On 13 January 2021, in the year’s first Agder team meeting, we set out on the voyage to to gain more substance for our part of the project – i.e. the ‘tryout’ dimension. We wanted to start by each sharing some material that spoke to us in relation our overall theme of the Encounter.

In this post, we’ll first just present the things that were shared (images / texts), and then offer glimpses into the discussions.

Part 1: Inputs

From Dima:

(Notes taken by others in meeting:)

Dima: I took an image of clouds. When turned upside down, it changed, the center of attention moved away from the humans in the image. You can see the volume of the clouds. And the people become less in focus.

Have an interest in “looking not from the right angle”. This also relates to a practice of ‘deep listening’; tried to do an interview with a flower. Recorded sound from a little stream near the house, trying different angles. The concept ‘Interview with a flower’ became; what can a flower hear? I positioned the microphone to find their point of view, to record what it hears.








From Liv Mari:

I want to share a poem and a picture with you from a book, written in 2007 by Synnøve Haga. She lived in Longyearbyen for many years and this book inspired me to write music, and to see connections between music, nature and landscape. I’m interested in why people live in Longyearbyen (at 78 degrees north) for a long time and what makes them happy, and what volunteer music life and friendship means to them, what it means for society and vice versa.

From the book: Life in safe and warm hearted Longyearbyen stands in strong contrast to the great wilderness outside the living room door. There, you are often miles from people and have to manage on your own. Out there, much of it is about feeling small, of experiencing the soothing feeling that something bigger than you does exist. The book describes encounters with bears, storms, the arctic light, the polar nights and the outdoor life throughout the year.

From Deise:

Dear Encounters-coleagues

Here a short text I would like to share with you this time.

It is the introduction chapter of the book Black Looks: Race and Representation, by the intersectional feminist theorist bell hooks.

This book is one of my main inspirations in the ideas I am developing for my work with audiovisual language.

Good read!

From Tormod

I’d like to propose that we familiarize ourselves with Trinh Minh-Ha’s concept of ‘speaking nearby’. For many artists and ethnographers alike, there is a question about how we use our own voice in relation to the voice of others. Can or should we ‘represent’ other people, places, societies etc? Or can we speak ‘for’, even ‘about’ others? (These are questions of the representational crisis in anthropology). So, in narrating our encounters, what could the alternatives be?

Trinh T. Minh-Ha suggests ‘speaking nearby’, and I propose that we study what she means by that, and what it could mean to us. Here are two sources that you may study:

  • An article By Nancy Chen: “Speaking Nearby”: A conversation with Trinh T. Minh-Ha
  • A video (with a long introduction) where Minh-Ha speaks about the same topic. (Her talk starts after the introduction at 8.45)

Part 2: Reflections from dialogue

(We turned off our cameras. Just becoming voices. Voice 1: “We slowed our speech, relaxing more. Representing less. We are all tired”)

Theme: Nature / human

Voice 2: About the interview of a flower: There is a possible connection to bel hooks & Minh-Ha; in an encounter, how to approach what is not a part of yourself. Interviewing from open position; Is it possible?

Voice 3: ‘Listening from the position of the flower’ sounds like new materialism, which is about de-centering the powerful by observing from a different angle (i.e. the humans in relation to nature. But in the texts of bel hooks and Trinh T. Minh-Ha: decentering the Western, white male… So questions are related).

……

Voice 3: I am curious about the poems from Longyearbyen: What is the answer to “What is it about us”? There might be a slight self-exoticizing in this poem and image (of sturdy, relentless ‘arctic people’ holding on stubbornly through the blizzards), but how can we research such a question without exoticizing the lives of others – or ourselves?

Voice 5: For people there, it’s often first the landscape. Then the social, other people. Often, connection with nature comes first.

Voice 4: Some have to stay, not all can move… If you have reason to stay, you stay. Or; if you can’t move.

Voice 5: A place you stay for a while when you are young.

…….

Voice 4: I’m not interested in politics and mass media – that is a tough conversation. I’m more interested in what’s going on around me. Nature, science, art. Reminded of Rousseau: educating people by bringing knowledge from nature, a redirection to look in your life for questions.

Voice 3: So, how can we establish that space for ourselves?

Voice 2: Rousseau is about not developing concepts before establishing relations with the sensuous. Therefore children relate to nature first, as moral development.

Theme: Subjectivity

Voice 1: I was very touched by Minh-Ha’s video – very profound and simple way of conveying ideas… I don’t have idols, but… really felt something in her words. Like truth. The way she is saying things.

Voice 3: Is that what comes from ‘understanding from within’? The authority of lived experience, the way to situate yourself in research?

Voice 1: Wholeness, integrity… In a literal sense. Literally; ‘being entire’.

Voice 3: For me, the two articles come down to elements of subjectivity: bell hooks’ call for black subjectivity, or how to represent the richness of experience, lives, questions and concerns of people who are often stereotypically cast – and cast from an outer gaze (There is also a lot of Paulo Freire in this argument: That you can only liberate yourself from oppression by seeing yourself as a subject – as someone who acts, who has agency, who can change your life and your world).

Being aware of how representing others is also a way to dominate and hold power, the ethnographic researcher (and social artist?) may find a way in Trinh T. Minh-Ha’s concept of ‘speaking nearby’ to avoid slipping into such relations of power. Does “understanding from inside and out” carry a potential not just to understand yourself and your surroundings, but a willingness to speak to and change them?

Voice 2: An experience in relation to ‘speaking nearby’: Some things can be traumatic for people to talk about. ‘Speaking nearby’ may be critical speaking, voicing a concern that is not yours, sometimes you don’t own that truth, but … something ‘nearby’. It’s an ethical concern.

2 Comments

  1. Ioanna Mitsika

    The focus at Longyearbyen is truly inspiring!
    Immediately after reading the post, I went in to search and see images that look so different from my own Mediterranean quests and I tried to imagine what it is like to live in this greatness!
    (One of the pieces of information I read and -although it makes sense- surprised me is that in Longyearbyen, in some cases, burial is forbidden because of the low temperatures)

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