Closed Laboratory to Open Laboratory: Examining the Process of Making Training Public

My own practice is influenced by laboratory traditions, informed by contemporary performance and ‘devising’ methods. I am working with an emergent performance ensemble using task-based methods of training and performance.

An underlying dilemma that faces my practice is the process of taking work that has been formed in a closed environment into a wider and open context: making the private public.

Within my own practice I have been, as a member of the ensemble, working in a closed environment for an extended period of time. Until we held a participatory work demonstration, open to the public to enter and interact with both us and our work.

Within our closed environment we use objects such as paper, string and balloons. These objects are then utilised to create task-based fragments of performance, these tasks are detailed with complex and meticulous rules and sub-rules. One such task involved the use of homemade paper aeroplanes.

The ensemble are in the closed laboratory throwing the paper aeroplanes from one end of the room to the other whilst following complex and unnecessary rules and sub-rules detailed here:

When this task took place in the closed laboratory the ensemble became immersed in the task, following the rules and sub-rules. The ensemble were working interdependently, mutually dependent on each other to complete the overall task, whilst independently moving through their own stages of the task.  During this task the ensemble demonstrated an intense and focused state, as their body(ies) repeatedly moved through the task concentrating on the task in the present moment. As a member of the ensemble, I was able to observe them loop though the repetition, continually throwing, aiming and repeating.

However, when this task was demonstrated in the open environment the ensemble’s approach and method for completing the task shifted unexpectedly.

It was noticeable that the ensemble were now individually driven to show their own skills, they were no longer moving through the task, they were performing rather than doing the task. Even breaking away from the task to explain the rules to the public, this direct interaction created a distinct division between the public and the ensemble and suggested that the rules and sub-rules had become fixed rather than remaining open.

This highlights that when in the closed environment, for me, the focus is on the functional actions, enabling the focus of the task to be on doing. The emphasis in the closed laboratory is on the process not the product and the act of creating one singular participatory work demonstration resulted in the process becoming a product. In order to make the sharing of work part of the process, we might be led to believe that this sharing should not take place in one go but use multiple platforms for continual sharing, never fully closing the laboratory (door?).

Jennifer Willett