Let’s Walk around Here and Call it «Study»

this text is a tour across re-composed excerpts taken from:
diaries of an outdoor-study-practice
and
research-affects: an inter-choreographic perspective

an assemblage of documents on situated forms of thinking-practising research
developed in the frame of T-Fi Cabinet collection 2015-2016
by Paula Caspão

 

Reading Preliminaries

Moving around very slowly, read the following excerpt aloud and record it [voiced slowly but not as slowly as the movements you are making in order to move around]. Then play it in a loop while you read the rest of the text.

Imagine a night with very little light. The first autumn leaves have started to follow. You are in some kind of field. You… are a field.
All of a sudden, you see a light go on and an announcement starts flashing in your direction: «by settler-colonial registers, a rock outcropping in the forest or desert or on the moon is not living. But an actor, dancer, artist, or museum employee performing on, or as a rock in a forest or desert or gallery is live» (Schneider 2015: 11). The lights go off. You are in a forest of which you are not sure you will ever get out. You move very slowly. Your feet feel like walking over water. You are haunted by an image of Lake Placid. Every two or three or four steps, your feet or your hands bump into an obstacle and either you fall, or you are forced to deviate from the direction you wanted to keep. Sometimes it’s the leg of a table, other times the arm of a chair; other times a footnote, at the bottom of a page. Eventually, after what felt like a long while, you see a couple of stars and you realise that the forest is clearing. Either it was a hallucination or it has become another place. If, at that very moment, somebody asks you: «What do you know about that forest? (was it a lake? a page? a room?)», you will most probably answer that the only thing you know is an (un)certain way of crossing it, of passing through. And that is a knowledge that you have acquired as you moved across it, your feet and tongue tripping — as it moved across you. A knowledge that will never remain exactly what it seems to be, or become exactly what it might have been. An exuberant economy of trans-position, inter-mediality, and transformation runs permanently in the background of every corner of our lives.

 

Places, Situations, Fields

One of the things you will notice if you pass by is the smell of resinous substances. Pine trees: stone pine and maritime pine (Pinus pinaster and Pinus pinea).

Another thing you will have noticed is that as you read, these lines — or part of them — start to move out of here. To places located (inside and outside) of certain parts of your body and surroundings, not always at the same speed.

If, after a while, you turn back to retrace your pathway, you will notice that the pines are no longer the same, the commas are no longer hanging on the same terms, trunks and terms have changed skins. Certain spots of the landscape are missing, the smell moves in other directions. Perhaps the wind has changed. Or the ground(s). Or the light technicians.

One of the few things I am sure of is that I am a «transversal thing». Both in my personal and professional life, moving across fields and places has always been a source of joy, rather than a matter of discomfort, despite the frictions and collisions that the fact of crossing borders often implies. Yet of late I have been experiencing an acute need to resituate my beloved transversal practices of the last years within the current financial, technological, informational, creative capitalism, and the correspondent dominant knowledge economy and knowledge management that has been expanding across western world(s) and beyond — so much predicated on mobile and transversal forms of creativity, on processing, connecting and transplanting information; redesigning, retransplanting, reconnecting, expanding. Often softly imposing a life-long social choreography of self-organizing malleable networking, and a never-ending combination of skilling with de-skilling and re-skilling. In this set up, there seems to be little time to really pay attention to the ecologies of our practices, their social effects — not only there where they take (and make) place as they materialize, but also there where they will take (and make) place afterwards, rematerializing in more or less visible ways.

A closer look at the working and production modes of my current artistic and related theoretical practices can help me understand the material and immaterial complexity of the social relations they imply, and the economies they have (inevitably) been moving with, at least partly. And yet I know I will go on working in transversal modes, transposing tools (and plants) across fields and landscapes, for many reasons that have to do with how I want to live everyday. Because displacement (sensorial-intellectual-cultural-geographic displacement) — call it a certain kind of «tourism», if you will — is where I get joy from. Because displacement, and even a certain kind of mis-placement — something like a constant artificialization of «original» frames and fields — is what I believe makes sense not only for my aesthetic practices (taken as inherently social), but also for wider social processes, not confined to human sociabilities.

Some years ago, moved by the need to displace my (so-called) theoretical work from the position of authority that is generally attributed to work that is recognized as academic knowledge production, I started to search for a way of referring to «my field» of activity, a way of situating what I really like to do, i.e., merge theoretical with fictional and choreographic modes of research, composition, and presentation. In order to welcome the methodological intersections and intrigues I often find (lose) myself in — and emphasize the specific poetics and life forms implicated in any circumstances of research and/or composition, be it more academic or artistic, more theoretical or practical –, I started imagining some kind of mental space, something like a secret drawer labelled T-Fi (standing for Theory-Fiction). Eventually I ended up founding T-Fi Cabinet (2016) — an exploratory field of miscegenation between fictional and theoretical practices, with T-Fi resonating with the Sci-Fi of Science Fiction, and cabinet recalling the heterogeneity of items one can find in promiscuous coexistence in any cabinet de curiosités.

With this step, I clearly wanted to move the emphasis from the results — from knowledge as (already produced and validated) knowledge — to their very conditions and (hi)stories of production: not only the required practical devices, all sorts of material and immaterial apparatus and tools, but also the ecologies, life forms, relationships, and specific positions and gestures that such works need to take shape — and which they also produce. To be sure, the stance of T-Fi is to be understood as a way of directing our attention to the very geographies and poetics of knowledge and study — how it is done, where and when; and, most importantly: with whom. T-Fi thus aims at calling more attention to what knowledge, research, study practices bring (do) to the world, than to their final objects, as they tend to be reified (and often affirmed as truths). T-Fi also aims at diversifying our ways of knowing, researching and studying; the ways in which we relate to our ‘objects of study’, that is to say, our ways of living with what we study, as we study. In short, T-Fi appeared little by little as a way of acknowledging that we always work collectively, even when we work alone. For what(ever) we do is always activated by multiple agents of disparate sorts — human and nonhuman, from several places and times — that we have the bad habit of not recognizing as co-authors, and of which we know very little. In this sense, T-Fi addresses authorship and so-called «knowledge production» from the perspective of less visible, unruly collaboration forms, namely by exposing the ways in which an author not only collaborates with her fellow human makers and perceivers, but also with many other things, which are generally not attributed any authorial — performative, affective, effective — powers.

Since then, I have very often found myself explaining to peers that what I want to propose is not that everybody should be making fiction instead of making theory. Rather, my position is that of making theory as (if it were) fiction. I can only accept to do research in academic frames and be some sort of theory maker, if I take it and reclaim it as fiction. Aligning theory with fiction has been, for me, a way of asserting both fiction’s and theory’s power(s) to produce change, and not a way of doom saying theory in absolute or general terms. I decided to commit more thoroughly to activating and exploring situated modalities of knowing and «un-knowing», of «riding equivoques» — still making academic theory to a certain extent, but moving from knowledge into acts of knowing (to use Rogoff’s words again). I don’t know very well. I have been trying to find ways to diversify my experiential relation to knowledge, inhabiting writing-research as a choreographic-architectural practice — questioning the usual architectures of accessing, generating and living with knowledge. Exploring the position of the researcher with-in choreographic practices, not only in relation to art objects and art processes, but also through the very «site of writing» — developing modes of attention to all the places, architectures, gestures, and affects that the practice of writing may imply. Arguing for writing research as an affected and affecting situated practice. This does not necessarily amount to resituating knowledge and theory making «in the body» or in «my body». Affect is not confined in bodies. Rather, it moves in between; and not only between bodies but between many things, spaces, times.

 

Summer (Study) in the City

July 10 2015. Pauline arrived in Lisbon very early in the morning, to develop a form of research-talk-walk-stretching-along-shores with me. I searched for a map of the city, to draw a red dot on the street where Pauline would be staying. The map I found in the drawer had a hole, right where Quinta dos Lilases, Quinta das Conchas and Quinta do Lambert should be. The hole included Azinhaga do Vale, Azinhaga da Musgueira and Azinhaga de Entremuros. I only know the names of these places «in the hole» because in the meantime I have found the missing part of the map I gave Pauline on that day in another drawer. That part — «the hole» — happened to have the subway lines in the back, which explains the fact that it must have been torn off to be put in my wallet at some point, in times when smartphones were not around.

July 11. In each mail we exchange, Pauline tries to use Portuguese words she has heard here and there. For instance, «A teja!» for «See you in a while» [Até já, in Portuguese; writing it without the accent on the “a”, it becomes like a female version of the Tagus river, which is a male noun: O Tejo]. The (now female) Teja becomes the title of this period of research-talk-as-you-walk. But the road to Teja is neither linear nor flat, so before we get there, we’re on our way to Carpe Diem, on Rua de O Século, more precisely down Rua Augusto Rosa, on tram 28.

On Saturday, July 11, from 2pm to 8pm, Carla Cabanas and Nuno Lisboa present a film series based on the exhibition project of the artist (Cabanas) – Celtis Australis L. (2015) – at Carpe Diem Art and Research.

2pm — Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock
4:20pm — La Jetée, Chris Marker
5pm — Sans Soleil, Chris Marker
6pm — Les Plages by Agnès, Agnès Varda
8pm — Toute la Mémoire du Monde, Alain Resnais

We arrived just before 6pm to see Les Plages… but the projections were late and we ended up watching a good part of Sans Soleil. I had forgotten this magnificent piece of sci-fi geo-anthropology. I have to see it again soon. Respond to it, somehow.

He used to write me from Africa. He contrasted African time to European time, and also to Asian time. He said that in the 19th century mankind had come to terms with space, and that the great question of the 20th was the coexistence of different concepts of time. By the way, did you know that there are emus in the Île de France? More here: http://www.markertext.com/sans_soleil.htm

July 13. Avec soleil. Despite the heat, we are going down Rua Augusto Rosa on foot, to catch the boat to Cacilhas. Zigzagging down the street in search of shadow, grazing the walls all the way through. As we zigzag, we get into considerations about experiencing Lisbon topology under the sun. We make nebulous analogies between our syncopated movements choreographed by the physical need for shadow, and the constantly interrupted course of our thoughts and investigations, sometimes forever lost, sometimes taken up elsewhere, in any case transformed, suddenly (re)appearing with unrecognizable faces. We want to get rid of the myth of laborious rigor that is (supposedly) required by any serious research process, in order to make place for other forms of ri(rrr)gor. With no pretensions to discover or innovate. Though breaking rigid methodological schemas often (still) represented by a flawless progression moving linearly between a starting idea, a hypothesis, a field of inquiry, conclusions, feedbacks. And suddenly it’s as if the image of the «outdoor research» we have given ourselves to is slowly opening up doors onto the fortuitous, operated and animated by unexpected actors, including toponymy, jellyfish corpses floating in the Tagus and stray cats, which demand to be taken into account within a process of study that assumes itself as a situated play between specific places and (dis)placements, a product of manifold circumstances. Accordingly, the objectivity of any subsequent theoretical construction can only be «situated objectivity». Right now in an aquatic environment.

We cross the Tagus, Tejo, Teja. The feminist, post-colonial, and post-marxist contributions have insisted on the relevance of paying attention to the conditions of knowledge production, always «cooked» under specific circumstances, architectures, and relationships. We go up to the riverside garden of Almada, known as «Boca do Vento» (Wind’s Mouth). We have Teja’s breeze on our skin and the Lisbon colours looking at us from the other side. Golden Gate (the bridge, trans-located, you see) is on our left. With my bare feet, I hold the sheets where we printed Pauline’s text, exhaustively describing her current process of work. We discuss the video documenting the «réception performée» she has presented in June, in Paris: VOULOIR CROIRE ENTREVOIR #29. Performed reception. Huh. Naming a working format — a performative literary genre, a modality of critique — that gives me a lot to think. How does it differ from an artistic performance? And does it have to differ? We looked at Lisbon on the other bank. Some banal comment about how beautifully the light hits the colours of the façades gave rise to another name: a «Venice-like-lecture»… Can you imagine? Venice kind of. Marco Polo telling Emperor Kublai Khan: «Every time I describe a city, I am saying something about Venice.» More commonplace you die. And yet, commonplaces, clichés, banalities, anecdotes, chimeras of all sorts do work with us all the time.

Taking the voices of the chimera into account, considering the participation of the chimera in a process of research, writes Juliet J. Fall, as she reports how a shrub in the Durham botanic garden, the irruption of hybridity, could change the whole theoretical framework of her research. A chimera illustrating, on the one hand, the crosshatches and hybridizations of knowledge and, on the other, the chimerical dimension of spatial entities. Taking into account that «other» voice often allows a denaturalization of the dualistic discourses that separate natural entities from cultural entities, objective and scientific entities from subjective and social entities.

Under the tree, reading from Pauline’s notes:

Words compel me. For me they are a gesture, they draw the geographical charts of my performative desires.
They help me build a space in which I can move.
They help me cracking the stage, finding a place there.

If I make a recollection of the gestures that marked me in the performances I saw, I can say that with all those gestures I acquired a choreographic repertoire that allows me to perform an infinitude of choreographic combinations.

PERFORMED RECEPTION – This formula appears.

The performed analysis of a work appears next.
I wanted to let go of the term «critique» in my thesis, but I now think that I have to keep it instead, give it a sense that suits my views, an operative sense.
Turn critique into / making critique.

Reading Pauline’s lines, a fragment of a much-loved text by Isabelle Stengers comes to mind, «Reclaiming Animism». I’m not going to check the accuracy of the formulation, something like: «a metamorphic effectiveness in the coming together of heterogeneous elements».

Couldn’t resist. Had to check. I went to the text, flipped pages, reread parts. Old habits have crocodile skin. Sometimes it works, can’t deny it. Look at what I found:

Writing is an experience of metamorphic transformation. It makes one feel that ideas are not the author’s, that they demand some kind of cerebral — that is, bodily — contortion that defeats any preformed intention. (This contortion makes us larvae, as Deleuze wrote).

However, when the text is written, taking an «unchanging form», it may well impose itself as being of human provenance –e ven giving the impression that it can be the vehicle for accessing the intentions of the writer, for grasping what he «meant to communicate» and for what is ours to «understand».

Indeed, once «written down» [lying down, just look at this here], ideas tempt us to associate them with a definite meaning, generally available to understanding, severing the experience of reading from that of writing.

Here: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/36/61245/reclaiming-animism/

This can be taken as an invitation to abandon any reading, writing, research and study criteria that wish to surpass the complicated coalitions in which one writes, studies, thinks, produces what is called «knowledge», or any other performance/object/lecture of the kind.

Siesta time. Flies flying in circles in between. Cicadas full on in the trees outside, no fooling around, it’s Summer (in the city).

Une petite cure de flou is a book by Philippe Garnier (2002) that is quoted up there (out of here, with the flies?). It’s good to know these things. What you see on the picture above is page 27 of a book by Sandra Kühne (2014) that has been colonizing my mental space these last days: Blank Spot Cartography (Zürich: Kodoji Press).
Here: http://perimeterdistribution.com/Sandra-Kuhne-Blank-Spot-Cartography
And here: http://sandrakuehne.ch/weissefleckenkartographie

Whether or not you have read Une petite cure de flou, dear reader, it’s in this very space here that we (mis)encounter. It’s like these lines. Like the flies swirling around. One minute they’re there, next minute they’re gone. Things constantly bifurcate, transform, disappear, persist, change names and bodies and minds: ghostify.

HERE is where I am, we usually say. Only, HERE is a complicated hetero-topo-graphy. The double (multiple) lives of time, of space. Of every-thing. HERE is where the experience of this walking-conversation, as a method for (more or less) artistic research and study implying all sorts of vandals and other smugglers of mental space — starts unfolding more on your side than on mine. In incessant re-organizations, along alliances with several landscapes that are not just the backgrounds where we act. Allow me therefore to imagine you, dear reader-walker-visitor-listener-spectator, as an inhabited place as well, as an ecosystem for a myriad of agents, many of them non human and even inanimate, have you imagined. (I am thinking of current research on the non-human part that co-constitutes us, our microbiome.) Wherever you-we are. I-we not only act, we are also acted upon from the very inside, I am a place and a home, here many things I completely ignore live and die. Apparently, the human body consists of several other thing-bodies («it-bodies»), including bacteria, viruses, metals. And (t)here we are, living and studying around, as if we knew where we are(were), and «how many» and which kind of «where» we can be(come). Made of so many kinds of parts and pieces, matters, microbes and ideas, so many inhabited areas, some brand-new, others so much older than us; some passing by, some staying a bit longer. That shows that this piece of work is not exclusively of human origin. Not mine. It doesn’t really belong to us. Neither to me nor to Pauline, nor to you, nor to the authors that I have been paraphrasing and (mis)quoting here, or the ones you will need to call to mind in order to (mis)interpret this to the end. The «author» is a provisional colligation whose list of accomplices will always remain in an elastic state. A required mode of existence not only to think and write, but also to move out of here and (re)tell things around. Because both the writers and readers of any piece of research are concrete and fragile beings who depend upon all sorts of supports: they need to eat and drink several times a day, go shopping, the loo, walk from table to table (tables of many kinds, mind you), worry about the cats they see wandering around, and whether they will keep benefitting from research funding or whether they’d better open a gluten-free toast business in Lisbon; they stick papers on the floor to plan their next steps, scrape and scratch, apply another layer of words, plant radishes, write in recesses and crevices of the mind and in many other nooks and niches that infiltrate places without having been invited, and in the middle of all this crap they are often distracted by the song of the cicadas. Wait a minute, the song of the cicadas? That’s a poem by Australian poet Roderic Quinn, a leading member of The Dawn and Dusk Club, an Australian bohemian club of writer friends from the late 19th century, who met for drinks and camaraderie. Click here to listen: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-song-of-the-cicadas/

Re-capitulate
Re-place
Re-situate
Re-field

 

Writing Research as a mode of Rehearsal

What happens when the ecologies implied by the very operations of writing research — their social, spatial, choreographic, architectural, affective qualities are acknowledged as relevant for the constitution and conveying of the research contents they are supposed to stand for? From the close-up to the glance, from the caress to the accidental brush — as Jane Rendell has described other possible positions implied in critical writing –, can the usual positions of academic research and «writing up» research (Probyn 2010: 73, 74) be challenged, re-moved from their usual places as forms of knowledge with a static point of view, tending to rigid here and now locations?

And what do other forms of making-writing-research may look like? Is it possible to imagine other relations between the objects and processes that I (we) study — be they more or less of the artistic realm — and my ways of writing research — be it artistic research or academic research? I mean, relations that would be allowed to endanger the certainties and authorities of academic research, to complicate and trouble them? On my best days I daydream. It goes as follows: perhaps academic writing could become more sensitive to the criticality of its objects of study. In order to know not so much what their meaning is, but rather to get to know what those objects of study can tell that disturbs our linguistic certainties and the powers they grant us. A more risky relation, but a necessary one, as Bruno Latour suggests (2003a) — for from the moment we admit the complexity of things; from the moment we admit that such a complexity produces a confusion that cannot be eluded but should rather be integrated in our exercises of analytical critique, «we are bound to get lost». According to Latour, it is in this sense that looking for a critical distance is a bias that can only be good for so-called «critical persons», whereas »criticality can only be achieved in the state of passionate interest towards an uncertain and surprising solution». Latour considers that “«critical persons cool down their objects», for «they prefer to feel critical rather than taking the criticality of small details into account» — in order to not compromise their critical judgement. In order not to blur the identities of the subject with the identities of the object, «critical persons» prefer to dismiss any detail that would risk to introduce any amount of unexpected or agitation, a conflict, a controversy, a shaking of positions.

Still, such a relation implies not only becoming sensitive to the criticality of one’s objects of study. It implies, as well, becoming sensitive to the affective potential of criticality displayed by one’s discursive operations. Namely, becoming sensitive to the ways in which a specific text acts its saying; becoming sensitive to the ways in which a text shows what it does; becoming sensitive to what a text does to me when I read or hear it; becoming sensitive to what it makes you feel or helps you doing as you write it; to what I can do with it as I spit it out, and to what you can do with it as you hear it across the air, trying to stick to parts and particles of your minds-bodies-gestures.

This is where it may be interesting to recall the notion of «rehearsal» from some experimental choreographic practices I have been working with. For the mixed temporalities implied in those rehearsal modes remind us of something that we may be in need of, in these times of «projective temporality» (Kunst 2012). That something is a combination of «experimentation» with «repetition», with recapitulation (a combination that implies staying longer with things, providing them with the conditions to unfold their many sides, not knowing too soon where they could be going and asserting that indefinite duration as a sustainable state of things). From here I would like to raise the question about how to smuggle some more of this «rehearsal» mode — as an experimental way of assembling bodies and things that commits to paying attention to combinations that might seem lateral and insignificant — into the university, into fields of academic knowledge and theory, critique proper and theoretical writing. Practices where «erring» – «getting lost», «missing the mark», «calculating wrong», «not knowing where to go next but nevertheless going» — could work as rigorous methods of study — following André Lepecki, in his reflections on dramaturgy in the field of contemporary dance (2011: 192, 195) –getting us out of assumptions about the «right» and «professional» way of practicing our practices.

A line for the end would be: recast research, theory and research writing as fictional rehearsal modes. Reclaim writing research (artistic or non artistic) as a mode of oblique recapitulation, as a mode of queering constituted knowledge, as an always situated combination of in-and-outdoors collective study and (implicitly choreographic) studio work, which cannot be predicated upon demands of transparency and communicability.

A short video for the end would be: Stefano Harney on «study» and «inoperative education» in «Working With Others: Convivial Research (Revisited)», at The Poetry Center (2016):

 

References

Fall, Juliet J., «Hétérotopies et concepts géographiques: pour une (play)mobilisation des approches hybrides et participatives», in Debarbieux, B. et al. (eds.), Objectiver, Visualiser, Jouer: Comment Penser et Figurer l’Espace Géographique (Cahiers Géographiques, no. 5). Geneva: Université de Genève, 2004.

Kühne, Sandra, Blank Spot Cartography. Zurich: Kodoji Press, 2014.

Kunst, Bojana, «The Project Horizon: On the Temporality of Making», Maska: Performing Arts Journal, no. 149–150, vol. XXVII, Autumn 2012.

Latour, Bruno, «Critical Proximity or Critical Distance», 2003. Unpublished pop article, available on Latour’s website.

Le Boulba, Pauline, Unpublished texts / Research period in Lisbon, 2015.

Lepecki, André, «“We’re not ready for the dramaturge”: Some notes on dance dramaturgy», in M. Bellisco, M.J. Cifuentes, A. Ecija (eds.), Rethinking Dramaturgy: Errancy and Transformation, Murcia: Centro Párraga, 2011, pp. 181–197.

Marker, Chris, Sans Soleil. Documentary film, 1983.

Probyn, Elspeth, «Writing Shame», in Melissa Gregg & Gregory J. Seigworth (eds.), The Affect Theory Reader, Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2010, pp. 71–90.

Rendell, Jane, Personal website.

Schneider, Rebecca, «New Materialisms and Performance Studies», TDR: The Drama Review, vol. 59, no. 4 (#228), Winter 2015.

Stengers, Isabelle, «Reclaiming Animism», e-flux Journal #36, July 2012.

Doutorada em filosofia pela Universidade de Paris X, é investigadora integrada no Centro de Estudos de Teatro (FLUL/FCT) e associada no IHC (NOVA FCSH), actualmente Visiting Scholar no departamento de Performance Studies da NYU. Entretece práticas discursivas com práticas coreográficas, interrogando modos de (des)conhecer encontrados em vários campos disciplinares e não-disciplinares. Para dar ênfase à poética e às formas de vida implicadas em qualquer circunstância de investigação e/ou composição, imaginou uma zona exploratória de miscigenação entre práticas teóricas, artísticas, geo-gráficas e literárias: T-Fi Cabinet (Theory-Fiction). Escreveu Relations on Paper (2013) e editou de The Page as a Dancing Site (2014) e Pièces Assemblées (2017).

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