Apr 10, 2010

Research Research Symposium


Friday, April 9, 2010, 5-7pm

Schedule of Events
5.00-5.40| Opening Remarks
5.40-6 | Short Break
6-6.03 | Keynote Address
6.03-6.04 | Clapping
6.04-6.50 | Open Discussion
6.50-7.00 | Coffee & Olives

On Friday, April 9th, the Research Research Symposium convened at the Graduate Center at the California College of the Arts. Fifty artists, students and teachers met to discuss the art school of the future.

The symposium was formulated around two conditions—the possibility of learning without a teacher, and the experience of being alone together—both relevant to arts research and central to the philosophy of Jacques Rancière, thought out in his books The Emancipated Spectator and Aesthetics and its Discontents.

The first condition—learning without a teacher—is championed by Jacques Rancière's writing on Joseph Jacotot. Jacotot claims that ignorant students can teach each other and through this become emancipated. This idea was tested in the symposium by having non-experts give lectures on subjects they did not know, and additionally by adopting pedagogical forms but intentionally withholding their pedagogical outcomes. In other words, not only was the figure of the teacher removed, but the forms of teaching were reformulated. If Jacotot and Rancière are correct, conventional pedagogical forms favor certain possibilities and inhibit others. Modifying standard pedagogical forms should, accordingly, lead to new learning opportunities, as attendees/teachers self-define the learning activity that is taking place.

The second condition—being alone together—is also discussed by Rancière , who quotes Mallarmé, writing “Séparés, on est ensemble” [Apart, we are together]. This condition was invoked in the symposium through private and one-on-one exchanges that were organized to take place within the symposium. Rancière observes that in art we frequently encounter siutations that produce a sense of separation even as we stand together. This highlights a paradox faced by arts schools: how can arts institutions foster independence, given that this independence is itself anti-institutional. Rancière points to a possible way out of this paradox. He notes that artists anticipate being together as a community in order to create works as individuals that stand apart, so as to bring a new community into being. Creating communities of the future requires that we stand apart from today.

Each art school of the future must therefore be anti-hierarchical and self-negating, ensuring the continuing succession of art schools in the future. Schools must promote learning through individual dissensus, replacing top-down knowledge transfer from skilled “experts” with private meaning formations. How can this be achieved?

Arrangement for a symposium

The Research Research symposium followed a sequence of events:

  • First, the room was organized in a schizophrenic layout, with the audience facing two opposite directions, dismantling any possibility of a hierarchical podium arrangement.

  • The event began with a low-stakes writing exercise: everyone wrote his or her definition of “research” on a piece of paper. Rather than reading the sentences out loud for group discussion, each person passed their sentence to their neighbor in a private exchange.

  • Attendees were informed that the symposium presenters had failed to turn up, though A/V materials had arrived, so presentations would be given by members of the audience.

  • For the first presentation, Rob Marks and Saul Rosenfield read out proposals from A Potential Art School by Liam Gillick.

  • Paul Wood and Elysa Lozano reenacted an early design research exercise by Moholy-Nagy, where a design student organizes a set of materials by tactile ‘tones’ which are then tested by a blind person.

  • Angie Stalker invited Emily Eifler to go on a private dérive during the conference, but without leaving the conference room.

  • Nancy Nowacek improvised a presentation for a PowerPoint slide deck in which all the slides were the same image, and only the transitions between slides varied.

  • Rashin Fatemi and Samin Soheili gave a presentation on ergonomics titled Ethnographic Ergonomics. They spoke only in Persian during their talk.

  • Two test subjects, Liesa Lietzke and Allison Rowe, were shown a sequence of images. For each image, they were asked to hold up an appropriate card. There were three cards, each with a label: “Art”, “Design” and [blank].

  • The keynote speaker, Richard Feynman, gave a three minute speech on science as a positivity.

  • Clapping after the keynote lasted one minute.

  • There was a Q&A session in which only the Q part was held - the A part scheduled for a future event.

Angie Stalker, dérive map

In addition to the public program, there were three programmed but unannounced events during the symposium. One attendee was given written instructions at the start of the symposium to start an argument with his neighbor during one of the talks. Another was asked to start a Skype video ycall. Finally, David Kasprzak instructed Cody Frost to attend the symposium in his absence, and give his presentation for him, on the topic of absence.

In fact, all three unannounced events failed to take place. Cody Frost did not introduce himself to the organizer, so his talk on absence was not given. The person asked to start an argument declined, saying that his neighbor was his thesis advisor. And the Sykpe video conference call could not connect.

Furthermore, several decisions had not been pre-planned and had to be improvised on the spot. These improvisations and non-happenings contributed to the atmosphere of uncertainty during the symposium, which had a dynamic and lurching quality.

For me as the conference organizer, it was these unconsidered moments that gave me the most pause for reflection afterwards.

For example, I hadn’t considered introductions. Should I introduce speakers, asking them to mention their name and program, or should I treat the speakers as actors, or even make up names for them? My confusion was heightened when it came to introducing the keynote speaker, Richard Feynman, as channeled by Brenda Laurel. How should s/he be introduced? As physician or as the chair of graduate design? I realized in hindsight that my ambivalence about these introductions reflected the way that the symposium was both a parody, and therefore a fiction, and at the same time an academic symposium, and hence a non-fiction.

This tipping between reality and fiction reached a crescendo at the end of the conference. When the formal program ended, I had a strong desire to lead a group discussion, in order to explain the symposium, unpack the event, and share experiences. In other words, I wanted exactly the kind of top-down outcome-driven pedagogical knowledge transfer that the symposium set out to remove. If the symposium was fiction, then a post-hoc discussion of the symposium would have made sense. If the symposium was real, then the logic of the form of the symposium would impose itself - in which case there could be no post-symposium diagnosis, and any outcomes would instead be dissembled through private discussions. Finally, in the last moments of the conference, I recognized that Research Research was more reality than fiction, and closed the proceedings with no public explication.

The conference concluded with olives and coffee.