The journey is not the record of the journey

‘What form do these projects take?’

It was one of several questions that came up after my talk at Banlieues d’Europe last night. My first thought was that, because it seemed obvious to me, I’d neglected to explain that they result in short books. But the physical presence of a book, and the status such artefacts have in our culture, combine to raise the importance of this ‘output’ at the expense of others.

The first result of the work undertaken in each Regular Marvel is the series of encounters it provokes. Most are between the people who agree to take part as co-producers and myself, but there are others that don’t involve me and that I might not even know about. In beginning the process, I draw attention to something, implicitly asserting its interest or value. A conceptual space is defined, within or against which conversations happen, simply because of that attention.

Those conversations are the primary substance of the process, changing those who take part in small and perhaps larger ways. I was pleased that several of the contributors to Winter Fires have expressed a wish to meet others who have been involved. It seems that reflecting on similar experiences, and reading about one another in the draft, has created for some a sense of—what, community?

The conversations continue, loop back and spread out again as people see the emerging artwork and read the draft text. There are more ripples when the book itself appears and is read by relatives and friends. Once it is published, like all such artefacts, the book is freed from authorial influence to find its way in the world. If it is read, it will trigger further interactions and new conversations, unknown to anyone but those concerned.

This blog is another Regular Marvels artefact. Its commitment to ‘thinking in public’ is intended, among other things, to encourage more reflection and conversation. Its impermanence, which includes my ability to rewrite past posts if I choose, is a statement of the unimportance of much that the art world most prizes: longevity, stability and authority. Not knowing and changing my mind are both central to Regular Marvels. Without them, it might easily degenerate into self-regard and hollow cleverness, and there’s no shortage of either about already.

But I think there is a value in seeing how ideas are found, developed, abandoned and refined, just as I think there is in approaching lived experience, that of co-producers and my own, with an open-minded curiosity that responds to patterns and asks also why it is responding to them. At least, this work is founded on that hope.

So Regular Marvels are not books, or at least, not only books. They are the whole cycle, from conception through to publication and beyond. They are also porous, shape shifting, uncontrolled and uncontrollable. They are, in the words of another of those present last night, journeys into other lands, undertaken for their own sake (because meeting other people is always rewarding), and reported back for anyone who might be interested. In the end, they work in so far as they do that.

Talking it over

This evening I’ll be speaking about Regular Marvels in Lyon (France), for my old friends at Banlieues d’Europe. It will be the fourth or fifth time that I’ve talked about the process this year, as part of a conscious effort to develop the practice in conversation with other people. I describe this (usually to myself) as ‘thinking in public’ and this blog is another expression of that idea.

Each time I have to present this work, in all its fluid, changing character, I have to think again about what I’m doing, and why. Each person or group implicitly asks me to tell this story in a way that will make most sense to them. French artists engaged in socially aware work will look at it differently from their peers in England.

New questions and responses arise. I learn about my practice by organising its presentation and through those reactions. I’m aware that I’ve not yet written a proper account of the ideas that shape Regular Marvels, but that’s okay, for now. This is an exploration of learning by doing. This site is the journey and the account of the journey. The more formal reflection will come later.

Flyer for this evening is here