Have you ever made a work that turned out as you thought it would? I haven’t. We add, improve, subtract and explore in everything that we do. But where does this lead us and how do we manage when walking the path isn’t straightforward? These are the questions I have been dealing with this week.
I started out with the condition of making the robot interact with the bottle. I realised this by adding props to the bottle to make the bottle an environment. Pretty soon I made a robot eat part of that environment and stumbled across the question of ‘ooh, how can I tell a story?’ Usually when I get to this point I’d now put pressure on myself – up the ante and change the specification. My trick, my task with avoiding this pressure is in the wording of the question. ‘How can I tell a story?’ needs to be two questions; ‘can I tell a story? If so, how?’ The important distinction is that ‘How can I tell a story?’ assumes you will tell a story, whereas ‘Can I tell a story?’ helps you to ask if the piece you are working with actually lends itself to a story. If it doesn’t, that’s ok and with that, day by day, I have the permission for the story to be optional only.
The path of resistance
One week in I decided to have the day off. I had 7 bottled robots under my belt and felt pretty good about getting through the remaining two. Wind the clock forward to the morning after my day off and I found myself with two new packs of bottles. My 2 remaining jumped to 22 and resistance struck! My last two ideas drained away like water through a sieve, with the sieve missing. I started to revisit the ideas I had already rejected like, ‘it can’t just be sat in the bottle’ – that doesn’t count. Then came the old ‘no, I can’t fill all these. It’ll be a jumbled mess…’ excuses to try and make me stop there.
Getting back in the swing
What do you do when you’ve lost your mojo? A tool I have found very helpful is to ask, ‘what similes to my work are there?’ and ‘what are the rules I’m following?’ I highly recommend these questions when you’re in a creative rut.
- My similes: We use bottles to keep insects as children and when we do, we put leaves and twigs in there with them to keep them alive. I used to keep stick insects. who’s sole survival mechanism is to blend in. That gave me insect-like robots, living and camouflage as themes to play with in my work, opening me up to new ideas.
- My rules: So far, everything within my bottles has been happily within my bottles. That’s been consistent, so it’s an unintentional rule I’ve been following. So today, my bottle broke that rule; my robot is right up against the side, blatantly staring outwards.
I had my rules to break, my similes to inspire me and the ideas came flowing back. You’ve probably felt the rush of energy that follows too. All of a sudden, you have a weeks worth of ideas, the enthusiasm and just want to get on with it. I had 3 bottles ready to make. Thankfully, I had to go out for the day. I made just one bottle and not through my own self-management. But having only made one bottle, I still had the plans to hand for the next few days and time to come up with more ideas before the resistance returned. So, my lesson from this is definitely pace yourself, even when you feel like you don’t need to. The temptation to sprint is like being near the top of the mountain and in the same way, it pushes us further and faster than we can really go.