Scenario 4 of 4 in response to the question: How do we work together on interesting things? (as part of a scenario planning exercise)

(axis: individual vision and some people available some of the time)

bohemian-club-3.jpg

a group of individuals, dedicating themselves to a range of practices intermittently. occasionally get together in bars/cycling/feasts to share ideas and inspiration. not always interested in the details of each others work/hobbies but are willing to help each other with sometimes unusual requests 'because it's interesting' or a challenge. they enjoy conversation and sharing compliments/ridicule of each other's work/hobbies. the group has a shifting dynamic, depending on who turns up to various events/openings/dinner/bar/cafe sessions. variety and lack of continuity, certain spontaneity and unexpected opportunities due to shifting network/group. a few of the more involved artists set up a salon in the studio they share, this forms a focus for the disparate discussions/directions/etc that go on in the 'other' venues. motivation is mostly personal, and individual varying with level of commitment available (erratic). based more on mutual respect than trust or reliability. salon, Stammtisch (estaminet, stamkroeg), situations.

Notes from the design session:

  • artists working in cafes
  • partying, opening, food & drink at openings/hosted
  • financial support artist-status/unemployment or 'sufficient means'/'independently wealthy'
  • hacker space, cooperative, no support staff
  • networking, access to available infrastructure
  • updating, sharing information and inspiration
  • inspire each other, without being involved in details/implementation
  • only individual (ir)responsibility
  • scale is limited, or requires non-standard ways of working at larger scale
  • cheapest option (of the 4 scenarios) resources for drinks, coffee, etc+
  • AR → networking and portfolio

Evaluation & discussion

on 20120427 we (maja, nik, rasa, peter and (remote) shell) prehersed this scenario at FoAM;

Notes from the debrief on 20120507

Preparation of the prehearsal
  • Question assumptions: both yours and other people's. If something is unclear, or you don't agree - ask until it is clear for everyone. (This is related to a misunderstanding about starting the day with or without the meeting)
  • If one of us takes initiative to design and lead the prehearsal, that person should be allowed to lead and also take responsibility for all aspects of the prehearsal. if someone disagrees - listen and adapt - before prehearsal starts. once it starts, best not to get out of character.
  • Best to clarify the roles beforehand. it might be more useful to experiment with being yourself (with perhaps accentuating different aspects of your behaviour), rather than assuming a completely fictional role
  • Framing beforehand: For most people it is helpful to have clear guidelines (both for participants and non participants), however we should be aware that some people enjoy ambiguity and confusion - there should be space for them too.
  • Some roles might have to be played by actors (amateur or professional) to facilitate and enhance credibility of a scenario (in this case - hostess, barman…)
  • There needs to be time between design of the prehearsal and the actual prehearsal, to have time to produce it properly and invite people who should be a part of it. How much time depends on the size and complexity of the prehearsal
During prehearsal:
  • focus on your experience, behaviour and responses to situations. take notes if necessary, notice patterns, reactions… that are resilient and others that are fragile or need to be changed for you to survive and thrive in a given scenario
  • avoid stepping out of character, or be aware that you're going to do it and then do it consciously
  • it's good to have remote connections, although the technology still doesn't allow for a 'sharing of atmosphere'
  • for the bohemian salon scenario to work, a critical mass of diverse people with overlapping interests is needed
  • lack of clarity about process and guidelines causes confusion for some people
After prehearsal

* Listening circle is a good way to ask 'how was it for you', but a 'talking piece' would be good to use so everyone knows who should speak and when the circle ends. It's good to speak only about your own experience, rather than offering opinions or giving advice.

  • It might be good to separate evaluation of methods / experience / content (impact of scenario on the question)
FoAM patterns uncovered
  • for FoAM to function as a bohemian salon, there have to be more and more diverse people involved (otherwise insufficient overlap of interests, no broadening of networks, no challenging/inspiring…)
  • We do not question our assumptions often enough - we should all dare asking questions until we're comfortable that we know enough of what's going on
  • When the founders spend time together, some collaborators feel excluded and feel that they've missed a lot (causes frustration)
  • There is an overwhelming load of logistics, admin and other non-content demands on the two founders on a daily basis, so the scenario felt liberating for them
  • We should have more moments of sharing with remote FoAM people - having skype open might be enough, or having a guided tour of what they're up to…
  • (other findings see maja's summary below)

Maja's notes from the prehearsal

my understanding of the bohemian salon prehearsal:
  • for 1 day i am a person following my own individual vision and interests. in the afternoon i come together with other people (engaged in their own pursuits) for a salon conversation over some drinks, somewhere in the city (either in someone's studio, in a bar, or a house of a rich patron). all of us work in different places on different projects and we only see each other during the salon, or if we agree to meet for a specific purpose. during the whole day i should pay attention to the key question of the scenario: how do we work together on interesting things?
my bohemian salon answer to the focal question:
  • my answer to this question after the prehearsal: i follow my interests and find people who either share the same interest and we benefit from a collaboration because we are interested in the same thing, or i 'hire' people who have skills that don't have but i need to realise my projects. everything is in service of the 'interest' or 'vision', there is not much time for empathy with other people. there is more time to be curious about what others do if i personally find it interesting. there is much less tolerance for nonsense and other people's failures.
observations about the experiment:
  • for me the value of the prehearsal is in experimenting with different attitudes, rather than playing fictional roles: for a 'resilience training' it was interesting to remain myself, but try to imagine what i would be like and what i would do in a given scenario. i learned a lot about my behaviours and reflexes by allowing myself to put 'individual vision and limited time' as a core parameter of my experience. if the scenario needs specific roles to be taken (such as the barman or the host in this case), it might be helpful to have a few people who agree to assume these fictional characters beforehand.
  • i had the need to have a clearer framework of the prehearsal: when does it start and end, what resources do we have at our disposal, what is FoAM's studio in this scenario (how did we get it, how is it paid, what do we do there…), how do we deal with 'intrusions from consensus reality'… some clearer ground-rules and agreements would have helped to be less confused and irritated.
  • for the salon itself (the time when everyone comes together) a critical mass of 10 or more people is needed, the more diverse the better, so that everyone can find something interesting to talk about. serendipity becomes very important - unexpected encounters and new insights were for me the most needed. i found that i wanted to go to a social place, where many people come and go (like a 'stamtisch/stam-kroeg/estaminet') where i know i could always find someone but could be surprised as well. it was important that i could leave when i had enough, without any obligations.
  • the prehearsal requires much more planning and thinking about who and how many people need to be involved for it to work.
  • evaluation must be a part of the prehearsal, to hear about other people's challenges and insights.
what did i learn?
  • personally: this scenario for me could be summarised in one word: FREEDOM. i felt unburdened, much more able to take care of myself and pursue my own interests than i do in my daily life. i realised just how much my decisions are coloured by obligations and how much easier it was to say NO in my assumed 'individualistic attitude'. i also understood some of the artists i work with and encounter much better. the flip-side of this very individualistic attitude is the lack of empathy and hence lack of a sense of community on which you can count on in times of need. it felt lonely, but i enjoyed the loneliness very much. there are several aspects of resilient behaviour that i found useful here: (1) paying attention to personal needs and talents (both in terms of physical body and creative work); (2) being able to prioritise time and energy, which prevents the feeling over being overwhelmed by external demands; (3) not feeling guilty to say no; (4) not taking on other people's responsibilities and fixing other people's mistakes; (5) being continuously in touch with what is relevant to further the vision… Non-resilient behaviours: (1) lack of empathy and compassion, (2) the lone rider who can't count on other people's support in times of need, (3) lack of connection to the 'bigger picture' of a community, society, the world.
  • for the group: if this would be FoAM's future, we would have no need for the studio and if i were to keep coming to the salons, it would have to be a much larger network, with more diverse people, high ambitions and very interesting work. i'm not sure this scenario would work in brussels. it sounds more like something for larger hubs such as london or tokyo, that attract a lot of people doing interesting work, there is a lot of movement to encourage serendipity. In terms of resilience: (1) extremely low overhead and lack of infrastructure can be liberating, (2) the structure is light and non-hierarchical, (3) there is a lot of diversity and exchange. The inherent fragility is that the group is fickle and there is no long term stability or vision.
  • for the collaboration: i think we would be individually working on interesting things, perhaps more so than now (there would be no need for 'consensus'), but there would be no sense of coherence and the scale of projects would be limited to individuals with their helpers. competition and drive to excellence might be higher, although there would also be more honest collaborations based purely on shared interests.
  • for the culture: not much different from now: a few successful stars standing victorious on a battle-field covered with failed artists, rich patrons and famous curators. this is a perpetuation of the current culture, just taken more to its extreme individualistic nature. i don't think it's particularly resilient in the long run. there is definitely diversity and redundancy in this scenario, however the culture as a whole might be too fragmented to be able to survive through economic and social upheavals. people involved are too dependent on the market and state-support (such as the artist status)…
what did i do?

i woke up early, had my morning ritual and focused on what my interests and my vision were. 2 things came to mind: on the one hand i'm a 'life artist' whose daily life is her artwork and on the other hand i want to work on creating situations of 'direct experience' with reality as a whole. for this one day i wanted to work on turning my cancer diaries into a well designed scrap-book that would be published as an art object as well as distributed online; the second thing was borrowed scenery and the direct experience of viriditas through human-plant interaction.

i decided my 3 rules for the day: i would only be around people and do things that would (1) interest me, (2) further my vision and goals and (3) allow me to learn new things. everything else was a lower priority and i should not waste too much of my time, energy and attention.

i exercised, had breakfast and wrote my diary. i didn't want to go to the studio, but expected that we'd have a meeting about how to proceed with the prehearsal, so i went after all even though this didn't fit in my idea of the scenario (which caused a bit of tension, but i ignored it).

on the way to the studio, i bought some tea and cookies - my contribution to the salon in the afternoon. i got to the studio and contacted the borrowed scenery curator to know about the deadline for the text that i had to send to her. This relationship seemed much more important to cultivate than usual. I thought about getting some propaganda material ordered, when someone called FoAM and i made a mistake of picking up the phone. i was instantly catapulted out of my 'individual vision' role and back into my normal role of being available to solve other people's problems before tending to my own plans. i noted this, accepted it, dealt with the problem the best i could and got back into my role asap. to avoid such things happening again i sent an email announcing that i will not be available for meetings for the rest of the day and that i spoke to the director of FoAM who said that we can use the space for the salon (but bring our own food and drinks) only until 7pm. after that we would have had to continue in a bar.

i felt strongly that using FoAM's space and resources went against the planned scenario, where all infrastructure had to be borrowed from someone else. i felt it was wrong to come to FoAM and use food and space as-is (funded, with a full fridge, no time restrictions…). however, as i didn't design the prehearsal, i couldn't do much about it, except try to put a time limit on it, so that we could try out a salon somewhere else as well.

i invited nik for lunch, to talk about my book and see if he was interested in helping me design it. we had an interesting conversation about his design and photography directions and my projects. as my project was of interest to him and his career, he accepted to collaborate on it. during lunch i got a message from rasa that she forgot a key to the studio and asked if i was there. i simply replied that i wasn't and that i might be back in about 45 minutes. no worry or obligation arose in me.

i came back to the studio and worked on a moodboard for borrowed scenery. i could begin seeing glimpses of the aesthetic and experience i wanted to get to with the back story when nik returned with rasa. rasa proceeded to water the plants and help out a visiting artist with borrowing kitchen utensils from FoAM. i was puzzled, as i thought that we would all have been 'in character' and what she was doing seemed like her normal role at FoAM. she also talked to me about making beds for cocky and theun for next week, which made me step out of my role to be able to talk to her. it annoyed me that we didn't have clear rules and times for the prehearsal and that i was so easily thrown back into my normal role. however, my interest quickly pulled me back to the mood-board and i enjoyed the feeling that i was able to do what i felt like doing, regardless of what the others were up to.

then 5pm arrived, the time for the 'salon'. only nik, rasa and i were around. rasa took on a fictional role of a person stealing interesting things and selling them on. after a short conversation, i realised that further conversation was going against my 'rules' and that i should leave as soon as i can. shelly called in from london (on skype), and her contribution interested me. she was great in a role of an interested tv journalist, bart and carole perfectly engrossed in making edible solar cells - it all fit the scenario well, while they were still themselves. even though the content was good, the technology was lacking (breaking up, shelly couldn't engage in the activities as she wanted because of carrying a heavy computer around…) - AR would have to be much further developed if remote contributions were to work in this scenario. after they logged off i spoke to nik and rasa for a bit longer, brought out my cookies and tea. i realised that i began making my character more and more fictional, in response to rasa's fictional stories - i felt that what i was doing that day wasn't interesting enough. it was easier inventing stories than being myself in that moment, but i felt like i landed in a children's birthday party and the experience seemed less and less relevant and insightful. peter arrived in another ficitional role, then coralie came very shy talking about her day on a conference about art in prisons - possibly interesting. then kiran came in his normal role of talking about his individual interests which fit perfectly without acting. peter brought some fries, which were a great contribution. we were all a bit hungry. both coralie and peter went to the fridge and took FoAM's food out. i was getting increasingly annoyed, disinterested and the whole thing seemed totally pointless and ridiculous. i remembered my rules (about prioritising interest and learning) and saw that it was nearly 7pm. i knew i needed to leave asap and go to a bar to meet others. i stood up and said good bye. i didn't want to be a part of breaking FoAM's rules, but i didn't care if the rest did - it just meant that we probably couldn't use that space any more.

after i left i felt that i stayed there too long, wasting my precious time and not furthering my interests. i went to de walvis, saw guy and annemie and went to join them. nik came along after a some time and joined us as well. it was unexpected, unattached and exactly as i thought the salon would be - everyone talking about their own interests, and everyone doing interesting things so that the conversation flowed for hours. when i felt tired, i got up and left, without feeling any obligations. i had a good time, learned things, found out about potential collaborations and felt that it was time for me to leave.

nik and i walked home and had a great conversation about our experiences. we both enjoyed the day and were amazed how light we felt being able to ignore at least some of the various requests that kept bombarding us - things that we usually take for granted that they have to be dealt immediately. being an individual artist definitely has its benefits…

in the morning i woke up very happy to figure out that the prehearsal could actually be seen as a form of meditation: trying out different attitudes, staying with my own thoughts and feelings and learning more about myself and others in different situations. i felt it gave me much more options to decide how and what i want to do in my daily life. as such, it was a successful first prehearsal experiment, with many avenues for improvement, but a lot of potential.