How do we move through a crowded train station or busy shopping street? It is often immensely frustrating: usually one simply ploughs ahead with one’s own interests in mind – can I get to platform one in four minutes and catch the next train to New Cross? Firstly I must negotiate my own belongings in order to find my purse and railcard, hiking my bag round from my back and opening the front pocket without dropping my coat, scarf and gloves on the floor. Failing to find the railcard option on the ticket machine I belt over to the ticket office, to negotiate my discount with the woman at the counter. Actually there is no need to plead my case – she informs me the option for Young Person’s Railcard is always there, it hasn’t disappeared as I suspected. Relieved to here the discount still stands, but mystified as to the reason it I could not find it, I negotiate my pride with her – insisting that the option was not on the screen where it normally is, whilst from the other side of the window she disinterestedly replies that it is always there. Realising I do not have time for this – one of us must admit defeat, it appears to be me – I shrug and take my change, thanking her kindly before dashing off, through the gates and towards platform one. I dodge slow walkers, and sprint up the tunnel, slowing down slightly at the sight of a platform wet and slippery with rain. With delicate steps, but still running, I jump onto the last carriage of the train. Now all I have to do is find a seat nearest the front in order to get out nearer the exit at New Cross.
This is exhausting - negotiating spaces, trains, people, machines, time – but it is how one gets from A to B. At a party on Sunday, someone told me of a London Underground map that has been designed to tell you exactly which part of the train to get on, in order to be at the right point to alight nearest the exit, or to change trains. Obsessive, but negotiating time and space just got easier.
It strikes me that there are many different kinds and ways of negotiation: through space, with time, relationships, reading, as communication, with language, to make a deal, even and especially with ourselves. The importance of negotiation first struck when I worked with an elderly artist on a re-enactment of a seminal protest work: Gustav Metzger’s 1961 Southbank Demonstration. Nothing could ever be recreated as it was, I would even say that every aspect of the work was completely different. Legendarily difficult to communicate with in every sense, Gustav behaved true to form. Discussions managed via a complicated set of negotiations: a letter sent from me asking him to call on Tuesday morning; I would try to wait at my desk for the phone-call, which I would invariably miss and try desperately to return, in case Gustav was still there, waiting in the telephone-box. Eventually the phone would ring again and after a pause, which instantly signalled the caller, Gustav’s small thin voice would begin: “yes, hello…” and continue to read the box’s number out to me in order for me to call it straight back. Quite often traffic noise or a faulty line would cause problems – he once spent a whole morning walking between boxes in South Kensington til he found one that worked. Negotiating the very means and time of communication often required patience and input from both sides, before we even began to discuss the work itself that came with a whole set of compromises, which I am indebted to the artist to making in order that the event actually came about. As we will spend most of our time at college negotiating ideas, hanging on to some, and letting go of others in order that we create something together, it might be interesting to think about negotiations in the every-day and expanded sense. What is negotiation? What is it for, and when do we use it? When did we learn it, are there times when we forget it? What is our motivation? What are the terms of negotiation, can we use it unselfishly? These are some of the questions that come to mind, googling on the internet came up with a good deal of other areas and questions…
Here are two to begin: