Like the Research Ethics event I attended last Thursday (see my previous blog post), the How To Play Knowledge conference (Friday 3 July, BCU Parkside) was fairly quiet: there was some coming and going, but probably only 25 people attended over the course of the day. I don’t know who was on the organising committee, but I get the impression that Alberto Condotta was responsible for putting together much of the event. Overtaken by the vastness of the task, I suspect they were simply not able to finalise the programme soon enough to give it the publicity these things need. However, the small numbers gave the event an intimate feel from the outset, and the magic that is generated when a group of relative strangers get together and exchange ideas flowed quickly.
It was great to see Nikki Pugh, who spoke first. I am familiar with some of her projects, and I liked the way she located herself and her practice – Venn diagrams do it for me! I also felt she raised some really interesting questions:
What is the relationship between our methodology and our method of dissemination? Can they be more connected? Is it possible to establish multiple entry points into our research?
How can we work with, exploit, manage the ‘two-ness’ of communication, so that it takes place at the ‘right’ time, when all involved can attend to and benefit from the ideas raised and explored?
How do we slow down our experience (as researchers, and as participants) in order to really reflect deeply and allow conversations to craft themselves around the topics being explored?
This last point came up again in Mattia Paganelli‘s excellent workshop – Knowledge? Practice? Object? – in which he invited the participants (most of whom are engaged in practice-led research) to reflect on the materiality of knowledge/the matter of fact. Focusing on the practice allows us to slow down and really engage with the ideas and processes, but it is by trying to put this into words that a process of negotiation takes place in which both language and practice are held in tension, pulling against each other and changing each other through this pull. If we are to do more than simply represent practice with words, translating one medium into another, we need to explore the relationship between them. Mattia used the phrase ‘reciprocal capture’ to describe the indebtedness of each to the other, and this is very pertinent to me, as the performance I gave – drawing with a stick that became gradually shorter – was about my attempt to tease apart a range of embodied experiences and to bring them into conscious awareness without loosing entirely the holistic, substantial, present experience of being embodied. I was trying to put it into words, gradually gaining more control over the drawing media and the words that I was spelling out became more and more legible (at least to me: I’m not sure the audience realised these marks constituted writing). The layers undercut each other: physical control was gained as the the distance diminished, but (conversely) critical distance allows us to gain perspective and think analytically; the ‘castratory’ element of performance was highlighted by one questioner (I chopped down the garden cane with a pair of a secateurs, and the sound of the blades cutting through the fibrous bamboo resonated deliciously in the space (I like to think of the blokes in the audience nervously crossing their legs at this point!)), which prompted me to think that the absence that language hinges on is undercut by the expressive qualities of the calligraphic words.
Nikki Pugh is clearly interested in embodiment, although she is clearly coming at it from different perspectives from myself, from those of technology and place. Nevertheless, there are a few points of intersection that are really intriguing: some of her references hinted at an interest in disrupting the senses, encouraging people to feel rather than rely on sight, and her point about cycling in the dark, drawing on a kind of embodied navigation, made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It’d be great to talk further. I feel some tea and cake coming on.