Day 5 :: Jen :: Full of Pep anyone?

There’s a questionnaire of feelings that we repeatedly have to fill out as part of our testing. It’s from 1971 and I don’t relate to a lot of the terms – does anyone ever feel Full Of Pep anymore? – but have definitely been relating to Rebellious. Last wake period we pulled a stunt we’d been planning for a while by messing with the tests. Of course, four artists are going to find a way to buck the rigidity of scientific systems.

I think Sean is writing about what we got up to in more detail, so I won’t go into it – let me just say our rebellion was structured and obeyed certain rules, just not the ones the scientists impose. This little creative conspiracy was about making a statement that reminded us we had some power left, pushing boundaries and reinstating a little chaos. Artists are naturally defiant people, I think, and the four of us have all been swapping ideas and cooking up schemes – like I wrote yesterblog, it’s these interventions that are the most fun in here.

It was fun, but it was also a little deflating to realise how much we hurt the scientists’ feelings. We drew a line between our practice and theirs and it damaged the camaraderie somewhat. Art should be challenging and disruptive, but it should also be beautiful, and those two are sometimes in conflict. It ties in to other thinking I’ve been doing on compliance and politeness. The subtleties of etiquette and power are totally Foucaultian in here.

I love science, and I have a huge amount of respect for it, but I’m not sure science and art really get each other when it comes down to it. I mean, the idea that creativity is measurable seems absurd to me. This project is paring us right back to first principles. It’s making me think deeply about how we think we know what we say we know, and part of art’s role is to interrogate the authority of what scientists would call established fact. Our little stunt reminded us all of the divide between our different ways of making meaning in the world. While we both love complexity, scientists like data they can use. Writers like mysteries and messes and contradictions: what Keats called ‘negative capability.’ Our tests really drew attention to that difference. What we saw as art and revolution, science saw as a waste of good data.

I guess that stunt provided a microscopic version of decisions we make every day about creative risk and the fear of offending people. It’s great to be part of a community and art can strengthen communities, but artists are always loyal to the creative impulse above all else. We’re limited to very few modes of communication – this one-way blogging and the data that gets collected, apart from our interactions with each other and scientists – and it is also our instinct to use what we have to communicate. If you like limitations, data collection is a pretty powerful language restraint. Even if the computers will parse that data as meaningless, I will know that I was multiplying instead of subtracting, or substituting the wrong symbols in the right way. That I was participating in a creative uprising. Since we’re all interested in the scientific outcomes as well, politeness has prevailed and we have promised not to do it again!

I’m aware how much I’m writing in first person plural. We are quite a team now, bonded by confinement, sleep deprivation and the PVT. This is a very strange way to make friends and it’s reminded me how necessary other people are to have around. Just as Fee is the go-to for all technical problems, I seem to be everybody’s spellcheck. We’re all each other’s google. As much as our dependence on our captors, this dependence on each other’s resources highlights the risk involved in messing with the system.

It’s also reminding me of going out into the bush. Pared back like this we have to be resourceful and resilient and this has been a great opportunity to test those limits, and our own capacity to create in confinement. Everybody’s rethinking their essential relationship to their work. Everybody’s work is becoming infected by everybody else’s, something which always happens at residencies but is intensified here.

Which is not to say my work is going to be amazing. I do think a large proportion of what I do requires more analytical and critical thinking than this sleep-deprived brain can manage. My judgement is definitely impaired, and though that can be liberating in terms of taking creative risks, first drafts are ultimately not as satisfying as the whole craft process. Still, I’ve finished a story and am halfway through another one, both quite different from my usual style. The last two sleeps have been shorter and the “wakes” half as long, and I’m enjoying the creative energy that happens after sleeping without the extended period of lurching up and down the corridor mumbling ‘Brainss… brainsssss’ afterwards.

In one such zombified period I was starting to imagine these rooms attracting other rooms like planets attract meteors, agglomerating outside us in an endless building. Here’s a drawing which I think is quite obsessive.

Last wake period when we pulled our stunt I was drawing a bit more whimsically, trying to incorporate some of the sci-fi electrode aesthetic while Thom was playing Bowie in the next room. I guess the captivity is getting to me… I feel a bit like Iranian Space Monkey.

Jennifer Mills

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