I remember leaving…

I remember leaving the pencil behind it slipped through my fingers all slippery and slippy and salty and wet like my back like my thighs all dripping and wet and the train wouldn’t come for me it wouldn’t come for me I waited and waited and it wouldn’t come for me my fingers let go the pencil dropped like a pin to the floor and I let it roll to the edge across the cool dust-dry tiles into the litter box of the tracks where piss and shit mixed with plastics and paper in the heat against the metal spines of the tracks that would not bring my train that would not come get me that would leave me to count time on my toes in the heat of a July summer by the station in the wastelands where all the rust mountains were building up and the left over bits and pieces of the world came to lose themselves together. I remember leaving then out into the blind heat and over the cracking asphalt down along the gutter for comfort my soles tacky against the tar and the sandal straps cutting into the old stinging cuts of yesterday and the day before and the day before that. I remember leaving my bags. I remember leaving my mind. I remember letting it all go and following the gutter into the world I did not know down past the place where the wire fences broke where the power lines had been clipped where the dead trains sat heavy on their bones pointing to the end of the future. I remember leaving the smell of rot behind me and breathing stiff into the summer air believing then a new time was opening up between my fingers. I remember leaving. I remember leaving. I licked them clean like a thirsty bird pecking her way into the car park there’d been no one for days and days. I remember leaving my people at the station they were sleeping with my bags. I remember thinking they’ll find my pencil. I remember thinking they’ll tell me.

[The results of a 10 minute automatic writing exercise prompted by the phrase ‘I remember leaving…’. Written during The Stinging Fly Poetry Summer School led by Martina Evans, who is nothing short of brilliant. July 3rd 2018.]

Structuring negative feeling in technological research: Contemporary rituals of the Department of Ultimology

The 9th New Materialisms conference, Urban Matters, took place in Utrecht from the 20-22 June 2018. On the first day of the conference, as part of the Methodologies panel, I made a short performative lecture on the Department of Ultimology, a project by artist/researcher Fiona Hallinan and curator Kate Strain, which explores that which is dead or dying in a series or process from the academic context of the University (Trinity College Dublin).

The night before the presentation I worried (unnecessarily) that I had not included enough of a new materialist theoretical perspective, and hastily added in a slide with a quote from a paper by Stephanie Springgay and Sarah E. Truman, which focuses upon framing a New Materialist methodology:

…research needs to be understood as speculative eventing, and how within the speculative middle, methods need to be (in)tension so that methods become attuned to ethicopolitical matters and concerns.

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This was a little forced, as the purpose in this instance was not to theorise and explain the Department of Ultimology, but to show the ways that thinking with and alongside the Department of Ultimology generates new relations amongst art practitioners and engineering researchers in the context of academic technological research (CONNECT, Trinity College Dublin). It was the idea of the ‘speculative middle’ that really resonated with my experience of the Department of Ultimology, so I’m using this concept as a way to top and tail my presentation, as an exposition rather than explanation.

I wanted to make a presentation that would be subtly, respectfully and playfully challenging and questioning of the frames and codes of academic discourse and in relation to New Materialisms scholarship and methods. The Department of Ultimology were a foil for this desire, but it was also a way to reflect upon the critical desires of meta-communication that constitute institutional critique (through art). I also wanted to practice a process of inquiry in the making of the presentation and to try to show or suggest how I inquire and learn through conversation and by reading texts and ideas and practices through each other in an improvisational, inter-textual (Hayles) or diffractive (Barad) way.

So, I tried to structure the presentation in the following way. I would use a kind of audio-visual montage to activate listening and thinking amongst the audience. I wanted to generate an atmosphere in the room that might be conducive to people bringing their own knowledge and experience of New Materialisms and Material Studies to bear upon what I was offering.

Here’s the gist of the presentation:

Before I get into the details of this material, I would like to offer a kind of ‘primer’ quote to situate the art practice I’m speaking about as one that gets into the thick of inquiry through a process of ‘speculative eventing’. This is a concept that I think resonates with the creative research practice of the Department of Ultimology.

(Next, I went straight into reading the statement on Ultimology taken from the DoU’s press pack:)

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So, that’s the description of the work of the Department of Ultimology from their official Press Pack. I’ve been working with and alongside the DoU for the past couple of years as a member of the Orthogonal Methods Group and as an artist and post-doctoral researcher in CONNECT. Working in this context of academic-industry technological research with art practitioners, critical theorists and engineers for the past 8 years or so, I’ve noticed in my own research practice that the quality of relations of the research culture seems to linger somewhere between lyric and parody. More recently, particularly in the situated work of the Department of Ultimology, I’ve experienced another dimension of this relationality that seems to linger somewhere between theatre and ritual. It was a particular event by the Department of Ultimology called the Research Purge which helped me to think this pattern, and so I want to generate some insight on both the DoU and the Research Purge event today, and to think this pattern with you all.

The title for this presentation is Structuring negative feeling in technological research: Contemporary rituals of the Department of Ultimology. But this title has always been more of a question than an assertion – writing the abstract for this conference was a way for me to open up a process of research-creation with the Department of Ultimology that would allow me to begin to think about the continuum between theatre and ritual, lyric and parody. Eventually I want to get to a position where I can think and speak more clearly about the reciprocal politics of art practice in the University and particularly in relation to technological research. So, by generating a speculative title for this presentation I opened up an opportunity whereby I could engage with the Department of Ultimology in a different way, opening up a critical and exploratory conversation, through the concept of ritual, that was very much in sympathy with the methodology of both Fiona Hallinan and Kate Strain, the departments lead faculty.  What follows then is an edited Skype conversation between myself and Fiona Hallinan (featuring the sounds of seagulls and Fiona’s baby, Luan), that begins with a consideration of the relationship between theatre and ritual:

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The Purge took place on a weekday at lunch time, in the seminar room at CONNECT. Many of CONNECT’s researchers and staff gathered to listen and witness, as well as colleagues from the wider University and from across many fields of contemporary art and design.

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[Italics indicate the speech of Fiona Hallinan, transcribed from the second half of the Skype conversation.]

A Purge is described as an action that establishes innocence, that clears the suspicion of guilt, that cleanses, gets rid of, purifies, empties out, works as a kind of laxative, responding to poisons or politically undesireable persons… the working title for the Research Purge was Take a Dump.

Fiona tells me how the event came about:

I think a huge part of the whole event preparation was to do with Linda’s specific interest in encouraging people to let go of ideas.

Linda is Prof. Linda Doyle, former Director of CONNECT, principal investigator of the Orthogonal Methods Group and Dean of Research at Trinity College Dublin.

I think we spoke a little bit before about this idea that there can be a tendency to feel (as an academic researcher) that you’re the person who works on that particular subject, and you should stick to it for your whole career. Linda was saying that she felt like there was a tendency for people to hold on to ideas for longer than they should, and that it would be helpful to encourage an event that performed the discarding of those ideas. So, I think this is a way of modelling Ultimology as a service… 

‘Ultimology as a Service’ is a phrase adopted from the world of information technology – it’s a kind of business model. CONNECT’s public engagement manager, Andrew O’Connell, first suggested this label as useful to describing Ultimology. But Ultimology wears its lables lightly, with sincere good humour and a rich appreciation of the affordances of ambivalence. In a published interview with the Department of Ultimology, Fiona had explained how they “had started to collect a set of qualifying features to become a department”. They discovered that they needed to have a student, a budget, an office… “and as we collected these things , we realised we were actually becoming a department through calling ourselves a department.” Now the Department of Ultimology has affiliate artists, one of whom is Andreas von Knobloch. They wanted to work with Andreas specifically to create an Ultimological Time Piece. Fiona continues:

There was something going on at the same time that we wanted to allign with {the Purge} which was an ongoing collaboration with Andreas von Knobloch. We had this ongoing project with him to create a version of a water clock.

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Andreas and I had been talking about the notion of time as a theme of Ultimology and we had looked at many forms of timekeeping and came across the water clock, which was the first method humans used to keep time that didn’t rely on celestial objects, a kind of autonomous earthly device for keeping time. And so, Andreas was working on this project himself and in communication with us, and in the meantime he had started to think about the water clock as a kind of personal object and a kind of meditation object that one might keep by their bedside. And we were talking to him about CONNECT and the research done there, of telecommunications and the striving for things to always be faster and more connected, talking about things like the Internet-of-Things, and comparing that to the idea of a mediative water clock that you’d have on your bedside table, that could work as well as it would have thousands of years ago.

And so, Andreas came up with this idea of the water clocks becoming a device for purging yourself of your smart phone, the device for connectivity. And so, he designed it to be activated by its user pushing their smart phone or tablet into a certain cavity which would release water, and it would take a certain amount of time to be released. So your smart phone became, instead of a device for connecting you to loads of possibilities, it became like a brick basically, just to release water for a certain amount of time. And the idea was that you would use that then to disconnect yourself from your phone.

We ended up, at the same time, reading a number of articles that were published by researchers and engineers who worked for companies like Facebook, who were coming out and saying that they didn’t know that what they had invented was so poisonous and they now wouldn’t allow their children to have access to social media or to smart phone devices in the same way they had, because they felt like there was something really dangerous and addictive about them. And so, we thought that this was a really interesting form of public purging as well, this idea of engineers coming out and saying ‘this is my idea but now I reject it as toxic and socially damaging!’ So all of these ideas were kind of convening.  

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And we thought then to stage this event [the Research Purge] which at its simplest was going to be an invitation to researchers to purge ideas, and that we would also present Andreas’ water clocks, and we would actually use them to time the talks as well, so it was a way of making the event more cohesive and artistic. It kind of presented a format that I think we’d love to continue. A real action that was useful to researchers, but also presenting an artwork by an artist that involved their own research.

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On the day of the Research Purge, the Department of Ultimology offered the audience an overview of the motivations, materials and stories informing the event. Links between the water clocks, addictive technologies and public purging were declared. Engineers declared aspects of their research or research field purged, or they declared the idea of a purge a nonsense in a time of technological change:

Elma declared that age of Spectrum Ownership was over.

Neal declared that the use of generic language in the academy had had its day.

And Luiz declared that there was no need for such purges, since in technological research, nothing changes but the changes (research is changing all the time).

The public and performative declarations and declaimations of the Research Purge were followed up with a related event, a Slab Clay workshop inviting CONNECT’s researchers to engage with the same process undertaken by Andreas von Knobloch to create his Ultimological Water Clocks.

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Between the performative lectures of the Research Purge and the quiet contemplation and participation of the Slab Clay workshop, it’s possible to see Ultimology neither as ritual nor as theatre, but operating ambivalently some where in between these poles, in the tradition of Institutional Critique, and as a contemporary method of bringing people into the speculative middle of a research event.

A Day at the Urban Matters Conference, Utrecht

9am to 10.30am

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A response to Mike Pearson by Liesbeth Groot Nibbelink on site-specific performance. She speaks about the artist Tazu Nishi, I snatch a few words and phrases:

Tazu Nishi

Statues

Metaphor or Feeling

A Mood, a situation

the contradiction conjured up by statues

Impressive but impotent

Alone but facing a crowd

A song can be a statue

A word can be a statue

Sensual

Statues want to be desired.

A broken chest

a finger fallen off…

10.30am – 11.15am

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Meditating and moving on the grass with Oranges with Vicky Hunter and Leslie Satin.

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11.15am to 1.30pm

Tea and snack at a cafe. Collecting thoughts. Sending off an overdue assignment. Suddenly lighter.

1.30pm – 3.00pm

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Presentations on Afropean cultural movements (Marleen de Witte) and diffractive readings of intersectionality and superdiversity literature in relation to New Materialisms (Evelien Geerts).

3.30pm to 5.30pm

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The fields of New Materialisms and Material Religion in a tense exchange. (One of the aims of the Urban Matters conference was to bring these two fields into conversation with each other). One of the speakers, Peter Braunlein, in particular contests and undermines New Materialisms, focusing mainly on the work of Jane Bennett. Braunlein concludes that “ I can’t see new materialist approaches for the study of material-religion, but I see new materialisms itself as a worthwhile field to study.” He seems to see New Materialisms as a kind of religion that is worthy of study, rather than a mode of research and a complex of philosophies. Iris van der Tuin offers a response, acknowledging her own frustration with the tendency towards jargon in the field of New Materialisms, but highlighting the valuable contributions of the field in terms of how agency and relationality are understood and researched. For van der Tuin, New Materialims attend to and participate in the production of differences. At the heart of the methodology of New Materialisms lies an awareness and appreciation of the relationship between the researcher and the research subject/object, how each acts upon the other, and how necessary it is to attend to the political, ethical and material complexity of the research process in producing knowledge. This mornings movement workshop with oranges in many ways demonstrated this methodological awareness of the embodied and complex ways in which we make and share knowledge today.

5.30pm – 8.30pm

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A visit to the Centre for Ecological Unlearning, an initiative of The Outsiders Union, an Urban Farm House and Barn near Utrecht, led by Sam Skinner and Casco Art Institute. We had delicious tea and cake, sat in the big lofty thatched barn, chatted about the process of establishing a neighbourhood commons as art, and how to access funding to support such fundamental initiatives. We encountered chickens, and vegetables, and a big yellow slide, an apparatus for training the growth of hops in the garden for local beer makers, the old cheese fridges and the milk vat and tap where the farm used to sell its produce to the local community.

“Inhabiting and animating Terwijde farmhouse by the Centre for Ecological (Un)learning, a longterm, collective initiative by The Outsiders Union and Casco Art Institute: Working for the Commons. Cultivating the natural commons, social commons, cultural and knowledge commons!”

OMG @ IMMA: 1967-2017

 

The Orthogonal Methods Group (OMG) at CONNECT have an exhibition, 1967-2017, at IMMA at the moment. Last week we went to visit the exhibition with visiting New Materialisms scholar and writer Dr. Helen Palmer, who works at the intersections of philosophy, speculative writing and critical theory. Helen is working on a new book Queer Defamiliarisation and New Materialism: Writing Feminist Matter(s), (forthcoming 2018, Edinburgh University Press), so a lot of our conversations were weaving in and out through concepts and thinking she’s developing for that.

Some of the OMG went along with Helen to chat about the contents and materiality of Aspen 5 + 6, in relation to her research and to think about the relationship between some of the artists’ works in relation to Mathematics and Computational processes.

Rachel Donnelly wrote about 1967-2017 for Totally Dublin, and you can read that insightful article here. The OMG’s Unboxing Aspen video, recorded in December with Julie Martin (Director of E.A.T.) and curator Melissa Rachleff Burtt, will be on screen from the end of February. OMG have appropriated and adapted the popular form of the ‘unboxing’ video in order to offer the public a rare and lively reading of Aspen 5+6 through the experience and knowledge of two friends who have engaged directly and indirectly with the artists of the period and curator of Aspen 5 + 6, Brian O’Doherty.

Quantum Words

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Very happy to have been invited to contribute to this project, The Quantum Words Series, instigated by Prof. Vera Buhlmann at TU Wien (ATTP).

I spent a couple of weeks at the ATTP earlier this year, and hosted an Engineering Fictions session inspired by the discourse and ideas in circulation in the research centre.

The idea behind the Quantum Words project resonates in many ways with the ethos and methodology of Engineering Fictions. By choosing one topic, one choreographic object, in this case ‘The Table’, it is possible to draw out an abundance of perspectives, stories, ideas and begin to develop a richer philosophy around basic architectonic objects, firstly through invited writers and secondly through the students at TU Wien. In a sense we, the invited writers, are modelling the exercise that the architecture students will be undertaking in their course at ATTP. A beautiful mode of distributed pedagogy!

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My contribution is published here and is also pasted in raw form below:

TABLE MANNERS

The man was often incensed by the woman’s ‘selflessness’. For example, on a recent cycling trip, the woman offered to carry some of the mans baggage in her bicycle basket, imagining that his backpack was generating an excess of sweat against his skin. At that moment, there was nothing more offensive than this gesture of respite. As if in a counter punch, he had offered her a tissue. The inevitable exposure to the elements when cycling often caused the woman to sniff. She had not in the least been bothered by this excess at such a midpoint in their journey. Now she was troubled by his gesture of succour.

This doubt repealed the woman to her childhood self. She was standing by her mothers upturned bike, watching her father, leaning into its frame on bended knee, wrestling the deflated rubber from it’s encasing. Her mood was one of joy and eagerness to share companionship and assistance, and to learn the mechanics of this wildly democratic mode of transport. The ingenuity of material combinations, the miracle of human dexterity and intention against the laws of physics whispered to her as she watched her beloved Dad repair her Mother’s beloved bicycle. When her father looked across at her, she, like an eager pup ready to retrieve a ball not yet thrown, anticipated his request: ‘pass the chalk,’ perhaps? “Would you ever go and blow your nose,” he said bluntly.

This discouraging memory lingered with her as she cycled. She did not know what to do with the feeling of it. Was it the case that she has always had a noisy body? A body that repulsed and infuriated? The woman felt sharply and needlessly judged, and for a moment her mind wandered with vague sensations and assurances, such as those induced by corners and cupboards, dark holes and heavy blankets. Blinking long and hard, she felt the wind on her face and arms, lingering blindly a moment to the let the sunlight scorch white behind her eyes. She hit a pothole abruptly and a new memory struck her.

She was under the kitchen table in her childhood home. It was very early in the morning and a thin pale light was washing over the dusty brown carpet tiles. On all sides, an arcade of legs framed her view of the domestic space. The smell of wood and oil and dust pressed upon her senses. Every now and then she would prowl its nave, gaining glimpses of the inside outside of her new secret territory. A home within a home. Her body was pure delight and mischief. Nobody knew she was there, she was awake before the others. She would surpise them all with her invisibility.

Soon a stirring down the house informed her that one of her kin had woke. Shortly, the kitchen door swung open and in lumbered her father with the slow, heavy gravity of an underwater mammal. She inhaled a gasp of glee, biting down on her lip. Hands quick to her mouth, her heart fit for bursting. He had not seen her. He did not know she was there.

She was stunned by the power of her sub-architectural position, making labyrinths under the kitchen table. She watched her father, barefooted and pale legged, pad around the edges of the kitchen, assembling ingredients for his breakfast. These things rumbled like thunder over her head; thuds and scrapes of metal and carton and ceramic on veneered wood. “God moving his furniture around,” her father might have said. He settled at the gable end of the table with a slow transfer of weight from foot to foot. Inhaling his soupy bowl of cereal with all the concentration of a dreamer, she listened to him chewing and chomping and choking; sucking and sloshing and swallowing.

The couple were at last turning onto the pier and could see the lighthouse red and raucous against the blue horizon. Dismounting at speed, she laughed loudly from her gut and up into the sunshine. Taking out a fresh tissue from her bag, she cleared her nostrils with great and thorough enjoyment.

Jessica Foley

20th September 2017