[-empyre-] After ISEA: Traveling Artists

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Thu Sep 29 18:14:18 EST 2011

Hello Cynthia!

I am not an artist, but I have noticed that I am gripped by two
aesthetic (maybe spiritual?) impulses when I am travelling.  The first
is that I sometimes want to be swallowed up by the place that I'm in.
On first arrival, I want to walk until I am exhausted, I want to get
lost, and then try to find my way again.  Tied to this is some desire
to just kind of bounce around in the city, confused, stumbling through
language, never trying to pretend I belong there, but trying to see if
I can get by just by following everyone else.  I think there is
something a bit perverse about this, some romantic imperialist residue
in the desire to lose myself and find myself again in the alien
landscape, to return home in reconstituted form.  On the other hand,
there is something positive tucked in here, too.  I want proof that I
can entrust myself to whoever happens to be around me.  I haven't
sought out other artists or theories, the guy in the cafe, a walk in a
crowded street, from my own naive perspective, presents just as
formidable challenge to my senses as anything else, trapped where I am
on the steep part of the learning curve.  So far, so good.

Lurking behind this is enormous anxiety about the future of the United
States.  When I am home, I feel like we are a country that has only
become more isolated in our thinking.  Those we regard as "beneath"
us, we tend to view as hostile, threatening, avaricious, and
nihilistic.  Those who might appear "superior" in some way, we tend to
view as elitist and pretentious and imagine them looking down on us
from some smug position.  I want to crush this paranoid impulse under
my heel.  I want to come home and tell people that a Muslim majority
country like Turkey holds many lessons for us, and I want to know
those lessons firsthand.  I want to say that a Scandinavian country
like Norway has many lessons for us to learn, and I want to know those
lessons firsthand..  And, in Turkey and Norway, I want to tell people
that I am concerned about the direction of my country, we are not all
Tea Partyers, the future of my country is a bit up in the air, but
there are many people who want to carve out a more peaceful and just

I don't know what it would take to get rid of our national paranoia.
Since before the Salem Witch Trials, we have had a paranoid streak
that we have managed to externalize to devastating effect.  On the
other hand, many places people generally seem to think that Americans,
on a personal level, are flexible and friendly.  So maybe there is
something about Neoliberalism tucked into my recent (and extremely
limited) "jet-setting."  I am on the micro-level, some fluffy little
agent of culture smiling my way stupidly through city streets, but on
the macro-level, I am tied to hard-handed military, cultural, and
economic practices.  I go some place, and I soothe.  I come home, and
I reinforce the idea that all people want the same thing.  If I am not
careful, my micro-level self could distort, obscure, and conceal the
macro-level realities of collective action.  The little impulses
germinate in the soil of narcissism....  and if these seeds germinate
in soil that is in a little terra cotta pot (as is the case in
atomized, individualistic societies), then they flower into an
isolated specimen that only serves a narrow purpose: Beauty, fruit,
etc.  If Americans grow our ideas like potted plants, we will only
continue to select for seeds that produce ever more paranoid,
self-centered blossoms, with well developed root systems spreading.
And, following the logic of privatization, if the world is given over
to this individualized system, paranoid seeds will tend to thrive in
these conditions, and global consciousness will be remade in this
atomized image (though, the planet will likely be destroyed before
this view is universalized, tidily justifying the cloudy paranoid
views that made such mutual destruction inevitable).

But if they soil is part of a larger field of growth (say, in the
context of a public sphere, democratic civil societies, and a global
framework for human rights), the little seeds that are nurtured by
small acts of identification eventually have to find there way within
an ecosystem.  Suddenly the plant is part of a network, and its flower
or fruit might only be a small part of its full beautiful
participation in the flourishing of the system.  So, alongside my
dirty little neoliberal adventures, I am hoping to find systems where
my habituated potted plant mentality can be broken free from its
confines.  I want to go back and tell stories of beautiful forests
that are bigger than our little ideas lined up in perfect little terra
cotta pots.

This requires two (maybe three) perspectives.  It requires the
first-person account of life in the forest, which compared to the
story of life in the terra cotta pot, is thrilling and beautiful, but
also fraught with danger.  Some ideas thrive, some are choked out and
die miserably.  When your idea is individualized, cultivated, you can
sit and think that, for instance, global warming is a big myth
fabricated by Al Gore who is the anti-christ, and this flower will
grow and bloom and seem quite excellent.  You can imagine that we are
little AIs and that life is a very fun game.  And you can look at the
pots around you, and they all are blooming the same way, with nary a
threat to their existence.  This firsthand view, that your flower of
an idea might be choked by a weed or eaten by a moth, is as terrifying
as it can be exhilerating.  And if you don't know to look for the good
in it, you might only see the terror.  So the first person account is
not enough.

The second perspective, maybe even more important than the view from
the forest floor, is the larger contenxtual view of the system:
Metatheory.  An idea of how ecosystems work, the ability to talk
frankly about our dirty little adventures.  I just can't travel
without trying very hard to think about globalization and the
widespread dispossession that is happening by design.  I tend to miss
many of the historical fine points, but the big picture theory helps
to mobilize the view from the forest floor in another direction.  I
can go just about anywhere, and know that even if my thinking is
challenged in some way, that there is a point of solidarity that can
be found.  I believe this.  The numbers bear it out.  And when I see
an assumption dashed on the forest floor, I feel as though I am still
building solidarity.  And when a particular assumption is borne out, I
also feel solidarity reaffirmed.  I hate to hit this note again and
again (it was what I talked about in my ISEA paper), but we need big
picture views tied to systemic critical thinking.

The third perspective (maybe it isn't really different from the first)
would be a localized intersubjective perspective, "our" view from the
forest floor.  But I need to think about this.

But if I had to imagine what an artist does, I would say that at this
point of history, artists can serve a mediating role between the micro
and macro roles, allowing the forest floor, subject specific view to
be applied within a macro framework, or to render translate the macro
view into something that can be percieved from the forest floor, in
both cases, helping to make our thinking more permeable and earnestly
concerned.  I don't think it's the only thing artists can do
(certainly, there is a lot of diabolical art that does quite the
opposite), but it certainly seems like a good thing artists can do.


On Thu, Sep 29, 2011 at 2:13 AM, Tracey M Benson <bytetime at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hi Cynthia and all,
> I love your questions about the role of the artist traveller, particularly:
> In this scenario, what is the role of the artist?  What is there for us to
> interpret and reveal? After the tour guides have told the stories, what can
> we embellish, describe, and tease out of our observations that goes beyond
> the stories that tourist travelers will share with their neighbors and
> families when they return home?
> These are very pertinent questions which go to the heart of the project I am
> currently working on as part of a residency in a rural village in Cappadocia
> (with the working title 'Cultural strangers').
> So far we have been in Turkey a month (incidentally ISEA was a side event
> and not the main reason for being here). Towards the end of our stay in
> Istanbul we were starting to feel (every so slightly) that we were
> scratching the surface, so to speak. We had established friendships with a
> couple of local people via the cafe we frequented. One friend in particular
> liked to tell us often that we were not like tourists because we didn't
> drink alcohol and we enjoyed tea and smoking the nargile (water pipe).
> Methinks he was just being nice :-)
> Anyway, we are exploring ideas/layers of mapping - social, historical and
> cultural as starting points to try and explore our relative position as
> cultural strangers and to hopefully move beyond being a tourist.
> One of the things that helps a lot is language. Although my Turkish is
> beyond bad, I have found some of the nice Arabic words I know are much
> appreciated and understood. I only realised this after several weeks of my
> ears being totally confused and then emerged some familiar words, for
> example 'inshalah' (God willing) and 'as-salamu alaykum' (peace be upon you
> - often used as an evening greeting). Perhaps people are surprised when a
> 'western tourist' comes out with such words.
> As a participant in ISEA (this was my third), I would argue that it is
> impossible to get beyond being a tourist (even a sophisticated one) per se
> given many people only come for the event. In fact, for many there is not
> even time to be a tourist and to see the sites of history and culture. In
> Australia this activity is often referred to as FIFO (fly in, fly out) and
> is often used for people who work in remote areas but live elsewhere - eg
> mining, government employees.
> At the moment I write this post from my little cave, asking myself how can
> some of these issues be resolved in our project. I would love to hear what
> other empreans think about this topic as I think it has much wider social
> and economic implications beyond the lenses of creative production and
> critique.
> Regards
> Tracey
> On Thu, Sep 29, 2011 at 4:18 AM, Cynthia Beth Rubin <cbr at cbrubin.net> wrote:
>> Greetings:
>> I spent a few extra days in Istanbul after ISEA, and began to break
>> through the overwhelming disorientation that I experienced when I first
>> arrived in Istanbul.  Since this was an important trip for many of us, I
>> would like to open the discussion to thinking about what it means to be a
>> "traveling artist" in the age of digital communication.  This is an aside
>> from the primary ISEA discussion, and thanks to Davin's post I agree that
>> there is more to talk about there.  However, as thoughts of Istanbul are on
>> our minds, I wonder on a very personal level how we responded as artists and
>> theorists.  I would also like to hear from our Turkish colleagues - perhaps
>> this can be inverted to include their experiences of traveling outside of
>> Istanbul?
>> My thoughts:
>> As artists, we like to think that when we travel we are engaging in
>> research, that we are not mere tourists.  But in Istanbul, at one point or
>> another we became indistinguishable from average tourists.  I found this to
>> be true in part because the typical tourist in Istanbul seemed more
>> sophisticated than the tourists that we often see, for example, in Paris.
>>  Most of the tourists I observed acted as artists do: they looked carefully
>> at the historic sites, and photographed patterns of beauty and site of
>> interest with respect for the culture that inhabits the spaces.  And they
>> tried to learn history as they looked, tried to put this in the context of
>> the Turkey that they saw around them.  It may have just been my luck, but I
>> did not see people running treating places of deep history as just an older
>> version of Disneyland.  I saw thinking, thoughtful, "tourists."
>> In this scenario, what is the role of the artist?  What is there for us to
>> interpret and reveal? After the tour guides have told the stories, what can
>> we embellish, describe, and tease out of our observations that goes beyond
>> the stories that tourist travelers will share with their neighbors and
>> families when they return home?
>> I am interested in hearing from others about the role of the artist in the
>> age of sophisticated tourism.  And I would love to hear about projects that
>> are doing something really unique in bringing about new approaches to
>> interpreting, representing, juxtapositioning, and creatively making
>> connections that point to new roles for artists in the age of travel and
>> digital communication.  I know that AR is one route - but are there other
>> collaborations going on? Personal diaries?  Muddled thoughts after a long
>> trip to a far away (for some of us) ISEA2011?
>> best wishes,
>> Cynthia
>> Cynthia Beth Rubin
>> http://CBRubin.net
>> _______________________________________________
>> empyre forum
>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
> --
> Dr Tracey Meziane Benson (aka bytetime)
> Adjunct Postdoctoral Fellow || The Australian National University || School
> of Music
> Visiting Scholar || The Australian University || School of Cultural Inquiry
> You can find bytetime on twitter, delicious, scribd, flickr, linkedin,
> identica, slideshare and facebook.
> websites:
> www.byte-time.net
> www.xconnectmedia.com
> www.fauxonomy.org
> blogs:
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> mediakult.wordpress.com/
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> _______________________________________________
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