The Impossible Project – by Anna Tregloan
This article is based on a presentation given by Anna Tregloan at Performance Space Live Works Festival. Here Anna contemplates the impact on live performance and events designers whose work was cancelled or postponed or simply rendered ‘impossible‘ by the COVID pandemic. Anna introduces us The Impossible Project archive where we see project after project dematerialise in a whimsical/devastating animated record. It is a deeply moving archive, memorial and celebration of this strange year.
Visit the project at theimpossibleproject.com.au
Follow on Instagram @theimpossibleproject_
We are at that time of year. That time where, usually, newsletters and newspapers celebrate the achievements, successes and blockbusters of the past twelve months. Well 2020 was not a usual year.
This was not a year where well laid plans came to fruition. It was not a year where all the ducks lined up. Instead it was a year where projects which had been planned to minute details, designed beautifully, rehearsed and/or partially filmed suddenly became impossible.
So I am focused on The Impossible.
As creative artists we hone our skill for finding the possible as we develop our skills guiding concepts through to completion. But, where there is the ‘possible’, the ‘impossible’ is always just there – lurking as its mirror – as an alternate reality that might take hold.
It is a word that is used discount options, to negate possible paths (as in “You can’t – that’s impossible”). But there is a temptation and a challenge embedded in it well.
And it is a word that oftentimes takes on slightly shameful connotations when it refers to work that seems achievable but instead achieves the status of impossible.
There seems to be embedded in it a niggling implication that it is a failing of the artist or maker that causes the impossibility. It is an idea that aligns itself to the discredited notion of the meritocracy.
The stumbling block may not have been skill or vision; it might have been a lack of power or privilege, perhaps the project was too ambitious, perhaps the rest of life (family, circumstance or finance) got in the way; perhaps the moral compass of the presenter was too at odds of that of the makers. Perhaps it set out to explore the boundaries of what was possible, and then found that edge – and intentionally dived over. Or perhaps something unexpected, like a pandemic, derailed everything and the artist with it.
Did these projects cease to exist? Of course not. Even the experiences that don’t turn out the way we plan don’t leave us with nothing. We gather and grow from them. This is true in all of life’s works, of course, and especially for us as creatives.
This year I had several projects become impossible, including The Impossible Project. But The Impossible Project became impossible first through COVID, and then by setting tasks it could never achieve.
It didn’t take long to realise that it was essential that we make a record of this time. To build an archive, a memorial and celebration of the creations that were stopped in their tracks by this unexpected foe. Many of these works will sing again but they will forever be marked by this virus and we must record this as a schism in their ascent. And sadly many works will end here. It seems crucial that we mark that passing.
The Impossible Project is a large iterative work. It exists as a series of incarnations, each developing on the last, each shifting and being malleable to its surrounds. Each is both a public presentation and a development upon the premise. Its first outing was in 2019 as part of the Australian Exhibit at the Prague Quadrennial and the plan was to expand upon this in 2020.
But it is more than an archive – It will continue to evolve – and it will continue to set itself impossible tasks. It is after all impossible to collect all of the projects, plans and productions derailed by this year. And it is impossible to capture, quantify and distil the complexity of an artist’s thinking and evolution. Although that is exactly what I attempt in The Impossible Sketches. These along with 160 projects and micro commissions of Impossible Tasks are all part of Edition 2, the ‘COVID-safe’ website edition of the project, and are records of conversations I had with artists as they shared their deep knowledge of their works and I attempted to capture it in sketch. It was an intrinsically impossible task.
But within the impossible there is possibility as well. It is possible to celebrate work done which might otherwise have remained hidden and it is possible to excavate what this word – this slightly flippant but deep-rooted word – can be.
Launched in October, the archive continues to grow as designers, writers, directors and artists add works via the ‘About’ pages on the website. And it continues to shift as postponed projects begin to reawaken and cancelled ones realign and become new things. No project is too small or too big, too weird, too failed. Nothing is too impossible, or not impossible enough.
Following this year I plan on reopening the scope of The Impossible Project – as while there is no denying that there is far more nuance to the ways 2020 made things impossible than the closure of cultural institutions, the artists practice and the scope of impossibility is far broader than pandemic-made closures.
Anna Tregloan, Artist // annatregloan.com.au
Elizabeth Chua, Curatorial Assistance
Meghna Damodaran, Design Assistance
Erin Milne (Bureau of Works), Producer