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

Kathleen McDermott katmariemcdermott at gmail.com
Sat Oct 5 09:22:13 AEST 2019

Hello all,

So great to read all of your thoughts! Thank you Nina for sharing your work
I enjoyed looking at it. And thank you Paige, David, and Kathy for sharing
insights into yours and Tony’s practices.

I’ll continue on this question of play in creative practice because I find
it super interesting. I do not think an element of playfulness in creative
practice excludes rigor or structure. However I do think in frameworks
centered on productivity, it is often perceived as less-than or as a poor
use of time. Play is an enormous privilege, many of us never feel we should
play or can play. (The issue of motherhood and time definitely comes up
here). I attended a panel yesterday at the NY public library regarding
comics as a medium for inclusion, (titled “welcome to the nerd palace!”)
and one of the questions asked from the audience centered around how to
convince parents that it was ok to let kids read comics, (was it like
letting them eat candy?) A panelist who was also a librarian responded that
she thought there were echoes of capitalism in how we view student reading
lists— that even regarding children we fret that they should always be
consuming media that is productive and has been sanctioned. And yet comics
provide a space for so many children who feel othered... A digression but I
guess I take heart in the idea that even if play isn’t explicitly
productive (though I believe it very often is), it can be ok to engage in

But mostly I do see it as productive, as requiring rigor and as approaching
the area of experimentation, in a way that is valid but not in a scientific
method sense. Because different structures work for different people.

But I do very easily slide into doubt on this. I see the possible danger,
in the Arts, where we are often having to convince the broader institution
of our expertise and our rigor. And it can certainly be dangerous territory
to question “expertise,” in a general climate that has become so
anti-academic, anti-expert. So arguing for play can be a very tricky
boundary to walk.

Would love to hear others’ thoughts on how and whether they attempt to
balance rigor with play in practice. Margaret, does this come up in your

On Fri, Oct 4, 2019 at 12:17 PM High, Kathy <highk at rpi.edu> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> 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
>     home.
>     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
>     http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
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