Writing as Making

For a final seminar of the autumn semester 2015, Writing as Making, we gathered for two days to work as a community of writers. Picking up from the Practices of Research exhibition that was held in 2014, which presented work of 16 PhD students and two members of staff, the idea for this seminar was again to acknowledge the diversity of research practices but also the fact that a written component must be submitted for all examined research, whether practice-based or not. As the rationale for Practices of Research put it:

Studio-based researchers in art and design work alongside those engaged in humanities and social science research, covering areas of art history, critical theory and curatorial practice, as well as the management and marketing of advertising, design, media, fashion, textiles and luxury branding. All researchers at the School are engaged in the critical making of new knowledge: each moving in and out of complex and disciplined modes of activity. Whether it is reading, writing, looking, making, coding, speaking, recording, and much else besides, each are forms of imaginative and critical engagement, developed and extended within the context of a collaborative and inter-disciplinary research community.

As a form of writing retreat, the primary aim of Writing as Making was to provide dedicated time to write, but also to share in the act of writing, and as such to reflect critically on various strategies. There were three main interventions. Firstly, all participants were asked to consider how at sentence level they pursue a form of critical writing. A simple technique used in schools known as PEA or PEE (Point, Evidence, Analysis, or Explanation) was put before everyone, in effect as a provocation, to question how both arguments and analysis are drawn out from the materials we are citing and synthesising. Like the writing through a stick of rock, are the points we wish to make working their way through each and every sentence. Is there an underlying coherence to our work?

A second intervention was a typewriter. This was placed in the room on its own desk, with all participants encourage to take ‘time-out’ from their own work to experiment with this now defunct tool for writing and printing. As Friedrich Kittler suggests, ‘[r]eading functions as hallucinating a meaning between letters and lines’, and as corollary to which the medium through which we write effects how we think (or ‘hallucinate’). According to Kittler, when philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche turned to using the typewriter his prose ‘changed from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style’. Part of the change in style reflects the practicalities of using the device. As Emden suggests, Nietzsche found using the typewriter ‘more difficult than the piano, and long sentences were not much of an option’. With Nietzsche’s eyesight failing, the ability to ‘feel’ his way through writing was appealing, but arguably the technology then has a profound impact on the status and nature of his philosophising. As Kittler writes:

Neitzsche’s reasons for purchasing a typewriter were very different from those of his colleagues who wrote for entertainment purposes, such as Twain, Lindau, Amytor, Hart, Nansen, and so on. They all counted on increased speed and textual mass production; the half-blind, by contrast, turned from philosophy to literature, from rereasing to a pure, blind, and intransitive act of writing.

Quite aside from any romance we might now associate with the typewriter – as a signifier of a golden age of modernist writing and criticism – the clatter of the machine proved too much for some of the seminar participants. While individuals became quite engrossed in typing, the thud thud of the device meant others buried themselves in their headphones to listen privately to music as they worked.

The ambivalence of the typewriter in the room (and the wild sheets of paper that came out of it) relates well to the writer, Walter Benjamin, who became the third intervention for the seminar. In his One Way Street, published in 1928, Benjamin argues, in a section titled ‘Teaching Aid’, that the typewriter ‘will alienate the hand of the man of letters from the pen only when the precision of typographic forms has directly entered the conception of his books. One might suppose that new systems with more variable typefaces would then be needed. They will replace the pliancy of the hand with the innervation of commanding fingers.’ However, it is in the section shortly after this, ‘Post No Bills’, that gave impetus for a collaborative outcome of the seminar. In this section, Benjamin offers ‘The Writer’s Technique in Thirteen Theses’. All participants were invited to contribute an entry for a new version, or re-making of this text. What emerged was a highly eclectic set of thoughts and missives. Of course, unlike the authoritative (even pompous) voice of single author, as in the case of Benjamin, the new text presents a much more heterogenous and fragmentary set of voices. It is also a much more immediate text, like a diary digest of the two day seminar marked out as concrete poetry, and which in fact we did choose (against Benjamin’s wishes?) to display as a bill poster for the Re: Making exhibition. Click on the image image to download a PDF version of the wall poster. As a document it quickly reveals writing as practice, as a working and re-working of texts in pursuit of new thoughts, images and confluences

 

 

 

References

Benjamin, W (1997) One-Way Street, trans. by Edmund Jephcott and Kingsley Shorter. Verso.

Emden, C. (2005) Nietzsche On Language, Consciousness, And The Body. University of Illinois Press.

Kittler, F. A. (1999) Gramophone, Film, Typewriter trans. by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young and Michael Wutz. Standford University Press

 

Return to Re: Making

Re: Making

Re: Making
L4 Gallery, Southampton
13 February to 8 March, 2016

‘…what of the artists, the makers, how do they make decisions? …now an artist is as likely to atomise or extrude or draw, print, wear or perform with objects as part of an adaptable practice. And since art has been transformed into aesthetic communication it is no longer traditions but messages that count…’ – Ian Dawson, Making Contemporary Sculpture, 2012, p.9

‘I don’t think it makes sense to untangle the picture (as material) from the image (as immaterial). […] Somehow we get snagged by a desire, an objet petit ‘an’, to theorise the image as a singularity, rather than reimagining and enacting theory around its multiplicity.’ – Sunil Manghani, ‘Images: An Imaginary Problem’, 2011, p.228.

This exhibition documents three PhD seminars that each ran between 2-3 days at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton. Underlying Re:Making is a consideration of what it means to make and re-make ideas, objects and processes. Each seminar centred around key prompts or challenges for collaborative engagement, but without necessarily stipulating required outcomes. Instead the sessions were intended as a open spaces to explore and experiment. Working together we can observe and draw upon the range of decisions we each seem to make intuitively as we approach the ‘research’ in hand. In part a response to Ian Dawson’s suggestion from a previous seminar, the aim was to work together, and intensively, to question what it is we do and think when making, writing and researching. Taken as a whole, Re: Making asserts we might need to make before we think as much as we think before we make.

Prompts were provided to explore different modalities of making as follows:

  • Reading Room was the re-creation of an exhibition of artists’ books that had originally shown in India. The artworks were brought into dialogue with the School’s own collection so reframing and re-tracing thoughts, beliefs and emotions within the boundaries of a book and the cultures in which they circulate. In this case a 3-day seminar ran between Wednesday 28 and Friday 30 October 2015, with the Private View of the exhibition held in the evening of the final day. See more…
  • Plastic Surgery (held on Tuesday 10 and Wednesday 11 November 2015) took two icons of ‘plastic pop’, Michael Jackson and Kylie Minogue, as ‘models’ to explore simultaneously both physical 3D rendering processes and conceptual understandings of plasticity as evoked by the fine arts and cultural critique. Taken together, Re: Making asserts we might need to make before we think as much as we think before we make. See more…
  • Writing as Making was a study retreat for dedicated time to write, to share in the act of writing, and to reflect critically on various strategies. The seminar was held on Wednesday 9 and Thursday 10 December 2015. One outcome was a re-making of Walter Benajmin’s ‘The Writer’s Technique in Thirteen Theses’, which quickly reveals writing as practice, as a working and re-working of texts in pursuit of new thoughts, images and confluences. See more…

Of related interest, see also:

  • Drawing Together  – a participatory outdoor drawing event, co-orangised by Cheng-Chu Weng and Sunil Manghani. The event was held on Saturday 17 October 2015, 11am – 1pm at the Discovery Centre, in Winchester and was part of the wider programming for 10 Days, Winchester’s  biennial, interdisciplinary, arts festival. Through the medium of chalk and shadows Drawing Together sought to bring people together in a shared act of drawing. Visitors to the Discovery Centre were invited to draw together as a means to draw each other together if only fleetingly, just as our shadows are mere fleeting images of ourselves. See More…
  • Practices of Research – as a precursor to the Re: Making seminars, a collaborative exhibition, Image-Text-Object: Practices of Research, was held at the L4 Gallery in early 2014. The exhibition presented the work of 16 PhD students and two members of staff from Winchester School of Art (WSA). Taken together the works offered a series of images, texts and objects, helping to think about different ways of seeing, thinking, writing and making. See More…

Inner Colonization

Abelardo G. Fournier is a PhD candidate at Winchester School of Art. His practice-based research speculates with the notion of a digital colonization of the visual, both by machine vision systems and the industrial coating of visible surfaces. In this post he reviews “Inner Colonization”, the project developed during a 6-week residency in Matadero Center of Art in Madrid and the resulting exhibition with the rest of the selected artists from Spain, Korea and Japan.

In a large old industrial slaughterhouse area transformed into a cultural center, last November I participated as an artist in residence in the program El Ranchito, supported by Matadero Center of Arts and AECID. There, eight artists and collectives from Spain, Korea and Japan, selected from an open call, shared studio space to elaborate our projects and to prepare a collective exhibition of the results.

Inner Colonization, a project belonging to the practice-based research I’m elaborating at WSA, has dealt with the operations of the Spanish National Institute of Colonization during the 1939-1973 years as part of Franco’s dictatorship reforms. During three decades, this institution transformed enormous extensions of Spanish land in search of productivity, demographic growth as well as ideological control. Linked to the so-called “Green Revolution”, it involved the engineering of large-scale water infrastructures, big movements of population and a centralized management of the information gathered in the continuous monitoring of the process. This inner colonization, as it was called by the Administration, has been one of the most ambitious reforms in the recent economic history of Spain, and completely changed, as a result, the face of its rural landscape.

Frontpages of an annual publication devoted to the colonization

Interestingly, this technification, exploitation and population of large extensions of land coincided with the first series of aerial orthophotographic pictures mapping the whole Spanish territory. The same land that, on the one hand, was being measured and parceled, was on the other hand being photographed frame by frame by fleets of aircrafts. Although the resulting images where not used as widely as contemporary satellite ones nowadays, the aerial point of view pervaded the illustrated documents and the audiovisual films that publicised the reform. Seen from above, any of these transformed territories appears today as a huge green stain surrounded by wasteland: its industrial scale becomes visible, once the workers, their tools and homes have been made imperceptible. It is a vertical perspective, using Hito Steyerl words, complementary to the engineering of the soil, that completes the assimilation of land into the circuits of abstract economy.

Aerial photography, 1956 and 2014. Left: Vegaviana, a settlers’ town founded in 1955; right: colonization at the Borbollón dam (software reconstruction). Source of the image tiles: Spanish National Geographic Institute (IGN).

During the residency in El Ranchito, I’ve proposed a speculative parallelism between the actions of the Institute of Colonization and the transformations operated by the digital industries nowadays. Under the gaze of machine vision systems, land was populated by settlers with a “Terms of Service” type of contract and tightly controlled by State officials, just as social media networks are, today, populated by TOS regulated users and monitored by corporate databases. As two processes that have transformed the ways we relate to the surfaces of the world, the project has emphasized in particular the extractive relation with the terrain itself they also share: the soil, its variability and its becoming something to be pictured and measured in order to be capitalized. To do this, I have developed a set of specific measuring devices designed to approach those terrains as media to be read or, more accurately, decoded. Lengths, frequencies and computer vision techniques, together with a deciphering algorithm, have been put together to playfully establish a relation between stones and words, between any particular terrain and any chosen book.

Details of the installation
Details of the installation

“But it is not an alphabet, it is a pattern without a message” (Caillois, 1985, p.70). A sequence of selected pages of Roger Caillois’ book The Writing of Stones is shown in a screen inside a display cabinet table, together with the measuring instruments, the stones and other documents and videos. The cabinet is surrounded by other displays -several screen monitors, a vertical panel and a plinth- containing other pieces that have been elaborated for the project.

In the exhibition space, the installation unfolds as a still lab, an aggregation of pieces and fragments documenting a process of research and conversation. Three of them, additionally, have been elaborated by three different artists invited to contribute with a specific work: José OteroSandra Santana and María Andueza. The nature of the actions of the Institute, its archives together with the nuances of the name given by the Government to the process, inner colonization, suggested and stimulated a collective approach, open to a variety of voices and actions.

Pieces by María Andueza, Sandra Santana and José Otero, specifically produced as contributions to the project
Pieces by María Andueza, Sandra Santana and José Otero, specifically produced as contributions to the project

The exhibition was open to the public in Matadero until the 10th of January. It also included work produced by Gun-hee Kim and Part-Time Suite from Korea; Nobuaki Itoh and Maiko Jinushi from Japan; and Helena Grande, Jonathan Notario and Alejandra Pombo from Spain.

Top image courtesy of José Otero.

 

References

Hito Steyerl, In free fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective http://www.e-flux.com/journal/in-free-fall-a-thought-experiment-on-vertical-perspective/ . Accessed: 20-12-2015

Roger Caillois (1985) The Writing of Stones. University Press of Virginia.

Analogue Audience/Digital Interfaces

Shwetal A. Patel is a PhD student at Winchester School of Art and a founding member of Kochi-Muziris Biennale. As a founding member of KMB, Patel took a wide ranging role, which involved  research and national and international advocacy duties, including a key initiative between Google Art Project and KMB to bring the biennial experience to internet audiences globally. In this post, Shwetal provides an overview of ‘Analogue Audiences / Digital Interfaces’, a symposium he organised for WSA examining contemporary audiences in the context of galleries and museums. The symposium was held on the 24th November 2015, at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London.

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On an overcast drizzly Tuesday afternoon, high up in the Wren Room of the RIBA building in central London, a group of scholars, artists and experts gathered to participate in a symposium titled ‘Analogue Audience / Digital Interfaces‘ in an attempt to better understand our current digitally driven age. Our world today is increasingly one of hyper digital interaction in every conceivable sphere of society. We use our phones, our computers, our tablets, for almost all activities, and technology has become an intractable part of our daily lives. Projections for the numbers of people online are set to grow almost exponentially in the coming decade and there are even plans afoot to provide internet access to the most rural and improvised parts of the globe.
 
The effect that this might have on art, its production and its appreciation, is something we are only beginning to understand. In order to examine these issue more closely, faculty from Winchester School of Art (WSA) and I gathered some of the most accomplished thinkers and practitioners in this area. Participating WSA faculty included Head of Research, Professor Ryan Bishop, Head of School, Dr. Robert D’Souza, Reader in Critical and Cultural Theory, Dr. Sunil Manghani and the school’s Winchester Gallery curator, August Davis. Invited participants included curator, Hannah Redler, Head of Programmes and Operations at Sedition, Ashley Wong, Programme Manager at Google Cultural Institute, James Davis, artist and poet Robert Montgomery and Tate Modern Director, Chris Dercon.

‘Analogue Audience/Digital Interfaces’ was an attempt by us to discover something of the nature of the consumption, appreciation and understanding of artworks and how this is changed when a digital interface is interposed between artwork and viewer. Our collective intention was to explore the notion of the ever increasing digitisation and dissemination of art in the internet era, and also to explore philosophical and ideological issues and use this as the beginning for a larger discussion of our age. The selection of the speakers and moderators was made so as not to distil pre conceived notions or provide neat  ‘take aways’, but rather to gather a diverse range of voices that could set up important questions and examples of what was going on in the field. Following a brief introduction by myself, Ryan Bishop lay some of the theoretical groundwork for the symposium including the notion that interfaces can be simultaneously productive, alienating and liberating and that machines were increasingly speaking directly to other machines in the current phase of technological advancement. 

The first speaker in the symposium was Hannah Redler, an independent curator talked about a recent project curated by Lucy Dusgate for which Hannah selected key works as one of 5 guest curators. The show, titled Right Here Right Now, is an exhibition of contemporary art engaged in digital culture (Right Here Right Now is open at the Lowry until February 2016). Hannah is also the Open Data Institute Associate Curator, and a consultant art curator for the Institute of Physics where she recently co-curated an events series for Tate Modern titled ‘Light and Dark Matters’, with Tate and IOP programming teams Hannah brought a wealth of experience of working with artists who are using technology and digital strategies in interesting and unique ways.
 
Ashley Wong, Head of Programmes and Operations at Sedition – a leading online platform for artists to distribute work as digital limited editions for digital TV’s, smartphones, screens & tablets – discussed Sedition as a commercial platform for emerging and established artists. Artists Sedition currently offer on their platform include blue chip figures Bill Viola, Tracy Emin, Damien Hirst, Elmgreen & Dragset, Jake & Dinos Chapman and filmmaker Wim Wenders amongst nearly 100 others. During her presentation she explored several examples of artist practices who are engaging audiences in different ways with technology in their work whilst also discussing the interdependent relationship between the digital and physical in the post-digital age.
 
Robert Montgomery is a London-based, Scottish artist. He occupies a precarious space between street art and academia. His simple, graphic poems have been plastered, often illegally, over advertisements and billboards internationally, as well as being available (copyright free) over the internet. Montgomery was initially inspired by the graffiti artists of East London, the poetry of Philip Larkin, the philosophy of Guy Debord, and the French student protesters of May 1968. Montgomery became interested in the Situationist tradition while following the writing of Roland Barthes and Jean Baudrillard during his time at Edinburgh College of Art in the early 1990’s.
 
During his presentation Montgomery gave an example of a 22-year-old from Culver City who tattooed one of his poems on her arms and later emailed him the image through social media. His studio has since followed how the poems he writes get posted by people on Twitter /Facebook/ Pintrest/ Instagram etc and how his poem ‘The People You Love Become Ghosts Inside Of You And Like This You Keep Them Alive’ travels out into various communities of people beyond the contemporary art audience and gets used in sometimes unusual and expected ways. Montgomery also challenged the Benjaminian notion that the aura of an art work is diminished upon reproduction. Rather the artist felt that the internet was liberating his poetry and allowed him to disseminate his work to previously inaccessible audiences and engage in a dialogue with the public, suggesting that the internet was ‘like a democratic postcard’.
 
James Davis, Programme Manager at Google Cultural Institute presented Google’s ground breaking non-profit initiative, Google Art Project, as an online platform through which the public can access high-resolution images of artworks housed in partner museums and institutions, which currently number over 900 internationally. The fast expanding platform enables users to virtually tour partner museums’ galleries, explore physical space and monuments and research contextual information about artworks, and compile their own virtual collections as well as visit historical and archaeological wonders of the world. By using an internet connected webpage, he showed the audience the “walk-through” feature of the project which uses Google’s Street View and Gigapixel technology. Davis largely repeated the stated Google’s position/s and heralded the technology and platform as one that essentially provides “access to art and culture to anyone with an internet connection”. Google is one of the worlds most sophisticated and influential technology companies whose primary mission is to “organise the worlds information” though Google strongly believes in the potential of universal access to cultural production. 
 
To close the symposium, Chris Dercon, Director of Tate Modern was in conversation with Ryan Bishop and their free-form discussion expanded on some of the Tate’s Digital initiatives as well as personal insights into running a museum the size of Tate Modern in the digital age. Tate believes that digital media is an important channel for inspiring, challenging and engaging with local, national and international audiences. A useful insight garnered from Tate’s own research showed that 42% of visitors stated that they came to Tate to experience ‘encounters’, this was an interesting learning which illustrated how people are seemingly desirous of experiences and encounters which public spaces can provide in the digital age. Interestingly, 47% of visitors to the Tate website sited ‘research’ purposes as a reason for visiting the site. Dercon also mentioned that although their current Alexander Calder exhibition had received rave reviews from the art and mainstream press and that social media activity had been extremely high, the opening week attendance had been unusually low. This went against the idea that popularity on the web leads to greater footfall at exhibitions and he stated that Tate were currently analysing this phenomenon further to understand why. Despite substantial digital investment Dercon felt that it was still not possible to effectively translate theatre and museum experiences online.
 
As a result of the symposium there is now a platform of views and ideas to build upon, and a chance to open the discussion to audiences and scholars through the internet. The entire event is being transcribed from 3hrs and 42 mins of audio (links to be provided soon). This, it is hoped, will lead to new questions and possibly some conclusions emerging in the future. After the event, I said, ‘I feel this area is very fast moving and we are kind of guinea pigs of the digital revolution. Tech companies, artists, institutions and audiences are still feeling their way through the many changes and opportunities and it will take some time for the ground to settle and for concrete conclusions to be drawn. The lens of time and history will help.’ I hope many more people can join this discussion over the coming months as the topic broadens.
 
 
See also: Analogue Audience / Digital Interfaces [Programme Notes]

Image:
The Portrait of Sakıp Sabancı (2014) by Kütlag Ataman at the Sabanci Museum. Photo: Shwetal A. Patel.


While in Tokyo…

Stephen Cornford is a PhD candidate at Winchester School of Art. His fine art practice-based research explores the materialities of residual media. In this blog post he reports on a recent commission for the Ftarri Festival in Tokyo, along with a further installation, Migration, and a CD, Kinetic Sculptures.

For the 2015 Ftarri Festival in Tokyo I was commissioned to make a new work to be performed by myself, long-term collaborator Patrick Farmer and a Japanese musician Madoka Kuono. My response to the commission was to produce a three-screen 16mm performance titled Digital Audio Film. The central concept of the work was the exposure of analogue film to the laser of a CD player – film emulsion being sensitive to radiation wavelengths far beyond the abilities of human sight. The work brings a technology for the reproduction of digital audio into dialogue with a moving image technology, allowing them to re-interpret one another. A machine intended to reproduce sound becomes a producer of images. This work was performed at SuperDeluxe on Sunday November 22nd with the help of Japanese filmmaker Shinkan Tamaki who leant me his projectors and provided technical support throughout the day.


After receiving the invitation I also managed to arrange an exhibition at a small independent art space, Gallery 20202 run by Yukari Fujimoto ex-promoter of Off Site, a performance space for experimental music now considered instrumental in the emergence of Onkyô. The work exhibited here titled Migration, is an installation for numerous factory-second dictaphones which modifies their mechanics and electronics to produce an audio-visual effect reminiscent of the massed migrations of birds or insects. In doing so the work draws a parallel between this organic seasonal process and the global shipping of electronics as they move through our economy from production to their inevitable end as pollutants.

Coinciding with this exhibition was the release of a new CD titled Kinetic Sculptures on the vlzprodukt label. This CD collects together works from 2006 to 2010 the majority of which were made during my MA at Dartington College of Arts.

While in Tokyo I also performed twice in collaboration with other musicians invited to the festival. On Saturday 21st I played a trio with Makoto Oshiro and Matija Schellander which took and saw us placing sound objects all over the venue in a performance which deliberately dispersed the traditional focus of attention on the stage space. I worked with 10 modified Dictaphones and a turntable placing these chirruping devices among the audience, at the bar and on the PA, while Matija walked in circles around his double bass, plucking a rod inserted between its strings and Makoto placed home-made vibrating devices and alarm clocks throughout the space and then preceded to set off firecrackers in the toilets. Finally on the Monday after the festival I performed a duo with British harpist Rhodri Davies at a local record store.

Throughout the week I was taken aback by the generosity and hospitality of the Japanese. During the installation of the exhibition and following the opening I was treated to several traditional Japanese meals at local restaurants, including one evening meal of almost a dozen small courses, each served on its own specific crockery. A wonderful week and I very much look forward to returning to Tokyo in the not-too-distant future.

 

To see more of Stephen Cornford’s work visit: http://www.scrawn.co.uk

Drawing Together

Cheng-Chu Weng is a PhD candidate at Winchester School of Art, undertaking studio-based research concerned with shadows, the body and space. In this post she recounts her undertaking of an outdoor participatory drawing event, Drawing Together, which was part of 10 Days 2015 CHALK, Winchester’s biennial, interdisciplinary, arts festival.

Drawing Together was devised as a participatory outdoor drawing event. Co-orangised by Cheng-Chu Weng and Sunil Manghani, the event was held on Saturday 17 October 2015, 11am – 1pm at the Discovery Centre, in Winchester. The event was part of the wider programming for 10 Days, Winchester’s  biennial, interdisciplinary, arts festival. The event was advertised as follows:

Through the medium of chalk and shadows Drawing Together brings people together in a shared act of drawing. Visitors to the Discovery Centre are invited to draw together as a means to draw ourselves together if only fleetingly, just as our shadows are mere fleeting images of ourselves. This act of drawing upon the ground of the city in which we live and work is intended to mark a temporary reflection of ourselves as individuals and as a community.

The theme of the biennale was ‘chalk’. Thus, Drawing Together sought to make explicit use of chalk as its medium, along with shadows. The drawing of shadows, which are fleeting, ephemeral phenomena also relate to the ethereal mists of Winchester, borne of its chalk geology.

As an artist living in Winchester city, my aim was to engage with local people, beyond my studio at the School. My fine art practice begins in painting, but has now developed through installation works. I explore phenomenological readings of vision as embodied space: How people look, feel, and experience not just things, but emotions and memories. The phenomenon of the shadow is central to my practice, as it evokes questions about how we define the boundaries of our bodies and identities. What, for example, do we claim to be inside and outside of an outline? In Drawing Together, my aim was to  invite, demonstrate and direct people to mark out their shadows with chalk. This act of drawing upon the ‘ground’ of the city itself in which we live was intended to mark a temporary reflection of ourselves as individuals and as a community. (The plan was hold the event on the paved area immediately in front of the Centre’s entrance, but the weather was in fact quite poor, particularly the light levels on the day, which hampered the aim to draw shadows from natural light. We managed a short period outside, but in the main we had to move inside the Discovery Centre and work with artificial lighting).

Photograph: Ruby Chan

The process of engaging with local people through using chalks, lights and shadows prompted the action of tracing shadows. The following rubric was provided:

  1. Use chalk provided to trace the outline of the shadows of people around you as they form on the paved area outside of the Discovery Centre. Feel free to trace as many shadows as you like and do not worry about lines overlapping.
  2. Provide your name and address to the event organizers if you wish to receive a postcard of the finished work.
  3. Please feel free to post your own photos and videos of the drawing as it develops. Use hashtag #chalkshadows for Twitter and Instagram and/or post comments to the Facebook

Projects and artworks with a social dimension at their core have become increasingly common. However, any social artwork reveals not just collaborative efforts, but also what it means to be individual within a group. Drawing Together similarly played with the boundary between individual and collective. However, as a convenor of the project, what was particularly revealing was how the process of persuading visitors to draw shadow and make marks is not an easy job. It requires a good deal of skill in communication. This was a challenge for me. I am used to producing works individually, working in the studio environment which is tailored to making. In this environment there is a form of internal dialogue. It is a matter of experiencing objects as a form of non-verbal communication. Thus, aside from the event happening on the day, the underlying challenge to running a social community-orientated project – even one that on the surface seems very simple – is the lengthy process of organising and communicating with collaborators and the festival organisers. As a maker, I realise this is equally a part of making the ‘work’. However, it is really the participants on the day who bring the work into being. Once people have been invited to act, the situation changes; everyone can become an artist, as befits Joseph Beuys’ concept of Social sculpture. In this case, it was interesting to note, when comparing the two drawing surfaces, the pavement (outside of the Discovery Centre) and the boards (inside of the Discovery Centre), people found it much easier to be persuaded to draw on the pavement. There is a practical reason perhaps, since they do not need to take off shoes and need not worry about making a mess. To mark a person’s shadow on the pavement is more straightforward, and may even draw upon the participant’s memories of playing on the pavement, such as marking out hopscotch in a school playground etc.

The use of social media was suggested to participants, to allow the project to engage not just materially but also virtually. Images circulated on the day, and the final collaborative ‘drawing’ from the day was photographed and printed in a limited set of postcards (and sent out to all those who participated). However, the relationship between the participants, object (chalk) and surface or support (the ground, drawing boards) was the real ‘event’ of the project. Here we might think of Martin Heidegger’s concept of intentionality, the idea of the object within the subject intention, as Joel Smith explains: ‘Equipment is ready-to-hand, and this means that it is ready to usehandy, or available. The readiness-to-hand of equipment is its manipulability in our dealings with it’ (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

Drawing Together, in the end, was about the experience of the body – and indeed bodies – in using chalk as a means to trace our shadows. Ultimately this is an impossible task, but one we feel is nonetheless ‘ready to hand’. It was heartening to see people spent time to engage with the project. I am grateful to my collaborator, Sunil Manghani, and the Biennale organisers, Sophie and Jane, for helping to make Drawing Together happen. A big thanks also to Elham, Sarvenaz, Ruby and James for helping out on the day.

See also Re: Making

 

The Image of the Network

Yigit Soncul is a PhD Candidate at Winchester School of Art, working on a research project under the title of Contagious and Immunogenic Images of the Network. Working with Prof. Jussi Parikka, he has helped establish a research lab, Design and Media Ecologies, which brings together staff and students from across the school. In this post, he reports on the inaugural symposium of the lab, which he co-covenened. 

 

The Image of the Network was a one day symposium, held at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton (WSA) on June 16, 2015. The event, which was generously funded by postgraduate research funds of the school, also marked the initiation of the new conceptual/creative lab of WSA, Design and Media Ecologies a platform that engages with media theory and design. In this event we aimed to explore the intersections of aesthetics, politics and technology. Five presentations of the day ventured into an area upon which visual and network cultures overlap, whilst maintaining an overtly political/critical perspective. Although the event was open to public and those affiliated with the university on any level, WSA PhD students were assigned a collection of readings pertaining to the topics prior to date—hence, rendering the event, for them, an intensive workshop mapping aforementioned domains of enquiry. These texts included primary literature from French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and German art historian Hans Belting, along with titles from the speakers; Olga Goriunova, Tony D. Sampson and Jussi Parikka.

After the welcoming remarks by myself and Jussi Parikka , the day started with Dr. Tony D. Sampson’s presentation, “Waking the Somnambulist: The Capture of Affect, Attention and Memory (and Why We Need New Weapons to Stop it).” Sampson works as Reader in Digital Culture and Communications at University of East London and is one of the scholars responsible for a recently vitalised interest in the oeuvre of late 19th, early 20th century sociologist Gabriel Tarde. His book, Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (2012), offers a refreshing take on Tardean contagion theory in relation to the contemporary technological-aesthetic condition. His focus on the day was the figure of the somnambulist(sleepwalker), which was utilised to elucidate the mode in which the contemporary subject navigates networked environments. Sampson was particularly careful in avoiding an approach that is based on a nature-culture divide, throughout his discussion on how networks mobilise life.

The second presentation of the day was delivered by Dr. Olga Goriunova, Senior Lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London, with the title “Digital Subjects: On Persons and Singularity in Calculative Infrastructures.” Goriunova has published extensively in areas such as digital art and software studies, visual culture and aesthetics, and computational culture. She is the author of Art Platforms and Cultural Production on the Internet (2012) and editor of Fun and Software: Exploring Pain, Pleasure and Paradox in Computing (2014) among other academic literature. Goriunova’s approach during the talk was characterised by a refusal of online/offline binary. Instead she tackled the entanglement of these by employing a continuous model of subjectivity in the digital age. Goriunova does not search for digital subjectivities through venturing into what can be called as surveillance cultures. Rather, she explores the space between embodied beings and the data produced through their being in the world, to locate such digital subjectivities.

Following the presentations by guest speakers in the morning, the afternoon session continued with shorter talks by scholars from WSA. Dr. Jussi Parikka, who is Professor in Technological Culture and Aesthetics delivered a paper entitled “Smart Cities, Networks and the Industrial Residual.” Parikka has completed his media ecology trilogy in 2015 with the book A Geology of Media. His paper also employed a media ecological approach to the concept of “smart city” which emphasised the materiality of networked condition. Parikka explored the image of the city through the concept of network, alongside underlining contemporary cities as censored assemblages.

After Parikka, I presented a short paper, based on my PhD project, “Contagious and Immunogenic Images of the Network.” In parallel with the project, the paper discussed the prevalence of the image of the mask in present screen cultures through contagion theory and problematised the immunising qualities of its embodiments by organic and inorganic media alike. Dr. Jane Birkin, a PhD candidate at the time of the event, delivered the last talk of the day: “Keeping Time: Archive as Secure Back-up for the Networked Image.” Archival and distributed nature of the current temporal, textual and visual regimes were aptly woven by Birkin in her discussion of the networked image. The day ended with an hour long discussion session with all five speakers and the audience, chaired by Prof. Ryan Bishop from WSA.

Reading Room: Leaves, Threads and Traces

Reading Room: Leaves, Threads and Traces
Winchester School of Art Gallery
Tuesday, 2 November – Saturday, 7 November 2015,

The exhibition brings book art, originally shown at the Colombo Art Biennale (Sri Lanka) and Kochi-Muziris Biennale (India), into dialogue with a selection from the Artists’ Book Collection held at  the Winchester School of Art Library, which comprises book art from the 1960s to the present day.

In placing items from the School’s own collection alongside the visiting collection of book art from South Asia, the themes of leaves, threads and traces are explored. It brings to the fore both the physicality of books – their material properties and relationship to material culture – and an imagination of books. This edition of Reading Room opens up how we interleave, draw together and re-trace thoughts, beliefs and emotions within the boundaries of a book and the cultures in which they circulate.

The exhibition has been made possible through the support of Blueprint 12 and Winchester School of Art.

Community Media, Cultural Politics & the Greater London Council, 1981-1986

Hazel Atashroo’s doctoral research project is the product of an AHRC supported Collaborative Doctoral Award between Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton and Tate, entitled ‘Connected Communities in Art and Design since the 1980s’. This is part of a four-PhD research project, and follows on from Oliver Peterson Gilbert’s study of connected communities in art and design since the 1960s.  In the first year of her project, Hazel assisted on the exhibition ‘Keywords: Art, Culture and Society in 1980s Britain’ (2014) at Tate Liverpool, and conducted an in-depth visitor survey and report.  The subject of her thesis was tangentially prompted by aspects of the Keywords exhibition’s video selection, in addition to a curiosity about the development since the 1980s of the rhetoric of ‘community’ as it appears in discourses of governance and in public museums.  These interests led her to discover the radical and controversial community-targeted cultural policies enacted by the Labour Greater London Council (GLC) during its final term in office. The following article offers an overview of her research to date.

Ken Livingstone and actor Maureen Lipman, posing in front of a walk-in birthday cake structure on the South Bank. It was commissioned by the GLC in 1984, as part of an exhibition to celebrate 95 years of local government in London, by the London History Workshop. (Image Source: <http://www.tvcream.co.uk/?tag=ken-livingstone> accessed 10.09.2015)

‘We will use expenditure on the Arts not to provide the icing on the cake, but as a part of the political ingredient of that cake… I want to see the arts integrated into socialist policy.’ Tony Banks, (Chair of the GLC Arts and Recreation Committee) (Sunday Times, 17th May 1981).

In April 1981, Ken Livingstone’s Labour left group, a post-1968 generation of young politicians, gained control of the Greater London Council (GLC), placing reform firmly on the agenda. The GLC was London’s metropolitan county council, the upper-tier of local government for the Greater London area. Occupying an oppositional stance towards the policies of Thatcher’s New Right in central government, the Labour GLC was able to initiate a number of radical reforms in its brief term in office, prior to the abolition of metropolitan county councils by the Conservatives in April 1986.

In the cultural field, the GLC’s experimental reform of cultural sponsorship objectives and new ‘cultural industries’ strategy particularly targeted the independent and voluntary sectors, also aiming to address the needs of frequently overlooked, socially diverse, multi-cultural inhabitants of the inner London boroughs. The experiments represent an early, rare instance of a UK local government body taking a serious interest in the political potential of cultural policy, in which distinct approaches were pursued across different departments, with varying levels of success.

Tony Banks’ GLC Arts and Recreation Committee were able to embrace a far broader, and more politicised definition of culture in comparison to the Arts Council, and over five years, it supported a wide range of cultural forms, beyond the major London theatre and ballet companies. These included community arts centres specifically for black and minority ethnic groups or for gay and lesbian Londoners, popular music projects for young people, women’s video workshops, a festival of world cinema, art exhibitions and cultural projects by Black artists, independent theatre groups, local history and literature workshops, community bookshops, a programme of public festivals in parks, and even sports facilities.

Cultural sponsorship frequently tied into GLC public campaign issues, particularly those against unemployment, ‘race’, sex and gender discrimination, the controversial redevelopment of what came to be known as London’s Docklands, and matters of civil defence – often contradicting central government policy.

One of the GLC’s many responsibilities included planning for the consequences of a nuclear attack on London, in co-operation with central government. The exposure of classified civil defence plans revealed the truth about the devastating effects of a nuclear attack, thereby rendering the advice of the government’s infamous 1980 public information booklet, Protect and Survive, a wholly inadequate response to the threat.

Livingstone’s Labour GLC chose not to co-operate with the Conservative government’s plans to abandon Londoners in the event of a nuclear attack, and instead transferred funds for war preparations to a GLC campaign for unilateral nuclear disarmament, thereby aligning the GLC with the CND and women’s peace camp at Greenham Common. Declaring 1983 ‘GLC Peace Year’, Livingstone announced that London was to become a ‘Nuclear-Free zone’.

Peter Kennard, ‘Keep London out of the killing ground’, GLC Peace Year poster, 1983.  Photograph by the GLC, collection of the artist.
Peter Kennard, ‘Keep London out of the killing ground’, GLC Peace Year poster, 1983.
Photograph by the GLC, collection of the artist.

Artist Peter Kennard won the ‘pitch’ against advertising agencies to promote GLC Peace Year with a series of arresting photo-montages, placed on public billboards around London. Similar posters were sent out in packs, free of charge to hundreds of community groups and activists, who applied from all over the country.

 

Docklands Community Poster Project, Loraine Leeson and Peter Dunn. The poster reads: ‘The Changing Picture of Docklands: The people of Docklands have always had to fight to make the best of appalling conditions – and to change them’.  Photo-mural on hoarding, Wapping. (Image Source: )
Docklands Community Poster Project, Loraine Leeson and Peter Dunn. The poster reads: ‘The Changing Picture of Docklands: The people of Docklands have always had to fight to make the best of appalling conditions – and to change them’. Photo-mural on hoarding, Wapping. (Image Source: <http://cspace.org.uk/category/archive/docklands-community-poster-project/>)

As well as employing cultural producers directly to promote campaigns, the GLC more frequently left it to organised community groups to pursue their own activism through public cultural projects. Consulting with local tenants action groups, community artist team Loraine Leeson and Peter Dunn facilitated the Docklands Community Poster Project, which sought to amplify the objections of local people to the moneyed might of the encroaching London Docklands Development Corporation in Tower Hamlets. One outcome of the project was a series of photo-murals, communicating the situation to local residents. In another, The People’s Armada To Parliament, a barge hung with banners was sailed past the houses of parliament during ‘GLC Thames Day’ festivities on the South Bank. The project successfully brought the local campaign to national press attention.

I intend for my thesis to provide a critical account of aspects of the community-targeted cultural policies of the Greater London Council (GLC), between 1981-86. It will consider the GLC’s efforts to sponsor politically engaged cultural production by, and for, newly recognised constituencies in London. While written accounts detailing these cultural policies exist, I aim to explore how grants and cultural policies actually played out in London’s cultural field. What did GLC sponsorship mean, for groups of cultural producers who might not have otherwise been funded under the auspices of traditional state sponsorship?

My thesis will focus on case studies of GLC grant-aided public media projects, and what are sometimes referred to as ‘community media’ ‘access workshops’, groups of cultural producers working with video, photography and print media, whose efforts were often directed towards providing communities and local activists with communications media training and resources. The GLC supported more than thirty organisations working in independent film and video production and distribution, in addition to more than ten established community photography workshops, photographic agencies, poster projects and print workshops.

I will use the GLC’s policies, and its records of recipients of GLC support as framework to discuss ‘community media’ activism in London in the 1980s, and more generally, the role of politics in culture and cultural policy.

 

Conversation As a Collaborative Research Method

At the 22nd June meeting of the Phenomenology and Imagination Research Group, Yonat Nitzan-Green led the group through reading and discussing the collaborative research method of conversation, referring to Allan Feldman’s essay ‘Conversation As Methodology In Collaborative Action Research’. Exploring conversation in personal experiences, including kibbutz childhood and way of life; and discussing Georg Gadamer’s concepts of ‘hermeneutic’ and ‘understanding’ as fundamental components in this method; the suggestion was that personal ‘threads’ might enrich the understanding of conversation. This article provides notes drawn from the seminar and commentaries from the participants: Jane Bennett, Bevis Fenner, Yvonne Jones, Yonat Nitzan-Green, Noriko Suzuki-Bosco, Cheng-Chu Weng and Simiao Wang.

Three main texts for the seminar:

  1. Allan Feldman, ‘Conversation As Methodology In Collaborative Action Research’, School of Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA. http://people.umass.edu/~afeldman/ActionResearchPapers/Feldman1999.PDF
  2. Jeff Malpas http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/gadamer/
  3. Ruthellen Josselson, Amia Lieblich, Ruth Sharabany, Hadas Wiseman, Conversation As Method, Analysing the Relational World of People Who Were Raised Communally, Sage Publications, London1997.

 

Yonat Nitzan-Green: Allan Feldman (Professor of Science Education at the University of South Florida) distinguishes between: 1. method and methodology. ‘Research methods are the techniques that are used by researchers. … [Whereas] A research methodology is a stance that a researcher takes towards understanding or explaining the physical or social world.’ (Feldman, 1999). 2. Conversation and other verbal exchange; 3. conversation and argument. ‘… conversation is not a competition … ‘ (Feldman, 1999).

Feldman’s essay gives us an opportunity to critically reflect on our group. Some main purposes of the group are to engage the intellect in order to ‘feed’ our varied art practices; to gain a new understanding through a dialogue between our practices and theory; and to develop the method of conversation as part of PIRG’s methodology.

After a long-term commitment to doctorate research we have identified a ‘gap’: we all needed to carry on researching, however, there was no collective forum that could facilitate this need for us. However, need on its own is not enough to sustain the group. It is the method of conversation that was used from the group’s inception that sustains and nourishes it. Indeed, as Feldman writes: ‘Conversation suggests a connection that is sustained or sustainable and goes beyond chit-chat or chatter.’ (Feldman, 1999).

Amongst the characteristics of conversation is an ‘exchange of views … that consists of connected remarks.’ In the method of presentation the verbal exchange may be illustrated as a ‘star’ (see Fig. 1 below): the presenter shows and explains her/his slides, text or idea and members from the group direct their questions and comments to the presenter; the presenter then replies to the member who made the comment/question. The method of conversation may be illustrated as a web of ‘threads’ (Fig. 2): all connect and intersect each-other, yet capable to produce a coherent form at the end of the conversation.

 

Figure 1 – The Star of Presentation

 

Figure 2 – The Web of Conversation
Figure 2 – The Web of Conversation

Another characteristic of conversation is cooperation and a will to participate. Margaret Buchmann writes: ‘People do not insist that partners follow, it is enough that they enter into conversation. Thus conversation is a great respector of differences.’ (Buchmann, 1983, 21. Quoted in Feldman’s essay). One more characteristic is conversation’s need of time, people and a shared intention.The direction in conversation is not ‘predetermined by one or several of the participants, but rather a direction that arises through and in conversation via a hermeneutical process (Gadamer, 1992), and is associated with the growth of understanding.’ (Feldman, 1999). In our group what was and still is important is that a process of understanding will take place during the conversation.

Jeff Malpas explains Gadamer’s idea as follows:

‘The prejudicial character of understanding means that, whenever we understand, we are involved in a dialogue that encompasses both our own self-understanding and our understanding of the matter at issue. In the dialogue of understanding our prejudices come to the fore, both inasmuch as they play a crucial role in opening up what is to be understood, and inasmuch as they themselves become evident in that process. As our prejudices thereby become apparent to us, so they can also become the focus of questioning in their own turn.’ (From: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/gadamer/).

As an example of Gadamer’s ideas of hermeneutic and understanding Yonat showed her installation Culture of Trauma (2006) that emerged from a dialogue with an old photograph involving materials and text and has led to a deconstruction of her kibbutz childhood experience. ‘No one knows in advance what will “come out” of a conversation. … a conversation has a spirit of its own, and … the language in which it is conducted bears its own truth within it – i.e. … it allows something to “ emerge” which henceforth exists (Gadamer, 1992, 383).’ (A quote from Feldman’s essay). In that sense, conversation is a collaborative phenomenological enquiry. Two questions arise as follows: How does the imagination function within conversation? and, What is the role of the imagination in the process of understanding? This needs a further research.

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Yonat Nitzan-Green: Conversation and kibbutz up-bringing – Ruthellen Josselson et al Conversation as Method is a psychological critique of kibbutz life which was written in a form of conversation, documenting the conversations that took place between four psychologists. As such, it offers insights and a better understanding of one’s own kibbutz psychological history as well as a reflection on the method of conversation. All quotations in this part of the text are from this book.

Kibbutz was (and still is, but to a lesser degree) an Israeli communal way of life (the first kibbutz was established in 1909) where children lived in same age groups, ‘peer-groups’, in ‘children homes’ while their parents lived in ‘parents rooms’ at different parts of the kibbutz. Children were brought up by other adults, and visited their parents everyday for 3 hours in the afternoon, when parents didn’t work. This was considered to be ‘a quality time’. During the day all members of the kibbutz worked in agriculture, services and education, among others. This daily visits involved walking from the ‘children home’ to the ‘parents’ room’, starting at a very young age. One central idea was that the community will replace the nuclear family. It was a very secure and safe environment. However, psychological research, particularly from the past fifteen years reveal a psychological damage in the kibbutz population. The kibbutz system of child raising had changed during the 1980s. Today, children live with their parents.

Since the children lived away from their parents, the process of attachment, theorized by John Bowlby (1969) as the bonding between mother and child has been damaged. Amia Lieblich says: ‘According to Bettelheim (1969), the continuous part is the peers. It is very deep and primitive and primary.’ In the kibbutz system, children moved houses every two years and women who cared for the children changed too. However, the children grew up together and stayed in their original peer groups for 18 years. Ruthellen says: ‘for most people, it’s much more just the sense of being part of this group in an embedded sense, without the feeling that there was an individual who was there who could be counted on to be responsive.’ [My emphasis. YNG].

Ruth says: ‘Embeddedness in the group seems to offer a weaker substitute for attachment to a specific person.’

YNG showed her drawing, Dawn Group (Graphite powder and plastic glue, 2014). A stencil was made from a small toy soldier and was used to create an image of a group.

“During the making of this drawing I became aware that I might be in the presence of my own peer group. I recognized a state of dreaming with material, what Bachelard termed ‘material imagination’. All the images of the ‘people’ are connected, literally, by plastic glue”.

This drawing echoes a memory of being embedded in the peer group, literally called ‘Dawn Group’, without the feeling of real, deep, loving personalized care. One may have a sense of belonging to a group, yet the price is subdued feelings and suppressed emotions. It is in the light of this new understanding that conversation’s role in the peer-group needs to be re-visited and critically reflected upon. More research is needed.

In the chapter entitled ‘Eye to eye validation’ psychologist Ruthellen says: ‘Let’s talk about validation, eye-to-eye validation, with the negative pole being annihilation and rejection, and excess being transparency. … Of all the dimensions, this is where kibbutz members seem to locate the most pain and the most frustration.’

YNG’s Culture of Truama (first example) engaged with the problem of invisibility. Yonat’s face as it appeared in the original photograph had been covered with white paint, then turned into a screen on which images of army signs were projected.

Josselson writes: ‘Psychology understands the self far better than it understands connections between people.’ She makes the point that the professional language (psychology) and language in general is still limited in describing the human experience. ‘We have in our lexicon relatively few words to talk about our vast experience with relationship … Reality … far exceeds what we can express. We simply don’t have enough language to encompass what we know about the nuances of relationship.’

I think about conversation as a method that enables to refresh and perhaps widen language. The communication that takes place during a conversation is more than words. It includes body language (which in books or as text on screens is invisible); feelings, surprise, silences, hesitations, question marks, understanding or lack of it, all ‘written’ and communicated on and between bodies. The conversation reveals processes of thinking, day-dreaming, agreeing or disagreeing, engagement or disengagement and more, which are beyond the written text.

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Cheng-Chu: Interaction process is a task for both peer and educator, it likes person drink tea with a beautiful pottery cup, and others never know the tea taste like until they drink it, of course, you may argue that every have a different sense of taste, yet I believe education is not just deliver knowledge but also create knowledge. The best method of interaction may as Yonat said “[…] the method of conversation has a potential for innovation” [Nitzan-Green, Y. (2015), Conversation as A Collaboration Research Method: P6]. Furthermore, the process of making an artwork could be the process of conversation, how artists communicate with the object.

Thanks for Yonat share the vibrate childhood experience, which contains humanity and political issues. It is hard to imagine that being ‘forcing’ to left parents and family, stay with same ages people. This is the typical case that citizens under the ‘shadow’ of politics. For me, this situation is hard to image, but I assumed that all of us already inform in the society systems unconsciously. Where is nature of a human being? Where is the sense of truth? For Yonat conversation is a method for understand philosophical view, which could be interrupt with others or herself, yet the process of conversation is not contain expression in a group, as she emphasis Ruthellen’s words ‘without the feeling’. This could link with Yvonne’s research of posthuman. Be in the peer-group or societal system people become less humanness. Where is the boundary between self identity and group?

In addition, the idea of visible and invisible could see in Yonat’s account, which could clear see in both context and the practice. The process of mixing the adding on the colour powders and effect of glue transformation fluid to solid state, presenting the phenomenological thinking of embodied in a group, equally, as Merleau-Ponty said: ‘The invisible is there without being an object, it is pure transcendence, without an ontic mask. And the “visible” themselves, in the last analysis, they too are only centered on a uncleus of absence’. Raise the question: the invisible life, the invisible community, the invisible other, the invisible culture. Elaborate a phenomenology of “the other world,” as the limit of a phenomenology of the imaginary and the “hidden” [Quoted by Reading Derrida, J. (1993) Memoirs of Blind: The Self-Portrait and Other Ruins, The University of Chicago Press: London, P52]

Following the above narrative, could describe that, in Yonat’s practice is presenting the invisible life through making, the figure as an icon attached to the nature ground which gave viewers boundless imagination space.

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Noriko Suzuki-Bosco:  Yonat’s session highlighted the gap between theory on conversation (as potential methodology) and real conversation, where even amongst group of children, there was power at play to persuade and control others through talking. As Yonat pointed out, conversation in a theoretical sense is more than mere chit-chat. It involves extended dialogues, interactions, reflections, sensitivity to others and willingness to listen. The process of conversation, in theory, presents possible means of gaining empathetic insight of others.

Art Historian Grant Kester has noted, ‘We can never claim to fully inhabit the other’s subjective position; but we can imagine it, and this imagination, this approximation, can radically alter our sense of who we are. It can become the basis for communication and understanding across differences of race, sexuality, ethnicity, and so on.’ (Grant Kester, Conversation Pieces, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004, p.115).  In ‘Women’s Way of Knowing’, Mary Field Belenky describes ‘connected knowing’ as a form of knowledge based not on counter poised arguments but on a conversational mode, in which the participators work to identify with the perspective of the others (Mary Field Belenky, Blythe McVicker Clinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger and Jill Mattuck Tarule, eds., Women’s Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice and Mind, New York: Basic Books, 1986).

Nikos Papastergiadis references the theory of mediation as potential process of creative production where participators are encouraged to go beyond their own beliefs and participate in a ‘collaborative knowledge-making that is not just the sum of their previous experiences.’ (Nikos Papstergiadis, Cosmopolitanism and Culture, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012, p. 174). He gives an example of an art project initiated by the collective Stalker where refugees at Laviro, a camp just outside Athens, were invited to take part in a ‘picnic’ on the island of Makronisos. Within the spirit of hospitality, everyone taking part in the project were encouraged to converse and to engage in various shared activities. Stalkers project offers an unending experience of a coming community.

The potential significance of conversation is uplifting and there are artists and creative groups who remain deeply committed to the emancipatory potential of art and the possibility of transforming human consciousness through the processes of dialogue and collaborative production. Like the example given earlier of the project initiated by Stalkers, some have produced successful outcomes.

However, it is also incorrect to assume that all social conflicts can be resolved through the power of free and open exchange. This is too idealistic. Kester notes, ’while the idea of an open and equitable dialogue is laudable, we must at the same time recognize that we enter into these exchanges with attitudes that have been shaped by a less-than-perfect world: a world riven by differentials in power, authority, and access to the tools of rational discourse itself’ (Kester, ibid, p. 73).

The durational aspect of conversation and the opportunity to ‘listen’ to others do open up space to imagine and to expand our understanding of others. We must all start from somewhere if we want to work through the complex relationships between empathy and negation, domination and dialogue, self and other. Perhaps conversation is as good as any place to start that process happening.

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Simiao Wang: If we draw a comparison between East and West, Western culture is more like a sound motion picture while Eastern cultural is inclined to be a silent film. The emotional expression becomes a detour in a family discourse and the non-verbal language is widely used in a disciplinary method. In the seminar, we talked about the power-relationship in conversation (even though conversation is not a competition), and I am surprised to listen to Yonat’s experience of conversations in the groups without the control from parental superiority due to the historical circumstance.

The power-relationship in conversation is manifold in the Chinese context; a conversation is surrender to power and a gentle compromise to conflicts in Chinese culture. It is natural to allocate different roles in a successful conversation such as dominant controller, participator or listener, which means, in any case, the roles are not equal. This conversational inequality brought out soldiers’ loyalty to their commander, people’s patriotism for their motherland and furthermore, a compromise to any form of power (political, aesthetical and economical).

However, China has been striving to approach Communism, which demands equality of any power, from property to ideology. History taught us that equality is accompanied by poverty and starvation in 1960s, while capitalistic methods of economy solved poverty in 1979 but China is still exploring equality in the conversation between the government and people.

I could hardly make any judgement on both 1960s ‘good old time’, and the economic boom in 1979, but a good conversation, as Yonat said, is people’s participation and their coherent understanding of one thing. Based on the criteria from Yonat, the conversation in Chinese political strategies seems to be working well although many people still question democracy and human rights in China.

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Jane Bennett – It was so interesting to hear Yonat speak about her upbringing as a child in the kibbutz and how conversation became the way in which decisions were made amongst the children themselves, how constant and competitive conversation was as a way to control and assert one’s position in the group, and how the conflict this engendered was the norm. If I understood correctly, she said it did not feel like a shared space.

Yonat then asked us all to speak about the role conversation plays in our families, when do we converse and how do we listen. It was surprising that much of what followed was about the failure of conversation in various ways. Whilst there appeared to be some cultural differences, in the end there were really many similarities. ‘Major’ conversations in families – as opposed to the casual, everyday exchanges – are frequently staged around the assertion of power, about reaching decisions and trying to control our environments at different levels. Non-verbal communication was just as influential in these exchanges as the verbal.

Looking, then, at conversation as a research method, Yvonne has pointed out, in her response to Yonat’s presentation, that ‘We need to be mindful of infused power, there is trust between us, it is not from others that this infusion could arise, but unconsciously from ourselves.’ (Yvonne Jones 28/06/2015) My curiosity about the phrase ‘infused power’ led me to think that whilst we take conversation almost for granted as something we can all participate in, it can be a bit of a mine field unless we take care how we proceed. Yvonne’s reference to power within our conversations is definitely something of which we should be observant. The importance of symmetrical relationships in conversations and authentic expression is highlighted in L R Beaumont’s concept of emotional intelligence, developed to aid skills in good communication. (http://www.emotionalcompetency.com/candor.htm)

In a paper for the Journal for the Study of Peace and Conflict, Evelin Lindner described how critical a symmetrical relationship is in conversation and how revealing her own history was the only way in which she could achieve this in her social research into such a sensitive and emotive topic as genocide. Writing about her search for a research method for her investigations into native Somalians’ experience of genocide that did not result in further humiliation for them nor for herself as researcher, ‘Dialogue was the answer to my struggle for method. Steinar Kvale writes, “The conversation … is not only a specific empirical method: it also involves a basic mode of constituting knowledge; and the human world is a conversational reality”. I had to enter into dialogue with people who knew much more about the subject I was to examine than me, namely about feelings in genocide, especially feelings of humiliation. I had to consider them as the experts. I had to become more aware of the social relations I actually formed by entering the scene as a researcher.’ (Lindner, Evelin Gerda, 2001 http://www.humiliationstudies.org/documents/evelin/ResearchCanHumiliate.pdf )

Whilst I am in no way putting our research on a level with Lindner’s, I thought this was a very moving demonstration of how thoughtfully this aspect of trust – essential to conversation and the perception of a shared space – must be dealt with.

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Yvonne Jones: The session led by Yonat was packed with information and points for discussion. It has had such an impact on me that I am going to record here my personal thoughts and response arising from the session. For me understanding (through sharing) the history, culture values and patterns of others, of those around us, and, in an increasingly global situation, those across this decreasing-in-size world, is the way ahead for a better world. The enormity of this self-declared belief is unnerving.

Many questions and issues pour out of it. What am I saying here? That a better world will come out of understanding our difference? It has to go further, an understanding that there are differences, a tolerance of difference and an acceptance of difference. Inbuilt is the implied letting go of notions of conquering, either ideologically, geographically, physically or psychologically. There is an inbuilt (in this notion of a better world) characteristic of respect. Where the line, if any, has to fall is verging on impossible, if a culture cut the genitalia of its females, can tolerance prevail or must another value come into the fore? Clearly there is enough general evidence to demonstrate the human cruelty of the practice, therefore a legal stance to stop this is both understandable and acceptable. Is it the only way? Debate with the peoples who practice this could be a further tool.

Debate may change points of view; debate is not as free as it portrays itself. It is a free and open exchange of ideas, where points of view are presented, argued, supported and left for the masses to choose whose point to support. It is the equivalent of two or more forces acting on a central mass. It is a power struggle. Have you ever known a debate when one of those debating their point has changed their view? Debate is about each speaker PURSUADING the masses to their position. We have debates in politics, about important issues, without realizing it we are pawns in a power struggle. Debate is deadly and reinforces notions of power not equality.

In her session Yonat spoke of conversation as going beyond chit-chat, being an EXCHANGE of views that consists of connected comment. Debate exchanges views, however, the connection of comment is limited. One (speaker) makes a statement the other counters the statement. There is no attempt for one side to understand the other, its pull/push. It’s the equivalent of choose a banana or grapefruit; there is nothing in between, no greporanalun! If connections of comments were present there would be questions of the sort ‘ why do you believe this? Where does this notion come from? who gave you this information? When did you first think this?’ Giving space to choose or create a solution, allowing room for a greporanalun or even a pinoplum. Could conversation be a tool in the above example of FGM?

Conversation has the characteristics to be effective but only if the participants authentically desire and authentically seek, knowledge, awareness, understanding and respect for all, with some sense of opening a closer sense of a truthful scenario. In this respect what was ‘prescribed’ in the kibbutz as explained by Yonat, would seem ideal, until she divested the ‘performance’ of conversation with information that the conversations were usually infused with power. That is to say someone party in the process desiring a specific end decision, while appearing to be part-taking in authentic conversation, all the while guiding and persuading, giving the illusion of a democratic authentic conversation. Surely on humanity grounds ‘conversations’ on FGM would have the aim to dissuade the practice, and therefore be infused with power. Again where, if any, is the line?

This leaves a dilemma. While some people value power over all else, holding a conviction that their way is the right way, then all the more so will they feel justified to work to convince people, rather than converse with people, others find a justification. Power takes precedent in both cases. If knowledge, but here I have to pause and pull in justice and fairness, is not the goal there can be no authentic conversation, only debate, argument, persuasion, all quite forms of bullying. Is power infused conversation acceptable in order to protect human dignity and life?

What of our political lives, has conversation ever been the focal point, or only power struggles fuelled by the belief that this way or that way is the only way. Public discussions on a building development for example, have occasionally change things, but how many times were those changes already built into the plan? I have no political axe to grind. I freely state that I am not tied to any political ideology, having grown up in the middle of heated arguments of left and right between my parents. Nor have I looked for a middle road to balance the situation. I have what feels like, a refreshing position of being able to take a view on issues and make more balanced choices, using as much knowledge as I have at that moment. Politicians debate, bargain, argue, pressurise, the closest parties came to apparent conversation was with the coalition government, where of course all of the above power struggles were under pinning it. Power corrupts and total power corrupts completely. Politicians care for their careers it seems, more that the country and residents they represent. They forget they are representatives and believe they are rulers. Authentic conversations, may well lead to improved solutions for many of the issues we all face in society today.

Researchers have, on the whole, an authentic desire for knowledge and (truth?). Even here when funding is part of the equation, power comes into play to threaten derailment. Researchers have authentic conversations with their material, with theories of others, seeking new knowledge, new perspective on old knowledge. If the conclusions of research do not fit the aims of their funders what happens then? No more funds? No authentic research should be driven by political, financial or industrial goals. Funded research has access to the needed finance to proceed, and the promoted publication of the outcome. Unfunded research may have no agenda pressure, neither does it have an incentified promoter to publish it.

This session offered me hope and despair for society and humanity in equal measure. It would seem logically that while a society of fair-minded, open people were conversing, a society hungry for power and excited by control, could and would devour them, without any discussion what so ever.

The group, as evident from its form, growth and outcomes does use the methodology of conversation. We need to be mindful of infused power, there is trust between us, it is not from others that this infusion could arise, but unconsciously from ourselves.

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Bevis Fenner: In some ways Yonat’s last PIRG session was the most important for the development of the group to date. In this session we started to make the first tentative steps towards developing a methodology through which our conversational methods could be used to feed back into our respective practices in order to acquire greater understandings of them as phenomena.

As a group, we have already become reflexively aware of methods as an attentive practice in itself. In response to one of the readings for the session – our ‘conversation is not a competition’ (Feldman,1999). We have an intuitive conversational method, which whilst utilising presentation and directed response as a starting point for discussion, does not privilege didactic discursive forms. Instead, we all take turns to relate our own ‘prejudices’ or preconceived understandings of the topic with a complete openness to challenging our habitual understandings through confrontation with difference. Thus the diverse cultural backgrounds of group members becomes an intrinsic part of our conversational method, which is ‘a great respecter of differences’ (Buchmann, 1983: 21. Quoted in Feldman, 1999). One of the things to mention in the light of this, is that phenomenology values the personal over the purely theoretical and this is important as there are not correct ways of approaching theory in the context of our methods – our conversations contain both deeply personal insights and abstracted or semi-detached overviews. They focus on the sharing of feelings, experiences and ideas, and are situated between theory and practice – they are more ‘mesa’ than ‘meta’. One key aspect of our conversational method is the ability to shift gears; to pan between a wide range of subjective perspectives from infra (subconscious) to intra-personal, inter to extra-personal.

In Yonat’s presentation, for example, there was a strong emphasis on the top and bottom end of this spectrum of understanding. In relation to her understandings of her kibbutz upbringing this meant looking both under and beyond the caring and sharing environment of her childhood, and focusing instead on the excess that had been chopped off in representation – that which haunted the complete picture and relayed areas of ambiguity and ambivalence that fell outside of common-sense understandings of the ideals of happy upbringing. Yonat described the structural necessity to find consensus within the social environment of the kibbutz and how accelerated normative processes grew out of the necessity for social cohesion. This meant that conversations were always a projection of power and that shared space always included the dissemination of a consensus reality.

It is my understanding that the need for solidarity and for knowing each other within the group produces an ‘excess’ within kibbutz living. In other words that the shared space of forever knowing others and being ‘known’ by others encourages readings of the self that do not allow for ambivalence or decent. In our shared social space we try to give space for this excess – to allow an openness in which meanings are never fixed but are always unfolding and in flux. We are also conscious of the temporality of social space and do not try to keep pace but instead allow a oscillating flow, which can speed up and slow down as needed. Prejudices can be interjected at speed and then stretched out, like making pasta – allowing them to be reconstituted in-being. This process is akin to attempting to give away the ego in order to find better insight; an ethics similar to that of Zen, in which ‘equanimity’ is produced in the sublimation of self to world. This ‘equanimity’ is an in-between state, between, on the one hand, ’suppression’ or when we deny, suppress or encase thoughts / feelings which arise, and on the other hand, ‘identification’ or when we fixate or hold onto a thought or feeling ‘inappropriately, not letting it arise, spread and pass with its natural rhythm’ (www.shinzen.org).

Another (less complex and problematic) way to look at our methodological approach is that we deploy a feminist ‘ethics of care’ (Tronto, 1994). Joan Tronto’s definition of ethics of care is as an empathetic and attentive practice directed towards the self, others and various objects of care, including the structures in which care can take place. This ethics encompasses four elements as explained in the following points taken from the Wikipedia page on Ethics of Care

  • Attentiveness
    Attentiveness is crucial to the ethics of care because care requires a recognition of others’ needs in order to respond to them. The question which arises is the distinction between ignorance and inattentiveness. Tronto poses this question as such, “But when is ignorance simply ignorance, and when is it inattentiveness”?
  • Responsibility
    In order to care, we must take it upon ourselves, thus responsibility. The problem associated with this second ethical element of responsibility is the question of obligation. Obligation is often if not already tied to pre-established societal and cultural norms and roles. Tronto makes the effort to differentiate the terms “responsibility” and “obligation” with regards to the ethic of care. Responsibility is ambiguous, whereas obligation refers to situations where action or reaction is due, such as the case of a legal contract. This ambiguity allows for ebb and flow in and between class structures and gender roles, and to other socially constructed roles that would bind responsibility to those only befitting of those roles.
  • Competence
    To provide care also means competency. One cannot simply acknowledge the need to care, accept the responsibility, but do not follow through with enough adequacy – as such action would result in the need of care not being met.
  • Responsiveness
    This refers to the “responsiveness of the care receiver to the care”. Tronto states, “Responsiveness signals an important moral problem within care: by its nature, care is concerned with conditions of vulnerability and inequality”. She further argues responsiveness does not equal reciprocity. Rather, it is another method to understand vulnerability and inequality by understanding what has been expressed by those in the vulnerable position, as opposed to re-imagining oneself in a similar situation.(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics_of_care)

Returning to Yonat’s description of the dynamics of conversation in the kibbutz there seemed to be a structural ethics of care within the unity of the group but a lack of ability to address ‘responsiveness’. In one particular example, Yonat’s described a scene in which structural ethics kibbutz prevented her peer-group from including a new member because she was a “liar”. Tronto’s ethics of care would have incorporated empathetic understandings, which would have gone beyond group unity to see the act of lying as a possible expression of vulnerability and inequality.

Since attending Yonat’s session, I have collaborated with another member of the group (Noriko) on a one day artist-led project. During this workshop we encountered problems with the structure of our project and a direct resistance from participants as a result. However, using our conversational methodology of care allowed us to get inside the problems and to empathise from within the social relations. Therefore, we were not simply able to put ourselves in the participants shoes but to put ourselves outside of the ideological structures and power relations we had produced in order to rebuild the conditions of care.

 

Tronto, J. Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care. New York, NY: Routledge, 1994.

Tronto, J. “Women and Caring: What can Feminists learn about morality from Caring?” in V. Held, Justice and Care: Essential Readings in Feminist Ethics Boulder, CO: Westview Press (2006) 101-115.