School of the Imagination, 2013

Workshops, performance, digital video,
HD video, 16:9, 33:00 min
Filmed in London, UK
Directed by Marcus Coates and Michael Smythe
Camera by Annemarie Lean-Vercoe and Per Tingleff
Sound by Sam Nightingale and David Briggs
Edited by Ariadna Fatjo-Vilas
Post-production sound by Gernot Fuhrmann
Production assistant / DIT: Lucía Montero
Medical advisor: Isabel Valli
Additional sound by Geoff Sample
Assistance and support from Cardboard Citizens
Photography by Michael Smythe
Produced by Nomad Projects: Michael Smythe, Piera Buckland
Commissioned by Create London, Supported by Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Local residents, members of the public and Greater London Authority City Hall

Bethnal Green and Greater London Authority City Hall, London, UK

How can we intervene to help end the war in Syria?
What can I do differently to get a job?
What stops me from starting my own business?
How will the world cope with the ever increasing population?
How can I approach this job interview differently?
If people know if something is bad for their health, why do they carry on doing it?

Celeste, Errol McGlashan, Lena Pamphile, Zviad Sokhadze, Benjamin Smithies, Trish Walsh

Applications were sought from the general public and local community groups to attend a week-long workshop devised and led by Coates in a community centre in Bethnal Green, London. Six participants were selected to attend this one-off course. The group were encouraged to develop the scope and use of their imagination. They trained to create and sustain imagined worlds in which they could immerse themselves. They went on to use these experiences to gather relevant information from their imagination, to help answer questions for themselves and other people, i.e. strangers on the street, local residents and policy advisors at City Hall, London.

Passer-by on the street
Bethnal Green, London, UK
How can I approach this job interview differently?

[The group perform their ritual on the street and report what they have seen to the client.]

Celeste: I was looking at a tree from different perspectives but I couldn’t see it properly, then I looked inside myself, then I could fly. When I flew I could see every area of the tree.

Zviad: I’ve seen a hedgehog and then it transformed into a lion.

Marcus Coates: How did it transform into a lion?

Zviad: I gave him a moment, a chance to crawl, crawl, crawl away and he disappeared, he came back as a lion.

(Transcript excerpt)

Local resident, Irene
Hollybush and Teesdale Community Centre, Bethnal Green, London, UK
Question: What stops me from starting my own business?

[The group perform their ritual in the community centre and report what they have seen to the client.]

Ben: I saw a field of golden corn and I knew that it was my land, my field and in particular I heard that amazing sound of rustling, the rustling of the corn in the wind. I stepped out into the field, but the corn was actually higher than I was, so that it wasn’t possible to see how large the field extended. I could only see what was immediately in front of me, it wasn’t possible to see the degree of success.

Irene: I think that’s it. I am really good at what I do at work. I get good evaluations, people enjoy my training, I get good results from my mediations, so I am successful where I am already.

Marcus Coates: I was singing a song and came across a ledge with a huge drop. As soon as I felt this edge, my song started to disintegrate and became abstract sounds. I wanted to go forward but my voice wouldn’t let me, so I changed my voice into a very high opera-like voice to make a new song. As soon as I had this song, I could fall off the edge.

Errol: You were saying that you had to change your tune to change. For me that’s quite significant: if we are going to take on another role or another challenge, it’s best to at least see yourself as the person who can do that, which might be different from the person you are now. So maybe it’s a case of seeing yourself as a businesswoman rather than an employee.

Irene: And do you know what, you might have put your finger right on it. I was a businesswoman and I hated it, it absolutely drained the life out of me. If I went into business by myself I’d be a businesswoman wouldn’t I? So thank you all very very much because you have actually answered my question. What stops me from starting my own business? It’s me, I don’t actually want my own business! [Laughs.]

(Transcript excerpt)

Local resident, Pawla
Location: Bethnal Green, London, UK
How will the world cope with the ever increasing population?

[The group perform their ritual on the street and report what they have seen to the client.]

Marcus Coates (TO PAWLA): We’ve all just seen and experienced things, and most of these journeys will be quite complex. We are going to summarise what we’ve seen, but it will be quite a lot to take on. Bear in mind when you are listening that you are the one that will have to find meaning and connections to your question. Who wants to go first?

Errol: I will. There was a light that people, but not only people but also things, were trying to put out. So shadows were trying to put out this light, people were trying to climb over this light and drag this light down. But this light just shone through everything no matter what they tried to do, it never ever went out, there was a sense of futility to it, it was so clear that this light could not stop being a light. Can I expand on this? My light wasn’t a normal light, it was going in a certain configuration, it was moving in a figure of eight on its side and it was everywhere. There were places you thought it wouldn’t be, but when you looked, it was there. It was in eyes, it was in stars, it was in blood. It was everywhere, but what was quite telling was that there were things hanging on to the light. This is all my imagination, yeah. [Laughs.] Instead of them slowing it down, the light carried on going and the things hanging on to it disappeared. There were many ways of trying to stop this light, to block it, cover it, drag it down, but this light just carried on going, on and on and on, it was everywhere. Once I started expecting to see it, I saw it much quicker.

(Transcript excerpt)

Greater London Authority, City Hall Health Team
City Hall, London, UK
If people know if something is bad for their health, why do they carry on doing it?
And how can we help them to not do this?

[The group perform their ritual and report what they have seen to the client.]

Trish: I was an old dog and I saw a large white cliff and a wide set of black stairs going up the side of this cliff. I don’t think my objective was to reach the top, because I didn’t feel that was possible. Every few steps there was this reward of water that was really refreshing and that made me feel, even as a dog feeling really tired, a feeling of achievement because I managed to get to the next few steps and to my drink of water.

Errol: There’s a load of balls and they’re cascading down this assault course or obstacle course. I was one of these balls. I felt very flustered at first, but after I got used to it, it was fun. There was this idea that they could do whatever they wanted, some of them were bouncing, some spinning, some just lying there, and then a net came and just gathered them all up no matter what they were doing. Liz (CLIENT): The hecticness: I’ve got so many choices, I’ve got to change this, I’ve got to change that, I don’t know what to do and they’re collected in a net and it’s like you’ve found the solution of what works for you.

Errol: I don’t see it as that, I see the huge net as death and that we are all going to die anyway, maybe that’s the question to answer. If people know there’s something bad for their health, why do they do it? They keep doing it because they know in the end they are going to die anyway and it doesn’t really matter. I don’t want to sound negative. Maybe there’s a way to word things to say to people. While you are here, why don’t you enjoy it a little better, maybe there’s something there.

Helen (CLIENT): So health isn’t the aim, but enjoyment is the aim and your life will be more enjoyable if you are healthy?

Errol: It seems that way.

(Transcript excerpt)