2020 August: Teaching Practice

Neighbours. Video, 15 min. 2020.

Authors and Agents: a Lecture

I’ve spent pretty much the entire month just thinking about teaching. Alongside my PhD, I’m also trying to get a qualification to teach in higher education, and it has pushed me to try to put into words some feelings I have about how art should be taught; to formulate my attitudes towards it. Initially, I thought that my research would seamlessly translate into teaching material, but actually, at least with the task I set myself, it wasn’t that simple.

For my assignment for this teaching qualification, I decided to design a lecture for Critical Studies for art students. Most art courses have this ‘theoretical’ component to the predominantly practice-based framework of study. I’ve always really liked lectures and artist talks and talking about art and practice, but a lot of fellow students and now, some of my own students, seem to feel a bit differently. I find a lot of art students don’t like lectures at all, or they might find the readings or language of ‘theory’, or ‘talking about art and practice’, alienating to the point of seeming irrelevant. The languages used to talk about art often chafe against artist’s sensibilities, it seems.

I wrote my lecture with a few attitudes in mind:

  1. A lot of channels through which we learn about art, discuss it from the perspective of the spectator, or culture/history at large, and not the perspective of the artist themselves. I wanted to write a lecture that talked about practice from an artist’s point of view – a narrower, more intimate perspective led by questions of method (how to do things), rather than interpretation (how to read something).
  2. To write from the perspective of the artist, I need to bear in mind what kind of language I’m using, and to also bear in mind that a common language for speaking about art as practice rather than product, doesn’t really exist (yet).
  3. I liked lectures because they were a rare moment in my art studies where I wasn’t in some way ‘in public view’ (i.e. an art students shares an open plan studio and their work is always on view and subject to regimented critique) – I could be anonymous and being a passive recipient of information actually felt a bit refreshing after a day of working ‘in view’. I therefore wrote my lecture with a view to take advantage of the reflective opportunity afforded by the anonymity of the auditorium. So, my theme would be about authorship, a reflective subject in itself, for an artist. And I would present opportunities for reflection and for each student to spend time thinking about their own authorship, within the lecture itself.

I am quite pleased with the result; at least as a start. The lecture introduces some philosophical themes about authorship and the origins of creativity, going into some discussion, even, about non-human creativity (i.e. AI and biological evolution); but the language is I think, accessible and does not require prior knowledge. It’s very introspective, and even though it discusses other artists’ practices and ideas, these present opportunities for thinking about the specificities of one’s own practice and conception of one’s own authorship. Here is the lecture. You can also find a full commentary on my design of this learning material here.

Y1 BA Critical Studies Lecture.009

I think the best way to build upon my lecturing practice is to go out and present this now. Through experience presenting and collecting feedback from seminars and colleagues, etc, I can improve it and get a feeling for what a good lecture should be like.

So I’ve actually proposed this lecture to the universities I’ve been affiliated with, and am waiting for an opportunity to give the lecture. Until then however, I think I’d like to completely forget about it. I’ve got an art practice to get back to; teaching is a whole different artform, and although I love teaching, investing in the design of this lecture has completely absorbed my attention away from advancing my practice.

Neighbours

I did manage, before the end of the month, to squeeze in a performance video (see here). It’s always a bit of a question of where to film these videos, but why not start at home? So this one was filmed on my sofa. As always, the performance was improvised, and got off on a shaky start. It resulted in a weird blend of talking about feminist geography and the dynamics of neighbourly relationships. I was reading Leslie Kern’s Feminist City (2020), whose topics have really wormed their way into my unconscious and come to light whenever I now go for a walk outside – reading it even prompted me to go on my longest walk since lockdown; I walked all the way from my place in South London to Trafalgar Square. I walked via Stockwell, then Vauxhall, then along the Thames towards Southbank to cross Embankment Bridge and arrived at Trafalgar Square via Whitehall. I circled around the fountains, a statue of a colonialist with a venerating plaque celebrating the bravery of he and his men on their ‘campaign’ in India suddenly sticking out like a very sore thumb in light of recent events; I must admit that the figures depicted on the square have hitherto completely evaded my attention. Old, dusty, invisible history. I wandered over to the fourth plinth for its refreshing difference – a big creamy ice cream oozing over the plinth by Heather Phillipson, topped with a cherry (and a drone). I wandered back home via Westminster, where I ran into a small Extinction Rebellion protest on the square, contained by tonnes of police everywhere – just like the little Occupy protest Kern casually wanders into in her chapter on urban activist spaces. From there I proceeded down Millbank, past Tate Britain and back into South London.

In my video I do not reflect in any meaningful way to the book itself – rather, the book just jogged some interest in my mind regarding some of these subject matters, and hearing and feeling their flavours in my roleplay. But being at home also made me think about my neighbours, and the story becomes largely (an unserious) one about the politics of neighbourhood life. This reminded me once again that the spaces in which I perform end up affecting the stories I tell to quite a great degree. I used to think it was all about changing something about my body: appearance, posture, voice; but the environment serves to shape what I say and do to a great extent. Perhaps choosing where the performance takes place is a factor to consider more consciously.

Rosa and Lawrence

I also managed to squeeze in a couple more performances of A Ritual Resuscitation of Eternal Lovers…

For the first time, a couple decided to switch gender roles:

And the text was also read in Serbian aloud for the first time.

Upcoming Group Exhibition

The ‘intelligence debiased’ (or it seems to be renaming itself ‘estranging intelligence’) research group is planning a group exhibition for the Autumn. It’s a relief to a lot of us to have the opportunity to do something in a physical public space again. For my own part, I think the work I’ll have will be video; either the Self-Estrangement as Method video I’ve already made, or something new along similar lines. I thought to make a work that takes that same idea of presenting the performance method in an almost pedagogical manner. I proposed the idea recently for a commission, and it went along these lines:

Making a group of materials that invite public response on a certain question; the question is, quite simply, “Who am I when I am being ‘normal’?” or “Who am I when I am just ‘being myself’?”. The question arose when I tried to make that video tutorial on my self-estrangement methods – a set of instructions for how others could adopt my performance methods. In the video, I was talking about the methods, so I was trying to deliver the presentation from a space of neutrality – ‘just being myself’. When I rewatched it, I realised I was indeed not myself, but in again presenting in some kind of character.

In fact, this video had in a certain sense failed – the participants I’d enlisted to try my performance methods had a tough time trying them out, and didn’t necessarily find it a very natural way to work or think. While they didn’t find it very natural to adopt the methods however, they seemed to find the videos themselves compelling – a fantasy of becoming other. It seemed that while I’d failed to make a tutorial, I’d succeeded in making an artwork.

In this new ‘collection of materials’ (I am thinking video tutorials, a workshop, a lecture, an online forum… things like that) I would embrace the YouTube tutorial, the video documentary and the lecture, as forms that at first sight suggest the transferral of knowledge, but twist in their own misapplications to become instead propositional artworks; provoking inquiry and fantasy into the nature of personhood. Through a collection of video, text, live conference calls and comment threads, I would be able to publicly investigate what it means to ‘just be your normal self’ against almost a decade of deliberate self-estrangement.

I think a good way to start this public ‘provocation’ would be by way of:

  1. A documentary-esque video.
  2. Then, a performance lecture in which I analyse the situation from the perspective of a character, or more, and trying to step in and out of them to delineate the barrier (for example, maybe I am most ‘myself’ when I am bored, and sitting there daydreaming.
  3. Then, maybe a kind of workshop – but nothing too demanding. Not asking participants to perform or anything; rather, interrogating what aspects of their normal ‘just-being-there’ is ‘actually’ performance.
  4. Some kind of comments/forum for discussion. Maybe on the gallery website?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s