The Rock Talk Project
A reflective conversation at Hgtomi Rosa
Artist initiative Hgtomi Rosa in The Hague has been working on a project that experiments with group situations. It got into contact with Robin Whitehouse, the artist who made a rock that travels around town. This rock is available for different purposes that arise from people stumbling into it. Hgtomi Rosa stumbled into the rock and decided to use it as the monolith at the centre of their first couple of gatherings on how to continue collectively after the corona crisis.
Hgtomi Rosa: Now that we have organized two of these Rock Talk gatherings, we thought that it would be time to reflect. In this conversation we related what has happened so far back to our initial ideals around starting this project. We have thought about the evolved role of an individual in relation to a group and about how their“de-evolution”can create new possibilities forconversations and collaborations.
Constantijn Scholten: What are the Rock Talks?
Daniele Formica: Gatherings of people, around a rock.
C: What kind of people?
Jan Dirk Adams: People that want to talk to each other.
C: And the talking is about?
D: About the reason to gather.
Alexander Webber: And it can change through the talk itself. It is a chance to raise questions and create new discussions, it might become formal or informal in terms of what is being discussed and how that moves.
J: But in principle, they are using their voices to connect to others.
C: What about the rock. What is its relation to the talks?
D: This artwork by Robin was the reason to start an event, a process of gathering.
Yukari Nakamichi: it was like ‘let’s meet up’ in front of this statue.
D: So it started with the idea of the bar, “whiskey on the rocks”, which was to have the rock as this object there, as this presence and reason for people to gather.
J: It comes from Hgtomi Rosa’s concerns in thinking about the meaning of space, about audiences, and about why people would be somewhere. It relates to the encounter, to why people are with the thing that you want to show. This is what we always discuss, and what is also behind the rock talks.
Y: We were as well just curious: How are the others doing? What are they doing? Are they just sitting in their studios making art alone?
D: When I spoke with Robin I realized the potential of this encounter, how people were becoming audiences and participants to his rock. When someone asked Robin to move the rock, he performed this gesture, the artist moving the rock. I thought: this is a good rock to bring people together. I asked him to place it in front of Hgtomi Rosa to open our doors again and see what would happen.
A: There is novelty in the simplicity of a rock as an object, in being able to share a physical moment with the ones we were previously surrounded by.
J: And experiencing absence had further lead us to reflect on the interaction with others. It became clearer that it had to do with ideas of collaboration, and sharing thoughts and knowledge.
Rock Talk Series
D: The rock talks became a series for two reasons. One reason was because we wanted to gather more than 30 people, and of course now there is a maximum of 30 and we needed to keep safety distance and make it possible that the event could happen. So simply we needed more time and space for people. When we shared this idea with Stefan, Ria (The Hague municipality) and Remco (Stroom), who were also very excited about it, we started to think: “OK, maybe also other people are interested in the idea of a gathering and they also see the rock as a meeting place”.
J: There is a third reason which would be my first reason. The rock talks are an experiment about an arena, a research into gathering and conversation. If you want to learn, it has to do with repetitions, going through an experience that is the same in parts. We keep a couple of constants so that there are certain things that we can continue to think about and others that manifest spontaneously.
A: Yes, the reason we wanted to gather was to share thoughts and ideas with people. And since the rock talks are set in a very simple framework, even if the hypothetical people who are gathering and their reasons for gathering might be quite different, there is an input and a development from each one.
J: It grows.
A: It progresses in some way, somehow shaped by the people that gather.
D: It is about people just being there, when we say sharing thoughts and ideas we mean just being ourselves. It is a performative act, there is sharing as an intention… but the sharing is as simple as standing together with a stranger.
Rock Talk #0
A: Maybe it is best now to give an outline of the events behind #0.
D: When we started planning the Rock Talks, we were already in conversation with many groups of people, online via video chat. One of the groups we were in contact with was a representative of broedplaatsen and artist initiatives in The Hague. We were composing a questionnaire to see what were the effects of the virus on the sector.We then realized we wanted also a qualitative form of questioning. This was a point of convergence with our ideas about the rock. Then Hgtomi Rosa decided to host a test run, which became “Rock Talk #0”.
We invited people that were recommended for the rock talks, because of the knowledge, insights or experiences they might be able to share with us.
J: We were also exercising this collaborative aspect of designing a conversation, because we accepted and consciously decided to invite the suggestions. It connects to our desire of not having overall control of the conversation and for it to be open and surprising form he start.
D: It is also really funny that there is a rock and then we can just meet to see how we can come together again in this situation. I was very touched by the absurd nature of this encounter. I knew some of them as professionals but I did not know them as people.
J: So why did you want to know them as people.
D: Well it connects to the reason of the rock talks. It’s about prehistoric connection and de-evolution, meeting people as people.
J: Try to formulate why it’s important to meet people as people.
D:An Italian writer called Luigi Pirandello elaborates the concept of masks. You can read for example “The Late Mattia Pascal”. People wear masks, behavioral patterns connected to the reward system,formed upon their roles, tasks, ambitions and ideals. When you are alone with yourself you wear the naked mask. Something beyond performativity.
J: so does that mean that when we are all together wearing our naked masks… would we connect better in such state?
D: It’s definitely interesting because you never get to see the naked mask of others. It’s a big challenge. And that is connected with the empirical research Hgtomi Rosa conducts on the encounter.
Rock Talk #1
A: Rock Talk #1 had the premise of meeting with a number of the young artist initiatives in The Hague.
D: We recently got in contact with other young artist initiatives: Trixie, Annastate, The Balcony & Susan Bites, Das Leben am Haverkamp and Beuys Bois. We were in a conversation with them about coming together, and one of the ideas was the concept dinners, eating together creatively. Hgtomi Rosa decided to combine a concept dinner with a rock talk. We first had a BBQ -our prehistoric concept dinner-, then gave a tour of our initiative, to conclude with Rock Talk#1. This became a very different situation from Rock Talk #0 because the people had already spent some time relaxing with each other so they were more comfortable, therefore also outspoken and more open to hear each other and promote dialogue.
J: For me it looked a lot more like how I envisioned the rock talks. People felt good to participate and inspired tofeel part of a bigger group, listening to their inner voice and sharing thoughts out loud.
Y: These initiatives are closer to us. We are from a similar generation and everyone shared the same excitement for the future now because we started gathering.
D: I also didn’t feel the pressure that I felt in Rock Talk #0. In #1 there was not a practical aim, but it was really about togetherness, with a focus on our roots. This was really connected to the naked mask somehow, to people just wanting to be there.
D: For the future we should find a way to combine #0 and #1. To create an informal atmosphere with the feeling of fertility in the ground, with people that are not necessarily familiar with one another.
A; There were interesting dynamics in #0 out of the fact that it is socially more challenging to connect to people you are less familiar with. There is something in the Rock Talks that brings different people together, which should act as an extension and development of the people in the cultural sector of The Hague
D: And Hgtomi Rosa opens to others in collaborating/initiating new Rock Talks. The nature of the rock is to move, to flow in the river as Robin intended. We will not hold onto the rock. We are interested in exploring the gatherings that came from it, to other places, other people, and other initiatives in The Hague.