I am troubled by decisions. I am troubled by certainty. In my family of origin, I was the one most in control of their emotions. Set amongst a volatile cast, I grew up conscious of the impact of adding another divergent view to the battlefield.
As life unfolded and I became more aware of the complexity of bearing authentic witness and the potential of both violence and grace to manifest through the emotional charge of human encounters, I became a curious mix of exuberance and aloofness.
In Rebecca Solnit’s book A Field Guide to Getting Lost, she tells the tale of a student sharing a quote during a workshop she was teaching. The student said the quote was from the pre-Socratic philosopher Meno – it turns out that the reference and the quote had morphed into something similar but not the same as the original source. Meno is actually the title of one of Plato’s dialogues.
Nonetheless, the student’s misquote stayed with Solnit and she wrapped it into ‘Open Door’, the first chapter of the Field Guide, in which she talks of the Jewish tradition of leaving a door open to the dark to let Elijah in during the Passover feast. Solnit lets us know, in case we are not familiar with Jewish traditions, that it’s not important whether Elijah comes through the door; what’s important is that the door is left open to the dark.
Solnit also tells us that in Jewish traditions, some questions are more important than their answers.
I am equally enamoured with the student’s misquote, which, I guess, is a quote from the student, which read: ‘How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?’ (Solnit, 2005, p.4).
I read that quote as seductive, tempting. An attractive and compelling invitation. It implies faith, adventure, mystery, danger. It also suggests something meta: metaphysical, metanarrative or metaconceptual and definitely metaphoric. This quote resonated with me because, in some ways, this is how I feel getting to know artworks and people. Except, the phrase turns into: How will we go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to us?
When participating in artful-relational-cultual-mediation, (traditionally called art appreciation) we set out together to get to know an artwork, perhaps a number of artworks, often during a time-bound encounter. It is my premise that we set out with an expectation, or perhaps a hope, that the art will deliver something of value – perhaps even a brief encounter with that which is unknown to us.
Pragmatically, what we actually do, is gather around an artwork, or perhaps stare into a shared screen, and use it as a catalyst to explore ideas. In particular we explore ideas that we read as circulating around or through or perhaps glancing off our focus artworks. These ideas are contingent and nebulous, sometimes fleeting and sometimes in the right conditions, trans-formative.
Perhaps the right conditions occur when we start to resonate at the same or complimentary frequencies, in harmony or disharmony around the tuning fork of the artwork – we discover a moment of liberty and connection as we become a community of selves, momentarily suspended within the sound waves and atmosphere we have collectively generated
At their best these encounters are enlivening because they return us to ourselves by supporting us (however briefly) within a situation where we have born witness not only to the work of art which is born of the artist’s experiences, but also we have born witness to each other. It is my tenet that we return from this encounter, refreshed and invigorated and at times transformed. That is certainly true for me.
My PhD is about seeing if other people involved in these encounters feel the same way I do and whether I can theorise how and why these transformative moments occur and are the conditions that encourage such transformations replicable?
…and then America exploded across our TV screens with the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of the police… and I realised in performing artful-relational-cultural-mediation in the contested politicized space of radical democracy. I am compelled to engage with ‘dangerous dialogues,’ (Villa Verde, L., Youth at the crossroads of radical democracy and critical citizenry: An analysis of Art, Pedagogy and Power. 2008, p125.)
I am humbly and with much trepidation finding a way to manifest this responsibility in my creative practice of Impact-full Artful-Relational-Cultural-Mediation.
And to clarify, I am tenderly using the word impact-ful for its original Latin meaning – to press closely into something, (Liz Mackinlay, 2020) not for its contemporary definition of the action of one object coming forcibly into contact with another.