A woman in the city at night is about to record a message on a headset

“Questions and answers depend on a game – a game that is at once pleasant and difficult – in which each of the two partners takes pains to use only the rights given him by the other and by the accepted form of dialogue. The polemicist, on the other hand, proceeds encased in privileges that he possesses in advance and will never agree to question. On principle, he possesses rights permitting him to wage war and making that struggle a just undertaking; the person he confronts is not a partner in the search for truth but an adversary, an enemy who is wrong, who is harmful and whose very existence constitutes a threat. For him, then, the game does not consist of recognizing this person as a subject having the right to speak, but of abolishing him, as the interlocutor, from any possible dialogue; and his final objective will be, not to come as close as possible to a difficult truth, but to bring about the triumph of the just cause he has been manifestly been upholding from the beginning.” Foucault on polemics. Quoted in Chemical Wedding, 1992

It’s long been a mantra at Blast Theory that our work is unfinished without its audience. In most cases, the explicit intent of the work is to create room for reflection. Its ‘unfinishedness’ comes partially from this; from trying to leave space and responsibility for what is said to our audience.

In practice, this also often means asking audiences to do (and be) more than a spectator or silent bystander. This has been the case from early on. In Chemical Wedding – a promenade performance from 1992 – audience members were invited to stand in one of a number of pools of light to indicate their answer to probing questions about their sexual experience.


An audience member in Ulrike And Eamon Compliant is interviewed by a performer as two people watch through a two way mirror


In Ulrike And Eamon Compliant, you assume the role of either Ulrike or Eamon and take a walk through key moments in their life before arriving at an interview room, where you’re asked: “What would you fight for?” What follows is a dialogue about your obligation to act on your political beliefs, that you later discover is observed by other audience members taking part.

From the group discussions inviting audiences to question the use of intrusive surveillance in Operation Black Antler through to the regrets that audiences of My One Demand share with one another as the credits roll; this strategy of designing new ways to invite audiences to speak (and ways of sharing that speech) has continued in work that is more heavily mediated by technology.

For example, in Rider Spoke, you explore the city on a bike: guided by a smartphone attached to your handlebars. In your ear, a narrator asks you to set off in search of places to record answers to questions about your life. Make a recording and you uncover a landscape of recordings made by the cyclists who’ve come before you.

How and when we speak is being transformed by technology. Social media platforms have come to dominate public dialogue while how we spend time with one another at home is interleaved with engagements on our mobiles.

Starting from this October, I’ll be beginning a period of research to unpick Blast Theory’s approach to dialogue and technology as part of a PhD with the University of Nottingham. I’ll be reviewing Blast Theory’s previous work to elaborate the concepts and design techniques we’ve used to elicit dialogues with our audiences. And asking what impacts these can have on audiences’ perspectives.

I’ll be examining the risks and potential of AI, data and computational systems in this space. And looking forwards to how these might impact on our work. How might artists work with these technologies to encourage new critical perspectives and to nurture positive social relationships? What new settings might these technologies allow artists to engage with audiences in? How might they impact audiences’ agency? And what happens to authenticity and artistic ‘vision’ when dialogues are driven by data or automated systems?

I’ll be sharing this research as it progresses so join our newsletter to stay in touch.

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