Leaning into the slipstream – talking about art with strangers

At the edge of the abyss we step without reserve towards the other. This is deconstruction at its finest and, I believe, the condition of Derrida’s democracy-to-come. This democracy calls for a renewed “belief in the world” (Deleuze, 1990/1995, p. 176) that, I hope, will enable relations less impoverished than the ones we have thus far imagined and lived. (Richardson & St. Pierre, 2005. p 1431)

Language is both a product of its sociocultural historical moment and also produces those same moments. A Creative and Analytical Process (CAP) of ethnographies is a term coined by Richardson (Richardson & St. Pierre, 2005) to define the kind of ethnographic writing (as method) that marries the scientific and the imaginative. Richardson posits that language is a space of contestation and that authors must hold themselves accountable to the standards of knowing and being through the language they call forth into the world. She posits crystallization as the key imaginary for CAP ethnographies for its multifaceted construction and refractive qualities, providing:

symmetry and substance with an infinite variety of shapes, substances, transmutations, multi-dimensionalities, and angles of approach… Crystals grow, change, and are altered, but they are not amorphous. Crystals are prisms that reflect externalities and refract within themselves, creating different colours, patterns, and arrays casting off in different direction.  (p.1416).

In my pedagogic practice of cultural mediation in art galleries, (talking with strangers, about artworks as complex, codified symbolic objects), I see artworks as the launch pad, or the cliff edge. Artworks offer us ‘lines of flight’, (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987) through unpredictable trajectories into spaces potent with the promise of unexpected/unpredictable connections. It is these lines of flight into unknown territory I am interested in supporting and facilitating. As a cultural mediator working with contemporary art that enacts activism I am interested in the ‘how’ of getting us to lean into the slip stream and go somewhere that promises to be generative by its very unknown-ness.

In my ambition to analyse and theorize affective, embodied cultural mediation (art appreciation) in art galleries, I am considering using writing as a method of inquiry and analysis – as a CAP (Creative Analytical Process) (Richardson and St. Pierre, p. 1414)  of ficto critical, auto-ethnography. I have been warned or perhaps alerted to the tensions of positing those two writing forms for my thesis writing, and yet I persist in nominating them both as I am not yet ready to let go of either of them. St. Pierre tells us that: 

writing as a method of inquiry carries us “across our thresholds, toward a destination which is unknown, not foreseeable, not pre-existent” (Deleuze 1977 /1987 p. 25 ) perhaps towards the spectacular promise of what Derrida (1993/1994) called the “democracy to come”  (Derrida cited in Richardson & St.Pierre, 2005, p. 64), …..the paradox however, is that this democracy will never “present itself in the form of full presence” (Derrida,1994, p.65) but nonetheless demands that we prepare ourselves for its arrival. Derrida(1993/1994) explained that it turns on the idea that we must offer hospitality without reserve to an alterity that cannot be anticipated from whom we ask nothing in return. (Derrida, 1994, p. 65, 1430)

In my thesis I am interested in writing described by Richardson as a “field of play where anything can happen – and does.” (Richardson & St. Pierre, 2005, p.1428). St. Pierre, a student and eventual collaborator of Richardson’s says she “took seriously (Richardson’s) charge to think of writing as a method of qualitative inquiry”. St. Pierre tells us that the method she developed inspired by her teacher’s advice, uses writing as data collection and data analysis, allowing the writer, through her practice of writing to capture the fugitive, the fleeting, the excessive and the out of character details that would be missed in more traditional qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. (p. 1427) while St. Pierre still at times uses writing as representation (repetition), she now “chiefly use(s) writing to disrupt the known and the real – writing as “simulation” (Baudrillard, 1981/1988, In my thesis I am interested in writing described by Richardson as a “field of play where anything can happen – and does.” (Richardson & St. Pierre, 2005, p.1428). St. Pierre, a student and eventual collaborator of Richardson’s says she “took seriously (Richardson’s) charge to think of writing as a method of qualitative inquiry”. St. Pierre tells us that the method she developed inspired by her teacher’s advice, uses writing as data collection and data analysis, allowing the writer, through her practice of writing to capture the fugitive, the fleeting, the excessive and the out of character details that would be missed in more traditional qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. (p. 1427) while St. Pierre still at times uses writing as representation (repetition), she now “chiefly use(s) writing to disrupt the known and the real – writing as “simulation” (Baudrillard, 1981/1988, In my thesis I am interested in writing described by Richardson as a “field of play where anything can happen – and does.” (Richardson & St. Pierre, 2005, p.1428). St. Pierre, a student and eventual collaborator of Richardson’s says she “took seriously (Richardson’s) charge to think of writing as a method of qualitative inquiry”. St. Pierre tells us that the method she developed inspired by her teacher’s advice, uses writing as data collection and data analysis, allowing the writer, through her practice of writing to capture the fugitive, the fleeting, the excessive and the out of character details that would be missed in more traditional qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. (p. 1427) while St. Pierre still at times uses writing as representation (repetition), she now “chiefly use(s) writing to disrupt the known and the real – writing as “simulation” (Baudrillard, 1981/1988, in Richardson and St. Pierre, p. 1423), and as “subversive repetition” (Butler, 1990, p. 32 in Richardson and St. Pierre, p. 1423).

Postmodernism’s  suspicion of all claims to truth, critique of representation and will to investigate all methods of knowing and telling from a position of doubt – presents us with “a condition of possibility for “producing different knowledge and producing knowledge differently” (St. Pierre, 1997, p. 175)

Wary of the risks of representation and interpretation, I aim to judiciously use any strategies that can be considered representational and interpretative with caution – aware that these methods hold power within them and undoubtedly flatten or colour, the complexity of the ontological and epistemological complexities operating within any assemblage of people, places and things. Postmodernism’s discrediting of representation for the violence it commits on the ‘represented’ for its partialness and omissions – no matter how rich and thick (Geertz, 1973)  the writer believes their descriptions to be, leads me to a point of high tension – how can I write from my situated and embodied particularity and produce a text that brings into being new ways of ethical being and knowing activated through the practice of ethical looking which forms the basis of my professional practice of cultural mediation in art galleries. I will be using Richardson and St. Pierre’s (2005), provocation to consider: What else might writing do except mean? (p.1426), as a pivotal provocation in the development of my research and its concomitant strategies of writing as data collection and analysis. 

Writing as “a field of play”(Richardson, 1997) in which we might loosen the hold of received meaning that limits our work and our lives and investigates “to what extent the exercise of thinking one’s own history can free thought from what it thinks silently and to allow it to think otherwise” (Foucault, as cited in Racevskis, 1987, p. 22). In this way, the linguistic turn and the postmodern critique of interpretivism open up the concept of writing and enable us to use it as a method of enquiry, a condition of possibility for “producing different knowledge and producing knowledge differently” (St. Pierre, 1997b, p. 175.) (p.1426)

The aim of my thesis is to consider what condition’s of possibility are opened up by talking about art to strangers in art galleries. The promise of “producing different knowledge and producing knowledge differently” seems full of potential to me – to stimulate the social imaginary, to disrupt bias, to lean into relationship with others systems of knowledge. If we need anything right now its a way to come together and think differently, I hope my thesis will contribute to understanding what that means and how that might be achieved using art and talking to strangers as a catalyst to some kind of liberatory thought process.

Deleuze, G., Guattari, Félix, & Ebrary, Inc. (1987). A thousand plateaus : Capitalism and schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures (Vol. 5019). Basic books.

Richardson, L. (1997). Fields of play : Constructing an academic life. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

Richardson, L., & St Pierre, E. A. (2005). A method of inquiry In Denzin, N. & Lincoln, Y. (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (p. 959–978). Sage Publications Ltd.