"Merchants from all over Europe would travel from the coastal ports to
London's perimeter and rest for the night in one of the many inns in
Southwark before entering the city, perhaps the most well-known of these was
'The Tabard' from whence Chaucer's fictional characters assembled prior to
their pilgrimage in Canterbury Tales."
Our proposal for the 1999 Bankside Annual
Event at Borough Market builds on many themes common
to our collaborative practice to date - a close consideration of audience;
questioning of the artists' role as sole 'author' within interactive and
public arts practice; and the use of technology to re-examine cultural obsessions
such as history and heritage and the articulation of contemporary notions
of narrative .
An Illustrated History of Borough Market - published by the Trustees of The
Taking our initial inspiration from the fictional inception of Chaucer's
Canterbury Tales at The Tabard Inn (next to Borough Market) we have
developed a project which aims to question the contemporary significance of
a 'pilgrimage', and explore the most appropriate way to inspire, record,
broadcast and collate 29 modern day 'tales'.
On Saturday 11 September, 29 modern day pilgrims, selected through an
auditioning process, will embark on personal pilgrimages. During
the course of the day the artists will 'author' a live event at the market,
starting with a crafted prologue to the entire performance they will then
mix interviews, contextual material and feedback from the journeys with the
real substance of the work - the 29 tales. Each pilgrim will be given a set
time at which to broadcast their tale live back to the market - and each
tale will, as in the original, be prefaced by a short prologue - a
pre-recorded video portrait of each pilgrim. Tension will mount during the
day as the pilgrims make their way back to the market, the tales will
continue into the evening and conclude as the 29 sit down to a spectacular
medieval-style feast, prepared served and 'hosted' in Borough Market.
Finally, again following the format of the original text, the artists
will conclude the days events with 'retractions' a summary and thanks.
As with the original work the Tales form the heart of this piece.
Chaucer used the device of a fictional pilgrimage as the conceptual
framework for his Tales. In our work this fictional journey is replaced by
many actual journeys and our framework to contain the stories is the
production of a live broadcast. Here, with a one day live event we will
replace one collection of popular tales with another - our tales will be
broadcast using the spoken word (rather than distributed via written texts)
and each tale will be literally animated by the author's voice. Pilgrims
will carry equipment with which to broadcast their tales and record their
day's journey (such as mobile phones & cameras). We envisage the Tales
forming a diverse collection of stories ranging from live verbal monologues,
to crafted pre-written texts, reflections on their chosen destinations. The
content and form of each will be decided by the pilgrims and developed in
collaboration with us prior to the journey.
Reeve, Cook, Man of Law, Shipman, Prioress, Monk, Nun, Physician, Pardoner,
Wife of Bath, Friar, Summoner, Clerk, Merchant, Squire, Franklin, Nun,
Yeoman, Manciple, Parson, Haberdasher, Dyer, Weaver, Carpet-maker,
The 29 pilgrims will be sought through local,
national and global (via the WWW) approaches and selected via a series of
auditions. Applicants will be sent a form developed by the artists so as
to begin a dialogue with the pilgrims - who will be seen as the 'primary'
audience for the work. They will be asked questions as to the nature of
their pilgrimage, their motivations and ideas for their tale. As with the
original pilgrims they should represent a broad selection of very different
characters and, again relating to the original text, they will remain in
some ways anonymous as we intend to replace Chaucer's list of 'tale names'
with the 29 corresponding occupations of our pilgrims. They will be invited
to interpret the idea of the pilgrimage in their own way. This could range
from visiting a place of childhood memory, to performing a 'quest', paying
homage to a personal hero/heroine or visiting sites of historic, social and
scientific significance. Our dialogue with the pilgrims will begin at the
invitation stage and develop right up to the day, we will be collaborating
with them to develop their travel plans, discuss their motivations and plan
their tales. We will make a short video portrait of each pilgrim which will
act as their prologue on the day.
If the book is the media by which the stories we now recognize as
the Canterbury Tales are 'glued' together, for us the one day live event at
Borough Market forms this medium. We, the artists, replace Chaucer in the
roll of author or facilitator, and perhaps in collaboration with the market
itself also act as 'hosts' for the event, the pilgrims and a wider audience.
On the day, Borough Market will serve as a live TV studio (reflecting an
already familiar use) on one 'stage', a set surrounded by video monitors,
projectors, mixing desks etc. will form the focus for presenting the
broadcast tales and contextual coverage hosted by the artists. By contrast
on a facing stage the slow and laborious preparations for the evening meal
will be taking place, somewhat ritualised by the comparison with the
broadcast platform. The artists will choreograph and mix a live web cast -
visible in the market or via the Internet using both live and pre-recorded
video and sound footage of the pilgrims, interviews with researched and
invited guests and members of the audience. They will be assisted by two
film crews one will spend the day 'tracking' various pilgrims the other will
relay events from the market. Ultimately excerpts from the days footage will
be edited down into a programme but the emphasis will lie on providing a
spectacle and atmosphere on the day.
Many of the decisions as to the nature of the actual event
relate strongly to a conscious desire to considermany different levels of
audience. The audience for this work begins with the pilgrims, if the
project has some personal resonance for them, they will believe in and
invest in the piece - this level of engagement then filters out into the
different areas where the project then engages further viewers. With the
pilgrims the project begins when they apply, the piece is, in effect, live
from this moment. Later on other audiences are introduced, the people
helping to make the work, the film crews, the chefs, the visitors to the
market, the audience viewing the work via the web and latterly people who
hear of the project post-event. The work will engage audiences on all of
This has very much affected the way we've developed both the
conceptual framework for the piece, how each tale will rest in a given
context and aesthetic decisions as to what an audience coming to the market
on the day will see. What kind of quality, for example, will the pre-recorded
video prologues have in comparison to the live tales and interviews? How can
the two stages be animated and given an appropriate level of theatricality
whilst also acknowledging the surroundings of the market?
With each of our collaborative projects we attempt to ask ourselves a series
of open ended questions, often these questions lead to a complex and at
times seemingly impossible or chaotic series of tasks. These tasks are
informed by our original set of questions but often only begin to be
answered via the introduction of our audience - the audience are invited in
at the stage of production. They are invited to challenge our set of
questions and our desire to tie up neat answers. They are integrated into the
process of production and given access to the final 'product'.
Tied to our original question is the attempt to exploit new technology in
ways most appropriate to each given situation. Technology is used as a lens
through which to re-approach models from the past and reconsider their
significance as both a means of production and vehicle for presentation for
contemporary artists. Despite the predominance of historically related
material in our work we are critical of slavish reinterpretations and would
always want our pieces to ask new questions appropriate to a contemporary
context, method of production and audience.
Broadcast (29 pilgrims, 29 tales) will provide both the spectacle required of a one-day
live event, and the content for a web site which will continue to attract a
large audience over time. Taking our lead from the unique combination of
history, fiction, drama, cuisine and contemporary commerce embodied by
Borough Market, we will use a process centered on new technology to ask a
series of questions. We will look at the boundaries between the artist and
audience, between art production and display but most importantly we will
embark on an open-ended enquiry with our audience into what a contemporary
pilgrimage might be.
Nina Pope & Karen Guthrie - 20 July 1999.
The Application Form