Trish Scott, 2016. © the artist.

Trish Scott: Ahead of time

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 making a new work for Whitstable Biennale 2016, and this is the second of a short series of posts about the making of the work; an email sent from the artist to Ian Hocking, a psychologist studying her creativity.

Dear Ian,

You asked me why I’d gone to see a psychic. Let me try to explain.

When we started this project I was curious about becoming a research subject, but apprehensive about the effects of being scrutinized and potentially labelled. I agreed to be studied but simultaneously had a desire to evade study. I felt vulnerable, and motivated to shift the power dynamic inherent in the act of you observing me.

Initially I thought I’d comply with your requests to provide data about my process, but that the real artwork would be something else; something that I’d keep hidden – maybe me, covertly, studying you. I entertained presenting you with misleading information, or making a fake artwork, perhaps only revealing what I was really up to further down the line. (My urge to deceive was interesting in relation to you subsequently mentioning that all psychological experiments involve an element of deception on the part of the scientist!)

As well as wanting to respond to the notion of being a research subject I initially felt compelled to critique your perspective on creativity which to me felt reductive (i.e thinking about creative problem solving in terms of specific quantitative measures). However, upon meeting your colleague Chris Pike, and realizing that someone within your department was already providing an alternative to the positivist approach you were exploring, I felt less inclined to go down this route. Instead I started to think about my own creativity and how/whether I could define it; how artworks evolve through a series of decisions, and what informs these. You’d stated an interest in studying my creativity. What if I developed an artwork that couldn’t be attributed to my creativity? For example, what if you directed me to make an artwork based on the methods you were studying/insights you had gained, shifting agency back to you, implicating you in the process? Or what if I advertised for a personal creativity consultant to direct what I was doing? I started to think about outsourcing my work (still a form of resistance to being observed, but through a play on authorship and distancing, rather than through withholding information or being deliberately misleading.)

From thinking about improving or outsourcing my creativity I started to contemplate the degree to which outcomes can ever be known or predicted before they happen: The difference between looking back on a situation, where every decision seems self-evident, and being at the start of something looking forwards, where the options seem endless: I wondered whether I could switch the forwards and backwards of the situation we were in. What if I could find someone who could tell me exactly what artwork I’d make for the Biennale, without me having to work it out? Someone who could go beyond merely advising me, (e.g. according to their own knowledge and preferences) and help me jump to the point of certainty that comes with concluding a work, ahead of time.

I decided to consult a psychic to see if they could tell me what I’d make.

I thought if I’m told ‘It’s a great big green turtle’ that’s what it’ll be. I’ll produce what the psychic foretells, arriving at the point I would have arrived at anyway, (right?) but taking the uncertainty away. And, interestingly, you wouldn’t be able to observe how I was making decisions because there’d be no decisions, everything would be known.

So, wanting to make a work that was psychically determined started as a personal response to scientific scrutiny. It was a way of evading or challenging the empirical framework you were placing around my practice. But the more I researched psychic language, psychic methods, and the whole infrastructure around the profession the more interested I became in questions of mediumship in their own right, as a way of talking about potentiality in the creative process.

Does that make sense?