ago, but the actual concrete sticks around. So, yeah. It’s it’s a kind of work that needs, you need to come spend with. Yeah, that’s some stuff.
PP: I’ve got more questions if others don’t but yeah, perhaps you’d like to – anyone else got some thought?
Audience: I’ve got a question about how the film relates to the gamers. What were they asking the Mentor to give them information about? And are they referencing this as well?
DB: Well the process of it was that I came with some kind of rough outlines for a few societies that might have been, might have come about after this, inside these havens. And then the game is – the main process was more like workshopping and world building. So they were taking these kernels of ideas and then saying, Yeah, but, you know, what, what would their relationships be like, what would their settlements be like? What might they look like? Like and, you know, how long would they live? So, all of these things, they started kind of fleshing out and creating, whole histories around various aspects of the space so, yeah, so… [Gets book of game] Let’s see, what’s a good one? Okay, so this is something that Mervyn wrote about fungus. “A wide variety of fungi grow in the dark and moist underground tunnels of the Uruk people. And a number of them have evolved to grow upon the Uruk themselves. Scrapes and cuts are common and these parasitic fungi would infect the wounds and sprout mushrooms. They do little harm to their host and in fact may act to cushion the area from further damage. So the Uruk make no effort to remove them. And from a cosmetic standpoint, they regard them as beautiful.” So you know, they’ve taken this idea, which came from sort of the idea of just a underground albino race who are quite kind of portly. And then they kind of, one person in the group started growing, drawing these little mushroomy things on and then that kind of became like, Oh well, so yeah, all of each, each idea sort of grew upon each other. And I think it was also influenced by, you know, what we were looking at in terms of can be weak. So as we’re looking at all these kind of forms in nature, so and it all kind of came together into these these kind of, yeah, collaborative fictions really. Yeah, little bit like the process that happens at the end of Staying with the Trouble, where Haraway is working with two or three other writers to write around this kind speculative world.
PP: They write 500 years of future history don’t they?
DB: Yeah. Interspersed in it are some poems by the Essex poet group, Mervyn Linford, who kind of I came across him looking at Essex poetry, and there are some YouTube clips of him saying like reading his poetry out loud in this incredible, like resonant voice. He does a lot of the voiceover work for the film at the end. But um, yeah, I kind of told him all about the – so he didn’t come to the sessions, but I told him all about the this world. And we had a lot of kind of discussions about it. And then he went away and wrote a whole kind of sequence of poems for different – one for each season, no two for each season, because one in verse one in sort of free verse, so like there were rhyming ones and not-rhyming ones. And they were just brilliant. And so it was just –
PP: A gift to the project?
DB: Yeah. Well, we paid him but that was kind of after the fact. He just got really into it. Like, and that’s that’s what happened with the whole thing – just everyone got really into the idea.
PP: We’re hungry aren’t we? I feel like we’re hungry to have space to imagine.
DB: Yeah, maybe that. It’s kind of having that framework like Gary. Gary Bates, who was one of the core members of the group, came to every single session, often kind of arriving half hour before the session started. And kind of, you know, leaving last – was just yeah, like, beaming the whole way through. And it only dawned on me like after a few sessions, Oh yeah, I could kind of start to make sense because it used like, Oh, yeah, I run the LARPing society. He’s like, probably one of the cornerstones of the LARPing community – live action roleplay. So it’s like, it’s like playing this but rather than around a table, you go into a forest and everyone’s dressed up, and people play the monsters and people play you know, your your crew, so you have like six other people all dressed up as your characters, and you spend the whole weekend – you know, so overnight is part of the adventure as well. A whole weekend doing this thing. And he said, coming into this this, his special love was the Sophias, who are the group who can can change gender every month. So that was kind of the start of it. It was it was very much influenced by Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness. And and he got really into them, and imagining them as a touchy feely sort of sort of society. In some of the sessions, we would often do world building and then we’d play for like half an hour or so at the end. And he’d kind of, in a few of the sessions he kind of brought out a Sofia character and he was very kind of in people’s faces. It’s really yeah it was just great to see him kind of suddenly – because he’s quite a self effacing kind of guy – but then there’s this whole kind of… Yeah, he once said to me that he’d based his whole life around kind of having a job that he could do which would let him do gaming kind of as another thing so that he would kind of have this work life but then he’d kind of be working for the weekend, you know, which is when he’d do his gaming. So he trained to become a teacher, knowing that they had long holidays. So yeah, that’s Gary.
PP: We’re coming up to five, it’s nearly five. I think that just talking about Gary and the play feels like a really nice way to finish talking about The World After and Cthuluscene – like the kind of, the space that we need to have fun! That game and play, curiosity – this is a valid – not only a valid, but like a really important and needed strategy for navigating this time that we’re in. We need fun.
DB: I think without play, it’s too easy to become hopeless. And I think we have to imagine other other spaces to, both to have something to aim for, but also to act a barrier against the impending crises which threaten to envelop us every day. Yes. Well, thank you all for coming.
PP: Do you want to tell us what you’re working on next or where they might might find your work?
DB: Yeah, sure. I’m currently working on, just beginning work with a couple of groups in Harlesden to create the Harlesden World After.
Susuana: I grew up near Harlesden. Kilburn.
DB: Oh really? That’s where I grew up. I grew up in Queens Park. Cool. So yes, it’s gonna be kind of a… I’m hoping that we’ll create a few, you know, a couple of new societies, imagining what Harlesden might be like in 8000 years.
PP: The 101st century?
DB: Yeah, exactly. So that should be interesting. But yeah, and then working with Larry for Essex University – there’s an art space called the Art Exchange, and we’ve got a show there in October. So that’ll be the next next part of the ‘A Terrible Fiction Genetic Automata’ sequence. And yeah, I think that’s that’s most of what’s going on. Claire and I will keep working together on stuff. So. Be fun.