Dialogue at BAC

One of the great regrets of Dialogue's residency at BAC is that neither of us spent a considered expanse of time with Greg McLaren. He was working with visual artist Sara Lehn on ATOMKRAFT, a contemplation of different sources of power, from nuclear power to colonial power and the power of the storyteller or theatre performer. When we asked him to contribute images and/or films relating to his residency, he sent the following email explaining some of the thinking behind the project. As far as I (Maddy) am concerned, it's a lot more concise, sharp and insightful than anything I might have written about him. Not that that excuses the failure to engage with him during his residency. The text has been very slightly edited, mostly for neatness.

Hi Maddy,

work on ATOMKRAFT at BAC was intended to be a experiment in presenting research and initiating a dialogue with an audience. There were two separate sections, one a straight-up presentation with questions which attempted to condense post-1935 social and technological advances into a 30-minute speed lecture, and two, an exhibition of photographs, visual information and texts framed by a highly self-conscious performance.

As two main methods of presenting and arranging information, we wanted to see how effective the presentation/seminar and the mildly dramatised exhibition could be in providing an audience with information, as well as giving them space to talk or ask questions about the subject.

After the presentation we found there were a few people that stayed to continue the discussion, and those that did had a particular relationship to the subject.

In part two – the gallery – we attempted to display and vaguely inhabit the family history of Roddy Magnox, the central character/concept in the work. Roddy and his family history represent hereditary wealth, dynastic families, and an overwhelming sense of ownership and entitlement that colonisers exhibited. He and his family are based on an amalgam of the Guggenheims, the van Rosens, the Rothschilds and others. The point is that the escapades of people of his class have often been presented as knowledge, the perspective from which they report unquestioned (at the time). So where are we now, whose privileged experience is passing into knowledge? Are we questioning it?

We tried to illustrate a path to and through these questions by hanging groups of images in the studio, and offering a little introduction to them. The audience were left wondering until they asked about a certain image or the relationship between images and spoken and written texts. When the dialogue opened up it was very interesting: people found new connections in the exhibition and asked questions we couldn't answer. We tried as much as possible to be unspectacular and open, the hope being that people would eventually ask us what we were doing and why – going beyond the presentation to ask more structural questions. In doing so, they escaped their audienceship to consider how performance and dialogue leading from it can be used to explore this (any) subject, rather than considering the effect of the presentation compared to their prior knowledge.

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