Friday, May 26th, 2017
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May 29, 2017 at 5:00 pm
On the question of what art can ‘do’ — I think it interesting to think of Leigh’s work as a form of public education. I think here of John Dewey’s process-oriented education theory which stresses the need for the teacher to develop in the student the art of social seeing — the ability to find the common in the everyday as a shared experience.
Also, in Art as Experience, Dewey asserts that the experience of the artwork shouldn’t be confined to its physical state – what is given in perception – but that it should be understood as a process, something that establishes social relations between human beings. Dewey sees the value of an artwork as contingent upon how it encourages these dialogic powers — it seems to me that Leigh’s work might have done just that? By “reassembling the social,” to use Latour’s term, Leigh calls attention to how it is assembled in the first place, and this, I think, is what art or relational aesthetics can ‘do,’ as it were. In the process of ‘doing,’ such art creates a form of social consciousness through a process of empathy with the ‘other’ and in this way, engaging with art in itself creates sociality. The participants in Leigh’s work – the multilayered spectators, audiences, active participants, and collaborators – can be seen as evoking a call to the humanity of one another. Seen in the context of Dewey’s claim that there can be no real commonality until those in positions of power see that their humanity is constantly disfigured by the very existence of the power-less, Leigh’s dialogic work is potentially truly transformative of the very relations she problematizes through her particular interpretation and re-articulation of social space. See John Dewey, Art as Experience, (New York: Penguin, 2005).
See in context
May 29, 2017 at 4:32 pm
I like to think of Simone’s Leigh’s work as a form of public, archival inscription of an unheard and unseen community. By telling the story of Dr. English’s medical practice, Leigh, as I see it, calls attention to how art can function as an effectual counternarrative that can furnish a sense of hope and self-respect among those who aren’t heard or seen in ‘white,’ capitalist, social space. Through her work, I see emerging a certain democratic ethos that pushes back against the exclusionary terms of both a public sphere and space that do not afford black bodies the care and attention they need.
May 29, 2017 at 3:33 pm
The dimensional terms (widening scope, inclusiveness, additive) you use to describe dissent here are interesting from a spatial standpoint. It allows me to think of how dissent can be seen both in Rancièrian terms as an alteration of the sensible political ‘terrain’ – an alteration of the range of the police order – and also how dissent can be construed in Lefebvrian terms as a production in and through social space of a ‘social existence’ which aspires and claims to be ‘real’ and which succeeds precisely by producing its own space, thereby simultaneously negating and affirming the ideological and cultural hegemon. See Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, especially 53-158 (part of Lefebvre’s intro and the chapter on social space.
May 29, 2017 at 2:53 pm
The MPL’s concrete challenge of the disconnect or discrepancy between a concept’s supposed meaning and its material implementation serves as an illustrative example of a scholarly issue that I always struggle with: do the concepts I apply accurately capture what they are supposed to signify? The MPL’s deliberate avoidance of the term ‘public’ proves the point, I think, of how important it is for social scientists and policy makers alike to always update and check the conceptual frameworks which are used to describe processes that unfold in real life. The concepts that we use to study the goings-on in the world around us have to be a continuously held up to the complexities of reality to see if they accurately capture what is, in fact, going on – it is good to keep in mind that concepts are not static and that they should be reinvented and fine-tuned continuously to avoid obscuring the facts
May 29, 2017 at 2:14 pm
Neil Brenner, an urban theorist at Harvard, might be of interest to you if you want to delve more deeply into the question of urbanization. Brenner has a theory of urbanization that is similar to Lefebvre’s — he also sees urbanization as a process of sociospatial transformation which is mediated through capitalist forms of industrialization. His theory disregards the notion of the city as a ‘bounded unit’ and sees planetary urbanization as a method, not as a mapping of the world; it posits the process of urbanization as unfolding in diverse territories and landscapes – i.e., there is no singular “urban” morphology but many different processes of urbanization in different world regions and historical-geographical moments; the urban/non-urban divide is superseded – there is no “outside” to the urban condition. Brenner also operates with an interesting idea of ‘extended’ urbanization which he proposes as a key addition to the more traditional urban theory notion of concentrated urbanization (the moment of agglomeration and centralization) – ‘extended urbanization’ sees urbanization as a dialectic between concentrated and extended urbanization; that is, the societal, territorial, and environmental transformations that occur, do so in support of agglomeration – zones of resource extraction and connectivity infrastructures like railways, for example, are viewed as part of the urban fabric itself. See Neil Brenner (ed), Implosions/Explosions: Toward a Study of Planetary Urbanization (Jovis, 2014).
May 28, 2017 at 5:47 pm
In some way, our approaches below are all discussing space, and looking for ways that we can read the effect of space on bodies. Bodies, after all, are the building blocks of any public. Over and over, I am struck by the frequency with which performance and theatre, as metaphors, bubble up in theories of publics and of space, generally without a deeper engagement with theatre and performance theory or history. Certain texts are especially recurrent: Diana Taylor’s The Archive and the Repertoire is cited in anthropological and historical analyses with a level of casualness and decontextualization that often approaches cherry-picking. The spatial turn in the humanities is taken up critically by Doreen Massey in For Space (2001), where she points out the necessity to address what we mean when we apply spatial metaphors across disciplines and, crucially, what assumptions those metaphors obscure (for example, that space and time are distinct from one another). The performative turn similarly obscures assumptions when the language of performance is imported uncritically, but there is also great potential to apply theories of the body as developed in performance and theatre studies in other disciplines. From this angle, I comment on our case studies with an eye to where we might be favoring text over body, archive over repertoire. I highlight some places we might look in order to make the application of performativity to publics more complex, specifically through the way memory is maintained or interrupted through bodies across time and place. A major reference point for me in thinking through the way memory propagates through the body across time is the way dance approaches archiving and legacy. Dance companies have a history of organizing themselves as companies around choreographers who transmit their practice from body-to-body. Roles are created within bodies, and can be to some degree “archived” through notation and video documentation, but if the lived experience of a dance is interrupted (if there is no direct embodied line that can be drawn back to the choreographer: Dancer X learned the role from Dancer Y who learned it from Dancer Z, for whom the role was created by Big Name Choreographer) then something is irrevocably lost. Then again, we lose something else essential to the dance if we attempt to freeze it and perform it exactly as it was created, sometimes generations past. Carrie Noland’s article on the legacy of avant-garde choreographer Merce Cunningham, “Inheriting the Avant-Garde: Merce Cunningham, Marcel Duchamp, and the ‘Legacy Plan'” (Dance Research Journal 45, no. 2 (2013): 85–121, doi:10.1017/S0149767713000028), is an excellent thinking-through of all of this. How might we use this dancerly understanding of the simultaneous preservation and evolution of movement over time (in which mimesis plays a central role) to think about how publics form, maintain, and lose/regain touch with their identities? My comments below all nudge in this direction.
May 28, 2017 at 5:05 pm
This is what an in-line comment looks like.
May 28, 2017 at 3:06 pm
Jean Anyon (previously at the GC) worked on education and class in the US. She wrote a piece that compared the types of activities and assignments given to students in schools in neighborhoods of different levels of affluence. She found that the types of assignments corresponded to the types of activities people would be doing in jobs. In poorer neighborhoods, students got rote memorization tasks with little to no explanation of why the answers were such. In upper class areas, students were allowed more freedom and were rewarded for displaying critical thinking skills. (See Anyon, Jean. “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work.” Journal of Education 162:1980.)
May 28, 2017 at 3:02 pm
The MST’s approach intertwines embodied (the repertoire) and textual (the archive) knowing, re-linking space/place with knowledge and time, and crucially arguing that neither has primacy over the other. The intrusion of the urban on the rural is a threat through bodies as much as it is through minds. The MST are as fearful that their children will lose touch with what is essentially the embodied (and evolving) rituals of rural living, what rural-ness means, their rural orientation.
May 28, 2017 at 2:55 pm
The necessity of this provocation from elsewhere ties in with my comments on Rafael’s case study, but what I’m particularly interested in here is what happened in the initial meetings (which sounds a great deal like Paolo Freire’s techniques in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, techniques that have a rich history of use in activist performance from Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed system to story circles developed by Junebug and used by community-based companies like Cornerstone). This story-sharing or consciousness-raising reconnects the individual to her own lived experience and affirms her as part of a group with shared experiences: a repertoire that is silenced or taken for granted, and that therefore has little visibility or power. The density of bodies in cities amplifies the repertoire of embodied urban experience: urban bodies watch other urban bodies duplicate their own experiences day in and day out, thereby affirming them as real even if they are not articulated verbally.
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