Male 1: … working in systems oriented framing art spaces. It turned up two years ago written by this woman in New York: there is no such book. So you guys may be writing a book. These things get written out of frustration and failure, not out of success because you innovate when there is no model to follow. And as we know in making which is what you’re doing, this is a making thing you’re doing, making is all about continual failure and so it will be frustrating and people are going to say “Well, but the reason I was very keen to give you a story is…“ It is in the story. It isn’t the minutiae. It’s in the details that the learning and the intelligence of where you are is emerging, is coming. Experience equals 110% commitment to wanting to change. This is not abstract.
Presenter: The other thing that’s happening a little bit with us is now is that we’re thinking about our future in different ways, what’s happening at one time. The other thing that’s happening is that we’re constantly trying to understand the value of having program and infrastructure coming from the same team. So if you look at any other setting where design comes in, response to a brief, design leaves, arts organisation come in, runs it and operates it. So we are really interested in trying to tease out the value of bringing these two things together and not seeing one then the other; but seeing them simultaneously.
Male 1: Co-emergent.
Presenter: Yes, like they’re in constant dialogue. I guess the funny thing is this place is already doing that, but not really. I think it’s really interesting to think about: What if the program and infrastructure fully grow together and change together and respond to each other and how can artists not be the users of the space but integral in the enacting of what the space actually is.
Male 1: When you start talking about this kind of co-emergence of things – which is very Gordon Pask and his Colloquy of Mobiles conversation theory – the thing that can happen which is super wild is that what comes out of a conversation is an idea that no-one had at the beginning. It’s an emerging phenomenon. What it seems to be thinking about which is again a very Pricean idea that creative activity … I love the fact that you can look to have done this and have been successful, it’s almost Vaudevillian.
Male 4: Yes. There’s going to be a challenge.
Male 1: And so you almost start talking about the idea of it potentially being a generator of something that no-one has really seen before and no-one has actually thought, at the beginning, that it was going to be. That seems to be consistent with what you’re talking about, this co-evolution.
Presenter: I just wanted to say one more thing. I love watching construction sites on a Saturday morning because they’re all working. It’s the city and they’ve got that sixth day. I was watching all these trucks with all the materials stacked up. There’s like a plasterboard truck with hundreds and hundreds of sheets of plasterboard outside this construction site, and there was this giant piece of concrete hanging from a crane above a tower. I thought: ‘Imagine if you had a site where all the materials were in waiting’, and that’s a really nice link to theatre, props or stage devices. I was watching these trucks just sitting there waiting on their own in the street and they’re waiting to be enacted by what’s going on. There’s something that makes them, while waiting there, full of possibility and full of potential. It’s not scripted but it’s primed I guess. That’s it. That’s what was interesting.
Male 1: That’s the brief of Fun Palace. The only thing you haven’t got that it had is cranes.
Presenter: Cranes, yes, exactly. But I think then beyond that idea. I think the one thing I’d also like to say is that the less that the architecture seats like this place, less that, right; and more that …sorry, I want to say this is not necessarily a literal offering. I think what I was really interested in talking about today was just unpacking the concepts within it in order to feed the idea, because it’s the type of conversation between Arie and me that is a beautiful green bubble. And there we are.
Male 1: It’s emergent, so you don’t know what it is yet.
Presenter: But it’s almost like you wouldn’t know; this is very formal. It’s like you would almost arrive and there would just be endless links of material. An ideal concept of this would be that the materials wouldn’t even have length. They wouldn’t even prescribe a 6-metre grid, but they would have a type of mechanism that allows them to be used. So there’s nothing designed. There’s nothing other than, maybe, a guidebook that’s initially designed.
Male 1: You’re describing a gigantic 3D printing factory which becomes a modern space.
Presenter: Yes, exactly.
Male 1: Which is not something to shy away from. That’s the reason to get a $20 million budget, to become the first emerging performance and arts space that’s based entirely on 3D printing.
Male 4: There are fundings and things like that they’re talking about that soon in the future that we do it…
Presenter: I think we are. I think we just formally began.
Male 4: Like in fundings in the future – you would no longer have aisles and taps and things like that. You’ll just have a 3D printer and when you need to get your bit, they will manufacture it on the spot – a pretty kind of amazing way to think about the way we make things in the future.
Presenter: I was just remembering when John and I were chatting the other day. Lynda was talking about the way in which you – it always stuck with us – the way you spoke about the problem of [unclear] public places and the reference to the way film shoots occupy public space. That was such a genius moment for me, it was like borrowing from one method – and that’s very much a systems thing that’s going on there and just that way in which you can think from one place and bring it to another, and find a way of working that’s based not on material, but on a method of working. It’s almost like borrowing from a completely different place and bringing it in. It’s almost like architecture as operations. It was such a genius idea.
Male 4: As in to do with permits?
Presenter: Yes. But it comes from [unclear] … project with a museum [unclear]. So closing off roads in the streets and the removal of those paths and actually an artwork intervention [unclear] the moments will be to find those opportunities or the moments where the opportunity is going to be accepted. [Background noise]
Male 1: …the language of the temporary because since [unclear] Memorial it’s been a spectacular way to innovate with the least amount of resistance. The one I can talk about is the Eiffel Tower – the Eiffel Tower which is the chocolate box. But you think about it.
Female 2: It was only going to be temporary!
Male 1: How the fuck did an engineering communications tower get built in the middle of a five storey city that’s preoccupied by neoclassic notions of romance? It is absolutely impossible. Do you think anyone wanted it? Of course, they hated the idea. So Gustave Eiffel who was incredibly smart at CAD said it’s the great exposition, it’s about industry. We have to beat those British because they’re so good at engineering. So I propose we build a tower that basically celebrates French engineering and initiative. So he got them on the nationalist bid and they said OK. But he said of course it’s only up for a year. We’ll take it down from our beautiful Paris when we return to a trade union. So he also had in his back pocket the fact that he had gone to the French military and said ‘I can build you a tower that is so tall you can connect Paris optically with the coast’. So it was a transformation. That’s exactly what you’re saying. He found a business case to go to key supporters which made utter sense to them. It was in their language, speaking their language. The only people who got upset by this were of course the Parisians who then, unbeknown to them, were stuck with the tower. But I just wish to point out – if I said to you now if we were a group of graphic designers and we had to do really sexy chocolate boxes that were designed to make men and women feel very weepy and damp about the idea of romance, we’d put the goddamn Eiffel Tower on the cover; and the Eiffel Tower is a communications tower designed by an engineer. How the fuck did that happen? Which means that if you get the narrative right, it doesn’t have to be logical. It just has to be somehow or other compelling in a language that people get sucked in by. I’m just saying that because I’m trying to…
Presenter: There’s a really good parallel with the film crew.
Male 1: Totally.
Presenter: Everyone bows down to anything that’s relating to television.
Male 1: Correct. So I think your idea is genius. I think the film industry acts almost like the equivalent, in fact it’s better because people do … If you talk about culminating the film industry in a city or in a country, people understand. It’s just multiple benefits – direct money coming in. But it just makes the place look better overall and it turns you into a tourist destination. You’re right. Also as a methodology, I think one of its critical conceits is the temporary, so you come in and do stuff and you change things in a way which people would never normally accept. Then you say – well, it’s temporary. Wait until it’s expired. You get them super excited but quietly in your back pocket you know [unclear]. Some of that stuff is never, ever going to go back, but no one knows that.
Presenter: It’s almost like piggybacking off something else, a kind of ‘how did I get there’ situation.
Male 1: Yes totally. Yes it is. Piggybacking but also then co-opting the methodology from somewhere else. You don’t have to reinvent it thoroughly. Much as you’re saying with the program you borrowed it from.
Male 4: Suddenly everyone’s busy enabling your intervention, but it’s going to cost. Then that’s the other side of the thing that’s important. How as a mechanism have you funded …
Presenter: I’ve got a friend who works on a building. I’ve been talking to him about how building crews work, construction crews and looking at other, I suppose people who come in and are building.
Male 1: Is it worth taking this a little bit further and saying, maybe, there’s a number of things that can be borrowed from this film analogy. One of them is the business model about how you intervene. The other is actually about the outcomes, because maybe this is going to help solve another problem. In filmmaking and documentation, you put a camera in someone’s hand. Yes, you pay more. But suddenly people say ‘yes’ as opposed to ‘no’ to these changes. It’s also thinking about your future and what that actually means. One of the things that has come up in the meetings last time was this issue around getting the word out about Testing Grounds; how do you start to introduce it to maybe a wider range of people who don’t know that you exist. That could really transform the potential audience. If you got heavily involved in filmmaking strategies then maybe you’re just going to find yourself generating more content than you can handle. But if you’ve got filmmakers as part of your cohort – RMIT student filmmakers who are basically using Testing Grounds as a kind of site for experimental film – perhaps you’re also generating content that you’re constantly putting up in social media as a way of getting your message out there.
Presenter: Actually it’s funny that we just touched on construction because I’m actually interested in that role; not being filmed but actually being constructed. What I keep thinking about are the holes, the peak holes in construction buildings and the fact that people love seeing something being made. I think it’s also an economic connection. So construction being tied to the economy. People just bend over and let construction sites do all kinds of crazy things, put up roadblocks. I think the construction sites are working in a very similar way – one is obviously about documentation and one is about building.
Female 2: Maybe in terms of those guidelines, all you have is the induction process – if there’s an injury on the site, you have a crane on the grid but then everything is just the induction because you have to have site induction. You have to get your green card.
Male 1: That’s true about contemporary [unclear]. You can turn induction into an art form.
Presenter: You’re taking it to the next level because you’re talking about … you’re turning it into a construction site.
Male 1: And that is very interesting because the whole issue about 3D printing and the Fab Lab up at Melbourne Uni is different to the RMIT one. At Melbourne Uni they want all students to use it, which is a beautiful idea, it’s open source, but of course it means induction; it’s got to be part of the culture of running it. What people haven’t done is to start thinking about how to really unpack what induction is and what else you can do with it and make it in; itself an enabling and exciting thing. So it’s a challenge rather than going ‘Oh my god, now we’re in induction process’. No, no, no.
Presenter: It’s actually a celebration of potential.
Male 1: Correct. We’re talking about transforming culture, wanting to give people the opportunity to make something. Everyone’s going to have to learn how to make that safely, so you’re actually stuck with that. It’s a very good point.
Presenter: It is interesting about [background noise]
Male 1: The other incredible thing about education is the notion that you’re giving people tools intellectually and physically to actualise and transform. It is about personal transformation. Lewis Mumford makes a spectacular observation about cities when he says that cities are transformation machines. You get a lot of people and you get serious transformation. People leave country towns to go to the city to be the person that they can’t be in a country town because cities …
Male 4: That’s why most people end up moving to Melbourne. You’re escaping.
Male 1: That transformation is also about education because you come here in order to be the person you want to be. You hang with people who are like you, or you’d like to be; you learn something. It’s education. It’s not formal. It’s not institutionalised. It’s an education. Again it’s giving people the chance to remake who they are.
Presenter: Absolutely. I know Mel City tried that. It’s actually really interesting to see who tried to bring on education and it hasn’t quite …
Male 1: Where has it not worked properly?
Presenter: Mel City. They ended up where it wasn’t profitable; they couldn’t actually make ends meet by taking them out of their studio for a day; time to create an education platform and the costs incurred.
Male 1: Was it successful in any way? Economically it wasn’t …
Presenter: Basically it was a co-op from which they had an education platform and a lot of them came out of the fact that their tastes blew up, and a lot of it was from the teaching staff. So they were looking at a new model. It’s just interesting to see where that sits.
Male 4: What is it about education models that get changed? I’ve been thinking a lot about proactivity this week. My partner went on a writing residency and he said something quite beautiful about it. He said what was an incredible experience is that nobody is performing productivity; they just allow artists to be in these spaces because they know that in ten years the arts will turn around and say ‘that was a really formative experience’. So they’re OK waiting for that feedback. I wonder if a lot of arts education is based about … just doing an incredible amount work and allowing them to be …
Presenter: I wonder in terms of the ‘piece of creative’ we’re looking for. If this needs to be a national callout, you’ve got to go beyond Melbourne.
Female 2: For?
Presenter: If you’re looking at something where there’s an action appearing here on site and you’re thinking about the site allocation for making … maybe you need to find the best across Australia where they have a specific …
Male 1: That’s a very nice idea because I also think … that would be also the notion of how to switch a significant change in terms of Testing Grounds thinking, that we go national.
Presenter: So do you think this is literally possible? Awesome. I started thinking about this as a metaphor. I don’t know. I would love to see it as physically possible, but I have no literal idea how. So, if we were to move, the proposition could be that nothing moves. This becomes the material’s lock or this becomes the shed and the other side becomes the performance and things get literally taken from here. Do you think that’s …?
Male 1: Yes, and here’s another fork in relation to that, two things possible. One is you’re not the only people thinking about this idea of using and how to attract people. So the other people – basically everyone else is doing the same. I will give you a classic example. The people thinking about this who are in my life – I’ve got this big showroom, this fat showroom in Collingwood, so people have got showrooms that have got these gorgeous pieces of sculpture on the floor. They are now leasing out their showrooms to people who are compatible, so they fit within their broader view to come and lease out their showroom. But they’ve now gone one step further – because an organisation like that, selling cars is important but actually maintaining them and establishing a relationship with their customers is actually the bigger issue. So what they’re doing is now they’ve launched it in their workshop.
Presenter: In the actual workshop?
Male 1: In the workshop, which you could lick off. You could lick the floor clean, but…
Presenter: The mechanism is amazing.
Male 1: Because in fact people are more excited by being in the workshop than they are in the showroom because seeing these cars stripped back, you’re looking at the conceit of artistic production. So just thinking about your two spaces, right. The site in Brunswick is perfectly suited as a performance space in some respects – think of this as the shed. Maybe they’re both, they’re just different kinds of performance space.
Presenter: I am literally thinking about this idea. I didn’t mean to say, it’s just a metaphor. But the pragmatics of these ideas are so daunting that I’m concerned it’s that kind of balance between the pragmatics killing the potential of the ideas as they start to literally grow. Why would you carry that? But…
Male 1: You might find that in pushing the ideas, if you let go of the pragmatics for a minute, what happens is in the kind of eco model is that if you come up with something that is way too daunting, you go, ‘Oh my god. We could just turn that sign facing the other way and that would be the start’. So you don’t have to buy the whole thing.
Male 2: You connect to the essence of the idea.
Male 1: What might be good tomorrow, it would be the beginning of a journey and you don’t know how long it’s going to take but you’ve collectively committed to the validity of that vision or the outcome.
Presenter: So instead of a masterplan being an overlay, it’s almost like the masterplan becomes invisible underlay to whatever it is.
Male 1: That’s right, it is the underlay, that’s right, and you almost…
Presenter: So you have a masterplan, you have a methodology.
Male 1: You have a vision and you have a series of things that you think is your contribution and what you want to be doing with your lives at the time.
Presenter: Then this idea of programmer or producer within a site then becoming this kind of … it’s like that role becomes the infrastructure because they become the conduits through which things can travel. So it’s less about physical infrastructure and it’s more about the ultimate enabler. I think we talked before about the induction as being the ultimate enabling act on a site.
Male 1: Yes.
Presenter: So the programming and the inducing…
Male 1: You are inducing. Maybe you want to call it instead of induction, it’s the same word but no one thinks of it that way. It becomes so militantly unionised.
Presenter: They’re the ultimate infrastructure, acts of infrastructure.
Male 1: Yes.
Female 2: The context in which we’re talking about induction was taking induction. The idea of a site being a raw space in which fabrication would appear; so it’s talking not just induction as in its home.
Male 1: You’re right, and I think our experience with education is the Victorian institutional model which was genius, and Neil Postman writes about this beautifully in Technopoly. He says that the Victorians with their decision that they wanted basically everyone’s kids to be given the tools to be able to function well in society and so creating the idea of a mass education in all these classrooms, you’re putting people in hook-lined rooms off the street. Now that seems really anachronistic, but back then if the streets had got shifted to about 12 inches high and you got the shit kicked out of you, then education has got to be protected. What they were educating people in was the classics, so you’d line them with desks and instruct them. As Postman said the worst place in the 21st century to be educated now is in a classroom. The best place to be educated is in the street because we’ve turned the street into a place that’s safe and clean in a way that it never was back then. It’s taken us that long from 1830 to now to build streets so we don’t have to go to that room anymore. Now that room is … that’s off the track. Now you’re here and that becomes the next thing. So you are literally in the street and I think it becomes this idea of [unclear]. You know that if you’ve got a huge problem then you could go and do a course and the course could be three years; or you might have a friend who’s done it for 15 years really, really well and can sit down and tell you you need to do that, that, that and that.
Presenter: That’s interesting…
Female 2: That’s where you have the master and the apprentice.
Presenter: Does that come from within something or is that this overarching thing? Does that come before anything begins, any activity begins, that sort of advice? Does the advice come before or does the advice come when something goes wrong?
Female 2: It’s going to be a work dynamic. You’re going to constantly be feeding back. It’s never going to be fixed.
Male 1: I think the beginning is your decision to induce.
Female 2: Very good advice.
Male 2: You are responding to what you are seeing distributed for the moment. You don’t have the whole [unclear] You have conversations and then your need an incredible teacher to do that, someone with a breadth of experience. But it is an incredible path.
Male 1: The Toyota system uses the Kanban card which is the card at the end of the roll, so you’re talking about Kanban technology.
Female 2: What? Kanban?
Presenter: Kanban. It’s a visualisation system for …
Female 3: Sometimes with Toyota, it’s the lean. It’s the A3, which is every problem can be resolved down to a very simple A3 page. The world’s most complicated problem can be resolved. I had a great boss …
Female 2: Kanban…C-A-N…
Female 3: K-A-N. It’s a visualisation tool.
Male 1: The way they’ve used it at Toyota was that you could have a gigantic central system with massive computers which looked at every single part from what was in stock, what was being currently manufactured and what was sitting on the production floor. Huge spreadsheets. You had five people working that and invariably it would be two weeks late because by the time it gets to parts, you have another system. The systems style is a big warehouse; there are a little electric traps and things downtown that bring this to the production when you need it. You’ve got the guys and women on the floor who are making Toyotas. They’ve got these boxes of parts, so the boxes of parts are standing and they’re using a part of a spring for the front wheel. When the spring for the front wheel, when you’ve got one out of the box, someone takes that part of the box that’s empty and goes to the end of the line and puts that part in the box. The card just comes with it and the card says ‘I’m a box full of springs’ and what the card told the people…
Presenter: But the tally-hos, there were six tally-hos, it said buy more tally-hos…Like that? [laughter]
Male 1: A person on a bicycle cycles along at the end of all these rows with all these things and they just pick up the cards. They collect the cards in a satchel and they take it back to the central thing, and they’ve got two cards for springs, one card for front shock absorbers and they just ring up and say ‘we need three boxes of springs, three boxes of things’ …
Presenter: The maintenance is embedded in the system.
Male 1: Correct. So it’s genius. It is creating a system that reduces the problem to its most core point with the least number of people involved. But it’s very systemic.
Presenter: Corporates love it because the human unit is more productive.
Female 2: Actually what you’ll find though, do you think that’s possibly …
Female 3: Systems people [unclear] because what you’d be looking for are people who are using ultimate efficiencies. So, efficiencies in systems.
Presenter: Like Amazon.
Female 2: Yes, Amazon.
Male 1: It means you are trusting though your employees as part of your system because the Japanese, that’s one of their big differences. If you work for Toyota and you’re working in the painting plant, the excellence of the painting is not because someone comes around and slaps you on the knuckles and says ‘Hey, that’s not good enough’. Those people are trusted to paint the cars as well as they can possibly be painted. Not only that, every two years when they have a big fair to buy the new painting equipment, they don’t send middle level executives. They send the boys and girls from the paint shop floor to buy the equipment, because they figure if they get it wrong, they’re going to spend the next ten years with shitty equipment and it’s going to be them who suffer. So it is about trust. It’s about which is going to fit consistently with your operations model and then distribute the knowledge and the decision-making, because then you’ve got a consistent place about where you all go.
Presenter: Is that design? Is that the thing that’s designed there?
Male 1: Maybe it’s about people and society.
Male 2: You still need to design a system that enables…
Presenter: This is what I don’t know.
Male 2: [unclear]
Presenter: This is why it comes back to this idea of … this I guess is the question: Can this come from, can the system come from the program, or the programming of a site’. I guess I’m struggling with these being literally, because it’s very easy to be like ‘Oh yes, I don’t know’. I guess that I’m interested in is that: is there potential in thinking about a system coming from a creative program, a programming methodology that is – and this is when we come back to a single. We are designing infrastructure and we are programming space at the same time. So what is that team? What is it that happens when that team is the same, when those two things are being done from the same place? What’s the potential of that? How can they feed each other in really unequal ways? I think about programming methodology. We threw out a programming structure and we now have a methodology which is almost like a manifesto. I’m interested in how can architecture be born from that?
Male 1: That is your architecture.
Female 2: It’s expanded from life.
Presenter: What is architecture if it’s not building, and instead it’s a methodology around … yes. So the idea of getting the art part is that the very next part of that conversation was what we’ve been observing is collective action. So the pyramid is an example; smashing things with hammers is an example; education, the dance. So if the art object is removed or the art presentation is removed, then what emerges through collective action is art as a verb maybe, then what happens … then how does architecture learn from that in a very immediate way? So the feedback loop from TG1 to TG2 is that Joe and I sat in the container for three years, watched all these people: ‘Can I have a hammer? Have you got a this? Can I move this?’ A million questions; and then that … I didn’t mean to do it in that tone, that was disrespectful.
Male 1: That was great. That was the voice of experience.
Presenter: Then this came from that. So the feedback loop is for a year, the feedback amplitude is three years, right? So how does a program and a programming methodology … so take a big opening last night. We literally come back this morning and in the light of day you see something is utterly transformed; and it’s not the art object, it’s the actual architecture. Now that’s when I say ‘I don’t know if this is metaphoric or this is literal, I don’t know’, because the literal of that is, literally, mind-boggling. But the metaphor of that, the system in that, there’s something there that I think has the next potential for … sorry. I do this to my students: ‘I’ve insulted you for 15 minutes, I’m so sorry’.
Male 1: The other way of looking at this is to say, that this is very beautiful. You’re hoping, what you’re looking for is if you like you’re looking for a way to … a kind of structure that is somehow going to satisfy what you’re currently trying to move towards, but are frustrated by the fact that you don’t have. Let me make a suggestion: you’ve actually already found it.
Presenter: The conversation!
Male 1: It is your doing. You’re actually already in it, so you’re in a domain which is not about a completed formula. It’s about the intent to do it, that’s actually the answer and you’re doing it.
Presenter: It’s meta.
Male 1: And so you’re doing it. So I think the issue is for you just to write down … It seems that you all bring to the table a really interesting set of experiences and knowledge, and they’re very nicely knitted together. When you write down a series of statements about things that you’d like to do, a lot of it is coming out of experience, but also from your collective interest. You go back and say ‘That’s what we’re doing’. So the issue is it’s not about what Testing Grounds is going to become – it’s what it already is. It will never become …
Presenter: [interjection off mic]
Male 1: Yes. That you’ve actually got so far down the track, you are now in a territory that is no longer defined by an end. It’s defined by a continual becoming. That’s the transformation you’ve made and it’s very, very, very scary. It’s like you spend all this time jumping up and down on a trampoline because what you really want to do is fly; and then someone has whipped the trampoline away and you haven’t hit the ground because they’ve said ‘You can fly now. You don’t need a trampoline’ and you say ‘Fuck. The point is I react against the trampoline and bounce’; you say ‘No, don’t worry. You’ve now got wings’. And it’s very, very, very uncomfortable. I think that’s what’s happened. I think the answer is the system that you’ve made which is all of the people who are very committed to a similar proposition [unclear] I think you’re in it.
Presenter: Do you want to talk a little bit about an ideal collective action art project? When you said collective action as art instead of art parties being like a cabaret, have you got something you can talk to a so we can think about how that could interact with architecture?
Male 4: An idea that feels like the most radical or most experimental thing you could do at a modern art party is actually to not make art. So you have a collective action that would be a mass science experiment or mass cooking or something that you can’t point to that and say ‘That’s art’. Of course it is.
Presenter: It’s a very nice moment that just happened then. This is actually … what we’re talking about is actually it. It would be the same thing that artists experience, or a group would experience. ‘We’re here to do the art’. It’s like that moment. ‘This is it’. It’s like cooking, or …
Male 4: Yes. It is pulling out the threads, the hammers workshop [unclear] is one of the best things about the art party because it’s putting people in a place that says you’re not just here to observe. I want you to have agency to be creative at this party. You don’t just have to stare at a painting on a wall. You could make a painting. I’ve had this one idea – I don’t know how you’d go about organising it but who knows – that art exhibition thing when they’re very clearly running behind and there’s still an artist putting up their work, but what happens if you walk into an art gallery and at that moment you’re handed an instruction: Everyone has to make the exhibition at that moment. Everyone is the curator. The artists are rocking up at 6pm and start putting their work up and you will collectively decide on the exhibition time and you’ll toast at the end and then you’ll pull it back down.
Presenter: Maybe the architects are there as well to be constructing the walls as you need.
Male 4: I saw something incredible a couple of months ago, probably one of the best non-art, live-art experiences ever. I went to a karaoke night where you don’t just sing, you literally construct the entire thing. There’s someone with a pool cue pointing at words to someone on the laptop, making the words go. The guy who facilitates puts xx on a piano and says ‘Right now you’re the piano player’, and I played the three songs. Just like building an abstract, the energy in the room was just incredible, people were just so invested in this thing.
Male 3: I feel we all know the answer to this question, but I think it’s important to make it explicit: why spend our time doing that kind of thing? Why does this make us who we are, what we see art as being, what for? I feel like I have an answer to that and I feel like I have an implicit understanding about that. I just want to feel it. Do you know what I mean? Because it’s like a lot of energy of …
Female 2: … to get the consumer because that’s all we do now. We are constantly consuming material. It’s only recently at the University of Melbourne where had a nice conversation with you about snapping me out of my PhD, that I realised I’d stopped thinking creatively, through action, through actually doing something. It’s almost like a muscle you don’t use and you can actually start to lose it. And I think that’s a really important thing that we’ve got.
Male 3: I think for me it’s so much about … art should always inspire and I think one of the things that we are most in need of inspiration in the direction of is community and connection and sticking together and all of that sort of stuff. It all makes sense, I just want to hear it.
Male 4: That’s where we’re at now. Everyone’s a master now and you don’t have to go to …
Male 3: Just do it, it’s fine.
Male 4: It’s carrying on the avant-garde manifesto of everyone’s an artist and the more we can make everyone realise that … nobody likes someone who’s a self-confessed unknowable artist.
Male 1: Where I think these things all link together is that – and this is the hammer of the drum I keep banging – it is very clear from contemporary neuroscience that we’re now looking at the brain, seeing that making transforms the brain, and people learn things in ways through making that can’t be learnt any other way. So I think you’re in the game of education. Art is a spectacular way of coming to knowledge and that you’re making as learning and that’s what this is, because this is a making, not talking space. Obviously there’s talking, but you make. The reason why you do that is because there’s enormous power in learning, re-learning and unlearning, and that you are committed to the idea that knowledge is very significant and this idea of everyone being an artist. If you believe in an equitable society, then you believe that an equitable society can feed people and shelter people. But also it’s important for people to be able to express themselves. You express yourself in various kinds of languages and knowledges and skills. That’s something you want to bring to the table. So your interest in community and social justice is through the act of making knowledge, creating and learning from people. And if you believe that the role of design and art is very powerful – not all but one of the very powerful ways – then that’s what you’re choosing to privilege through the experiment known as Testing Grounds.
Presenter: In relation to that, answering your question in relation to the sort of things about the architecture and design element, there has to be another way besides making big buildings as the final point.
Male 3: They’re supposed to be maintained in the state that they are finished in; they’re just desperately hanging on to it. Cracks appear and you’ve got to plaster the cracks.
Presenter: The object of architecture I think is completely redundant in our time.
Male 2: You could say its real point is currently being missed.
Presenter: It’s being missed and I think you come back to a commercialisation or an economy around all this where it’s just being commodified in the same way that we were talking about earlier. It’s just valued because it’s an economy driver. The same things happen to buildings. I think architects think they’re at the helm of that and I think they’re actually just slaves to it.
Female 2: They’re a pawn. They’re pawns in the game.
Presenter: They’re a total pawn.
Male 1: In a Paleolithic sense, our corroboree is architecture. So that’s the spectrum. That will involve building things; you’ve got to build totems, you’ve got costumes, songs, land art. But what happens at the end of it is the community does it together and it’s about the together. Sometimes everyone, through that, gets together, sharing their collective.
Presenter: Instead of architecture, people have often been thinking about infrastructure, plus decoration times activity. That’s been the sort of thing I keep writing on Post-It notes.
Female 2: Tell me about the operations.
Presenter: The tone is what made me think of it, like the decoration of a … like the art art art [unclear]. It’s not design, it’s temporary surfaces that dress something up for an event or activity and it’s able to be taken away as quickly as it’s put there.
Female 2: It’s when decoration really has meaning. What he’s really saying there [unclear] We’ve completely lost that layer of meaning over our buildings. We have metaphors in the meta sense still in terms of the diagrams.
Presenter: But I think also the decoration is something that can be done on a different scale; it has agency more than anything else. But coming back to this is ‘how can the infrastructure’ … coming back to this idea of maybe coming to a clean site and there being nothing but potential, then the infrastructure is actually the decoration. The infrastructure is what has the agency as opposed to what gives agency.
Male 1: What you’ve done here, though, is not a structure in the sense that most people understand it. This is an empty parking lot, right. There’s actually nothing here. What this is is your and Joe’s obsessive preoccupation with spatialisation. All these things do is remind everybody else that this is not a plain – this is a monument. That’s all this is. That means that you can walk in and we can do it with planning on the ground, or we can do things in 3D. You’ve already provided an opportunity for things to be hung up. It’s literally a volumiser. So the site has volume. In fact this could be two stories high; ladders have lots of uses. So you could make a skyscraper that’s actually empty. It has no floors, it has nothing except the frame for you to hang stuff in.
Presenter: Then I would even tear that back again and say it’s got nothing but a methodology. It’s not even a structure. I wonder if this is even possible.
Male 1: Maybe what you have to do to have a site that’s got nothing at all is to induce that knowledge in enough people to be able to build sites spontaneously. So maybe what you’ve got here is a school of …
Presenter: School space.
Male 1: Correct, and this is where you begin to start the experiment, where you get people to constantly spatialise.
Female 2: Also coming back to that – so this is spatialisation, the action that you’re talking about.
Male 1: Yes, there are quite a few people doing things.
Presenter: I wrote induction plus instruction.
Female 2: Yes!
Presenter: We’re talking about the instruction. I just think the induction plus the instruction. I still keep thinking architectures policy, so I [unclear] he gave us this great talk. He talked about: ‘Look, you are only as good as the [unclear] policy. You’re going to be a true architect and you’re really going to start pushing.
Male 1: What I like about this is this idea that you have taken on agency, so you can either complain like crap or go “‘No, hang on: if I’m committed to transformation, then I have to step up’.
Female 2: I think transformation can be seen in a different way: there’s transformation in a collective form and then there’s transformation through the architecture. I think art sits in a different perspective.
Presenter: Which way is the transformation going?
Male 1: I think multiple transformations are going to be desirable. It’s giving people agency. That’s what a democracy is.
Presenter: Is it from program to artist? If it’s between the things we’re talking about, where is the …
Male 1: You would know that Testing Grounds is no longer relevant where every building around you and every street around you is full of people producing art, music, cinema etc, and you’re redundant because you’re all sitting around going ‘Have you seen what those people are doing?’
Presenter: I think you become redundant.
Male 1: Yes, when you become redundant.
Presenter: Especially in the context of temporary, it has to be relevant.
Male 1: That may be a great way of defining what your brief is and when it’s going to be over.
Presenter: As Cedric Price said “‘The seeds of destruction must be built in from the start'. There’s a bomb under the ground and Trent’s got the button!
Male 3: If we are redundant when every adjacent building is …
Male 1: If you could peg something that you really do think marks that moment, at what point would you all get up and go ‘We just don’t need to be doing this anymore’. What would the world be like for that to be the case? Then you’re collectively describing the world we want to keep without actually proposing that very abstractly.
Presenter: Such a bunch of utopic idealists, with the birds chirping, it’s just lovely!
Male 1: But as we know, nothing happens without a vision. Our vision is a combination of [audio distortion]
Presenter: A while ago I said to Joe very angrily ‘Why are we doing all of this!’ He said ‘We’re not building anything but culture’. He said that to me! I said ‘Oh damn you’. That’s what we’re building. We’re building culture. We’re trying to build culture. We’re not trying to build anything actually physical. It’s all a means to trying to build better cultures than currently exist.
Presenter: That’s the guidebook. That’s the programme.
Male 1: The guidebook that exists at the moment is only the guidebook for you thinking how you’re going to work it out. There are some academic essays on that, starting with a vision of how do you … often that vision comes out, asking questions about what would be the perfect role for you when you stop working and then if you write all that down, say ‘OK, if we agree on this, what do you do to achieve that?'
Male 2: Never stop working though, it’s so boring.
Male 3: Evaluation methodology does that. It sounds a lot like ethereal change which is change that you are aiming to make in the world and then what are the mechanisms by which you are aiming to make that change? What are the systems that you’ve set up to enable those mechanisms? You kind of go back from what’s the change …
Male 1: You just have to deal with things that are more likely to make that possible than less likely. [unclear]
Male 3: I’m trying to … there’s a term for it. On balance you’re heading in the right direction even though everything you do doesn’t do that.
Presenter: The other thing – just going back to that idea of the film method, the film technique to do things and the construction site as a technique. It’s interesting coming back to this idea of an instruction, an induction and a guidebook. Because my other question is ‘How do you ultimately realise that with the government because there’s that sort of civic there, so then how do you negotiate with quite risk-averse clients?’ It just keeps dawning on me that actually what we’re talking about with the tools that we keep coming back to are things that are all about managing risk. So if things are very well fitted to the kind of arguments that would need to be made in order to do any of this, then we don’t know what it’s going to look like, but we’ve got all these really great ways of managing risk if this should occur. The uncertainty is managed without making it certain. It matches the client we’re working with really well.
Male 1: If you pull out of these bigger, more voluminous things, you could come back to the things we put on the table which then look like deliverables that, in and of themselves, are manageable.
Male 3: So now we know where we’re putting our program budget.
Male 1: That’s right. If you can be satisfied within a broader sense about the original scenario, the steps you’re doing make sense. Obviously we expect new learning and feedback, but then you can at least put an emphasis on that [background noise]
Female 2: Minimising this in film means they’ve got lots of dollars, a lot of time. Putting this into the economy.
Male 4: I’m thinking a lot about value throughout all of this.
Female 2: I’m thinking, though, it would be really great to analyse. We need funds for making film. A steel made construction; constructions are much slower; constructions have a lower timescale than film. It’s almost like you want to have pro bono, you want pro bono! Seriously, we want to work it out, you want to know their loopholes, how they get around things.
Male 2: But the other area of all of this is reversal and arbitrage, and the idea of … so theatre had worked out a long time ago that in order to produce a beautiful production, you rehearse, you prototype endlessly, you prototype everything. With the drama on board, with someone who’s got a sense of what you’re hoping to achieve, what script did you collectively agree upon, did you deliver? There are lots and lots of rehearsal and experimentation and you’re looking at it. In fact, you’ve got a framework in which you … So you can manage risk by doing a lot of modifying and a lot of experimentation; but you can be using that as clay. It’ll probably be ongoing, but the prototype is a temporary nature because it doesn’t necessarily involve things that are costly or dangerous that help frame and shape the direction where you invest a lot of the danger and expense.
Female 2: For a lot of people there’s a level of discomfort to a profile.
Male 4: Cedric Price said something really good about theatre which is: ‘Nothing but a bunch of people facing the same direction watching a foregone conclusion.’ I love saying that to my partner who’s in theatre when I want to piss him off. Collective action – if you don’t know what the conclusion is, there’s something really beautiful in that.
Female 2: Exactly, so you’ve got to write that line really carefully. The modalities of that and how that then translates; it’s interesting.
Male 4: I can’t help to think, though, there is a reason why people love them so much, because infrastructure is an ideal, but it’s cheap.
Female 2: In terms of risk.
Male 4: Having a site with none of these kinds of standards puts all sorts of obstacles on people’s plates. Is infrastructure supposed to be challenging?
Male 3: It’s supposed to Trojan Horse challenge people under the guise of being welcoming that people find themselves creatively. They can be socially comfortable and creatively challenged. There’s no reason those two things need to sit in that position. Socially comfortable and creatively challenged. You can feel welcomed. It’s not easy but they’re not mutually exclusive. A place doesn’t have to feel hard to be challenged.
Presenter: I think this has been a great invitation, to get that sense of … I think it has been great, so you do get that sense of invitation?
Male 3: Two things happened yesterday: we lit the fires and Abby was here. Having a dog on site and the fire going at night-time, the dog was just running around saying hi to people; it just does something to people. It does something to a face and space. Then you’ve got challenging artworks about big things and blah blah blah. They can sit next to each other and it’s fine.
Male 1: This is what Lewis Mumford said: ‘Human beings never left the paleo thinking because that’s 500,000 years of human beings coming.’. That stuff is so deeply ingrained and triggers so many things; it is your brain. So all this other stuff, filing 10,000, 15,000 years old, maybe in Australia it’s older, 25,000 with Aboriginal filing, maybe 30,000. Cities, we know they’re only about 5,000 to 10,000 years old for sure, so we’re operating in all … we are all of those, at least three layers. I think that’s also this really interesting play between getting someone very excited about something that is incredibly sophisticated and abstract; and then getting them incredibly excited about a dog running on the park. You’re triggering, you hit the filing person, you hit the Paleolithic person, you hit the city systems person. We are all those people. It’s like the society of mind model. There’s not one of you inside your head. There’s three, four or five.
Male 1: Fighting or not, but they’re certainly in there and they can be triggered by different things and I think we maybe spend our lifetimes trying to synthesise it. Either that or develop a really intense drug habit to cope with the difference. It can go either way.
Presenter: I thought it was climb.
Male 1: That’s ‘Climb Every Mountain’.
Male 4: That’s a very different song! [sings]
Male 1: I apologise, I’m going to have to leave in a minute.
Presenter: That’s awesome. That’s really a great conversation. I was wondering what one does now. Have a lie down?
Female 2: I think you’ve got to do what you just said. You’ve already got a system in place. I think you just need to work through it. It’s the idea of induction. Everyone arrives for [unclear]. I still keep thinking there is something about the way that you’re communicating out there. I felt that. Just in terms of how you get the word out because I think comms are so beyond. What you’re doing is so amazing. How do you get your manifesto out beyond. This is global. You should have global ambitions.
Male 1: And if architecture started with the corroboree and it moved to the multi-storey tower, it’s now gone to cinema.
Presenter: Is that a reminder? This is the Instagram.
Male 1: That issue is really, really important. That now, the moment, the knowledge that is being accrued in the moment, there should be documentation because that is a way of communicating what’s going on rather than building a building around it. Because rather than thinking that somehow or other this kind of documentation … it’s like a second order of self-aggrandisement. It’s not. It’s finding a way of communicating critical narrative, even though you don’t know what the outcome is; yet because I think that’s a very beautiful observation. So maybe it’s a group of people standing in a row who can’t tell you what the outcome is, but nonetheless are still documenting what they’re saying. So the text is emergent and the initial thing with the documentation is asking to be part of the conversation rather than going ‘Hey, we’re wonderful.’ It’s not about that. It’s putting out provocation.
Presenter: It’s a verb in itself.
Male 1: Yes, it’s a verb.
Presenter: It keeps the actual comms itself and manifests the actual action of what this is.
Female 2: Comms equals verb not noun.
Male 4: I think the best form of documentation is the memory of the event or whatever it is – that meaning a group of people talking about something that happened in three years’ time is the best form of documentation.
Male 1: You’re absolutely right. But if you think about what you’re interested in, my argument would be that the way you contest it. If you said you’re already having spectacular conversations and you’re very happy, though, for all of you to be part of the conversation, I think you’re going to say no. We actually want more people. In which case you’ve got to go to other ways of extending that conversation. The best conversation will be when there’s 3,000 people here having a conversation that five of you are having, but 3,000 people being part of that conversation. Without a doubt in my mind – because that’s a Paleolithic experience, it’s utterly immersive, it’s complex. It can only come from that dense version.
Presenter: And everyone better bring an umbrella because there’s not going to be a fucking builder!
Female 2: Is there anything else around the world similar to what we’re doing?
Male 3: Not sure.
Female 2: There must be in terms of sites per drawing. A great open-ended question.
Male 3: People have told us about Berlin, a place in [unclear] they’re doing one.
Female 2: Why aren’t you doing exchanges? I’m just saying. You’ve got a little bit more time now. I think you need to go on a residency.
Male 4: I’ve actually contacted …
Female 2: I just think it’s actually about the global network.
Male 3: I agree. I think you’re absolutely right.
Male 4: Last night, someone told me about a great festival in Austin called the Fuse Festival. It is very much in line with the practice of just a big empty site and allowing people to make whatever they feel like. It’s not just art – it’s markets, it’s art, it’s talks.
Male 1: You want to get into all those conversations to borrow as much … because I think for all of us, our number at the moment is 7.5 billion. That’s our community. The world has changed. It’s not the tribe, it’s not the city, it’s not the nation state. I think in an ideal world everyone has got to be in it somehow or other. That’s our number. So if it’s a bunch of dudes in Austin, Texas, you’ve got to go talk to them. Anyone at the moment who’s thinking the way you’re thinking: get them in the conversation. Find out if they know anything you don’t, tell them everything you know, open source.
Female 2: Because it’s only me meeting Fabian that I found out about using film and that just blew my mind. That was the thing, to actually separate myself. I’ve been at City of Melbourne for about eight months. I was still trying to work out a way of getting in, really using the system; and it wasn’t until I met him that I realised that it was a way into the system.
Male 1: This is conversation theory and this is the idea that the most powerful repositories of knowledge in the world are inside other people’s heads; and it comes back to that idea that the greatest learning is in a conversation with someone else – and we want to hear about it as well, of course. We want to be part of these conversations too.
Female 2: That’s why it comes back to a collective action event as that’s an instigator. That is ultimately about initiating conversation, isn’t it?
Male 1: But you’re operating at multiple scales. There’s the global scale, the local scale.
Female 2: And timescales.
Male 4: There’s always that moment I think where you use events. It’s 1pm or 2pm. Talk through all the formal stuff. Because actually the better conversation happens later when you bump into someone at the train station or when you’re having a beer afterwards. You just use art as a formality, to cut through the shit.
Presenter: That’s so true. That’s so interesting because I was just looking at different forms of education and there’s this thing called ‘flipped learning’ which is really interesting. If we thought that the art project, the actual formal exhibition was actually the pre-reading and that it was actually after the event that was actually the point in which you actually learn.
Male 1: In the ‘flipped learning’, the way it works in the classroom is that you give everyone all the readings, all the things you were going to do in class. Give it to them beforehand. Everyone comes to class and you have a conversation about it. That is, as you say, when the learning really begins.
Presenter: I was just going to say the ‘Just Do It’ book. For me this is like a physical form of that; he’s gathered actions from everywhere.
Male 1: I’m so looking forward to when you write all this up and speculate about it. But it’s a really, really significant conversation and I think it absolutely justifies all the steps you’ve taken to get to this point. Because this is the conversation that I think is one of the most important conversations to be having anywhere at the moment on the planet. So it’s really powerful.
Presenter: Also I’d like to say thank you for being part of it. It’s all the more significant because people like you are involved and you both seem to be very involved in it. So thank you. We value being able to bounce ideas around. There are not many people in the world who we know currently who you can talk like this with. It’s great, so thank you both.
Male 1: It’s very, very exciting. I look forward to the next iteration of the conversation.
Male 4: Thank you.
[Participants sign off]
|Building Remnants|| 2018
|200 Torches|| 2011
|Situated City with Lynda Roberts|| 2019
|Idea for a seat|| 2018
|Memory Lane|| 2012
|Southbank Arts Precinct|| 2018
|Overshare Video Festival|| 2023
|Lynall Hall|| 2019
We respectfully acknowledge the Wurundjeri people of the Eastern Kulin Nation as traditional custodians, on whose unceded lands we work and live.
We respectfully acknowledge elders – past, present and emerging. And we extend our deepest respects to all First Nations peoples. In the context of the work we do, we express gratitude for our shared connection through place, to the oldest continuing cultures on earth.
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