Stepping into the unknowable

On Monday morning Samantha and I head out to China for a three week residency at Lijiang Studio. I’m excited and overwhelmed and unprepared in equal measure. With 36 hours to go I’ve packed 6 notebooks and a handful of pens, but everything else is still stacked in the corner of the room in a pile that looks worryingly larger than my rucksack.

We’ll have limited access to the internet while we’re away and no access to social media. Depending on how things go we may email through a couple of blog posts for our Web Guru (aka Mel at Lemony Design) to put up on this lovely new website. Failing that, we’ll post proper updates about how we got on and what we did and where we’ll take it next when we get back to our respective countries in late December.

This residency will mark several new firsts for our collaboration. It’s the first time (I think- correct me if I’m wrong Samantha…) we’ve made something knowing what it is going to look like at the end: we have our iPad webapp template, On The Same Page, as a format to aim for in blending text and image in a way we can share widely. The residency and the subsequent touring of work round the UK & USA is supported by Arts Council England and while that’s not our first grant, it is our largest to date and it’s the first time we’ve had funding in place for the very beginning of a large-scale project. It’s my first time in China. Perhaps most poignantly, it’s the first time we’ll be doing the bulk of the work in person, together, in the same space. While much of the editing process will see a return to our usual long-distance digital studio techniques, we’ll be literally side by side during the initial creative stages.

In so many ways, for me this will be about stepping into the unknown. An unknown culture, language, country, landscape, space. A project that is in many ways unknown: we’re trying to keep the process as open as possible in order to be able to respond to the place while we’re there without too many preconceptions. And an change in Samantha and my working relationship, although that’s the part I’m least nervous about, perhaps because we’ve weathered and enjoyed our way through a variety of creative debates and plans in the past three years of working together as two.5. I’m more worried about the usual kind of things that hit whenever an opportunity like this comes up – what if I can’t write anything? What if I disappoint people? What if I’m disappointed in myself?

I’m also exhilarated at just how unknowable the situation is: a language I can’t read. A culture I haven’t experienced. A room I can’t picture. As a writer, working with artists sometimes brings me to strange situations and places where I feel there’s a huge rift between my creative expectations and theirs and this residency is one of them – it’s set up for artists rather than writers, so I’m doubly an outsider in some ways. And we all know that it’s on the outskirts that the most exciting things happen…