Blind Ditch is a small group of artists who collaborate with associate artists, creative technologists and other experts to make site-based performance, art and cultural events. We spoke to Exeter based core team members Paula Crutchlow and Volkhardt Müller.
What do you do?
Our work is a digitally friendly social practice that usually begins with a burning question or provocation. It’s not exclusive to any one medium and may be theatre, performance and installation, street interventions/travelling art objects, digital media and networked performance. What all the work has in common is a drive to make surprising and enjoyable things together with others: to draw attention to the things that matter to us in the places we occupy as part of our daily lives. Some of those places are digital, some are domestic, some are outdoors. Sometimes we venture back into the kinds of theatre and gallery spaces we trained in.
And what keeps you doing it?
We have a compulsion to investigate and reflect on current life experiences in ways that bring about shared understandings of the world we live in. We work a lot with conversational approaches and, rather than aiming for consensus, we endeavour to constitute communities of thought around the issues that are important to us, and preoccupy us in different ways. Our shared background in experimental performance practice drives us to question and test the edges of contemporary art practice. If there were is such a thing as experimental, risk-taking and accessible art in whatever form, we hope that we make it.
What’s Blind Ditch’s story?
Blind Ditch have been making work together since 1999 when we met during post-graduate study at the former Dartington College of Arts. We started out making studio-based theatre incorporating experimental sound and video as strong scenographic elements. Very early on in our practice we had a residency in Frankfurt where we had the opportunity to make a three-channel video installation that audiences could move through ahead of experiencing the theatre performance we’d made. This kind of immersion in digital systems, and the manipulating of time and place that can happen through that, influences most of what we make. Alongside our art and performance projects, group members also work together and as individual consultants, academic researchers and educators running projects in higher education and informal workshop settings.
Who do you work with?
We have four core members at the moment who began the group. We have had a number of other core members who were with us for a few years and then moved on. You can really see the influence of their practice as our work shifts from writing and theatrical experiments, into software driven approaches to installation. We also work with associate artists, and collaborate with academics – especially cultural geographers – and creative technologists. Members of the public are always important; we structure everything we do around that kind of openness to participation.
Describe a recent project.
The Common Line is a national digital land art work funded in R&D by the AHRC-EPSRC that combines the eco-activism of tree planting with the digital imaginaries enabled through augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies. The project aims to establish Britain’s first linear forest across the longest stretch of mainland Britain and is being developed in collaboration with John Wylie and Steven Palmer in the Geography Department at University of Exeter and Controlled Frenzy creative technologists, working in partnership with Rural Recreation. Where we can’t plant living trees we will plant virtual ones. It’s both a conceptual thought experiment, and a genuine attempt to really make a difference in public thinking around land ownership and stewardship in Britain during this time of rapid environmental change. It’s impossible to achieve, but something will be achieved. We really do want to get more trees in the ground! That’s what’s important.
What’s your best moment of 2018?
D-Tour: thoughts looking sidewards provided some good moments. We invited travellers on the D bus route in Exeter to contribute short writings, musings and poetries about their journey. By answering six creative writing questions, and offering them for voice recording to other passengers, their thoughts formed the inspiration and soundtrack for a new video art work screened on a Stagecoach Bus. People’s writing contributions were funny, charming and surprisingly moving. The work was commissioned by Arts and Culture at University of Exeter and shown at the Community Day there in March. We also screened it at the Arts and Culture Launch. Hopefully it will find its way into the city centre for Exeter residents and visitors to experience at some point in the near future.
And looking forward?
We’d still like to tour the Museum of Contemporary Commodities installation. It was developed at Furtherfield Gallery in Finsbury Park through our Free Market event, occupied an empty shop in Exeter for a month as a shop-gallery & micro festival, and then went upmarket to the Pavillion Gallery at the Royal Geographical Society. It’s a pertinent piece of work that explores relations between data, place, trade and values developed with material culture geographer Professor Ian Cook. It’s also got an AI-driven talking doll in it – she deserves to be more widely travelled.
In what ways are you helping to put Exeter on the cultural map?
We are Exeter residents, and the group are invested in the city and the wider South West region as co-workers and colleagues in cultural production, and artist-advocates for the rural and experimental. We also make work with national and international collaborators, taking inspiration from their activities and staging events beyond the region but we are equally keen to work with other Exeter artists to make our city a destination for national and international collaborators to come and share their practice with us.
One thing that would make your life easier?
Most artists think by putting things into practice as much as talking about them, so somewhere to make things together is essential. But large spaces that are cheap to inhabit are in short supply in Exeter. There are some great spaces such as TOPOS and AWEsome art space that are artist-led initiatives, helped into being through partnerships between private business and NPO sponsorship. Let’s have some more!
…Exeter were an international hub for experimental, rural art practice? What kind of things could we make together?
How do we find out more?