Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Do You Mind If I Ask You a Few Questions?

We get the cheap suits and matching haircuts in Sheffield.

The hairdresser – my hairdresser – is visibly distressed when I tell her what we want. She’s been slowly nursing me away from my very long hair for several years now, with the promise that she will eventually get to cut something other than ‘not short’ into it. But this isn’t what she was hoping for: short back and sides, side parting; the squarer we look, the better. She cuts me first. I look suitably geeky. The she gives Jerry exactly the same cut. He looks cool.

The suits are £40 each, machine washable. We want to look like we are at work. Dressed for work. The regular discussion about outfits and clothes instead of costume. Our reference point is the people who stop you in the pedestrianised bit of the city centre with a clipboard, who want to know if you wear deodorant or like crisps. It’ll only take ten minutes. They are mostly women (on Sheffield’s Fargate, at least), and the few men amongst them are a bit stuck as to what to wear. A suit, in order to look smart – they’re Dealing With The Public, after all – but they’re outside all day, might need a coat over the suit, it’s going to start to look shabby. They don’t want to wear their best suit, or buy a new expensive one. So forty quid machine washable is just the job. I look like an estate agent. Jerry looks like a spook.

Glasgow. We set up our research space downstairs in the Arches, in a pair of rooms I think of as Franko B’s rooms, having taken part in one of his one-to-one performance experiences in there the year before (with Aktion 398). We kit the space out on the Thursday: table, two chairs, desk lamp, evidence book, questionnaire forms (duplicate), mini-disc recorder. On the walls are a series of blown up A-Z map squares with a single red dot on each one: This Is Where It Happened.

Our research project is called Where Have They Hidden All The Answers? We start work on the Friday. Wearing our suits, carrying clipboards through the Arches café bar, I am surprised by how much attention we attract. Lois Keidan, who I will later watch painting Michael Mayhew in his own blood (in A Sequence of Actions That Matter), looks genuinely shocked by our attire. How do you cause a stir at the National Review of Live Art? Turn up in suits and ties.

Downstairs we get to work. One of us out in the corridor, marshalling our participants, managing the list; the other, in the second room (the first room acts as a sound lock), conducting ten minute interviews. We are sharing stories: trying to convince our participants, who experience the work one at a time, that a particular urban legend is true, then recording an urban legend from them, or, in fact, any story that they want to tell us.

I am often struck by how keen they are to get the story right; taking a moment to think it through, correcting themselves, retelling a key moment. After we have taken their story they sign the questionnaire and take the top copy for themselves. We show them out of the room through a different door, into a narrow corridor that leads them back to the café bar.

We find out later that on at least one day, our interviewees gathered around a table in the bar; you weren’t allowed to join them if you hadn’t ‘been in yet’. An evolving group, sharing their experiences. What story were you told? What story did you tell? Of course we never see this group. But it is gratifying to find out afterwards that not only were we collecting stories, we were helping to spread them, too.


We made Where Have They Hidden All The Answers?, our first one-on-one performance, for the National Review of Live Art in 2002. This year we were honoured to be asked to contribute something to the NRLA 30th Anniversary Catalogue, which is what the text above was written for. The Catalogue itself is a thing of beauty, edited by Dee Heddon, Nikki Milican and Jennie Klein, with contributions from so many massively influential makers of Live Art it would be churlish to mention just a few. Originally available only at the NRLA earlier this year, the last few copies are available online from the New Territories website.


We went on to present Where Have They Hidden All The Answers? at several UK venues, and remade it in Portuguese for the Site Festival in Coimbra, and in French for Center Culturel Suisse in Paris.

No comments: