What does this space know?

Some thoughts from Rupert Meese

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Archive for July, 2009

Man without a Reason

Posted by Rupert Meese on July 7, 2009

The JCB pulled away and there I was, left alone on the plinth.  I was filled with a strange sense of something hovering between wonder, delight and horror.  Wonder and delight at the beautiful newness and strangeness of the situation, and horror at the already building expectation that I should do something, that I was about to spend the next hour in uneasy defiance of.  I hadn’t really considered the crowd.  Not myself in relation to all of those people in any case.  Choosing to worry about them later I went back to my awe and wonder at being there, looking from this unique perspective around at Nelson’s column, the National Gallery, the fountains, the people.  I share my sense of wonder with them, but not many really want it.


My attention is drawn to the other figures on the other three plinths.  Bronze, flowing robes, horseback, I became aware of my own scale in relation to them. Very small.  All of this makes me feel insignificant.  Wonder is about gone now, and I see what’s going on in the crowd.  People look up, smile and wave and I do too.  I say crowd but I’m attentive and refuse to mistake the people there for a crowd as if they were a single entity rather than many individuals.  It’s one thing this perspective from the plinth helps to highlight.  I see people milling around, through the square, at the base of the plinth, moving, standing talking, waiting.  I’m distant enough to see the movements and patterns in the crowd and I’m close enough so that I can see everyone clearly and, when anyone looks my way, my situation is singular enough so that I know if they are looking at me.   Probably about one in ten, one in twenty people I make an easy connection with.  Things seem to make sense to these people: I’m there on the plinth – we’re told it’s art, and they can view me and find anything they’d like in it.  We exchange a look, a smile or a wave.

Smaller than a lampRain

There are another 5% for whom this does not make sense.  The expressions on their faces let me know in quite a colourful range.  I see contempt, dissatisfaction, hostility.  I’m expecting this and hold myself steady.  It’s not long before the first shout of “Do Something”.  I look down, smile, shrug – shout “Do you want a little dance?”.  I’m magnanimous and understanding.  The dissatisfied move away to be replaced by others, always it seemed from the corner above the square where they congregated to be better able to share their disapproval with me.  There’s an expression which sums it up – “You can afford to be generous.”  I could, and each time it cost me.  Each tender message of inadequacy projected up from the disoriented or hard done to was like a bite from my bearing.  Although I could afford it I had started to feel like one of the Antony Gormley figures made from so few ball bearings that they seemed on immanent verge of collapse.  I checked out the feeling and wondered about going with it.  Seeing what kind of collapse that would be.  I had, after all, promised  authenticity.  Structural integrity was still in tact however, and I carried on like a flak damaged Lancaster.  I think this is maybe where the art is.  Without anyone there it would have been easy to spend the hour playing, exploring the space, being in the wind and rain. What’s it like if I sit right in the corner?  Where’s the middle?  What does it feel like if I jump really far?  But people were there, and I was there in relation to them.  And no of us really understood what that relationship was.  Why was I up there? What did it mean to be elevated to that position in relation to everyone else?  “What was my point” as someone shouted from a car.  The discomfort of that ambiguity seemed to make some angry and dissatisfied.  Perhaps I did my bit by not having a point, not making it easy, distracting us all with entertainment.  I was there as the man without a reason.  No performance, no cause, just there, up high, happy to be unworthy.  With all of this, what endures is that it was a wonderful experience and a great privilege to be there, and I am grateful for the help and support of everyone who helped make it what it was.

P1010187In the National Portrait Gallery

Maybe I’ll write later about how I cost Antony Gormley a better slot on the evening news by refusing the insistent instruction of a snake eyed lady, clearly accustomed to getting her own way, and a round man in the square discreetly and equally insistently waving his umbrella while hoping to inspire me into a “Singing in the Rain” routine.  It makes “nicer art” apparently.


Posted in Plinth | 3 Comments »

What was it like up there?

Posted by Rupert Meese on July 7, 2009

So, I put myself there in the public gaze for an hour on the 4th plinth.  I didn’t know that the experience would be so hard to make sense of. My instinctive response is silence, to withdraw from it for a time, and I’m also driven to write, so here is what happened as best as I am able to tell it.

On the plinth

I checked in at the One and Other reception at 2:30 ninety minutes before I was due to take my place on the plinth.  Reception is a portacabin on the opposite side of Trafalgar Square to the plinth.  I opened the door to a buzz of activity and a crowd of assistants in red and white ‘One and Other’ tea shirts.  I got the friendliest and most  attentive welcome along with the invitation to make myself at home among the organized chaos.   I was photographed and interviewed by a charming assistant, given a cup of tea, a safety briefing and lots of words of encouragement.  The staff all seemed really enthusiastic about the project.  Antony Gormley came and went, emitting precise and unequivocal instructions on camera angles, procedure and so on and making sure that everything was as he wanted it.

Around quarter to 4 I got ready.  This consisted of me getting rid of my phone, watch and junk from my pockets.  My intention being to be there without any kind of prop or distraction, nothing to fiddle with, just to be there.  I refused the radio microphone for the same reason.  The radio mic was an option to allow those watching the internet feed to hear me.  I wasn’t planning on saying anything at all really.  At around ten to four the wind picked up, the sky turned grey, rain started and the team got motherly.  Did I have an umbrella, a rain coat, a warm top?  It was cold up there, and so on.  It was very sweet.   Until then, and in line with my principle of no props, I had been planning on going up wearing only a shorts and a shirt, on the principle that it was a summer day and if it rained I’d get wet, and that would be fine.  I like to walk and I know weather.  More importantly I know that I can adjust my blood flow to be comfortable in a cold wind, and I can adjust my heat production and metabolism to dry out in the wet and be well in the cold.  However, constant rain might not be nice, so I grabbed my umbrella and then capitulated and put on my wool over shirt.  We went out the the JCB Cherry Picker behind the cabin and climbed in to the cage that was to lift me to the top of the plinth.  My sense of wonder started the moment the cage lifted about a foot from the floor and the JCB started to trundled slowly around the corner and towards the plinth.  The whole thing filled me with joy, like being a kid and getting to ride on a fire engine.  The JCB moved through the crowd, people smiled or looked disinterested or unimpressed as they liked.  I was beaming as the cage lifted up, past the current plinthian – a man in the panda suit with his phone number on a board.   high above the plinth, forward and then down to land on the edge.  The door opened I exchanged good wishes with the panda suit man, he stepped in, I stepped out, and I was there on top of the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square being a piece of Antony Gormley artwork.

To be continued…

Posted in Plinth | 4 Comments »

Playing with Rosie

Posted by Rupert Meese on July 3, 2009

I’m off to play with Rosie.  Rosie is the most playful person that anyone could direct me to and she’s agreed to talk to me to help me figure out some stuff.

As TED says, apart from being joyful and energizing it turns out that play matters.  This talk from the guys at Serious Play is really worth watching:

So, what am I doing playing with Rosie?  The first thing here is that this is a modelling exercise.  If you’re not familiar with the idea, it is, in essence, that people who excel in something are, almost by definition, doing something different to the rest of us.  Using the tools available from the science of subjectivity in NLP and symbolic modelling (i.e. by asking), we can find out about that difference and codify something significant about the structure of that experience or behavior that we are interested in.  What all that means is that I’m going to do what I can to copy Rosie’s way of playing.

My plan, before I go, is to find out through Rosie about Social play – I don’t know Rosie but I’m assuming because people have identified her as playful that they meant social play.  If it’s something else then I’ll only know when I get there.  What is interesting about social play?

How does one know when it is necessary.  If social play is a mammalian function (which it seems to be) then how do we know when we need more.  What internal feeling or signal is the hunger equivalent for play.  What happens to those that don’t play, are we not receiving that signal, wrongly attributing it to something else, or choosing not to satisfy it in some other way?

What are the mechanisms of human play signaling?  We all recognize play signals in dogs and cats, what are the key ones among humans?  How does someone who excels manage that negotiation differently to the rest of us?

How does play end?  What are the kinesthetic or social signals that tell us that play is at an end?

How does play relate to identity?  When playing is seems that the notion of self becomes somehow more fluid.  That as play allows aggression that is not aggression for example, so it allows parts of our selves to be exercised as not self and parts that are not self to be tried on as self.

What is the relationship between play and doubt?  There are some structural similarities, both are in some sense the negation of certainty while the experience of each is quite different.
So, these are the things that I’m hoping to find out more about.  I don’t suppose we’ll get through all of them, but I’ll write more when I know more.

Posted in Symbolic Modelling | 1 Comment »

The Marrakech State Orphanage

Posted by Rupert Meese on July 2, 2009

I’ve just volunteered to work in the Marrakesh state orphanage.  I’ll be going with a group called original volunteers, who seem helpful and well organized over the phone.  I’ve exchanged e-mails with some folk who’ve just got back and they had good things to  say so fingers crossed.  I’m going on the 21st of July and have the flight booked (about £160 each way with Easy Jet).
I hope to get immersed in teaching English and learning Arabic (along with Moroccan and Islamic culture).  Learning is something that I’m good at.  I don’t know about teaching, but I do know how to learn and if I can use that and pass it on in some way to some of the children then that will be great.  John Grinder – the co-inventor of NLP claims to be able to learn a new language to the point that a native speaker is comfortable conversing with him in 72 hours.  He talks about the importance of learning in a context where the words mean what they mean.  Often learning in a classroom all words mean the same thing – that is scratchy sound of blackboard, sitting still, trying to concentrate, fear of being called on, etc. etc.  I guess that working in a rich context is much easier with a small group.  I’m not sure I have any strategy for working with a large group of kids.

This is something of an inspiration in the way Gever Tulley talks about the need for kids to problem solve.

I don’t for one minute imagine the same resources are going to be available in the orphanage but the principles are probably still good.

On learning arabic I love this…

I’ve been singing it a lot.

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