Most often, on this creative journey of recent years, collaborations have been kicked into life when something else in life has been going wrong … you could take ‘ going wrong’ from many perspectives, from something global to something closer to home, but on this occasion, it was a project that had hit a creative brick wall.
I had been working as an outsider – an ‘ artistic provocateur’ to Unilever over a number of years and this, my 7th project, should have been a walk in the park; the brief after all was a gift, “ Here’s some funding to help us to be radical and think differently around packaging – come back when you’ve had a few ideas” – the kind of brief one should only dream of.
Weeks later, I was being carefully watched by a security guard in Sainsbury’s, as I paced the isles yet again, looking for inspiration, closely scrutinising what already existed, in order to better it somehow – Back in the studio however, I was just getting increasingly irritated by my own lack of imagination – so I walked away from the project and thought about returning the fee.
Walking away, at least in your head, is sometimes the best thing you can do, the part of your mind that is trying too hard is made redundant, and then, if you are lucky, what‘s actually needed is able to announce itself without effort. Getting lost in a book I was reading at the time, entitled “Fabric of the Cosmos” and turning on the radio and hearing a Professor Tony Ryan on BBC Radio 4’s Material world, was what turned everything around.
The book had already blown my mind, by informing me that particles can have a relationship across a universe, can ‘ behave’ as if in unison, and are quantum entangled – and from the radio, I had learned that Tony was a chemist, that he appeared to be a wonderful combination of a stand up comic and a geek and above all else, approachable.
Somewhere between these two things aligning, there was a phone call to be made.
I misunderstood much in my reading of the book, but it turned out to be useful, I tracked Tony down and began my call with a ‘ you don’t know me, but …’ and recounted what must have sounded like an ‘ Alice in wonderland’ idea – referring back to what I had misunderstood in my book, I naively blurted out “ I want to make a bottle with consciousness, if particles can have a connected relationship across a universe, why can’t a bottle ‘ know’ when it’s empty and get rid of itself?”
There was a short, but painful pause at the end of the line – this is the crucial moment in any potential collaboration – Within the pause, what is being considered is not just what you have asked, but whether the nature of why you have asked it holds any meaning for the other – collaborations begin, or die in these moments. The silence of a few seconds seemed to go on longer than I could bear, something I have learnt to welcome in the years that have followed, for I now know it is when he lightly shines his entire being on an idea, until his mind is made up – “ that’s not as daft as it sounds “ he said “ come and see me “.