From Matt Locke's blog - An Interview with Tim Etchells

Posted by Rachel Greene | Thu Jul 24th 2003 11:35 a.m.

From Matt Locke's blog - www.test.org.uk -

Tim Etchells - Surrender Control

A few years ago, in a previous job, I commissioned a number of projects
with artists using SMS as a medium. One of them was Tim Etchells, a
writer and co-founder of Forced Entertainment
(http://www.forced.co.uk/), a performance group who have produced some
of the most innovative and exciting theatre I've seen over the last 10
years. I was really eager to get Tim to consider SMS as a medium, as
his writing is very epigrammatic, and his subject matter devoted to the
random poetry of urban life. The project he came up with was 'surrender
control', a series of instructions sent as text messages to subscribers
over a number of weeks that cleverly traced narratives of desire, trust
and intimacy.

As part of an essay I've recently written on the project, I asked Tim
some questions about 'surrender control'. I really wished I'd found
some way of sparking a debate about this project at the time, as it
touches on so many issues about narrative, privacy, intimacy and
technology that have become even more important as 'social software'
like friendster have gained popularity. Surrender Control explored the
darker shadows of communication technologies, illustrating the
umheimlich twin of the shiny, happy world of ubiquitous connectivity
that we are always being promised (look at those smiles on the
Friendster homepage! Everyone's having such a rad time!). So, rather
belatedly, I'm putting this Q&A session with Tim up here, and hope that
it sparks some comments. Also, read Jill Walker's blog for an excellent
description of what it felt like to participate in the project.

TIM ETCHELLS ON SURRENDER CONTROL:

"Surrender Control is somewhere between a game and a set of dares. The
instructions that people will receive vary enormously - some are orders
to think about particualr topics, others are invitations to look at the
world in a particular way, other instructions are for actions, demands
that people behave in particular ways or that they carry out particular
tasks.

What interests me about SMS is the intimacy inherent in the form -
messages go direct to the phone of an individual, direct to a 'place'
which is normally occupied by that person's friends, family or lovers.
To create an art work for this context is an invitation, one could say,
to whisper in the ears of strangers as they go about their daily
business. Surrender Control tries to explore and push the boundaries of
what is possible or even permissible in this context."

Matt Locke:How did you find writing for SMS as a delivery medium?

Tim Etchells: I liked it in the sense that I really enjoy working to
limits - the technical limits (text only, a certain number of
characters) as well as the limits of the context - one's expectations
of the place and time that people would be receiving the messages. Once
I know what the edges of a form are (be it SMS or theatre or video)
then I'm happy to play with and disrupt those edges!

ML: What kind of responses were you expecting from participants in the
project?
What role did they play in the narrative?

TE: I didn't have a definite idea of what people would do.. I thought
that some would obstinately do nothing! And that some would obediently
do everything.. and a lot of middle ground.

There are certainly many instructions where the participants need to
make their own decisions about how far they're willing to go. To me
that's a part of the project. The instructions are proposals,
invitations - but there's undoubtedly an element of flirtatiousness and
temptation in what I propose - people have to make their choices about
what they'll do and what they won't do.

In fact it's not even that important to me that people follow the
instructions. Perhaps what's just as interesting is to sit in a bar
with friends, or ride the bus home or sit with familly in front of the
TV and just consider for a moment what it might mean to follow a
certain instruction. I think a powerful sense of what the world is, and
what our boundaries for acting in it are could emerge from that...

ML: Surrender Control was designed as a one-way project - how did the
lack of feedback effect your experience on the project?

TE: I can't really imagine it working with feedback - it was so solidly
built on the fact of none. Feedback would only be interesting to me if
it was an interactive piece for ONE phone user at a time (now that
would be something to pursue!)
  • Marisa Olson | Thu Jul 24th 2003 3:16 p.m.
    see, also, the original rhizome review of surrender control (a GREAT project):
    http://rhizome.org/thread.rhiz?thread81&text084

    i've put feelers out for this, before, but if anyone is doing
    sms/txt-msg projects, please let me know (especially americans where
    this is so rare). i'm constantly looking for this, in my writing &
    curatorially...

    thanks!

    _________________
    Marisa S. Olson
    Associate Director
    SF Camerawork
    415. 863. 1001
  • ana boa-ventura | Fri Jul 25th 2003 5:46 a.m.
    See also the work with SMS by the Theater Group from Barcelona La Fura Dels Baus (or simply "La Fura").

    In 2001 in Valencia their cyber-opera Fausto was followed by what i believe was their first experience with SMS. More recently they produced XXX. There's definitely an intended pun: SMS - Short Message System - Sado MaSochism. XXX is based on the Marquis de Sade.
    See
    http://it.gsmbox.com/news/flashnews/all/49210.gsmbox
    (in Italian, I'm afraid, not much info on the "fureros" in the US but they're big in places like Portugal, Netherlands, and Italy...)
    and
    http://www.lafura.com/xxx/

    Enjoy
    Ana Boa-Ventura

    Marisa Olson wrote:

    > see, also, the original rhizome review of surrender control (a GREAT
    > project):
    > http://rhizome.org/thread.rhiz?thread81&text084
    >
    > i've put feelers out for this, before, but if anyone is doing
    > sms/txt-msg projects, please let me know (especially americans where
    > this is so rare). i'm constantly looking for this, in my writing &
    > curatorially...
    >
    > thanks!
    >
    > _________________
    > Marisa S. Olson
    > Associate Director
    > SF Camerawork
    > 415. 863. 1001
  • jonathan may | Thu Nov 11th 2004 10:43 a.m.
    Hi there!

    My name's Jon and I'm studying Drama at John Moores University in Liverpool.
    I'm currently working on an Independent Study Unit as part of my final year on creating a form of performance through SMS text message.
    I wasn't aware that so much writing and performance aklready existed around the idea with the exception of Mr Etchells.

    I've just started the project, so if anyones got any pointers or ideas to look at,
    feel free to giv us an email on

    joditookadvantageofme@yahoo.co.uk

    or

    mcajmay@livjm.ac.uk

    cheers!
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