Trish Scott and Ian Hocking in conversation, 2016. Image: Bernard G Mills

Trish Scott: Option B – Trish Scott interviews Ian Hocking


Trish Scott makes videos, performances and events that explore the production and authorship of cultural knowledge. With a background in social anthropology Scott works experimentally with others, often setting in motion collaborative or participatory encounters which aim to unsettle conventional patterns of thought and behaviour. The resulting artworks create narratives from the space between these encounters and their documents. Scott is made a new work for Whitstable Biennale 2016, and this is the third of a short series of posts about the making of the work.

Trish  Scott:     Can you say a bit about your research journey and your work on creativity?

Ian Hocking:     The common thread to my research is mental representation.

My PhD was a four year investigation into the word ‘that’! People who speak different languages assign different relative clauses to noun phrases. For instance, in the sentence ‘Someone shot the servant of the actress who was on the balcony’, a English speaker might initially think the actress is on the balcony, whereas a Spaniard might think it’s the servant. If Chomsky is correct and everyone comes with similar set of grammatical principles, there shouldn’t be those differences, but they exist. My PhD investigated whether verbal working memory was what was causing people to read sentences in a different way. I found no effects whatsoever! Maybe it’s something else…

When I started working on creativity initially I began with the impact of colour, i.e. the idea that a green frame around something will boost creativity in a way that a neutral frame won’t. This didn’t yield results so at that point I started to work on structured thinking techniques with my colleague David Vernon.

TS:     What did you hope to get from studying an artist?

IH:     To get an insight into how a professional artist works; how they view and use creativity; what their workflow is. Secondarily, to make an initial impact study of the tools I’ve been developing, so exposing and disseminating what we do outside the realm of academic journals.

TS:     What did you think working with an artist would be like?

IH:     For some reason I imagined working with a sculptor. I envisaged the artistic process as a series of questions: What materials? What shape? Where’s it going to be? I thought structured thinking techniques would help whatever decision tree the artist was going through. In my mind it was like a flow chart. You go through a series of choices, then press a button and the art comes out. Simples!

That’s how I view my writing. I have an initial idea and everything after that is a decision: Is it a comedy? Yes or no. How many characters? Four or five? If I make a mistake I backtrack and go down anther path.

TS:     What were your thoughts upon meeting me?

IH:     I thought if you agreed with my research and applied it, or rejected it and pushed against it, that would be interesting. I envisaged us as two objects knocking against each other.

I imagined I’d tell you about my research, and you’d then go away and come back six months later with a work of art related to structure, that subverts structure, like a jelly.

I didn’t imagine having creative input or meeting so often.

TS:     What are your thoughts on the installation I’m making, and the performance that you’re involved with?

IH:     I’m satisfied that it meaningfully represents the process. It’s not an egg on a cushion – you know, something completely random. I understand the route or pathway to the work. It makes sense. I don’t have a developed framework for contemporary art and what you do is so much more cryptic that what I do when I write – contemporary art seems to have many more interpretive barriers. I’m still to formulate an intellectual conclusion about all of this.

TS:     Are you implying that the work should represent or reference the exchange we’ve gone through? My brief was open. Surely it could be about anything?

IH:     If you were to ditch what I think you’re going to make and roll some dice and come up with something completely novel, then that in itself represents the process. I’m invested in the discussions we’ve had, and the time we’ve put in, being part of the final work. Would it feel worthwhile if you now veered off in another direction?

TS:     You talk about research impact. What impact do you think you’ve had on me?

IH:     An informational impact – you understand how I view creativity – though I can’t see that your attitude towards the art you’re producing has shifted.

TS: Would you have wanted a greater impact?

IH:     Not necessarily. Psychology is an incredibly young discipline and there are lots of unknowns so changing your ideas based on psychology may not be the best idea.

TS:     Have your views on contemporary art changed at all?

IH:     I know more about contemporary art now, but only through the lens of you and the source material you’ve shown me. I have a better sense about the kind of questions it can ask and address. Working with you has confirmed my idea that art can be almost anything. Also I find your work really humorous and that’s not something I would have associated with contemporary art.

TS:     Have your views on creativity shifted? What’s changed?

IH:     I definitely want to do more research with professionals. People doing long-term goal directed creative activities. I want to move away from testing people in creative problem solving situations that they’re not personally invested in. So I’m now working on a study to look at structured techniques within creative writing practice, working with people who write for a living, and are motivated by the outcomes I’m testing.

TS:     And what about bringing science fiction into the process? I know it’s not as present in the final work as we thought it might be at one point but how has it felt to combine the two?

IH:     It’s there in a sense because it was one of the points around which the work was shaped. I’d say it’s easy to philosophise through science fiction. Because sci-fi is a thought experiment it works well. However, psychology is empirical. As a discipline, it’s spent so long trying to get away from pseudo scientific ideas, Freudianism, for example, that its hard to bring the two together. I’m interested in doing research through science fiction but I don’t know how that could work empirically.

TS: So what’s the output of all this going to be for you?

IH:     It will be a case study IPA paper. That’s Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis – a way of getting at how you interpret the experience of making work.

It is unusual, in that I became part of the process. So typical IPA journals might have questions. We’ll have to see.

TS:     How do you feel about that? Are you concerned that the pathway we’ve taken might jeopardise your chances of publication?

IH:     [Laughs]. No. I think there’s much to be said for it even if it can’t be published in an academic context.