The Time of Experimentation

Toni Pape


One element that heavily impacted on the way that ‘Into the Midst’ played out is the conclusive two-hour ‘event’ which was open to the public. Even though we continuously emphasized that the two-hour slot was not to contain ‘the event,’ even though we publicized it as a “concluding conversation” around “our collaborative explorations,” these two hours exerted an enormous amount of pressure that was felt – by some more, by others less – as a driving/stalling force in our experiments. This pressure partly arose from the SAT’s economic obligation to generate an income through ticket sales. The time of the dome is precious. What is presented there better be ready, sellable, and consumable. This requirement of the finished product demands a precise coordination of the artwork’s components, which, in our case, included the 3D projections themselves, sound and movement in the space, fabric and other materials. While we didn’t fulfill this requirement, we – or I, in any case – certainly felt it. I would like to start from these observations to propose a short, constructive reflection on the time of experimentation and collaborative art practices.

In the week preceding our timeslot at the SAT, our collective experimented in several groups each of which had a different focus (movement, sound and video recording, crocheting/fabric dying, etc.). While there was a general intention to bring our various explorations together, there was no clear intention as to how exactly all our material should co-compose. One could argue, then, that our two-hour time slot was a motivation to work constructively toward something that could stand as the artwork of the entire collective. Viewed from this angle, however, experimentation is excluded from the ‘finished artwork’: the period of exploration is strictly anterior to showtime. The heterogeneous sites and practices of experimentation must therefore be aligned into a schedule of the ‘event.’ As a show thus unfolds from cue to cue, a key element of experimentation is lost: the openness to surprise, for the pleasure of experimenting consists precisely in not foreseeing what is going to happen next. And during the week preceding the event, we had given our various processes time to evolve separately and to cross over when it allowed for interesting effects and sustained all of the processes involved. Since such surprising cross-over effects depend on the unpredictable coming-together of heterogeneous processes, experimentation is necessarily multi-linear or – to further emphasize that successful experimentation can never arise within a pre-determined timeline and disrupts it instead – nonlinear. The pressure of the timeslot however came along with a felt injunction to produce a clear timesheet for the two hours to be filled. We momentarily gave in to this pressure as we prepared schedules with cues (e.g. for what was to be done when certain images or sounds came on). I also remember that I was running around the SAT about an hour before our time, really nervous, telling people that we should get ready. Ready for what? To be consumed? It is difficult to escape the time of the dome.

And I certainly did not escape it during our slot itself. On the contrary, I fell into step with the time of the dome, feeling every single of its precious seconds. As it turned out, our projections were very slow by the standard of the dome: some images were projected and slowly rotated for up to one minute. Why is this so slow? I asked myself, fearing that our visitors, who by then had comfortably installed themselves on cushions on the floor and didn’t seem particularly keen on participating, might find this boring. Can’t we speed this up? I thought. Strangely enough, we had actually had a collective conversation about the speed of the projections and I myself suggested we keep it low to allow the public to engage with the images (which, after all, were only one element of our complex environment). But what felt like a good rhythm for movement and other forms of engagement during our exploration period was stretched into an almost unbearable stillness during showtime. As a result, I felt an urge to do something – anything – just to fill the stillness. The dome’s precious time can push a collaborative and experimental practice into a frenzied whatever.

Besides this, however, I remember a strong feeling of surprise during our two-hour slot. It came from the spontaneous creation and rising of a huge web of strings of wool that was supported by members of the collective and the audience and stretched across the entire dome floor. I had not seen this coming – although I had seen the wool and knew our threading/knotting/crocheting techniques. Something came up there that followed no clear intention, that had no particular point, that didn’t know where it was going. But it brought me back into experimentation mode, allowed me to relax and insert myself in the environment. In the time of experimentation, something will come up.




Toni Pape is a postdoctoral fellow for the SSHRC-funded "Immediations" project at Concordia University. He earned his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Université de Montréal with a doctoral thesis about the aesthetic experience of time in recent television series. Toni's postdoctoral research, supervised by Dr. Erin Manning, addresses questions of participation and ethics in the media ecologies of television, participatory installations, and new expanded cinema. Toni has been a member of the Senselab since 2010.

Toni Pape est chercheur postdoctoral dans le cadre du projet "Immédiations," subventionné par le CRSH, à l'université Concordia. Il a obtenu un doctorat en littérature comparée de l'Université de Montréal pour une thèse sur l'expérience esthétique du temps dans des séries télévisées. Sa recherche postdoctorale, dirigé par Dr. Erin Manning, porte sur la participation et sa dimension éthique dans des installations participatives, le new expanded cinema et la télévision. Toni est membre du Senselab depuis 2010.