Artist duo Make or Break track the emotional fallout after their new work for Next Wave was cancelled
Make or Break had planned to deliver an ambitious project called Influence Operation as part of Next Wave Festival 2020. When the project was cancelled due to COVID-19, the artists began writing speculative letters between themselves and the project as a kind of grief therapy for an unrealised and unrealisable project. These are the first three.
Dear Influence Operation,
It is the first of May, and this was to be our month together. A month of getting you off the ground, introducing you to the world, diving into the challenges and complexities you create…that we create, through you.
It has been clear for some time now that you wouldn’t be unfolding as we had planned. That we would not be able to use you as a way to bring people together, in a room, to talk and learn and drink tea and eat good food and laugh and get frustrated and get nowhere and somewhere.
We have been trying to navigate a way around you, to find the form of what you might look like in these changed times. It has been a bit like driving into a mist at night, seeing edges of things before they disappear, slowing right down only to realise it’s our own headlights glaring back at us from the white and the dark.
The more we try to connect with you – to tap into this amorphous thing that you are or could be – the more you seem to scatter to the edges. It’s like trying to hold water, grabbing a bar of wet soap, or switching the light on to a roomful of roaches. We don’t blame you for this. After all, you existed for so long only in our heads; a concept woven from words and hope and anticipation. An idea was sold to a festival and then we sat back to untangle and re-weave it into something we could wrap around an audience and hold them close.
To be honest, in a way we’re relieved, and this relief carries with it the millstone of guilt. You were a cinema screen viewed from the front row – impressive and immersive but also nauseating. We honestly don’t know how we would have managed you, brought you to fruition, with all of your facets and aims and people and moving parts. Of course, we would have worked through you the way we always do. But since we put the brakes on, it feels increasingly overwhelming to think of you actually screaming into the present.
Perhaps you were always beyond us. You would have stretched us beyond our capacity. Certainly beyond our comfort. Perhaps it’s just hard to imagine working back up to the pace that would’ve been required for us to see you through in an unchanged world.
So, what do we make of you now? How do we find you, shape you, make something of you, figure out what you can be and need to be? Do you need to re-shape to our new capacities, or do we need to reshape ourselves to you?
We’re not sure how to answer this, but it helps to be in touch.
Till then, in solidarity,
Make or Break
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3
Dear Make or Break,
I know we said we wouldn’t speak for a while, until we had both taken some time apart. But it is good to hear from you, despite the raw feelings it brings up. I wanted to share some thoughts I’ve been having during this “pause”. And also to reflect on some of the reasons we got together. Sometimes you can have too much distance and forget why you were in this to begin with, y’know?
I mean, we both walked into this thing blind, and we’ve done pretty well in making it work. Until now.
Of course, you too have been tricky to be with at times, and our relationship is kind of complicated. I feel like you don’t always know what you want…like you’re looking for something to solidify and find form through the simple act of us spending time together. Which I love, but it also renders us permanently fragile…precarious, even.
You want me to be this neat, presentable package you could take home to your parents, but at the same time you expect me to be totally real and messy around the edges, constantly radiating the heat from our fiery beginnings. When I think about us, I picture these eternally dangling threads, never letting us forget who we really are and what this thing really is: in a perpetual state of unravelling.
I make it sound awful though. And it’s not. It’s at least equal parts wonderful.
Some things I love about you: your work ethic, your wit, your ability to be compassionate and incisive with people you’ve never met, that way you have with words, how you can hold your own in a conversation about something you know nothing about, your curiosity, even your meltdowns, your love of good food and wine, and most of all, your willingness to make yourself utterly ridiculous in service of THE GREATER GOOD.
The things I love about us: our openness to becoming something other than what we imagined together, the quiet time spent in each other’s company, how we learn from each other, how others learn from us, how we don’t always have to be presentable, how others see things in us that we miss seeing in ourselves. And the fact that we’re still here, trying to make “us” work.
It does feel different now, though. I’m coming to the realisation that I can’t be that thing you wanted of me, because I’ve changed, because you’ve changed, because the world has changed. And it feels like there’s no going back. And then there’s the whole Next Wave factor to consider (maybe we can just forget about that for a hot minute and decide who we want to be without that pressure, whaddyareckon?).
I guess what I’m trying to get at is that we’re going through this change together, whether we like it or not. So rather than focusing on what we might be losing, could we imagine what new solidarities and connections might emerge?
Anyway, this is by no means a complete and full account of what you mean to me. Just putting it out there to let you know I’m keeping a seat warm for you.
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3
Dear Influence Operation,
It’s really good to hear from you, too. Some of the things you said were difficult to hear, but it’s important to be transparent. You know, start as you mean to go on and all that…isn’t that a strength of ours?
You said you feel like there are inherent contradictions in what others think of us, what we expect of you, and how we hope this might work. This may be true, but isn’t it a side effect of the openness you describe? Of our desire to keep things fluid and responsive, not to lock ourselves down into something singular or fixed? This sometimes means circulating many ideas, possibilities and plans together at once – sometimes contradictory ones! – and then flexing and changing direction as we need to. And yes, this is exhausting. For everyone.
There are definitely other ways we could do this. But do we want our success to be measured by how closely an outcome matches a pre-drawn plan? Nup. We can’t work this way. When we’ve tried to push things in this direction in the past, something gets lost. Things invariably feel flatter, colourless. Yeah, yeah, we probably sound like such earnest tragics to you…“No one will pin us down! Our creativity will not – CANNOT! – be contained!”. Heh. Maybe we are. ¯\_( •ʖ•)_/¯
We’d like to think that it’s more of a tactical decision. Tactical, and ethical. I mean, how can we create the work alongside others if the template is already laid out? The reason we care about you so much is all about your complexity and multiplicity – the very same things that make us fragile and precarious.
We will try to listen to you and your needs more, rather than just imposing our will on you. Because, obviously, you have a life of your own. We were made together, but you exist beyond us now, a ghost in the machine.
With restrictions looking like easing soon, it feels like most people want things to go back to the way they were. You know we don’t want that. This is our chance to not go back, but instead to build a better “normal”. I guess that’s what we were trying to do with you before all this happened. Now we have no excuses.
When the time is right, call out to us from the ether, and we’ll dance again.
‘Til then, with love and respect,
Make or Break