sketchbook: notes from the session at SAR conference.

I present my 10 mins talk on Casual Gaps on the third day of the conference, in the morning.

I have a first recording of the talk as a video here:

Performance/ enquiry:

  • on the first day I start with feeling out of place, quite intimidated: as if my project isn’t big and significant and academic enough
  • later in the day I see the first talk that is a performance only, and see that that is how my own contribution functions
  • in the morning I am curious about networks and interloping, my place within it.
  • when I arrive at the session, the facilitator, other speaker and I have a good discussion, I say a little about the previous facilitations and we discuss our format
  • then I talk about my work context, of having been keen to keep the research out of it but find myself struggling for recognition, at this point the facilitator tells me who she knows in Glasgow: my PhD supervisor and last year’s line manager. I laugh as I realise that the corridor will loop backward.
  • I have not been able to unhook it from its context, the piece of institutional critique moves on as it exists and while it may not actually feed forward to my former line manager, it may just do so.
  • this connections intrigues me and it is the one, alongside ‘I did my PhD first and then art later, which is different to most of you in the room’, marks my starting point. And naming both makes it easy to set off with the presentation and to give it space and movement.
  • I enjoy moving through it, I pause, watch the audience and centre myself.
  • After, I step to the side, the first speaker joins me at the front, is the target of most questions and we discuss a series of points together.
  • Over lunch and the afternoon I meet a few people who tell me that they enjoyed it. There is no more detailed feedback than that.
  • After the closing round, I tell my fellow presenter how much I enjoyed having been with her in a session. To me the consideration of placing the two together was great to witness. We hug. Then talk for some while with the facilitator, I leave soon after.

Institutional aspects:

  • I misjudge whom this conference and society is for: it is almost exclusively people working at art schools; >> this is where artistic research happens and needs to happen as they become integrated into HE funding systems. 
  • I encountered SAR through EB and the journal, but only by looking at the institutional members do I realise that it is of course art schools.
  • As many artists and practitioners do PhD research, this changes the composition and with PhD by practice, the material engaged with and presented is rather different to any other academic disciplines.
  • Thus, the contributions are either more performative: the actual research practices, or more traditionally academic in reflections
  • The proviso to propose contributions that pose questions was sincere and extremely useful; so was the dialogical idea; the resilience to do ‘proper academic work’ is however strong and many panels operate in different ways to the initially proposed format.
  • Art school posts are seen as highly desirable within the arts, so the institutional critique of them is minimal; IC is reserved to museums and galleries, not to the art school, I have the sense (institutions of critique replaces institutional critique). 
  • In this, the discipline is distinct to e.g. Business Schools, Sociology, Education or Anthropology by not turning the light back onto the institution
  • This is where my contribution meets the audience.
  • I can see clearly why they were interested in the contribution, how they gathered it with my co-presenter’s talk and the one that was absent. But for the audience it was problematic (wasn’t it?).

The actual feedback I get was rather minimal,

  • H., the black professor of dance, starts with having a question, wanting to complement me for touching him intellectually, while the first talk touched him emotionally, and on the surface these two talks could’t be more different but they clearly related. He admires my enthusiasm and asks: what was the passion that led you away from the institution. – I talk about my PhD, about discovering other processes, private spaces and didn’t want to submit to the boredom/exhaustion of another 35 years of that job
  • The second keynote speaker asks me towards the end if I now feel different about the space, if I have come to love that gap? – I talk about the office inhabitant’s envy of my leaving; I talk about the complexity of what HE currently is, how I would like it to be different but as it isn’t, it is also okay to leave again. I also talk about the strike and how that affected workplace identities.
  • The facilitator asks two questions, the second one is one about class, about who gets up and climbs on trees (she and her pals always did that). And similarly: who transgresses institutionally.
  • I think her first comment was about how she hates her office, and how curious it is to find this at the focus of attention.

The session format: 

  • fifteen minutes each and a short question after, but then an open discussion.
  • The first presenter moves to the front and then sits down, I at some point become to lean on the wall to the side of the facilitator
  • quite quickly I sense a huge interest in the first topic, Urutau’s actions and the wider political context, I am pleased with that, and also pleased for it to take the main role: the conference is so white and rather far away from the political, that this is great to see and place upfront.
  • She is far more connected and known than I am, is from Brazil and a middle-class background with extensive institutional support. So, individually we sit different in class and professional positioning; in wider terms, however, hers needs and deserves far more visibility and I concur. I don’t reply to points that I could have replied; I direct the conversation to her, I also take it as an open conversation about wider issues and happily take part in that.
  • I don’t move towards my final slide with questions, as the first talk didn’t include any.
  • At the end of the session, everyone who stays behind does so to talk with her; I also do so and that is fine; we move upwards to lunch, meet some others and sit downs in a group of seven and discuss good things, well: difficult things, the backlash in Brazil, the coup, the violence, 
  • Over the day, some people comment more on how they liked my talk, but don’t go into specifics. One woman who had stayed behind at lunch, W., and I talk towards the end about SAR’s white privilege to call absence a lack of quality, and she comments on how nice it was to see my enthusiasm.
  • The enthusiasm comments confuses me — I say so to H. on the way to lunch and he said: well, it was everywhere in your body, you were bursting with it. Did he take my nerves for enthusiasm? I discuss with it later. I remain a bit confused.

>> I didn’t realise that I would be interloping with this presentation. I thought I would bring a project and some questions. I didn’t foresee that institutional critique would be active in the presentation as such. It almost drew a blank and found no other. The concession about hating one’s own office and the question if I now feel different about the space (do I love it now?) are the only indication of something happening. I have little sense if the project is considered sound and significant. And, I think this is what I had thought I would be able to ascertain with the presentation: if this was a good enquiry, a good artistic research project.
Yet, I also see this as artistic practice: it is a doing, the modality and site are ones demarcated as research. And, yet, it seeks not institutional validation (neither in Geography nor in the Arts). So, if it doesn’t seek it, why do I feel confused of not getting it?
I learn much about artistic practice in these two days. Which is excellent. I see where my work fits in, where it doesn’t fit (and doesn’t need to). I also get a series of ideas of how to proceed, what productive forms of practice are to develop this. 


5 thoughts on “sketchbook: notes from the session at SAR conference.”

  1. Great write-up! I’m appreciating this digging into work that I saw started off such a long time back, and hearing about the latest incarnations is good. The conference proposal was so coherent – this is really interesting. The only feedback I can give is that you made me see so many gaps differently?


    1. thanks! that was really special to give it this form while the gap itself has simply remained… that is hugely good for what i am doing and will serve me some way forward. i don’t want to feed this straight into academic processes, that is partly my hesitation right now, but also don’t think the danger is all that high… I went to most sessions that were on the Productive Gaps theme and got much from that… I have a few more things to write up on some of the amazing things I saw/heard/talked about… so my understanding of that gap has also considerably changed.

      Liked by 1 person

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