Laila and I have written some thoughts about the side by side project. I have posted mine below but you can also find Laila’s on the side by side website

We are working on the next stages of the project now and so more info will follow soon…

Helen’s reflections so far…

This piece of writing is an amalgamation of just a few things that were and are important to me about Side by Side: some of the materials we used; what we were doing together (on reflection) and what this may mean to me now.

 ‘Language is like a road: It cannot be perceived all at once because it unfolds in time, whether heard or read’[1]

 ‘The front or visible parts of things often depend on the back or hidden parts’[2]



Standing in a field…where paper is one of the currencies.

Paper: a chosen material, the ultimate material perhaps: you can send it, share it, fold it and recycle it and it’s a vital tool for communication and communication is part of our focus.

‘A form of external memory and the means by which we forget’…‘it allows us to be present when in fact we are absent’; ‘it both breaks and bridges time and distance’ and ‘It is both adequate to communication and inadequate to thought’[3]

Currency “A medium of exchange, a transmission from person to person, a state of being current’[4]

Encountering the world through body, space, material: together; alone; collecting marks; measuring; listening; making marks; marking out space; rolling in; rolling out; testing; bounding space; counting; collecting words; marking a place; marking territory; collecting shadows; bounding body; paper as landscape; collecting the marks of making; moving together; moving apart; at the edges; off the page; in the margin; paper amplified through movement.

Cotton cloth


I remembered only later that I was thinking about currency before. At the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford I had observed a roll of cotton cloth which was marked ‘Kuntu – Roll of native cotton cloth, formerly used as medium of exchange, now in part payment of bride price’ 1932 N.Nigeria. Bornu Province, Potiskin Divison.

When I first spoke to Sue Davies about the residency she had asked me to think about early memories of movement…looking at my notes now I had recalled running down a hill in a field as a child in Wales and holding and moving around, in my hands, my mother’s ever full purse of small change: I would open it, empty it and move the coins around making rows and layers of them.

Bits and bobs

‘It is one thing to say humans identify with things. But it is another thing to go farther and say that humans only exist in their relation to things’[5]


I have started to make sense of the way I move things around. Laila helped me to do this…had anyone ever seen me moving things around? At the end of the day perhaps before leaving the studio: a way to let some thoughts linger or to take them away in my head for the night and re-find them there in the studio when I returned? Perhaps it wasn’t until now that I realised how important this was and is. Having someone in the room, side by side, bearing witness to what you do. Realising through watching, watching what’s important and listening.


I have been reading: reading to make sense of something that I now observe and I have found some information about epistemic actions (physical actions that make mental computation easier).

‘We often arrange the external world to help us in our cognitive actions. For example, in repairing an alternator we may take it apart but place the pieces in linear or grouped array so that they reassembly is easier () or playing scrabble we physically order and re-order the tiles in order to prompt our own neural resources. The fact that we find this useful suggests that our in-the-head computational resources do not work so well on their own – they need external prompts. So thinking comes about as an interaction between brain and world’ (Clark 1997:68)[6]

‘Thus in handling a thing, moving it around, feeling it, looking at it, we come to understand how our body works, how the different parts interrelate, how we can be co-ordinated. There is thus a two-way dependence of human bodies and things’[7]

‘we thus come to what is arguably the most radical contemporary take on the potential cognitive role of nonbiological props, aids and structures: the idea that, under certain conditions, such props and structures might count as proper parts of the extended cognitive process’[8]


The residency and working with Laila have helped me question. I have thought hard about body and material. It’s clearly not all about the hands, for when my hands are at work what is the rest of my body doing? It seems that craftsmen are often defined through their intelligence in making by hand: of the hand and brain co-ordination but what about the intelligent use of space, of moving around and of moving things around and how this is done in oder to remember or even forget? One of our visitors to the project Roanne Dods noted on one visit how fluently I moved around a printing table we used in a studio at Farnham, tellingly I have the same sort of table in my own studio and I navigate it in the same way, mainly working on my feet.

Laila at table


Back to the hands for a moment. I realised that something was happening through being in the room with Laila…that looking back, watching the films, it looks to me now like my hands are not mine…they are thinking alone, hovering before making a decision and Laila’s hands are different again – of course they are different – they seem to be operating in an entirely different way.

I have been reading about explicit memory and single recollections – the knowing that of something and inter-corporeal memory – how bodies interact with each other – a bodily knowing of how.

‘Body memory does not represent the past but re-enacts it. But precisely through this, it also establishes an access to the past itself, not through images or words but through immediate experience and action’[9]

Laila and I have explored and navigated multiple territories so far and by doing so side by side and together I think I have made sense of so much other stuff – I can see that we are using different parts of our brains at times in the process and I wonder at this and at what is going on at a subconscious level when at times across the room we seem to end up doing the same thing at the same time.

Whilst we have moved material around and I have realised the importance of this to me and the way I think, we have also moved around without external stimuli, making movement together, side by side. We both use attentive listening as a tool, a much used resource in our individual practices, we can perhaps now put our listening skills to use together.

Our work now continues. I don’t want to say much more. This was and is a precious time. We have laid bare our thoughts – shared and alone – there is vulnerability. Laila and I set up a shared language that gave me a confidence in sharing with her…a rare thing that I value immensely…but the vulnerability is in what may be taken and where…our raw ideas…(that we continue to explore now) and that are there waiting for us to take somewhere but they are also out there in part for others to see and share too – perhaps too early in the process.

But sharing is a profound thing and through sharing with Laila what I have found most invaluable is that I now have insight into what more we could do and how this could move into a whole new world of further potential.

Helen Carnac

May 2013


[1] Solnit, R. 2002. Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Verso, London, p268

[2] Hodder, G. 2012. Entangled: An Archaeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things, John Wiley and Sons, West Sussex, UK p51.

[3] Sansom, Ian. 2012. Paper An Elegy, (various Quotes). Fourth Estate, London, UK.

[5] Hodder, G. 2012. Entangled: An Archaeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things, West Sussex, UK: John Wiley and Sons, p27

[6] Clark, A. 1997 Being There. Putting Brain, Body and World together again. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press In Hodder, G, 2012, Entangled: An Archaeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things, John Wiley and Sons, West Sussex, UK p36

[7] Hodder, G, 2012, Entangled: An Archaeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things, John Wiley and Sons, West Sussex, UK p30

[8] Clark, A. 2008. Supersizing the Mind. Embodiment, Action and Cognitive Extension. Oxford University Press, New York, USA.

[9] Koch, S. Fuchs, T. Summa, M. Muller, C. 2012. Body Memory, Metaphor and Movement. John Benjamins Publishing Company, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s