The art of conversation takes centre stage at festival event

NNF16. Adnams Spiegeltent. Broken Back. Photo: submitted.

NNF16. Adnams Spiegeltent. Broken Back. Photo: submitted. - Credit: submitted

The art of conversation takes centre stage in an event coming to Norfolk and Norwich Festival this weekend.Arts correspondent Emma Knights finds out more.

Festival-goers are being invited to take part in a big conversation, but it is not what they have to say but rather how they talk to each other that counts.

Building Conversation is a performance project created by Amsterdam-based artists Lotte van den Berg and Daan 't Sas who have taken their idea around Europe, clocking up more than 250 conversations with different communities, and now Norwich audiences are invited to join in the discussions.

The idea came from a public brainstorm about community projects at a Dutch festival a few years ago.

'A lot of ideas were born but in the end what was most important to all the people was the conversation itself,' said Lotte.

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'In a way conversation is a creation. It's something we do together and make together.'

This notion is the key behind Building Conversation which puts talking under the microscope and asks the audience to take part in different ways of communicating.

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'We talk all the time with each other but very often you are not aware of the way you talk with each other,' said Lotte.

'It can happen in so many ways and it's very inspiring to explore with each other how do we talk and how can we talk.

'We have done this for three years and have taken inspiration from a lot of conversation techniques from all over the world.'

Festival audiences will be able to experience four different techniques.

One of them, Conversation Without Words, is based on an Inuit ritual from Greenland.

Lotte said: 'They have an annual meeting of chiefs of different communities without speaking. They sit together and are focused on each other but they do not use words.

'Out of this we made Conversation Without Words, we invite people to have a conversation with each other without speaking.'

Thinking Together, an experiment where a large group has a conversation without a subject or goal, is inspired by a theory of quantum physicist David Bohm.

Lotte said: 'He was constantly as a quantum physicist very interested in chaos - very often we think things are chaotic but if you look you see patterns. He stated the way we think maybe looks chaotic but there's a lot of fixed patterns. We tend to think that our thoughts are ours but he says everything you think is connected to the thoughts of others.'

The Impossible Conversation comes from a technique created by the Jesuits.

Lotte said: 'They found out that talking about God isn't easy at all even if you practice the same beliefs. They invented a way of speaking where there is first writing, then reading, then speaking. 'There's a lot of preparation before you start to speak. It's a very beautiful, simple format which we use to speak about subjects that very quickly in usual conversation become abstract...[where you otherwise] very easily get into a conversation where you talk about abstract notions without connecting yourselves to it.

'It connects a very personal perspective to abstract subjects.'

And finally, the Agonistic Conversation has its roots in a tradition from the Maori community in New Zealand.

'It is a conversation between opponents dealing with the notion of conflict and how to create a space for conflict to be looked at,' said Lotte.

'For me it is very important we put our attention on how we talk to each other...For me this is what art can do and should do, that it offers a space where you relate and connect to other people.'

She said it was particularly important because communication was a major building block for communities large and small - from grassroots groups to international collaborations.

'When it is good conversation, you create something together, maybe new thoughts that you weren't able to create on your own. For me this whole question of how we deal with the challenges of tomorrow is very important and roots also in this question of how do we talk together.'

Building Conversation takes place at a surprise location in Norwich on Saturday and Sunday at 3pm and 7.30pm.

Tickets £5. For more and to book tickets, visit or call 01603 766400.

For more festival news and reviews, visit

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