Interview with Gangplank by Alice Chauchat

Alice Chauchat  How are Gangplank sessions organized?

Bruno Pocheron  Refusing the idea of a collection of experts in one domain. Seeing who wants to engage in that sort of gathering, and then just making it happen ‒ thanks to people/structures like yours. That's where, for me, the horizontality comes into play: Gangplank is in no way result-oriented, Gangplank allows itself to take time, and creates timeframes for working on the many different concerns of the different persons involved. It does try to give time equally to development and to the construction of premises for development.

AC  How is the political aspect of this mode of organization linked to a wider political project for knowledge production and distribution?

BP  No retention of information. Transparency. Knowing your colleagues and understanding their tools, collaborating, being conscious of the context we work in. Prior to politics, I would speak about an ethical position: seeing how competitive the art world has become and how consumerist many structures dedicated to present art act, the only ethical stand I can take is one of sharing: sharing knowledge and tools with my colleagues (artists, technicians, etc.) and sharing/publicizing my opinions and concerns with the institutions and the venues that are our counterparts. We still do work in infrastructures fueled by public, tax-payer's money. The actual tendency to apply free-market notions and strategies to these infrastructures is in my opinion highly dangerous for the arts and for the notion of culture as being part of a social mutuality system. On a very human scale, I see Gangplank as an attempt to speak against competition in making art, to show the importance of supporting research and transmission of knowledge rather than speculating on products, and an attempt to reinvest in a discussion between all parties involved in the making of stage works (artists / technicians, venues, institutions).
I also see Gangplank as an anti-lobby, as it manages to escape both notions of common interest (singular, that's important here) and of conflicts of interests. The plurality, the differences create the ground we choose to share and work on.

Maika Knoblich  Gangplank is questioning the concept of areas of expertise and is thereby acting political. In my opinion the field of the performing arts is unfortunately still defined by authorship and is dividing the creative process by defining very strict roles that are blurred far too rarely. Gangplank is trying to share knowledge, make a creative process accessible and trigger exchange, which is contrary to a hierarchy which features the idea of the expert.

Dragana Zarevska  One of the basic political "super powers" of the project is actually the alternative way of cross-learning/teaching (which is not the invention of the hot water itself ‒ it is just a friendly sharing of knowledge. But still, this makes the project one of the best anarcho-scientific retreats I've been part of.

AC  What is the relationship between developing a technical tool and expanding artistic possibilities?

Nadia Ratsimandresy  From my point of view (that of a musician who is not involved in developing technical tools, but participating in projects that include technical tools) the relationship hasn't been built yet. It has never been clear to me whether developing a technical tool leads to the expansion of artistic possibilities or if the need to expand artistic possibilities leads to the development of a technical tool. It's always a pity to see a show with an incredible set of software, hardware and tools serving an artistic concept that doesn't need such a set. Building a show requires an idea, a concept: what questions need to be solved, answered? What would we like to express, to transmit, to defend in front of an audience? These needs lead to the question of the form and the elements that will build the form: do we need video, light, actors, voices, bodies, musicians, noise, etc.? Gangplank is quite interested in the relationship between these elements and how they are connected, whether or not they are independent: synchronized light and sound, synchronized video and bodies, etc. Through the need to build the form, the tools and their functionality appear as the answer and solution to the questions and issues raised by the form (how are we going to link light and sound? What system are we going to use?). It seems that the technical tool depends on the artistic idea. Gangplank, however, defends more interaction between the artistic and technical, it's not a one-way relationship at all. Through communication a better relationship can be built between those who master tools and those who elaborate artistic forms. It is easy to separate two fields that seem very far away from each other: Gangplank would like to close this gap. Gangplank defends this interaction: tools are not developed outside of artistic needs. They dialogue back and forth, they get inspiration from each other. A functionality has no meaning without an artistic scope. This relationship can at the same time widen the functionality of a tool and develop an artistic concept.
It's through better knowledge-sharing and communication between these two fields that Gangplank will build this relationship. Gangplank does not see all the elements of a show from the vertical point of view brought about by the hierarchy of artistic over technical. Each person involved in the creation of a show should see him/herself as part of the process of building it. Our intention is that each person sees his/her part as an essential one.

Olivier Heinry  There are roughly two kinds of technical tools. Industrial tools are quite standardized and invented under capital-intensive conditions – for instance a piano, a stage truss, a 10,000 lumens video-projector or a modern theater house. A craftsman’s tools, however, rely a lot less on standards and much more on an individual’s creativity. They are a lot more handywork-intensive and might include, let's say, a DIY synthesizer, a home-made stage set or an open-source light control program. Between these two extremities, there is a wide scope of variations and interactions. One of the keys is the degree of autonomy we are looking for within this scope, be it financial or artistic.

BP  Well, I think that, first of all, technical tools and artistic possibilities are intrinsically linked. The painter and canvasses, colors and brushes, the contemporary choreographer and Macbooks or Ipods ;) What I find interesting is observing how technical tools are informing artistic ideas, and reciprocally how artistic ideas are calling for and informing the development of technical tools. To join Nadia and Olivier, I am very much occupied with the relationships between the hopefully permeable domains of artistic activity and technical development, and pretty convinced that the order of precedence between them is constantly shifting in the actual art-making. Like some sort of nervous system. I am also totally interested in shifting, within my practice, between initiating and responding, or just sitting in the synapse :)

Judith Depaule  Already for several years the scene has been undergoing a mutation in its writing. We can't separate the artistic and the technical aspects because they are so interlinked. Together in Gangplank we build a new language which syntax and vocabulary we can never be sure of, because that language is never static, it evolves with each new experience.

AC  You say that the technical tool depends on the artistic idea. But the question of how to relate sound and image, for example, can also be understood as an artistic question. In the Gangplank sessions, how do you decide on the questions/problems/ideas that will then be investigated? And as you work on the development of a technical tool, how do you reflect on the artistic implications of such a tool?

NR  The classical process in creation is used to organizing techniques in relation to the artistic idea: it is seen as artistic first and then technical. Gangplank doesn't defend this point of view: as I say, it is all about developing a better knowledge of the different elements we have, the issues at play in the creative process, to see how the show can be built with the skills of each person involved in it. What is questioned through Gangplank is the verticality of the classical process. In my case, I don't work on the development of a technical tool: I expect, as a musician, to understand the existing tools, how they function, what has been achieved so far, what works and what doesn't and how my instrument, my sensibility on stage can benefit from, or be reinforced and accented by this tool. I also hope that my needs (or my ideas, or concepts) will raise new issues and questions about a tool, so that a new function of, or relationship with, this tool can be revealed or developed. If a light designer explains to me what a Lanbox is, how it functions and what has been done with it (on what show, when and why), I try to see how I can connect with the Lanbox through either my instrument or my ideas (or both). I appreciate the idea of sharing, exchanging new ideas that would never have popped up had we not talked about the tool together. Because we do agree on the non-verticality of our relationship. In our case, the technique doesn't depend on the artistic idea.

BP  All questions related to making art-work seem to me both artistic and technical. The development of a concept relies on some kind of technicality. So does writing. I think that what basically differs in technical development is the amount of hardware and software to be dealt with. But the relationship we choose to have to hardware and to software remains an important factor. In Gangplank we ask our very different selves what are, for each of us, the limits of the utilitarian use of both technical devices (pre-conceived "user friendly" stuff) and artistic concepts, and what we would wish for our work. The relationship we have to ready-made formats proposed in both hard and software - and unfortunately also in ideas - is in any case ambiguous, and limited: we always use what we can access. Hence the necessity of constantly creating as many access-points as possible, in all directions, between the fields of research and the fields of development involved in making stage-work. I think that, in Gangplank, we work on getting more free from imposed/pre-formatted relationships between tools and desires, and we work on inventing/accessing other tools ‒ consequently other relationships ‒ that fit us better, in order to be able to work with different people, in different contexts, in a more horizontal way.

MK  I regard the development of a technical tool as an artistic process. For me there is no difference between the creation process of a technical tool and the creation of a dance piece. And this is exactly the point that Gangplank argues, in my opinion.
Tools are far more than just tools or devices, they shape the performance just as much as movement, text or spoken word would. Nowadays, in contemporary performance, sound, video and lights play such a big role in our perception that they become the new narrative, they actually replace what text used to do.
The question is how to deal with that? Serve the narration or argue against it? The question of what should trigger the sound, video or light, is a political one. If it is triggered by movement in space, for instance by a dancer rather than me, a light designer, that would be a political decision and a very artistic one.
For me personally the following is important: the role of sound/light/video shouldn’t be underestimated; on the contrary, it should be handled with care. I think it is important to avoid allowing the "technical" aspect of a performance to become the placeholder for the narrative instead of becoming a mutual part of an artwork.

DZ  Maybe this is a tricky word to use, but, as far as deciding what to do next, the group works quite intuitively. I say tricky, because it seems that everything these days related to the technical and artistic (and connecting them) can be solved methodologically, but not intuitively. This is not the case with this project – people enjoy triggering each other technically or artistically, and then trying to build the synapse. And, to be added to the thread of answers above in relation to tools, Gangplank is also a process built up as a tool. It is a tool itself. An anthropomorphic dispositif :)

Interview published in Le Journal des Laboratoires May-August 2011