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

High, Kathy highk at rpi.edu
Fri Oct 4 12:48:02 AEST 2019

Hello Paige and all,

I thank you Paige for this entry - and all the entries which I have followed with great interest.

But I must speak up here - as I feel like maybe I am a representative of the last generation of actual "posers" in academia akin to Tony Conrad. This ilk will not be able to continue after my generation. And - like my immigrant father who also posed and taught graduate business school students at Penn State while he only had a 6th grade education, and so many others I admire! - we have figured out a way to move through these systems that are now dominated by institutional risk aversion regulations and more!

Of course, I have to admit that Tony was my advisor in graduate school at UB and we stayed in touch since my graduation in 1981. Tony wonderfully taught me how to teach, how to play and how to make art. 

I received a MA in Humanities (what is that?) from UBuffalo in 1981 - and we were told by the University of Buffalo that once they got their MFA program approval our degrees would be "turned into MFAs". Years later then the MFA came on board I wrote to the administration to request this change in my degree - but alas. I was told I would have to reregister, and take all kinds of courses to actually qualify for the MFA. So be it. No MFA for me. So, I have basically faked it through my career with a non-terminal degree all this time. And now - ironically, I advise PhD students!

But that is not why I am writing. 

I wanted to post because of something Paige said about Tony and how SoS and other things "made Buffalo his home." I had a great conversation with Tony about 12+ years ago while he visited Troy after a talk he gave at RPI. He lamented the fact that so many of his fellow faculty members in his department were living in NYC and commuting to Buffalo to teach - leaving a hole in the actual Buffalo community which could have been thriving had they been in situ. He had tried to start community studios to encourage living communities, but to no avail. Tony really loved what these outskirts, somewhat ruined and fringe communities had to offer to us all - like Buffalo. An opportunity for freedom from financial burden (inexpensive rents, affordable food and schooling, etc.). Which also translated into time! And a place where communities can really come together to change opportunities - like with the aspirations of SoS. I have taken this to heart living and working now in another rust belt upstate city, Troy NY!

In the 1980s, I worked with Tony and Tony Billoni, and Chris Hill, and others in a hypnotist club - which was amazing. Tony C. and I were both good hypnotists. And thus we started this "club" -  a kind of thing that rarely exists today. As a group we met and held experiments where we tried to hypnotize each other, and see what results we could produce - which is weird and scary because when you hypnotize someone you exert control over them. But I never felt threatened by Tony - like I did so by many other men in those times (and most of the men at UB!) - to Paige's point of Tony's feminist awareness. To his credit, I started working with Tony at UB in the graduate program, after pioneering video artist Steina Vasulka left and moved to Sante Fe. She had been the only woman teaching in the program. I was devastated when she left. But Tony became - somehow and very organically - my mentor and super shaped who I am today. That was a gift@!

In fact, Tony was the only person who ever was able to hypnotize me! He only got my arm to suspend upward - but that was a big deal! He was truly a magician! Ha!
In those moments we learned how to literally lean on each other and trust one another. And this was "community". 

On 10/3/19, 8:02 PM, "empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au on behalf of Paige Sarlin" <empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au on behalf of p.sarlin at gmail.com> wrote:

    ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
    "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
    empyre forum
    empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au

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