I was watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer the other day, and there’s a bit where she walks in a dream from a room into a desert. And on the join, they’ve built up the sand in little ripples, the way the sea makes shapes below the tideline on a beach. And I’m thinking: that’s got to have taken them a little while. That’s got to have been a fiddly job, pretending to be the ocean even a tiny bit.

There were two beaches where I used to go often as a child. One had those ripples of sand, and the other didn’t. And I used to think about that a lot. I didn’t understand it at all. And then I got a bit older, and saw that the ridges were there on the second beach after all - they were just much, much bigger.

And I was a little afraid of the dunes for a while.

One of the things that has stayed with me from this project is a conversation about translation. That in Polish, every time you are saying you will put something away, you are also saying you will hide it. And that in Polish, the word for the sea is the same word as “maybe”.

I don’t know what that word is, and I don’t even quite trust my memory to have got the concept right, but when I look out at the Estuary – not quite the sea and not quite the Thames - what I see is a silver-grey shining maybe.

And when I hear coins collapsing in the “penny falls” machines, I hear landslides, and people getting pushed around from one place to another.

And my brain is hiding from me what I wanted to write. It has put it away. I didn’t think it had done, but it has. It has used it. As I’m sitting here trying to remember, trying to find it and write about it, trying to pin it down, I can feel it being whipped away, and I can’t see it. It’s been shoved under mattresses, buried under the patio, held behind the back with a sheepish grin. It’s being used for something else. My brain is asking me what it is exactly I’m supposed to be writing – is it an article, an evaluation, a memory, a story, a theory, a report? I’m being asked in all seriousness, and with a very honest face, but there in the background is a lot of scurrying about. I’m hiding something.

“Droga” seems a long time ago. A lot longer than it actually was. I think that’s because I have only been living here in Southend for a short while. When we walked with “Droga” I had been here about a year, and everything was new.

I was pushed here. Very gently, compared to a lot of the shunting around that happens in the world. But I was pushed out of one place, and found myself here for a bit. And I chose to stay. I’ve made a lot of work in this town, probably more than I made in five years in London. But the part of me that makes things wants to live here unadorned for a bit. I’m not showing the work here, nor am I seeking out work here.

Except for “Droga”.

And I didn’t seek that out, either. I saw the ad, and was drawn to the situation, the phrasing and a spark of something I can’t quite put my finger on. Some spike of truth. In what I see of Ania’s approach, I like the honesty of the awkwardness of collaboration and interaction in work. Particularly this kind of work.

Because it is a kind. Not really a genre, because it exists in a lot of genres. It’s the gun, not the bullet.. or maybe it’s even the sight, not the gun. It’s a kind of work where the more I try to define it or why it’s worth anything, the sillier I feel. But I still like it. It’s obviously valuable, but the value isn’t really describable. The more I try to describe it, the less I know how to make it. Is that a translation issue? A choice of which language to use? I think if I could describe it I would be making a lot more money that I am making now. But a lot less work, perhaps.

I like work that runs in me like a program long after the initial experience has past. The things I like best become part of my personal mythology. Also, some of the things I like least. And some things that seem irrelevant at the time but stick, and keep running.

They’re the things that interest me most.

I aspire to make work that runs like a program in other people. I don’t think I’ve done that successfully more than twice. But it’s not really something you get evidence of, unless you’re famous, and then I suppose you don’t know whether to believe it or not.

It comes from making theatre, I think. You make the play, but the play is not the work. The play is the machine that writes the work onto the audience. When you make live work of any kind you are (if you’re honest) attempting to write directly onto the soul of every individual in the audience. And to do that, you have to make it desirable, because it’s only that desire that can power the machine. Sure, the same basic mechanism exists in all art and stories, but live work is totally dependant on that exchange for its existence, and is altered by it as it runs.

A film, a book, or a painting is maybe on the whole less immediately altered by the exchange. On the whole. Maybe. People smash statues, wear out videotapes of favourite scenes, ‘restore’ paintings, translate books. And also spend a whole lot of time trying to make sure things alter as little as possible, which is also fun to watch.

But live work only exists through alteration. And it only endures through change and memory.

And the less artifice there is, the more bare the exchange. Something like this is totally bare. It’s pure exchange. And then it is all alteration. And that is interesting to me, because I do not understand it nearly enough.

And ‘Droga’ was not only something that was to be made in the realm of alteration, it was also about alteration.

A walk to see a place with new eyes. A starting story of a people migrating. Forced and chosen change.

And a place I was already seeing with new eyes, having just moved here.

But not such new eyes as Ania and John. I had a weird sense of place on this project. Because it was my town, but only just. I didn’t know it well, and I’d been exploring it from a point of view of living here, rather than making work, and they’re such different perspectives. I think it made me oddly protective (defensive, maybe) of it at times – in a way I wouldn’t be if I’d lived here a long time, or if I’d just come to look.

I used to come here to look. I’ve got friends here, so I’ve been visiting since I was about 16. I’ve got a lot of photographs, and little bits of video of this town scattered throughout notebooks and folders of work. The seafront before a chunk of it collapsed, the pier before it was burned and rebuilt, lights along the promenade that aren’t there any more.

The Owl Man, who still is.

I saw him when I first visited Southend about 13 years ago. He was in the middle of the high street with his cart, and had a massive orange-eyed owl on his arm. He had a white cane, and mirrored sunglasses, and was collecting for “the blind”. He put the great bird on my arm and I was terrified, both of and for the owl.

He was there as we were walking.

We carried sand with us on the journeys. I was very afraid of people being cross with us for putting it on the beach, because it was a different kind of sand. Fake sand on another kind of fake sand. I’m not sure why that worried me so much.

All the sand here is imported. Brought here from somewhere else. Both for sea defences, and to make sandy beaches to play on. It’s mud here, really. The sand gets carried off, and they have to get more.

Sea defences are a big deal here. The whole seafront is gradually heading into the estuary. I love the thought of the impossible task of trying to stop it. Putting other things in the way to get broken instead. The big landslide partway along the seafront is fenced off and constantly monitored. On the cliff roads there are cracks in the pavement as they are slowly heading the same way. More alteration. Bits getting taken away, pushed somewhere else.

I’m sometimes told that the part of the town I live in is “going downhill”. This seems to come down eventually to a base horror of the fact that a lot of the people who live here have visibly or audibly moved from somewhere else, and the people who lived here just before them have moved on elsewhere.

The sea defences and promenade are built out of earth and spoil dug from beneath London in the building of the Underground.

We carried sand to the beach. Ania told us that it is a Polish tradition to carry earth from your home with you to somewhere else. I guess that makes the home for our project Sainsburys Homebase. I didn’t really think of it that way at the time. But I now associate the Homebase car park with John’s van (reinforced by watching “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus”).

The sand was in laundry bags at the station with us when the audience arrived. Too many for us to carry. We would rely on the audience helping. I always liked that difficult bit at the beginning. People working that out. Were they supposed to carry stuff, and why? What was it for? When people offered to help, or just picked things up without question, I felt slightly ashamed. As though I was setting them up. Not everyone offered.

It was difficult to judge how many bags to use. How much to carry. We didn’t know how many audience there would be.

As it turned out, not many.

And there you have a strange situation. Work that is based entirely on human exchange. And so very, very few people. Not even a bunch. Two, maybe four at a time.

And mainly people involved with the project already. But not people I know. And I didn’t know how much or little information they already had. I realised I was totally geared up for locals, tourists, strangers. But not artists. Not the festival people. I’d been laying down patterns and paths in my head – little treats or shocks or questions. Possibilities to shift or connect things. And so few of them were relevant because if I’m honest, I wasn’t really interested in what these people had to say as part of this experience. Not really, primally curious. I don’t mean as humans, I just mean in this context. It’s such a particular mindset, going to see something as part of a festival you’re involved in. And I (stupidly) hadn’t factored that in at all as being the primary audience, and wasn’t as open to that route as I could have been.

Particularly as we saw so much of the festival along the way. It was really satisfying to take part in other work as we were walking. It gave a little of that spiderweb feel I’d been hoping for. I was dumb not to follow that further.

On the beach, we poured some of the sand into a hole. There wasn’t enough sand to fill the hole.

And that sand is tiny, tiny rocks and bits of shell. It’ll get heaped up into ridges by the water that is pulled across it, and it’ll warm the water up too. That might do something really important somewhere. And meanwhile, folks will swim in the sea and build sandcastles.

Sitting here, trying to remember, I cannot distinguish between the individual walks at all. There were four walks. I remember moments, faces, expressions, actions. But I can’t say which ones go together, or even which ones were on the actual walks and which were just as we were exploring ourselves. We didn’t walk the same way each time, and I forget who we took where. We did different things, and left the sand in different places. For me “Droga” is all the time we spent on the project, rather than each walk as an event.

I don’t have a sense of progression over time, more a sense of variation. Things overlaid. Does that mean the participants on each walk just get one note and we get a chord?

Whatever it was, it wasn’t a tune.

Does that mean I let the audience down?

I know at the time I was a bit fascinated by the repeating patterns on the flyer. It repeats but is a bit skewed. It’s wobbly, inconsistent, and it’s still a pattern. I like it a lot. My gran knitted me a jumper not long after from wool that is coloured in such a way that when it is knitted, it forms a pattern. At a casual glance it looks like a fairisle jumper - very regular, familiar. But if you look closely, it’s just an estimate of the pattern. Like a drawing of the jumper, with the pattern suggested so you just decide that’s what it is and accept it. It’s effortless.

I’ve been using the coin pusher a lot (we bought a little red toy “penny falls” machine from Argos). I’ve always loved them, and if I’m stuck on something, playing them will usually either help shift whatever I’m trying to figure out, or give me something else to think on. They’re so inherently fair, and still always the machine wins out in the end. It’s reassuring. If you put a coin in, it will always have an effect. Maybe not immediately. And maybe not to your benefit. It might be the coin to push a landslide of coppers into your tray. It might just lie there to help the next person. Or it might push the landslide into the ‘bank’ tray in the machine and then the owner gets the money. Each outcome is somehow satisfying. It’s not arbitrary. Everything has a purpose. Everything has an effect. And I love that those machines are always at the seaside, where the cliffs are falling away slowly into the water.

York Road Market has closed.

The Three Shells Café is having new decking built.

I heard on the radio the other day a news story about a woman who bought her dream house on a beautiful clifftop. Then the edge of the cliff dropped off and the house is about to follow. I remembered a TV program from years ago about people who had bought a lighthouse on a cliff and were having it moved and rebuilt brick by brick further inland so they could keep it a little longer. They had already done this once before, I think. There are churches in Essex underwater, 5 miles out to sea. And I read somewhere about a man using a coffin that had floated back inland to build a rabbit hutch.

What we put in, where did it go?

I made the ‘Penny Falls’ into a fortune telling machine. There is a tub of coins with blank stickers on. You can write your hopes and fears and feed them into the machine. What gets pushed out becomes the prediction for your future. If you’re not happy with what you get, you can feed them back into the machine and continue playing until you get a future you prefer. Or no future at all. Anything you feed back into the machine will become a part of someone else’s prediction.

What will you keep for yourself, and what will you leave for those who follow?

What responsibility did we have for our audience? The event was free, but they brought their time. How they spent it was up to them, but they put it in our hands. Did they give up their own responsibility? That shifted. I wonder what they took away with them. I wonder if they ever think about it at all. Does it matter?

I’m thinking about owls again. At bird displays, the falconers always say that owls are very stupid. They have these massive eyes, to let in as much light and information as possible. They see it all. And apparently they don’t think about it one bit. They just use all that information to eat things that move around in the dark.

Did we take someone down those tiny, wooden back-alleys? I think we did, but I only remember going there once. We went along the road with the shut-down clubs, through the snooker club into the arcade. We had our picture drawn by a computer on the pier. We looked at a formica table in York Road Market. We took sand to the beach. Some people decorated their piles of sand with shells. One woman, with the mark of her hand. We walked out a way from the shoreline, away from the sand, into the mud, into the sun. We squashed the tiny ridges of sand with our footprints. And the one lady who had really engaged with the walk stayed on the shore, guarding the bags. She wouldn’t walk off the dry sand. The girl-who-worked-in-radio got mud on her patent high heeled shoes and didn’t mind. We met the Owl Man, and he put a little owl on the girl-who-worked-in-radio so we could take a picture. We sat in a café. Ania sang. I think it was the national anthem..? It was about getting back home, I think. Finding a place again. Did a child get to go on the ride-on car, or did it just want one? We played the coin pushers in the arcade, and our miniature one on the beach. We never figured out what to write on the coins. We looked at the landslide. We walked back on our own. We waited at Victoria Station.

That’s the tourist line.

We had coffee in “Café Society”.

We made coloured magazines.

It was forced.

But there was something there. The thing is – where did it go? What has it powered, what is the effect? For the audience, for us, for the town? Does it matter? What am I trying to judge? And if I try to clean it up, to look at it too clearly does that mean I can’t use it any more? Would I be feeding the structure and starving the momentum?

Ania’s pinning down of the inherent uneasiness collaboration is very pleasing. I feel in this that I am somehow also involved in traitorous cooperation with myself. Or maybe with something else against myself. I cannot resolve the pull to make things effortless for the audience, and the fascination with what happens when it is not. With fiction, it’s easy. Effortless always wins. It’s always the Trojan Horse. That’s what it’s for. But with this? Something real? There’s something irresistible in the struggle. In the change.

In those little struggles, little choices, little alterations, are the same ripples as the big ones. The same pattern that moves the coins, moves people from their land, moves land from the people. It’s a translation. The same pattern that makes people pick up a heavy bag to help without knowing what’s in it, is of course the same pattern that can save a life, or ignore a cruelty.

So it’s a translation, perhaps, but it’s not a program. Or if it is, I am hiding it from myself. There must be an exchange.

And it’s never so much sharing as bargaining. If I make something, I want it to DO something, to have an effect beyond (but including) the immediate reaction. Not like a protest, or a joke, or a love letter. Not so easily defined. It’s niggly, and not entirely wholesome. Even here, even this. I don’t want an autopsy to lay the ghost to rest - I want the ghost as well. I want you to read this, and then in a few days time, maybe have a particular thought, pick something up in a certain way, take a narrow path instead of a wide road because you have read this. If I was smarter, I would put something here to make sure you knew where that impulse came from. To make sure you know it was something I said or did. But I’m just not that smart.

If I was, I’d be in advertising.

I have a terrible compulsion to avoid the point of anything. I don’t like to say it straight. I want to work around it, saying anything but until the negative space in the middle is the exact right shape for that piece of people’s imaginations to just fall into.

That’s part of what I mean by effortless, I think.

I wanted to do that here. I haven’t pulled it off. I should feel worse about that than I do, but it’s just so interesting. Have I bought a learning with other people’s time?

I am looking for effortless mechanisms to change perception. That might come from learning more about the relationship between the awkwardness of uncertainty, and the poetry of “maybe”. Uncertainty can go anywhere. It’s a striplight. “Maybe” is a candle, and carries it’s own long shadow “maybe not”.

I have no idea what this means in any practicable way at this point.

I keep thinking about the man who walked by us with two massive nets of peanuts hanging off his rucksack. Was he going to eat them? Feed them to animals?

Oh, and by the way, did I ever actually tell you what the Owl Man talked about when teenage me was standing in the high street with the massive, orange-eyed, ghosty bird on my arm? I don’t think I did.

He told me that he had come home recently and transferred the birds from the cart to their cages. And he had fed them. He had fed them all weekend. Then one of his friends had come over, and had noticed that one of the owls was not in its place. It was still locked in the cart, and it was dead.

The Owl Man hadn’t noticed because he couldn’t see. He had been feeding an empty cage.

Laura Trevail. March 2010.