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'Beware the Danger of Merging': Conceptual Blending and Cognitive Dissonance in the work of IOU Theatre

Deborah Middleton & Tim Moss

This exposition introduces and analyses the work of British-based IOU Theatre, a company that has been exploring intermedial theatre and installation since 1976. IOU's work, we suggest, is characterised by their particular strategies for juxtaposing or fusing images, materials, and artistic media. We explore this aspect of IOU's practice through the lens of emergent cognition by drawing on Fauconnier and Turner's (2002) theory of conceptual blending. While Fauconnier and Turner's work applies broadly to the process underlying many cognitive acts, their model enables us to develop a nuanced understanding of IOU's particular creative 'blends' and to identify a 'resistance to the blend’ that proves essential to the IOU aesthetic. The authors have included first-person accounts of some of their own cognitive experiences in response to IOU's work as a way to track the application of conceptual blending in the reception and analysis of an artistic artefact or experience. The exposition both introduces to a wider readership examples of IOU's oeuvre and proposes a reading of conceptual blending as a tool for understanding creative processes, analysing artistic artefacts, and discussing audience reception – in works that particularly exploit creative collisions of imagery or media. In this way, it is our intention to contribute to artistic research a methodology for analysis and a lens through which some key artistic strategies can be illuminated. Our approach may be of interest to those concerned with the making, analysis, or reception of artistic work that is intermedial in the broadest sense.