More and Less than Conversation: Research Lab

More and less than conversation: 3 day research-lab, 1-3 Sept 2016

Noriko Suzuki-Bosco

The Phenomenology and Imagination Research Group (PIRG) meets once a month in the WSA PhD study room to examine text through conversational methods. The group recognizes conversation as a ‘cooperative venture’ (to use Allan Feldman’s words), where reading together, enquiring, sharing and listening is understood as a collective act which leads to the production of new knowledge, understanding and thoughts. PIRG has been developing the idea of conversation as a collaborative research method and the three-day research lab in the Winchester Gallery was an opportunity for the group to extend their research approach to the wider audience to further explore ideas around conversation as a verbal and non-verbal inquiry process. The event encompassed activities of making and drawing as well as an exhibition of new works by the group members. PIRG has organized similar events at the 10 days Winchester Arts Festival in 2015 and more recently at University of Birmingham, where situations of material thinking and thinking through material as a way into phenomenological inquiry were offered to invited audiences.

In the article ‘Conversation as Methodology in Collaborative Action Research’, Feldman points out that the cooperative aspect of conversation is what makes the participants feel as if they are ‘partners in the endeavour’ that allows conversations to have ‘directions but not to be directed solely by one participant’ (Feldman, 1999). Typically at the monthly PIRG meetings, the selected text presents the group with the conversational framework. During the three-day event the gallery space became the ‘container’ to prompt and hold the conversations. Certainly during the installation of the exhibition, the gallery literally became the space for the group to engage in a collective endeavour to ensure individual and group requirements were met. The process involved exchanges amongst the group members and thoughtful engagement with the artworks. As the exhibition started to take shape, the works themselves also entered into a dialogue with one another bringing to light both commonalities and differences of their themes, materials and processes that created interesting connections and flows.

A workshop area, which consisted of a long table with various objects and drawing materials and a large expanse of wall covered in paper, was also created in the gallery space. During the workshops that took place over the second and third day, the group gathered around the table to converse on various topics, such as material imagination, creativity, and notions of aesthetics – areas of common research interest for the group and to draw, write and make in response to the exchanges that took place.

The collaborative process of conversation brings people together to speak, to listen, to question, to investigate, to reflect and to learn. As Professor Simon Keyes at University of Winchester’s Centre of Religion, Reconciliation and Peace describes, dialogue and conversation is a process of collaborative thinking. The three-day research lab gave the group an extended length of time to participate in conversational methods of exchange and to ‘think together’, which was pleasurable as a group experience but also helped to consolidate some of the ideas on conversation that the group have been examining.

Professor Keyes emphasized that conversation is a ‘non-rational’ process that must remain free from goals and conclusions. This is what makes conversation fundamentally different from discussion and debate where some form of end result is expected from the outset. The cooperative venture of conversation helps to formulate new understandings and knowledge that are vital for putting together future action plans and developing new theories. It brings about growth to the way we think about things and for this, conversation holds potential to be acknowledged as a vital form of research for critical inquiry.

Conversation certainly served as the ‘glue’ for the group during the three-day research lab and helped to ‘maintain the integrity of the group’ (Feldman, 1999). However, the group also recognized that the open nature of the event failed to attract sufficient public interest. This brought to light the importance of legibility, accessibility and communicability of one’s work, be it apiece of academic writing or visual artwork. Following on from the three-day research lab, the group has started to examine these areas through series of collective drawing exercises supported by texts on embodiment of practice and knowledge creation.


Feldman, Allan. (1999) ‘Conversation as Methodology in Collaborative Action Research’, School of Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA. – accessed 17 September 2016)

Professor Simon Keyes’ quotes were taken from notes made by myself at the ‘Understanding Dialogue – From Theory to Practice’ seminar at University of Winchester on 24th May 2016.

Collaboration, Conversation and the Intertwining of Material and Immaterial Worlds: a reflection on the Mothership residency

Bev Pic

Bevis Fenner

14 June 2016

The June session of the Phenomenology and Imagination Research Group took our previously explored idea of conversation as methodology on a slight detour. To be precise, that detour took the group to West Dorset via my narrative retelling of a recent four week residency as part of Anna Best’s Mothership Residencies project. I used the session to open up the notion of conversation to the possibilities of collaboration both with humans and non-humans. Drawing upon Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas of affects and becoming, and Karen Barad’s explorations of human and non-human agents, I set out to start a conversation about the nature of conversation and collaboration in the art-site relations of the artist’s residency. The reading I sent the group prior to the session was a chapter on residency and collaboration from For Creative Geographies (2014) by Harriet Hawkins – an exploration of the human interactions and encounters that residencies can produce, as well as the ways in which material making and skill-sharing can build community and transform individual and collective subjectivities. Here, person-site relations become part of an affective praxis in opposition to alienating and dehumanising effects of neoliberalism – individualism, competitiveness, exchangism, deskilling, social atomisation and so on. Hawkins stresses the importance of shared labour – literally collaboration – in transforming individual and collective consciousness. She uses gardening – a key aspect of my residency – as an example of a ‘grounded’ practice that has the power to disrupt and reconfigure the habitual relations of everyday life:

“We could suggest that the physical, discursive, and haptic experiences of shared labour… was part of the creation of a rupture in everyday practices from within which new identities and shared consciousness could emerge (Hawkins, 2014: 170)”.

The starting point for the group’s conversation was a discussion of the unique labour relations of the residency, which as I admitted to the group, were an initial source of suspicion as I adopted the cynical post-human perspective of trying to analyse the power relations between host and guest and the exact terms of labour exchange. However, in attempting to calculate and quantify these relations, I found that rather than reflecting the neoliberal idea that altruistic acts are often thinly veiled opportunism and that everyone is ultimately self-serving, the residency provoked a sense that the reciprocal nature of the collaboration had far more humane dimensions. It seemed that the more I tried to quantify the exchange, particularly in relation to labour value because I was not paying money to be there, the more the things shattered to reveal human truths and a qualitative value way beyond any kind of contractual arrangement. Thus my attempts to provoke a breakdown of assumed neoliberal labour relations were unjustified as the layers fell away to reveal a very human conversation about not only the need for people to live together but also the importance of bringing things together that are usually held apart. Instead of finding an illusionary micro-utopia sustained by wealth and privilege, which masked true power and property relations, I found a situation of honesty – a genuine attempt to make new worlds and recuperate old ones. Small-scale organic farming is an uphill struggle where the old binaries of humans pitted against nature are initially reinforced. However, in responsible and ethical engagement with complex ecosystems, culture / nature binaries are eroded. Pestilence ceases to become a non-human enemy to be wiped out with petrochemicals when ecosystems are in balance. The context for the residency was not only thought-provoking but also provided a space for dialogue between humans and non-humans alike – “a potential space for collaborative thinking”, as Noriko put it. One of the key things that came out of the session was the notion of ‘maternal space’ – of how, out of necessity, things of difference are brought together. Instead of seeing disruptions as inconveniences that break our ‘trains of thought’, by being open to ‘external’ factors and intrusions we are able to open out to new and emergent ways of being and seeing that foster generative creative processes. My challenge was to move beyond provocation as a means of ‘exploding’ power and property relations, and to embrace collaborative conversation as a means of gently unpicking the complexities of context without ignoring tensions and differences. In the words of Harriet Hawkins (2014), to develop truly collaborative art-site relations we must ‘remain open to the generative complexities of a given site… to be able to recognise the problematics of context, without sacrificing the ability to work productively within the community…’ (Hawkins, 2014: 166).


Hawkins, H. (2014). For Creative Geographies: Geography, Visual Arts and the Making of Worlds. London: Routledge.


Material and Non-Material Imagination

IMG_9315 (1)

Yvonne Jones

09 May 2016

Having considered Material Imagination within the group, I wanted to consider Non-Material Imagination (my words). Is there a connecting line of thought between the received image, memory and imagination, and, by implication, the mind / body interoperations? Through looking at several writers, I am asking how are the ideas related, do they interlink, overlap? Is there one indescribable that they speak of, do any of them support each other, can they be developed into a position where the non-material imagination becomes visible, and what, if it does, is the significance for living human beings today?

Bachelard speaks of images of matter, direct experience of matter, and images of form.

Imagination comes before all else, material imagination and the poetic image reverberate with the human, (go beyond data and form). Images of form are perishable, vain images and the becoming of surfaces.(Bachelard; Poetics and Reverie 1971, Poetics of Space 1969)

Descartes states ‘in infancy our mind was so tightly bound to the body as not to be open to any experience (cogitationbus) except mere feelings of what affected the body’. He creates a dualism and divide between mind and body suggesting ‘In adult life the mind is no longer wholly slave to the body and does not relate everything to that’. (Anscombe and Geach, 1954, Descartes Philosophical writings, extracts from Principles of Philosophy part 1 First Philosophy.R. LXXl, p. 196).

Lacan speaks of the Real, The Imaginary Order and Symbolic Order. Of the Real, Cussans believes it is increasingly difficult to experience, and is now only approached through trauma. He holds that the cinema was the beginning of the end of Real. (Symbolic Wounds and the Impossible Real – The Paradox of Traumatic Realism in Televisual Representations of Terror. 2003 lecture at WSA).

Steve Dixon tells us ‘The bifurcatory division between body and mind has lead to an objectified redefinition of the human subject – the ‘person’ – into an abstracted, depersonalised and increasingly dehumanised physical object.’ (Dixon, S. 2003, Adventures in Cybertheatre. IN ZAPP, A. & BERG, E. (Eds.) Networked Narrative Environments as imaginary spaces of being, Liverpool 23rd May 2003. Liverpool, FACT in association with MIRIAD/ Manchester Metropolitan University).

Moravec foretells there will be very few original experiences, (in time to come) they are mostly held as data in a huge computer ‘out there somewhere’, offering us the raw cold data of “experiences” had over the generations. (Moravec. 1997, The Senses have no Future)

Makedon states “Without a World to imagine about, there would be no-thing imaginable… that even an “impossible” world is only imaginable within the context of ‘possible imaginings’ provided by the world humans has learned about.

Unpicking aspects of the above and bringing in Garry and Polaschek (Imagination and Memory. 2000) and, Bergen, Narayan and Feldman (Embodied Verbal Semantics: Evidence from an Image-Verb Making. 2003) it opens the possibility that mind operations are not suitably evolved to clearly and reliably distinguish between images that are materially present and those that are represented to it via non-material images, photography, film, video, internet content.

This could prove an issue going forward.



Gaston Bachelard’s ‘material imagination’ + Karen Barad’s new materialism

YNG image

Yonat Nitzan-Green

04 April 2016

Text for group’s discussion: ‘”Matter feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns and remembers” Interview with Karen Barad’, (from “Meeting Utrecht Halfway” intra-active event, June 6, 2009, at the 7th European Feminist Research Conference, Utrecht University).

‘In the imagination of each of us there exists the material image of an ideal paste, a perfect synthesis of resistance and malleability, a marvellous equilibrium between accepting forces and refusing forces. Starting from this equilibrium, which gives an immediate eagerness to the working hand, there arise opposing pejorative judgments: too soft or too hard. One could say as well that midway between these contrary extremes, the hand recognizes instinctively the perfect paste. A normal material imagination immediately places this optimum paste into the hands of the dreamer. Everyone who dreams of paste knows this perfect mixture, as unmistakeable to the hand as the perfect solid is to the geometrician’s eye.’

Gaston Bachelard, On Poetic Imagination and Reverie, 2005, p. 81.

This session opened up with a performative act, entitled ‘10 minutes of making Tahini’. The participants were given all the right ingredients, however only one instruction as to how to make tahini. The intention was to bring to light the dialogue between artist and material. In Bachelard’s words: ‘…there arise opposing pejorative judgment: too soft or too hard.’

Both, Bachelard’s quote and this performative act served as an invitation to engage in an interview with Physicist feminist Karen Barad in which she explains her theory of ‘agential realism’.

According to Barad ‘agential realism’ is part of relational ontologies. Agency is ‘about response-ability’. It ‘is not something possessed by humans, or non-humans … It is an enactment. … it enlists … “non-human” as well as “humans.”’ Entanglement is the consideration of meaning and matter together which questions the dualism nature – culture and the separation of ‘matters of fact from matters of concern (Bruno Latour) and matters of care (Maria Puig de la Bellacasa)’. The notion of intra-action is called for in order to re-think causality. ‘Causality is not interactional, but rather intra-actional.’ By this Barad means that causality is a process of emergence rather than a game of billiard balls: ‘Cause and effect are supposed to follow one upon the other like billiard balls … causality has become a dirty word.’ Barad invites us to find new kinds and new understandings of causalities.

Barad developed diffraction as a main concept in her theory, as a practice and a methodology. She expands the classical physics definition of diffraction, by understanding this metaphor through quantum physics. On the one hand, ‘Geometric optics does not pay any attention to the nature of light … it is completely agnostic about whether light is a particle or a wave…’. On the other hand, understanding diffraction by using quantum mechanics ‘allows you to study both the nature of the apparatus and also the object’. This, she claims, is ‘not just a matter of interference, but of entanglement, an ethico-onto-epistemological matter.’

Art, Matter and Making


Noriko Suzuki-Bosco

07 March 2016

The reading material selected for this PIRG session, ‘New Bachelards?: Reveries, Elements and Twenty-First Century Materialism’ by James L. Smith, looked to understand some of the cross resonance between the philosophy of Gaston Bachelard and the materialism of the twenty-first century. Smith brought together Bachelard’s philosophy on the interpretation of elements, the poetics of reverie and material imagination with Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things by Jane Bennett (2010) and Elemental Philosophy: Earth, Air, Fire and Water as Elemental Ideas by David Macauley (2010). The investigation into a new Bachelard emerging from the synthesis of ideas that engaged with a more ‘diffuse, more complex, network of images, an ecological awareness and an ethic of conservation’ (Smith 2012, 165) provided an engaging backdrop for our discussions around material, making and thinking.

According to the emerging trend of new materialists thought, matter is no longer considered to be inert but to hold transformative qualities to be ‘agentive, indeterminate, constantly forming and reforming in unexpected ways.’ (Hickey-Moody and Page 2016, 2). Bennett’s theory of ‘vibrant materialism’ also reinforces the idea that matter as ‘passive stuff, as raw, brute or inert’ is no longer applicable but instead ‘an ability to feel the vitality of the object, be it with the reason or the body, gives the option of a political engagement with the world that avoids deadening or flattening objects or reducing nature to utility.’ (Smith 2012, 158)

The power of matter to exert influence over the human subject makes us reconsider the agential properties of elements. Bennett argues for a world of ‘intimate liveliness and distributed agency’ where human interaction with matter that has ‘affect, bahaviour, vitality and agency’ questions the human-centric theories of action (ibid, 158). In a world such as this, agency is not solely the province of humans but as something that emerge through the configuration of human and non-human forces.

Theoretical physicist and professor of feminist studies Karan Barad’s theory of ‘agential realism’ also echoes the idea of distributed agency. According to Barad, ‘agency is about possibilities for worldly re-configurings’. Agency, therefore, ‘is not something possessed by humans or non-humans but is an ‘enactment’’ (Dolphijn and van der Tuin 2012, 56). Agency, for Barad, is something that emerges through the process of ‘intra-acting’, a term introduced by Barad to conceptualize the action between matters and to propose a new way of thinking causality.

The ‘object-oriented’ philosophy, where matter has power to hold and shape how humans perceive and interact with the world provided context for lively discussion to take place and during the session, we touched on other areas of theory such as Deleuze and Guttari’s idea of ‘whatness and thingness’ (‘A Thousand Plateaus’), the affect theory, Merleau-Ponty’s theory of affordance, Heidegger’s notion of ‘handling’ and ‘understanding’ (‘The Questions Concerning Technology’) as well as feminist theories, namely that of Julia Kristeva and Elizabeth Grosz (‘Volatile Bodies’). Furthermore, contemporary geographical studies were mentioned as reference points to reflect on how our environmental perceptions (how we connected with the world of material stuff) may also be affected by the ways we interact with the material matters of the world.

The discussion developed into thoughts around embodied learning through material pedagogy and ‘material thinking’ (to borrow Paul Carter’s term). According to Hickey-Moody and Page, material pedagogy and materials thinking do not look at learning as a passive process of simply acquiring information but instead conceives learning to be a ‘relational process where theory is entangled with everyday practice’ (Hickey-Moody and Page 2016, 13). Learning through material thinking points to a process of ‘becoming’ through the relational interaction of body and matter, which is different from understanding using cognitive faculties.

As research artists, the idea that materials are not just passive objects to be used instrumentally by artists, but rather the materials and processes of production have their own intelligence that come into play to interact with the artists’ creativity, resonated with all of us and the session concluded with a small collaged postcard-art making workshop in an attempt to ‘join the hand, mind and eye’ (Carter 2004, xiii).

Whilst choosing the materials for the collage, everyone was asked to be conscious about the way they chose the images and handled the materials. We spent around twenty minutes to create the small artworks which was followed by a presentation of the works around the table and a short discussion. The presentation revealed interesting insights into how the artist’s mind worked during the process of making. Intuition seemed to be backed up with certain habitual characteristics for choosing colours and textures of the materials as well as how they were physically handled.

Studies around new materialism and material thinking offer rich grounds to think about our relationship with the material world around us. As we learn more about the world that surrounds us, we proceed to learn how to better correspond with it. As Tim Ingold emphasizes, ‘the mind is very much connected with the body where the thinking corresponds to what is happening to the material.’ (Ingold 2013, 7). The potentials of relational interaction between human and non-human matter that new materialists draw out are exciting perspective to broaden and transform our sense of Being in the world.

References (including materials mentioned during the meeting)

Barad, K. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.

Berberich, C., Campbell, N. and Hudson, R. (eds), Affective Landscapes in Literature, Art and Everyday Life: Memory, Place and the Senses, Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2015.

Best, S. Visualizing Feeling: Affect and the Feminine Avant-garde, London: I.B. Tauris, 2011.

Carter, P. Material Thinking: The Theory and Practice of Creative Research, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2004.

Crouch, D. Flirting with Space: Journeys with Creativity, Burlington: Ashgate, 2010.

Deleuze, G. and Guttari, F. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, London: Althorne Press, 1988.

Dolphijn, R. and van der Tuin, I. New Materialism: Interviews and Cartographies, Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press, 2012.

Gauntlett, D. Making is Connecting: The Social Meaning of Creativity from DIY and Knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011.

Grosz, E. Volatile Bodies, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Hawkins, H. For Creative Geographies: Geography, Visual Arts and the Making of Worlds, London: Routledge, 2014.

Hawkins, H. Geographical Aesthetics: Imagining Space, Staging Encounters, London: Routledge, 2015.

Heidegger, M. The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, London: Harper and Row, 1977.

Hickey-Moody, A. and Page, T. Arts, Pedagogy and Cultural Resistance: New Materialism, 2016.

Ingold, T. Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture, 2013.

Macleod, K. and Holdridge, L. ‘The Enactment of Thinking: The Creative Practice Ph.D’ in Journal of Visual Art Practice vol. 4 no. 2 and 3, 2005.

Preston, J. Performing Matter: Interior Surface and Feminist Actions, Baunach, Germany: Spurbuch Verlag, 2014.

Smith, J. ‘New Bachelards?: Reveries, Elements and Twenty-First Century Materialism’ in Altre Modernità (Other Modernities), Numero Speciale Bachelard e la Plasticità della Materia, 2012, pp.156-167.



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.
  2. Jeff Malpas
  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:

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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. (

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 )

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.


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.


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’ (

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.(

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.

Surface, Screen, Space

The Phenomenology and Imagination Research Group held a seminar on 18 May 2015 led by Cheng-Chu Weng, with the title ‘Surface, Screen, Space’. The seminar focused on an article by Bernice Donszelmann, ‘Touch screen‘ (Journal of Contemporary Painting, Vol 1, No. 1 2015). In examining how Donszelmann addresses the relationship between screen and body, Cheng-Chu sought to reflect on her practice-based research relating to the sense of loss and love in relation to notions of surface, screen and space, which, in turn, relates to fundamental painting actions of mark and gesture. This article provides notes drawn from the seminar and commentaries from the participants, Yvonne Jones, Yonat Nitzan-Green, Bevis Fenner, Jane Bennett, Noriko Suzuki-Bosco.

Cheng-Chu Weng:
The process of research is an isolating activity, which makes me feel that the chance to lead a session, and engage with Phenomenology as a group is really valuable. As a painter, I am interested in presenting the sense of missing through figurative work. For the seminar I offered an account of using Skype to speak with loved ones and also the memory of an earthquake from my early childhood which provided an image of my parents’ shadow as they looked over me and my siblings. This was seen through the sliding panel which connected to the home I was sleeping in. These stories or ‘scenes’ are key starting points for my practice. Engagement with psychological and physical experiences raise questions over what is near and far, the boundaries are of and between forms, or what is inside and outside of an outline (as a demarcation of meaning).

At the beginning of the session, I drew attention to David Reed’s article ‘Jackson Pollock and PieroDellaFrancesca Ride Lonesome’ (2015), which Donszelmann’s article, ‘Touch Screen(2015), can be read as a response to. A sense of taking it all in is raised, which I relate to my interest for what lies inside and outside of a line. Both Pollock and Budd Boetticher tried to fill over the space in the limit frames, as Reed explains:

All the scenes take place outdoors surrounded by swirling dust and distant mountains. There is a visual balance between the human figures and the landscape. Neither dominates. This is like the balanced figure/ ground relationship in Jackson Pollock’s overall space and it has the same effect. Watching this movie one is constantly visually alert, scanning the whole landscape and trying to take it all in. When one sees a detail one is always aware how it fits into the whole. (Reed, 2015: 43)

This sense of trying to ‘take it all in’ and being aware of how it all ‘fits into’ presents the limitation of two directional visual experiences, something that not only appears in painting but also cinema and through computer screens. The problematic of space, surface and screen is particular arose in Donszelmann’s article, and I commented on this in my preparatory text for the seminar. The human body ‘inhabits’ space, or as Heidegger’s term would put it, people ‘dwell’, we do certain activities in the certain spaces. The sense of being through the engagement of space is specific to my practice.

The function of Skyping is able to provide a ‘face to face’ conversation, yet the feeling between or literally ‘of’ the participants does not exist. The appearance of my family when I Skype with me is re-configured as image, they are pixel and data. The idea of the re-configured image is similar to Donszelmann’s reference to “multiple modes of being in the flesh and in time” (2015:63). Social websites create multiple-self in hyper-reality, and as a consequence I suggest ‘we’ are under the shadow of the computer screen, yet the pixels of the screen create shadows without shadow. The shadow is the key term in my own practice. Shadow itself contains umbra and penumbra. In painting, shadow and perceptive create illusory space, which might fit into Plato’s theory of illusion, yet what I argue is painting is able to create the real space. A space contains sensation and the painter’s body, especially the large scale of painting is able to include both of painter and viewers body in the painting. In this sense we can think of Donszelmann’s reference to Merleau-Ponty’s phrase, the “ubiquity of body” (2015: 61), to describe the gesture painting and the phenomenon of embodiment in the computer. I believe people are partially embodied in the computer. And the experience of embodiment in the computer or visiting cyber space is to rid of the physical activity and creates a ubiquity of body. I compared this point of view with Agnes Martin paintings. What I tried to emphasize was that painting is able to present or engage the real body, either psychologically or physically, as Cooke, Kell and Schröder cited Linville, “illusions of textures that change as viewing distance change” (2011:201).

On the other hand, I believe our modern visual appetites have been increased by the moving images, which makes me doubt question how people prepare themselves in front of a piece of work. What is the relationship between the artist, the work and the viewer? How does the phenomena or the environmental effect the process of ‘feeling’? How to open our five senses to absorb the phenomena? In addition, I referred to the phenomenon Walter Benjamin labels ‘aura’, which cannot be found in the re-presentation, copy, and digital data. Following above issues, how to attract the viewers’ eyes are not only appear in painting but also the other form of artwork. This problem seems to extend from the philosophical issue, what is being? To address this issue, I have changed the form of my practice from painting to installation. Each practice not only evokes the question of being but also the question: What is inside and outside of the outline? This question may relate to the issue of the relationship between two- dimensional and three-dimensional, yet what concerns me is further than that, which includes psychological issues and visual experience. I believe the relationship between practice and phenomenology is able to interrupt. The idea that Phenemonology “can be practiced” (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, 1945: Vill), gives a positive view for me as a practice- based PhD student. This phrase acts like a glue between my practice and the written thesis. Moreover, Donszelmann’s article provides a phenomenological reading of the painting ‘surface’, but also addresses the relationship between body, flesh and computer. I am particularly interested in the method of addressing Merleau-Ponty’ theory, especially the idea of an eye without a body, which presents the emergence of the physical body, as well as magnify the issue of screen, as Donszelmann puts it:

[…], the human body is presented as in danger of atrophying via the medium of the screen and its ubiquity. These presentations are suggestive of a form of visuality detached from its corporeal grounding: an eye without a body, realized either technologically or in fantasy (the voyeur). This is a radicalization of a possibility that suggests itself already in many analyses of the nature of vision itself as the sense with the greatest predilection to being conceived in terms of an independence of subject and object4 and allowing scope for a too easy conflation of eye and mind. (2015:59)

The above sets out some of the themes and issues explored during the seminar, which might be encapsulated with four keywords repeated in our discussion: aura, sensation, intentionality and ubiquity of body. As one ambiguous response to these concepts is for me a technique of ‘blurring’. Blurring for me is both a sensation and the presence-loss of aura, so creating distance, and perhaps critical distance. A sense of distance is increasingly a part of my practice, and through installation a dynamic of ‘movement’ is allowed which potentially decreases the distance between viewer and works. In some cases the viewer completes the work, particularly my piece, Shoji, made up of small elements of tissue paper arranged in a grid, reminiscent of a shoji sliding panel. As the viewer walks past this work the delicate airflow of the passerby results in the small sheets of paper lifting, as if recording their movement, like a sine wave. This creates a ‘partnership’ between the artist, material and the viewer. Although ‘viewing’ the work typically comes only afterwards as you look back over your shoulder to see the paper just return to their original static position. This creates a delayed sense of the ubiquity of the body, to quote Melville:

[followingLevi-Strasuss and Merleau-Ponty] the opening of the world, the birth of the work, is at once the founding and foundering of a subject that finds itself only as a certain folding of the world on itself. This is the core of the “anti humanism” associated with this body of thought, as also of its theses on “the death of the author.” In this form, it is bound to a notion of work that presumably will have consequence at the level of such things as composition-the terms through which a work holds itself together and makes itself visible. (2001:7)

Following Melville’s view, in the Roland Barthes account of ‘the death of the author’, the author is not really dead, the author just shares the part of creation to the viewers. On the other hand, it evokes the research question: What is inside and outside of the creative attempt to mark out something, to make meaning? Is the viewer the creator or the artist is the creator? Commenting on Shoji, Noriko suggested ‘the paper movement is like the effect of perfume!’ This is a poetic description of the practice. The tissue paper make the invisible dynamics visible, which creates a lingering sensation of something that has just passed, just as we might notice all too briefly perfume of a person who has then left us behind.

Cheng-Chu Weng, Shoji, 2015.
Cheng-Chu Weng, Shoji, 2015.

Yonat Nitzan-Green: How to open our five senses to absorb the phenomena of painting? Cheng-Chu’s question is located within the wider discussion of how to think about painting in the age of screens (both computer and cinematic screens, in her text ‘Surface, Screen, Space’ May 2015). In her experience of Skype there is an ambivalence, as she writes: ‘I am able to see and hear my family through the computer screen, but they are not able to give me the feeling of them.’ This ‘split’ of the senses leads to a feeling of loss. In her paintings Cheng-Chu re-creates the sense of failure to transform the image from the computer’s screen to the plywood in her painting, which echoes the failure in communicating real feeling through the mediation of a screen. On the one hand, the screen’s surface disappears when an image appears, in the cases of photography, cinema or computer. Painting, on the other hand, is unique, as it offers both an optical illusion and a material surface. Bernice Donszelmann writes: ‘… the question of surface, if we begin with painting … is inseparable from the question of the human body … A surface was once … accessible to touch.’ (Donszelmann, ‘Touch Screen’, p. 55).

In the experience of screens the sense of touch becomes redundant. (Even in a ‘touch-screen’ this sense is reduced to the functional level.) Conventionally, as viewers we are not allowed to stroke a painting. However, in the close proximity between the viewer’s body and the painting the eye can stroke its material surface in a haptic way. Laura U. Marks writes: ‘Haptic looking tends to move over the surface of its object rather than plunge into illusionistic depth, not to distinguish form so much as to discern texture. It is more inclined to move than to focus, more inclined to graze than to gaze …’. The haptic image is associated with a ‘sharpness that provoked the sense of touch’ (Rosa Lee, ‘Threads’ in Rosemary Betterton (Ed.), Unframed, 2004, p. 124). Today’s technology can produce a high quality screen-image where details which are not visible to the eye are clearly visible on the screen. Yet, despite the sharpness of the image’s texture our sense of touch is numb. Laurie Carlos describes performance as ‘an experimental laboratory’ where ‘… artists from different disciplines interconnected’ and ‘… certain ideas in a painting or sculpture … often originated in some sort of performed action.’ (Laurie Carlos ‘Introduction’ in RoseLee Goldberg Performance, 2004, p. 9). Cheng-Chu shifted her practice from painting to installation, thus opened a performative, action-space. As such, the installation allows a de-construction of painting.

One question arising in this discussion is how to understand ‘material’ in relation to and the context of the sense of touch, installation and painting? Eugene Minkowski’s phenomenology suggests that ‘the essence of life is not a “feeling of being, of existence,” but a feeling of participation…’. Minkowski theorised the ‘retentir’ as ‘a new property of the universe: reverberation’. Gaston Bachelard writes about the poetic image and by extension, the artwork, the following: ‘… the poetic image has an entity and a dynamism of its own … it is in the opposite of causality, that is, in reverberation … that … we can find the real measure of the being of a poetic image.’ (Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, 1994, p. xvi). In this understanding people, screens and painting, as well as the distance between them may be perceived as a changeable flow of reverberations. This action-space, as oppose to the illusion-space, expands to include virtual and actual spaces, bodies and things interact and participate in different ways.


Bevis Fenner: Cheng-Chu began by discussing some of the issues involved in translating her studio practice into theory or in negotiating the two. She described her reason for coming to phenomenology as a way to mediate practice and theory as it is a philosophical technique ‘between’ both. There seems to be a parallel between this process of mediation and the artist’s mediation of lived experience and memory through, or rather in spite of, representation. Cheng-Chu began her doctoral studio practice by painting from photographic images of her family taken from Skype. She describes how painting became a better way of representing memory than photography: “You can’t remember like a photograph. We remember in a fog”. However, this “fog” does not mystify like the silent lamentation of the analogue photograph. Instead of narratives of loss and the impossibility of retrieval, memory presents us with a pregnant absence into which fragments of Being loom. The screen of a Skype conversation is a literal barrier to this coming of Being. Yet its illusion tells us otherwise. Unlike the digital photograph, where there seems to be an acceptance of image as transient representation (Murray, 2008) – an object of exchange rather than and one of contemplation – the screen and digital interface of online communications such as Skype pose more illusive problems for the image. We seem to have a greater sense of ‘the real’ in the moving screen image and yet we are still dealing with flat representations. For Benjamin, the moving image camera allows us to penetrate the heart of reality to such an extent that we identify with the camera and not with the person presented to us on the screen. He uses the difference between two types of healer – the surgeon and the magician – as an analogy to describe the difference between our experience of ‘aura’ in painting and that of the moving image.

The surgeon represents the polar opposite of the magician. The magician heals a sick person by the laying on of hands; the surgeon cuts into the patient’s body. The magician maintains the natural distance between the patient and himself; though he reduces it very slightly by the laying on of hands, he greatly increases it by virtue of his authority. The surgeon does exactly the reverse; he greatly diminishes the distance between himself and the patient by penetrating into the patient’s body, and increases it but little by the caution with which his hand moves among the organs. In short, in contrast to the magician – who is still hidden in the medical practitioner – the surgeon at the decisive moment abstains from facing the patient man to man; rather, it is through the operation that he penetrates into him (Benjamin, 1968: 233).

Through our own proprioceptive understandings of the body and its projection in space via the relationship between embodiment and mimesis, we are able to understand the space behind the screen as real and embodied by the those we communicate with. Likewise, this understanding of embodiment through projection or what Merleau-Ponty (1964) terms ‘a ubiquity of the body’, we are able to perceptually embody virtual spaces. We look at our friends and relatives who may be on the other side of the world and we can survey the spaces around them and follow the movement of their bodies through perception of own. Through the screen we can peruse the books in the background and perhaps see the objects that surrounded us as children. And yet this understanding of virtual space as real space doesn’t hold up. We cannot touch anything in front of us and the images we see are those of the past; they are – as Cheng-Chu suggested in the seminar – “ghosts”, not only because our understandings of those spaces come via memory but also, in a literal sense, the time delay means that the moments no longer exist. Such illusion is problematic as it presents us with a false window onto reality. The screen becomes a kind of trompe l’oeil through, which we think we can penetrate, perspectival, illusionary space. As Cheng-Chu also highlighted there is not only a mis-recognition of embodied reality in screen relations but also other forms of ontological inauthenticity online representations. We are fully aware of the process of mediation and use it to produce new representations of the self which can include manufactured authenticity and the hyperreal body. Indeed Baudrillard’s notion of a constructed or simulated ‘aura’, with no link to an original, holds true in the ‘selfie’ and other mimetic self-objectifying representational practices. In his blog All The Noose That Is Knot: Art, Culture, Para-Theory, Stanley Wrzyszczynski gives an interesting perspective on technological mediation of the ‘aura’ through digital representations. He suggests that, in hindsight, Baudrillard brings and entirely new perspective to Benjamin’s notion of technological reproduction of the ‘aura’ as a kind of aestheticisation or primitivisation of the enlightenment ideal of (re)producing or transferring meaning through society as ethical knowledge. He argues in the light of this that Benjamin’s mechanically reproduced aura relates to a very different understanding of the word ‘medium’ from its role in communications:

The word medium, for Benjamin, probably did not have the same connotations it does for us. After McLuhan, the word medium has a much more sterile, generic connotation (like a telephone wire, radio wave, or digital code- capable of carrying any signal, i.e. signifier). With Benjamin, it is tied to the understanding of aura, that is, a medium embodies or transfers the aura. I also came at all this AFTER reading a lot of Baudrillard who established an understanding of the possibility of a culture “grounded” on signifiers with no signified (the emphasis on potlatch, where the original, and the power of the original, is wasted on purpose in order to display “real” power). With Benjamin, there is still recognition of the “power of the original” which somehow is transformed with the technological copy… So for Benjamin, there was the intuition that technological society was, in a sense, becoming primitive, but not in the Enlightenment sense (where it is the opposite of intellectual “enlightenment,” i.e. ignorance), rather in the sense of how the power of the original is transferred or found in the copy, the technological reproduction, as a form of knowing (Wrzyszczynski, 2009).

This suggests that there is an aesthetic knowledge, which is more powerful and pervasive than that guided by the calculation of and adherence to moral absolutes. Indeed Benjamin’s consideration is an ethical one because he foresees the dangers of the technological transfer of ‘aura’ in ‘establishing controllable and transferrable skills under certain social conditions. This results in a new selection, a selection before the equipment from which the star and the dictator emerge victorious’ (Benjamin, 1968: 247).

In Heideggerian terms, the screen image, which carries the reproduced ‘aura’, unlike painting, cannot be experienced directly in ways that enable us to witness truth as unconcealment of Being. Likewise, the transmitted image, in which even the photographic surface is absent, fails to produce a truth of negation – an impenetrability or concealment – which produces a clearing for the unconcealment Being (Heidegger, 1978). Instead, ‘the relationship between what exists as surface and as projection no longer constitutes a drama in relation to which the body has a material place, even as negated’ (Donszelmann, 2015: 57). For Cheng-Chu, the retrieval of the body from screen relations is ontological rather than political but it is easy to see how both are intertwined. By retrieving the body from the screen we are separating ontological body from spectacular body; pulling the real from the illusionary. In imagination we are able to go, as Yvonne suggested, “through the looking glass” into the world beyond, where memory and imagination are more truthful than the already mediated forms we take to be real. In my response to Cheng-Chu’s session I have chosen to focus on very specific concerns, however, for me the key theme that emerged from the session was one of the artist as mediator, whether that is through the body and the brush – as in painting – or via the struggle to draw out truth of Being from the materials – in contemporary art practice, often the mediating technologies themselves – we have set out before us.

Jane Bennett: One of the strands that came out of Cheng-Chu’s presentation was the distinction between viewing painting / the computer screen / the cinema screen. The experience of cinema is usually a passive role for the viewer who has to enter into the temporal and illusory space contained by the film. The ‘surface’ is irrelevant in this case, but not the context. The computer screen places the viewer in an apparently active role, with choice to view or not to view but the virtual image has no substance in material or sensory terms for the viewer. When we view a painting in real time and space we are exposed to the materials it is made from, we can see the way in which those materials have been applied and take pleasure from that, and we sense the physical space it takes up in front of us. But we have had to learn to sense these things, and learn how to read the illusion of space in paintings – how to encode them. As well as the dual properties Cheng-Chu identified in its surface/space, painting has affect beyond the frame (see Jacques Derrida’s discussion of the ‘parergon’ of painting: The Truth in Painting (trans. 1987).

In spite of all these concepts around it, the distinguishing property of a painting is that we could actually reach out and touch it, should we be so permitted. This is what is missing from the Skype conversations Cheng-Chu has with her family. You can’t give someone a hug in a Skype conversation (not yet!). And yet you have the illusion of being in their presence. This is a different experience of the screen to viewing film or text. Perhaps we can use Svetlana Alpers’ distinction between Renaissance perspectival painting and C17thNorthern European painting to think about these different experiences of the screen – the former style being comprised of narrative and interpretation, a contained scene that clearly positions the viewer as separate, whereas the latter is a partial view that represents the seen world and invites the viewer to enter that imaginary space.(S Alpers, The Art of Describing, 1983) With video we are positioned outside, with Skype we are part of the experience. And yet, as someone pointed out, it is still not like really being in the same space. It is still a framed space that becomes all the more evident when you feel the need to make continuous eye contact (which is never quite eye-to-eye).

According to Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, video offers painting ‘another surface to which to refer…one which is brighter than any that preceded it, unimaginably thin – describable only as an exterior when viewed as an object, a surface without depth – and continuous by definition. Everything that painting is not: an uninterrupted surface born of pure reason. What (provided one is not Heidegger) could be more seductive?’ (Cabbages, raspberries, and video’s thin brightness, Painting in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (ed D Moos) A&D 1996) Which perhaps sheds light on why it is so difficult to make paintings today.


Noriko Suzuki-Bosco: Cheng-Chu’s session raised many interesting questions around the concept of ‘space’ that surrounds the art work (painting), the artist and the viewer. Cheng-Chu summarises Jason Gaiger (2008:27) and notes the ‘qualities’ of painting is the painter’s view, which is the consequence of the creativity. To experience the inside of the painter’s world, not only require eyes but also the body. Cheng-Chu asks, how do people prepare themselves in front of a piece of work? What is the relationship between the artist, the work and the viewer?

As a painter, the triangular relationship of the artist, the art work and the viewer is of vital importance and I have always felt it necessary to produce work which offered ‘space’ for the viewer to access allowing for personal interpretation to be brought into the work to create further meaning. I wanted my paintings to create a shared environment where the relationship between the artist and the viewer was reciprocal.

Fundamentally, paintings offer the viewers a ‘visual’ experience. I have been questioning for a while whether simply offering the viewers this form of experience was good enough. It relates to Cheng-Chu’s question around the bodily phenomena of the surface of the painting and the digital screen. How does one bring the body into the experience? As a way to incorporate a more phenomenological approach, I have been increasingly engaged in creating works that invite, and depend on, the viewer’s direct physical involvement in the process of the making. The interactive orientation also implies an art experience that extends over time and this durational aspect is something I have found it hard to achieve by simply presenting a painting to the viewer.

Since the rise of conceptualism, the visual status of the work of art has not only been challenged but also the way in which the viewer relates to the work has been brought into question. Conceptual artist Susan Hiller has commented in her interview with Yve-Alain Bois, ‘I’ve increasingly allowed space for the participation of the viewers in the creation of meaning’. (Susan Hiller, Tate Publishing, 2011, p.31) The direct involvement of the viewer brings the art work into a social and discursive realm of shared experience, dialogue and physical movement.

Artist Stephen Willats also notes, ‘a pre-requisite for an art work that manifests a counter-consciousness is that the separation which existed between the artist and the audience is closed, that they become mutually engaged, to the point where the audience become the rationale in both the making and reception of the work.’

Grant Kester has argued that in order to engage in ‘dialogical aesthetics’ we need to understand a work of art as a process of communicative exchange rather than a physical object. (Grant Kester, Conversation Pieces, University of California Pres, 2004). Although I value the reciprocal relationship between the artist and the viewer in a collaborative environment and believe that empathetic connection with others can, perhaps more so, be encouraged by working together, the ephemeral nature of the project where the focus is purely on the process is something that I have a slight problem with. As a painter (and a maker), the visual experience is as important as the bodily experience and for this, I am reluctant to let go of the end physical object. To create a situation where the artist and audience are mutually engaged, as Stephen Willats has pointed out, but to have a physical outcome that still offers lasting space for people to connect with is a challenge that I am still working on.


Yvonne Jones: The session led by Cheng-Chu stimulated much discussion and a width of questions. For me the step-by-step ‘straight speak’ explanation of her practice process was refreshing and gave access to her research. The work was opened up for me at that point, offering both a haptic and theoretically experience, arising from this ‘key’ offered by Cheng-Chu. In turn this widened questions with regards to Art Research and what it is?

It seems the perspectives shift along a spectrum of definitions. The approach of SAR through their online journal of artistic research (JAR) is one of ‘exposition’. Here the work itself gives access and understanding to the underlying research, this form of research is encompassed by some academic universities, not by others. Most familiar (to me) is the requirement that the work be twinned with written words that both underpin the visual and unpick the visuals in order to prove rig our within the research and to establish through examination that the artist researcher has in fact generated new knowledge. This being the criteria for having a PhD bestowed.

The question was asked in the session, what is the difference between artists and art researchers? My response is that while maybe some artists can be accidental researchers, art researchers begin with a question and pursue it through art practice. Are art researchers artists, or merely using a visual means to illustrate a theoretical base? When a piece of art ‘touched’ the viewer it is the reverberation of the poetic image (Bachelard), that of itself moves within the viewer. Such a work may reveal to the viewer a new experience, or reawakening an inner knowledge, a sense of Being, in communion with the work and the artist who drew out the poetic moment. While others may the orise on the work, this creator and the viewer may not be so inclined, accepting instead the humanness embedded in the work. Such a work may well develop in the process of art research, and contradicting the above, there will in this case be a relating theoretical structure. Within Art Research the methodology is primarily visual art practice, Art Researchers are indeed artists first and foremost, it is the visual work that creates and develops the thinking-developing-questions, ideas, and theoretical positions, through curiosity; in my experience the work does however stand in its own right as an artwork. It will have formal visual structure, even when the rules are broken, it relates to the viewer through visual structures of form, shape, colour, line, direction, tensions, texture, scale and site. In research it is not enough for work and viewer to hold a silent experience, it has to be rooted within a theoretical framework. The methodology of this having developed out of science’s quantitative methodology, into a structure of qualitative methodology, which fits where it touches! This qualitative methodology requires to be expressed through the most common form of social engagement, that of the symbols that create words. Words can be formed either by the sounds that make up speech, or as here, in an academic environment, drawn (written) as the shapes of an alphabet.

So much was generated by the session, that there is only time and space to select an area, here, that of Art Research itself and to suggest that an Art Researcher does need to offer a key, whether a word or a thesis, to accessing the research, even when the work itself holds an experience for the viewer, it cannot be left as the work alone to meet the criteria of research. An artist offers the work of itself, a stand alone, as an experience.



Cooke, L., Kelly, K. and Schröder, B. (eds.) (2011) Agnes Martin, New York: Dia Art Foundation.

Donszelmann, B. (2015) ‘Touch screen’ in Journal of Contemporary Painting Volume 1 Number 1, pp.55-64.

Melville, S. (2001) Counting As Painting in Armstrong, P., Lisbon, L., Meliville, S. (ed.) As painting Division and Displacement, Camridge: MIT Press, PP.1-26.

Reed,D. (2015)‘Jackson Pollock and PieroDellaFrancesca Ride Lonesome’ in Journal of Contemporary Painting Volume 1 Number 1, pp.41-53.





A Phenomenological Enquiry

At the 20 April meeting of the Phenomenology and Imagination Research Group, Jane Bennett led the group through a brief look at the background and history of phenomenology, when it came in and out of ‘fashion’, and the events or social trends that prompted its resurgence. Referring to a video lecture by dancer/philosopher Susan Kozel for a Practice Based Research course, the group then performed a phenomenological enquiry. 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 and Cheng-Chu Weng.

Key texts referred to:

  • Peter Halley, ‘Nature and Culture’ in Art in Theory 1900-1990, V111b The Critique of Originality, Ed. C Harrison and P Wood, (Blackwell, Oxford, 1992), pp.1071-1074
  • Susan Kozel: Phenomenology – Practice Based Research in the Arts, Stanford University, A Phenomenology in 5 Acts, 2012

Jane Bennett: Rather appropriately, before the meeting began, we were all admiring a twisted metal object laying on the table in front of us. Bearing in mind where we were and before any explanation had been provided, most of us assumed it was a sculpture and took pleasure in its texture and complex shape. It transpired it had been found, just as it was, on the beach by Bev. It was a wonderful example of how context can influence reading, and the distinction of the physical experience – of being in the presence of an object – that precedes words.

We opened the discussion with an brief time-line of phenomenology, from its initial stages in the early twentieth century writings of Husserl as reaction against the Structuralists and romanticism, its resurgence in the 1940s after WWII through Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty leading to Existentialism, its application in the 1970s by Amedeo Giorgi to psychological qualitative research methods and by Max van Manen, amongst others, to education. The essay by Peter Halley ascribes the dehumanising effect of WWII, a time when all social codes were overturned, as the impetus for a philosophy that dealt with the experience of the moment and self-determinism. He describes it as an expression of anxiety not only about how we relate to other human beings but, in the later emergence in Abstract Expressionism, the fate of humanity in the atomic age. In the 1970s when phenomenology falls from fashion, Halley points out, the forefront of art is led by a generation that had no experience of WWII and which is fixated on rules (in language) and the opportunity to simulate. It would seem the very concept of nature had become obsolete. With the current potential prospect of the Posthuman body, subject of the last session led by Yvonne, it seems timely that we are focussing on phenomenology and its investment in lived experience.

Reflecting on our current sense of digital overload, is there such a thing as digital authenticity and how do we personalise knowledge and understanding. Whilst we turn something into the personal in order to understand it, how would that then operate in relationship to the Posthuman? One way of understanding is through direct contact with the objects/materials/people themselves. Examples included through the touch of making, by direct contact with people and in direct experience of a place through walking. Similarly, the accessibility of academic text can be cloaked in jargon and Michael Rosen complains that even poetry is now quantified for its observed mechanism in academic circles. Whilst it may be easier to use jargon or subject-specific codes when we are writing about complex ideas, the use of clear language to explore complex ideas is a skill to strive for.

Writing in 2008, with a background in dance and philosophy, Susan Kozel stated that her interest in phenomenology was as a reaction to 1980s cyber punk and the trend of ‘leaving the body behind’. It also provided a counterpoint to the notion that dancers are not expected to ‘talk back’ – performance was simply an aesthetic experience. As Kozel observes, ‘Fashions in thought and design reflect anxieties as well as pleasures.’ (Closer, Susan Kozel, MIT, 2008) Whilst phenomenology appeared lacking in rigor in the 1990s and was criticised as a male, subject-centred approach to transcendent meaning, it actually provided a means of addressing lived experience prior to the object/subject divide, and a reflective process that is open to pre-reflective experience. In a time when funding was increasingly difficult to obtain and arts based research was entering higher education establishments, it became necessary to demonstrate the value of creative arts research practice as a knowledge-producing process and hence to adopt or adapt existing scientific research methodologies. ‘A re-versioning of the studio process and its significant moments through the exegesis or research paper is a means of locating the work within the field of practice and theory. It is also part of the replication process that establishes the creative arts as a stable research discipline able to withstand peer and wider assessment and hence be validated alongside research in other fields.’ (Practice as Research: Approaches to Creative Arts, E Barrett, B Bolt, 2009)

Kozel employs the methodology of phenomenology as a way to anchor practice in research, to overcome ‘unhelpful divides’ of theory/practice, mind/body and solitary/shared experience. Instead of trying to tie them together, it can allow them to be viewed in terms of motion and materiality, enfolded and entwined. In her video, A Phenomenology in 5 Acts, she describes the process of a phenomenological enquiry step by step. She advocates using phenomenology as a way to reflect on the process of performance and also as a means to create content. It is a methodology that returns to the lived experience, that respects informed ideas/thoughts/images and enables us to re-envisage the relationship between theory and practice as one of enfoldment/entwinement. She urges us to think of the body as a resonance chamber that allows us to sense the more subtle dynamic exchanges, for example in a public reflection – inside, outside, between people. Gaston Bachelard also talks of resonance as being a means to the ‘different planes of our life in the world’ and to the past through the poetic image. “In the resonance we hear the poem, in the reverberations we speak it, it is our own.” (The Poetics of Space, 1958)

Bearing in mind the four lifeworld ‘existentials’ identified by Max van Manen as categories that may help as guides for reflection in the research process – lived space (spatiality), lived body (corporeality), lived time (temporality), and lived human relation (relationality or communality) – the group embarked on following Kozel’s instructions for a Phenomenological Inquiry. The process appeared very similar to a guided visualisation, to mindfulness or a meditation. It allowed time for reflection, for making notes of the experience of reflection and for reviewing/discussing those responses. In a process that was perhaps somewhat challenging to some of us, it was gratifying that there was sufficient trust within the group for all present to take part and to share the outcomes. It was interesting to see how differently people approached both the reflection and the note-taking, and there were a number of observations that indicated the communality and connectedness of the group.

There were a few questions I wished to discuss following the process – how this approach might be valuable to our individual practices and possibly the group, how it can enhance our understanding of phenomenology, and how we can use it to integrate practice with theory, actions with writing? It was suggested that, as we are all engaged in art practice research, we already all use this process of reflection in making art-work. Perhaps we need a better understanding of the process, perhaps they are not the ‘right’ questions or perhaps, after allowing some time and space after the experience in order to reflect upon it, the answers may filter through. The following words from Max van Manen suggest there are no definitive answers when we are dealing with the lived experience:

It is also helpful to be reminded that phenomenological inquiry-writing is based on the idea that no text is ever perfect, no interpretation is ever complete, no explication of meaning is ever final, no insight is beyond challenge. It behooves us to remain as attentive as possible to the ways that all of us experience the world and to the infinite variety of possible human experiences and possible explications of those experiences. (Max van Manen, (2011),

Yonat Nitzan-Green: Reading Jane’s texts (including Susan Kozel’s video clip) has led me to read more about phenomenology (David Woodruff Smith, 2013), as well as return to Gaston Bachelard’s writing in order to widen my understanding of his particular approach to phenomenology.

In term of history, Woodruff Smith tells us that ‘phenomenology has been practiced, with or without the name, for many centuries… Still, the discipline of phenomenology … came to full flower in Husserl.’ (Woodruff Smith 2013).

Phenomenology as a branch in philosophy thrived at the first part of the 20th century and I think it will be useful to consider Gaston Bachelard’s thought in that historical context. I am curious about Bachelard’s choice to turn from philosophy of science to philosophy of imagination and wonder if this choice was affected by his experience of WWII.

Bachelard tells us: ‘… whereas philosophical reflection applied to scientific thinking elaborated over a long period of time requires any new idea to become integrated in a body of tested ideas, even though this body of ideas be subjected to profound change by the new idea … the philosophy of poetry must acknowledge that the poetic act has no past … in which its preparation and appearance could be followed.’ (GB, The Poetics of Space: xv). This makes me think about death. A person died, my neighbour, last Monday to be precise. He turned from ‘something’ to nothing. No present; no future; no past because it has passed already. Nothing. The poetic image is the opposite: no past, only present and future. Can I even comprehend such a thing? If an image has no past what kind of time zone does it inhabit? What kind of relationship is being formed between a person who has past, present and future and a poetic image? Does Bachelard’s choice to turn to the imagination hint, perhaps subconsciously, to a desire to eliminate the memory of the catastrophic past where millions of people lost their lives?

Bachelard asks: ‘how can an image, at times very unusual, appear to be a concentration of the entire psyche? How – with no preparation-can this singular, short-lived event constituted by the appearance of an unusual poetic image, react on other minds and in other hearts, despite all the barriers of common sense, all the disciplined schools of thought, content in their immobility?’ (GB: xviii-xix). How is this subjective ‘product’ able to communicate to another subjectivity? It depends on how we understand the concept of subjectivity. This question can be understood if we see subjectivity only as the difference between one person and another. Yet, Bachelard suggests that subjectivity may also be understood as the thing that is both, the difference and the element that connects all humans, which is the imagination. Bachelard proposes to by-pass this logical paradox by implementing Minkowski’s phenomenology of reverberation. It is not through a cause and effect that the poetic image can be explored, but through tuning to its reverberations as one encounters it.

Back to our session – Jane wrote: ‘although we have been using phenomenology as the core for our discussions over the past months, this has been on a theoretical basis and we have not actually taken our meetings into the ‘lived experience’, so to speak – into ‘something that happens’ in real time.’ It was exciting to follow Susan Kozel’s instructions and do a kind of group meditation; this may lead to other group actions. However, I argue that we have been practicing phenomenology through our use of conversation as a collaborative research method which I intend to talk about in the June session.

Bevis Fenner: Jane began her session with an exploration of the historical context in which phenomenology came into prominence in the 1940s and subsequently fell from fashion. Phenomenology can be seen as emerging out of a need to reconcile the rift between culture and nature that appeared with the Enlightenment and the industrial revolution and ultimately culminated in the mass devastation of the Second World War. In post-industrial society, changes in fashions of thought have led to phenomenological methods being seen as essentialist and a product of an individualistic desire to return to a more authentic subjective experience, which does not exist within structuralist or post-structuralist thought. Consequently, the study of structures, codes and signs became more relevant than the pursuit of a more direct reflection on human experience. Jane stated that in the light of recent shifts in favour of phenomenology, she wanted to clarify phenomenological method, and subsequent methodologies of reflection and application. So drawing upon the practice-based methods of Susan Kozel, we set about considering how, as a group, we might turn theory into praxis.

We had been given a YouTube video to watch before the seminar in which Kozel explained how to use her phenomenological practice methods. These seemed very different from the more theoretical and discussion-based way we had gone about exploring ideas in previous sessions and very similar to mindfulness practice. We discussed how we had tried to personalise this video or tried to make sense of how we might go about using these methods by drawing on previous experiences. Following on from Noriko’s suggestion – inspired by Tim Ingold – that knowledge occurs through creativity or via the act of making, someone in the group suggested that the only way of knowing how such methods could be used was by trying them. Yonat responded by suggesting that we all try to understanding difference through that which we know. For her the drive towards appropriation stems from an ontological need. In Heidegger’s terms appropriation enables dwelling. Therefore, the natural response from other members of the group upon seeing the twisted metal object that I had placed on the table before the start of the session was to assume it was art. We make sense of objects through context and the context in which the object had been placed was an art school! I suggested that this idea was closely linked with the notion of ontological authenticity and perhaps, by a further leap of the imagination, a way to humanise the post-human. Prompted by Cheng-Chu’s description of making sense of one urban shopping mall by comparing it with another from her home country, we discussed Augé’s Non Places and the importance of transient spaces in allowing for shared meanings, which enable many to make sense of the vast flows of information around us as we go about our day-to-day business. Indeed, it is perhaps in our ability to appropriate and dwell through our senses, that we are able to transform impersonal, standardised and supposedly alienating environments into make-shift homes. This pursuit of ontological authenticity is a highly individualistic perspective, yet it is counter to the technologies, which have been said to change the nature of what it means to be human. Foucault’s understanding of technology as hidden means of asserting class-dominance within everyday social life or Debord’s assertion that there are no direct experiences, only capitalist spectacle, reflect Moravec’s concerns about the post-human. The assertion of power structures through technologies of surveillance and cultural representations undoubtedly shapes experience at a social level. Yet in phenomenological terms, it may be possible to gain agency in resisting the effects of images and objects, bypassing wider sign systems or re-routing surface images towards the intimate and personal. As Dovey (2001), suggests, it is possible to represent a simulation and that authenticity can be found in our relations to even the most inauthentic images, objects and places. To a child, a waterfall in a shopping mall is as magical as the real thing!

And so we set about the process of using Kozel’s methods, rather than theorising as we as a group habitually tend have a tendency to do we focused on the pre-discursive. In meditation we opened ourselves out to four elements of phenomenological practice, which Kozel refers to as the four ‘existentials’ – lived space (spatiality), lived body (corporeality), lived time (temporality), and lived human relation (relationality or communality). We were asked to focus predominantly on one of these. I chose ‘relationality’. My notes on the experience are as follows:

Warmth filling the space – an expanding cloud

The sound of machines – air conditioning, ventilation, lighting, other technologies – the breath and pulse of the building

Voices in next door space – transient, the passing of time, the march towards the summer, the empting out of the building, the light outside evokes memories of those spaces – echoes from my youth (my art foundation course was at WSA)

Daylight, eternal blue sky – a constant, the beckoning from other moments under the same sky (conversations never heard, activities never seen)

Group in space a home within a home – a shell within a shell. Deeper still the resonances inside my own shell

Resonances coming from others in group – feelings, vibrations, shapes:

Person 1: Unease, oscillation – between two planes (flat shadows)

Person 2: The breath of the group, eyes watching, guarding, gathering

Person 3: The heartbeat, warm, radiant, sonar, solar

Person 4: Air, cool breeze, soft and gentle, nurturing

Person 5: Strong, solid like a bronze sculpture, warm metal in the sunshine

Back to my shell, back to my subjectivity – how might I use these understandings? How might we share our experiences inter-subjectively, as a group, to generate what Kozel (2008) terms, ‘artistic content’?

Cheng-Chu Weng: Thanks Jane leads a reach seminar, there are include heavy theories, such as Heidegger’s phenomenology, Foucault’s Structuralism, and Sartre’s Existentialism. The information bombards me, yet it is helpful. To identify and broad my shortage of academic knowledge. Before attending the seminar, to skim the text, the context, this is illogical for me, especially the instruction of researching phenomenological enquiry, but this is giving food for thought! Does research of phenomenology have instruction? What value we could earn from the instruction?

From the varied materials to help us consider ‘Phenomenology’ seriously, In the Susan Kozel: Phenomenology video offers the sense of the phenomenology’s body, and puritanical method of phenomenology research. There are two parts, which Kozel mentions are similar with Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s concepts. Both of them believe phenomenology is practicable. Second, Kozel’s concept of the ‘body as a resonance chamber’ (Bennett, 2015) alike as Merleau-Ponty’s idea of the body as “[…]. The body is the vehicle of being in the world, and having a body is, for a living creature, to be intervolved in a definite environment, to identify oneself with certain projects and be continually committed to them.” (Merleau-Ponty 1945, Phenomenology of Perception: 94) The requirement of understanding the body is through the relationship between ‘I’ and ‘other’. The relationship between ‘I’ and ‘others’ is contrasted with Jean-Paul Sartre’s concept. They do not deny others; they are interested in the phenomena between ‘I’ and ‘others’.

Furthermore, the phenomena provide the sense of being. To do the activity of Kozel’s ACT3 is the practice/ experience of the phenomena. It is interesting to experience rather than criticizing the theories. Although activity may similarly as meditation or art therapy, the practice of fundamental feeling, do condense our relationship.

Yvonne Jones: The session saw us reconsidering the history of Phenomenology, and partaking in a ‘Phenomenological Enquiry’ as prescribed by Suzan Kozel and led by Jane. The session was stimulating and a little disturbing.

Interest in and focus on notions of Phenomenology ebbs and flows, seemingly surfacing in periods of human anxiety, be it following direct experience and angst of war or as a response or reaction at times when there is a technology uprising. Our group interest in Imagination and Phenomenology has been organic in its development. We have widely different areas of expertise, never the less each of us have reported an enriching and expanding experience through dialogue, finding surprising commonalities previously unsuspected. We each have an innate sense of expecting and desiring, even seeking situations of direct experience, as a fundamental element to our individual practices.

Given comments by Stephen Hawking (Innovation and the Future), it is timely that the members of PIRG have come together and are developing conversations cross-referencing theorists in such an organic manner and forging a pathway of discourse around direct experiences and contact with objects/materials/people, to quote Jane. Through academic prowess we have built a tower of Babel, PIRG by intentionally setting out to create a safe-enough, non-competitive, supportive environment has opened doors to finding ways to new knowledge. By this I mean by leaving behind the cloak of jargon, members are free to state ‘I don’t understand what you are saying’ and to have the authentic foundational meaning of a theory or perspective spoken of in as many different ways as it takes. The group are all artists, all researchers; the Babel tower is being dismantled through conversation, through Phenomenology and Imagination. The academic speak, which is sometimes needed due to complexity, serves so often as a barrier to inter disciplinary and cross discipline research. I do hope that conviviality and trust demonstrated in PIRG can offer a model for the furtherance of new, shared knowledge and understanding.

It came as no real surprise to see that all group members subscribed to the view that we already use the model of Kozel, give or take a wriggle, in our practices. Art Practice Researches have to be shown as being rigorous, and have to withstand testing by peers. Historically artist research has been difficult to validate, given the hierarchy of the spoken and written word, denying the fundamental language of the visual. I experience my work as existing as field of Visual Philosophy, a term decried by numeric alphabet idealists. The balance is achievable. In the Extended-Body: Interview with Stelarc (1995) he states ‘The interest was really coupling the expression of an idea with the direct experience of it.’ What is noticeable is the extreme situation he is in, in order to experience the coupling of idea and direct experience. It brings to mind Moracec and his belief that there will be very few original (direct) experiences in the future, our data for an experience will come from a huge computer, somewhere out There, a sort of memory bank of data. Is Stelarc’s work indicative in part of the need for more extreme situations in order to have new and direct experiences?

For whatever reason, Bachelard shifted his emphasis into a grey area, from the ‘certainty’ and ‘clarity’ of science into the ‘swampy area’, behaving like a ‘Reflection-in-Action‘ Practitioner. Schon writes ‘reflection by the practitioner gives access to encompassing the uncertainty embedded in the swampy lowlands’ (The Reflective Practitioner 1983 Schon). Bachelard was excavating those swampy lowlands, seeing and returning to the anchor of the body. Without scaling the depths of human existence and experience, without awareness of the wonders of the evolved corporeal body, technology is cold and I suggest, as Hawkings states, can become dangerous to humanity.

The Phenomenology Enquiry was indeed a lived experience. In order to partake, my approach was to close my eyes, it did not occur to me to keep them open or circulate the space. Others did stay opened eyed, but on this occasion no one circulated. It was with interest that I realized a simple sound, reawakened parts of my history giving rise to connected emotions of the time. That the presence of the group was accepted and experienced as comfortable, so much so that relaxing I sensed them, the room the place, a sadness that the outside was behind a barrier…

It is quite appropriate and of its time to be reflecting on this age we are in, coming together under the heading of Phenomenology and Imagination and opening areas for examination that link with developments in art practice, theory, social sciences and technology.

This session led by Jane has questioned and reinforced for me the value and potential of PIRG.

Noriko Suzuki-Bosco: I find Phenomenology fascinating for its potential to connect and bridge other areas of philosophical thinking together with the realities of everyday lived experience. It seems to present a ‘real’ way of thinking about the human situatedness in the world.

Phenomenological enquiry, according to Max Van Manen, ‘explicate meanings that in some sense are implicit in our actions’. Van Manen points out that we, as human beings, know things through our bodies, through our relations with others and through interaction with the things of our world.
(Van Manen 1997 Researching Lived Experience: xiv)

Definition of phenomenological research (according to Van Manen):

  1. Phenomenological research is the study of lived experience
  2. Phenomenological research is the explication of phenomena as they present themselves to consciousness
  3. Phenomenological research is the study of essences
  4. Phenomenological research is the description of experiential meanings we live as we live them
  5. Phenomenological research is the human scientific study of phenomena
  6. Phenomenological is the attentive practice of thoughtfulness
  7. Phenomenological research is a search for what it means to be human
  8. Phenomenological research is a poetising activity.
    (Van Manen: 8-13)

Although phenomenological research provides rich grounds to investigate our being in the world, there are questions raised to the lack of ‘methods’ or procedural system in conducting the human scientific study of phenomena. Phenomenological enquiry asks people to be reflective, insightful, sensitive to language and constantly open to experience. This tendency to ward off any predetermined set of fixed procedures is one of the reasons why some think that phenomenology can be a bit ‘wishy-washy’, a bit mystical and overly poetic.

However, it does not mean that phenomenological enquiry happens in a haphazard way. Heidegger has talked about phenomenological reflection as following certain paths, ‘woodpaths’ towards a ‘clearing’, where something could be shown, revealed, or clarified in its essential nature.

Here is another list that Van Manen has created outlining the possible ‘paths’, a direction or a way, of navigating through a phenomenological enquiry:

  1. Turn to a phenomenon which seriously interests us and commits us to the world
  2. Investigate experience as we live it rather than as we conceptualise it
  3. Reflect on the essential themes which characterize the phenomenon
  4. Describe the phenomenon through the art of writing and rewriting
  5. Maintain a strong and oriented pedagogical relation to the phenomenon
  6. Balance the research context by considering parts and whole.
    (Van Manen: 30-31)

I am only scratching the surface here to try and understand what phenomenological enquiry can offer. I have no doubts that phenomenology can offer rich grounds to investigate how we experience the lifeworld, tapping into the body of knowledge, insights and history of the past thinkers, combined with the knowledge of one’s own lived experience. It also offers ways of connecting and sharing with others, as Jane’s experiential experiment during the PIRG session proved.


JB: finally, this says it all – The Muppets explain Phenomenology:

Facing the Posthuman

The Phenomenology and Imagination Research Group held a seminar on 24 March 2015 led by Yvonne Jones, with the title ‘Facing the Posthuman’. Developing thoughts from the previous sessions this session asked ‘How do ‘dwelling’ and ‘authenticity’ relate to the twenty first century and notions of the posthuman?’ This article provides notes drawn from the seminar and commentaries from the participants, Yonat Nitzan-Green, Bevis Fenner, Jane Bennett, Noriko Suzuki-Bosco and Cheng-Chu Weng.

Texts for the Seminar:

Yvonne Jones
: Having circulated the texts and looking to focus on Conversation as Methodology the session opened with a short introduction explaining my journey and how I have reached my current position in terms of the posthuman. The distinction between a literal posthuman envisaged by Moravec and the subject posthuman proposed by Katherine Hayles was made. Picking up on Patti’s session and Bevis’s session I wanted to open the questions of how dwelling and authenticity have meaning in our time when we are faced with the possibility of the coming into existence of literal posthumans. Many challenging questions and thoughts were voiced.

Theorists refernced were Foucault, Tim Ingold, Lacan, Heidegger and Bachelard amongst others. Their ideas were compared and contrasted with group members bringing their specialist knowledge. Bevis pointed out how we are often too busy to notice our senses and also how they have been hijacked by consumerism and society at large and used for ends other than direct sensation of our body and environment. Yonat raised the question, exactly what is the connection today between the senses and humanity? And that technology is changing us into something else even now. She put dialogue as an important element of being human, the breaking down of barriers and isolation. Noriko spoke of knowledge through experience (of making, and doing). Dwelling was tracked backwards to consider the womb as the ‘first shelter’ and the body as the ‘first shelter’.

The authentic self was considered in terms of existential authenticity considering Heidegger’s idea of the present already being the past. This led to discussion of consciousness and my interest in the recent development of the notion that consciousness may yet prove to be another externally existing energy that is of itself, as magnetism is (David Chalmers). Without debate, without deconstructing of both the theoretical and material realities and possibilities of our human pathway, it is possible we could slip into a literal posthuman future where human qualities are not of value, where ( to use the four characteristics used by Hayle) information takes precedence over instantiation, where the upstart consciousness is dismantled, where the body (the first prothesis0 is side lined for a machine and where humans are seamlessly joined to intelligent machines. Whether that is the headless body to an intelligent machine or a bodiless head to an intelligent machine is anyone’s guess.

The session opened up a sense of hope, optimism and movement that was a new insight (for me), based on sense that there is a ground swell being presented in society from the younger generation, one of promoting human attributes; the knowledge through making, through doing, spoken of by Noriko, the authenticity searched for though airb&b spoken of by Bevis. This move may be a natural backlash to the pervading indirect relating between people and to gaining information (through technology).

The discussion in the session repeatedly came back to the body and its value, the positive value of humanness. The group is functioning in a way that crosses boundaries, and opens new insights, bringing differing knowledge bases together. It is rewarding and enriching.

Noriko Suzuki-Bosco: 
I don’t know much about the debates around the idea of post-human and the thought of something beyond being human alarms me. I think I am not ready to let go of being human – both in mind and in body.

In the first chapter of his book, Making (2012), Tim Ingold describes how frustrated he felt in his early fieldwork days when his more experienced companions only told him to ‘know for yourself!’. He recalls how he initially thought they were simply being unhelpful or unwilling to share what they knew perfectly well. He realizes though that quite to the contrary, they wanted him to understand that the only way one can really know things – that is, from the very inside of ones being – is through a process of self-discovery. ‘To know things you have to grow into them, and let them grow in you, so that they become a part of who you are.’ (Ingold 2012, p.1)

Ingold terms the process of acquiring knowledge through practical and observational engagements ‘an art of inquiry’. In the art of inquiry, the conduct of thought goes along with, and continually answers to, the various materials with which you work. The process is very different from the experiments in natural science where you work from a hypothesis or conflicting ideas. In the art of inquiry, you try things and see what happens. Ingold points out that ‘the art of inquiry moves forward in real time, along with the lives of those who are touched by it, and with the world to which both it and they belong.’(Ingold 2012, p.7). We learn more and more about the world as we proceed and learn how to better correspond with it.

To be able to correspond and to have empathetic insights (for others) are abilities that I understand to be humane. They are not something that can be acquired over night nor can they be ‘taught’ using a textbook. In order to empathise with others, one has to be able to use their imagination and approximation, alter the self, if need be, and use it as the basis for communication and understanding across various differences. I think these qualities are vital for people to co-exist in this world.

If the world is heading toward a post-human world regardless, I just hope that the fundamental ability to be humane, the imagination and the approximation, the empathetic insights that allow us to connect with others, still exist.

Yonat Nitzan-Green: The following notes have been taken from a preparation text where I focused on the concept of existential authenticity as it is discussed in Carol J. Steiner and Yvette Reisinger ‘Understanding Existential Authenticity’; Yvonne’s presentation text; and the session.

Steiner and Reisinger looked at the concept of authenticity in the context of tourism; and in relation to Heidegger’s ‘existential authenticity’. They believe that the tourist industry provides opportunities to study and produce understandings for authenticity as a true ‘self’ (in distinction from authenticity as a real event or object). Heidegger developed the idea that there is no permanent ‘self’. The Dasein ‘is neither a lived body nor a subject … but a discrete and unique existential (human) being … exists as the essential manifestation of each individual involved with its world.’ Dwelling, according to Heidegger is ‘the intimate relationship between each Dasein and its world which mutually determines, limits and obligates each and both.’ (Both quotations are from Carol J. Steiner and Yvette Reisinger ‘Understanding Existential Authenticity’).

Yvonne asks ‘what … is an authentic dwelling place (house, home, original shell)?’ and ‘what is a self, authentic body in the twenty-first century?’ She considers the body as the first dwelling place, building on Bachelard’s thought. However, while Bachelard considers the house as the ‘non-I that protects the I’ (Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, 1994, p.5). Yvonne suggests ‘the corporeal body as the first house, the dwelling place, “the original shell”’. The artist and psychoanalyst Bracha Ettinger (The Matrixial Borderspace, 2006) theorized the womb as a primal space. This may be helpful to Yvonne’s research.

Yvonne describes Moravec’s vision for ‘a huge central computer from where we will … obtain all our information and experiences.’ Moravec’s concept of the ‘literal posthuman’, as I understand it, is not metaphorical but actual possibility where machine – robot will replace the human being. One idea that Moravec explores is that there is no future for the senses. Yvonne could not imagine life without senses. This led to look at and discuss the question how the senses connect to humanity. Yvonne talked about her works and research, explaining how her personal medical experience has led to her interest in the posthuman.

She found herself being positioned as a medical object, however, by initiating dialogue with the medical staff through speech and documentation she shifted her position and became a medical subject, thus empowering her authenticity in this authentic moment (‘experience’). The process of authenticity continued in the making of the art work where the artist keeps develop her understanding (what’s been done to her body/self). This unique understanding designates her as an authentic subject.

Cheng-Chu Weng: From Yvonne’s practices could see the sense of be-in-the-world. She putted the experiences of surgery in a ‘poetic’ way. The doctor is not a doctor anymore; the patient is not a patient anymore. What is the boundary between the seesaw?

I am impressed that Yvonne expose herself in front of the viewer. It not only presents the situations of her body/fresh, but also questioning what the relationship between the knowledge of medical and humankind. The curiosity of the inside of the human fresh presented in the painting could be seen started from the late 15th Century art, for instance, Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564)’s De humani corporis Fabrica (c.1543). Although in nowadays, the structure of the human body has been researched, the relationship between the body and spirit still is a paradox. The news (Surgeon Plans First Human Head Transplant, reported by SKY NEWS) does bring out the idea of individual fresh. This evokes the relationship between a human body and technology. I believe modern are embody with technology, especially the net work. Dr Hubert Dreyfus is an exporter of critic cyberspace in Merleau-Ponty’s theory (see Youtube video below). From my understanding of his evoke is the body/ brain as a network, fresh is embody with a computer. On the other hand, the news present the physical body rejected the artificial organ.

I am agreeing with Yvonne’s view that making practice is the process of finding yourself. Yvonne presents the method of ‘seeing’ inside and outside of her body. This may stronger than the target of feminist artists archived around 1970s, they overthrow the male gaze. For Yvonne, what are existing and humankind is important than the gender issue, as Pendergrast, M. quoted Balthazar Gracian in Mirror-A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection (Pendergrast, 2003: 131):

He who cannot see himself might as well not exist.

Although Gracian’s idea is providing the idea of death equal not able to seeing owns reflection, it may worth to twist the verb of the see. See, could be the phenomenon of sugary experience in Yvonne’s research. The phenomenon of this seminar also could get the sense of existing, this created by the relationship of sharing and trusting.


Jane Bennett: The fear that our human bodies will be replaced by machines goes back as far as the automata of the 1st century AD with the Greek myth of Talos and the automata built by Hero(n) of Alexandria. (Somewhat ironic in the light of this discussion – Heron took mathematics towards the practical experiment rather than the deductive and abstract.)

In “A Cyborg Manifesto”, written in the 1980s, Donna Haraway examined the way in which distinctions between the natural organism and the machine were becoming ambiguous. Using the concept of the cyborg, she weighs the arguments for and against the move towards cybernetic organisms and the politics behind their creation.

“By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs. The cyborg is our ontology; it give us our politics. The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centres structuring any possibility of historical transformation. In the traditions of ‘western’ science and politics – the tradition of racist, male-dominant capitalism; the tradition of progress; the tradition of the appropriation of nature as resource for the productions of culture; the organism and machine has been a border war. The stakes in the border war have been the territories of production, reproduction, and imagination. This chapter is an argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction.” (Donna J. Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women – The Reinvention of Nature, Free Association Books, 1991, p150.)

She elaborates on the boundaries between human and animal, between human/animal (organism) and machine, and between physical and non-physical, proposing how the cyborg world could be either one of extreme control or one that celebrates partial identities. Whilst this was abstract imagining based on current science, we seem to be closer now to the possibilities she imagined and I wonder if this tempers our feelings about these possibilities. The focus of our discussions has been on the bodily experience of this scientific intervention and how it actually feels (physically and emotionally) to the subject, which gives a totally different perspective to Haraway’s story.

Yesterday, I was reminded how contingent our human bodies are when my family was plunged into a set of circumstances that highlighted its frailty in a different number of ways: the elderly body that is no longer able to support itself, a diseased body that is destroying itself from within and a broken body that brings to a halt all normal activity. When our bodies are subject to an overwhelming barrage of ‘senses’ – pain, mechanical failure – would we view the idea of a cybernetic body somewhat differently? The day previously, I saw the stunning paintings of Marlene Dumas and Richard Diebenkorn. These two painters are embedded in totally oppositional subject matters – the human and the abstract – but what their work had in common in their application of paint was the compelling evidence of human touch.

Bevis Fenner: Yvonne led a really interesting seminar, which expanded upon the explorations of dwelling and existential authenticity in the previous two sessions. The seminar centred around both the notion of the post-human (Moravec, 1997) and a news story about a surgeon planning to carry out the first human head transplant. In the case of the latter, the possiblity of such a thing encourages us to consider the relationship between the body and its senses and the cognition of subjective experience by the mind. Yet, where does the spirit fit into to these Cartesian relations? Yvonne asked us to consider several interesting questions relating to the news story:

Is it head transplant or body transplant?

Is the result an authentic person, self, body?

Does the new body dwell in the head, or the new head dwell in the body?

All of these questions prompt us to how notions of an authentic self relate to lived sensory experience or how we live through our bodies. Yet our sensory experience is once removed by the time we know it in a subjective sense. However, whatever the time delay in, for example, processing light and colour into subjective experience, as Noriko suggests, knowing is a ‘lived in’ process of doing, sensing, making; we cannot understand our bodies until we have used them. In Hedeggerian terms, an embodied authenticity of being or Dasein, comes from knowing the body not as present-at-hand – a theoretical object of the subject in which any body is an interchangeable tool for the head – but as ready to hand or that which is already known. Noriko points us in the direction of Tim Ingold who suggests that ‘[t]o know things you have to grow into them, and let them grow in you, so that they become a part of who you are’ (Ingold, 2012: 1). And it is this idea of the authentic self coming from ‘lived-in’ relations to the corporeal world that brings us back to the concept of dwelling (Heidegger, 1962; Pons, 2003). Indeed, one of the most powerful aspects of Yvonne’s work was her conscious mediation of the subject / object relationship as disseminated by the medical profession. As Foucault the body and its ailments become clinical objects of medical subjects. The relationship between medical subjects and objects become habitual and so the human is betrayed to the disease:

Doctor and patient are caught up in an ever-greater proximity, bound together, the doctor by an ever-more attentive, more insistent, more penetrating gaze, the patient by all the silent, irreplaceable qualities that, in him, betray—that is, reveal and conceal—the clearly ordered forms of the disease (Foucault, 1963)

Yet, for Yvonne, the process of engaging the physician in a dialogue enabled a mediation of the clinical process in which medical subject and object cease to be as a reflexive awareness breaks the habitual bond of this symbiosis. The surgeon becomes aware of the human inside the body and the experience of being-in-the-world is shared by both parties. In reclaiming their senses from the habitual zone of the operating theatre, both doctor and patient allow their bodies to shelter Being. In a literal sense this process re-humanises the post-human body or the body in which all sensory experience is redundant. I would like to suggest that this mediation, this reflexive process of negating ontological authenticity, whilst appearing individualistic – in not letting the ‘my self’ – is in fact a crucial part of being human through sharing what it means to be human; empathising and allowing others to empathise. Noriko has the last word:

In order to empathise with others, one has to be able to use their imagination and approximation, alter the self, if need be, and use it as the basis for communication and understanding across various differences. I think these qualities are vital for people to co-exist in this world (Suzuki-Bosco, 2015).

Living Under the Tourist Gaze

The Phenomenology and Imagination Research Group held a seminar on 19 January 2015, led by Bevis Fenner, with the title ‘Living under the tourist gaze: AirBnB, dwelling and the reflexive negotiation of environmental meaning under the conditions of late capitalism’. The session expanded the previous session’s exploration of what constitutes ‘dwelling’ and ‘home’, led by Patti Gaal-Holmes, to take on notions of ‘existential authenticity’ and performativity in ‘dwelling’. This article provides notes and commentaries drawn from the seminar by the participants, Patti Gaal-Holmes, Noriko Suzuki-Bosco, Yvonne Jones, Yonat Nitzan-Green, Jane Bennett, Cheng-Chu Weng, Simiao Wang.

Texts for Seminar:

  • Ning Wang – Rethinking Authenticity in Tourism Experience (pp. 359-366)
  • Dean MacCannell – Staged Authenticity: Arrangements of Social Space in Tourist Settings (pp. 591-598)
  • Tim Edensor – Performing Tourism, Staging Tourism (pp. 71-79)

Following on from Patti’s seminar on dwelling and making yourself  ‘at home in the world,’ Bevis opened up a discussion about the extent to which we can open out to external influences in order to disrupt ‘habitual ways of being’ without loosing our sense of ‘home’ in ourselves. Vilém Flusser’s provocative suggestion that we need to move away from the encased individualism of houses and build for a collective future, is extremely inspiring. Yet to what extent is it possible to share our private spaces of dwelling – opening our houses and minds to others? Moreover, what are the challenges for cultures in which ‘bricks and mortar’ notions of dwelling and Cartesian relations to the world have become habits for dwelling? For Heidegger, dwelling ‘remains for man’s everyday experience that which is from the outset “habitual” – we inhabit it’ (Heidegger, 1978: 247).

The seminar was based around a draft chapter for Bevis’ thesis document, which explores the idea of ontological authenticity or that which Wang (1999) terms ‘existential authenticity’ in tourism performance. Specifically, he used auto-ethnographic perspectives and observations as a former AirBnB host to explore some of the ways in which tourist performance and ‘staged’ social relations might impact upon ontological authenticity in everyday life.

Bevis Fenner: It turned out to be a very exciting and engaging seminar in which we debated both the nature of authenticity in tourism and everyday life, and the distinctions between host / guest, tourist / non-tourist, which perhaps led us to question both the status of the art object and the need to assert the intention of the artwork in order to govern its reception. One of the key issues that came up was the notion of performance both as a way of directing the self and as a means representation for others – what does playing the tour guide ‘do’ from an ontological perspective? This also brought into play the issue of authenticity in performance and how as tourists we seek ‘the real’ in other peoples, places and things. Yet, as Patti pointed out, this highlights the fragile nature of ontological authenticity, as the ‘authentic’ settings of host communities force us to question whether we are tourists or travellers, friends with hosts or simply their customers. Indeed, as both Cheng-Chu and Yonat pointed out when I said that I wanted to “get under the skin of tourism”, tourists are often thought of as shallow, depthless with nothing under the skin – they are caricatures like Duane Hanson’s sculptures!

As the conversation unfolded, we began to realise the complexities of authenticity in tourism. Ontological or ‘existential tourism’ was discussed in relation to the post-human. Yvonne got us to consider whether or not she authenticity was based on experience rather than the veracity of objects by stating that she had ‘fake’ lenses in her eyes. After reflecting on the way that technology distorts or changes notions of authenticity, Simiao pointed out that just as one might visit a ‘fake’ place like a theme park but experience it in an authentic human way, so too is it Yvonne’s ability make use of or appropriate the lenses in multi-sensory experience that makes her relationship with them ontologically authentic. Yet, as Yvonne noted, even seemingly authentic objects can be inauthentic. She argued that there is something inauthentic about Venice, in that it is left in a crumbling state, very few people actually live there, and there is a sense in which the peeling paintwork and opulently acetic candlelit settings would not exist in the ‘outside world’! We touched upon the notion of ‘staged authenticity’ as the maintenance of aura, which brings to mind, on the one hand Baudrillard’s simulacra, and on the other Benjamin’s notion of the ‘aura’ of the art object. However, what became apparent was that performance and ritual were a necessary to social relations and that tourism often offers strict boundaries for this – ‘habitual ways of being’ a tourist which offer ontological security (Edensor, 2001). We also discussed role the objects that we bring away with us as ‘pieces of home’ and Jane suggested that these were perhaps a kind of reproduced private space – our backstage whilst on tour!

The discussion then moved on to debate the notion of the public and private self in relation to the home and how it differs from culture to culture. Noriko pointed out that the performative roles were a strong part of Japanese culture and there is a respecting of these boundaries in which no-one visiting someone’s home or a public inn would expect to look behind the scenes. Likewise, Simiao explained the ritualised socio-spatial boundaries of traditional Chinese home and how these reflected social and religious hierarchy and reverence within the family structure. This brought about a fruitful fork in our conversation in which, we firstly discussed ideas of the self and the home in relation to both individualism and collectivism, and secondly the role of performative ritual and ceremony in cultural representations – a Benjamin inspired notion linking the ‘host space’ of tourism with the art gallery, and the rituals of representation lost in an age of mechanical reproduction. Indeed, as Cheng-Chu suggests ‘[w]here is the sense of focusing? Do people’s action embodied with a space?’.

We then considered the effects of de-traditionalisation both in the East and the West as bringing about the rise of individualism and its compounding of Cartesian divisions between inside and outside, self and world. The rise of counter culture in the 1960s seems to have perpetuated notions of self against society, in which one’s own future more important than that of one’s family. Indeed, Yvonne, gave a personal anecdote in which she described moving as far away from her parents’ home and the responsibility of family. She talked about refusing to return home when she was 21 and engaged to be married, despite being offered a car! She explained that they were disappointment as they considered she belonged to them, should be guided by them and do as she was told. Interestingly, in the ethics of individualism the home seems to become on the one hand, a refuge from ideologically contaminating ‘outside’, and on the other, a publicly-private space – a shop front for the self – through which is an express of identity to others. Here, the home becomes a contestable space of representational negotiation and hybridity, in which self and ‘home’, are perhaps, interchangeable. Interestingly, I began the seminar with a quote from Richard Sennett about the rise of the protestant ethic in the West and its affect on spatial structures. He argues that the protestant ethic, is at the heart of individualism, which is, in turn, the foundation of capitalism. For Sennett, ‘[o]bsessive inner struggle may imply a deep hostility toward the needs of other people, a resentment of their very presence. Other’s interfere; to get in control of oneself, nothing “out there” can count’ (Sennett, 1990: 45).

At this point the nature of my own practice was brought into question, which as Yonat pointed out becomes a form of performance in which the status of the artwork is negated but the aura is retained and reused in negotiation of representation both for and by others. In different settings my paintings are ‘read’ in different ways by different people, and the contexts take into account this multi-accentuality. These discussions allowed us to question the enlightenment notion of tourism as a negative form of behaviour in which we demand to see or have, that which we desire in our minds to the exclusion of the objective world, as it is as opposed to how we think it ought to be. Instead, we considered both art and tourism as exploring a gentle politics of Being – as both an openness to the world and a letting things be.

Cheng-Chu Weng: It is a lovely seminar again; I wish, I am able to hold a seminar as this in the future. The question of what is the authenticity did open up the glory discussion. I am impressed in the way your practice set up to adjust the issue, for instance the elements of practice: painting, AirBnB and tourists.

I remember in the seminar the question Yonat asked about, how do you put your position with your painting? This is the question I want to ask as well. I assumed your answer will be evoked the issue of gallery or Benjamin, W.’s aura. The answer from you seems much more complex; due to it intervene the specific viewers. I do feel the relationship between you and your painting is cold. As a painter, I do feel painting is part of me, presenting works as I am naked in front of people. For you the paintings are empty? Painting is working in specific environment? At the page 13, you said “[…] the white walls and spotlights of the hall space…. However, this is not a gallery we can dwell in.” I do agree the form of painting is hard to demonstrate in different environments, especially the light. Whilst paintings take out from the studios the light do change the aura. Furthermore, I do agree the idea of painting should not be understood or view by the specific people and place, which is the reservation for Dadaism and Pop art. On the other hand, I do find moderns’ visions have been disturbed by the technology seriously. Where is the sense of focusing? Do people’s action embodied with a space? As you argue that the idea of performing. However, I think ‘formal’ galleries do pervade the phenomenon of concentrating, and ceremony. A few months before, I visit Richard Serra’s exhibition at Gagosian Gallery. The securities look like come from movie “Men in Black”, they seems had been chosen, model size with black suits. Viewers seem to also respond to the phenomenon the artist created. Both of they are performing.

While reading the text, I do find the position of the host as a the shadow/ illusion maker in Plato’s cave story. Tourists are searching for the exotic experience, yet actually they are in the shadow of the cave. In the end of the seminar, I think from the group desecration did answer my doubt that why do not present the issue as Duane Hanson’s tourists serious? Although the narrative of the tourists’ feedback/ commit of the AirBnB or painting are general ideas for me, the responds from they are providing the holes of the research. This holes create the link between practice and theory.

Thanks, Bevis and the phenomenology & Imagination Reading Group. I do not only find learning the theories from yours, but also find enjoy of sharing the ideas. The idea of sharing is the treasury. From Noriko, Patti, to Bevis seminars are provides different text from phenomenology, yet gives the same sense of being-in-the-world. I like to conclude the idea by quote Merleau-Ponty’s theory:

 […]; we have found underneath the objective and detached knowledge of the body that outher knowledge which we have of it in virtue of its always being with us and of the fact that we are our body. In the same way we shall need to reawaken our experience of the world as it appears to us in so far as we are in the world through our body, and in so far as we perceive the world with our body. But by thus remaking contact with the body and with the world, we shall also rediscover ourself, since, perceiving as we do with our body, the body is a natural self and, as it were, the subject of perception(1945:239).

Following the discussion of family, identity and the being-in-the world do reminds me John’s seminar The Big Night: Into the Ultacity, the idea of escape. Could we imagine the society as the movie The Road? Moreover refer to the idea of family, peak up the memory of the lovely film from German filmmaker Doris Dorrie’s Cherry Blossoms. It is interesting that in the end link to Patti’s. As well as the lovely collection book in WSA library John Bently’s The Old House.

Yvonne Jones: Ontological authenticity, using the notion of authentic within existential philosophy and a definition of ontology, we are speaking of being, becoming, an existence and reality that is genuine, made in the traditional or original way, not a copy.

Within the session my attention was attracted to the over riding concept of AirBnB as a means to achieving authentic experiences of place and people.

Moravec claims that our future is one of very little original experience, and that the senses have no future (1997). While this sounds extreme (to me) the sources of our daily experiences have already altered at a fast rate with the developments in technology. We ‘see’ events across mediated information, witnessing from a distance, via film, TV, the internet and social media to name a few. How often do we see the world (once removed) through glass, be it the window of our house or the windows of the vehicles in which we travel? From Patti’s session, Flusser (Building Houses) writes of walls and the holes of windows and doors where the window becomes an instrument, allowing that ‘one could peer outside without getting wet’; he is describing a distancing of direct experience. He refers us to a Greek term theoria meaning, knowledge without danger or direct experience. Moravec’s belief moves along the spectrum of indirect experience to where there will be a time, he claims, when the vast majority of our knowledge will be sourced from one gigantic computer out in the universe, revealing to us all we would wish to know, with very few moments of original (authentic?) direct experience. He used this model to include ‘all the wonders of the world’, being made known to us. This notion is an evolution and extension of Flusser’s model of holes in walls that allow us to avoid direct experience, to a model where we cease to experience anything directly or through the senses; no direct experiences, but seemingly ‘avoiding danger (and direct experience)’. Where would we be dwelling at that point, how authentic a human would we be, would we all be tourists of the inauthentic?

In his work, Bevis is exploring ontological authenticity. The session was stimulating. That people are today seeking out the backstage in order to have authentic experiences of authentic people and places, is itself exciting. It holds the potential of instigating a discussion and debate that offers a choice for our future, rather than now and future living beings becoming subsumed into a literal posthuman existence without challenging it. While the notion (of literal posthuman existence) appears at first sight to be extreme, there is an evolving path, that, without discourse could lead to such a goal.

Authentic also means made in a way that faithfully resembles an original. Moravec believes a bio material machine can be created in the future, one that ‘me’ can be transferred into, out from ‘my’ old or injured born-corporeal body, leaving the original behind and discarded. Would this faithful resemblance be authentic, would it be characterised by the existential understanding of authentic with the capacity of being, becoming, would this faithful resemblance have an existence and reality that is genuine? It would not have been made in the traditional or original way, via sexual reproduction, but it would be the same genetic construct as the “me’ who was transferred. This is after all only extending idea of incorporating an artificial limb or a natural lens being destroyed and replaced by an artificial lens. In the scenario of such a literal posthuman would, as Simiao says, the ability of ‘me’ to appropriate the bio-material machine make it ontologically authentic?

That ontological authenticity is being sought out, suggests there is already an awareness of our reductive capacity for genuine experience. The emptiness expressed in Bevis’s practice, his paintings, offers an experience for the viewer that questions our experience of existence.

Thank you Bevis for your session and all who participated. The sharing of information and the open talk within this supportive group (PIRG) is productive, a place of real learning and advancement of thought. The group is innovative in its methodology it stimulates and encourages authentic thoughts, responses and comments.

Yonat Nitzan-Green: Bevis wrote: ‘I would like to open a discussion on the extent to which we open out to external influences in order to disrupt “habitual ways of being” without loosing our sense of “home” in ourselves.’

I was interested to see how a discussion will be opened up within the academic environment (Winchester School of Art), bearing in mind HIRG/PIRG moment of transition; not only in term of location (moving from Southampton University café to the PGR seminar room) but also in term of method and methodology. I was aware that Bevis’ opening statement reflects, un-intentionally perhaps, this moment of transition. At the beginning of the session I mentioned very briefly the method of conversation which was used at all previous meetings and the method of presentation which is used in academic seminars. I suggested that a synthesis between the two methods may be a base for PIRG methodology. In line with the topic of this seminar, Bevis’ presentation hosted the method of conversation perfectly, thus, I, and I believe, the others, felt at home.

I go back to the question: what is it to feel ‘at home’?

Bevis writes: ‘For Heidegger, dwelling “remains for man’s everyday experience that which is from the outset ‘habitual’ – we inhabit it” (Heidegger, 1978:247)’.

I looked at the etymological meaning of the word ‘habitual’ in Hebrew and found that it shares the same root as ‘leg’ הרגל, רגל . This is close to the Aborigines’ nomadic way of dwelling (Michael Jackson’s At Home in the World, introduced by Patti Gaal-Holmes). There is an ancient word in Judaism – ‘holidays’ – רגלים which also shares the same root as ‘leg’. It refers to the tradition of walking from all parts of the country to the temple in Jerusalem on special, sacred days. Thus, the word ‘habitual’ maintains a dialectical meaning: the everyday habit, on the one hand, and a special occasion, on the other hand. It also preserves a connection with the body; it is through and with the body that we dwell. I mentioned the kibbutz childhood system of children groups moving house every two years; another daily routine (not mentioned at our meeting) was walking from the ‘children’s house’ to the ‘parents room’ to visit one’s parents every evening for about 3 hours; then walking back to sleep at the ‘children’s house’. No wonder I feel empathy and find in me some sense of familiarity with the Aborigines way of life.

Bevis introduced two concepts ‘auto-ethnography’ and ‘existential authenticity’. I think it is a good idea to put here something about each of these concepts.

‘Autoethnography is a form of self-reflection and writing that explores the researcher’s personal experience and connects this autobiographical story to wider cultural, political, and social meanings and understandings. It differs from ethnography —a qualitative research method in which a researcher uses participant observation and interviews in order to gain a deeper understanding of a group’s culture— in that autoethnography focuses on the writer’s subjective experience rather than, or in interaction with, the beliefs and practices of others. As a form of self-reflective writing, autoethnography is widely used in performance studies, as a method in living educational research and English.’ (From Wiki:

I looked at ‘existential authenticity’ as it is explained in Carol J. Steiner and Yvette Reisinger, ‘Understanding Existential Authenticity’ (see link:

‘Heidegger uses the term “authenticity” to indicate that someone is being themselves existentially (1996:247-277). This is deeper than being oneself behaviorally or psychologically. To be oneself existentially means to exist according to one’s nature or essence, which transcends day-to-day behavior or activities or thinking about self. Because existential authenticity is experience-oriented, the existential self is transient, not enduring, and not conforming to a type. It changes from moment to moment. As a result, a person is not authentic or inauthentic all the time. There is no authentic self.’ (Carol J. Steiner and Yvette Reisinger, ‘Understanding Existential Authenticity’, p. 303).

This made me wonder about the kind of authenticity that emerged in people who lived communally during their early, formative years of personal development.

Another point that interests me is Bevis’ choice of positioning his paintings within this presentation. I have noticed that the images seem to be like any other standard tourists accommodation; the paintings appear in all but one of them, always at an angle and surrounded by other domestic objects, which emphasize their objectness.

In his analysis, Bevis’ intention is made clearer. He termed ‘everyday tourism’ as ‘a work in progress’. In that context, the paintings (his paintings) are in a space/role of mediation. He writes: ‘… the aura of the artwork is never destroyed by mediation but is always in negotiation with context, through which hybrid meanings are produced’. I sense that for Bevis AirBnB was not only a financial necessity, but a performative act in a performative space where questions about existential authenticity could be explored.

To further understand representation in relation to mediation Bevis writes:

‘In discussion of web aesthetics as a reframing of the mediated nature of representational practices, Manghani suggests that re-mediation or the framing-of-framing is an aesthetic of hypermediacy, “which represents our… desire to foreground the act of mediation” (Manghani, 2013: 163)’.

Now, placing mediation at the foreground, Bevis’ paintings ‘are not simply commodities but actors within a commoditized performance space. They play emotional role …prospective visitors … through… suspension of disbelief, envisage ways in which the space could become a temporary home’ (Bevis’ text). Heidegger writes: ‘dwelling itself is always a staying with things’ (Heidegger, 1978b:247). Bevis suggests that ‘perhaps in their ambiguity and obtuseness the paintings allow such dwelling?’

Although not in Bevis’ text, I am reminded of Bachelard’s meditation of home and reverie. Bachelard writes:

‘… the house is one of the greatest powers of integration for the thoughts, memories and dreams of mankind. The binding principle in this integration is the daydream. Past, present and future give the house different dynamisms, which often interfere, at times opposing, at others, stimulating one another. In the life of a man, the house thrusts aside contingencies, its councils of continuity are unceasing. Without it, man would be a dispersed being.’ (Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, pp. 6-7).

Reinforcing Bevis’ suggestion, I would add that the paintings accommodate the tourist’s gaze; housing their daydreaming.

Noriko Suzuki-Bosco: I have been looking into the area of Human Geography recently to try and understand ‘where’ and ‘what’ a place is.

In the book ‘The Lure of the Local’, art critic and writer Lucy Lippard gives definition of ‘local places’ as an ‘existing hybridity’ and that ‘each time we enter a new place, we become one of the ingredients of the existing hybridity’. She suggests that ‘by entering the hybrid, we change it; and in each situation we play a different role’. (Lippard 1997, p.6)

Lippard notes, ‘Place is latitudinal ad longitudinal within the map of a person’s life. It is temporal and spatial, personal and political. A layered location replete with human histories and memories, place has width as well as depth. It is about connections, what surrounds it, what formed it, what happened there, what will happen there.’ (Lippard 1997, p.7)

I thought about the definition Lippard gives of a place in relation to the host –guest situation of a BnB. If a home is opened up to accommodate others, does that allow for more of this ‘hybridity’ to enter into the so-called personal space? How does this affect one’s relationship with their home?

Your question, ‘ ‘How much can we disrupt our habitual ways of being without losing our sense of home?’ and the two further points raised during the discussion, ‘what are we losing (by opening up our homes to guests)’ and ‘what are we protecting’ seemed ever more prevalent when contemplating this potential shift of home from a personal, sacred place to something more open, hybrid and fluid. From this understanding, is it correct to say that a home opened up to others are never complete, finished or bounded but are always becoming – in process? Maybe a fixed notion of a ‘home’ only exists in our nostalgic, rose tinted ideal?

Furthermore, Lippard suggest that the ‘pull of a place’ continues to operate in all of us as the ‘geographical component of the psychological need to belong somewhere, one antidote to a prevailing alienation’ (Lippard 1997, p.7). Is this why people seek ‘home from home’ experiences when choosing a ‘cosy’ BnB, the desire to be in a home?

I have been pondering over the last question we ended your session with, ‘When you break your “rootedness”, what do you replace it with to call a “home”? ‘

I wonder what this ‘home’ is.

Jane Bennett: It was interesting to note your guests’ comments about being amongst “real” art; perhaps part of what they seek in their search for the back-region is gained from the reflected aura of the art object. The performative function of your paintings in this situation brought to mind Jacques Derrida’s ideas about framing (The Truth in Painting, 1987): the tourist’s performance is in a framed setting, a part of which are your paintings. But the effect of the paintings themselves extends beyond their own frame and their work is additional to their function as an object in a number of ways. Firstly, in the authentic aura of a hand-made object with direct connection to a person that reinforces the back-region illusion; they allow the guest to project themselves into this new world they desire to experience. Secondly, as you state, in their critique of the whole tourist experience in the emptiness of their subject matter and the way in which you have painted them. Just as the frame of the painting sets it aside from the outside world, so the frame (or stage) of tourist experience separates it from our everyday lives.

A further thought about the objects we carry around on our travels – perhaps these become the lifeline to our authentic selves, or ‘home’, which may be necessary lest we become too deeply embedded in our daydream as tourist and forget where reality lies.

Patti Gaal-Holmes: This was such a rich session with a lot to think about and some unexpected connections I found myself making. Since the January session I have stayed in airBnB again (this time in the UK – Taunton) and my experience there made me acutely aware of this ‘act’ of being and entering into the intimacy of someone’s home. Bevis had already raised the ideas for his presentation so it was good to be more aware of the ‘role-playing’ involved. I have previously stayed in AirBnB in Copenhagen (twice) and somehow feel that for traveling abroad it is a better option than a hotel/B&B. Perhaps this is also because the cultural negotiations are also eased by being hosted by a local person who can give tips and ideas about places to visit off the ‘tourist’ radar; and one gains entry into the culture more ‘authentically’ perhaps? Or perhaps a myth?

The idea of cultural difference and how we negotiate this is of immense interest to me and your citations from Lippard, Noriko, are very interesting: in how ‘we become one of the ingredients of the existing hybridity’. She suggests that ‘by entering the hybrid, we change it; and in each situation we play a different role’. (Lippard 1997, p.6). Perhaps by staying in an ‘authentic’ home (AirBnB) we take on the hybridity in cultural difference more readily than when staying in ‘homogenized’ hotels which could be anywhere?

I was also interested in how Bevis discussed his artworks and their role in providing the ‘right’ décor with reference to tourist brochures and which guests felt was so important as being authentic ‘real’ art. Cheng Chu’s point about the ‘cold’ relationship to the work was interesting but perhaps this is also due to the content as these are not angst-ridden expressive works which would be more difficult perhaps for ‘exposing’ oneself; which one already does as a AirBnB host by opening up the personal space of the home.

Our discussion about the cultural differences in traditional Eastern collectively orientated families as opposed to Western individualism was interesting and it was invaluable to hear Cheng-Chu and Simiao’s contributions too. Perhaps as tourists we want somehow to also gain some understanding of how other cultural systems work as we can only really very tentatively step into them: unless we live elsewhere (as opposed to a brief trip/holiday).