Caroline Woolard conceived of and designed and Stamatina Gregory curated WOUND (pronounced waʊnd) as a study center. Programs are scheduled throughout within the exhibition at The Cooper Union, to engage with the materials. The show is open from October 14 – November 11, 2016.
The afternoon of Saturday, October 15, a group of workshop participants and I spent an hour with the Braid Whiteboard. I briefly spoke about its connection to permutations of academic curriculum, and how the diagram can serve as a template in relation to which elements that make up arts practices can be highlighted, particularly in how they intersect at a given moment, but also how they remain mobile over time. I described the braid as a donut, the shape of which is imagined to be be subject to topological deformation, minimizing and maximizing positions, while nothing can be excised. With no beginning or end, it is continuously traversed by a trefoil. The diagram looks like an image of a life saver. We also briefly discussed how it grew in conjunction with another diagram, of Karen Barad’s concepts.
Painter Elisabeth Condon stepped up to explore. Getting ready to close her exhibition at Leslie Heller Workspace with an artist talk the following day, modalities of her studio practice were foremost on her mind, while other activities are currently minimized. Elisabeth focused on drawing out relations of material and visual languages and their iterations to mediating narratives.
Elisabeth Condon’s Braid
Members of the collective BFAMFAPhD then shifted the conversation. As a group who also has generalized working terms about elements that constitute art practice, their initial exercise here was to map our concepts onto each other. In later also outlining their practice in relation to the template, the distinctions between a research practice and a studio practice were fruitfully highlighted. That prompted us to pay attention to how the Braid proposes a key difference between work in the sciences and work in the arts, residing in the order in which language formation and making (object formation) occur. This then led to a conversation about how academic art education navigates this shared terrain, where elements of the explicitly stated methodologies that constitute the core of the sciences are partially, and often clumsily superimposed on arts education curricula. We agreed that this is an important conversation to expand on.
Agnes Szanyi (seated), Caroline Woolard, Susan Jahoda, Emilio Martinez Poppe of BFAMFAPhD
From thinking about the foundations of curricula we veered deeper into thinking more generally about occluded foundations of codes. The part of the Braid designated Managing is the place where power and opportunities, constraints and agency as part of practice are invited into the conversation. This goes far beyond instrumental considerations about how to develop a career. It is about seeking transparency about professional immersion in parameters of belief and justification, normalcy and appropriateness. I referred to reverberations of this theme in Vilém Flusser’s writing, and to Judith Butler’s What is Critique: An Essay on Foucault’s Virtue (2001). Here is a relevant quote, opposing modes of critique and judgment, bringing together Adorno and Foucault:
“For critique to operate as part of a praxis, for Adorno, is for it to apprehend the ways in which categories are themselves instituted, how the field of knowledge is ordered, and how what it suppresses returns, as it were, as its own constitutive occlusion. Judgments operate for both thinkers as ways to subsume a particular under an already constituted category, whereas critique asks after the occlusive constitution of the field of categories themselves. What becomes especially important for Foucault in this domain, to try to think the problem of freedom and, indeed, ethics in general, beyond judgment: critical thinking constitutes this kind of effort.”
While in New York this weekend, I had other experiences, too. They revolve around art that embraces sincerity, vulnerability and depth, and have become part of these considerations. Before the opening of WOUND, on Thursday evening, I wandered, tired from the early flight. At the Strand, third floor collectibles, right at the first table past the elevator, I came up on Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room”, the first book by Baldwin I read before moving to the US, not yet knowing the author, somewhat randomly picked from the collectibles department of my favorite (now closed) hometown book store. At attention, I circled the table and saw Margaret Mead and James Baldwin’s A Rap on Race, the transcript of a conversation held in 1970, between an anthropologist and systems thinker and a poet and social critic. Here are the opening lines:
“Baldwin: Everyone really knows how long the blacks have been here. Everyone knows on what level blacks are involved with the American people and the American life. These are not secrets. It is not a question even of the ignorance of white people. It is a question of the fears of white people.
Mead: Yes, I know.
Baldwin: So that’s what makes it so hysterical, so unwieldy and so completely irretrievable. Reason cannot reach it. It is as though some great, great wound is in the whole body, and no one dares to operate: to close it, to examine it, to stitch it. “
Wound here is pronounced wuːnd.
Friday night, I saw Nastio Mosquito’s Respectable Thief videos at MoMA. I was surprised by the theme of the human quest for love as part of the presentation, particularly ringing after also seeing the Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter exhibit.
Saturday morning I saw Power to the People: 50 Years of the Black Panthers, at Steven Kasher gallery. The manifesto below needs no comment.
Having noted the announcement in The New Yorker on the flight, I was surprised to be able to get tickets to Anna Deveare Smith’s first preview performance of Notes from the Field, at Second Stage Theatre, Saturday night. When Claudia Rankine showed a compilation of videos of police violence and murder during her talk in Chicago recently, I learned how it differs to watch these documents communally. Not as an implicated voyeur at a suddenly dirty desktop, but as a citizen among others. I am now realizing that Anna Deveare Smith, in her play, deploys vulnerability on an unsettling, enormous scale. In front of text and images, Anna Deveare Smith channelled her interviewee’s words and emotions, their shortcomings mixed in with her own. She was buttressed by her digital scaffolding, and by her sidekick/musician, Marcus Shelby, whose contribution, I felt, was to emanate kindness, in sound and gesture, to model hope for coming dialogue.
During the Saturday afternoon conversation we had at WOUND (waʊnd), Judith Leemann asked how one might note not what is occluded, but first that something is occluded, to begin with. Caroline Woolard responded by speaking of insecurity, experienced in physically exercising towards a new skill, producing awkward giggles, embarrassment.
With the help of Judith Butler again, quoted from the same essay as above, I believe it is possible to show that the experience of vulnerability, small and large, as part of cultural practice relates to the very much larger one, the vulnerability of minds and bodies, to injustice and brutality in real life; that the considerations of epistemology, how and what one knows, when enacted, can be of use to imagining and then shaping policy.
“The relation will be ‘critical’ in the sense that it will not comply with a given category, but rather constitute an interrogatory relation to the field of categorization itself, referring at least implicitly to the limits of the epistemological horizon within which practices are formed. The point will not be to refer practice to a pregiven epistemological context, but to establish critique as the very practice that exposes the limits of that epistemological horizon itself, making the contours of the horizon appear, as it were, for the first time, we might say, in relation to its own limit. Moreover, the critical practice in question turns out to entail self-transformation in relation to a rule of conduct. How, then, does self-transformation lead to the exposure of this limit? How is self-transformation understood as a “practice of liberty,” and how is this practice understood as part of Foucault’s lexicon of virtue? […] It is, of course, one thing to conduct oneself in relation to a code of conduct, and it is another thing to form oneself as an ethical subject in relation to a code of conduct (and it will be yet another thing to form oneself as that which risks the orderliness of the code itself).”
I would like to propose this for discussion.