Re: [-empyre-] Re: Critical Spatial Practice

Enjoying the generous responses here so far -

First, I'm a little uncomfortable with how my questions and concerns might be pushing discussion back to matters of reception. The emphasis so far here on perception, language and sensory experience says more about my position as an art educator, and perhaps even as a trained painter, than about the central concerns of some of the good work pointed to by Ryan, Brett and others in their cited examples.

That said, conversations about how the senses are organized to promote certain modes of experience and exchange are of interest to me, and relevant to the topic and context here. I just wouldn't call them central to a discussion of "CSP". I'm looking forward to hearing from some of this month's other discussants whose work is more directly engaged with the practice, examination and construction of spaces outside the academy.

On the instrumentality discussion -

Sally Jane asks some very good questions that are prodding me onward to better clarity here. I concur with Saul's distinction between an instrument and instrumental use. To borrow from Theater and performance, I wonder if my worries about instrumentalized approaches to perception aren't analogous to Brecht's critique of Epic theater. I understand Brecht's concerns to be about Epic theater's engagement of senses and bodies toward the end of eliciting very specific programmed emotional responses. His response through the Theater of Alienation was to try to shock the senses into action through arrest or thwarting of expectations. Might his Alienated Theater be equally as instrumentalizing ? Sure - such reflexive modernist strategies have been employed with even less freedom for sensory discovery, if for different ideological ends. (ie, the construction of class through difficulty and prestige).

Such examples make me think about how and when sensory experience allows for, and is even dependent upon, more discovery and contingency. Any produced event worth an audience's trouble carries a honed and framed experience that contains a finite number of sensory possibilities. I wouldn't consider such intentionality in framing to be always instrumentalizing perception, because many of these events allow for a variety of simultaneous experiences, and even seek a productive unexpected response or challenge from the recipient.

Maybe I'm still evading Sally Jane's questions, but I want to maintain that actions seeking exchange, or even offering a gift, are more generous and humane than actions intended to provoke specific responses. I remember here too some discussions with anthropologists in which the social functions of material objects grow narrower and more routinized as ties between group members grow weak. Autonomy, safety, and therefore power stability, seem to rely on smoothly functioning symbol systems. Do the emergency exit lights in my building need to function as routinized, instrumentally perceived codes of red letter forms? Sure, but such visual regimes are part of the construction of specific social spaces, relations to one another and to authority. There's an interrelationship of certain perceptual regimes or sensoria and consequent spatialized socialities.

What I miss most in a world where economies mobilize every bodily capacity towards smooth reception and production are (1) the experience of simultaneous, and competing sensory inputs (the auditory suffers greatly here, thinking of Catherine's post); and (2) encounters that privilege dissonance and difference among participants via confrontation with differing perceptual subjectivities.

Where this discussion overlaps with our month's topic is this - that such opportunities for questioning the senses, adapting and arguing about or from clashing perceptions, seem to be a particularly prominent part of working with others to understand and change a particular space. From all accounts, Ultrared deals well with this, though I haven't attended a performance in person.

And then to Danny about disciplines -

I'll be brief here for now, and his post deserves more than I have time to write at the moment. I can understand why he would take my statements so far here the way he did. I should clarify - I'm not eager to keep such practices or projects as we've mentioned here suspended outside of existing disciplines. As you say, that's no answer, and not really possible. My point is more that as a discipline, art really isn't required by many good CSP-related projects. And in fact, with the avant garde as a precedent, art stands to do some of these practices some harm. (Saul pointed out to me helpfully that one might look at this as an issue of attempts to circumscribe art's role, and not as an issue of art itself.)

Some alternatives I would suggest based on observation - for one, a group might think less about disciplinary location and more about productive goals (as mentioned in Brett's post). For another, a group might move from discipline to discipline as needed for purposes of practical institutional recognition and legitimation. Or for another (mostly my experience), disciplinary identity might be more a concern for individual members of a collaborative group, so that even if the project isn't identified as moored to a particular disciplinary site, individuals who work on the project can use the results as needed to further their individual standing , thus supporting the creation of future efforts. My chief concern here is to not weigh down a good project with the expectations of a particular discipline unless that discipline's space is part of the project's area of inquiry.

Hope I'm clarifying or helping form questions more than I am distracting through this thinking-out-loud,


On Sep 10, 2007, at 5:05 PM, Danny Butt wrote:

Enjoying this thread a great deal more than I have the capacity to contribute, but two brief thoughts from a deconstructive vein that has been productive for me recently:

Firstly, given how thoroughly I tend to agree with them usually, I am a little surprised at Ryan and Kevin's concerns with escaping art as context in the service of art as process (to be a bit ham- fisted about the summary, please correct me if I have this wrong), as if interdisciplinarity and the refusal to locate practice allows flight from the power relations of assimilating cultural institutions. It reminds me of a certain repetition of Conceptualism in the new media arts sector; and also (as Brett perhaps suggests) a new media studies repetition of "criticality" which seems not-well-enough-connected to previous debates on the limits and exclusions inherent in the critical enterprise's attempts to find distance from power. This is not to say that I am not interested in institutional critique, but my reading of post-60s critical artistic practices is that they are marked with the recogniiton that it is precisely in the moment of recuperation that one's criticality finds its disruptive effect in the fabric of disciplinarity/genre/institutional practice. (I am thinking especially of US feminist work from the 70s and 80s, inc. Lacy as Kevin mentioned, included/reframed/assimilated in the recent MOCA feminist art restrospective which I didn't see but would love to hear more about w.r.t. this discussion from those in the LA area, and also thinking of Faith Wilding's comments on the problematic of reprising "Crocheted Environment" in a new institutional site). (In fact, this whole point seems heavily gendered). In the end, surely, we have to choose our sites of participation with a much more modest sense of our capability to escape the power relations that pre-exist our participation in whatever cultural scripts we are performing. For me, the power of interdisciplinarity is in the "and/ against", rather than the "not just".

So to take that out to the broader questions of sensation in space that Christiane, Sally Jane, Catherine have opened up in Kevin's "instruments" for us; our ability to comprehend and control instrumentalising behaviour (as Sally Jane points out, not deserving of a purely negative connotation) might be less voluntaristic than some of this discussion might imply. We are having these conversations within heavily over-determined embodied subjectivities which to me DO make the de Certeau-esque tactical walk seem romantic in its assumption that sensitivities to one's own body are communicated intersubjectively through conversation or co-presence. My experience is that, contrarily, difference is made more visible. Just think about race, body and law enforcement/ policing. [This is simply Spivak's critique of the baseline assumption of a shared subjectivity in Deleuze's flight from the subject outlined in the Can the Subaltern Speak? essay].

Perhaps instead, I'd suggest, one's movement through space is instead developed the way one learns a language - very slowly, and the effects on one's native bodily "language" will never quite be understood as one attempts to learn another way of being in space, yes through the infinitesimal mechanisms described by Kevin - experience is irreducible - but requiring a much longer period of time than the logic of the "intervention" seems cut out for. Here then, with the question of time, we have to attend to the history of the psychogeographic walk's intimate relationship with exploration/anthropology; and this raises the fundamental aporia between the subjectivities of the explorer and their informants, and their different temporal orientations to the encounter. My take on the history of the debates in anthro is that there is a clear ethical decision to make when we travel: we either focus on our own experience and what we can extract for those "back home" in our disciplinary/subjective locations; or we test our own desire to enter different spaces by giving ourselves over to the maintenance of someone else's pathway, where our bodies do not "learn" but instead give us away constantly, but through our inability to ever be adequate (or critical ;) ) to this situation we develop our ability to attend to the exclusions embedded in our own practices/ being.

Mieke Bal's work on travelling concepts is perhaps pertinent here.

Reading back on this it doesn't seem like I've said anything useful, but I'll send it anyway. Many thanks for all the stimulating contributions.



On 11/09/2007, at 6:17 AM, Ryan Griffis wrote:

Sorry, i meant to also reiterate Kevin's pointing to Nick Brown and Ava Bromberg's "Just Spaces" program (if i may shamelessly promote some friends), as it is deliberately, i think, inclusive of practices other than Art. Or to paraphrase Matthew Fuller, projects that are "not just art" (or architecture, or planning, or activism for that matter). Which leads to some of the concrete concerns about the shifting of power when structurally exclusive cultural institutions attempt inclusion...
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