ESR 9 Blog May 2021: Sophie Mak-Schram

“There was no small talk and no dead air.”

This sentence lingered with me. It made its way into my calendar-cum-notebook, where it nestled alongside a note to email over the catalogue for the exhibition I mentioned.[1] Interjecting across it is another note, this one more hastily written, about a role functioning “as a means of tuning one’s attention” (underlined, sloppily).[2]

To tune one’s attention; to what? In a recent lecture for FEINART, Kuba Szreder proposed the metaphor of an artistic iceberg, within which, amongst other things, a “multitude of functions are suppressed by an ideal.”[3] I glancingly spin off his constellation of propositions – which is perhaps a complicated way of saying I don’t intend to discuss his lecture (propositional and generative as it was) in further detail. I’m drawn to the turn of phrase and how it might intertwine with some concurrent thoughts I’ve been having.

Whilst Kuba likely had ‘art’ as the subject of his sentence, I’ve been thinking through this multitude-ideal in relation to ‘turns’. Tuning in, dropping out, turning around. Art history, and so too, literature, is ridden with turns. Tuning into these turns, I’ve been thinking through their operative fictionality[4] – the ways in which a label like “the educational turn” does not denote a field’s turning towards a new sun, but rather a sway of sorts that may not be entirely implicit in the body of research itself. (And so, implicitly, we come back to dancing.) Tracing a history or proclaiming a crisis is, at least in part, a matter of selective looking and choice words.

And so here, a proposition to retune. I’ve noticed myself getting stuck on the term ‘education’, stumbling over it and finding it increasingly cumbersome. I began delving into writings about artistic research, whilst also foraying into the neighbouring field of the philosophy of education. To extend a metaphor – I sought to forage from them, to cross-fertilise. In these forage-readings, I found myself getting tangled up searching for the roots of these ‘turns’ and in so doing, conceding to a kind of linear temporality that I’d usually prefer to critically complicate. I also found myself getting laden down with the implications of the binary art/education that I was seeking to complicate, in relation to how people were responding to or associating with, what I was thinking through.

And then, in a series of conversations over the past few weeks, the dead air lifted, and the winds began to blow. I shifted metaphors: I’m now following loose threads, aiming to eventually – in a riff off Tim Ingold’s – weave into writing. I learned about how the term ‘criticality’ holds a seemingly different meaning in the academic realm of education philosophy, and was reminded of the differing notions of knowledge acquisition. I found myself led back to the notion of study, in Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s sense, and also to temporalities, in the course of two conversations proximate to Documenta 15. Two conversations without small talk, that, amongst other and longer interchanges I’ve been having with friends, peers and texts, have helped me begin to embody, if not yet move through, the ways in which sociality can be a realm of, or for, education.

[1] The phrase is an excerpt from an interview with Eileen Myles in the Paris Review (Fall 2015), and the catalogue was that of the brilliant Disobedient Objects at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2014-2015, curated by Gavon Grindon and Catherine Flood.

[2] This phrase arose from a game led by Isabel Lewis. Lewis uses the idea of erotic sociability, a term she in turn draws from theorist, Rosyln Bologh, to think through interhuman sociability, and had us thinking through the implications – and sensations – of what it means to host the gaze of another on one’s body in the age of Zoom.

[3] FEINART runs regular public lectures on, broadly, the topic of socially engaged art. I’d love it if you joined us, and asked some questions!

[4] A phrase I heard echoed outside of my own head when Prof. John Roberts’ recently commented that “all [art] categories are necessary fictions”.  I like the action-oriented quality of operative, and have now been left to wonder: necessary for whom?

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