Walking was clearly essential to the game; my prolonged failure to realise this was almost painfully absurd. And yet the elegant simplicity of walking didn’t feel like quite enough. The frame needed to be slightly more visible, to delimit the experience and allow me to perceive its movements. I thought of a remark by composer John Cage that I had recently read: ‘life without structure is unseen’ (Cage in Iverson 2010, p. 15).
For it is not just an opening, but the limits of this opening, that defines a window.
Cage’s philosophy of art as a framing device for noticing the everyday spoke to my interest in the ambiguity of the real, and would become an essential point of reference as the project continued to evolve. But of course some windows reveal more than others, as Cage was well aware. In his Lecture on Nothing (1959) I would later discover the entirety of his above remark: ‘Structure without life is dead, but life without structure is unseen.’
Here is perhaps the most concise expression of Cage’s project, which has been fundamental to the evolution of my own. In devising experimental music scores for others to perform, Cage continually sought the perfect balance between determined and indeterminate. ‘If the schema is too loose, the musician has too much freedom and the imagination is not sufficiently engaged,’ writes musicologist Austin Clarkson of Cage’s methodology. ‘If the schema is too tightly controlled, the response is not spontaneous enough, and the musical imagination has too little scope’ (2001, p. 98). But a schema with precisely the right amount of tension affords access to ‘the liminal zone between the conscious and the unconscious’ (ibid. p. 94), which Clarkson aligns with Winnicott’s transitional space of creativity and play. In this space ‘opposites conjoin and paradox is at home. It is where we experience nonobstruction and interpenetration, and purposeful purposelessness. We should expect that here, too, the competing claims between the individual and the social will be reconciled’ (ibid. p. 201).
The individual and the social, the personal and the universal, the known and the unknown. The windows with their leading questions had become a funnel into a narrow passage by the time I abandoned that restrictive schema. But the badges and their cryptic tags were too anarchic in response; too confoundingly ambiguous to render anything more visible, except to me. With the matchsticks I had found that magic middle, life itself made present by the framework of its cage. But what about the life that was to be found outside the studio? What kind of structure could reveal the subtle city as it had appeared when I didn’t think that I was playing this game?