• Carla Keen

What does it mean when something/someone is open?

I've been thinking a lot recently about the notion of openness and what it means to be open in relation to //SEED.

Here are a few definitions of the word open:

Not settled or determined;


Not covered, showing what is inside;

Able to be accessed.

The format of // SEED is deliberately not settled or complete. It is similar to other open works such as Klavierstück XI, by Karlheinz Stockhausen, where the composer presents the performer with a series of note groupings to play, or [BLANK] by Alice Birch, a 'theatrical provocation' where the director curates the final piece by selecting the individual scenes that will appear in that particular production.

The difference here is that as the facilitator/performer I am choosing the bits and stories in response to what had just happened/the audience-participant has said or done in that moment. It is not curated beforehand, and I remain the one steering the conversation (generally - but not always - sometimes this has changed when there is a tangible social status shift, such as when doing it with a tutor, for example.)

The other key difference is that the whole piece might change completely and we might never use the nodes or snippets I have created if a particular segue is what interests us in that moment. The only thing that would be disappointing is if the seeds didn't get planted, so the structure of planting always remains.

I like to hope that I'm receptive and responsive to they way in which participants might want the encounter feel. I do have bits and stories to share, but the piece isn't reliant on these, and it doesn't fall apart if I don't tell the story of Isabella and her pot of basil. If we hit on a thread of conversation that runs, and you want to keep talking, then that's how the piece will go. Equally, if you want to hear me talk for long periods of time, I'm more than happy to oblige. ;)

One of my favourite encounters was where we didn't plant a seed until 45 minutes in because we were having such a great discussion about class and nationality. I like to think this was because I was being receptive to how the participant wanted to interact in this particular encounter/on this particular day.

As well as being reflective, // SEED is also a reflexive piece. I talk about the process of putting it together and tell you the bit at the beginning was filmed three months ago (oooh, temporal intermediality..) I let you know we'll be talking about my stories and your stories, and might even refer to other answers I've received ('someone recently said...')

Generally, I feel most comfortable when exposing the mechanics of a piece of work. I'm not certain why, but I always feel slightly uncomfortable when hiding myself and the process. I often want the audience to be actively involved in writing the narrative they are experiencing perhaps because that's how I enjoy learning/discovering the world.

Is // SEED able to be accessed? This one is harder to answer. There are very few people able to experience this work due to its one-to-one nature. And the truth is that this audience is going to attract people who are interested in the idea of boundary-pushing performance, and who aren't put off/are excited by the participatory nature of the piece. In that sense, there is another meaning to the word open: emotionally open, open-minded or open to new experiences.

I spent a long time contacting people across the world, asking them to spread the word so that I could have a range of participants, but even then my circle of friends is generally made up of people I have met while making performance, so again, will attract a certain kind of participant.

However, In many ways it very open in terms of accessibility, as all you need is an internet access and a postal address. You can be anywhere in the world, and shielding. You don't need to leave your house and put yourself at risk from Covid, you don't need to be mobile, and its gentle nature and promise of reflection and the ability to opt out when you feel uncomfortable might appeal to those who are experiencing mental illness.

I think that openness, in its many permutations is something that is really important to me as an artist, and threads its way through much of my work. I'm really happy I've had the opportunity to explore it in such a full way.

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