ESR 4 Blog April/May 2022: Jenny Fadranski

What drives me?

It has been almost a month since I arrived in Utrecht, Netherlands to start the secondment at Basis voor Actuele Kunst (BAK) and it has been a warm welcome and smooth start there since we met Maria – founder of BAK – and Irene – who is the institution’s coordinator and part of the production team – already at the workshop in Iceland.

We – Fabiola, Claude and me – started to join the weekly program meeting which allows us to gain some insight into the current and future programming. At the moment as part of the ‘No Linear Fucking Time’ project there is an exhibition on display and I am especially looking forward to the upcoming symposium at the end of May. We are also meeting with Maria almost every week to discuss our research and our questions about BAK’s activities and organizational structure and culture. These conversations have been very fruitful. In the first one Maria challenged us to explain our PhD projects in a way as we would do to our mothers. And although it felt like putting a finger in a wound it was a necessary revelation of our inconsistencies because it is easier to hide behind abstract academic language than to explain in easy words what you are working on. That is not to say that there is no value in complex and difficult thought, but I find it useful to continuously work on this translation so to speak. We also discussed what drives us in the context of our research, which somehow raised awareness about where we are and where we are not in relation to our research. Although it might still take a while until I can explain my research in easy words to my mother, the question, just like the question of what drives me, or what really interests me, accompanies me now even more.

It has been a busy start of the year with travels to Argentina and Iceland, so I have used the past weeks to reclaim my daily rhythms and regenerate. Utrecht is a peaceful, tiny, and medieval town in full spring blossom with many canals, a church (next to my house) that sometimes seems to play the Harry Potter melody; and there are masses of bicycles. One of my routines while traveling and being in different places a lot these days is to go for walks in the evenings, to observe and take in the vibe by taking pictures, so I am showing you two of them. My choice reflects how much I am in awe of the lush green leaves, I missed that a lot last year in Iceland, and appreciate it even more now.

On these walks I think about this question of what drives me to do this PhD while there is so much to do in this world where my energy might be of better use and impact. And I appreciate the nudge to think about this question because the one currency for getting through a PhD is motivation. And again, something that Maria said about an early feminist collective in Eastern Europe comes to mind – these women apparently developed a conceptual distinction between useful knowledge and very useful knowledge. Useful knowledge is the practical stuff you need to know to make things, to grow food and to basically survive, but very useful knowledge is the knowledge that changes society like philosophy and art theory. I had to laugh when I heard this given my recurring impression that art theory is often so abstract that it is likely to have no impact at all. But nevertheless, the idea of producing very useful knowledge is a big part of what drives me. Although you can’t quite decide which knowledge becomes very useful, for me part of my PhD being useful or even very useful is that it is possible to access it, which is a question of language and the level of abstraction and complexity I use to put forward my analysis. I think it would also be very useful if it allows for a translation into another practice that is not academic, and text based and that allows for a wider audience to think in an immersive way about the role of art for the future of democracy.

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