A: “We were all tired” (Or: things that can be read out of our work).
How do you run an international collaboration on art, ethnography and pedagogy during a pandemic? When you can’t meet to do workshops, can’t carry out joint site-specific courses, nor have exhibitions and screenings? We agreed early on not to run a digital course (it would be sad, and exhausting; some already had Zoom fatigue). Rather, we would stay where we were (what else could we?) and explore our theme of encounters – or even the lack thereof – in our localities, through the practices we would be able to carry out. Thus we brought the exploration of encounters into the realm of whatever was accessible or necessary to us.
Looking at the work coming out of this [i.e. what has been shared on our site encountersproject.eu and will be developed to go into this issue], the reality of the pandemic seems like a shadow that we are almost unaware of, yet it is very apparent when we start looking: Most of us speak of being tired, uninspired, confined. As a response, no, as a necessity, some started walking. Some, being tired of the demands of ‘producing’, focused on ‘caring’. Some focused on re-starting a practice from scratch, some on listening and sensing carefully, attentively. Others focused on ways of being in public, even when you were in your private surroundings; the double consciousness of being visible to the world through your screen while in the confinement of your own bedroom.
These are the conditions in which this editorial issue has been created: it comes out of a nothingness, a lack of momentum, a situation where things seem to stop all around us, even our abilities to do simple stuff and to share it with others.
But still? The small practices and explorations that we have been able to carry out still speak of trying to survive, staying sane, finding basic actions that you can do, even spurring creativity; encounters arising through small, everyday actions.
B: Emerging themes
[For now; this is a note for contributors to study]
In short, themes that we see emerging from this work may be grouped around the following strands:
– Care: the body, pain, needing & offering care
– Sound & the senses: The voice, listening, attention, the senses and the sensorial
– Walking: Movement, landscape, attention, simple actions
– Being in public: Public spaces, virtual space, being in public even in confinement (in your own bedroom but on a screen, visible to the world)
Pointing to these emerging themes, we encourage the contributors to look for ways their own pieces speak to the others, particularly through these themes, so that we may highlight common experiences and perhaps also comment on each other’s experiences in the works we submit.
PS: We have also suggested an expansive – rather than condensed – reading list, elaborating on these themes – please see ‘Traveling library‘.
C: The concept(s) of encounters
In addition to the themes emerging from our work, we will also point to the methodological overarching concept that situates this work; While the emerging themes above come out of our explorations and research, the initial starting point has been to explore the encounter as method, as a way to work. What are the ‘encounters’ that we have been exploring in the first place?
[Note to contributors: If any of your work touches on the below aspects of the encounter (or other approaches to encounters), it is nice to point it out, to show the relation to our methodological starting point and exploration as such.]
We may think about them in various ways:
The first – and perhaps most central – approach to the encounter is to observe examples of how both artists, ethnographers and educators intervene in social contexts. This intervention manifests differently in, for instance, social arts practices, visual anthropology or critical pedagogy, but there are still similarities. One is the existence of critical discourse around these forms of intervention; the ‘representational crisis’ in ethnography, critique of ‘participation’ in social and site specific artistic practices, critique of power relations and views on knowledge and institutions in pedagogy [see traveling library for references, or add your own!]. These critical aspects have been internalized in these very disciplines, so that there is a living laboratory within the fields to discuss what these encounters are, how to negotiate imbalances, how to let all participants in the encounter have voice and agency; not just the researcher / artist / educator coming to do ‘their project’, run an event or impose an activity or work, or collect some material and leave to present it somewhere else. Or holding the power to define the frameworks for what kind of knowledge – and whose knowledge – is valid. How are we working to address these questions and relations?
Secondly, there are the encounters between the fields and practices of ethnography, art and pedagogy. What can we learn from each other? What are we learning from each other, in this project? And how? Or; why is it so difficult? We have different languages and practices: how can we establish spaces to learn from each other, interact and exchange? What are the instances where we succeed in encountering each other’s disciplines? These questions run through the whole Encounters project, both in the will to interact and in the challenges of doing so.
[Note to contributors: in this issue or later, perhaps issue 2, we may share some of the realities behind the project as such, our dialogues during the different stages of collaboration]
Third, there are – in all these fields as well as in our practices – encounters with the larger questions and realities of our world. What are the political and social questions we are encountering through our work? How are we trying to change the world? Are we trying, and are we succeeding?
The above ’emerging themes’ (care, walking, the sensory, being in public) are all examples of how encounters with larger social realities and themes come out of our practices, and represent an important focus of this issue.
Fourth, There are also dimensions of encounters as experiential, sensory or ontological experience in this work: How can the objects coming out of our research encounter each other? How do we understand these ‘objects’ not as passive matter? This question is well-known to artists, yet less so, perhaps, for researchers. Still, it taps into recent academic theories such as actor-network theory, object-oriented ontology, and new materialism. Or just everyday experiences of the objects that surround us.
These dimensions of encounters will be addressed from different angles in the four issues of the Encounters editorial coming out of this project. For this first issue, the main focus is gathering and laying out the material for what we have done while in confinement, and how these experiences may speak to larger themes in our fields of ethnography, arts and pedagogy than the isolated experiences in themselves.