During the 2014-2015 academic year we launched our Theory-Practice Collaboratory programming, a series of carefully curated participatory workshops facilitating intellectual and creative exchange within and across the UW arts and humanities. Each Collaboratory event functioned as a mini-symposium, highlighting a particular topic at the intersection of theory and practice and showcasing two models of exciting, boundary-pushing work happening across campus. Facilitating conversations between experimental scholarship, creative writing, performance, new media, digital text, and visualization studies, these Theory-Practice Collaboratories engaged a richly interdisciplinary nexus of questions, practices, and possibilities for unsettling generic and medium-specific boundaries. Our Collaboratories provided opportunities to engage in collective exploration of playful, creative scholarship through such practices as performance-making, sensory awareness, digital remediation, public discourse, and relational aesthetics. Our workshop leaders and participants are engaged in collaboratively producing new conceptual and aesthetic possibilities, acknowledging disciplinary constraints and expectations while exploring ways that our research might take on new shapes, reveal assumptions, and prompt unexpected questions.
The Fall 2014 schedule consisted of Collaboratory #1: “Philosophy in the Performative” with Jill Casid (Art History) and Frederic Neyrat (Comparative Literature), which explored performativity and philosophy – and, in particular, negation, the void, excess, and the deformative – as dynamically intermeshed sites of tactical resistance and serious play; Collaboratory #2: “Social Practice” with Spatula&Barcode (Laurie Beth Clark, Art, and Michael Peterson, Theatre) and Sarah Bennett (Geography), which explored relational, aesthetic, affective, and ethical processes of cooking, eating, conversing, and moving, dynamically activating the geography of social and gestural relationships and inviting participants to attend to their own relational movements in everyday life; Collaboratory #3: “Speech Acts” with Jen Plants (English) and Helen Lee (Art), which explored embodied language in new and invigorating ways, and in particular the breath — or pause, or stutter, or beginning again — as expansive space within the live utterance; and Collaboratory #4: “Queering Digitality” with Oliver Bendorf (Library and Information Studies) and Megan Milks (Creative Writing, Beloit), which explored particular aesthetic and formal dimensions of “queering digitality” as an expansive process through which form — slashfic, flipbook — performs queer affects and genders.
Collaboratory #1: Philosophy in the Performative – a mini-symposium with Jill H. Casid and Frederic Neyrat exploring performativity and philosophy as dynamically intermeshed sites of serious play – was, by all accounts, a smashing success! Forty people attended throughout the day, spanning disciplines from Art History, English, and Theatre to Chemistry, Engineering, and Public Affairs, as well as non-UW-affiliated participants from Madison, Whitewater, and Milwaukee. Each workshop performed philosophy and philosophized performativity with a dynamic integration of theory and practice! This event was co-sponsored by the Center for Visual Cultures.
In his workshop “NIETZSCHE MACHINE METAPHOR,” Frederic Neyrat explored “metaphoring,” or the act of making metaphor, as the “continuous flow of imagination,” the “rise of the form,” and the “bridge above the void.” Frederic asked, “How is it possible to maintain a real philosophical creativity without turning metaphysical statements into lethal propositions about being, the world, and meaning?” and suggested, “Philosophy has to become a ‘trans-action,’ both becoming and returning, progressing and regressing, creative and destructive at the same time…Anti-productive, polishing the negative, seeking metaphors able to raise conceptuality without freezing it.” Weaving together Nietzsche, Godard, Heidegger, Leibniz, Novalis, Ginsberg, Coleridge, Bataille, and Kierkegaard, Frederic discussed his philosophy of metaphor’s forms of representation, conditions of (im)possibility, and leap between theory and image. Following his talk, he showed a recent digital video he made, “Kierkegaard in San Francisco.” A lively conversation followed, exploring the role of the video in the presentation as philosophical or extra-philosophical as well as topics of transhumanism, ontology of the void, and eternal return.
In her workshop “Doing the Deformative,” Jill H. Casid explored “the deformative,” or “negation as an incisive critical gesture.” Grounding her philosophy of deformative speech acts and negative tactics in Freud, Sedgwick, Berlant, and Edelman, Jill posed the burning question, “How to think and play in the negative?” She discussed her recent experience taking photographs on Fire Island – a space of gay intimacy and public sex – as a locus to think about exposure, contagion, risk, and locations of desire. She suggested that the performative is shaky ground, that the performative does us, that legibility emerges through citation of norms, that “to appear” is “to appear as,” and that “being” is constructed through lack. From this space of restrictions in language and desires exceeding the normative, Jill proposed that the deformative provides a range of tactics for negotiating damage in everyday life. She showed Rashaad Newsome’s “Shade Compositions” and discussed the live performance’s “tactics of throwing shade” via gestures, sounds, and attitudes. Next she asked us to “get into it,” prompting participants to blindly select triggers from card decks featuring sexuality, war, and abjection. Based upon prompts such as “Where is your never?” we inhabited the space of the deformative by writing and drawing in reaction to, or from the perspective of, our chosen trigger cards. In three lightning fast rounds, we wrote and drew the negative, the never, the not now, the unspeakable, the no. Jill invited us to share our responses around the room, revealing a rich, complex array of negative, deformative tactics.
Collaboratory #2: Social Practice – a mini-symposium with Spatula&Barcode and Sarah Bennett exploring relational and aesthetic processes of cooking, eating, conversing, and moving – was an enlivening and resonant experience. Thirty people attended throughout the day, spanning disciplines from English, Art, Theatre, and Art History to Spanish & Portuguese, Design Studies, Geography, and Public Affairs, as well as local artists and community members. Each workshop explored social practice with a dynamic integration of theory and practice! This event was co-sponsored by the Art Dept. and the Geography Dept.
For their workshop “Cooking with…Spatula&Barcode,” Spatula&Barcode (the collaborative identity of Laurie Beth Clark and Michael Peterson) invited workshop participants into their home to experience food, hospitality, and conversation. Each participant was asked to bring a question for discussion related to food, art, scholarship, and the everyday, as well as a knife and cutting board. When we arrived at their home, we were welcomed with warmth and Spatula&Barcode aprons. Next we were seated at the dining table, which had place settings with gorgeously arranged vegetables – cauliflower, kohlrabi, mushrooms, green beans, zucchini, carrots, broccoli, eggplant, and more! Laurie Beth and Michael immediately served us delicious hot pork buns and yummy homemade warm soy milk, as well as herbal teas and juices. Next, dumplings and pot stickers. We were asked to write our question on a piece of paper, and to begin chopping our vegetables. Then a deliciously rapid-fire succession of moments ensued – slicing, chopping, eating, speaking, listening, thinking, and being together. Laurie Beth and Michael had devised a recipe that required the vegetables to be cooked in a particular order, and each participant’s choice of vegetable place setting determined her or his order in the sequence. The participant with the first-to-be-cooked vegetable read her question aloud, and everyone discussed as the vegetable went into the pot. After the vegetable had cooked for a bit, the timer rang and the passing of the sauce ritual began (with an equal number of sauces to participants, we passed our sauce to the right every time a new vegetable and question began). For two and a half hours we were nourished and delighted with endless scrumptious dumplings, a revolving panoply of savory, sweet, and spicy sauces, and continuously appearing vegetable dishes in their newly cooked state. It was a veritable feast, and Spatula&Barcode’s generosity was really incredible. Meanwhile participants’ questions – from “What’s your gastro-ethnicity?” to “Is ingesting and digesting an act of scholarship?” to “Tell me about the last meal you ate. What was it, who was it with, and where were you or what was the situation?” – sparked discussion and debate, as the theorist-practitioners sitting around the table shared conceptual insights and affective narratives. A main course of seafood soup was served, and then a moment of pure aesthetic magic: Laurie Beth and Michael invited us to eat the pieces of paper we’d written our questions upon. They revealed that the paper was made of rice and the marker’s ink was also edible. With total delight we consumed our language, a perfect materialization of theory and embodiment as words became material objects to ingest – a surreal moment of eating language in the midst of a very real, social practice of cooking and discoursing and relating together over a delicious, aesthetic, resonant meal cooked with Spatula&Barcode.
Sarah Bennett’s workshop, “I’ll follow your lead: experiencing and mapping our movement relationships,” operated at the intersection of performance, cartography, space, kinaesthetics, and relationality. Dynamically activating the geography of social and gestural relationships, the workshop invited participants to attend to their own relational movements in everyday life. First Sarah introduced the framework of Laban’s Effort Qualities : direct and indirect space, sudden and sustained time, strong and light weight, and bound and free flow. Next she asked participants to mime common kitchen movements with a partner and estimate how these qualities were operating. We had fun exploring embodied memory in our reenactment of unconsciously performed everyday tasks. Then, stations in the room were activated for participants to move between them, performing actions such as mirroring (to explore offering and receiving), shadowing (to explore attunement, allowing, and looking ahead in time together), and tug of war (to explore balance and power relations). Sarah even brought a gyroscope – a super cool momentum activation and measurement tool – made of a bike wheel! Participants really enjoyed having the space to play, experimenting with different ways of moving and being with each other. The space was lively and activated with diverse movements – bold, tentative, fast, slow, circular, angular, fluid, controlled, resistant, synchronized. Following a deliciously lengthy exploratory period of performance, movement, and serious play, Sarah asked participants to discuss their experiences: what they saw and what they felt and how the dynamic between the two partners developed throughout the series of actions. We discussed the qualities, skills, and experiments of relational movement: attunement, following, resisting, allowing, surprising, flowing with, predicting, balance, power/empowerment, preparing, finishing, signaling. We discussed action-reaction, synchrony, and effort flexibility, and the ways in which we might visualize and map power relations that are activated through movement in space. Finally, Sarah showed examples of static cartography and symbolization methods of mapping animal migration, dance, and other types of embodied movements, and asked us to draw maps of the movements we had performed – visual traces of our relational movements in space.
Collaboratory #3: Speech Acts – a mini-symposium with theatre artist Jen Plants and glass artist Helen Lee exploring language, performance, and materiality – was an exciting experience! Forty-five people attended throughout the day, spanning disciplines from English, Art, and Theatre to Public Affairs and Design Studies, as well as local artists and community members. Each workshop explored language in action with a dynamic integration of theory and practice, and resonances between the two workshops – from a focus upon the rhythms and cadences of everyday speech, to donut-based metaphors – abounded! Both workshops explored embodied language in new and invigorating ways, and in particular the breath — or pause, or stutter, or beginning again — as expansive space within the live utterance. This event was co-sponsored by the English Dept. and the Art Dept.
Jen Plants’ workshop, “Verbatim Theatre Master Class,” explored the theory and practice of verbatim theatre, a documentary form through which the body becomes the means of transmitting another voice. Jen, a director, deviser, actor, playwright, and teacher, first situated verbatim theatre within the context of non-documentary forms of theatre, and introduced verbatim theatre’s particular relationship with truth, evidence, technology, and knowledge production. She next discussed the work of Anna Deavere Smith, who has made one-woman, multi-character shows such as Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 and Fires in the Mirror based upon interviews with LA and Brooklyn community members from diverse backgrounds. Smith presents her interviewees’ words verbatim, attempting to reproduce a sense of authentic speech (while still, of course, selecting and arranging the material). Another example Jen presented, Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork’s London Road, transformed interview texts with London residents into a musical — still using the exact words, rhythms, and cadences of the natural speech, but using layering, repetition, and music to craft the text into a new form. Jen explained that verbatim theatre often engages “moment work,” crafting a series of moments rather than following traditional narrative structure. Another distinct characteristic is that verbatim work doesn’t try to hide its theatricality or suspend disbelief; rather, it reveals its own mechanisms of truth-telling and reality-production. Jen emphasized that these works — which often present multiple perspectives and question notions of truth — can “intervene in the creation of history through unsettling the present.” After this introduction to the form, Jen led participants in creating their own interview-based mini-performances. In pairs, participants interviewed each other about their first day at school, quickly establishing trust and empathy. Each participant took a turn listening and taking notes while the other told a story. The listener then worked from the written notes to try to reproduce the story verbally, taking care to faithfully represent the storyteller’s narrative. Next we found a new partner, and switched from handwritten note-taking to digital audio recording. Jen gave us three prompts for our interviews: “Have you ever come close to death? Do you know the circumstances of your birth? Have you ever been accused of something you did not do?” Again participants took turns being the interviewer and the interviewee. With our recordings in hand, we listened, rewound, and re-listened to our partner’s speech, transcribing just a few sentences in order to capture the rhythm and cadence as accurately as possible. In both the handwritten and digitally recorded instances, participants seemed moved by what they and their partners were able to remember and transmit. Jen closed the workshop with a much-needed reminder: “We are all full of stories, and listening is a radical act. Remember to listen.”
Helen Lee’s workshop, “WORD,” introduced participants to glass as a state of matter, and glassblowing as a movement-based practice. Helen began the workshop by discussing the trajectory of her own work with the objecthood and materiality of language, which has been influenced by her bilingual background and her experience as a graphic designer, a poet, and an architect. To introduce her exploration of physical linguistic presence, she showed a series of slides combining word and color, asking us to pronounce each word aloud – the word red in the color red, the word yellow in the color yellow, and the word blue in the color blue were easy, but next came the word red in the color yellow, the word blue in the color red, etc. We were confused about which color to say – the color we saw visually, or the color signified by the meaning of the word – as our brains processed the disjunct between the physical quality of the word and its semantic meaning. This exercise performed a disconnect between the material/visual and the immaterial/semantic, defamiliarizing language as a solid rather than transparent vehicle for meaning. Helen then showed a series of slides of her glasswork, which operates in the interplay between word and thing: a shelf with glass objects which created the shadow of letters on a gallery wall, “placing an image of language in a space intended for objects”; a typeface based on characteristics of blown glass, then transmitted through letterpress and paper-thin glass; an erasure of the periods in a piece of written text with the “displaced periods” physicalized in the space. In another piece Helen retyped her father’s graduate thesis, and then, with the remnants of the typewriter ribbon, projected a physical landscape of his thesis research. Another project recorded and transcribed Helen’s speech for an entire day, evoking verbatim theatre’s methods. In another project, phantom-typing on glass, “the material functions as an optical aid to locate language in the body,” exploring how technologies of the written word have modified our bodies (e.g. hands typing). After Helen’s presentation we moved into the Glass Lab, where we put on safety glasses and things heated up near the furnace! We witnessed the hands-on work of glassmaking, and helped Helen and her glassblowing students shape the word “flux” into glass, a perfect melding of meaning and materiality.
Collaboratory #4: Queering Digitality – a mini-symposium with Megan Milks and Oliver Bendorf at the intersection of creative writing, digital studies, and queer theory – was a generative experience! Twenty-five people attended throughout the day, spanning disciplines from Art History, Communication Arts, and French & Italian to Public Affairs, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Design Studies, as well as local artists and community members. Each workshop approached queer space and temporality with experimental techniques, uniting form and concept in a focused exploration in practices of becoming, slashing, transitioning, and deconstructing. With a dynamic integration of theory and practice, both workshops explored particular aesthetic and formal dimensions of “queering digitality” as an expansive process through which form — slashfic, flipbook — performs queer affects and genders. This event was co-sponsored by the School of Library & Information Studies and the LGBT Campus Center.
Megan Milks’ workshop, “Open Channels: Slash Aesthetics and Queer Affect,” introduced participants to the genre of slashfic and invited us to make our own slashfic compositions. Megan, a fiction writer and cultural critic, situated slashfic at the nexus of narrative, sexuality, appropriation, and pop culture. She explained that slash is a queer dimension of fan fiction, and the title “slash” indicates the “/” in the pairing, e.g. Kirk/Spock. Slashfic, mainly composed by women, at first focused upon male/male fantasies but increasingly features woman/woman pairings; the genre is grounded in shame (of desiring someone you’re not supposed to desire) and angst. Megan then invited us to compose our own slashfic drabble (1,000 words or less) about two fictional characters, such as Peta and Gale from The Hunger Games. She explained that the academic discourse on slashfic has largely focused upon fan culture and fan communities, without much analysis of the form and aesthetics of the texts themselves. Addressing this lack of attention to slash aesthetics, Megan linked slash with drag, camp, and innovative and appropriate writing practices such as avant-pop to theorize slash as a queer aesthetic mode. She led us in discussing the slash aesthetics of Michael du Plessis’s The Memoirs of JonBenet by Kathy Acker and its investment in subjectivity, voice, and embodiment, and of Sarah Dowling’s Down and its “minoritarian inhabitation of pop culture texts, identifying, disidentifying, misappropriating, and performing queer vulnerability.” Next Megan created three “Feel Stations” for us to move among, experimenting with slash aesthetics. The first station, “‘I want to come over,’ after Dowling,” invited us to collage two texts — William James’ “What is an Emotion?” and Melissa Etheridge’s “Come to My Window” — to create a prose poem. The second station, “Feel Extraction,” invited us to scan a Pretty Little Liars or One Direction slashfic text and find every appearance of a phrase containing “feel,” and then build a poem with this inventory of phrases. The third station, “Desiring Machine,” invited us to write a letter in a character persona to another character you’re not supposed to desire. For an hour we cut and taped texts, collected all the feels, and played with voice, the generative prompts facilitating a flurry of creative and deconstructive activity.
Oliver Bendorf’s workshop, “Gender as a Moving Image,” introduced participants to animation as a way to practice queer theory. Oliver, a poet and visual artist, invited us to explore the formal techniques of stop-motion animation, which moves a narrative from panel to panel and relies upon the reader/viewer to bridge the spaces between the frames. He theorized this practice of moving across the spaces as a form of trans*itioning. He first introduced the ways in which film, which produces the illusion of continuity with a series of frames, can “animate the temporality of gender — the transition not located in a single frame, but in the movement between frames.” We looked at a few examples of gender transition time-lapse videos, which document the very gradual bodily changes that occur. The temporality of the videos’ sequence of photographs is sped up or slowed down to produce a sense of the subject’s durational becoming, “trans” signifying both transgender identity and movement as a formal process. Queering the continuity of gender through the formal mechanism of the flipbook, Oliver asked, what happens between the still frames? And how does your gender move? With Oliver’s generative prompts for the individual frames (“The beginning of your gender. The end of your gender. Your gender early this morning. Your gender at lunchtime. Your gender in your childhood house…”) and materials for flipbook-making, we got to work animating our genders. At the end of the workshop each of us had made our very own Gender Flipbook, and we had fun flipping through each other’s creations. Oliver made digital animations of the workshop using Vine, which you can view here and here.
In Spring 2015 we presented two more Theory-Practice Collaboratories: Collaboratory #5: “Conceptual Materialism” with Faisal Abdu’Allah (Art) and Lex Lancaster (Art History), which explored the interplay between concept and form and activated materiality’s queer capacities to exceed static representation and produce alternatives beyond fixed binaries of difference; and Collaboratory #6: “Surface Effects,” with Jon McKenzie (English), Shuxing Fan (Theatre), Dan Lisowski (Theatre), and Kevin Ponto (Design Studies and Living Environments Laboratory at Wisconsin Institute for Discovery), which activated experiential possibilities at the interface of the physical body and digital environment.
Collaboratory #5: Conceptual Materialism – a mini-symposium with Faisal Abdu’Allah and Lex Lancaster at the intersection of surface and depth, materiality and conceptualism, queer theory and performance – was a smashing success! Thirty people attended throughout the day, spanning disciplines from English, Theatre, and Art History to Design Studies, Art, and Education, as well as local artists and community members. With a dynamic integration of theory and practice, both workshops got participants thinking, moving, and making together. This event was co-sponsored by the Art Dept. and the Center for Visual Cultures.
Faisal Abdu’Allah’s workshop, “Thinking & Making to Disseminate,” asked participants to draw upon experiential and sensory memories to connect their art-making and scholarly practices with their lived embodiment. Faisal, an artist who works in photography, printmaking, moving images, and performance, opened the workshop with a brief discussion of his practice. He focused in particular upon a 30-foot curved image he had made consisting of a series of portraits, each person’s image followed by the image of the person s/he trusts the most, linked in one connected strip. This aesthetic of interconnectedness and intersubjectivity informed the workshop’s methodology, as we were invited to co-create a space of openness and togetherness. He gave us a series of prompts to generate memories and ideas: your middle name, your favorite color, a scent that you identify with, the last time you laughed uncontrollably, the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, your zodiac sign, the strangest thing a stranger’s ever said to you, what you would save from a fire (excluding people, pets, laptop, and photographs), how you’d like people to remember you, the most famous person you’ve met, your earliest memory, a deceased person you’d like to have dinner with, and what you would do for 48 hours if you could do anything in the world. We were invited to share what we had written with each other, and the richness and resonance of the varied responses was quite moving. Next we each received a large piece of paper and were invited to make an idea-map, a web of associations springing from one of the responses we’d written. Faisal had asked us to send him a song in advance of the workshop, and during the mapping activity he played the songs, triggering different moods and insights. Afterward we marveled at the vast array of approaches – some participants making meticulously detailed charts and others making endlessly branching constellations, some tracking abstract ideas and others grounded in concrete details – and discussed the conceptual significance of the formal qualities such as shape, line, space, and scale. Faisal encouraged us to view the surface of the map as a vessel to access the depth of the memories and experiences informing it, and the creative process of mapping as a way to spark new insights, synapses firing and carving new pathways, generating new forms.
Lex Lancaster’s workshop, “Living Color,” unfolded queer possibilities for color-as-materiality to act in excess of signification. Lex, an art historian, queer theorist, and curator, invited participants to explore ways in which color might have body and surface material might produce its own depth. Lex had requested that participants read “The Triple Register of Color” by Julia Kristeva in Desire In Language: a Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, and this provided a shared foundation to discuss what Lex calls “the animate and messy medium of living color.” Lex traced the noun color from the old Latin colos, originally “a covering,” akin to the verb celare, “to hide, conceal,” showing how color is identified with both a covering that conceals and a surface that reveals. Situating color at the interface of synthetic surface and substantive core, Lex theorized color as “both a marginal surface and excessive substance that produces its own feelings and sensations, corrupting the boundaries between constructs of inside and outside, subject and object, nature and artifice.” Color’s surface effects link it with formal and aesthetic properties of camp, drag, style, artifice, and excess, resonating with a queer insistence upon disrupting dichotomies of becoming vs. being, fluidity vs. fixity, and parody vs. sincerity. Lex discussed the work of contemporary queer and feminist artists such as Lynda Benglis, who uses materials like polyurethane foam and phosphorescence to destabilize bodily coherence and activate color as vibrant matter with its own agency and affects. Moving from the realm of representation to the realm of action, color takes on a life of its own. Pouring and peeling paint away from the canvas produces a continuous surface with depth – a surface existing not to conceal or reveal what’s hidden “beneath” but to produce its own animacy. With a range of chemical and biological examples from toxic slime to glowing organisms in the ocean, Lex suggested fascinating ways in which color operates as “an unruly medium with body, depth, plasticity, and animation.” And then we dug in and got messy! Following a blacklight demonstration, Lex set up stations with delightfully weird materials: gloopy glop, light tubing, sponges, and plastic dip. Participants moved between stations, exploring and experimenting with the tactile qualities of the various substances, and asking ‘How does it feel?’ ‘What does it want?’ and ‘How does it (mis)behave?’ The gloopy glop was flexible, malleable, and squishy, with a lifelike quality but remaining cold to the touch. Both a liquid and a solid, gloopy glop is perhaps the very embodiment of continuous becoming. The light tubing was slightly warm to the touch but paradoxically seemed to radiate an affective coldness. Neon appears as its own light source, lit from within, suggesting a self-generative quality without need for relationality. The sponges were soft, springy, and porous, living sea creatures transformed into a medium to transmit liquid paint. The plastic dip coats any object in liquid plastic paint which quickly dries. If it drips on the floor, when it dries you can just peel it off. Its strong synthetic/chemical scent contributed to its air of artifice, and its purpose – to become a new surface for any object – belied its own objecthood, sticky matter dripping and clumping in excess of its function. We collaboratively created a temporary sculptural installation with the tiny coated objects, and finally Lex led us in reflecting upon our playful experimentation with the queer capacities of living color.
As the sixth and final Collaboratory of the 2014-2015 academic year, Theory-Practice Collaboratory #6: Surface Effects — a mini-symposium featuring dynamic participatory workshops with Jon McKenzie of DesignLab and Shuxing Fan, Dan Lisowski, and Kevin Ponto of the ALICE Project — activated exciting possibilities for multimedia performance. Both workshops opened exciting space for participants to explore text, image, and environment at the interface of physicality and digitality and to think through new forms of communicating research in academic and theatrical contexts. This event was co-sponsored by the DesignLab.
Jon McKenzie’s workshop, “Three Act Theory: A Smart Media Workshop,” encouraged participants to translate our academic research into a short, engaging, multimedia presentation. We practiced visualizing our argument and began to discover a clearer and more elegant narrative structure for our research, sharpening our live presentation skills in the process. Jon first discussed the context of his research — performance stratum, performance paradigms (cultural performance, technical performance, organizational performance), and performance-performative blocks — and his work in DesignLab with democratizing digitality and design by training students to use “smart media,” emerging scholarly genres that combine literacy, orality, and digitality. We watched an excerpt from a documentary about pollution in China, Under the Dome, and discussed its use of storytelling and visuals — documentary footage, interviews with residents, a montage of images of the sky — to communicate its message. We next watched a short video made by a masters student in Life Sciences Communication which remediated research about the impact of AIDS on black men, combining spoken word poetry and images of graffiti with statistics and personal narrative. Jon introduced two frameworks with which to analyze these new media texts: C-A-T, an object-centered paradigm which breaks down the conceptual, aesthetic, and technical aspects of the piece, and UX, an audience-centered paradigm which breaks down the experience design (impact), information architecture (structure), and information design (look and feel) of the piece. We next looked at a film made by a graduate student in Folklore Studies, which, with black and white photographs, voiceover, and instrumental music, both analyzes and recreates the aesthetic strategies of the collaborative online creation of the Slenderman legend. Finally, we looked at a three-stage remediation of a work about noise and silence in the work of John Cage. The project began as a traditional academic paper — with 8.5×11 white paper, 1 inch margins, and black 12-point Times New Roman font, the form of which, as Jon pointed out, we are so accustomed to that we no longer “see” it — and was then remediated into a graphic essay with an image/text track, a nonlinear structure, and multiple entry points on each page. The project was next translated into a video essay, which layered image, visual text, spoken text, and music. We discussed the ways that each translation added new layers of media to change the reader/viewer’s experience of the work; the ideas became increasingly embodied and visceral. Interestingly, the graphic essay added an element of non-linearity and viewer co-creation in that the viewer could interact with it in multiple ways, while the video in some ways returned to the linear structure of the essay. All of these examples of smart media encourage us to explore the embodied elements of cognition, the emotional elements of ideation, and the sensory elements of analysis in a dynamic integration of information and experience, a model for 21st century public humanities. We discussed the ways in which these techniques have been used in advertising for decades; as scholars we can better understand and use these techniques to more effectively communicate our research to a wider public. Following our discussion and analysis of these models, Jon discussed Nancy Duarte’s sparkline paradigm (what is, what could be, call to action) and invited us to design and deliver a lightning round of three-part multimodal presentations! The design constraints: 30 minutes to design the presentation, 2 minutes to deliver it, 3 images. We each got to work, collectively and individually inspired to quickly make something new. The results were exciting: Laima Mikaliukas gave an artist’s talk with black and white photographs about her material process with pewter and tin objects inspired by empathetic and affective experiences; Laura Barbata gave a multi-sensory performance about beauty, dignity, and Julia Pastrana with text and image projected onto her body and an invitation to the audience to close our eyes and imagine. We left Jon’s workshop armed with analytical tools and creative inspiration to keep exploring the exciting possibilities of smart media!
Shuxing Fan, Dan Lisowski, and Kevin Ponto’s workshop, “Behind the Curtain: ALICE Project,” gave participants a backstage view of the mechanics at work in their collaborative multimedia production-in-process. The ALICE Project experiments with an Augmented Live Interactively Controlled Environment created through a combination of theatre technologies, computer science, scene design, video game design, and 3D modeling and animation. According to Shuxing, Dan, and Kevin, “By integrating video projection, entertainment automation, motion capture, and virtual reality technologies together, we aim to enable new possibilities in live performance and enhance the audience’s experience.” They chose Alice in Wonderland as the story for the project because its fictional world — a shrinking, enlarging, surreal environment — is well suited for a digital environment. In an open-ended demo and discussion from both sides of the screen, they showed us the features of the current prototype of the project. Through a dynamic synchronization of movement, sensors on the screen detect the actor’s movement and allow for an interactive experience within the digital environment. One fascinating feature of the project is that it disrupts the carefully staged linear timing of a traditional stage production — here the action of the performance is directed by the actor, who can interact with the environment in a variety of ways and at her own pace. The world of the play mirrors the user-directed structure of a video game, and, in fact, the developers used the Unity game engine to create the world of the play. A theatrical production structured like a video game has fascinating implications for theatre, game, and systems theory and practice. And the collaborative process at work — Kevin, Shuxing, and Dan created the project with funding from WARF’s Interdisciplinary Research Competition — is an exciting model for innovative new research at UW traversing the arts, sciences, and humanities to explore questions and possibilities outside the scope of a single discipline.
In addition to our Theory-Practice Collaboratory programming, in the spring we presented two major visiting artists, Martha Wilson and Tehching Hsieh, for a series of programming we’re calling Foundations of Performance Art. Both artists gave a talk and a workshop, and we screened their work in advance. Additionally, both artists met one-on-one and in small groups with many graduate students, undergraduate students, and faculty. The series of events provided ample opportunities for meaningful exchange and discussion with two foundational, inspiring figures in the arts.
Martha Wilson’s visit to UW-Madison was a wonderfully enriching experience! The series of events – including a screening, a lecture, and a workshop – surrounding her visit, entitled “Martha Wilson: Staging the Self (Transformations, Invasions, and Pushing Boundaries),” was presented by the Art + Scholarship A.W. Mellon Workshop with generous support from the Center for the Humanities, the Associated Students of Madison, and the Arts Institute, and co-sponsored by the Art Department, the Art History Department, the Communication Arts Department, the English Department, the Gender & Women’s Studies Department, and the Center for Visual Cultures. On Wednesday, April 22, we screened Wilson’s early video performance work, as well as rare footage from her proto riot grrrl conceptual art band DISBAND. Following the screening, we discussed Wilson’s work in anticipation of her visit. On Thursday, April 23, Martha arrived in Madison and spent the afternoon visiting graduate and undergraduate students’ art studios and having lunch with graduate students from Art, Art History, and English. Thursday evening, Wilson presented a lively and engaging public lecture, discussing her artwork as well as the history of contemporary performance art and artist’s books as archived by Franklin Furnace. During the lecture she also sang a DISBAND song, “The End”! Following the lecture, Martha had dinner with faculty and graduate students from Art, Art History, English, Design Studies, and Theatre, and local artists. Friday afternoon, after more art studio visits and before lunch with graduate and undergraduate students from Art, Art History, English, and Theatre and local artists, Martha presented a workshop in which 12 women wrote a song together! You can read the lyrics to the song, with the working title “Zombie Walker,” here. Martha said that DISBAND will perform the song at some point in the future, which is very exciting!
More about Martha Wilson: As a performance artist, conceptual artist, video/image/text artist, curator, theorist, archivist, feminist, and founder of Franklin Furnace, Martha Wilson’s significance for the fields of performance studies, visual culture, gender studies, cultural studies, the avant-garde, curatorial studies, and contemporary art cannot be overstated – Martha Wilson is an absolute force! In the 1970s she emerged as a major video and performance artist, making innovative work that challenged social conventions and increased the visibility of women in the art world. Her video work interrogates the role of mediation in constructing embodied subjectivity, and her photography explores the performativity of gender and sexuality, playing with a spectrum of femininity and masculinity in a continuously multiplying portfolio of possible selves. Wilson’s playfully irreverent work with feminist, queer, and gender performance was pioneering and absolutely foundational to the history of performance art and conceptual art. Wilson also co-founded DISBAND, a no-wave and proto-riot-grrrrrl conceptual art band. DISBAND’s performances seemed to carve out a temporary queer feminist utopia within the downtown New York art scene, a space were the rules could be thrown out the window and women could get together and make art on their own terms. Wilson’s work is collected by MoMA (Museum of Modern Art in NYC) and elsewhere, and she has received many awards including the Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Fellowship, Yoko Ono Courage Award for the Arts, a Bessie Award, and an Obie Award. In addition to her art practice she is committed to documenting and historicizing contemporary art practices as a scholar, writer, curator, archivist, and gallery director. An important force for arts programming and social engagement, she founded the organization Franklin Furnace in 1976, which champions avant-garde and experimental art practices and remains an important locus of arts programming currently supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Wilson’s explorations of identity and embodiment in visual culture and mass media continue to inspire investigation of subjectivity, relationality, and performance in everyday life, calling attention to and disrupting social scripts of gender and sexuality.
Tehching Hsieh’s visit to UW-Madison, too, was a powerful and inspiring experience! The series of events – including a screening, a lecture, and a workshop – surrounding his visit, entitled “The Lifeworks of Tehching Hsieh,” was presented by the Art + Scholarship A.W. Mellon Workshop and Visual Cultures Student Focus Group with generous support from Center for the Humanities and Associated Students of Madison, and co-sponsored by the Art Department, the Art History Department, the Arts Institute, the Asian American Studies Program, the English Department, the Communication Arts Department, and the Center for Visual Cultures. On Tuesday, May 5, we screened and discussed Hsieh’s work in anticipation of his visit. On Wednesday, May 6, Tehching arrived in Madison and spent the afternoon visiting graduate and undergraduate students’ art studios and having lunch with local artists and graduate students from English and Curriculum & Instruction, and then dinner with local artists and faculty from African-American Studies, Art, and Design Studies. On Thursday, May 7, Tehching presented a lively and engaging workshop with 15 participants — graduate students, undergraduate students, and faculty from Art, Arts Institute, Asian American Studies, Curriculum & Instruction, and English, as well as local artists and community members — and then had lunch with graduate students from English and Art and local artists. Thursday evening, Art Professor Doug Rosenberg introduced Hsieh’s public lecture with a moving account of the impact of Hsieh’s work on Rosenberg’s own work, and then Hsieh presented a thoughtful and provocative public lecture discussing each of his six lifeworks as well as his plans for a retrospective show and his philosophy of life and art. Following the lecture, Tehching had dinner with faculty and students from Art, Art History, Arts Institute, and Theatre. On Friday afternoon, May 8, Tehching had more art studio visits with graduate students, and then lunch with undergraduate and graduate students from Art, English, Political Science, and Spanish & Portuguese. Throughout his visit, many UW-Madison undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty, as well as local Madison artists, were able to have meaningful one-on-one or small group conversations with Tehching, a rare experience to spend time with a legendary artist. Tehching often speaks of the importance of free-thinking, and his work will continue to provoke our thinking – about time, existence, art, and life. We are so inspired by his work, and by his life, and we’re very grateful that he was with us here in Madison.
More about Tehching Hsieh: Tehching Hsieh is a foundational performance artist, conceptual artist, visual artist, and philosopher-artist. He enacted a series of durational works that bracketed everyday life as performance, testing the limits of blurring art and life. During Hsieh’s first three One Year Performances, One Year Performance 1978-1979: Cage Piece, One Year Performance 1980-1981: Time Clock Piece, and One Year Performance 1981-1982: Outdoor Piece, he confined himself spatially and temporally throughout the year-long duration of each piece, living in a cage in his gallery with very little human contact, requiring himself to clock in to a time clock in his gallery every hour on the hour, and living outdoors. Each of these pieces radically changed Hsieh’s everyday life, as the demanding rules of each piece supplanted his ability to perform regular, everyday activities. Departing from the form of his first three year-long performances mapped onto the time-space of life, Hsieh’s fourth piece, Art/Life One Year Performance 1983-1984: Rope Piece with Linda Montano, embedded the year-long performance into life. Throughout the duration of the piece, Hsieh and Montano, a fellow performance artist researching life/art practice, were tied together with a rope of eight feet, literalizing the process through which subjects constrain and enable each other’s subjectivities. His fifth One Year Performance was a rejection of art-making, and this was followed by a thirteen year performance during which he would make art but not show it publicly. Formally disrupting the separation between art and life, Hsieh’s work imbues the temporal processes of daily life with aesthetic awareness and ethical attention to others. Hsieh’s work has been so influential to us, in thinking about performance art and performance in everyday life, durational work and conceptual work, visual culture, photography, and documentation, and where the time-space of art and the time-space of life overlap and separate. The conceptual framework for each of his performances, the way he uses text in the statement for each work, the design of the posters, and the visual display of the photographs and other documentation is already an incredibly rich body of work. But to Tehching this is the secondary art – the primary art was the actual time-space of doing the work, and this primary part of the artwork ultimately eludes us, the audience. We can see the photographs, but we can’t see what Tehching was thinking during the performance. In spite of the meticulous documentation, Tehching’s work ultimately escapes visibility and exceeds interpretative frameworks.
Finally, with Madison Performance Philosophy Collective we presented MAD THEORY 2: A Performance Philosophy Symposium, an exciting and dynamic art-theory-action event at the intersection of performance, philosophy, and public humanities. The symposium featured diverse approaches to theory and practice: experimental lectures, live performances, digital media, interactive installations, and participatory workshops. Participants were invited to investigate conversation as performance, relational power dynamics, social sculpture, and navigation of public space in everyday life. We danced like no one is watching, recorded the sound of our own breaths, took part in a micro-nomadic artist residency, and cultivated our own style of disruptive spect-actor-ship. The day was action-packed with live presentations, participatory workshops, and interactive installations. With mediums ranging from sound, dance, and film to magnetic data tape, neon, and light, the programming featured experimental happenings such as collaboratively produced scripts and scores, opera of operations, and real-time poetic/musical composition; physical theatre, devised theatre, and toy theatre; and teleconferencing, Skype performance, and smartphone-based audience participation. Activating the politics of aesthetics, projects explored urgent issues such as #BlackLivesMatter and activist performance art, incarceration and embodied abolitionist theory, and “I Can’t Breathe” and the sonic politics of breath. From queer reproduction and feminist satire to human/machine interface and cyborg consciousness; from persona, myth, and fiction to documentation, remix, and reappropriation; and from geopolitics, surveillance, and liminality to cultural and linguistic (mis)translation and (mis)communication, the programming showcased an exhilarating range of critical approaches, perspectives, and methods at the interface of theory and practice. This event was presented by Madison Performance Philosophy Collective and co-sponsored by the Madison Public Library, the UW Arts Institute, the Center for the Humanities, the Art + Scholarship Mellon Workshop, the English Dept., the Art Dept., and Performance Philosophy, an international research network. See more here: https://madtheory2015.wordpress.com/
The Collaboratory workshops have been extremely successful, with 25-40 participants at each event. We have received overwhelming positive feedback from participants about the value and uniqueness of our programming. The Art + Scholarship Mellon Workshop has a strong following with regular participants from Art History, English, Theatre, Fine Art, Creative Writing, Library and Information Studies, Public Affairs, Spanish & Portuguese, French & Italian, Slavic Studies, Chemistry, Engineering, Gender and Women’s Studies, Philosophy, Comparative Literature, LGBT Campus Center, Curriculum & Instruction, Communication Arts, Geography, and Design Studies, as well as local artists, scholars, librarians, and educators. There is a tangible sense of community-building within the participatory workshops, which we plan to sustain and build upon in the coming academic year. We have built a robust web presence and created a strong aesthetic for posters and promotional materials, which has helped to further widen our net. We have created a narrative archive of the practices we have engaged with, the experiments we have conducted, and the knowledge we have produced at https://artandscholarship.wordpress.com/, and we view this ongoing documentation as a valuable, accessible resource for further dialogue and exchange. Our programming has created and nurtured a valuable space for UW’s artist-scholars to experience each other’s work, and we believe that the success of our programming is a testament to the need for this kind of space of serious play – integrating theory and practice, creativity and criticality – on the UW-Madison campus. During the 2015-2016 AY, we plan to build upon our successful programming to continue to nurture interdisciplinary exchange across the UW arts and humanities.
Thank you to all of our workshop participants and leaders for a fantastic year of Theory-Practice Collaboratories! Our regular participants, including Angela Richardson, Mark Nelson, Laima Mikaliukas, Leslee Nelson, Sarah Austin, Christine Olson, Bernadette Witzack, Wendy Vardaman, Lex Lancaster, Jen Plants, Christopher William Wolter, River Bullock, Jack Kellogg, Cecilia León, Fernanda Villarroel, Steffen Silvis, Paola Hernandez, Nicole Fadellin, Ayeshah Émon, Jess Horn, Chele Isaac, Felice Amato, Dijana Mitrovic Longinovic, Ginger Lukas, David Simmons, Jessica Cooley, Alexandra Lakind, Rob Lundberg, Koala Yip, Laura Anderson Barbata, Anna Campbell, Jeannine Shinoda, Bethany Dahl, Simone Doing, and Max Puchalsky, were such an important part of the year’s intellectual inquiry and creative experimentation. Thanks, everyone, for your energy, insights, innovation, and creativity!
We’re also very grateful to our co-organizers, Jill Casid and Jon McKenzie, for their wisdom, generosity, and mentorship.
And thanks so much to the UW-Madison Center for the Humanities for their generous support of our workshop, as well as our many co-sponsors: Art, Art History, Arts Institute, Asian American Studies, Associated Students of Madison, Center for Visual Cultures, Communication Arts, DesignLab, English, Gender and Women’s Studies, Geography, LGBT Campus Center, and School of Library and Information Studies.