Digital Literacy, Digital Literaries

Remarks at the State Library of Queensland’s Digital Literacy Forum, 2nd June 2015.

I’d like to acknowledge Songwoman Maroochy Barambah, the Turrbul peoples and the broader Aboriginal nations who have maintained the land this wonderful library is built upon. Growing up on the Gold Coast in the 1980s, I knew that communities were working to protect their knowledge along this bank of the river, but I was not yet culturally literate enough to appreciate the importance of their efforts to do this under the most oppressive circumstances, and we all have much to thank them for. Thanks also to Jenny, Colin and the team here at SLQ for the invitation. Being an academic, I’ll take the opportunity to make more conceptual and speculative remarks than the rest of our presenters.

My first memory of digital literacy was pointless. 12 years of age, I learned how to use the BASIC programming language on my Commodore 64 to make pixels appear on the TV. I decided to extend this newfound skill by creating a visual epic. I glued together sheets of graph paper into a large sheet, traced my subject onto it and translated each of those pixels into a POKE command that I typed into my computer and periodically saved to cassette tape. After a couple of weeks of this, my realistic portrait of Garfield was born [note, that is not my image but very similar].

What was I learning? A kind of craft, one that felt contemporary. And as a viewer who consumed images on a screen day and night, the process of making something appear on a TV that was mine and no-one else’s – my views on copyright were somewhat more conservative back then –  fulfilled me in a way the more rote learning that school encouraged did not. I read a lot, as my good parents encouraged me too, but with little focus or objective other than the satisfaction of completing the book. It wasn’t until I was 14 or so and my uncle in Sydney introduced me to science fiction, where I really found the world of a book could be my own. But that space of “programming” would feel like mine from the beginning. I was making my own world. And luckily the C64 was cheap enough for my parents to afford it, as our library could not.

If it were today, the construction would probably be on Minecraft, with its billions of square kilometers of social pixelation, and I would probably, like my friend’s nephew, be making YouTube how-to videos on minecraft techniques. No doubt my childhood videos would have the smug air that characterises the future teacher. I would be actively working in this international “social form” of production, instead of the community of people making cool things I imagined I was joining through my purchases of Computer and Video Games magazine. But that more limited version was still a training of the imagination, to be able to sense a community not directly in front of me.

The many hours learning those skills in an autodidactic way did not come to mean something more economically productive until  the World Wide Web came along in the early 1990s, when I was starting to get paid for working as a writer and designer in music and arts publishing. I never remember feeling intimidated by the coding of hypertext markup language or the emergence of JavaScript, despite not having had any technical or mathematical training. I just knew that to get what you wanted to happen to happen, you had to make your demands flexible to the capability of the machine, and then puzzle it out. This turned out to be much more enjoyable than trying to reverse engineer a human boss or my parents. This “literacy” was the experience of autonomy, of freedom. As my university colleague, the Gunditjmara artist Professor Richard Frankland notes, “When you’ve got art, you’ve got voice and when you’ve got voice, you’ve got freedom, and when you’ve got freedom, you’ve got responsibility.’’

Nothing in my story will be news to any educator – we know that coercion is the opposite of learning. This is why one of the architects of the modern university, Wilhelm Von Humboldt, advocated the principle of freedom to teach and freedom to learn. Yet the growing focus on literacy as an object of policy seems to be accompanied by ever more authoritarian assessment regimes to ensure that the knowledge has been learned in the right way and to discipline those who have not. University of California scholars Glynda Hull and Gregorio Hernandez note that as “definitions of literacy continue to be debated, pendulum swings in public policy have shifted the attention of schools and teachers to what some consider increasingly narrow understandings of literacy. This narrowing has occurred even as a great deal of research has simultaneously documented the considerable intellectual accomplishments of children, youth, and adults in out-of-school settings, accomplishments that often contrast their poor school- based performance and suggest a different view of their potential as capable learners and doers in the world.”

In a different paper, working with Elizabeth B. Moje, Glynda Hull asked the question: “What is the development of literacy the development of?” Their summary of the research on new literacies is as follows.

  1. Literacy learning is situated in and mediated by social and cultural interactions and tools.

  2. Literacy learning occurs via a range and blend of explicit and implicit teaching, usually guided by interaction with a more knowledgeable other over time.

  3. Across the age range and from all social/cultural groups, people learn and practice literacy outside of school, often with high degrees of proficiency.

  4. To learn literacy well, students need meaningful purposes for engaging in literate practice and opportunities to use literacy for a broad range of life activities related to goals and desires beyond the moment of instruction.

  5. Learners require, and literate ability now consists of, facility with composing, interpreting, and transforming information and knowledge across various forms of representation [not only text].

This summary of research should be uncontroversial, yet the discourses of literacy seem to ever shrink the forms of acceptable learning and capability. My proposition is that rather than arguing over the benefits or not of literacy, our best guide to the preparation of humans for the future will come from attention to a sustained and expanded notion of the literary. What does the literary mean in the age of networked ICTs? Was my experience of copying Garfield into the computer an experience of the literary? Traditionalists would scoff at the notion, but I argue that it was.  Obviously today we must include gaming, and social media, which have generated more archival material than all the libraries together could hold in a physical form. To consider these forms as having the potential for the literary is to ask what it would mean today to become a writer, rather than simply someone who can functionally write. I usually teach in art schools, where a commonplace is that you can teach someone to paint, but you can’t teach them to want to be an artist. But you can teach them not to want to be an artist, simply via various mechanisms of bureaucratic power and inattention to their aspiration, which is something we try to avoid.

Two of the most potent recent theorists of writing, the philosopher Jacques Derrida and the literary critic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, have used the term teleopoeisis in describing the figuring of the literary. From the Greek roots tele– (at a distance – all communication is, structurally, telecommunication, says Spivak) and poeisis, (making, transforming, continuing), Spivak describes it as an imaginative making that reaches toward the distant other. It speaks to that virtual space of reading and writing that precedes the Internet, where “to be born human is to be angled toward others” and so, we create through our language a space where others come to rest.

Spivak and Derrida emphasize reading as a creative act, something too often lost in our literacy discussions. The act of crafting language is not, writers and artists tell us, the creative flash of inspiration, as we work in the languages we have been handed down from the past. Finding one’s own form for a creative idea is satisfying but is also, in the end, the hard work of crafting. The “creative moment” comes in our experience of our world being touched by the world of the text we read, even the other world we first wrote ourselves, as each writer is their own first reader. When we read, we sense the freedom that comes from entering another world, and in that world we can remake our own interior world. We depart from the banal demands of the every day to find ourselves in another time and space that touches our own. In this idea of a world created within each work, we start to see why the library has been such a social force. It is not simply a collection of facts, like an encyclopedia. It is a universe of different worlds we can use to become different, by connecting ourselves to different worlds. This kind of reading – the most powerful there is – resists external evaluation.

Derrida and Spivak point out in their different ways that this is not an experience limited to the alphabetic language. Image, sound, spoken word share this same generic structure: the leaving of a trace or mark, its reception by others after the fact. YouTube did not set out to become a library, but they now occupy the clearest contemporary analogue to that archive of worlds once held by the library. The walls of the traditional library, built strong to protect and preserve, have become permeable, as the archive comes to exist outside it.

In our Research Unit’s work on Participatory Public Space, we have talked to a number of people in the library sector about how they are responding to this new relation between public and private worlds, where the archived traces of worlds are aggregated into a globalising sea of data. A common theme has been the potential to bring the realtime community of the Internet into the library space, to allow the exchange between self and other to gain a palpable presence, an ethical relation of community that complicates the economic tendency to treat people as providers of information that are more or less useful to us as individuals.  [This is where the world-leading work of SLQ’s The Edge is inspirational, with its mission to “provide Queenslanders of all ages with the opportunity and inspiration to explore creativity.”] And as we were talking on freedom earlier, it’s worth noting the number of respondents in our research who noted the absence of financial transactions in the library as an important component in its publicness – it one of the few remaining places in our world where someone is not after your wallet.

This quote from Hamish Curry, formerly of the State Library of Victoria, captures this emerging agenda succinctly:

Libraries inherently have been about the written word. They’ve been about enormous collections. In my view, libraries have tended to be about service to the individual. So you have a need that you want from the library, you come to the library, there is a transaction there about what I can help you do. Libraries, while they have talked about themselves as being community hubs, they’re not hubs of being communities of people using the library, because as soon as you put a group in the library you get noise, and noise is the enemy of the culture of libraries. So the language that’s shifting in the culture of libraries is about we need to embrace the communities more and work out ways in which we can support group experiences in the library, because then you get shared experience – it’s the idea of what’s called sometimes ‘co- creation’. So that a group of people come in, maybe to a makerspace, they help create something that then the library keeps, or it adds something back to the library, and then that group of people have been able to make an impact back, and they can see that. It’s almost like an acknowledgement of their contribution to the library. — Hamish Curry, Education Manager, Learning Services, State Library of Victoria. (2nd August 2013)

Many of the thinkers behind contemporary libraries have emphasized that this is not a change in the library’s mission but a necessary rethinking of it due to the different structure and affordances of the knowledge archive. If so, rather than simply looking at technological challenges, we could revisit some of the classic rationales for libraries, such as the Indian librarian S.R. Ranganathan’s classic Five Laws of Library Science (1931):

  1.  Books are for use.
  2.  Every reader his/her book.
  3.  Every book its reader.
  4.  Save the time of the reader.
  5.  The library is a growing organism.

How could we capture the universality and openness of this aspiration for today’s libraries, integrated as they are into commercial platforms of licensed intellectual property? We could perhaps rethink on the back of an envelope the laws of Library Science for the networked, multi-modal library in this way:

  1.  Media connect communities.
  2.  Every reader his/her community.
  3.  Every reader his/her means of joining that community.
  4.  All media their user.
  5.  Give time to the user.
  6.  The library is a growing organism.

In closing, today there has been a lot of discussion about platforms, and from our research the best early thinking on this comes from Italian organizational theorist Claudio Ciborra in his analysis of the “platform organisation.” Using Olivetti in 1989 as an example, Ciborra describes the difference between the platform organisation and the network organisation, where the platform is a “system of schemes, arrangements and resources”. Whereas the network  organization is “a flexible cluster of specialised units coordinated by market mechanisms instead of a vertical chain of command”. The platform organisation reflects the network  model at the level of a network of routines and transactions, but also has a higher layer where the “re-architecting of structures is played out”, and it is the “recombination of bundles of routines and transactions” that matters more than the specific properties of the network. This “decoupling of process know-how” from the more mundane generation of product innovations leads to a dualistic system, where “strategic management mainly consists in placing bets about what will be its next primary task; all the other choices such as alliances, vertical integration and so on, follow the provisional outcome of such bets.” (We can think of Apple and the iPod/iPhone and now health and home automation; Google in mapping; Samsung in bio-similar pharmaceuticals). The tools used to undertake this “re-architecture” today include intellectual property, cross-border financial engineering techniques and global supply chain management, that are out of reach of most organisations or governments.

It is useful to consider how platforms operate, as the Internet is now less a network of thousands or millions of individual computers as we conceived of it in the 1990s (30 companies now account for over half of Internet traffic), and our use of the network increasingly tied to mutually incompatible interfaces and hardware devices between platforms such as Apple/Google; Facebook/Twitter, etc. As the globalization and privatisation of digital infrastructure precedes apace, we are becoming less citizens belonging to a nation-state governed by laws, and more a consumer belonging to a commercial platform governed by license agreements – the sheer number of clauses in these contracts many of us clicked “agree” to would dwarf national legislation. These are changes in the structure of the public sphere are not the library’s to control, as the power of social media platforms is not simply the possession of proprietary algorithms or proprietary data, but depends on the combination of both. Access to data (e.g. open data) without capacity to effectively use it, is insufficient. Today, few, if any institutions – including government agencies, universities, libraries or public broadcasters –  possess the required scale of analytic capacity to use the volumes of data generated by the platform and the ability to aggregate it in ways to provide a compelling alternative “town square”.

Yet as a customary means of access to information, libraries have the mandate and potential to be a crucial interface to other worlds and communities which exceed the parameters of aggregated consumer attention housed in the new media platform. This freedom may emerge in the public’s ability to move around and between platforms, a cosmopolitan impulse to cross digital borders and move between jurisdictions. In the platformed world, this movement that rests less on productive literacy within a platform and more on skill in reading and interpretation of the digital platform’s openings and exits to others. The physical platform the library provides still connects communities together, enabling that reading of the digital terrain to be shared hand-to-hand and face-to-face – but the link to the information platforms have been shifted outside the library’s control. Perhaps here is the challenge of digital literacy – less to develop the individual in the public schooling model, and more for library organisations to learn to read the rapidly changing digital environment that underpins the library’s ability to continue its mission to support the development of literate publics.

 

Remarks at Independent Convergence, Melbourne 22/5/15

I’d like to thank the organisers of this excellent gathering, as someone who works in universities I can say that they increasingly struggle to provide spaces for wide-ranging collective consideration of our predicament, and independent discussion is critical if we are to understand what we can do to change our world. I acknowledge our dependence on the traditional caretakers of the lands on which we gather uninvited. We can never be independent of this relationship.

A few questions about independence.

What would independence look like, when we are all dependent on each other? Which institutions are we independent from (for example, if our work relies on Facebook, is it independent, given the scale and reach of this firm?)

Is independence the same as self-reliance? The mythology of the creative artist is the lone genius, but it is typical for young contemporary artists to be involved in an artist-run initiatives as a way of evading the forces of market and state-sponsored scenes. How does collectivity relate to independence, is it what produces independence?

If one has dependents, how does this affect independence? Does working independently make it easier or harder to engage those with caring responsibilities, or to be a person with those responsibilities?

Is independence about being able to choose one’s collaborators? To what extent do independent artists reinforce exclusion through self-selection? If we work outside the government or firm, what governs our accountability to a larger world, all those who are not our collaborators?

Can one be an independent professional in the arts? As professionals are usually produced by institutions, or the profession becomes an institution, does the the adoption of a professional trajectory compromise independence?

Who does independence serve? Why would random citizen X, not involved in our projects or even our mission, appreciate our independence? Can independence be shared with them, and how? (In our workshop this morning we talked minimum wages – what forms of alliance are possible, to what extent do we insulate ourselves from other struggles for independence outside the arts? Marx’s concept of proletarianization proposes not a fixed distinction between artistic and non-artistic labour but a process that seeks to render all labour unable to shift its terms of employment. How is this process understood inconditions of austerity and financialisation, what common interests are produced with non-artistic labour, how can we become conscious of these interests?)

How do we engage the history of our independence? The filmmaker Lizzie Bordern, who directed the classic 80s feminist neorealist sci fi Born in Flames, put it this way: “Everyone knows nothing will work. But even if the questions are old, they must be renewed to mean something different today.” What we understand as independence is a term and concept handed to us from a prior world – as I know too well by marking too many essays on Robert Smithson – yet our new situation does not simply allow us to apply the same strategies, no matter how rightly inspirational they are, as the forces that compromise independence are different. How do the independent organisations of the past relate to us today? What does the devolution of town halls and other spaces into “private function venues” teach us about the kind of infrastructure that would support independence now?

[The next two points are not independent but are adapted from collaborative work with the critic Rachel O’Reilly]

Are the aesthetic models of the past too implicated in oppression to be independent? In the Critique of Judgement Kant described human’s aesthetic judgement as the production of independence – a freedom between the stern logic of the rational law and the constant unruly creation of nature. Yet beauty is not something we feel – it is not an affect – but a social judgement, a pronouncement of value, and so part of a labour relation, relying on the labour of others in an institutional way, if we think about ourselves as institutionally produced (family gender race etc). The critic Marina Vishmidt notes that the ideal Kantian subject who makes aesthetic judgements [the connoisseur?] is “instrumental in the ‘last instance’ …(that is) in so far as it forms a “universal subject” that is fully appropriate to the bourgeois era.” Indeed this is “the basic contradiction of bourgeois subjectivity – it is instrumental in its non-instrumentality, purposeful in its purposelesness” as it displaces the contradictions of capitalism that allow the aesthetic judgement to exist. How do we break the dependence of the arts on this instrumental labour relation?

Kant’s other aesthetic situation is the Sublime, where the independent human is confronted by something so massive that it cannot be recuperated into thought, yet we reflexively know that we cannot conceive of everything this entails. Classically, this can be manipulated by artists in their work – think of Kafka, who wanted a novel to affect us like a disaster, the death of a loved one, a suicide. But recent debates on arts funding have demonstrated how unthinkable disaster structures the means of artistic production through finance – for example, the profits that Transfield (mandatory detention) or Santos (CSG mining) redirect to the arts. How can we gain independence from the profits of death and destruction? What investments do we have in this model of support, what types of divestment are possible and desirable?

Foucault describes neoliberalism as not simply a change in governmental behaviour, but a reformatting of society to produce the individual as an economic actor, with each being the “entrepreneur of himself”, producer of his own value. To what degree do our concepts of independence reflect neoliberal ideologies? How could production find independence from this model? What independent production would be defective for this model?

Is the practice of independence the best way to find out exactly how dependent we are?

Generationalism

I’m not sure if last week’s Facebook post on Hal Foster and generationalism was wrong or I just have a lot of friends getting older but nevertheless it was unpopular so let me try the argument another way (again, those with knowledge please correct my inexpert cereal-box developmental psychoanalysis): As infants we learn to sense a world that is timed and spaced in specific ways, written by the mother/family as a language. We learn to translate our gestures in turn, developing repertoires of movement/grabbing that cohere in us as subjects and become our more or less individualised patterns of sensing and engaging the world as we enter the social order. Underwriting the shared languages of the clan are the technologies of reading/writing/speech that pre-exist birth and outlive death and are bound prosthetically to us and structure our mechanisms for sensing the world. Affect thus has a grammar, and particular technologies of inscription (“media”) spatialise specific repertoires of grammar and gesture across clans, via the historical motors of industry and the state, interrupting intergenerational transmission of a symbolic order.

For example – the emergence of Michael Jackson’s Thriller -> rap and late-night telecasts of NBA basketball on Australian television in the mid-1980s trained my sensorial world in productised African American gesture in a way far less accessible to a previous generation of my class and regional location [unfortunately we did not get Adrian Piper’s “Funk Lessons”]. [Though at the same time, I remember watching 5 days of test cricket on television – another language]. Similarly, I can use a touch-screen, but I will never live in my nephew’s world where a wide range of gestures of interaction with the screen are mastered at the age of two, even if I deliberately “learned” to get faster at using a tablet by spending hours a day on it. His world is both already here and yet to come, and I hope that he translates something of my grammar into it, but there are no guarantees.

All that is commonsensical (?) but professionally, the authoritative gestures of the critic encourage us to forget that our time is already gone, resulting in claustrophobic rituals of pronouncing on what the world is or isn’t as if it were able to be sensed with our legacy equipment (thus requiring punk or other forms of generational rebellion). For example, I grew up with the personal computer and became an adult at the birth of the Web 25 years ago – even as a “new media” practitioner and scholar I struggle to escape my default relation to the Internet as one of accessing archival documents, even though intellectually I know that the document metaphor is broken by the content streams of the social platform.

That sense of struggle should complicate the process of making cultural explanations, to open a gap between our world and the one-to-come-already-here, and thus to open the ethical relation to next generation. This was completely missing in Foster, who looked at the parts of a world he could recognise, felt fear, and thought it was his job to revise his own explanation of the times. And it is his “job” as the visiting professorial public lecture, and somewhat interesting for those of us who share something of his practice and trajectory, but also simply in the time-honoured tradition of patriarchal complaints about epochal decay that aren’t much use to anyone. Of course one should not grow old, and continue to participate in emergent forms and try and make sense of them  for our own sake, but I think the only way to do this without trampling on those who are becoming institutional adults in the contemporary world is to recognise that the emergent grammar and gestures that constitute new times are structured by differences that are unseen and unseeable by us. Yes, the legacies of our own times of emergence remain part of the contemporary – my knowledge of XML is perhaps a bit like knowing Latin in the 19th century, almost deprecated but still with explanatory power – but I think it is more useful to document the codes we know well rather than telling the young what their world is. As Gramsci has it, there are a lot of voices “organically” connected to that world that we should be listening to.

Research Methods in Community Cultural Development – Draft Reading List

Draft Reading list for course Research Methods in Community Cultural Development – Masters of Community Cultural Development, Victoria College of the Arts, University of Melbourne. Semester One 2015.

28th Feb 2015. danny@dannybutt.net

75 MB PDF of readings (one or two still to be found) here:
https://copy.com/x9eQZ6uEhHt39qYw

Week 1 – What is Research?

Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2006. Chapters 1, 3, 4.

Taylor, Dena, and Margaret Procter. “The Literature Review: A Few Tips on Conducting It.” Writing Support, University of Toronto. Retrieved 19 (2008). <http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice/specific-types-of-writing/literature-review>.

Knott, Deborah. Writing an Annotated Bibliography (2004). Writing Support, University of Toronto. <http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice/specific-types-of-writing/annotated-bibliography>.

MacDowall, Lachlan. “Art and Knowledge Systems: Teaching Research Methods.” TEXT 14 (October, 2012). <http://www.textjournal.com.au/speciss/issue14/MacDowall.pdf>.

Sartwell, Crispin. “Appendix: Riffing on Political Aesthetics: Suggestions for Case Studies and Research .” Political Aesthetics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010. 245-249.

Recommended:

Harding, Sandra. “Introduction: Is There a Feminist Method?” Feminism and Methodology: Social Science Issues. Ed. Sandra G. Harding. N.p.: Indiana University Press ; Open University Press, 1987. 8-14.

Colectivo Situaciones. “On the Researcher-Militant.” European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies (EIPCP). September, 2003. eipcp.net.  <http://eipcp.net/transversal/0406/colectivosituaciones/en>

Bergold, Jarg & Thomas, StefanParticipatory Research Methods: A Methodological Approach in Motion [Not in reader]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 13 (1). 2012. Art. 30, http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1801/3334

 

Week 2 – Artistic Research: Knowledge in Practice

Nelson, Robert. The Jealousy of Ideas: Research Methods in the Creative Arts. London: Ellikon 2009. (Chapter Three: Critical investigative parameters)

Raqs Media Collective. “How to Be An Artist by Night.” Art School: (propositions for the 21st Century). Ed. Steven Henry Madoff. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2009. 71-80.

Recommended:

Rogoff, Irit. “Practicing Research / Singularising Knowledge.” Agonistic Academies. Ed. Jan Cools and Henk Slager. Brussels: Sint-Lukas Books, 2011. 69-74.

Anonymous. “The Art of the Question: Thinking Like a Public Artist .” The Practice of Public Art. Ed. Cameron Cartiere and Shelly Willis. New York: Routledge, 2008. 219-230

Butt, Danny. “Whose knowledge? Practice-led research after colonial science.” On Making: Integrating Approaches to Practice-Led Research in Art and Design. Ed. Leora Farber. Johannesburg: Research Centre, Visual Identities in Art and Design, Faculty of Art Design and Architecture, University of Johannesburg, 2010. 13-21

 

Week 3 – Community

Chapple, Karen, and Shannon Jackson. “Commentary: Arts, Neighborhoods, and Social Practices: Towards An Integrated Epistemology of Community Arts.” Journal of Planning Education and Research 29.4 (April 2, 2010): 478-490.

McLean, Heather E. “Cracks in the Creative City: The Contradictions of Community Arts Practice.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 38.6 (October 16, 2014): 2156-2173.

Recommended:

Joseph, Miranda. “Introduction: Persistent Critique, Relentless Return.” Against the Romance of Community. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002. vii-xxxvi.

Edmonds, Fran; Lee Darroch, Maree Clarke, and Vicki Couzens. “Ancestral Memory Out of the Shadows.” Artlink 32.2 (2012): 56-61.

Nakata, Martin N. “Concluding Remarks.” Disciplining the Savages, Savaging the Disciplines. Canberra, ACT: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2008. 218-225

Khan, Rimi. “Case Study: Creating a Profile – Reworking ‘Community’ at Footscray Community Arts Centre.” Local-Global: Identity, Security, Community 7 (2010): 134-148.

 

Week 4 – Debating the Social / Cultural

Lind, Maria. “Complications; On Collaboration, Agency and Contemporary Art.” Public: New Communities 39 (2009): 53-73.

Lacy, Suzanne. “Debated Territory: Toward a Critical Language for Public Art.” Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art. Ed. Suzanne Lacy. Seattle, WA: Bay Press, 1995. 171-185.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Culture Alive.” Theory, Culture & Society 23.2-3 (May, 2006): 359-360.

Recommended:

Jackson, Shannon. “Quality Time: Social Practice Debates in Contemporary Art.” Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics. London: Routledge, 2011. 54-86.

 

Week 5 – Ethics

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 1999. “Ethical Research Protocols” in Decolonizing Methodologies : Research and Indigenous Peoples. Dunedin: University of Otago Press. 118-122

Thornley, Jeni. “Island Home Country: Working with Aboriginal Protocols in a Documentary Film About Colonisation and Growing Up White in Tasmania.” Passionate Histories: Myth, Memory and Indigenous Australia. Ed. Frances Peters-Little, Ann Curthoys, and John Docker. Acton, A.C.T.: ANU E Press, 2010. 247-280.

Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. “R-Words: Refusing Research.” Humanizing Research: Decolonizing Qualitative Inquiry with Youth and Communities. Ed. Django Paris and Maisha T. Winn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2013. 223-248.

Recommended:

Bolt, Barbara. (under review) “Beneficience and contemporary art: when aesthetic Judgement meets ethical judgement” to be published in Exploring ethics and visual methodologies: Special issue of Visual Methodologies. Sept 2015. [reading to be distributed]

Alcoff, Linda. “The Problem of Speaking for Others.”Cultural Critique 20 (1991): 5-3

Edmonds, Frances. “Art Is Us: Aboriginal Art, Identity and Wellbeing in Southeast Australia.” PhD thesis. 2007. <http://hdl.handle.net/11343/35331>. Chapter 2: ‘Ways of Knowing’ [not in reader but available online]

 

Week 6 – Qualitative Research

Lincoln, Yvonna S. “On The Nature Of Qualitative Evidence.” Paper for the Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, Sacramento, California, November 21-24, 2002

Pad.ma. “10 Theses on the Archive.” Pad.ma. Web. <https://pad.ma/texts/padma:10_Theses_on_the_Archive>.

Recommended:

Mattern, Shannon. “Methodolatry and the Art of Measure,” Places Journal, November 2013. <https://placesjournal.org/article/methodolatry-and-the-art-of-measure/>

Lather, Patti. “Issues of Validity in Openly Ideological Research: Between a Rock and a Soft Place.” Interchange 17.4 (December, 1986): 63-84

Beach, Dennis. “From Fieldwork to Theory and Representation in Ethnography.” Methodological Issues and Practices in Ethnography.  2005. 1-17. Studies in Educational Ethnography Vol. 11.

Marshall, Catherine. & Rossman, Gretchen.  “The What of the study.” In  Designing qualitative research (4th ed. Chapter 2, pp. 55-88). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Week 7 – Critical Research

Lazarsfeld, Paul F. “Remarks on Administrative and Critical Communications Research.” Studies in Philosophy and Social Science 9 (1941): 2-16

Butler, Judith. “Critique, Dissent, Disciplinarity.” Critical Inquiry 35.4 (2009): 773-795

Recommended:

Foucault, Michel. “What Is Critique?” The Politics of Truth. Ed. Sylvère Lotringer. Trans. Lysa Hochroth. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2007 [1978]. 41-83.

Vishmidt, Marina. “The Cultural Logic of Criticality.” Journal of Visual Art Practice 7.3 (December, 2008): 253-269.

 

Week 8 – Writing and Performance

Richardson, Laurel, and Elizabeth Adams St. Pierre. “Writing: A Method of Inquiry.” The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research. Ed. Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln. Thousand Oaks; London; New Delhi: Sage, 2007. 959-978.

Cybermohalla Ensemble. “On Writing.” Cybermohalla Hub. Ed. Nikolaus Hirsch and Shveta Sarda. Delhi/ Berlin: Sarai-CSDS/Sternberg Press, 2012. 14-20

Boal, Augusto. “A Theoretical Foundation.” The Aesthetics of the Oppressed. Trans. Adrian Jackson. London; New York: Routledge, 2006. 11-43

Recommended:

King, Thomas. .2003. The truth about stories: A Native narrative. Toronto, ON: Anansi Press.  Chapter 1. [CBC lectures: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzXQoZ6pE-M ].

Conquergood, Lorne Dwight. 2002. “Performance Studies: Interventions and Radical Research.” TDR: The Drama Review 46, no. 2: 145-56.

Sarda, Shveta. “‘Before Coming Here, Had You Thought of a Place Like This?’–Notes on Ambivalent Pedagogy From the Cybermohalla Experience.” Utopian Pedagogy: Radical Experiments Against Neoliberal Globalization. Ed. Mark Coté, Richard J.F. Day, and Greig de Peuter. University of Toronto Press Toronto, 2007.

 

Week 9 – Evaluation

Gressel, Katherine. “Public Art and the Challenge of Evaluation.” Createquity. January 7, 2012. Web. <http://createquity.com/2012/01/public-art-and-the-challenge-of-evaluation/>.

Belfiore, Eleonora, and Oliver Bennett. “Beyond the “Toolkit Approach”: Arts Impact Evaluation Research and the Realities of Cultural Policy‐Making.” Journal for Cultural Research 14.2 (March 24, 2010): 121-142.

Recommended:

Norris, Niles. “The Politics of Evaluation and the Methodological Imagination.” American Journal of Evaluation 26.4 (December 1, 2005): 584-586.

 

Week 10 – Funding & the economy

There is No Now Now reader. 2014. [Letters from Biennale of Sydney 19 Artists Working Group] January 29, 2014. <http://aaaaarg.org/thing/53489813334fe0078b2164d4>. Chapter One.

Colapinto, John. “The Real-Estate Artist.” [Theaster Gates] The New Yorker  January 29, 2015. <http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/01/20/the-real-estate-artist>

Recommended:

Mitropoulos, Angela. “xBorder Operational Matters: a Working Paper” <https://medium.com/@mitropoulos_a/xborder-operational-matters-b71a3868589a>

Slater, Josephine Berry, and Anthony Iles. No Room to Move: Radical Art and the Regenerate City | Mute (November 24, 2009). <http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/no-room-to-move-radical-art-and-regenerate-city>.

Fraser, Andrea. “A Museum Is Not a Business. It Is Run in a Businesslike Fashion”.” Art and Its Institutions: Current Conflicts, Critique and Collaborations. Ed. Nina Möntmann. London: Black Dog Publishing, 2006. 86-98.

Summary of Gayatri Spivak’s talk to the World Bank 1999

[This is not mine, but I thought it would be useful to make a stable link for this short summary that was both the impetus for my 15 years with Spivak’s work, and that has also served me well as a heuristic in my own brief forays into the international development arena. So here’s a readable version that still deserves a wide readership outside academia, the developmental attitude is perhaps only even more present now than then. I first saw this on the postcolonial list, and a quote ridden forward is the only surviving document I can find, I’d be happy to take this down and replace with a link to a better source if the Bank or the anonymous author would host it, please let me know! – db]

 

From: moderatorgl@worldbank.org
Date: Tue, 20 Apr 1999 12:50:13 -0400
To: gender-law@jazz.worldbank.org
Subject: [Gender-Law] Summary of Gayatri Spivak’s talk

Summary of the Talk to the Gender and Law Thematic Group by Professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University, New York

On April 12, 1999, Professor Spivak gave an illuminating and challenging presentation regarding working in the field of gender. She opened by stating that she did not come with a prepared paper, but was, rather, more interested in learning how to speak to Bank staff and how to have the Bank respond to what she would say. She pointed out that her remarks were being offered seriously and expressed the aspiration that they would be so taken. She noted, too, that her speaking at the Bank was a challenge to herself, and she considered her time here to constitute important field work for her.

Professor Spivak summarised her background as being a literature teacher as well as an activist for the past 10 years. She stated that during the last ten years, she has gone below the NGO level in working with communities in India, Algeria, and Bangladesh in the field of education – training teachers. She noted that if the goal of development work is indeed people, then one of the hardest lessons to learn, is that some of virtues of human existence will be found at the very bottom of society, which is the target area for change for development organisations. A question which emerges then, is, How do we approach the bottom? How can we learn from below?

The professor stated that as workers in the field of development, we should not proceed from the conviction that where we are is inherently better. If one internalises and accepts this position, then, organisations such as the Bank cannot continue to do what it does in the development field because learning from the bottom has to take priority. She realised that this position may be impractical or inconvenient for the Bank, but it was a realistic one. She questioned the definition of gender, especially approaches previously used by the Bank, but did not go further into the issue as she was informed that the Bank is working on a new gender strategy.

Professor Spivak emphasised that her remarks were being made from her experience as an activist. She stated that in her work she teaches the dominant national language and the principles of a living democratic culture within the fabric already existent in that society. She noted that in these societies where the people have learnt to manipulate incredibly complicated life systems, given also the systematic destruction and stagnation of the fabric of their societies over many centuries, often, there is more possibility for empowerment than may be realised by external workers.

Professor Spivak noted that women are the power in tribal groups. She questioned the validity of the public/private or inside/outside dichotomy in analysing issues among such groups, arguing that while this may be applicable to the middle class, this analysis did not work well at the grassroots. She also said that conventional approaches that emphasise legal rights for women may address issues of middle class or better-off women but do not touch on the problems faced by those at the grassroots. Gender is a field that goes beyond reason, and can not be analysed within the paradigm of rational expectations.

However, she stressed that tradition is not necessarily good, and change is imperative. However, assistance for such change should not take away what people have and replace it with top down schemes. Professor Spivak urged the need to look and see if there is not already a starting point within the present in the society itself, from which one can begin one’s work. One must not approach the work with the “supremacist’s assumption” that anything that exists must be bettered. The idea is to enter into and learn the traditions from inside, see what traditions can be worked with to slowly make the situation better and accepted from the inside, and to ensure that new developments are initiated from the inside. The need was to do “invisible mending” of the native fabric by weaving the different positive threads existing in the fabric. She stated that if people and not economic growth, are the motivating factor for working in gender, then we have to also realise that the change will not happen fast. Patience, she said, was critical.

Professor Spivak stated that living culture is always ahead of us. One should not think one is learning or being sensitive to another culture, but rather, one should try to forget that there is difference in culture for the time, and in this way some of one’s convictions can be changed and oneself can be open to that change. Professor Spivak also made reference to the role of using one’s imagination, as is done in literature, to envision the avenues for creating sustainable change and underscored the importance of placing one self in the other person’s (the person who is being changed) shoes – the process of “othering” as she described it.

In conclusion, the practical lessons that Professor Spivak would have for the Bank are that:

– sustainable change must come from within;
– work in this area must be approached with humility and respect avoiding the tendency to “do good with contempt in your heart” and the belief that we are in all respects better than them;
– those who seek to change must be fully prepared to be changed themselves;
– the patient learning from below must replace impatient imposition of change from above and outside; and
– sustainable change takes time, like “drops of water changing a stone, drop by drop.

In her closing remarks, the professor stated that she was interested in engaging the Bank in dialogue and that with sufficient lead time to prepare, she would be willing to return to the Bank to dialogue on issues relating to structural adjustment and gender and development.

 

Geographies of Professionalisation – panel for AAANZ conference 2014

Should have placed this here earlier – below the panel description for the panel “Geographies of Professionalisation”, organised by Rachel O’Reilly and myself for the AAANZ conference GEOcritical, December 2014. See the Call for Papers, abstract submissions due 29th August but we can probably take late ones until the 31st. Please propose! Email danny at dannybutt.net

Geographies of Professionalisation

A Session Proposal for GEOCritical, Art Association of Australia and New Zealand Conference, Launceston 5-8 December 2014

Proposers:

Danny Butt, Research Fellow, Research Unit in Public Cultures, University of Melbourne* 

Rachel O’Reilly, independent writer and curator, Amsterdam/Berlin.

The expansion of the market for university qualifications (for artists, curators, and administrators) has combined with the rise of the international biennial/festival to produce expanded and geographically synchronised fields of professional art discourse. Professional practitioners travel in circles of international prestige, evaluated less by their development of an institutional archive and more by their relationships with contemporary producers and institutions.

The historical marker of professionalism was a certain autonomy and a disinterested, neutral, public character that distinguished itself from mere exchange-value. However, the expansion of mechanisms of professionalisation through privatised universities and cultural institutions questions this disinterest. As Samuel Weber notes, professionalism requires “a certain kind of place, or, more precisely, a certain kind of placement.” The professional is in a structural location, programmed by global forces, that formats particular places and sites in terms of their potential for profit.

The dynamics of this “placement” have been on display in actions against corporate sponsors of large-scale exhibitions funded from industries including oil and gas, mandatory detention, and speculative finance. Sponsoring corporations are actively profiting from the neoliberal and neocolonial transformation of territory, property and democratic governance. The political economy of the presenting institution supports a curatorial ideology of neutrality: a withdrawal from thinking the political as the means of holding institutional power. This neutrality is justified in an appropriation of art’s “autonomy”, yet the autonomy of the artist is never global. As Guattari describes it, “the task of the poetic function… is to recompose artificially rarefied, resingularized Universes of subjectification.”  In other words, the aesthetic work of resingularisation can be seen as moving in an opposite direction to globalising neutralisation.

This panel asks how artists, critics and curators orient themselves to the geographical imaginary of professionalisation, navigating local and global forces that produce contemporary artistic subjectivities.

Relation to conference theme (150 words)

The panel is a direct response to the question of the “geo”, asking about the planetary distribution of knowledge formations that produce contemporary art. We aim to solicit papers that engage the tension between international discourses and local sites, incorporating issues such as local and indigenous knowledges, reterritorialisation of national cultural institutions, and the rise of environmental and ecological issues in contemporary art.

 

An open letter to social media philanthropists

To all the friends who are seeking my support for Dry July, ice challenges, Movember etc., I salute you. Far too few people are prepared to give to others. But I won’t be donating to the organisations you’re raising money for. Before you respond with “Well, fuck you too”, which is what I’d do in the same situation, and before I discuss why, here is a list of what I’d like you to ask me to support instead, in order of what I see as their capacity for creating meaningful change:

1) A group that you belong to and contribute your time to that is trying to change why injustices (including health injustices) occur;

2) A fund to support you if you need help or specific people you support with your time who need help;

3) An organisation or group that works to provide critical information on the actions of governmental and corporate organisations that direct the politics of social issues (not “raising awareness”).

Last night I was at my first local community meeting in years — we’ve been to a lot of protests, not the same — to save nurse practitioner services in our area and I was reminded that the various health social movements we are encouraged to support on social media are either indifferent to or actively opposed to the three activities above. I’ll try and outline these from more concrete issues to the philosophical underpinnings.

1) The programmes that are supported, in the case of almost all major cancer organisations, are part of the “health industrial complex” that Clarke et.al call biomedicalisation: the shift of care resources to capital-intensive, technoscientific, cure-products. The people working for the companies and universities involved in the research funded through the various anti-cancer councils and groups make a lot of money for their good works. But go to a campaign website and try and find out how this affects those who most need health intervention, preferably from those who express that need (we’re in a “participatory society”, right?). Good luck. Like the development industry it underwrites high salaries with the pain of others who have limited involvement in their institution’s governance. All the “evaluation” studies compound the problem. No matter how “accountable, transparent, and efficient” these organisations are, their net effect is the concentration of wealth, which is the major determinant of health.

2) The non-scientific care organisations supported by these campaigns are often hospital facilities that are the remnants of the public health system. The privatisation of the health system is in the interests of the wealthy, and we cannot expect doctors to be advocates for public health: the medical profession opposed publicly financed, single-payer universal health care coverage almost everywhere in the former British empire in the 20th century – that’s why groups like the Doctors Reform Society were established by renegade professionals to fight their conservative colleagues for public health. It’s not that cash-strapped formerly state-run institutions shouldn’t be supported but, as with the education system, there is certainly no guarantee that these are being governed in the public interest. Whether or not they have an explicit political agenda, health-cooperatives that are governed in the interests of their members are making a return and perhaps this model suits the “participatory times” we are in. The union hospital that cared for my great-grandfather (a migrant miner) at his death is more the kind of care organisation for the ill that seems valuable to support.

3) The campaigns de-politicise health. The relationship to the organisations themselves is purely through financial means that remove us from the human relationships that constitute them, even while the issues that motivate us to contribute (life and death of family and friends) are starkly human. Actual healthcare, as anyone who has engaged the systems knows, is a deeply political field structured by values about the worthiness of some forms of life over others in a resource-constrained world. The financialisation of our donor relationship to health has two negative effects on public life and democratic ideals:

a) The organisations working on health have incentives to avoid publicly speaking out on health system issues that would jeopardise support from the wealthy. This creates a domesticated discourse of health that cannot speak freely about what is actually causing health issues. Thus the dominance of randomised control trials of individualist interventions (pharmaceutical / behavioural), while social health is directed to “health promotion”, which as I have learned from Ruth, is a discourse of “responsibilisation” and the Protestant ideology that you will get what you individually work for.

b) Though our philanthropic acts we shield ourselves from involvement in the messy politics of care. We financialise our personal gesture of renunciation, pain or (in the case of Dry July) even our own health to turn it into money, the unproblematic good. The money, given over, cannot by definition be bad, as we all need it: in market discourse, at worst, it is wasted. But we are not on the hook for how the money – our labour – is spent except that we succeed or fail at our own goal. (The ice challenge, a derivative of the salt-and-ice challenge, seems to its credit to be less corporate-sponsored/formatted, but it still won’t surprise me if an ad agency has been behind its charitification somewhere)

While it may appear esoteric, it’s the guarantee of having done good is at the heart of my resistance to viral health social movements. Health is defined in our world as the absence of illness, to be guarded against and warded off. Illness comes from outside, in Calvinist terms as a punishment from God, that we can resist through control of ourselves and obedience to the Good against the sin of the body and the other. The dependence illness brings attacks precisely this resistance, testing the limits of our own capacity and resources as a caring self, calling into question our ability to “do right”. In the presence of a body that is no longer in control, faced with the inevitability of our own decomposition, caring for a specific other confronts us with how thin our aspirations and actions for social health are compared to the thick institutional politics of intimate care. It is often less “doing good” than than being undone by the absence of good.

All carers I have known have been the most articulate observers of the limits of doing good, and on how much easier lives would be if those at the care interface had even a minor share of the resources that go into the philanthropic health industrial complex. As I spend more time with the literature on nursing, I become clearer how completely distinct that historical ethic is from the world of technoscientific biomedicine (though this too is changing with nursing professionalisation). Activists have taught me that escaping the genre of individual acts and gestures (no matter how socially valorised or viral or financially successful they are) is critical in escaping the industrial modes of relation that hide our dependence on others for well-being. Sylvia Federici advocates the need for not a socialised form of production, but a collective form of reproduction, that organises the social through our dependence on each other from birth through death. I don’t know how we learn to direct our personal impulse of “doing good for the world” toward that inevitably political work of collectively working for all lives to be healthy, but I do know that charity-sponsored donation campaigns have no interest in helping us get us there.

Contemporary Art History and Professionalisation

It’s interesting seeing art historians deal with artists who are their contemporaries or near-contemporaries, as this is not what the discipline was designed for and so the meeting highlights how different the professionalisation and subjectification of art historians and artists has been. While artists do gain a sort of structural validation due to their choice of material (ironically, increasingly including art history) the requirement to “do something” with that material (i.e. enable a kind of affective truth) is far higher than for the art historian, whose ultimate validation comes from a genre of truth as the avoidance of being proven false, quite a different enterprise. [This is all changing as contemporary art history becomes an archive that both artists and art historians mine to their advantage through the shared tools of computing, adopting referencing as a style, but still I think in different ways.]

Perhaps peer reviewing of contemporary art historians could occur more through the tools of art criticism, evaluating the work of art historians according to their formal strategies within specific institutional settings and within the context of an overall project that will be tied (always badly) to their creative “identity”. If that kind of evaluation were more prominent, the survival strategies of art historians would perhaps need to go through the kinds of critical pressure that those of artists have, to become less clearly institutionally predictable. Contests between art historians who were involved in various kinds of critique of their own institutional conditions and forming independent alliances to escape them versus those who benefit from business as usual might become more interesting to artists even as those contests made art history less useful.

The most enduring feature of the modernist legacy to me was not to think of disciplinarity as seeking purity but for every disciplinary form to court its own institutional decomposition. It’s now over 20 years since Bal and Bryson noted that “art history seems hard pressed to renounce its positivistic basis, as if it feared to lose its scholarly status altogether in the bargain.” If we consider that the humanities have now become a financialised enterprise subject to many of the same kinds of pressures as any other industry (gaining market share, impact, growth, profitability), perhaps this diagnosis still holds, but the location of the “positivity” has changed from academic declarations of fact to more behind-the-scenes structures of professionalisation. “Theory” and a critical community would then still be among the few available tools to open up these naturalised engines of professional force.

Trigger warnings and institutional ethics

A number of smart people have been sharing this Inside Higher Ed post by faculty members on why they will not use Trigger Warnings, and it is one of the best I’ve seen so far, I think because it is a collective text and therefore more careful than most anti-trigger warning arguments that ultimately resort to dismissal (I love Kang’s stuff so was disappointed in that New Yorker piece).  I have not been keeping up with the ever-increasing pile of op-ed, much of which wins transartorialism’s Trigger Warning Op-Ed Bingo. There is something about the op-ed form that is itself the biggest problem in this discussion I suspect, and I have learned the most in debate in the Entropy series, which performs the decomposition of held opinion that I think critical scholars resisting TWs are trying to hold onto.

But even the most careful version of “Trigger Warnings Are Flawed” seems weak against the fundamental forces that have brought TWs to the prominence they have. In no particular order and far from comprehensive, I would list:

Firstly, a range of collective languages for trauma, first institutionalised in the United States but today globalised via the internet, that the historical version of the modern university has been indifferent to and has no mechanism to engage;

secondly, a massive growth in non-male participation in the university institution which largely existed to reproduce the patriarchal order, and whose genres of work largely reflect that order;

thirdly, the marketisation of the university that places the individual consumer at the centre of the teaching experience, who deserves value and service from an institution that has historically aimed to exclude without responsibility to anyone other than itself

fourthly (related) a “culture of the self” trackable through the development of social media worlds where one’s political goals are engaged through expressive participatory individuality. One has a “profile” as a hashtag or tumblr activist to tend with/against others as an authorial persona, and the form of that authorship has a technical structure that is more responsive to a social world than any previous form of writing, but with mechanisms of response that are individualised (as I explored in relation to Facebook here). In this mode of activism, one’s own body can collectively represent friends and followers – one’s own freedom can stand in for others. In her superb discussion with Dave Chappelle, Dr Maya Angelou speaks of the “icon” whose key characteristic is expressive courage. It seems to me that this type of identity-driven activism is the modality behind TW and related moves to bend the institutional world toward an ethics of individual respect. It says, “I am here, and I am not going to let you not see me.” This version of individual political action is quite different than the “opting out” the baby boomer generation understood as constitutive of individuality – but those individuals of the boomer generation and gen-X largely didn’t critique their own class position that made their “negativity” legible in the political calculus.

The above suggests that the trigger warning is an epochal, complex, intractable problematic – the most valuable move of the Entropy series was to discuss the generational aspects head on. But I think the biggest issue is what is at stake in the institutionalisation of these gestures. The “trigger warning” as expression of the ethical interpersonal relation between writer/reader or teacher/student has presented itself in a format that is beginning to be appropriated by a university bureaucracy that sees its potential for corporate risk management. That appropriation (not the appearance of or not of TWs) is what I think leads to the negative effects the “Trigger Warnings Are Flawed” authors elaborate (policing, deflecting of what should be institutional support to the classroom), no matter how many individuals are properly prevented from needless trauma by its institutionalisation. I’ve seen as few arguments for trigger warning policies that are grounded in a realistic analysis of institutional governmentality as I’ve seen arguments against them that are genuinely engaged in the political worlds from which TWs have emerged. As I wrote above, I don’t have a synoptic overview that could diagnose what the state of the discourse is. But I do know from experience that the policing of content works differently in an big-city research university than it does in a highly-religious teaching-oriented institution, and that the fusing of the ethical with the legal is always dangerous, however inevitable.

I don’t know what a trigger is, and I don’t like warnings generally. In my own teaching I would usually, but not consistently, aim to give content notifications for students at the start of my lectures on Gómez-Peña, for example, if there were going to be visuals that were not what students are likely to have encountered in their learning previously. I’ve no desire to put students through something they don’t want to experience. But unlike many academics commenting on the linked article, I don’t think my own individual reflex is sufficient to determine what those guides should be. In one of my first conference presentations during my brief period of work on colonial knowledge in 2004, I completely inappropriately showed images of Als and Allens’ collections of postcards of historical US lynchings. It was gratuitous and unnecessary, probably harmful for some. At the time I had no language to understand why, and luckily someone took the time to set me straight afterward, to remind me that I had no right to believe I had access to all of the stakes in what those images could do in that room. It’s one of those scenes of failure that has haunted me since, and made me realise how weak my own self-training in affect management has been. I’m a better teacher because of that failure, and realise more clearly now that I need other people’s eyes on my work, and I’ve tried to stop writing about things that are not mine to know, and to instead work with others on understanding what those historical ruptures are.

In a way, that very experience made me understand why a trigger warning is not a solution in the classroom: it still relies on an individual teacher taking responsibility for themselves, when the issues that require trigger warnings are collective problems, larger than any class. The smallest amount of support for minor experiments in collective teaching would, I think, better address the challenges of making the university a more ethically responsive place. But as anyone who has tried to implement such initiatives knows, the institutional forces that individualise answerability (as an infantilised version of responsibility) among both teachers and students are incredibly difficult to shift. Until we are able to shift them, we will have the debate on trigger warnings and other mechanisms to reconcile the institution to its ethical responsibilities, and we will need it.

19th Biennale of Sydney’s places of work

I don’t have that much to say about the 19th Biennale of Sydney as a whole — like most shows of this scale there was work I liked and work I didn’t. But the framing of the 19th Biennale — “You Imagine What You Desire” — seemed very “European” and individualist, compared to the more anthropological/comparativist “All Our Relations” of 2012. This intuition, not unrelated to the distribution of unfreedom that led to the activism around major sponsor Transfield’s involvement in mandatory detention, required sociological exploration rather than close reading. So I ran some numbers on where the selected artists live and work, and the results are graphed below.

As an aside, I think “You Desire What You Can Imagine” is more technically accurate.

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 9.36.37 PM

Country		Artists in	(Identifying as Indigenous)
		Workplace	

OCEANIA
Australia	19.50		3.00
New Zealand	1.00		1.00

EUROPE
Germany		10.83	
UK		10.50	
Norway		8.00	
Netherlands	7.50	
France		5.50	
Switzerland	5.00	
Poland		4.00	
Denmark		3.50	
Finland		3.00	
Belgium		2.83	
Sweden		2.00	
Hungary		2.00	
Ireland		1.00	
Austria		1.00
Turkey		0.33

NORTH AMERICA
United States	5.50	
Canada		2.00	

ASIA
China		2.50	
Israel		1.33	

AFRICA
Egypt		1.00			
Democratic 
Republic of 
the Congo	0.33
* This is a back-of-the-envelope calculation of where artists in 19th Biennale of Sydney work, based on the attribution provided in the catalogue. Where an artist works in more than one place a fraction is applied – e.g. London and New York = 0.5 UK, 0.5 US. Artist duos and collaborations are treated as one unit unless a separate exhibition history is listed for each artist, in which case each artist is counted individually. Indigenous identification is listed where the artist has listed a non-nation-state affiliation. Mircea Cantor’s claim to work on “Earth” is not included as I see it as part of the problem. Fact-checking and improvements welcome.