Maybe it doesn’t have to be every 3 years we make a call on the state of the ecology, but every 4 or 5? Or perhaps 2 for international affairs?
It’ll be 9 years in 2023 since we last voted in the Scottish independence referendum. I’ve been writing this Appendix over the last couple of months, starting the day Nicola Sturgeon wrote to Boris Johnson outlining her government’s intention to hold another referendum in October 2023. It’s exciting, but I knew that day that I’d have to gear myself up for tolerating 1 year+ of twitter comments parroting the ‘once in a generation’ promise. Regardless of the outcome to my quick google search about how long human generations extend (sadly, 15 years), I believe there have been substantial conditional changes to merit a re-appraisal of Scotland’s relationship to the union. I recognise the issue with promises though and overworking decisions, so two questions have crept out of this anticipation of twitter avatars butting heads:
- how long do we get to make decisions about new social configurations for?
- and how long is it until we’re allowed to make decisions towards revising or reinforcing them again?
In a practical sense, if we’re uncomfortable and want to make a substantial change of state, what is a reasonable length of time until we can have a say in reforming that? What’s our reform clock?
I’m learning that in video games, there’s a thing called Tick speed, a looped measure of time in the game’s coding that can be used to describe the frequency through which inputted information updates in a game. In practical terms, this measures the speed at which decisions can be perceived and implemented, triggering actions within, or changes to, dynamic environments, character positions, and animations. It’s different to framerates (fps), which measure the display of what is presented to us on a device. If fps is the flow of time as a game is displayed to an observer, then Tick is the in-game flow of time independent of such observation. It is a frequency through which information is updated and registered by a system: the clock that determines the day and night cycle in The Sims; the rate your crops grow in Minecraft; the evolution of cells in Game of Life. As a game component, it becomes especially important in online multiplayer games, allowing players to strategise and act upon updated information and character positions as close to real-time as possible. On that rhythm of map updates, we can compose strategies, qualify value-systems to be included or excluded within these worlds, and reason with the resulting laws to our benefits.
Creative Scotland is currently working to their strategy (10-year plan 2014-2024, Unlocking Potential Embracing Ambition) setting out key interests and goals for culture across Scotland in an arms-length-resonance with the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework. For anyone who has written an application to Creative Scotland recently, you might be familiar with the four connecting themes they lay out: Creative Learning, Equalities & Diversity, Digital and Environment. Creative Scotland also started to place greater emphasis on ‘Fair Work’ as an emboldened echo of Scottish Government’s Fair Work Framework(2015-25), and outlined in their recent Annual Plan(2021/22). As part of this commitment, they recently commissioned research with Culture Radar into their operations (Review of Fair Work, upcoming), and introduced a pilot programme open to Regularly Funded Organisations (RFOs), to propose alternative models of support for Artists with Caring Responsibilities (Fair Work Innovation for Caregivers, 2021-22). Scottish Artists Union also recently launched a series of template Artist Contracts for members, in collaboration with Philip Hannay, Cloch Solicitors, noting their connection to this national priority for fairer conditions of work for artists. These strategic developments impact how we, as artists and workers with individual needs, might hold greater tools and leverage in expressing agreeable conditions for freelance work and secure greater comfort and trust in our working relationships. Steps towards new standards of comfort as part of the collective reimagining of access in making and experiencing culture: a slowly evolving optimism for a new normal.
The conditions for this didn’t snap into existence and have been the product of generations of activists fighting for greater social justice. Through the pandemic, these conversations have been accelerated into the mainstream, to speak about the precarity and sustainability of work, our relationships to the planet and climate change, and calling out persisting systemic othering of individuals which results in subsequent legislative (and legislatively-tolerated) violence. What was ‘normal’ three years ago, before the pandemic was even seriously imagined into people’s future-proofing, seems so alien. How is this world that extracts our heightened need for immediacy and response-ability, regulated?
The first way is a concentric, circular model which we see in many iterations across organisations, their stakeholders and assets. It recurs in many contexts. Robyn Wiegman and Elizabeth A. Wilson’s introduction to differences Vol. 26 #1: ‘Queer Theory without Antinormativity’, sets up the norm as a statistical construct, pinpointed as the median average of all human activity fully inclusive of its many extremities. They pose that norms are unavoidable and a byproduct of outlier living, non-normativity (before it is named as a negation of such invented norm), and antinormativity as a response to, and rejection of, a perceived centre. Here, it is important for me to point to Jack Halberstam’s eloquent and angry takedown of this entire volume of differences, an analysis of the collection as a misrepresentation of the plurality of queer opposition, and an illustration of Wiegman and Wilson’s critique for critique’s sake. However, I believe the Introduction does establish a useful picture of the social construction, and policing of, norms within a multitude of identity and labour positions. I think it’s useful because it posits opposition, and deviation from a median, as in most cases involuntary performative political labour—voting with your actions, much like Democracy 2.0. Where it goes awry is its flattening of queerness to a meta-political project wholly associated with chasing a phantom norm.
The diagram manifested sketches out a spatial reality, claiming lineage to the quantitative data collection of the social sciences (deviance studies, cybernetics, economics). This averaging constructs a pictorial logic from understandings and subscription to the language of ‘positioning’ within our conception of politics. In this, there is a regulation between the centric and the ex-centric position in relation to how we might understand self-identity in relation to the other, with people on the fringes of this concentric model (a surface or horizon), frequently associated with the moral associations of being outside, deviant or distant from a societal generality. Those who perform the edges, or appear to perform the edges, are frequently visibly terrorised as a means of policing productive morality through example.
When I looked up Comfort Zones online I found another concentric diagram, this time detailing three psychological states, which respectively from the centre read ‘Comfort Zone’, ‘Optimal Performance Zone’ and ‘Danger Zone’. As performance management styles are well integrated within business and cultural management–in squeezing our workers’ atoms into a juicy everything—I wonder how ‘deviation’ into the goldilocks zone might contribute to the alienation of individuals not only through their labour, but through the extra labour of performing identity as a political labour within oppressive, discomforting and hostile environments. Within this concentric model, a regulated halfway house between central ‘too hot’, and extremes ‘too cold’, might provide a more manageable norm to host a working population that could be in opposition to itself. In this, I’m reminded that before we can leave our comfort zone, we need to have a comfort zone to begin with.
The second way might be frequency, and this goes back into the dimensions of how often we punctuate representational, democratic decision-making. How many times do we repeat the action of surveying the field? This goes both ways, as a governed rhythm that paces input, and allows governing powers to act on wishes of a represented public, and as a recurring cathartic event for individuals that theatricalises the debate of decision-making so that we don’t need to decide anything on that scale again for the next agreed interval. Democracy is confined, at least on a psychic basis, to that recurring, promised event– gifted to those who qualify as eligible to vote, and withheld from those who are deemed not.
In other forms of commonality, that ripple with democratically elected values, similarly ritualistic grand decisions like the marketing of a festival programme, the communal deadline of the end of tax year, and the announcement of Creative Scotland’s RFO portfolio are adjacent to these ecology- (or discourse-) defining states until the next decision is made. The (under-revision) RFO bracket is highly interesting in this. Successful entry grants secure funding over three years, and regulation through sustained monitoring and liaising directly with Creative Scotland.
This year, due to the public health crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, the 3-year cycle has been seeing lots of problems, as an Emergency round of 2021/22 funding is granted at the same rate as the active RFO phase 2018-21. Some organisations have even sustained funding grants at the same rate as their 2015-18 phase making this an even more stretched affair. Funding in this way doesn’t account for inflation (standstill funding equates to a cut amidst rising costs), and the significant increases across the country in energy costs (especially for large cultural buildings) means that many of these millennium-funded buildings are eating up the finances of organisations. What was comfortable at the time of decision-making, might not be so now.
The rhythm (although never guaranteed due to shifting priorities and budgets) has however allowed organisations the stability to confidently sustain leases in properties, invite and commission artists with greater notice, and offer relatively secure contracts to their staff—a substantial pool of employment across the country. Stable rhythms intend to reproduce better standards of care for artists and arts workers across the board. Not all organisations are able to carry this through—I have sadly heard of, and been subject to, plenty of working arrangements involving temporary contracts or no contracts at all, an element of working practice that Creative Scotland’s RFO monitoring intends to rectify. All this said, the RFO model certainly has the intention of providing some kind of more permanent promised state from which to position oneself. A shared rhythm and collectively understood unit of lifespan for our cultural ecology through which to establish a lay of the land, understand patterns, read futures.
Under my laptop, there’s a printout of a dialogue between Valentina Desideri and Stefano Harney called Fate Work, A Conversation. I carry it around with me in my laptop case because I want to talk about it with you. Here’s a quote I think is relevant for us:
‘But how do we start to live differently now? […] Mutual self-sabotage could be a practice to develop, a practice that is inherently complicitous as it has to be done with others (and other things—like a sabot) and that by interrupting the machines at work, creates unregulated time and space.
In this way sabotage can be a way of practicing co-determination, of unsettling each other, thus opening oneself up to co-determination while becoming more perceptive, since in order to sabotage, you need to be able to perceive the rhythms of the machines at work. You need to become a present reader, a reader of these abstract machines, and you throw a shoe in the middle of them. So that many fates can open up.’ (Valentina Desideri, 2013)
As well as going into the preconceived, determined quality of strategy and its measurable successes (perhaps documented in performance reviews), they fantasise about co-determinacy, non-strategic living and abundant outcomes. I feel it’s important to stay with this feeling of directionless, about aspiring to work non-strategically (it could be our answer to the question we get asked in the interviews about what our goal is). Maybe this approach will help us as we host conversations parallel to, but not to the will of, other strategies that hold similar desires of mapping and improving conditions for performance art makers in Scotland. A recent list includes: Live Art in Scotland (2020-ongoing), Live Art Sector Research (Jun 2021), the Future Stage Manifesto (Oct 2021), Jerwood Arts 1,243 Voices (Nov 2021), and perhaps tangentially Federation of Scottish Theatre’s State of Play Report (upcoming).
It’s a little uncomfortable navigating amid strategies of different scales that establish wide representations of the sector(s) supporting performance art, and prophesise what qualities within our volatile economy of artistic value might be important for the future. Especially because these systems are performed by people: people with personal motivations, aspirations for greater comfort, and legitimate anxieties of surviving amidst this cost-of-living crisis. This widening estrangement of individuated strategies potentially infiltrates our considerations of aesthetic value, who has access to the consideration of aesthetic value in the first place, and what kind of macro strategy we start to see in play.
From within the mass multiplayer game called Art in Scotland, I finally wrap back around to this mid-revision ‘Every 3 year’ tick where we have accepted the organisational-cultural landscape changes. A once predictable gust of wind that manipulates the dunes of our sandsea; the looming forest fire that redistributes the forest’s limited resources. Competitors stand for review, hoping they remain unscathed.
What if it wasn’t like clockwork though? This is the question Creative Scotland seem to be asking now, as they revise the RFO format through the Future Funding Framework into an adaptive, multi-year model. This model seems to have been drawn from extensive consultation with organisations about their needs, and acts on problems facing non-RFO organisations who are only able to apply (except in exceptional circumstances) to one year of funding, and RFOs whose programme cycles do not follow a 3-year pattern such as festivals. It promises to be bespoke to each organisation, opening a garden of co-existing review cycles between 2 and 5 years. I’m drawn to the garden/ecology metaphor as it was beautifully expanded on and torn apart by K, a director of an arts organisation, at a Chapter 13 event hosting Variant and their recently published Divergence and Agonism: the different, the other, and the one who disagrees: Cultural Communication and Democracy in Scotland. If I remember correctly, people (including me) were throwing around the notion of the garden as a relatively peaceful (don’t let me say natural) state of affairs in culture—a horizon we could and should work towards. K, obviously fed up with the rose-tinting in the room, drew attention to the means through which some flora in the garden demand extra sunlight, nutrients, cast shadows over smaller forms, absorb others, eat up existing resources. The garden is a highly competitive, violent place, where co-existence is carefully regulated by its gardener. The gardener chooses what’s welcome, and what is not. If left to entropy, it’s unclear how less-competitive occupiers would fare.
In our future garden, the mutually-held responsibility of the saboteur who used to appear every three years at the RFO announcement, might find themselves dissolving into the soil, into the mycelium network between flowers, ferns, trees, weeds. Quieter and more isolated communications. Pursuing a calendar of many calendars resists the collective energy and visibility of values that we see (and have seen) in the follow ups to RFO announcements, moments where things are laid bare, and collective strategies hold a promise of quicker reform. Working outside a 3 year cycle, with organisations working to their own bespoke loops, might make it more difficult to sense collective machinations and learn from them.
I’m caught between these perceptions of rhythm as a violent container within cultural austerity, something that fosters competition for resource through strategic gameplay by recurringly changing the playing board. This competitive spirit isn’t only organisational, and certainly trickles down in artist-to-artist relationships. It is for sure something we need to work on. But I also believe in the promises of rhythms as shared moments of ecstasy, grief, anger—moments through which to visualise the rich multitude of artists and arts workers across Scotland and see what we’re doing wrong.
So… what if there remained a shared calendar punctuated by rounds of funding? Its rounds could extend or contract for indefinite amounts of time, relative to the impacts and updates that we desire from them. These impacts are decided based on our actions from the preceding round. Rounds aren’t clockwork, but elastic, like turns in a game of noughts and crosses. Dynamics are arranged and performed for a reasonable time. Reasonable, in that it is enough time to seriously reason with the nature of the game and its logics and topology, piece together a strategy for navigating, and chart a future together. Time is implicitly agreed upon by all the players in a game, supportive resources adjusting to other rhythms like that of inflation and climate. Sometimes, the round is 1 year, other times, it lasts 15. Trends (especially trends that would see people become hypervisible without support, then dropped) are avoided. There is significant energy attributed to the handover period. Could this leaning into elasticity be a way of breaking out of the competitive and territorial cycle we see habitualised in austerity? It might allow us more time to read (like Desideri points to) the rhythms and machines at play so that they might be understood, deconstructed, tailored anew in a mutual self-sabotage.
So how’re we doing?
What emergency situations might result in this question being brought forward?
Who is hailed to answer?
How often should we ask these questions?
Writing things on paper could end up being a bit of a mess.
Gordon Douglas is a performance artist in Glasgow. He plays games with organisational staff and their stakeholders, celebrates birthdays amidst austerity, and holds it together before breaking down in offices. He is currently cardbearer for Good on Paper.
Cicely Farrer is a curator on the North East Coast of Scotland. Day to day she facilitates artist residencies, pedagogical events and workshops and supports artists to create new work including performance. She invests her time considering the invisible support structures for artists.
Good on Paper is a research project initiated by Gordon Douglas and Cicely Farrer looking into the futures of performance art making in Scotland. They are working with MAP Magazine on a series of texts through spring/summer 2022.
Good on Paper is supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland.
Click on links below this article for the third invitation appendices.