[-empyre-] Welcome to OCTOBER (t0ny's feminalist collaborations)

Paige Sarlin p.sarlin at gmail.com
Fri Oct 4 10:02:24 AEST 2019

"Grateful for structures that make conversations possible." MR

Thanks K, M, and D.

Building on the thread about conversation and its association
with/collapse into play, Studio of the Streets (SOS) seems like a
great project to think with. What became an early example of
relational and discursive "social practice"  actually began as the
documentation of a protest to demand resources and space for public
access television. As it was conceived by the members of The First
Amendment Network for Public Access (with Chris Hill, Barbara
Lattanzi, Julie Zando, Jody Lafond, Meg Knowles, and many others --
including TC and Brian Springer), SOS weekly shoots were an attempt to
encourage the people they encountered on the steps of City Hall to
make their own TV. Eventually that goal fell by the wayside and TC,
Cathy Steffan, and Ann Szyjika developed a careful choreography in
order to produce and amplify conversations with the people of Buffalo.
SOS's conversational/play was shaped by boundaries, struggles with
authority, and institutions: from time constraints (they filmed on
fridays and aired tuesdays) to the organizing efforts of hundreds of
people to demand public access .... but it was also enabled by tony's
employment as a professor at University at Buffalo. He’d been teaching
at UB for many years, but he used to say that SOS made Buffalo his

I raise this because the notion of home that Margaret invoked is, for
me, synonymous with conversation, a space or site for dialogue and
discussion. That's what I need: interlocutors and structures for
engaging with them. Call it a network, connections, friendships,
relationships, "community" -- forms of association for conversation have to be
produced, reproduced, and maintained. Like many privileged folks, i've
been lucky to meet brilliant individuals and to carve networks out
within academic institutions, but it's when I've tried to build them
"outside of institutions" that's when those conversations-connections
require work and resources to feel like play.

>From this perspective, i don't think tony would have recognized himself as a
"professional amateur". Rejecting the notion of professionalization at
every turn, he was a student of boundaries and disciplines -- if only
just to upend the conventions. He didn't have an MFA when he was hired
at UB, most artists didn't. But he set about to learn "the culture" --
having reading groups on post-structuralism and other academically
fashionable material. (He was also hired to teach video having worked
almost exclusively in 16mm). All power structures intrigued him. He
took institution building quite seriously but in the context of the
university, he was most committed to finding ways for his students to
cohere as a group. He'd do anything to facilitate that and to keep the
department limber and forward thinking in its offerings and hires. But
the job was, first and foremost, an income. A "home base" from which
to be a filmmaker, video artist, musician, writer, artist, and a
teacher (or "polymath" -- a term he never used to describe himself).

The current conditions of academia mean that artists are hired or
expected to satisfy the never-ending imperatives of
"interdisciplinarity."  Artists must write, theorize, perform,
produce, instruct, tutor, and criticize across media to be legible to our
administrations and hiring committees. This multi-modal status (with
all of its apparently boundary challenging playful potential) has
become a professional requirement.

I'm neck deep in this -- I have the degrees, check the boxes, and now
I teach in a department with a PhD in practice where we're in the
business of producing professionals in the mold of
trickster, multi-modal, institution-challenging mavericks. From where
I sit -- it's worrisome how well and easily "the celebration/power of
play" fits into the very logic or authority it has the capacity to
flout. I'm all for celebrating the virtues of being tinkerers and
undisciplined but never an amateur. I don't want to cede anything, nor
did tony, to the logic of
hierarchy when it comes to the power of what we do.

Paige Sarlin, Ph.D. (she/her)
Assistant Professor / Department of Media Study / University at Buffalo/SUNY
p.sarlin at buffalo.edu / paigesarlin.info

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