ESR 7 Blog May/June 2023: Noa Mamrud

When I sat down to consider what I would write about in the upcoming blog, a question came to me: ‘What would excite me to write about?’. Context is perhaps necessary for an emotional approach to a practical assignment. I am currently writing about the empirical data I have collected during my field research. It is a writing task that involves weaving together the perspectives of artists on their work and on the conditions in which it is created with the socio-political history of the place, statistical findings, and secondary data on cultural policy. My days tend to oscillate on an emotional pendulum between excitement and spiritual edification that are consequent to the flow of writing, and feelings of ambiguity and, occasionally, scepticism when things move slowly.

The circumstances were such that I was compelled to interrupt my fluctuating routine at the library and come to Israel for three weeks in order to attend a family health emergency. While I reserved the night hours for my academic work, I spent the days providing nursing care and support at the hospital. A constructive approach to an unfortunate situation assisted my recognition that the need to suspend my personal pursuit, which is characterised by being away from home and achieving my individualistic aspirations, in favour of providing nursing care gave me the opportunity to experience the empirical strength of the narrative of care in art. According to this narrative and the critique it brings along, our society has devolved into one that is callous. First, jobs in the care sector are undervalued and underpaid despite being essential to meeting even the most basic human needs. Second, care entails taxing and impeding personal advancement, which in the capitalist and competitive framework of our lives where time is always and eternally a scarce resource, results in a component of personal loss.

Caregiving has undoubtedly been a demanding experience for me, as I have struggled to complete my work while still wanting to be there for a family member. Interesting to note, however, was a parallel feeling that I have noticed, like fuel for the work of care. When my labour abruptly moved from its academic and individualistic dwelling in the processual world of deliberation and writing into a concrete, local, and interpersonal space, I could register a sensation of an energetic charge that grew stronger as my actions received the immediate confirmation of their efficacy. To put it another way, the more I could sense the impact of my labour, the greater my satisfaction and connection to the cause grew. In this bimonthly blog, I would be excited to introduce what I found to be a reoccurring theme in all my interviews with artists: the desire to feel the efficacy and effectiveness of things. Due to my obligation to keep the originality of my text in my thesis, I will instantiate what I believe to be significant in this ostensibly simple observation, not based on the empirical data that I have collected, but on a recent personal experience.

This experience lasted for several hours on a Saturday afternoon. These hours I spent in the hospital during caregiving tasks, from which I later joined the central demonstration place in Tel Aviv[1]. In these several hours, I have endeavoured to support two causes that are personally important to me. The first belongs to the private realm, that is, nursing my family member, while the latter took place in the public domain, where I was merged into the organised political flock of tens of thousands of people. Both situations, despite occurring in different domains, required resources of time, energy, and cognitive work. They were both voluntary, resource-consuming activities that were not intended at any point to serve my interests or provide me with personal gain. However, they were spaces where I could perform, or even more so, exercise values that I identify with (e.g., compassion, civil care, benevolence). Furthermore, the actions that embody my values were not taken in a void but received feedback, which in my case was a sense of relief from my family member, or a heated conversation, about how we can level up social resistance. In short, my actions embodied my value system, and the spaces I joined allowed their interplay with my surroundings. Here, I think of practices of prefigurative politics, as well as the very basic impetus in art production to experience, feel, or if you will, live the alternative or the sublime or the utopic. In the contested notion of ‘the real’ in art, and specifically in socially engaged art that deliberately locates itself outside traditionally reserved places for art (e.g., theatre, gallery), it keeps reoccurring to me that what extricates the real from produced situations such as in art, is the body. The body facilitates our capacity to feel, and feeling is absolute, for it does not make the distinction whether we react to something ‘real’ or ‘fictitious’. We just feel.

I come to think of the significance of feeling, cognition, and affect not automatically in relation to how these things can create impact on engaged audience, but what part they inhabit the desire and motivation for socio-political art production. ‘Feeling the efficacy and effectiveness of things’, might come across merely as a narrative of the common paradox in social work, that the person who volunteers and provides care is eventually the main beneficiary of the situation. Notwithstanding the validity that this observation might have, my interest in focusing on the production side rather than on the vastly studied and speculated area of how audience engagement with socio-political art might advance social change, is derived from what I observe is common to people who work to generate impact specifically through art – the desire to sense change in their surroundings. Inquiring into their production with the analytical tools of cognition explains why bodies, as subject matter, have taken such a profound role in the social turn. It goes beyond the proliferation of identity politics and pertains to the desire to make the change sensible to the artist and her publics in mutuality.

Thank you for your reading, do you have any comments? Write to me:


[1] To those who are not following the news in Israel, the demonstrations have taken place every Saturday night for the past 25 weeks in an effort to overthrow the current government that works to change Israel’s constitutional status quo so that it becomes authoritarian, or, to use the common but misleading term, an illiberal democracy.

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