Divergent thinking is a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. It typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing, "non-linear" manner, such that many ideas are generated in an emergent cognitive fashion.- Wikipedia
If I ask, ‘what do you think of, when I say the word, “Paris”'? You might say, love...art...fashion maybe? Since it’s February, let’s take the word ‘love’, for example. It’s an emotion, so how do you describe it? Perhaps in a linear way, you’d say, “it’s an emotion that causes you to hug someone”; or “an intense attraction or profound likeability.” Now in a divergent way, how would you describe it? Give it a go...
...or you would wait for our next artist to do it?
When I saw Estera Tajber, last summer, at her most recent performance, “Travel With Estera,” in Le Kremlin-Bicêtre south of Paris, she was inundated with fans with yellow tickets ready to travel with her - virtually, cerebrally on a voyage of the senses. Through performance art, prose and poetry she took us on a journey to explore emotions in all its crevices.
Where would our conversation go during our examination of the word “start”?
She sits with me at a circular table in the middle of her art studio. Single sheets of pastel colored paper hang out; two or three colored pens doing their own thing. Yellow tickets stacked on her desk, insignia from her last performance. It’s midday and the light is fresh, perfect to frame her sculptures suspended and oil paintings on walls. We are balancing the taste of bitterness and acidity in the coffee she’s made for me. I slowly change our discussion from our New Year intentions and people we have in common to my curiosities about the word "start."
“What does that word mean for you?” Estera uses up the silence. I could see the thoughts processing - translating a sort of divergent language.
“I visualize it. I see a runner in a position like this.” She positions her body like she's beginning a track race. “.....and tschhhhhhk!” She shoots out of imaginary blocks with the sound of the wind forced through her teeth. This is the first of many times during our chat she gets up to contort her body or position her hands in shapes to describe what she means. We converse in French but that’s not our native language. When I asked her to explain that sound she says, “un commencement... dans un moment très static.”
Even in French it’s a unique way to describe the sound...and of course, ultimately the word. I asked her if there were other words to describe it. She hesitated and then gave me a very defiant, “no”. "For me, it’s just that.”
I wished I could have scribbled something to take up the sound between pauses; just the phone continuing to record us. The studio echoey. I almost felt defeated in my search to understand this word better. I know this is an exploration, a process so I move on and asked her if she runs. She is wearing black textured yoga pants, Nikes and a blush oversize thermal long sleeve.
“I know it’s obvious - I see you are wearing running shoes.”
“No...no...these are old slippers!” They don’t work well so…
“I haven’t ran in a month but I usually do the canal. I love it. I need it.” Her studio is near the Canal de l'Ourcq. It’s non-touristy where the seine bends in and out from the center of Paris towards the east, revealing La Villette, a huge center for the arts.
“When I said ‘start’, I run, but I don’t do that…” She re-enters a deep runner's lunge and explains that she associates that position with ‘start’ because of television images that stayed in her head. “It doesn’t have anything to do with running actually - it’s a static position...like a sculpture that’s in movement - “immobile et mobile.” She slides into a motion again and freezes into a performance piece.
I have a hard time constructing what I mean sometimes because I live things through emotions. I don’t know how to... I appreciate art because it makes me live something. This statue allows me to live these emotions.”
I asked her how she came to appreciate art. “To express (things). I have something to say…I don’t know how else to say things.”
“How would you describe this statue to someone who is blind...In your way of expressing it?”
“Wow, they would have to touch it!” She tells me that one reason it speaks to her is because it’s a sort of fantasy. You could present them with something else fantastical to relate it to. It could be a piece of music. Perhaps it's a sequence of touch that would give them that same sensibility, allowing them dream the same emotion. “It's the emotion in the art. That’s the best way to describe it.”
I asked Estera how she would describe the color, then the sound of the statue. “White...marble….neutral...the color takes away the information; it becomes impersonal.” There is a translators challenge with words like “information” in French. It doesn’t mean, like in English, knowledge about a given topic, a letter or a document. Here it could mean details, noise, chaos, texture.
The sound? “It’s like water that...flows. Her arm floats forward like she’s paving the air. “You don’t need to understand it - just sense it. Plunge into it...it’s infinite.
With no sound, I feel protected in some way. It removes the sexual connotations - there is something more. There is an allurement in the wind…” She impersonates the wind. “I would add that the sound of the wind is….soothing...spacieux.
"...Actually it makes you dream. I asked myself a lot of questions about what makes me dream. It inspires me. It makes me travel. C’est ça le voyage.”
She says that that’s her reason for starting her most recent project, “Travel with Estera.”
I mentioned that this was the first time in a long while since I listened to and engaged in a critique of words, of emotions like a piece of art. “You know, finally I released the emotions that were unsettling. I thought to myself, 'why don't you work with it?' I have a laboratory of emotions you know? I track the emotions.”
She shows me an extremely neat horizontal grid on a large paper. It looks like a sort of seismograph with lines highs and lows and xes and annotations. “Day by day, I survey my emotions. I started when I was 'steady'. I started to understand that it was me who developed these emotions so I had to ask myself about them. I never did that before. It wasn’t that I would do it to ‘get better.’ I said to myself ‘this is a laboratoire of my life.’ I have to work on this - it's not by association I have them."
She said that the simply tracks the emotions, not what causes them, like an observational analysis. "I surveyed myself and tracked them for eight months to see what was going on. Sometimes we forget and wonder why we have certain emotions.” Over our conversation she expressed an internal need to stabilize the ‘tracking’ - like she is using her body like an experiment.
The Course - one of many interpretations
I left her place feeling like I had a dose of...something wonderful, warm and smiley. Like a went on a journey describing our original word. We took a course from ‘start’ to ‘running’ to ‘statue’ to ‘water’. As usual, the most surprising things that we associate with the word ‘start,’ come towards the end of the interviews.
Perhaps by deduction we can say that ‘start’ for Estera is an emotion best expressed like water: “You don’t need to understand it. Just sense it...plunge into it...it’s infinite.” Below I give you my impressions but I'm curious how you would interpret Estera’s “course?”
The original word 'start' is an anchor for what comes afterwards of course. In some interviews I notice we dive deeper, quicker than others, but slowly you can start to see a sort of a catalyst or spark that makes us to curious, wanting more. In this case it was the word "statue", leading us further into her world. The result feels like a natural guidance down the widing road to a clear interpreation of the artist's definition of the word start. Here, water (or you could say flow) was the identifier or key element we should take notice of. Please know that I am no psychologist, but this process of examining a single word, be it as a game, interview technique, way of deduction, seems to create a structure to an easier "start". It illuminates how an artist or designer really “sees” something...sees the start….sees emotion...sees….life.
At one moment during the interview I asked her if that sound of water, she referred to, was like a waterfall. She said that there is a shock as soon as the water hits something, "but actually the statue doesn’t represent that: it’s simply a flow. There is something behind it to be curious about."
We spoke a bit about flow, as well, in the Clare Thackway interview about her start and painting. I wonder what would happen if the next time we had a project or blank canvas to fill, would Estera’s emotional metaphors allow for an easier...flow?
"You don’t need to understand it. Just sense it...plunge into it...it’s infinite.”
What if I didn’t worry about the limitations of what I am doing or want to do? She said that “x” could be infinite right? (X being a o or whatever you "set X to equal). I could reaffirm to myself that my ideas, my resources are limitless. Maybe feel safer....more secure to launch into that adventure? What if I didn't worry about the mistakes or the right form and "just plunge in."
In writing they call that “pantsing” if you can believe it. It’s when you write something without abandon...fly from the seat of your pants knowing there are no limits to your ideas, your work. You could start with that frame of mind and move into “flow”, not trying to “understand” why or where you go or are at.
Perhaps emotions could also be a “trigger” to actually starting something wonderful. She described it as “static- like a stopped movie you see and your senses are wandering to the next sequence linking you to dream or your own projection.”
We could name that emotion and start from there. What emotion would you give to "start". Reenact, ingest, meditate on that emotion. Use it as a creative trigger for a project or simply a trigger to actually start the project.
The tracking of emotions was also quite intriguing. I suspect you could “track” feelings by journaling but the true gem here was how experimental and impersonal she made the objective of the tracker. She eliminated all the seemingly unnecessary “information” and tracked emotions on a graph. She treated emotions as things, un-associating them with herself. Could we do this with our own challenges in creating magic on "the blank page?" She actively tried to stabilize them daily and then moved on with life.
She wasn’t specific on how she measured each emotion but I suspect if you wanted to try this experiment, you could invent a way to quantify it.
What would happen if you regulated emotions like something impersonal, like a game of connect 4? Put more into one slot, reducing the amount of chips you put into another slot. Equalizing them on an amplificateur? You regulate how much love you want to put in when you see there is not enough in one area. Treating them impersonally like dots you have to line up?
This is why art exists right? To help you think differently about yourself and the world around you?
And now that you’ve had a minute to digest the interview with Estera, let me know if you have any more thoughts on how you’d describe the emotion of “love.”
Note: Four days after the interview, I found out the real name of the statue: Bernini's Rape of Proserpine. I really wasn't sure how to react, how I walked through a variety of emotions. Then I remembered, we were only described the "fragment of an embrace," which can be interpreted differently than the entirety of the piece. Maybe time to go and track my emotions.