09/02/2018 | New Paths, ArtsTHERE HAVE BEEN OTHERS.
Although the Nonsensus was conducted under the name Farnsworth Fact Finding Facilitators, I was not the only knocker of doors during that summer voyage of Maindee's doorsteps. I was grateful to have by my side a small squadron of sidekicks who helped navigate the thoughts and opinions of the Nonsensus contributors. An artist, a photographer, a community worker and a researcher accompanied me at various phases and their insight and feedback was invaluable in helping give form to this malleable pursuit.
First up, an artist of some renown escorted me down the concourse known to some as Duckpool Road. It was a short-lived afternoon, one of only two days when the Nonsensus was cut short by inclement weather. At a local cornershop, we were treated to an insight into Indian inter-generational concerns of over-expression of happiness. A truly heartwarming exchange which offered guffaws aplenty. Further down the road, someone answered the door whilst brushing their teeth. Unsurprisingly, the contributor's utterances were indecipherable through a mouthful of frothing toothpaste. There were other instances of folk answering the door whilst engaged in other activities, mostly telephone conversations. Another knock-knock of note revealed a dissatisfation with the political way-things-are and in particular, a yearning for a bloodless revolution. Indeed, political discontent was a major theme throughout the Nonsensus. The day's sojourn was rained off and it took two further visits before I had fully canvassed Duckpool Road. Having someone accompany me allowed me to gauge the impact of the questions and particularly the importance of the first question as an 'ice-breaker'. It had to be suitably disarming yet engaging, personal yet general and absurd enough to contrast with the final question of 'How would you fix the world' which I thought of as the real back-bone of the Nonsensus.
Some weeks later, a community worker visited me at home where I decked him out in some ill-fitting Farnsworth clobber before we set about scouring the length of Corporation Road in our combined quest for subjective truth. 'Corpa' Road was a thoroughfare I was relishing. Diverse in its cultural make-up, it also provided an opportunity to visit commercial premises, among them a newsagents, a lawyer's office set-up expressly to aid refugees and asylum seekers and a funeral parlour. The latter claimed to be "too busy" to participate. Seeing no queues, we took the contributor at her word. That day's questioneering offered up two of the Nonsensus' lengthiest contributions and also its curtest rebuff. It was notable also for the decision in allowing the contributors' answers to form the basis of new questions. A contributor waxed lyrical about nightmares he had dreamt as a younger man. From then on our opening question became "What is the last dream you remember?" Sidekick and I were pleased with our flexible approach but reverted back to the original opening gambit of "What is your favourite noise?" when it became apparent than people find it difficult to remember dreams. They find it especially difficult when that proposition is posed by a pair of overly-earnest buffoons dressed as psychedelic mormons.
The third of my companions was a photographer already well-versed in the ways of Maindee, having documented the area thoroughly for his own excellent New Paths project. Together we made some enlightening house calls before he introduced me to the office of an accommodation bureau where I engaged in a lengthy dispute concerning the difference between a noise and a sound. That particular exchange was one of the lengthiest of the Nonsensus (it took a day to transcribe) and was a wide-ranging monologue, the contributor weaving tangents with digressions to create a rich tapestry of insight, embroidered with eloquence. It revealed a perhaps unsurprising factor that contributors were far more likely to delve deep in search of their answers if they were in a comfortable condition. This contributor was relaxed, sat in a warm office with a can of lager. Contributors questioned at the Maindee Festival and at various community groups were also willing to participate longer and more freely, engaging at a deeper level than those who had been snatched away from daytime television to be held captive on their own doorstep.
A researcher was my fourth companion and unwittingly challenged my position as the pre-eminent casual observer. I sometimes forgot he was there. So effortlessly did be blend into the surrounds that I christened him the pebble-dash chameleon. I was pleased that he was able to witness at close hand the Nonsensus phenomenon known as the 'stacked-contribution'. The stacked-contribution is akin to a motorway pile-up and works a little something like this: a contributor answers the door and agrees to Nonsensus participation. As the Nonsensus unfolds, it catches the ear of someone inside the house who then come to the door, either of their own volition or at the behest of the original contributor. This participant becomes contributor number two. A two-person stacked-contribution is not uncommon and is an approach favoured by married retirees who will keep you rooted to their doorstep with their double-act while never for a moment thinking to invite you in for a custard cream (the biscuit, not to be confused with the term for a sexual tryst as used by Nonsensus practitioners in the Netherlands). On this day, my companion was privy to a six-person stacked-contribution that spilled out of the house and across the street, eventually involving people of three nationalities including a Polish policeman. Talking of the police, sidekick and I served ourselves a generous slice of community-spirited pie when we a-rap-tap-tapped upon a front door being propped open by a golf-club, a nine iron, we believed. A second club, definitely a pitching wedge, was welded to the front gate. With no response, we carried on our door-to-door duties, asking as we went if anyone knew what misfortune might have befallen the mysterious house on the corner. With no positive response forthcoming, we took it upon ourselves to report our suspicions to the local police station. The duty officer told us she'd get someone to investigate. Despite the police station being a golf ball's throw from the Mary Celeste residence, no police unit arrived during the remainder of that day's door-to-door duties. Sidekick pointed out that the reporting would be treated as a non-emergency and the response time might be up to three days.
I was offered the services of a fifth, unscheduled sidekick who assisted me in translation duties while conducting the Nonsensus at a community group for Asian women. These exchanges were joyous and open. I had already experienced mediated forms of Nonsensus, particularly during school half-term, when children would communicate my questions to a non-English speaking matriarch. The translations would come back, along with the children's own reponses, and were among my favourite exchanges of the project. Unfortunately, two such afternoons of Nonsensing were lost due to my inability to correctly release the pause button on my recording device. Thankfully, I still have the memories.
I believe the adage 'safety in numbers' points to the success of a two-person Nonsensus approach. Rather like hitch-hiking in pairs, presenting as a couple has a disarming effect on contributors and consequently the guard is dropped and the process of participation becomes more open. The exchange seems more a natural conversation than a formal Q and A. Of course, there might be a less psychological imperative at play - they may merely have felt sorry for us.
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