In April 2020 good cop bad cop were due to host a visit to Wales by their Vietnamese colleague, Nguyễn Duy Thành, courtesy of a Connections Through Culture award from British Council South East Asia. And then the COVID came…The following, mainly written by John, is an account of what happened next, as reported back to British Council (SEA)…

Cymraeg isod

It has been challenging for good cop bad cop, though we do like a good challenge, we are not artists who have chosen to work digitally up until now. Our work comes from responding to relationships between bodies and spaces, from chance encounters, from dealing with the fall-out from irrevocable acts, in real time and in real physical places with our real physical bodies.

It was all going so very well. We had travelled to Vietnam thanks to British Council Wales funding and Thành had secured money from British Council SEA’s Connections Through Culture to visit Wales. The plan was simple. Go on a road trip around Wales, visiting selected artists and others working in the arts that we respect in their home/work environment, introducing Thành to the landscape and the artists, and allowing them to introduce him to their own locality. Start new conversations, start new working relationships, a sharing of ideas and experiences. For us cops also to strengthen our relationship with Thành as a colleague and a friend. This whole experience was to be filmed as all good road trips have historically been.

Then Covid came and all those plans had to put on hold. To begin with we waited and then we waited some more. We thought things might change and that we could soon reschedule our plans. We didn’t want to cancel. We held out for as long as we could but it became apparent that it was impossible to plan in these new ‘not normal’ times.

So what might be a digital version of our proposed encounter/project look like?

How could we introduce Thành to Wales and our proposed artist collaborators? Is this what we really wanted to do in these changed circumstances anyway? We decided that we still wanted Thành to meet our contacts in real life, sometime in the future. We didn’t want this aspect of the project to take place, in the first instance, online.

I have known Thành for 3 years now and our friendship isn’t all about the spoken word and constant conversation. We experience things together as we walk along, we laugh and nod knowingly at things. We enjoy each other’s company but there isn’t a great deal of talking going on. Zoom and other online ways of meeting up are, after all, all about the talking. They don’t accommodate/tolerate silence quite so well. We didn’t think these digital mediums were the best way to introduce Thành. These introductions could wait until they could happen in person, real encounters in the same way that we had encountered Vietnam.

So…we asked our collaborators/colleagues here in Wales to suggest other people to make short videos of their lives and the places in which they lived which would be shared with our friend in Vietnam. People who were unknown to us and preferably those who were currently unrepresented in the arts here, and who would fall into the Welsh Government’s categorisation of ‘Protected Characteristics’. They suggested a really interesting mix of people who we never would have chosen or had access to. People of all ages throughout Wales. A small sample but from wide-ranging backgrounds, and we choose four of their suggestions, one from north Wales, one from mid Wales, one from the west and one from the south.

For now, to get the ball rolling, these videos would give Thành a taste of Wales. Not the Wales of tourist brochures, American movies and postcards, or even of our choosing but each unique and authentic. What we received were all surprising and delightful in their own way. We asked for no context or explanation from those making the films about the content. These videos of snapshots of individual lives were then shared with Thành. In response we asked Thành to make a short video which expressed his life in Hanoi. This was then distributed with our video contributors in Wales. To give them a sense of his life, in another country, another culture. A video which promised something more, some potential in the future to meet, to collaborate, to share more.

We also asked Thành to produce videos of himself in the act of watching these videos from Wales for the first time in various locations in Hanoi. To give our contributors here in Wales more of a personalised taste of Hanoi. Shots of people and places in Wales appearing on the streets and in the apartments of Hanoi. Albeit on a video screen…but it’s a start!

To keep a sense of our artistic collaboration going we decided to regularly meet via Zoom and attempt to perform something. With a simple set of rules but with little planning we proposed to make 30 minutes of improvised performance. Something that we might have done if we were all in the same room together but here it being more of an unknown. A real experiment to see what might be achieved. Rules were made that would engage us physically such as ‘you follow our moves’ or ‘we follow you’ or ‘ we respond in whatever way we feel appropriate/inappropriate’.

It was initially quite difficult what with technical difficulties, the three of us in different locations relying on different strengths of internet/WiFi, using different hardware and so on. Without professional lighting and sound equipment it wasn’t always easy to see each other’s moves or positions or facial expressions. It required a lot of concentration and staring at the small screens of our devices was sometimes headache-inducing. However, despite these difficulties i think we managed to achieve quite a lot. Once we got the hang of it i think we really managed to connect with each other and produced some very satisfying moments of movement together.

Three people, with miles and miles distance between, in different time zones collaborating physically in the digital space. As we went on we developed different rules for engagement. In one 30 minute experiment we suggested that Thành leave his home and move onto the streets of Hanoi. While he was free to do this we here in Wales were not, still experiencing a COVID lockdown and were unable to meet up and leave our homes. Richard and myself, ‘trapped’ in our houses pacing from room to room and back again with our iPads filming, a bit like rats in a maze. A COVID tale of two cities! Interesting for us cops to experience Thanh’s freedom of movement while ours was curtailed.

At the time of writing this we are about to perform another 30 minute online experiment with Thành, this time Richard and myself will be free to meet up in his garden with some Covid restrictions lifted while Thành will be confined to his house with restrictions currently heightened in Vietnam. This, unlike other improvisations, will be for an invited audience.

This period, funded by Arts Council of Wales and the British Council, has not been what we had planned and hoped for. However, it has strengthened our relationship with Thành and we have begun to introduce him to colleagues, friends and collaborators here in Wales and it is certainly still our intention to bring him here to Wales to carry on our proposed road-trip project at some point in the, hopefully, not too distant future. The period has also informed the way in which we, good cop bad cop, integrate with the world in a digital fashion. Not something we had chosen to take that seriously before but is certainly now on our agenda to investigate further.

Mae wedi bod yn gyfnod heriol i ‘good cop bad cop’, ac er ein bod yn hoffi her dda, nid ydym yn artistiaid nad ydynt wedi dewis gweithio’n ddigidol o’r blaen. Daw ein gwaith o ymateb i berthnasoedd rhwng cyrff a gofodau, o ddod ar draws siawns, o ddelio â’r canlyniadau o weithredoedd anadferadwy, mewn amser real ac mewn lleoedd corfforol go iawn gyda’n cyrff corfforol go iawn.

Roedd popeth yn mynd cystal. Roeddem wedi teithio i Fietnam diolch i gyllid Cyngor Prydain Cymru ac roedd Thành wedi sicrhau arian gan Connections Through Culture y Cyngor Prydeinig i ymweld â Chymru.

Roedd ein cynllun yn syml. I fynd ar daith ffordd o amgylch Cymru, i ymweld ag artistiaid dethol, ac eraill sy’n gweithio yn y celfyddydau, yr ydym yn eu parchu yn eu cartref / amgylchedd gwaith, gan gyflwyno Thành i’r dirwedd a’r artistiaid, a chaniatáu iddynt ei gyflwyno i’w hardal eu hunain. . Dechreuwch sgyrsiau newydd, dechreuwch berthnasoedd gwaith newydd, i rannu syniadau a phrofiadau. I ni cops hefyd i gryfhau ein perthynas â Thành fel cydweithiwr a ffrind. Roedd yr holl brofiad hwn i’w ffilmio fel y mae pob taith ffordd dda wedi bod yn hanesyddol.

Yna daeth Covid a bu’n rhaid gohirio’r holl gynlluniau hynny. I ddechrau, arhoson ni, ac yna fe wnaethon ni aros rhywfaint mwy. Roeddem yn gobeithio y gallai pethau newid ac y gallem aildrefnu ein cynlluniau yn fuan. Nid oeddem am ganslo. Fe wnaethon ni ddal allan cyhyd ag y gallen ni ond daeth yn amlwg ei bod yn amhosib cynllunio yn yr amseroedd ‘di-normal’ newydd hyn.

Felly sut olwg fyddai ar fersiwn ddigidol o’n cyfarfyddiad / prosiect arfaethedig?Sut y gallem gyflwyno Thành i Gymru a’n cydweithwyr artistiaid arfaethedig? Ai dyma beth roeddem ni wir eisiau ei wneud o dan yr amgylchiadau newidiol hyn beth bynnag? Fe wnaethon ni benderfynu ein bod ni eisiau i Thành gwrdd â’n cysylltiadau mewn bywyd go iawn, rywbryd yn y dyfodol. Nid oeddem am i’r agwedd hon ar y prosiect ddigwydd, yn y lle cyntaf, ar-lein.

Rwyf wedi adnabod Thành ers 3 blynedd bellach ac nid yw ein cyfeillgarwch yn ymwneud â’r gair llafar a’r sgwrs gyson. Rydyn ni’n profi pethau gyda’n gilydd wrth i ni gerdded ymlaen, rydyn ni’n chwerthin ac yn nodio’n ymwybodol o bethau. Rydyn ni’n mwynhau cwmni ein gilydd ond does dim llawer o siarad yn digwydd. Wedi’r cyfan, mae ‘zoom’ a ffyrdd eraill ar-lein o gwrdd yn ymwneud â’r siarad. Nid ydynt yn lletya / goddef distawrwydd cystal. Nid oeddem yn credu mai’r cyfryngau digidol hyn oedd y ffordd orau i gyflwyno Thành. Gallai’r cyflwyniadau hyn aros nes y gallent ddigwydd yn bersonol, cyfarfyddiadau go iawn yn yr un ffordd ag yr oeddem wedi dod ar draws Fietnam.

Felly … gwnaethom ofyn i’n cydweithwyr yma yng Nghymru awgrymu pobl eraill i wneud fideos byr o’u bywydau a’r lleoedd yr oeddent yn byw ynddynt a fyddai’n cael eu rhannu gyda’n ffrind yn Fietnam. Pobl nad oedd yn hysbys i ni ac yn ddelfrydol y rhai nad oedd ganddynt gynrychiolaeth yn y celfyddydau yma ar hyn o bryd, ac a fyddai’n dod o fewn categori Llywodraeth Llywodraeth Cymru o ‘Nodweddion Gwarchodedig’. Fe wnaethant awgrymu cymysgedd hynod ddiddorol o bobl na fyddem erioed wedi eu dewis neu gael mynediad atynt. Pobl o bob oed ledled Cymru. Sampl fach ond o gefndiroedd eang, a dewiswn bedwar o’u hawgrymiadau, un o ogledd Cymru, un o ganol Cymru, un o’r gorllewin ac un o’r de.

Am y tro, i gael y bêl i dreiglo, byddai’r fideos hyn yn rhoi blas o Gymru i Thành. Nid Cymru pamffledi twristiaeth, ffilmiau Americanaidd neu gardiau post, na hyd yn oed ein dewis ni ond pob un yn unigryw ac yn ddilys. Roedd yr hyn a gawsom i gyd yn syndod ac yn hyfryd yn eu ffordd eu hunain. Gofynnwyd ni am ddim cyd-destun nac esboniad gan y rhai sy’n gwneud y ffilmiau am y cynnwys. Yna rhannwyd y fideos hyn o gipluniau o fywydau unigol â Thành. Mewn ymateb gwnaethom ofyn i Thành wneud fideo byr a fynegodd ei fywyd yn Hanoi. Yna dosbarthwyd hwn gyda’n cyfranwyr fideo yng Nghymru. I roi ymdeimlad o’u bywyd iddyn nhw, mewn gwlad arall, ddiwylliant arall. Fideo a addawodd rywbeth mwy, rhywfaint o botensial yn y dyfodol i gwrdd, i gydweithio, i rannu mwy.

Gofynasom hefyd i Thành gynhyrchu fideos ohono’i hun yn y weithred o wylio’r fideos hyn o Gymru am y tro cyntaf mewn gwahanol leoliadau yn Hanoi. Rhoi mwy o flas personol o Hanoi i’n cyfranwyr yma yng Nghymru. Ergydion o bobl a lleoedd yng Nghymru yn ymddangos ar y strydoedd ac yn fflatiau Hanoi. Er ar sgrin fideo … ond mae’n ddechrau!

Er mwyn cadw synnwyr o’n cydweithrediad artistig i fynd, fe benderfynon ni gwrdd yn rheolaidd trwy Zoom a cheisio perfformio rhywbeth. Gyda set syml o reolau ond heb fawr o gynllunio, gwnaethom gynnig gwneud 30 munud o berfformiad byrfyfyr. Rhywbeth y gallem fod wedi’i wneud pe byddem i gyd yn yr un ystafell gyda’n gilydd ond yma mae’n fwy anhysbys. Arbrawf go iawn i weld beth ellid ei gyflawni. Gwnaed rheolau a fyddai’n ymgysylltu â ni yn gorfforol fel ‘rydych yn dilyn ein symudiadau’ neu ‘rydym yn eich dilyn’ neu ‘rydym yn ymateb ym mha bynnag ffordd yr ydym yn teimlo’n briodol / amhriodol’.

Roedd yn eithaf anodd i ddechrau, beth ag anawsterau technegol, y tri ohonom mewn gwahanol leoliadau yn dibynnu ar wahanol gryfderau’r rhyngrwyd / WiFi, gan ddefnyddio gwahanol galedwedd ac ati. Heb oleuadau proffesiynol ac offer sain, nid oedd bob amser yn hawdd gweld symudiadau neu safleoedd neu ymadroddion wyneb ei gilydd. Roedd angen cryn dipyn o ganolbwyntio ac roedd syllu ar sgriniau bach ein dyfeisiau weithiau’n achosi cur pen. Fodd bynnag, er gwaethaf yr anawsterau hyn, credaf ein bod wedi llwyddo i gyflawni cryn dipyn. Ar ôl i ni gael gafael arno, rwy’n credu ein bod ni wir wedi llwyddo i gysylltu â’n gilydd a chynhyrchu eiliadau boddhaol iawn o symud gyda’n gilydd.

Tri pherson, gyda milltiroedd a milltiroedd rhyngddynt, mewn gwahanol barthau amser yn cydweithredu’n gorfforol yn y gofod digidol. Wrth inni fynd ymlaen fe wnaethom ddatblygu gwahanol reolau ar gyfer ymgysylltu. Mewn un arbrawf 30 munud gwnaethom awgrymu y dylai Thành adael ei gartref a symud i strydoedd Hanoi. Tra ei fod yn rhydd i wneud hyn nid oeddem ni yma yng Nghymru. Roeddem yn dal i brofi cloi COVID ac nid oeddem yn gallu gadael ein cartrefi i gwrdd. Richard a minnau, yn ‘gaeth’ yn ein tai yn pacio o ystafell i ystafell ac yn ôl eto gyda’n iPads yn ffilmio, ychydig fel llygod mawr mewn drysfa. Stori COVID o ddwy ddinas! Diddorol i ni yw cops profi rhyddid symud Thanh tra bod ein un ni wedi’i gwtogi.

Ar adeg ysgrifennu hwn rydym ar fin perfformio arbrawf ar-lein 30 munud arall gyda Thành, y tro hwn bydd Richard a minnau yn rhydd i gwrdd yn ei ardd gyda rhai cyfyngiadau Covid yn cael eu codi tra bydd Thành yn gyfyngedig i’w dŷ gyda chyfyngiadau yn uwch ar hyn o bryd yn Fietnam. Bydd hyn, yn wahanol i weithiau byrfyfyr eraill, ar gyfer cynulleidfa wahoddedig.

Nid y cyfnod hwn, a ariannwyd gan Cyngor Celfyddydau Cymru a’r Cyngor Prydeinig, fu’r hyn yr oeddem wedi’i gynllunio ac yn gobeithio amdano. Fodd bynnag, mae wedi cryfhau ein perthynas â Thành ac rydym wedi dechrau ei gyflwyno i gydweithwyr, ffrindiau a chydweithwyr yma yng Nghymru ac yn sicr mae’n fwriad gennym ddod ag ef yma i Gymru i gynnal ein prosiect taith ffordd arfaethedig ar ryw adeg. yn y dyfodol, gobeithio, ddim yn rhy bell. Mae’r cyfnod hefyd wedi llywio’r ffordd yr ydym ni, good cop bad cop, yn integreiddio â’r byd mewn dull digidol. Nid rhywbeth yr oeddem wedi dewis cymryd hynny o ddifrif o’r blaen ond yn sicr rydym bellach ar ein hagenda i ymchwilio ymhellach.