Being able to support an artist through the development of an idea to make it a workable project is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my work. We set up the artist development sessions and associate artist programme to formalise this type of support from within Disability Arts Online and Aidan Moesby is one of the first associate artists with us.
Aidan’s Unlimited R&D work came to fruition at Arnolfini, Bristol on 14th March 2019, with a sharing of his work in progress, I was naked smelling of rain. Having supported his artistic development over the last couple of years it was important to be there to see how he’d used this opportunity to develop the work. This forms the preliminary part of a wider series under the umbrella of the Emotional Weather Bureau. This will become Aidan’s platform for sharing his own artistic product connected to climate change, weather and mental wellbeing as well as curating and commissioning others who address similar themes.
The room comfortably filled up for the main event. On entering the space, the audience was invited to explore projections, info sheets and audio works by Aidan and his collaborating contributors. The room was divided floor to ceiling by open bookshelves and it took a while to work out what was the installation, and what was more permanently in situ. Was I to look at every single book to ascertain its significance? Aidan helpfully pointed out the different elements of the installation.
After a short while, we gathered on benches around tables. Obvious effort had been made for this to be a friendly informal event with the right atmosphere for encouraging people to be present as active listeners and join in the conversation. This approach fed through into Aidan’s monologue which is presented as a set of beautifully crafted observations on weather, wellbeing and loneliness.
The whole script has clearly been through a development process and the weather metaphors have been honed so well that it was a real joy to listen to. Aidan’s poignant observations about the absurdity of some of the conventions around human interaction that have emerged in our society created thinking space, humour and a presence in the room. Although this wasn’t comedy, I was reminded of those stand-ups who use observational humour in their story-telling to great effect. But, this was different, this was framed in raw honesty and a certain vulnerability that broke through the niceties of general chitchat to delve into something deeper about the human experience.
Aidan was understandably nervous about this first foray into performance, but it was actually extremely well done, with any imperfections acting to further humanise the whole experience and bring the audience along. Breaks in flow will, I’m sure, be ironed out with more experience. The sparsely designed PowerPoint punctuates the performance, though I think the one photograph used could be removed and instead described verbally to maintain the flow, but still have the same impact.
A conversation between Aidan and project provocateur, psychiatrist David Cousins followed a less structured path. I loved the contrast it provided in its unrehearsed nature, but it did also make me a bit nervous of where it was going to go – that’s not a bad thing necessarily.
Also, it felt like it needed more context at the beginning to better understand the rules of engagement. Each was very respectful in giving one another time and space to speak and develop a thought as it arose. This worked well. As Aidan and David talked through their concerns about the relationship between mental health and the weather, this produced some resonant observations such as when Aidan said that ‘As the earth gets warmer, people seem to be getting colder’.
Bringing in another perspective was fascinating and Aidan’s intention to engage a wide range of people in these conversations is going to bring the whole subject to life and make it relevant enough for a wide range of people to invest in it emotionally. On a practical level, this will also create endless possibilities of where this kind of event might take place in the future.
I thought the ending transition that moved from Aidan and David talking into an open conversation with the audience could have been more considered. The convention of a post-show Q&A maybe got in the way a little. That tricky moment of ‘does anybody want to contribute’ needs a slightly different kind of invitation in my view.
For Aidan, conversation is an integral part of his practice as both artist and curator. I think this would benefit from more investigation in a performance/event situation. How does a conversation in this environment operate? It’s often a series of exchanges that build up a consensus or establishes differing opinions. Question and answer tends to be used in a formal setting, how does one facilitate getting past this type of interaction towards something with more depth? Further exploration of how to foster meaningful group conversations would definitely benefit the whole experience of the event.